Pop Culture Princess

Pop Culture Princess
especially welcome to extensive readers

Tuesday, May 24, 2022

Preparing for a multiverse of imagination this Sci-Fi Summer

The first big holiday weekend of the summer is soon to be upon us and so is the next Seasons of Reading readathon, Sci-Fi Summer. For the month of June, both science fiction and fantasy books are encouraged to be on your literary docket.

Sticking to my rule of three, I have a trio of titles that should fit the bill nicely with two being prizes from a Discord giveaway that I gratefully won awhile back. Talk about books as the gift that keeps on giving there!

Sea of Tranquility: Emily St. John Mandel’s latest novel crosses many points in time as a self appointed detective seeks witnesses to a strange yet brief event involving music.

From a newly exiled man sent to Canada in 1912 to 1994 where a young woman records an odd moment in the woods and all the way to a book tour in the year 2203, where author Olive Llwellyn has left her family bat their moon colony home to promote her new novel on earth, all of them have shared this odd incident yet no one quite knows what it truly means.

Pulling these errant pieces together is the work of  Gaspery, who wants to connect these dots before the whole puzzle is complete as a last request of sorts to his late mother. Even if he succeeds,however, will the true solution be found?

While I’ve only read Station Eleven, Mandel’s work is well known for it’s seemingly simple designs that do slowly but surely reveal a wider story landscape. Have to say that I am intrigued indeed:

Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow:  One thing that you can definitely count on with author Gabrielle Zevin is that she never writes the same book twice.

 From The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry to Young Jane Young, she zigs where most would zag and this tale of friendship and video games is both the most and the least expected story from her.

We met Sam and Sadie as kids in 1986, with the two of them bonding over video games while he’s in hospital and she is visiting her ailing sister.

Years later, Sam runs into Sadie at college where she’s developing a game that challenges the player to consider their moral stances in life. Impressed by her creativity, he offers to work with her on other such innovative games inspired by Shakespeare and the poems of Emily Dickinson.

While their gaming fortunes rise and fall(as well as draw unwelcome ire from self appointed crusaders), it’s the power of their friendship that becomes the ultimate quest of their lives.

This promises to be one of the best reads of the summer, I suspect, and hopefully others will be happy to take this page turning  journey with me:

Ariadne: The leading title  lady of this mythological retelling is a princess of Crete, whose mother was used by the gods to punish her royal father’s acts of hubris.

As a result, Ariadne has witnessed many gruesome sacrifices made to the dreaded Minotaur dwelling in the labyrinth created by her father, King Minos ,but this year’s champion Theseus, an Athenian prince, moves her to help him survive the deadly challenge and flee with him to safety.

Sadly, her devotion is not at all rewarded and while she does her best to deal with the options left before her, Ariadne refuses to remain a pawn in someone else’s game, divine or mortal.

I’ve always liked Greek mythology and this sounds like a great take on the role of women in these murky magical waters:

 Sci-Fi Summer  officially starts on June 1 and ends on the 30th, so  there is more than plenty of time to sign up 
and join in the fun. Much thanks to Michelle Miller at Seasons of Reading for making this chance to catch up on this genre possible.

Summer seems to be prime real estate for science fiction/fantasy fare, with the new season of Stranger Things coming out as well as Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness taking the box office by storm, plus word of a new Star Wars series on the horizon. 

Just goes to show that no matter how harsh the real world is at the moment, there’s always a great flight of creative fancy to make those times a touch more bearable out there. 

 Enjoy your Memorial Day weekend,folks and I’ll see you in June with hopefully a happy song in my heart:

Friday, May 20, 2022

Bloomsbury Girls on the browse


One of the joys of reading is discovering new authors who seem to know exactly the charming type of story you need to dive into right now and a couple of years ago, Natalie Jenner’s The Jane Austen Society did just that for me.

It’s a delightful fictional look at the possible origins of a group devoted to preserving the Chawton home of Jane Austen and bringing more attention to her wonderful books(highly recommend it!) but today, I am here to share with you all my delight with her fabulous follow-up,Bloomsbury Girls , on this book blog tour.

While there is one character from The Jane Austen Society included here, you can enjoy this novel first on it’s own engaging merits. The ladies of the title work together at Bloomsbury Books in post WWII London , a rather new development for the shop that has long been run by men.

In this except from the novel, you can meet all three of them; Vivien whose rivalry with co-worker Alec is more than professional, Grace, a busy mother and wife hoping to do more with her love of books and Evie, the new girl looking for a change of scene and getting more than she ever expected:

Excerpt from Chapter Two of Bloomsbury Girls,

 by Natalie Jenner

The Tyrant was Alec McDonough, a bachelor in his early thirties who ran the New Books, Fiction & Art Department on the ground floor of Bloomsbury Books. He had read literature and fine art at the University of Bristol and been planning on a career in something big—Vivien accused him of wanting to run a small colony—when the war had intervened. 

Following his honourable discharge in 1945, Alec had joined the shop on the exact same day as Vivien. “By an hour ahead. Like a dominant twin,” she would quip whenever Alec was rewarded with anything first.

From the start Alec and Vivien were rivals, and not just for increasing control of the fiction floor. Every editor that wandered in, every literary guest speaker, was a chance for them to have access to the powers that be in the publishing industry. As two secretly aspiring writers, they had each come to London and taken the position at Bloomsbury Books for this reason. 

But they were also both savvy enough to know that the men in charge—from the rigid Mr. Dutton and then-head-of-fiction Graham Kingsley, to the restless Frank Allen and crusty Master Mariner Scott—were whom they first needed to please. Alec had a clear and distinct advantage when it came to that. Between the tales of wartime service, shared grammar schools, and past cricket-match victories, Vivien grew quickly dismayed at her own possibility for promotion.

Sure enough, within weeks Alec had quickly entrenched himself with both the long-standing general manager, Herbert Dutton, and his right-hand man, Frank Allen. By 1948, upon the retirement of Graham Kingsley, Alec had ascended to the post of head of fiction, and within the year had added new books and art to his oversight—an achievement which Vivien still referred to as the Annexation. 

She had been first to call him the Tyrant; he called her nothing at all. Vivien’s issues with Alec ranged from the titles they stocked on the shelves, to his preference for booking events exclusively with male authors who had served in war. With her own degree in literature from Durham (Cambridge, her dream university, still refusing in 1941 to graduate women), Vivien had rigorously informed views on the types of books the fiction department should carry. Not surprisingly, Alec disputed these views.

“But he doesn’t even read women,” Vivien would bemoan to Grace, who would nod back in sympathy while trying to remember her grocery list before the bus journey home. “I mean, what—one Jane Austen on the shelves? No Katherine Mansfield. No Porter. I mean, I read that Salinger story in The New Yorker he keeps going on about: shell-shocked soldiers and children all over the place, and I don’t see what’s so masculine about that.”

 Unlike Vivien, Grace did not have much time for personal reading, an irony her husband often pointed out. But Grace did not work at the shop for the books. She worked there because the bus journey into Bloomsbury took only twenty minutes, she could drop the children off at school on the way, and she could take the shop newspapers home at the end of the day. Grace had been the one to suggest that they also carry import magazines, in particular The New Yorker. Being so close to the British Museum and the theatre district, Bloomsbury Books received its share of wealthy American tourists. Grace was convinced that such touches from home would increase 

their time spent browsing, along with jazz music on the wireless by the front cash, one of many ideas that Mr. Dutton was still managing to resist.

Vivien and Alec had manned the ground floor of the shop together for over four years, circling each other within the front cash counter like wary lions inside a very small coliseum. The square, enclosed counter had been placed in the centre of the fiction department in an effort to contain an old electrical outlet box protruding from the floor. 

Mr. Dutton could not look at this eyesore without seeing a customer lawsuit for damages caused by accidental tripping. Upon his promotion to general manager in the 1930s, Dutton had immediately ordained that the front cash area be relocated and built around the box.

This configuration had turned out to be of great benefit to the staff. One could always spot a customer coming from any direction, prepare the appropriate response to expressions ranging from confused to hostile, and even catch the surreptitious slip of an unpurchased book into a handbag. Other bookshops had taken note of Bloomsbury Books’ ground-floor design and started refurbishing their own. 

The entire neighbourhood was, in this way, full of spies. Grace and Vivien were not the only two bookstore employees out and about, checking on other stores’ window displays. London was starting to boom again, after five long years of postwar rationing and recovery, and new bookshops were popping up all over. Bloomsbury was home to the British Museum, the University of London, and many famous authors past and present, including the prewar circle of Virginia Woolf, E. M. Forster, and Lytton Strachey. This made the district a particularly ideal location for readers, authors, and customers alike.

 And so, it was here, on a lightly snowing day on the second of January, 1950, that a young Evie Stone arrived, Mr. Allen’s trading card in one pocket, and a one-way train ticket to London in the other.


Excerpt courtesy of St. Martin’s Press, New York. Copyright © 2022 by Natalie Jenner. All rights reserved.

I hope that this look at Bloomsbury Girls, now available at a bookseller near you, encourages any lover of bookstores to add this delightful book to their spring into summer reading list.

In addition to print and ebook, Bloomsbury Girls is also in audio format with narration by actress Juliet Stevenson. Truly a bounty of ways to engage with the lovely literary style of Natalie Jenner here!

My thanks to Laurel Ann Nattress at Austenprose for including me on this wonderful tour as well as to author Natalie Jenner for this most welcome breath of bookish air:

Monday, May 09, 2022

Tough times never last but good books do

While my TBR piles are getting tricky to manage (yes, I have more than one or two there), I can’t entirely resist the urge to buy something new to read, especially when the daily headlines are getting worse every day (more on that later).

Truly, I did think that I would just skip the Book of the Month club selections for May but my literary eye was caught by Love & Other Disasters by Anita Kelly, which combines romance with cooking competition shows so how could I pass that on by?

The show in question is called Chef’s Special and intended for amateur cooks like Dahlia, who is feeling unfocused in life after her divorce.

She finds a friendly rival in London, who has enough troubles of their own as the first openly non binary competitor on the culinary series dealing with rather tasteless online scrutiny.

A romantic relationship soon develops with some complications both on and off screen. Can Dahlia and London make a delicious feast of love together or will that recipe for romance fall apart like an over baked soufflé?

Word of mouth about this novel has been excellent to say the least. A nicely told romance  like this sounds ideal for a spring to summer bookish menu indeed:

I paired that up with Jennifer Close’s latest release, Marrying the Ketchups. 

Set in Chicago, the story lines follow the Sullivan family as they deal with the recent loss of their patriarch Bud, who ran a restaurant in Oak Park.

While new widow Rose adjusts to her relocated life at an assisted living center, two of her grandchildren are reconsidering their situations as well. Gretchen is having serious doubts regarding her rock and roll career while her sister Jane harbors suspicions about her husband’s fidelity.

It’s their cousin Teddy, however, who is determined to keep the family diner going even though his ex-boyfriend constantly shows up there for the dinner hour on the regular (talk about pouring salt into a wound there!).

Dealing with change is the ultimate theme of the book and having read an earlier novel of Close’s(The Hopefuls)  awhile back , I know that her delightful low key story telling is built upon well honed character development worth it’s weight in page turning gold:

Meanwhile, on my recent birthday, I decided to get a physical copy of an ebook by Christina Lauren (The Soulmate Equation) that I was reading and it only made sense to add another book by that author as a proper gift.

The Unhoneymooners has a classic romcom premise as Olive Torres finds herself on a dream vacation with the one man in the world she can’t stand to be around.

With her twin sister Amelia coming down with food poisoning, along with her new husband, their already paid for honeymoon in Hawaii will go to waste unless Olive goes in her stead. The only catch is that Ethan Thomas, her new brother in law, has to join her.

At first, Olive plans to have fun on her own but when she and Ethan run into a pair of acquaintances from back home, they have no choice but to pretend to be their newlywed siblings or lose out on their vacation accommodations.

Despite these ruses, Olive finds herself liking Ethan much more than she had bargained for. Is that feeling mutual or is this just a potential fling and nothing more?

I’ll probably save this one for summer reading but rest assured that Lauren’s engaging romcom energy enhanced by lively developed characters is definitely a year round enjoyment:

Before I go, I do have something to say about those troubling headlines, especially the recent attack on reproductive rights by the Supreme Court. Don’t worry, this isn’t going to be a huge rant, just an affirmation of what we should stand for.

Freedom is a term that gets bandied about a lot but not very well understood by many, particularly those who think that imposing their beliefs onto the rest of us is their sacrosanct right.

Freedom means not only making choices but allowing others to do the same without impediment.

 What we’re seeing right now( and have been for far too long) is an entitlement mindset that wants everything convenient for themselves and no consequences whatsoever for any negative results of their actions.

Well, as a MTV show used to say, it’s time for people to stop being polite and start getting real. Putting up with this nonsense is not how bullies like this are stopped and if being loud is necessary, then let’s get loud.

We see this in the increasing prohibitive laws attacking voters, the LBTQIA community, immigration and book banning, which targets everyone overall. Whether you sign a petition, join in a protest or just tell that rude person in your social circle to knock it off with the hate speech, every bit counts.

These oppressors love to justify their actions by insisting that “This is what the Founding Fathers of our country wanted!” but they -perhaps intentionally-forget that those folks were out and out rebels  against the established authority, the very one that caused them to leave their former country for a fresh start in the first place.

The important thing here is to take a stand for the future of our country to progress forward for all concerned  and not fall back into an outdated oppression that benefits the few. Regardless of century, we shouldn’t hesitate to take our shot for a better world:

Monday, May 02, 2022

Having a bloody good time this Spring Into Horror

My Spring Into Horror readathon ended this morning as I finished reading Certain Dark Things by Silvia Moreno-Garcia(the new epilogue added to the paperback edition bumped it up a star to my original GoodReads review).

However, I thought that for this wrap up, it would be best to talk about the books that were fresh on my bookish horror horizon and so I began with Stephen Graham Jones’ My Heart is a Chainsaw.

Jade Daniels is our leading lady who refuses to believe that she could be the Final Girl in the slasher movie scenario that is her life. 

While she can clearly see the massacre to come in her sullen small lakeside town of Proofock,ID( which happens to have an abandoned summer camp nearby) Jade’s attempts at warning the Final Girl in their midst-newcomer Letha Mondragon-about what to expect go off in the wrong direction.

Raising unwanted attention from the powers that be, Jade still persists in trying to prepare Letha for what’s to come, relying on her mental treasure trove of slasher movie knowledge to educate all those around but to no avail. Nevertheless, she gets ready for what promises to be the ultimate bloodbath of the summer:

To say more would ruin the numerous surprises awaiting you within these brilliantly blood soaked pages but I will say that the story is a steady slow burn that rewards your patience very well.

Graham Jones gives the reader a fully nuanced main character in 17 year old Jade, whose devotion to horror is her well worn armor against the harsh realities of her life. The literary portrait of this snarkily savvy yet sad souled young woman is a masterclass in emotional depth, especially with her wondering at times if she is the unreliable narrator of her own story.

I do intend to read more of SGJ but am delighted to learn that My Heart is a Chainsaw is the first book in an intended trilogy. As any good horror fan knows, sequels are the gift that keeps on giving:

For something a little less intense but still scary adjacent ,  I went with The Ex Hex by Erin Sterling. 

When Vivienne “Vivi” Jones was nineteen, she was new to the ways of magic so when she and her cousin Gwyn decided in a vodka hazed mood to lay a curse on the man who broke her heart, she never expected it to take effect.

Nine years later, that man , Rhys Penhallow,has returned to the witchy town of Glen Grove to do his family duty of resetting the ley lines that fuel the magic of this supernatural small town. Upon his arrival, Rhys experiences all sorts of bad luck which grows worse when he and Vivi meet up again.

The stakes get higher when Rhys tries to perform the ley lines spell, only to spread the curse through out the entire town. Faced with strange after efforts such as attacking toy skulls, a talking cat and an angry library ghost, Vivi and Rhys have no choice but to work together to break the curse before Halloween or it may be too late in more ways than one.

The story is charmingly sweet without being cloying and has several great bits of humor(particularly from that cat named Sir Purr-cival) , plus a well told revived romance. 

All in all, a fun romcom with witchcraft that does enchantingly engages you with every turning page and yes, Sterling is planning to give us a spellbinding sequel featuring Vivi’s cousin Gwyn! Love and horror can go hand in hand, even in the most awkward moments indeed:

 Much thanks to Michelle Miller at Seasons of Reading for making this readathon possible and I’m already arranging my TBR for the next one, Sci-Fi Summer , this June.

With that theme in mind, let me give a shout out to  Everything Everywhere All At Once, an amazing multiverse adventure movie that doesn’t star Dr. Strange (that one looks cool but I need to see Spider-Man No Way Home first!).

Michelle Yeoh plays Evelyn, a woman dealing with all sorts of average problems until one day she is literally dragged into an inter dimensional battle that requires her to live several lives simultaneously in order to save the day and then some.

It’s too weirdly wild to go into more details but if you are open to new mind blowing experiences with touches of humor, heart and family ties, this is a must see for sure. 

I went to watch it in theaters on my birthday last week and it was the best gift that I could give to myself. Also, in an odd way, ETEWAAO is a good movie for Mother’s Day, trust me on this: