Pop Culture Princess

Pop Culture Princess
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Monday, July 25, 2022

Keeping cool with some High Summer reading!

One thing that you can rely on during the summer season is a heat wave or two(perhaps even more these days) to endure as best as you can. Said endurance can be made much better by having the perfect excuse to stay inside and read, preferably with a filled to the brim with ice cubes drink in hand.

To that end, Seasons of Reading will be hosting their High Summer Readathon this August(thanks to Michelle Miller). It’s basically a good time to catch up on relaxing reads in a beach free fashion. As always, I do have a trio of entertaining titles that should offer much refreshing amusement here:

Mr. Malcolm’s List:

Suzanne Allan ‘s romantic comedy of errors is set in Regency England, where Julia Thistlewaite is furious upon learning that the gentleman of the title has such a list of preferred qualities in a potential bride.

Angry that this set of standards caused him to break up with her, Julia plots revenge with the aid of Selina, a friend from the country. By making Selina become Mr. Malcolm’s ideal woman, she can attract his attentions and then brutally break his heart.

Since Selina has little opportunity to join in high society and believes that their target is worthy of such punishment, she goes along with this plan at first. However, upon getting to know him. Selina begins to question this whole scheme and may be on her way to truly falling in love with Malcolm. Yet, can this relationship really work out once all is revealed?

The film adaptation of this rather charming novel was released earlier this summer to rave reviews from critics and audiences alike. While it may be some time before I can this movie for myself, the book ought to do quite nicely indeed:

Donut Fall in Love:

We then head to modern day Canada, courtesy of Jackie Lau, where popular actor Ryan Kwok finds himself in need of baking lessons.

While his career in film is going well despite receiving more praise for his looks instead of his acting, Ryan is offered the chance to be a celebrity guest on the hit culinary series Baking Fail. Since his talents in the kitchen are not even good enough for a show about baking blunders, he asks local baker Lindsey McLeod for a few points about pastry.

Given that the first time they met was when Ryan knocked over a fresh batch of donuts in her bake shop,Lindsey is less than inclined to help out here.

 In need of some positive distraction from her own problems , she decides to teach him enough to get by and finds that the two of them have more in common than they think. Will their time together create a recipe for romance or be more of a flaky fail than anything that  cooking show ever displayed?

I do like stories about cooking competition shows and by stirring in some heartfelt flavors of love and friendship, you’ve got a tasty treat to dive on into. Plus, donuts just make everything better, folks:

Mango,Mambo and Murder:

This debut cozy mystery from Raquel V. Reyes introduces us to Miriam Quinones-Smith, whose move to Miami has caused her to delay getting her PhD in food anthropology.

Hoping to revive her culinary educational spirits, she takes a job as a food expert for a morning TV show which opens a few doors of opportunity to her.

Unfortunately, one of those doors proves deadly for a socialite at a luncheon Miriam attends, especially since her good friend Alma is seen as a main suspect in the growing number of unsavory deaths that follow.

Despite the claims on her time and talents, Miriam is determined to save Alma from such allegations but can she discover the true killer before another goose is permanently cooked?

Cozy mysteries are my jam, particularly with foodie themes and this one has gotten some great word of mouth praise there. Nice to get a first taste of what may be a feast of fun reading yet to come:

I do hope that many of you out there will take a dip in this literary pool and refresh your thoughts during this most heated time span of summer. Sign-up spots are still available and a thank you in advance to Michelle Miller for setting up this shady spot of reading.

My late summer plans are quiet ones, due to my Autumn in August movie series (which puts my regular Series-ous Reading posts on break until September) that’s starts with Master & Commander: The Far Side of the World.

Quite the nautical adventure with perhaps a sea shanty or two to keep things on an entertainingly even keel there, we shall see! Stay cool, everyone and set sail for some calmer waters to come:


Monday, July 18, 2022

My Series-ous Reading plays the game with Queen of Hearts


My apologies for being late with this Series-ous Reading review but as one of my comedians would say, things have just been crazy!

Nevertheless, I did finish my latest Sisters in Sleuthing selection in good time and did have fun along the way.

Queen of Hearts by Rhys Bowen is the eighth entry in the Her Royal Spyness series and has our  1930s leading lady Georgiana “Georgie” Rannoch once again at financial odds. 

While she is number thirty five in line for the British throne. Georgie has no independent wealth of her own and throughly discouraged from making her own way in the world except via marriage. While she is in love with Darcy O’Mara(who is a similar boat, money wise), marrying for love isn’t as simple as it seems.

In sweeps her mother, Claire , a much married woman and former actress hoping to snare a wealthy German into wealthy wedded bliss. She insists that Georgie accompany her to America to divorce her unsuitable current spouse in Reno.

They travel by cruise ship, where Claire meets Cy Goodman, a big time Hollywood producer who thinks that she would be perfect for his next major movie and Georgie is happy to run into Darcy, who is one of his secret missions onboard.

 He’s in search of a jewel thief and suspects Stella Brightwell, famous actress and current paramour of Cy’s since she happens to be around whenever these robberies take place:

By the time they get to America, another theft has occurred but no proof that Stella was involved. Georgie does keep an eye out for trouble, which is not easy to do with her mother looking for some of her own, on and off the set of  the movie that she’s co-starring with Stella in.

When Cy invites everyone to his elaborate country estate for the weekend(including a way too friendly Charlie Chaplin)more problems crop up as his estranged wife decides to make a surprise visit as well.

Things become truly out of hand when Cy is found bludgeoned to death in his library, possibly interrupting the theft of the murder weapon, a gem encrusted candlestick. Could the jewel thief that Darcy’s been after be here with ruby red blood on their hands?

I did enjoy this book as I have the others in this series as Georgie is delightful company and the screwball comedy vibes of these stories are well done. However I just wish that Georgie would take less nonsense from her self centered mother and stuck up for Queenie, her own lady’s maid who Claire cruelly mocks at one point.

Granted, Queenie is not the best at her job(she tends to iron delicate clothes, causing fabric meltdowns) but she is a dutiful soul and felt rightly insulted when Claire laughs at her clad in a red bathing suit(she was going to take a swim in the hotel pool during her off hours, another bone of contention there). 

Georgie just let that happen and it lead to a brief separation between the two and yes, I knew they were going to make up yet I truly despise Claire, who only bothers with her daughter when it’s convenient for her to do so and is the worst kind of phony!

Perhaps in a future outing, Georgie will stand up to Claire but it was annoying to see her mother get all Emily Gilmore at poor Queenie there:

Anyhow, my next Series-ous Reading pick is Stephanie Barron’s Jane and the Madness of Lord Byron. 

While I was less than thrilled with the new film adaptation of Austen’s Persuasion(the script has a big plot hole in the third act due to the omission of a certain character), it did at least give us all a good excuse to talk about Jane Austen and perhaps enjoy more creative takes on her work such as this sleuthing series.

This time around, Austen is visiting Brighton with her newly widowed brother Henry, hoping to ease their mutual loss at this popular seaside retreat. However, a run-in with the infamous Byron proves to be more than a one time encounter as his Lordship is accused of  the murder of a young woman, something that not even the “mad,bad and dangerous to know” nobleman is thought to be capable of.

While they were contemporaries, Austen and Byron didn’t really run in the same social circles and yet it is still fun to imagine the two of them facing off. It’s a notion that Northanger Abbey’s Gothic novel fan Catherine Morland would certainly be frantically page turning by very late candlelight there:

Wednesday, July 13, 2022

Superheroes and backlist blockbusters lead the way in my Current Reading

Despite being more of a cat person, I do appreciate the dog days of summer when it comes to catching up on reading.

At the moment, my current reading rotation is a blend of new releases and backlist titles, starting with the former via Not All Supermen by Tim Hanley.

Hanley is a comic book historian who has written about such well known and yet under appreciated female icons in this genre such as Wonder Women, Lois Lane and Catwoman. The subtitle of his latest book, “Sexism,Toxic Masculinity and the Complex History of Superheroes “ explores even further into those topics with a broader range than his earlier works did.

From the beginning of the superhero genre where strong female characters were sidelined or meant to be arm candy for the male hero to the rise of the feminist movement that brought about reluctant change, Hanley shows us how even though superhero characters were intend to showcase the best in humanity, they also hold up a powerful mirror to our worst natures as well.

I’m at the halfway mark with this book and since I’ve read his other titles before, Hanley’s entertaining educational style is always engaging to me. It’s like hanging out with a cool teacher in a comic book shop for extra credit.

One on my favorite chapters so far  draws comparisons between the classic Dark Phoenix Saga in X-Men to Teen Titans’ The Judas Contract, the latter being a story line that doesn’t get as much coverage in my opinion (plus, I do own a Terra/Tara Markov action figure!).

Not All Supermen is due out on July 15(I was lucky enough to receive a review copy) and I highly recommend it to not only comic book/superhero fans but to those interested in seeing how influential our ongoing debates about gender roles in society are showcased in such a public forum. Even Superman is as vulnerable to these cultural forces as he is to Kyptonite:

Meanwhile, my latest Book of the Month Club selections are from a couple of years ago but still very much on the forefront of the literary scene.

Along with Bringing Down the Duke by Evie Dunmore, I chose Angie Thomas’ On The Come Up, which is about to have the film adaptation be available for streaming very soon.

This YA novel stars Brianna “Bri” Jackson, who is determined to follow in her late father’s footsteps as a rap singer yet be seen as her own person to make her own mark upon the world.

That’s hard to do in so many ways as Bri discovers upon releasing a song online that grows popular and gives her a fan base yet gains negative attention from unwelcome corners. Wanting to also help her family out financially is another strong incentive but her mother prefers that Bri focus on school first, plus Supreme, her father’s former manager, offers plenty of career opportunities but at what artistic price?

I haven’t read Thomas’ The Hate U Give but did like the movie a lot and upon hearing that OTCU was about to on screen soon, I thought it would be good to read the book first. 

The story is as engagingly energetic as a good song that you add to your permanent playlist is, with heartfelt characters that deal with real world problems as well as personal challenges along the way. I’m nearly finished with the book and hope to see the movie sometime soon :

For my summer library haul, I went with a pair of books by authors I haven’t read before such as Stacey Abrams’ While Justice Sleeps and Normal People by Sally Rooney.

The Rooney novel  starts in a small Irish town where popular teen sports star Connell has a secret relationship with quiet upper class Marianne, a connection that he is more invested in concealing than she is.

When they part ways to attend college in Dublin and yet are thrown back into each other’s community, their social roles as reversed. Marianne is the one shining in the spotlight while Connell is standing on the sidelines ,uncertain of what his place in the world is truly meant to be. Can they find love again or is their time together a thing of the past?

I have heard nothing but wonderful things about Sally Rooney’s writing but was unsure of where to start with her books. Normal People seems to be a good setting off point here(did hear good word about the Hulu miniseries adaptation) and this story has a bit of a Jane Austen vibe, perhaps a modern day Persuasion if you will. Definitely worth a try:

Speaking of Persuasion, I am looking forward to seeing the newest entry on Netflix this upcoming weekend, despite the mixed reviews that have come out already.

While it does appear that my concerns about Anne Eliot being given a Bridget Jones makeover have been unfortunately well warranted, I still want to give it a fair chance. 

There are very good actors in the cast and if this leads to other Austen adaptations that are more complimentary to the source material, it’ll be worth the fuss. Goodness knows, there are worse things to worry about outside of our silver screens so let us engage in lively yet friendly discussion on this front!:

Tuesday, July 05, 2022

A fine fictional finish to Sci-Fi Summer

 Welcome back, folks, to the regular routine of LRG and while the world outside has been riff with chaos, the reading waters have been just fine.

Speaking of reading, the Sci-Fi Summer readathon hosted by Michelle Miller at Seasons of Reading has ended and per my usual, I finished two out of the three books chosen for this challenge. Considering the amazing quality of this particular pair, this was a great achievement indeed!

First up was Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow , the latest from Gabrielle Zevin. Yes. the title does refer to a Shakespeare quote but the overall theme is the resilience of friendship and video games as storytelling realms.

The center of the plot forms when Sam Madurai runs into Sadie Green during their college days, renewing a broken childhood connection, and upon playing one of Sadie’s prototype game, convinces her to team up with him to become video game creators together.

While they do make for a good artistic partnership, their goals in the field often clash, especially since Sadie’s talents are taken for granted by the male dominated industry and media.

Nevertheless, they do persist in part due to Marx, their mutual friend and business partner (who becomes more than a friend to Sadie over time). However, when an unforeseen event takes Marx out of that equation, can Sam and Sadie heal from this ultimate breach?

Zevin is a wonderful writer as well as a video gamer and it shows in the gorgeous geek prose when talking about that virtual world. One section of the book takes place entirely in a game that’s a cross between The Sims and Oregon Trail, which blends seamlessly into the narrative whole of the story.

This is the third novel that I’ve read by Zevin (Young Jane Young, The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry) and so far, she does not miss a beat, book wise. It’s fair to say TATAT is one of the best things that I’ve read this or any other year:

I followed that up with Emily St. John Mandel’s Sea of Tranquility , another mind blower of a book to be sure!

While the plot points are stretched over different places in time, what connects them is Gaspery, a man of the future seeking out witnesses to a temporal event that could explain the true national of reality.

From an exiled British man in Canada of the 1800s to a writer living on a moon colony doing a book tour on Earth in the year 2203, this strange incident that these random people stumbled onto does haunt them in small ways. Yet it is Gaspery whose fate is truly bound by what happened and the answer he seeks is far from expected.

This may sound like a complicated story but it’s not at all.  Mandel glides through these vast connections with a gentle ease that smoothly carries the reader along for an epic ride. The tender depictions of humanity are the strength of the book, making such questions about the nature of our world very down to earth and attainable.

We’re getting a lot of multiverse stories these days and while SOT is perhaps more of a time travel tale, it does hold some of those elements rather well. Definitely a best of the year read , especially if you like the movie Everything Everywhere All At Once:

Much thanks to Michelle Miller for setting the table for another readathon feast and hope everyone who took part in Sci-Fi Summer had as grand a time as I had with their books.

As I said earlier, we are caught up in serious troubled times these days but I do believe in radical hope in that we can still change things for the better. Staying true to our family and friends is a part of that, along with reviving our spirits with a good book or two.

With that in mind, the next readathon will be High Summer in August and I do have a trio of relaxing reads on deck for that occasion. Summer is meant to be a period of mellow relief and we should do that as much as possible for the benefit of all to gather our strength for what lies ahead: