Pop Culture Princess

Pop Culture Princess
especially welcome to extensive readers

Thursday, January 27, 2022

An acre of ARCs ready for future reading

One small but sure sign that things may not be as bad as they seem these days in the bookish world is the availability of Advance Readers Copies(aka ARCs).

By this I mean actual physical copies, which have been hard to come by during the worst of the pandemic (digital ones are fine yet nothing beats having a good story in page turning hand).

Recently, I was lucky enough to win a nice stack of upcoming titles via a giveaway at Discord and while they are a mix of science fiction and fantasy, one emerged from the pack to peak my Regency reading interest considerably.

The Murder of Mr. Wickham by Claudia Gray takes place in the Jane Austen universe, where the former Emma Woodhouse and her loving husband Mr. Knightley are hosting a summer gathering with acquaintances old and new.

Unfortunately, the unexpected and unwelcome arrival of Mr. Wickham causes plenty of trouble yet propriety demands that he remain, despite the discomfort to more than one set of visitors.

When the title event occurs, it falls upon two of the younger guests, Juliet Tilney and the eldest Darcy son Jonathan, to sort the situation out before more foul play threatens all assembled.

For an Austen fan like me, this book seems like a wonderful surprise gift(that I will dive into as soon as I finish up the current Austen themed book I’m reading). Part of the official description for TMOMW calls it a blend of Austen and Agatha Christie, which is most certainly my cup of tea(May):

 One of the other notable books in this prize pack that caught my eye was Emily St. John Mandel’s Sea of Tranquility.

This is one of those storylines that travel through time, beginning in 1912 with Edwin, a young man exiled to Canada who makes a bizarre discovery.

That finding is recorded in 1994 and later found in 2020, becoming a part of a concert performed by the brother of the young woman who captured it on film.

This influence extends to the year 2203, where an acclaimed author named Olive uses it as the inspiration for her new book, written at a colony on the moon. Promoting her work on a trip back to Earth, Olive appears to have connected those last links on the mysterious chain but what will that ultimately reveal?

This does sound promising and like many others, I did enjoy Mandel’s Station Eleven(which has recently become a popular HBO series)very much. I plan to save this for the SciFi Summer readathon this June but fortunately, you don’t have to wait that long for Mandel’s latest literary journey to begin(April):

Before that set of upcoming books arrived, I did win a historical fiction set during the final years of the Romanov empire , The Last Grand Duchess.

Author Bryn Turnbull introduces us to Olga, the firstborn daughter of Czar Nicholas, haunted by a prophecy that she would not live to see the age of thirty.

As she does her best to deal with the slow yet steady decline of the royal family’s power, Olga tries to hold onto to hope for the better, with the chance of a possible romance awaiting in the wings.

As someone who doesn’t know much about the final years of the Romanovs beyond the basic history,this should be interesting in more ways than one (February):

Of course, it’s going to be a good long while before we get any sort of regular life back again. However, it does help to have some pop culture delights to look forward to there.

Getting new books in any form is a part of that and I’m very grateful to have these gorgeous storytelling gems Grace my shelves. Granted, I do have a spot of bother in finding space for these fresh reads but that is one problem that I am truly happy to have:

Monday, January 17, 2022

Getting revved up for romance during a Winter’s Respite

Readathon time is upon us and for me, the Winter’s Respite 
 coming up in February over at Seasons of Reading is a great way to start the new year.

Michelle Miller of SOR holds it for a month and reading fiction is mainly encouraged (nonfiction is fine as well). I’ve been keeping my TBR selections set to the rule of three , which seems to be working out for the better in my case.

The trio of books that I’ve chosen here all happen to be in the romcom category, given that a) Valentines Day is also next month , and b) the term respite invokes relaxing entertainment , a solid bet when it comes to this genre:


Author Sonya Lalli introduces us to Niki, who is tired of being the “good daughter “ that gave up her musical dreams for a steady computer career in Seattle.

Upon being downsized from her job, Niki decides to be bold for once and goes on a trip to attend a friend’s wedding in India.

While there, she meets Sam, a musician from London whose band is breaking up. It’s clear that these two are in tune with each other but is this a new beginning or a vacation fling destined to be a one hit wonderland for them both?

I fondly remember reading Lalli’s first novel, The Matchmaker’s List, and happy to find her lively way with words readily on hand again:


In K.M. Jackson’s latest novel, a pair of friends go off on the title quest despite one of them being head over heels for the other.

When Bethany Lu Carlisle learns from a tabloid report that her favorite leading man is about to get hitched, recruiting her high school best buddy True Erickson to ride along is an instant go-to for her. Who better to trust to help stop Keanu from making a big mistake than her True blue companion?

While he does reluctantly agree to accompany her, True’s real hope is to prevent Lu from making a major error of her own, plus maybe getting her to see that the love of her life might be sitting in the front seat right next to her.

I must admit that not immediately diving into this particular Book of the Month selection has been difficult at best. However, I have a strong feeling that my patience will be well rewarded here:


I have to say up front that this last pick is a reread but since I’m using a physical copy instead of an ebook version this time, that’s as good of a reason as any!

Plus I did enjoy Sophie Kinsella’s  quirky look at instant romance here. Ava, a copywriter in need of inspiration, goes to a writer’s retreat in Italy where she meets Dutch, a too good to be true guy who is inspired to be romantically involved with her.

While their time in Italy is great, going back home to London turns the page in more ways than one for them both. Getting to really know one another (including their real names-Dutch is actually Matt!) and their decidedly different takes on life is a real test of commitment that may be hard for either of them to pass.

Returning to a book you know is a good time to be had is always a good choice, in my opinion, and Kinsella has proven to be a sure bet when seeking some smartly sweet solace:

The Winter’s Respite readathon begins on February 1 and if you’re in search of a good way to spend the rest of the frosty days ahead of us, this is certainly a most excellent starting point.

There is plenty of time to sign up and give yourself a nice break from technical stimulus that threatens to overwhelm your sensibilities on a daily basis. Instead, indulge in a little literary oasis there:

Friday, January 14, 2022

Playing a bit of bookish catchup with my Current Reads

Given the state of things today, I am glad to have gotten a good number of new books for Christmas (eight in total!) and have also gotten my Goodreads challenge for the year off to a solid start by finishing two of them.

My first completed read for 2022 is Apples Never Fall, the latest  by Liane Moriarty. 

When reluctant tennis retiree Joy Delaney goes missing for several days, suspicions begin to form about her husband Stan, who still can’t get over losing a potential superstar tennis player back in his coaching days.

However, as the quartet of adult Delaney children discover, this vanishing act may have something to do with the mysterious stranger that stayed with their parents for awhile.

Savannah showed up at the Delaney’s door one night, claiming to be escaping from a brutal boyfriend, and wound up becoming a long term guest. Was she truly a damsel in distress or a promising young woman seeking a slow motion revenge?

To say more would spoil the devious delights of this book but if you’re familiar with Moriarty’s artful blend of mystery and family drama, then this is definitely your cup of storytelling tea. Tennis is a strong thread in this book, one that binds the plot points and emotional arcs of the characters as tightly as a professionally made racket:

Next up was Lana Harper’s Payback’s a Witch , where Emmy Harlow returns to her hometown of Thistle Grove, a haven for witchcraft practicing families.

Emmy left years ago, due to having her heart broken by Gareth Blackmore, the heir apparent of his family. Turns out Gareth has also been playing with the hearts of her best friend Linden Thorn and long time crush Natalia “Talia”Arvamov, who is interested in a little magical revenge.

The main reason that Emmy came home is to arbitrate the Gauntlet, a series of challenges meant to determine which family is in charge of Thistle Grove. The Blackmoores have been in power for several generations now and using their power play to slowly yet surely push the other witch families down.

Emmy is happy to help settle more than one score here but she is in danger of being distracted by a budding romance between herself and Talia, who is eager to encourage Emmy to staying in town for good.

Can Emmy gain her revenge and find true love all on her own terms or this there a price for both that she’s not willing to pay?

This is the first time that I’ve read Lana Harper and the good news that I want to read more . As luck would have it, this novel is meant to be the first in a Thistle Grove series (the follow up, From Bad to Cursed, is due out soon). Harper showcases a charming knack for crafty character development and staging, bringing this magical town to vivid life on the page.

The best part is watching Emmy and Talia click together as a couple, creating more than one kind of magic to enchant  audiences with:

At the moment , I’m in the middle of a wonderful Book of the Month club selection that I treated myself to as a New Year’s present.

Debut historical fiction  writer Kaia Alderson tells the story of the role African American women played in WWII in Sisters in Arms.  In 1942, New Yorkers Eliza Jones and Grace Steele separately found themselves at a crossroads regarding the course of their lives.  

Each woman decided to join the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps(WAAC) and meet up to form an on-again, off-again bond that got them through some tough times.

While Grace’s set of street smarts often clashed with Eliza’s upper class notions of the world, the two of them shared professional dreams that both sexism and racism combined to stand in their way.

Working together to not only set a strong example for change but to protect the country they love, Grace and Eliza do their best to get over what misunderstandings arise between them to pave the way for others to follow.

Alderson does more than give a history lesson here, she makes her leading ladies truly engaging and heartfelt. Grace’s love of music and Eliza’s determination to be more than just a “lady reporter” expand the backstory of their characters as well as the realities they live in.

It’s also interesting to see real life figures placed within the story such as Mary McLeod Bethune(a prominent Black military adviser who worked with Eleanor Roosevelt) and Charity Adams ( the first African American female officer of the WAAC),adding a greater sense of history making to this story of women moving towards a better tomorrow for all:

While I don’t have a major reading goal this year, apart from any upcoming readathons and blog related books, I do intend to dive into more historical fiction as the winter season rolls on.

Winter is a good time to take a few looks at the past, I think , with shows such as the new season of All Creatures Great and Small( with two more seasons to come!) and the upcoming HBO series, The Gilded Age, soon to arrive.

Hopefully, such fictional stories can teach us something about those long ago days that might steer our present day thoughts away from making similar mistakes and possibly improve our current course of actions. Not a sure thing but using some solid storytelling for solutions is not the worst idea out there:

Friday, January 07, 2022

Summing up my Christmas Spirit and setting up a new year of Series-ous Reading

 First off, I hope everyone had a good holiday season and a very Happy New Year (despite the ongoing health crisis).

A good part of keeping my spirits bright was the Christmas Spirit readathon, hosted by Michelle Miller at Seasons of Reading. My TBR for this challenge was small but wonderfully sweet.

The first book that I completed here was Christina Lauren’s In A Holidaze  , which I heard quite a bit about and it was all good indeed.

Our leading lady is Maelyn, who finds herself stuck in a time loop that has her reliving Christmas week with her family and their longtime friends, especially a pair of brothers, one of them she’s had a secret crush for years.

With only one person in the group that she can safely confide in(Benny, a sweet natured stoner), Maelyn has to figure out how to appease the powers that be to get back to her regular life without any dire consequences.

Yes, part of Maelyn’s dilemma involves the potential love triangle between brother Andrew and Theo but it’s also about making changes to her life for the better in other ways while improving the status quo for the rest of this gang of friends and family who gather together for a beloved shared experience annually.

This is the first time that I’ve read a Christina Lauren novel and given the storytelling charms that floated off the pages, it won’t be my last.  This had a Christmas movie vibe in the best sense of the term:

I also enjoyed A Candlelight Christmas  by Susan Wiggs and planned to dive into a cozy mystery collection but wound making a switch for a brand new release which also has a Christmas movie vibe to it as well.

The Holiday Swap is a debut novel by Maggie Knox that combines twin sisters, romance and baking show behind the scenes drama.  Charlie Goodwin is the co-host of a popular baking show called Sweet and Salty with her obnoxious TV partner Austin truly living up to his half of the title.

While filming their holiday special ( and hoping to get her own solo series), Charlie has a minor accident that impairs her sense of smell and taste. Knowing full well how Austin would take advantage of this situation, she calls her identical twin sister Cass to change places with her until filming ends.

This isn’t an easy decision for Cass, who is running the family bakery in their hometown alone for the first time and is in the middle of a breakup with her longtime boyfriend Brett, who is being denser than a fruitcake about this.

While Charlie agrees to handle Brett and Cass has at least one person on the Sweet and Salty set in the know to help her out, both sisters find that the life their sibling is leading is harder than it looks. 

Not to mention that each of them find unexpected romance that could be perfect but for the fact that neither man knows which sister is which.

This was a nicely done story that rang all the right holiday bells and I look forward to their next seasonal book(Maggie Knox is a pair of writers working together, much like Christina Lauren, interestingly enough!). 

Publishing plans  are already set for next fall with All I Want for Christmas being a reality show romcom plot. Sounds like a great holiday read to tune into:

Meanwhile, I finished up the last of my Culinary Cozy Feast selections for the Series-ous Reading challenge . 

Joanne Fluke’s Wedding Cake Murder finally has small town baker and part time detective Hannah Swenson get married yet not to either one of her long running boyfriends Mike or Norman. Instead she weds Ross Barton, an old college flame who became a film director ( he first appeared in Cherry Cheesecake Murder).

Not only is she getting married , Hannah is set to appear on Food Channel’s Dessert Chef Competition (her younger sister Michelle sent in an application for her secretly!) and by winning the first challenge, the rest of the show is now going to be filmed in her hometown!

That leaves Hannah’s eager to be in charge mother Delores in place to make all of the wedding plans,a dubious benefit at best. What truly is an advantage is an old family friend who grew up with the head judge of the dessert competition, picky Alain Duquesne, and knows his favorite flavors.

Hannah is happy to have that extra bit of help and even resorts to wearing her wedding clothes to serve up a specially themed wedding cake to the judging panel. That cake turns out to be a solid win but proves to be Alain Duquesne’s last sweet sensation in this life:

When Alain is found dead in the freezer by Hannah’s sister, she naturally feels honor bound to find the killer but can she do so while trying to win the competition and not be late for her own wedding in more ways than one?

While I would vastly have preferred Norman to be the groom here(the man is practically tailor made for her!), I guess Ross will do for now. This is a murder mystery series so, hey, we’ll see how long this relationship lasts-not jinxing anything here, I swear!

Otherwise, it was nice to see Hannah have a happy ending in the romance department. While her love life is not always stable, you can count on Hannah to have a good cookie on hand and a mystery to solve in front of her:

So, having finished up my reading challenges for 2021, I feel ready for this new year of 2022 bookish delights.

My thanks to Michelle Miller for keeping these readathons going and I’m already planning my TBR for February’s Winter’s Respite.

As for Series-ous Reading , the theme this year is Sisters in Sleuthing with a range of female detectives from young to young at heart, with modern day and historical settings as well.

My first choice in this category is Murder is a Must  by Marty Wingate, the second entry in her First Edition Library series.

 Newly appointed curator Hayley Burke is still catching up on the Golden Age mystery women writers that make up the bulk of  Lady Fowling’s collection in her care when she discovers that a rare Dorothy Sayers first edition may be on the library’s shelves.

Unfortunately, the search for that particular title leads to the untimely demise of her new assistant Oona and that makes Hayley have no choice but to learn a few literary lessons to find out who done it.

 I really enjoyed the first book in this series, The Bodies in the Library, and with a third book due out soon entitled The Librarian Always Rings Twice, this seems like a perfect pick. Also, it might inspire to tackle some Dorothy Sayers at last, so a win-win all around indeed: