Pop Culture Princess

Pop Culture Princess
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Thursday, April 28, 2022

My Series-ous Reading discovers A Woman Unknown

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Monday, April 18, 2022

Taking a Julia Journey into the nonfiction kitchen


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, April 15, 2022

Filling up my Library Haul spring basket

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, April 05, 2022

Some new additions to my Current Reading TBR

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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