Pop Culture Princess

Pop Culture Princess
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Friday, February 25, 2022

Taking comfort in some Current Reads

 As this week in the news alone has shown us, the times that we all are going through right now are troubling to say the least.

While keeping informed on all fronts(which sadly includes the unjust invasion of Ukraine), it’s also a good notion to keep your spirits up with a good book or two at hand. I’ve been doing that as much as possible lately, starting with the newest entry in one of my favorite cozy mystery series.

Bake,Borrow and Steal is Ellie Alexander’s latest Bakeshop Mysteries title, set in the idyllic town of Ashland, Oregon where Juliet “Jules” Capshaw is happily expanding her family’s bakery into a budding edible enterprise.

When asked to prepare a Shakespeare themed meal for a special presentation of recently discovered papers from the Bard that include a never before seen play, Jules is thrilled to tackle this task despite feeling that she may be biting off more than she can chew.

However, it turns out that the food will be the least of her worries on the night of the Shakespeare event as the papers are stolen seemingly right before everyone’s eyes and the guard for the literary display dispatched in an untimely manner!

Can Juliet find the papers and the killer before both are permanently lost to time and misfortune? I do enjoy these books and their delightful cast of characters suitable for any form of Shakespearean entertainment.

It’s also fun to see the various Elizabethan treats being prepared here like lardy bread and imprime cakes. When it comes to a satisfying story recipe, Alexander definitely takes the cake:

For a change of pace, I decided to try a library loan from an author that I haven’t read before, Christina Baker Kline, best known for the novel Orphan Train.

 The Exiles is like that previous work, historical fiction that follows the lives of three young women forced into resettling to and in Australia during the 19th century .

Two of them,Evangeline and Hazel, are transported prisoners from England who like many others, were given unduly harsh sentences in order to expand the growing colonial population in that part of the world.

The third girl, Matthina, is taken from her people at the whim of the governor’s wife who wants to show off a “civilized “ local to visitors. 

When Hazel is granted a work release position at the governor’s house, she finds an unexpected ally in Matthina, who longs for freedom just as much as she does. Can they help each other out without making more sacrifices than they already have?

I have to say that this is quite a captivating book and I do plan to read more of Baker Kline’s work. Getting more empathetic  insight into this point in time for women is one of the reasons that I engage with this genre so much:

I was beginning to feel like a reading slump was about to arise, so to rev up my bookish engines, Stephen King’s Billy Summers was the right ride to catch.

Our leading man of the title is a professional hitman who keeps his literature loving intelligence under his hat. Looking for a good payday for one last job, Billy agrees to a deal that has him waiting in plain sight for his target which seems too good to be true.

His cover story for this setup has Billy posing as a writer working on his big debut book, an opportunity that he is taking on for real. The job does go wrong of course, yet it appears that this could provide one hell of an ending for his story in more ways than one.

So far, Billy Summers is a steady trip that lets you enjoy the sights along the way. I like the vibe of this book, sort of a “what if Stephen King wrote an episode of HBO’s Barry”(I don’t know if King has even watched that show but he does like a lot of pop culture TV). That makes this even more fun for me:

Well, it’s going to be a good long while before things get better out there but if we hold on and support each other as best we can, good times might come back sooner than we think.

In the meanwhile, I intend to spread the good word about reading and maybe do a little rereading as well. There seems to be a revival of interest in Julia Child as HBO is planning a new series based on her life and Food Network is about to air a new competition show called The Julia Child Challenge (she probably would have much to say about that, I’m sure!).

With My Life in France , plus Julie & Julia, on my shelf, I can finally go back to some nonfiction reading that I’ve put on hold for the most part these last two years. Julia Child lived life on her own terms and is certainly a solid source of inspiration to draw from indeed:

Friday, February 18, 2022

Taking a bookish tour with Jane and The Year Without a Summer

One of the highlights of this new year of reading was to discover that a new Jane Austen mystery by Stephanie Barron was set to arrive in February.

For those not familiar with this series, Barron has imagined the Regency literary legend as a detective who subtly yet surely uses her keen insight into human follies to solve those puzzles (and occasional murders) that come across her path in life.

For this latest entry, Jane and the Year Without a Summer, the year in question is 1816 when a volcanic eruption caused a worldwide change in the seasons. Nevertheless, Jane and her sister Cassandra decide to spend a couple of weeks in the spa town of Cheltenham for some much needed rest and restoration.

Since the works of Jane Austen are often blended into the narrative of each story, I thought that a good way to highlight the new Jane Austen mystery would be by pointing out some of those familiar story sights.

To start with, Jane and Cassandra do make a stop along the way to Cheltenham at their brother James’s home where his wife Mary is always fancying herself to be far sicker than anyone else. This sister-in-law reminds me greatly of Anne Eliot’s similarly named sister in Persuasion who shares that attention getting inclination as well:

When Jane and her sister do arrive in Cheltenham, they quickly learn that there is more to the place than just taking the waters.

Plenty of amusement is to be found among their new acquaintances at their local lodgings, rather like Charlotte Heywood discovers in Sanditon , that sadly unfinished story set in a seaside village looking to offer the promise of renewed health and perhaps a touch of romance to visitors there:

Intrigue abounds, however, as one of their new company turns out to be fleeing from her nobleman husband and possibly wicked stepmother.

The lady’s insistence that her family seeks to ruin her health for their own financial benefit does sound quite a bit like one of those Gothic novels that Catherine Morland from  Northanger Abbey would devour in one late night sitting. 

Regardless, things may not be what they seem as both Jane and her fictional heroine learn along the way…:

As a fan of historical mysteries and Jane Austen, I was very happy to be included on this blog tour which continues until February 20th.

Much thanks to Laurel Ann Nattress at Austenprose for inviting me onboard and also to Stephanie Barron for giving us another creative opportunity to revisit Jane Austen’s world yet again.

I have read the book and it is an engaging look at Austen’s later years with a good dash of the humor and wit that most likely got her through some of the trying times that the real life Austen dealt with.

This story does hold a note of romantic regret as Jane does meet up with an old friend who could’ve been something more had not circumstances gotten in the way. 

With this book being the thirteenth installment in the series, I do hope for at least one more tale to round out Jane’s last days in this regard. However this set of Jane Austen Mysteries ends, they are tales worth retelling indeed:

Tuesday, February 08, 2022

My new season of Series-ous Reading shows that Murder is a Must

 Welcome to another season of Series-ous Reading, where books connected by one writer and genre are given their just due.

The theme this year is Sisters in Sleuthing, a look at women from different time periods use their innate skills to solve those pesky mysteries that practically fall in their lap.

Our starting point is Marty Wingate’s Murder is a Must,  the second entry in her First Edition Library series. Set in modern day Bath, Hayley Burke is the curator of a Golden Age mystery collection created by the late Lady Georgiana Fowling(who also wrote a few sleuthing stories herself!).

As Hayley is working on a way to expand the influence of the collection with a program of guest speakers, plus an exhibition of Lady Fowling’s life and times. 

To that end, she snags a key spot at the renowned Charlotte gallery and a manager she all too well, Oona Atherton.

While working with Oona is difficult at best(as Hayley remembers from their time together at the Jane Austen Center), she is very efficient and capably creative. Also, a possible unexpected bonus to the exhibit may be available if only it can be found! 

Thanks to a letter left by Lady Fowling, there may be a first edition of Dorothy L. Sayers’ Murder Must Advertise that is signed by the author and several iconic mystery writers of that time in the collection. With Oona dropping hints about the book before it has been located, interest in the upcoming exhibit abounds.

Unfortunately, that attention proves deadly as Oona dies from a fall down a spiral staircase, a demise scarily much like the one that the novel in question is looking into:

As Hayley manages to find a replacement for Oona(the rather over the top Zeno Berryfield) while still searching for the book, several more incidents occur that make her wonder why this project feels doomed to end before it truly begins. Yet, will that fatal feeling take another life?

I really enjoyed the debut title  in this series, The Bodies in the Library, and happy to say that it’s just as grand a time with this second outing. Hayley is a charming leading lady with an excellent supporting cast such as the rather unflappable secretary Mrs. Woolgar and current love interest Val, a college professor who has a young police detective Kenny Pye in his writing class.

I do love the fact that Hayley isn’t totally read up on most of the Golden Age mystery writers in the collection and winds up picking up the particularly themed work in question.

It makes her very relatable and already has me waiting for a copy of Murder Must Advertise to add to my TBR to boot!

Marty Wingate has a third book in this series that’s been recently released and despite the title, The Librarian Always Rings Twice, the plot is not a tribute to James M. Cain’s classic thriller. Instead, it is a tip of the hat to a Daphne Du Maurier novel called Frenchman’s Creek. So glad to have more First Edition Mysteries to look forward to:

As to my next selection, we head back to the England of the 1930s in Rhys Bowen’s Heirs and Graces.

 Her Royal Spyness, Lady Georgiana Rannoch is once again given a special assignment from the Queen. At first, it doesn’t seem too daunting as she asked to be the unofficial mentor to the reluctant heir of a grand estate.

When the current head of the household is found with a literal knife in his back, Georgiana adds to her plate of duties solving this murder before an innocent man is served up to the gallows.

So far, the book is a sheer delight with a nice bit of Downton Abbey drama for fun flavor that I am eager to devour. A bookish bon appetit to be sure!:

Tuesday, February 01, 2022

Engaging in some Gilded Age good reads

After long last, HBO gives us The Gilded Age, created by Downton Abbey’s Julian Fellowes, a series set in the New York world known best to the likes of Edith Wharton and Henry James.

While there is a blend of classic performers(Christine Baranski, Carrie Coon, Audra McDonald) and newcomers (Louisa Jacobson, Denee Benton,Taissa Farmiga), so far all of them expertly compliment their roles in this story line that pits “Old New York” against the new money folks.

This show is pretty much the new Downton Abbey for many of us period drama fans and while it’s not directly based on a book, there are plenty of good novels out there that fit this historical fiction frame nicely:


Fiona Davis’ latest novel  cuts across two time periods as Veronica, a model in 1966, discovers a set of papers during a photo shoot at the Frick museum that May reveal the location of a rare diamond belonging to the Frick family.

The papers in question were handled by Lillian, who in 1919 inadvertently took on a position as secretary to Helen Clay Frick, the forthright daughter of wealthy industrialist Henry.

Lillian only intended to stay long enough to earn enough money for travel to Hollywood in search of a film career. However, as she got more involved with the Fricks and their secrets, it became harder to break away despite the life or death stakes thrust upon her.

Davis is quite the literary artist, using her words to create immersive storytelling murals against the canvas of iconic locales in New York and this book promises to be another elegant masterpiece of prose.

I picked it up as a Book of the Month club selection and plan to start it soon, to not only enjoy the vivid descriptions of the Frick house but it’s iconic residents as well:


In this story by Renee Rosen, the rivalry between Caroline Astor, the acclaimed diva of the Gilded age society, and Alva Vanderbilt, the wife of a new to money family, is showcased in more ways than one.

As Caroline struggles to maintain her status as the taste maker of her class, Alva is bound and determined to not be seen as second best in any sense of the term. Both women share equal amounts of joy and sorrow in their lives that make them more alike than they know yet the demands of their insular world keep them apart.

I read this last year and it’s a riveting tale to be sure. Rosen highlights each of her leading ladies in full measure, making them as elegantly human as possible. Some of the real life characters here will most likely be featured in The Gilded Age series so this book is a picture perfect companion read there:


Sara Donati’s first entry in this trilogy introduces us to Anna and Sophie, cousins who both share a love of medicine and a home with their widowed aunt in Washington Square.

Pursuing their careers as doctors is difficult, especially when laws that restrict the rights of women’s health such as the Comstock Act directly affect their working class patients.

Things get even more complicated when Anna becomes involved with Rosa, an orphan trying her best to keep her younger brothers with her rather than a “charitable” institute. Sophie finds herself intervening with a new mother who may not be able to take care of her baby but the help required could jeopardize her medical license.

As these ladies work to provide the best they have to give to the people in their care, it grows clear that they also need to help themselves in other emotional matters of the heart.

Donati is no stranger to epic historical fiction, having some of the characters here be descendants from her Wilderness series. I have both this one and it’s follow up (Where the Light Enters) on one of my TBRs and hope to be fully up to speed by the time the third book is out and about.

Such a suitable saga for anyone interested in a very different look at this time period indeed:

Looking back at history can be beneficial as well as entertaining and with shows like The Gilded Age giving a bit of both to TV audiences and readers, we may be able to better appreciate the world we now live in.

Of course, if you just want a break from the daily grind, this series should provide that in abundance and certainly a smartly satisfying way to do so with popcorn at hand, along with a good book to enjoy: