Pop Culture Princess

Pop Culture Princess
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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: