Pop Culture Princess

Pop Culture Princess
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Thursday, December 01, 2022

The LRG Best Books of 2023

With the last month of this year officially upon us, it’s time for me to reveal my picks for Best Books of 2022.

This is a Top Five list but rest assured, there were many other great books that I throughly enjoyed and wholeheartedly recommend (a shout out to some of them will appear at the end of this post).

To start things off, Gabrielle Zevin’s  Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow is making the rounds on many a best of list and for good reason. While this novel focuses strongly on the development of video games from the eighties until now, the central theme here is far from a game.

When Sam Masur reconnects with Sadie Green in college (their initial friendship started in a children’s hospital over multiple games of Oregon Trail), their mutual love of video games, particularly role playing ones, not only sparked up a new bond, it lead to them becoming major creative forces within this growing industry.

Aided by their friend Marx, Sam and Sadie made some of the most imaginative games ever that ignited generations of fans. However, obstacles such as sexism and egotism were harder to dodge than any pixel made menace.

All in all, T&T&T is a tale of love and friendship, which lasts longer than any online challenge or real world difficulty in the end. This may be Zevin’s masterpiece and I don’t say that lightly:


Another out of this world read that’s rightfully on a number of best books as well is Sea of Tranquility by Emily St.John Mandel.

This is one of those “don’t know too much before reading “ type of books but I can safely say that this is a time travel story that has several different people sharing a strange moment of music and sound together across multiple realms.

The one person meant to simply observe it all decides to make a choice that does and doesn’t affect these realities and the price paid is heartbreakingly beautiful indeed.

I know this sounds like a complicated story yet it’s easy to get into and almost hypnotic in it’s pacing that compels you to stay up as late as possible to see what happens next. Such a treasure is worth diving into at least once:


For something completely different, Deanna Raybourn gives us Killers of a Certain Age as four retired hit women find out that their professional career departure is meant to be permanent.

This quartet of seemingly meek and mild older ladies, lead by the boisterous Billie, are set up as pawns in a power struggle from their former employers but despite what the younger generation thinks, these women, who cut their teeth on hunting down Nazis, are far more formidable than they appear.

For those looking for less than likely leading ladies in an action packed drama with some humor and heart, this novel is all and a slice of cheesecake:


Natalie Jenner followed up her charming debut novel, The Jane Austen Society, with another literary themed tale of books and people connecting in Bloomsbury Girls.

Set in post WWII London, the trio of women who work at this previously all-male bookstore are doing their best to match their colleagues in making the shop more appealing to a wider set of readers(which the business financially needs ).

Despite the individual efforts of shy Evie, modest Grace and the dynamic Vivien, their attempts to improve the shop and their personal lives keep being held back from true success. Only by working together can these women find a way towards a better bookish tomorrow.

You don’t have to have read The Jane Austen Society first(even though there is a shared character) to appreciate Bloomsbury Girls, although the two books do make for a lovely literary pairing for any true reader indeed:



For my nonfiction selection, Not All Supermen by Tim Hanley continues the author’s winning streak of engaging in depth looks at the comic book industry.

Hanley chronicles the development of male and female archetypes within the pages of both Marvel and DC Comics from Superman to the X-Men and how the current and changing times have been reflected in these iconic characters.

Hanley also looks at the behind the scenes office politics that allowed for rampant sexism and other bias based attitudes to flourish over the decades. Despite these challenges, inspiration and hope to create a better world both on and off page is still a solid reason to keep this format going by bringing much needed change and representation to the forefront.

You can still love a genre and be able to criticize it as well as encourage those involved to do better, which Hanley does brilliantly here and in his other works that focus on the likes of Lois Lane, Betty and Veronica, Wonder Woman and even Catwoman. By flipping the script and using our real skills against the naysayers can genre fare strive to be the heroes that we all long to be:





Like I said before, there were so many great books to highlight this year and while it would take way too to list them all, I do want to salute these particular authors for their fine work in 2022:

Love and Other Disasters by Anita Kelly: A cooking competition romance that celebrates more than one form of love. This is a delicious dish of a read to slowly savor.

A Lady’s Guide to Fortune Hunting by Sophie Irwin: Fans of Mr. Malcolm’s List(great movie,btw!) will rejoice in this clever bit of romance and social satire in Regency England.

 The Murder of Mr. Wickham by Claudia Gray: A delightful blend of Jane Austen characters dealing with an Agatha Christie mystery in the midst of their house party. A good time to be had by all here!

I hope that this list is useful for your holiday shopping as well as your personal TBR piles for next year. Reading is definitely the gift that keeps on giving all year round but it is nice to have a proper excuse for getting and giving more books, that’s for sure:



Monday, November 21, 2022

Welcoming some Pride and Protest to the Jane Austen arena

In these troubling times, we find comfort in many things and one of the best sources for that is in the classics; especially in those we know so well.

For Jane Austen fans, regardless of which book is our personal favorite, Pride & Prejudice is the preferred go-to in this category and like any good recipe for greatness, the best one for newcomers to add their own  imaginative ingredients to create a delicious read.

Pride and Protest by Nikki Payne introduces us to Alize”Liza” Bennet, who hosts her own radio show as “the DJ who gives a jam”, particularly when her family’s home at Longbourne Gardens in DC is about to be taken over by the Pemberley corporation.

While Pemberley is promising the community that their Netherfield Court will be beneficial to all, Liza is ready to raises her voice against the potential gentrification at the first chance to do so, namely the opening reception being given by the company.

As she arrives at the party with a batch of protest signs to slip into the back door, Liza thinks she has an instant ally in a waiter for the event and asks for his help. 

Turns out, he’s not who she thinks is he-Dorsey Fitzgerald, the adopted son and heir to the Pemberley corporation has enough trouble getting the board of directors to take him seriously without adding some social activism to this media event(even if he finds this particular protester to be incredibly beautiful).

Liza discovers her mistake soon enough and despite Dorsey’s efforts to throw her off her game, does manage to stir up some attention for her cause that night. She would prefer to stay enemies but when her sister Janae starts to fall for David Bradley, one of Dorsey’s good friends, she finds herself stuck in that social orbit yet refuses to censor her true thoughts about his company’s agenda:


While Dorsey is also trying be accommodating for his friend as well as his business interests, his attraction to Liza pulls him firmly in her direction.

While being on the opposite sides of just about every argument, the mutual passion between them creates a slow but steady smolder that grows hard for either of them to resist.

As Liza and Dorsey attempt to simply be the best of frenemies , that spark keeps on growing. Can they become more than that or will their opposing goals in life force them apart?:


I do love a good Austen retelling and Payne gives us a delightfully engaging modern twist to this pivotal story amongst Jane’s celebrated works.

The blend of lively humor and emotional depth given to the characters makes this book more than just another literary remix. Payne creates a romance that doesn’t overly rely on the source material; rather she gives the reader a pair of relatable people who we root for in more ways than one.

Her writing reminds me of a combination of Jasmine Guillory with Uzma Jalaluddin but make no mistake, Payne is her own literary woman who I hope to read more of as time goes by.

Books as good as Pride and Protest not only have me reading it slowly in order to savor the page by page moments of pleasure, they also make me thankful for writers who create these wonderful stories that help us take a break from the real world when needed.

Even with the challenges that lie ahead for all of us, it is a great comfort to know that we have plenty of excellent authors out there to make these times a bit better and perhaps, give us a happy for now ending to inspire us along the way.

 I have no doubt that Miss Austen would be proud in the best sense of such fine writing here:



 

Wednesday, November 16, 2022

My Series-ous Reading has me meeting Mrs. Roosevelt’s Confidante

 

As this year is quickly coming to a close, my Series-ous Reading feels a bit rushed there.

However, some things are worth taking your time with and a Maggie Hope mystery by Susan Elia MacNeal certainly falls into that category.

Mrs. Roosevelt’s Confidante brings our leading lady Maggie back to America as part of Winston Churchill’s official entourage upon the US entering WWII.

 While seeing her aunt(who raised her after the alleged death of her parents) again as well as possibly patch things up romantically with former beau John Sterling are key priorities for Maggie, those focuses are shifted as the First Lady is in need of someone with spy skills to solve a potential murder.

When Mrs. Roosevelt’s current secretary, Blanche Balfour, goes missing at work , Maggie joins the First Lady in checking in on the young woman personally. To their mutual shock, Blanche is found dead in what is meant to be seen as a suicide but evidence casually left behind makes it clear that this was not the case.

While discreetly looking into the matter, Maggie learns that Blanche’s demise is part of an overall scheme to discredit Mrs. Roosevelt, who is trying to get her husband to stop the unjust execution of a young man named Wendell Cotton.

Wendell’s trial and soon to be carried out death sentence was railroaded through the system as a political gain for the governor of Virginia, which makes FDR somewhat reluctant to get involved due to needing support form the southern states to fund the new war effort.

Maggie is willing to help on more than one front here, particularly since this sinister campaign against Mrs. Roosevelt could affect both England and the US in working together to fight the Axis powers.

 Not to mention that Eleanor herself is such an inspiration to the many causes for the betterment of others that Maggie consider it her duty to assist her as best she can:


I’ve compared these books to watching a great TV series like Agent Carter(which should’ve lasted longer than two seasons!) and that standard still holds true in this fifth entry.

MacNeal’s cast of characters, from historical figures like the Roosevelts and Walt Disney (who plays a pivotal part in Maggie’s renewed relationship with John) to her fictional folk, are vividly created enough that their own story lines are just as engaging as the main mystery of the book.

We also get welcome moments of amusement as Maggie gives one of her British friends a copy of Little Women for Christmas and his first time reading reactions are fun to say the least-reminds me of that book swap between Rachel and Joey on Friends that time!

MacNeal also keeps continuing plot points going on that don’t directly affect the central action yet are definitely important to keep an eye.

 The escape of a persistent nemesis occurs towards the end of the book(semi spoiler alert) and while it may be awhile before I get back to this series, I am most intrigued to see what trouble this particular shady lady causes for Maggie and company in the books to come:




Meanwhile, my next to last selection for Series-ous Reading is Homicide in Hardcover , the first title in Kate Carlisle’s Bibliophile Mystery books that I am finally reading for the first time!

After reading this series out of order for quite awhile now, it’s great to now get to where it all started for Brooklyn Wainwright, a bookbinder who literally faints at the sight of blood, on her sleuthing side hustle so to speak.

With Brooklyn reuniting with her mentor Abraham at a library event celebrating the restoration of a rare edition of Faust, finding him dead before the book is fully repaired is startling in more ways than one.

While she does want to find the killer and make sure that Faust is ready for display, Brooklyn is up against challenges from friends as well as foes. Plus, this particular edition is supposedly cursed to boot, which is fitting for anything to do with Faust, if you ask me:



Friday, November 11, 2022

Thankful for a plentiful TBR

It’s been quite the week, with a lot of uncertainty both online and in the real world there. While things may not be as bad as they first seemed, the chaos is still too close for comfort.

Fortunately, the one constant that remains for me(other than family) is my ever expanding TBR pile.

For example, my latest Book of the Month Club selection was a pair of backlisted titles, the most recent being Helen Hoang’s The Heart Principle.

Anna Sun is a violinist who is feeling burnt out after a tour fueled by extra attention from a viral video. Upon hearing a mental health diagnosis that her relatives object to and her current boyfriend wanting an open relationship (on his terms), Anna decides to make a major change in her personal life.

She meets Quan, the owner of a clothing line who is recovering from cancer, on a dating app and even tho neither of them are looking for something serious, their connection promises to be more than casual. Especially when Anna’s father experiences a severe physical crisis that challenges them all.

I know that some readers found the switch in gears in this book to be off putting since her earlier works were very romance focused. Yet, I’m fine with a writer wanting to add some additional nuance to their work and Hoang’s prior novels with their engaging down to earth energy certainly make her future  books worth checking out.

My other BOMC pick was a new edition of Little Women, a childhood favorite of mine that keeps popping up in some of my current reads lately.

With that in mind, I went to Better World  Books for a copy of Beth and Amy by Virginia Kantra, the follow up to her modem take on the Alcott classic Meg and Jo.

Here, Beth is an aspiring country music singer struggling with an eating disorder and Amy is a designer of fashion accessories who once had a brief fling with Jo’s best friend Trey(who was still carrying a torch for her sister).

With Jo about to get married, all four sisters are reunited for the first time in a long while. This allows them not only a chance to reconnect but to face a few hard truths, particularly when it comes to Beth’s health and Amy’s love life with Trey being back in the picture due to Jo’s impending nuptials.

I did enjoy Meg and Jo(will probably reread that one) and this companion piece should make a nice set of satisfying reading with my brand new edition of LW. I do hope that Beth does better here than in the original as the idea of her sharing her talents with a wider audience is the best update for this character that I can imagine:


I paired that book with Jennifer Ryan’s The Kitchen Front, a WWII in England set novel about a cooking competition.

The big prize here is to be the co-host of a BBC radio show devoted to teaching British housewives frugal recipes for the war effort.

Anxious to do their part as well as take a much needed chance to change their lives, a group of four women from very different backgrounds find themselves in direct culinary competition with one another.

Will it be Audrey, a widow trying to get her bakeshop going or her sister Gwendoline, who thinks she’s above it all as the wife of a major manufacturer? Could the gently spoken Nell rise from her housemaid station with such a win or perhaps Zelda, the upperclass chef can claim victory  despite the secret that threatens to destroy her personal and professional life?

Author Ryan does have a flair for making such women on the home front stories engagingly compelling without being overwhelmed by the standards of the genre, so I do look forward hungrily to this one. Plus,a cooking contest amongst the British is culinary catnip to me:


And yes, I did pick up a new release for my cozy mystery collection. 

Donut Disturb is the latest in Ellie Alexander’s Bakeshop Mysteries series that has leading lady Juliet Capshaw preparing a specially requested wedding cake for her good friend Thomas and his bride/coworker Kerry.

Things get tense when an unexpected guest in the form of Kerry’s estranged father shows up but even more troubling is the sudden demise of the bassist from the band hired for the reception. Can Juliet lend more than her pastry prowess to the occasion to protect her friends from the “til death do us part” portion of the marriage vows?

Alexander is amazing at whipping up these tasty detective desserts and I hope to finish this book before her next one comes out later this year( Muffin But The Truth, another win in the punny title game there!). Plus, a donut wedding cake sounds awesome!:


No matter how wild the world around us can get, some ports in such storms are worth holding on to like family/friends, a good meal and a great read.

That’s probably why I like Thanksgiving so much. Yes, the origin story of this holiday is troubling to say the least(the Wednesday Addams speech in Addams Family Values is more historically accurate than some textbooks, sad to say) but the pilgrim pageantry is not what interest me.

It’s the concept of gathering together with loved ones to celebrate the good in our lives that is of real and lasting importance, if you ask me. A good dinner can’t solve all of our differences yet it’s a good place to start as any. After all, kitchen tables do make for welcome conversation for a reason:





 

Thursday, November 03, 2022

Finishing up my FrightFall reading romp


 We are definitely into autumn now, with plenty of leaves on the ground and pumpkin spice scenting the crisp cool air.

Another sign of the season is the FrightFall readathon, which fitfully ended on Halloween. Out of my original TBR, I made one switch and completed two and a half books(am into the latter half with the last one), so a pretty good reading run here.

My first FrightFall read was Deanna Raybourn’s Killers of a Certain Age in which a set of four older female friends on a retirement cruise are not what they seem.

The ladies in question-Billie,Helen, Natalie and Mary Alice-were recruited in their youth by a secret organization dedicated to tracking down former Nazis and other bad guys for elimination. Now in their advancing years, this trip was meant as a peaceful last hurrah.

Instead, the cruise was a ruse to take them all out at once, a fatal mistake for those who set them up as pawns in a power grab. Despite their being caught off guard at first, Billie and her friends manage to turn the tables but the endgame is more complicated than any involved could have imagined.

This is just a grand roller coaster ride of a book as Raybourn weaves a smartly savvy web of engaging intrigue with dashes of humor and heart.

 I really hope this becomes a movie at some point because the level of awesomeness on the page needs to be shared on more than one media platform. A great testimony to how foolish it is to underestimate older women indeed:


While I did intend to stick to lighter mysteries for the rest of this readathon, my snagging of The Kiss Curse from the Book of the Month Club before it quickly sold out was a sign unto me to make a switch in my literary lineup.

This follow up to The Ex-Hex by Erin Sterling gives Vivi’s cousin Gwyn a chance at magical romance via a professional rivalry with Llwellyn aka Wells Penhallow, the brother of her cousin’s new husband Simon.

Wells has moved to the town of Graves Glen to find a fresh start and part of that includes setting up a magic shop right across from the one that Gwyn and her family have run for years. Never liking Wells to begin with(based on a past encounter), Gwyn is eager to fight back, retail style.

However, a strange set of circumstances forces them to team up in more ways than one. Even with a mix of magic and romance around them, can these two discover their true enemy before the last stroke of midnight on Halloween?

Much like Sterling’s earlier book, this story is a fun bit of storytelling magic that completely enchants you all the way. 

The addition of new characters (the trio of young apprentices that Gwyn takes on, plus the adorable talking cat known as Sir Purricval) and enhanced family drama works out great and encourages more stories to come from the good witches of Graves Glen:

At the moment, I’m finishing up The Grim Reader by Kate Carlisle, one of her most recent entries in her Bibliophile mystery series.

Her leading lady Brooklyn Wainwright is happy to visit her family at their wine making hometown of Dharma with new husband Derek Stone by her side for many reasons, especially since her mother Rebecca is leading the committee for Dharma’s first book festival.

For a dedicated bookbinder like Brooklyn, such an event is pure joy but there are unexpected pitfalls that mar the way such as an obnoxious newcomer trying to literally force his way into the festival, the shocking death of a committee member and missing funds discovered just before things are ready to begin.

While she’s determined to help out(not to mention protect her mother from harm), Brooklyn soon learns that the copy of Little Women she was asked to restore may be a pivotal key to unlocking this case. Can her bookbinding skills save the day or bring on more disaster?

I do enjoy this series with it’s bookish energy and welcoming set of characters who make you feel right at home with every page turn. Plus, all of this talk about Little Women is just pointing me towards a reread of that iconic book as soon as I’m done here:



My thanks to Michelle Miller at Seasons of Reading for hosting these wonderful readathons and while I’m not sure if I will take part in the upcoming Christmas Spirit one, I hope everyone has a wonderful bookish time.

Some sad news to report: the author Julie Powell has recently passed away at the far too soon age of 49. Her yearlong challenge to make every recipe in the first volume of Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking began as a blog and then became a book which lead to a film adaptation starring Amy Adams and Meryl Streep.

While Julia herself wasn’t thrilled with Julie’s project(they never met in real life), these two had much in common.

 Both women struggled to find what ultimate purpose they had to offer the world and found it through food and writing. Each of them received equal amounts of admiration and criticism for their professional and personal choices yet firmly marched to the beat of their own drummers.

I first read Julie and Julia in reader’s advance copy form(still have that edition) as a bookseller and Powell’s lively energy not only introduced  me to the wonders of Julia Child and food writing in general, she inspired this very blog that I still keep pecking away at today.

I recently reread J&J as part of my “Julia journey “ this year and yes, it does hold up. Powell’s emotional honesty and ability to look back with a laugh or two at times , plus her love of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, is the spine of this internet age meets culinary classic story.

She also wrote a memoir,Cleaving, about learning the art of butchering that is in a very different tone from J&J but definitely worth checking out. However, Julie will be forever linked with Julia and that’s a damn good legacy to have, if you ask me.

My deepest condolences to Powell’s friends and family, especially her beloved husband Eric. Truly gone too soon yet destined to be remembered always:



Tuesday, October 25, 2022

Frightening fictional friendships abound this scary streaming season

With Halloween not that far away, it’s a time to consider what really scares you (beyond the daily headlines, that is) and based upon this trio of recently released films on streaming, friends are a terror target indeed.

After all, one of the most chilling things that you can realistically imagine is discovering that your best friend has taken a very wrong turn in life or worse yet, wasn’t who you thought they were in the first place.

That latter element is explored In Netflix’s The School for Good and Evil, where best friends Sophie (Sophia Anne Caruso) and Agatha (Sofia Wylie) are whisked away to the title academy to be trained as future princesses or villains.

Only trouble is that Sophie expected to be a heroine but was sent to the Evil side, run by Lady Leonora Lesso (Charlize Theron) while Agatha is enrolled to the Good section governed by Professor Clarissa Dovey(Kerry Washington). Is this a grave mistake or are both girls ready to learn just who they really are?

This movie is based on the YA fantasy series by Soman Chainani and perhaps a sequel or two may come  if all goes well. I personally like this whole concept and plan on making this my home viewing Halloween treat:


If you want something way more scary, Amazon has the adaptation of Grady Hendrix’s My Best Friend’s Exorcism right on the demonic deck there.

1980’s teen gal pals Abby(Elsie Fisher) and Gretchen (Amiah Miller) decided to spend the weekend at a mutual friend’s lake house that just happens to be near an abandoned shack where something sinister and supernatural once occurred.

When Gretchen encounters whatever lurks in that location, she completely becomes a very different person, one that delights in tormenting every one in her path, including Abby.

As Gretchen’s rampage grows more deadly, Abby teams up with a bodybuilding exorcist (Christopher Lowell) to save her friend. Can she banish this unholy nemesis or is Abby doomed along with Gretchen for a very eighties eternity?

The Hendrix novel is both horrifying and heartfelt so if this movie is as half as good as it’s sinister sweet source material, this film is a true gruesome gem to behold:



However, for a friendship tale told Stephen King style, Netflix does have Mr. Harrigan’s Phone on speed dial.

When Craig (Jaeden Martell) becomes acquaintances with the eccentric millionaire (Donald Sutherland) in his neighborhood by reading to him regularly, he never expected the two of them to become as good friends as they did over the years.

When Harrigan passes away, Craig is sincerely heartbroken and as he pays his respects at the funeral, slips the cell phone that he brought the techno reluctant old man into the casket.

While holding on to his connecting phone for sentimental reasons, Craig does leave a message or two during some troubling times for Mr. Harrigan meant to simply relieve some stress.

He definitely never expected a reply; particularly the rather lethal ones sent to those who wronged him. Has Craig truly dialed the wrong number in more ways than one?

This movie is based on a story from King’s most recent collection If It Bleeds and that novella was sadly scary indeed. Certainly sounds like a good chiller for this time of year:


Whatever you do on Halloween, do have a good time and if possible, share that seasonal joy with a good friend. At the very least, try connecting with a reasonable frenemy, which might be more in tune with this spooky season:



 

Monday, October 17, 2022

Romancing the vote, page by page

 

With the midterm election coming up in only a few weeks, most of us do need a break from the major news coverage in order not to be overwhelmed by the intensity of it all.

However, you can have your cake and eat it in an electoral style with this trio of romance titles that have political love interests at the helm. Granted, there are plenty of other similarly themed romance reads out there but these are the ones I’ve fully enjoyed, regardless of politics.

Recently, I finished Incense and Sensibility which is the third book in Sonali Dev’s Jane Austen inspired series about the Raje family. Yash , the eldest son and top contender in the gubernatorial race, receives a shocking attack at a rally, which causes him to hold back from further campaigning.

In order to take control of his understandable fears, he seeks the yoga healing services of India Dashwood , who is balancing her concerns over her mother’s health and her sister China’s secret celebrity romance as well as dealing with the reappearance of Yash in her life.

India and Yash shared a brief moment of emotional intimacy many years ago, with him quickly breaking things off before they could properly begin.

 Part of that reason was the need to have a relationship of convenience with Naina, a friend who needed to pursuit her career goals without family pressure to get married. 

That arrangement worked out for both Yash and Naina while they were in separate countries but now, she wants to change the game as a fast track to her professional endgame. With Yash getting help from India and the two of them placing everyone’s needs before their own, can either of them admit the truth about their feelings without risking the election?

Dev blends the basic elements of Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility within her original narrative in a seamlessly elegant way. Her characters are just as compelling and nuanced as their Regency counterparts given a modern day flair.

Also, basing a potential political candidate on Edward Ferrars is pretty great in my opinion. While he does keep a few too many secrets, Edward has the best intentions and keeps to his word by following through with whatever consequences may come. That mark of character is something we rarely see outside of fiction sadly:


In Evie Dunmore’s Bringing Down the Duke, Annabelle Archer must earn her scholarship to Oxford university by working for the local women’s suffrage society.

One of her first assignments is recruiting influential men to support The Married Women’s Property Act, which would allow wives and widows to earn their own money through home ownership.

As it happens, the first man she approaches is Sebastian, the Duke of Montgomery who has been given personal incentive by Queen Victoria herself to oppose this policy. Nonetheless, Annabelle crosses his path more than once and each encounter encourages him to respect her intelligence as he falls in love with her to boot.

While she begins to feel the same towards him, Annabelle knows that there are more than politics that would get in the way of any serious attachment between them. Is there a chance at a happy ending for them on a personal and a political front?

This novel is the first in a series (A League of Extraordinary Women) and I plan to read the others in the near future as this debut was truly a promising delight.

So nice  to have a set of  stories where independent women  are leading the way to equality in all
things including matters of the heart:



In Party of Two by Jasmine Guillory,  new resident of L.A. Olivia Monroe is pleasantly surprised to meet Max, a cute guy who appreciates a good slice of cake.

While she intends to spend her days focused on her legal career, Olivia is willing to spend the evening hours with Max, who seems familiar to her somehow.

Turns out that he’s Max Powell, a rising political star as a newly elected congressman. Although they click in more ways than one, the hazards of a romance that will eventually go public are difficult to avoid. Yet, can love save the day for them both?

Guillory’s  novels are a nice blend of sweet and savory with the meat of the story allowing for the delicious romantic elements to compliment each other on the plate of pages before you. Plus, there are wonderful moments of dessert delights described with love that are a joy to behold:


While these books are fun to talk about, I do hope that all of you reading this plan to vote. Midterm elections tend to get overlooked but the direction of the country could very well be determined by who gets to take a power seat this time around.

If you think “My vote doesn’t matter”, you are mistaken. If individual votes are so unimportant, then why are so many people trying to limit access to voting places and insisting that “fraud” is running amuck?

On top of that, the right to think, read and live freely is being challenged across our nation in rapid form and mainly against folks who aren’t given a loud enough voice in government. 

Voting is a right that many before us risked their lives and personal freedom for and we honor that struggle by taking the time to do our duty by not only our country but by society as well.

Not to mention that it would be nice to have someone in higher office who actually knew what the 19th Amendment was all about!:




Monday, October 10, 2022

Stocking up on awesome autumn reads with my latest book haul


 With the cold weather and falling leaves starting to arrive , it’s fair to say autumn has officially begun.

 While I can’t go trick or treating this Halloween season (I’ll be getting a booster shot on that day!), between Book of the Month club, my local library and Better World Books, my literary larder is well supplied enough to last me into December there.

Starting with BOMC, my main pick was Hester by Laurie Lico Albanese, which takes a fresh look at Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter.

Our leading lady is Isobel, a young wife emigrating to Colonial America in search of a fresh start with her much older than herself husband Edward. With her spouse deciding to head out to sea, Isobel has no choice but to use her extraordinary skills as a seamstress to make some sort of living yet being on her own like this raises suspicions amongst the townsfolk.

The only person who even gives Isobel any kind of friendship is young Nat Hawthorne, who finds her to be an inspiration for his writing and perhaps more than that. However, such a bond appears to be doomed in more ways than one.

I’ve always liked The Scarlet Letter(except for that Demi Moore adaptation) and it’s great to see such a classic novel get a creative new coat of paint on it here. Really looking forward to a nice bit of page turning with this one:


Speaking of reimagined classics, I was so delighted to find the final book in Sonali Dev’s Jane Austen themed Raje series, The Emma Project, on the shelf at my local library.

Naina is still dealing with her breakup from elder brother Yash when a new work project has her partnering with his younger sibling Vansh.

Vansh is very talented but also very unfocused, using his looks and charms to get by in life. Feeling slightly guilty that his new found goal will be depriving Naina of some of the funding for her non profit, he agrees to find a solution for both of their agendas.

Naina reluctantly goes along with, despite wanting to stay out of his family’s orbit as much as possible. Sparks do fly between them, romantically, and keeping things casual quickly becomes less of an option for either of them. 

Having just finished Incense and Sensibility, I’m torn between diving right to this last entry in the series or waiting a little bit longer(as long as my library renewals on it last!) to enjoy it.

This take on Austen’s novels has been such a joyous ride that I hate to see it end. Yet, Dev’s storytelling prowess promises to give us more wonderful tales of modern day love and it’s been grand to see her embrace one of her literary inspirations with us all:



Also at the library was a Miss Marple mystery that I haven’t read but will do so soon.

Agatha Christie’s A Carribean Mystery takes Miss Jane Marple away from her usual homestead at St. Mary’s Mead and sends her off on a cruise, where even such a major change of scene keeps her in proximity of a juicy murder.

When one of her new colleagues, a retired major who was eager to show Miss Marple a rather auspicious photo he had recently taken, winds up dead due to unnatural causes, she must put her beach bag aside to lend her considerable talents towards solving this case.

While my Christie reading isn’t as extensive as I’d like it to be, I am firmly on Team Marple all the way. Poirot is all well and good but give me a clever older lady with subtle wit and solid good sense to find the true culprit  every time:



My library find of that Miss Marple book was fitting as my recent order from Better World Books included a pair of Agatha Christie themed novels.

One of them , The Christie Affair by Nina de Gramont, is told by a woman named Nan O’Dea, who may have one of the reasons that Christie vanished from sight for eleven days back in 1926.

Nan was the current mistress of Agatha’s never do well husband Archie, who often complained of playing second fiddle to his celebrated wife’s career. Christie’s sudden disappearance made that whole “ careful what you wish for” phrase become dangerously real for all involved.

Nan takes a cue from Agatha and hides out herself, staying at a remote hotel where she’s sure to not be noticed. Yet, when a murder occurs on the premises, Nan finds that she may need some help in solving the case and receives an assist from a most unexpected source.

Leave to Christie to have an unsolved mystery as part of her legacy for other writers to indulge their talents in. With the chill of the season settling in, this does feel like the kind of novel to curl up with over a warm cup of tea:

This quartet of books is just the tip of the iceberg of my bookish finds lately. Given the present state of the world right now, a good book is a healthy way to keep a steady balance on things  these days.

Plus, autumn is rather a bookish time of year as many literary awards are announced, Best of the Year lists are being made(working on one myself) and film adaptations are arriving on screens big and small there.

 Some people stock up on pumpkin spice items edible and otherwise, which is fine by me, and others pile  up on enough books to stock a bookstore or two. Fall enjoyment comes in as many varieties as the colorful leaves do indeed:




Monday, October 03, 2022

My Series-ous Reading examines Jane and His Lordship’s Legacy


 For September’ s Series-ous Reading selection, the Sister in Sleuthing that I revisited was Jane Austen, via Stephanie Barron’s delightful mystery series, with Jane and His Lordship’s Legacy.

The late gentleman of the title was Lord Harold Trowbridge, aka The Gentleman Rogue, who often included Jane is some of his secret missions for king and country. His demise took place in an earlier entry(which I haven’t read yet but have future plans to do so here).

Upon setting up house keeping with her mother at Chawton Cottage, Jane is greeted by a pair of strange surprises. The first is a lawyer from Sir Harold’s estate bearing a large chest that contains a bequeath from his Lordship’s will.

The contents, much to her mother’s dismay, are not monetary-rather, the private letters and other writings of Sir Harold that are meant to be literary inspiration for her.

While freshly adjusting to this unexpected abundance of insight into the one man she truly cared for, Jane discovers the remains of a local workman named Shafto French in the cellar.

How Mr. French’s body(which shows disturbing signs of having been down there before Jane and her mother arrived) came to be there is mystery enough without most of the neighborhood appearing to hold a grudge against the newly arrived Austens, due in part to her brother Edward’s lackluster attention to his tenants.

However, Shafto’s death may be part of a more sinister plot as the chest of Sir Harold’s papers is stolen from the house. As it turns out, the parentage of a potential heir to the nearby estate of Stonings named Julian Thrace, may be confirmed within those papers.

The other claimant is Lady Imogene, whose gambling debts would be secured by such an inheritance. Jane suspects that her ladyship may have hired some local workers (such as the man caught climbing out of a Chawton Cottage window!) to learn the truth for herself.

As the rivalry between the two heirs grows deadly, Jane  persists in investigating before more lives are lost as well as  holding onto the hope of retrieving the only solid remembrance of the only man she may ever have loved:


Despite reading a good portion of this series out of order, this story resonates strongly with some of the sorrowful notes that one sees in Austen’s later works for me. Barron knows the world of Austen so well that her blend of real life and fictional characters feels engagingly authentic.

Speaking of engaging, Jane’s mother is quite the comic delight with her complaints about her daughter not at least getting some jewelry from Sir Harold’s will but starts digging up her yard upon hearing a local legend about a buried ruby necklace!

She is so Mrs. Bennet like here and a welcome note of levity in the midst of this detective drama:


Heading into October, my next Series-ous Reading adventure has me paying another call on Maggie Hope in Susan Elia MacNeal’s Mrs. Roosevelt’s Confidante.

As America officially enters WWII, Maggie accompanies Winston Churchill on a trip to Washington DC to start their alliance off on a good foot.

While there, Maggie makes the acquaintance of the indomitable First Lady and the two of them team up to solve a mystery and right a few wrongs along the way. Sounds like an inspiring read for these troubling times indeed!:




Tuesday, September 27, 2022

Planning to have a FrightFall time with a murder mystery tour

With spooky season almost upon us(a term that I’ve grown to like!), the time is ripe for TBR making in order to start the FrightFall readathon (hosted by Michelle Miller at Seasons of Reading) this upcoming October. Scary books of all sorts are welcome and my theme for my trio of sinister selections is murder mystery.

While I do enjoy horror reads and movies, especially around this part of the year, the news headlines  these days are terrifying enough as it is. Certainly enough to find a nice  seemingly simple whodunnit to be quite the relief from reality there. While two of them are in the cozy category, one particular title promises to be engagingly ruthless:

In Deanna Raybourn’s latest novel entitled Killers of a Certain Age, a quartet of recently retired ladies are sent off on a cruise by their former employer as a reward for all of their hard work over the years.

However, the cruise turns out to be a ruse for doing them all in. While they’re not exactly best friends, all four of these formidable women find that they have no choice but to trust each other in order to discover who exactly wants them gone for good.

I love this concept as it reminds me of a pair of action movies featuring older assassins with Helen Mirren as a rather spunky hit woman. Imagine her and a pack of gal pals facing off foes together (particularly if someone makes this book into a feature film), now how fun is that?:



Meanwhile, my next pick is The Grim Reader by Kate Carlisle, which is part of her Bibliophile Mystery series.

Bookbinder Brooklyn Wainwright decides to spend some time with husband Derek Stone and her family at the laidback town of Dharma.

As it happens, Dharma is holding their first literary festival, along with a musical production of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women, making Brooklyn’s visit feel like perfect timing.

Unfortunately, that good feeling doesn’t last long as a member of the festival committee is found dead with a prime suspect being local box wine seller Jacob Banyan who was arguing with Brooklyn’s mother Becky(who is running the festival) about having a booth for his lackluster wares.

Despite how obvious he seems to be as the killer, Brooklyn soon learns that the recently departed had quite the enemies list there. Can she catch the culprit and solve a theatrical dispute to save the festival from first time failure status?

This series is a lively as well as literary one and I love how Carlisle manages to highlight a classic book into every plot. With Little Women being a personal favorite of mine, this book is a total must read indeed!:



Fittingly, my last pick is Rhys Bowen’s  The Last Mrs. Summers , a later entry in the Her Royal Spyness mysteries.

Our leading lady, Lady Georgiana is now happily married but with her new husband off on a secret mission, she’s in need of some diversion to keep from worrying about him.

An invitation from her flighty friend Belinda to visit a former beau of hers in Cornwall seems to be the thing. However, their host Tony Summers is having a bit of marital discourse with his new second wife, who is suspicious of how the first Mrs. Summers fulfilled the “death do us part” section of her wedding vows.

When someone on the household staff is murdered, Belinda is seen as the main suspect, leaving Georgiana the only one able to save her friend from an unjust fate and the rest of them from something even more deadly from beyond the grave!

The wink and nod to Daphne du Maurier’s Gothic thriller Rebecca here ought to be the perfect pumpkin spice flavor for this screwball comedy/mystery series and a chillingly charming one at that:


The FrightFall readathon starts on October 1st and ends on the 31sr, appropriately on Halloween (when my big holiday treat is going to be the latest booster shot!). Thanks as always to Michelle for giving us a reading reason for the season.

Murder mysteries seems to abound lately, with several PBS Masterpiece shows returning and movies such as the upcoming Knives Out sequel and recently released See How They Run out in theaters. Guess it’s like they say, eventually everything old does become new again!:





 

Sunday, September 18, 2022

Saluting the heroes of Banned Books Week 2022


 Welcome to Banned Books Week, folks and I hate to say this but every week of this year has felt like Banned Books Week!

With more and more challenges made to public and school libraries(plus even a Barnes & Noble store in Virginia) not only over such well known targeted titles such as To Kill a Mockingbird and The Diary of Anne Frank but openly going after books meant to reach out to BIPOC and LGBTQIA readers in a clear attempt to enforce political agendas on young people, the need to fight for the freedom to read freely has become more vital than ever before.

To that end, my focus today for the start of BBW22 is a tribute to those book people on the front lines in this battle: the librarians. 

With many local libraries out there  dealing with severe budget cuts(or being shut down due to political pressure) , not to mention outright harassment at Drag Queen Story Time events(wish those were around in my day!), librarians are facing tougher times these days.

 So, I thought that  as a note of encouragement and emotional relief to highlight some fictional librarians who help save their communities with their keen literary skills:

Miss Phelps/Matilda: Most librarians do their best work by guiding others towards the right path of knowledge and Roald Dahl’s title heroine gets that assistance early on at her local library.

By allowing Matilda to choose her own books and offer crucial advice on how to best use the services of the library, Miss Phelps show her neglected young charge that there are good people in the world willing to help, paving the way for Matilda to learn to trust others and care for their needs. It’s a skill that we take far too much for granted, it seems:


Rupert Giles/Buffy the Vampire Slayer: 
 
While Giles’ position as Sunnydale High librarian was meant to be a cover for his true calling as a Watcher to the latest Slayer, he really did care about books and learning.

Even after his official library job was over, Giles persisted that Buffy, along with her friends, use the knowledge learned from books as an important weapon to battle the forces of evil . 

Many a time, his vast personal collection of books was the best source of information for dealing with the newest Big Bad and just as handy as a stake to the heart of an undead foe:


Barbara Gordon/Batgirl:
 
As the daughter of Police Commissioner Jim Gordon , Barbara was exposed to crime fighting early on and in her day job as Gotham City librarian, she used those research talents to enhance her caped crusader calling as Batgirl.

Even in later years when she became Oracle ( due to physical injury), a computer and tech consultant for the super heroine team known as Birds of Prey, Barbara’s library training was a key asset, not to mention representing many of the real world librarians out there in cyberspace. 

It’s too bad a certain movie was canceled for tax purposes this year that might’ve shown this superhero librarian in action on the big screen. Nonetheless, her sleuthing skills persist as a fine example for fans everywhere:



Flynn Carsen and company/ The Librarians:

What first began as a series of made for TV films that chronicled the adventures of a new recruit to a secret order of guardians of such legendary objects as the Sword in the Stone and the Spear of Destiny, soon became a TV series in its right.

With Flynn Carsen as the current librarian and aided by experts in art history, technology and mystical skills, plus an undercover agent ready to kick ass, this bookish band of protectors strove to push back against the Serpent Brotherhood , a cult intent on misusing  valuable items to dominate the world.

Although the show was ended after four seasons, it did inspire a solid fandom along with some tie-in novels and comic books that you might be able to find at a library near you. At the very least, this blend of library science and fantasy fiction is a fun way of encouraging people to keep those fortresses of knowledge aka public libraries a safe place for all to explore:




Banned Books Week runs from September 18 to 24 and as we head further into turbulent times, let us take the time to support our libraries and push back against those determined to prevent our society from becoming a better one for all of us.

Censorship is not a new battle yet it’s proponents often try to justify their cause anew by claiming themselves to be “patriots”. In my book, a real patriot wouldn’t be afraid of what young people learn in books or insist that ideas they don’t like  or refuse to understand are the source of all of society’s problems.

Wars, both international and cultural, have had defenders of free thought who do their level best to protect not only books but access to them. May we all strive for true victory by being providers of insight and wonder as librarians ultimately are: