Pop Culture Princess

Pop Culture Princess
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Tuesday, September 27, 2022

Planning to have a FrightFall time with a murder mystery tour

With spooky season almost upon us(a term that I’ve grown to like!), the time is ripe for TBR making in order to start the FrightFall readathon (hosted by Michelle Miller at Seasons of Reading) this upcoming October. Scary books of all sorts are welcome and my theme for my trio of sinister selections is murder mystery.

While I do enjoy horror reads and movies, especially around this part of the year, the news headlines  these days are terrifying enough as it is. Certainly enough to find a nice  seemingly simple whodunnit to be quite the relief from reality there. While two of them are in the cozy category, one particular title promises to be engagingly ruthless:

In Deanna Raybourn’s latest novel entitled Killers of a Certain Age, a quartet of recently retired ladies are sent off on a cruise by their former employer as a reward for all of their hard work over the years.

However, the cruise turns out to be a ruse for doing them all in. While they’re not exactly best friends, all four of these formidable women find that they have no choice but to trust each other in order to discover who exactly wants them gone for good.

I love this concept as it reminds me of a pair of action movies featuring older assassins with Helen Mirren as a rather spunky hit woman. Imagine her and a pack of gal pals facing off foes together (particularly if someone makes this book into a feature film), now how fun is that?:

Meanwhile, my next pick is The Grim Reader by Kate Carlisle, which is part of her Bibliophile Mystery series.

Bookbinder Brooklyn Wainwright decides to spend some time with husband Derek Stone and her family at the laidback town of Dharma.

As it happens, Dharma is holding their first literary festival, along with a musical production of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women, making Brooklyn’s visit feel like perfect timing.

Unfortunately, that good feeling doesn’t last long as a member of the festival committee is found dead with a prime suspect being local box wine seller Jacob Banyan who was arguing with Brooklyn’s mother Becky(who is running the festival) about having a booth for his lackluster wares.

Despite how obvious he seems to be as the killer, Brooklyn soon learns that the recently departed had quite the enemies list there. Can she catch the culprit and solve a theatrical dispute to save the festival from first time failure status?

This series is a lively as well as literary one and I love how Carlisle manages to highlight a classic book into every plot. With Little Women being a personal favorite of mine, this book is a total must read indeed!:

Fittingly, my last pick is Rhys Bowen’s  The Last Mrs. Summers , a later entry in the Her Royal Spyness mysteries.

Our leading lady, Lady Georgiana is now happily married but with her new husband off on a secret mission, she’s in need of some diversion to keep from worrying about him.

An invitation from her flighty friend Belinda to visit a former beau of hers in Cornwall seems to be the thing. However, their host Tony Summers is having a bit of marital discourse with his new second wife, who is suspicious of how the first Mrs. Summers fulfilled the “death do us part” section of her wedding vows.

When someone on the household staff is murdered, Belinda is seen as the main suspect, leaving Georgiana the only one able to save her friend from an unjust fate and the rest of them from something even more deadly from beyond the grave!

The wink and nod to Daphne du Maurier’s Gothic thriller Rebecca here ought to be the perfect pumpkin spice flavor for this screwball comedy/mystery series and a chillingly charming one at that:

The FrightFall readathon starts on October 1st and ends on the 31sr, appropriately on Halloween (when my big holiday treat is going to be the latest booster shot!). Thanks as always to Michelle for giving us a reading reason for the season.

Murder mysteries seems to abound lately, with several PBS Masterpiece shows returning and movies such as the upcoming Knives Out sequel and recently released See How They Run out in theaters. Guess it’s like they say, eventually everything old does become new again!:


Sunday, September 18, 2022

Saluting the heroes of Banned Books Week 2022

 Welcome to Banned Books Week, folks and I hate to say this but every week of this year has felt like Banned Books Week!

With more and more challenges made to public and school libraries(plus even a Barnes & Noble store in Virginia) not only over such well known targeted titles such as To Kill a Mockingbird and The Diary of Anne Frank but openly going after books meant to reach out to BIPOC and LGBTQIA readers in a clear attempt to enforce political agendas on young people, the need to fight for the freedom to read freely has become more vital than ever before.

To that end, my focus today for the start of BBW22 is a tribute to those book people on the front lines in this battle: the librarians. 

With many local libraries out there  dealing with severe budget cuts(or being shut down due to political pressure) , not to mention outright harassment at Drag Queen Story Time events(wish those were around in my day!), librarians are facing tougher times these days.

 So, I thought that  as a note of encouragement and emotional relief to highlight some fictional librarians who help save their communities with their keen literary skills:

Miss Phelps/Matilda: Most librarians do their best work by guiding others towards the right path of knowledge and Roald Dahl’s title heroine gets that assistance early on at her local library.

By allowing Matilda to choose her own books and offer crucial advice on how to best use the services of the library, Miss Phelps show her neglected young charge that there are good people in the world willing to help, paving the way for Matilda to learn to trust others and care for their needs. It’s a skill that we take far too much for granted, it seems:

Rupert Giles/Buffy the Vampire Slayer: 
While Giles’ position as Sunnydale High librarian was meant to be a cover for his true calling as a Watcher to the latest Slayer, he really did care about books and learning.

Even after his official library job was over, Giles persisted that Buffy, along with her friends, use the knowledge learned from books as an important weapon to battle the forces of evil . 

Many a time, his vast personal collection of books was the best source of information for dealing with the newest Big Bad and just as handy as a stake to the heart of an undead foe:

Barbara Gordon/Batgirl:
As the daughter of Police Commissioner Jim Gordon , Barbara was exposed to crime fighting early on and in her day job as Gotham City librarian, she used those research talents to enhance her caped crusader calling as Batgirl.

Even in later years when she became Oracle ( due to physical injury), a computer and tech consultant for the super heroine team known as Birds of Prey, Barbara’s library training was a key asset, not to mention representing many of the real world librarians out there in cyberspace. 

It’s too bad a certain movie was canceled for tax purposes this year that might’ve shown this superhero librarian in action on the big screen. Nonetheless, her sleuthing skills persist as a fine example for fans everywhere:

Flynn Carsen and company/ The Librarians:

What first began as a series of made for TV films that chronicled the adventures of a new recruit to a secret order of guardians of such legendary objects as the Sword in the Stone and the Spear of Destiny, soon became a TV series in its right.

With Flynn Carsen as the current librarian and aided by experts in art history, technology and mystical skills, plus an undercover agent ready to kick ass, this bookish band of protectors strove to push back against the Serpent Brotherhood , a cult intent on misusing  valuable items to dominate the world.

Although the show was ended after four seasons, it did inspire a solid fandom along with some tie-in novels and comic books that you might be able to find at a library near you. At the very least, this blend of library science and fantasy fiction is a fun way of encouraging people to keep those fortresses of knowledge aka public libraries a safe place for all to explore:

Banned Books Week runs from September 18 to 24 and as we head further into turbulent times, let us take the time to support our libraries and push back against those determined to prevent our society from becoming a better one for all of us.

Censorship is not a new battle yet it’s proponents often try to justify their cause anew by claiming themselves to be “patriots”. In my book, a real patriot wouldn’t be afraid of what young people learn in books or insist that ideas they don’t like  or refuse to understand are the source of all of society’s problems.

Wars, both international and cultural, have had defenders of free thought who do their level best to protect not only books but access to them. May we all strive for true victory by being providers of insight and wonder as librarians ultimately are:

Monday, September 12, 2022

My Series-ous Reading Summer

I know that this summer wrap up of my Series-ous Reading feature is a tad late but rather necessary in order to clear my series slate for fall reading.

So, let’s begin with my July selection, Jane and the madness of Lord Byron, which is the tenth entry in Stephanie Barron’s Jane Austen Mysteries series. Here, Jane accompanies her recently widowed brother Henry to Brighton as a mutual means of relief from grieving the loss of his wife/Jane’s good friend Eliza .

During their journey , they wind up rescuing a young woman named Catherine Twinning who was being forcibly taken to Gretna Green by none other than the infamous Lord  Byron, who was determinedly attached to her.

The rescue of Catherine back to her father’s house was not an improvement as he immediately blamed his daughter for what had occurred and became more determined to marry Catherine off to a much older clergyman. As much as Jane wishes to interfere, her role in this sad situation is severely limited.

By trying to avoid Catherine at a social gathering, however, Jane later feels that she should’ve gotten more involved as the poor girl is found dead in Lord Byron’s bed the next morning. Her cause of demise was drowning yet she was discovered sewn into a shroud made from the sail of  Byron’s private boat!

This bizarre incident,of course, makes Byron the prime suspect but Jane has doubts about his guilt (even before she meets him) and with the help of Henry, uncovers a few secrets and secret passageways to find the real killer before the wrong man is punished for this crime.

What I do like about this series is how plausible Barron makes Jane’s detective skills by not turning her into some super powered figure of adventure. Instead, the reader gets a very relatable leading lady who not only fits her keen intellect into the norms of her time but manages to work her way around when need be in almost a modern fashion.

Although we do get some nice  “what if” entertainment out of Jane meeting up with Byron( they didn’t in real life) and the equally bizarre Lady Caroline Lamb, who has a bit of a Helena Bonham Carter vibe to me.

All in all, this was a wonderful summer vacation read and I’m glad that I skipped ahead in this series to engage with both Austen and Byron on the fictional beach:

For August, it was time to visit with Maggie Hope in The Prime Minister’s Secret Agent by Susan Elia MacNeal.

Trying to physically and emotionally recover from her mission into WWII Germany, Maggie is a trainer of potential spies on a remote Scottish island. When forced by her superiors to take a little time off, Maggie attends a ballet in Edinburgh where her good friend Sarah is performing. At the end of the show, the lead ballerina collapses during the encores and dies before the night is over.

The cause of death is deemed to be poisoning and Sarah is seen as one of the suspects, vying for that spot on stage. However, Maggie notices the strange spots on both the victim and the other two suspects that are oddly similar to a dead sheep that she reported to the local vet back at the spy camp.

With Sarah’s life on the line, Maggie gets herself back into the game to find the source of the infection before it’s too late. As she’s regaining her momentum, a major shift on the international battlefield is about to add a new ally in the fight against Nazi Germany, an ally that will require Maggie to use her special talents to help secure their aid.

MacNeal is very good at balancing so many plot points and character arcs throughout her series while keeping her central lead firmly on the mark.

 As Maggie finds her way out of despair and endeavors to be of use in such troubling times, she’s quite a good example to follow there. Granted, she’s not written as a role model for a campaign poster but her humanity in the face of personal woes and worldwide chaos is engagingly admirable nonetheless:

That takes us to September and sends me back to Jane Austen country with Jane and His Lordshp’s Legacy by Stephanie Barron.

The Lordship in this case is the late Lord Harold Trowbridge, who leaves Jane a rather personal inheritance just as she arrives at her new home in Chawton with her disagreeable mother in tow.

On top of that unexpected surprise, another shocker is found in the cellar as the body of a local workman is discovered. Dealing with such rapid changes as well as new neighbors eager for gossip is a lot to deal with but Jane is definitely more than up to the challenge.

I know my going back and forth in time with this series is quite wonky but it does help that I know enough about Austen’s life and times to keep my head steady (don’t try this at home, new readers!) at the helm , so to speak.

 Soon enough, I will be fully caught with these books but that’s a tale for a future time indeed:

Tuesday, September 06, 2022

My High Summer of reading

Well, I am happy to see you all this September as well as pleased to announce that my goals for this past High Summer readathon were met!

Yes, I finished all three books on my list, starting with Mr. Malcolm’s List by Suzanne Allain. Set during the Regency period in England, the title character is a well sought after gentleman in the marriage market. Pompous Julia Thistlewaite is in all confusion as to why he hasn’t asked for her hand yet or called upon her since their first outing.

Learning from her cousin that she failed to live up to one of the list categories, Julia vows revenge and enlists an old school friend, Selina Dalton to aid her.

Selina’s role is to make Mr. Malcolm fall in love with her and then reject him based on her own list of expectations for a suitable partner in life. Knowing only Julia’s side of the story ( and needing a chance to see a bit more of life), Selina takes up the challenge.

As it turns out, the former part of the plan is easy to pull off as Mr. Malcolm takes an instant liking to Selina and she begins to feel the same way. It’s the latter that leaves her in a quandary and Julia determined to get her way. Will love conquer all or allow confusion to reign instead?

This is a very delightfully written book and I can why it became a modest success at the movies this summer with its equally lively adaptation. I haven’t had the pleasure of watching the film yet but am in no doubt of the joy that awaits me there:

 Next up was Raquel V. Reyes’ debut novel and first in a new cozy mystery series entitled Mango,Mambo and Murder.

Our leading lady is Miriam Quinones-Smith, who has just moved from NYC to Coral Shores,an upper class Miami enclave where her husband’s family lives.

In addition to dealing with her less than charming mother-in-law(who makes Marie from Everyone Loves Raymond look mellow) and keeping up with her sweet son Manny, Miriam is also being taken to all of the major social settings in town by her good friend Alma, a top real estate agent who lives for the next business connection.

It’s at one of those events where a troubled socialite named Sunny Weatherman suddenly dies that leads to a string of similarly strange deaths that Alma is accused of causing. Determined to help her unjustly accused friend, Miriam takes up the mantle of amateur detective and discovers that it’s a role she can excel at along with the other new changes in her life.

As this is the first book in what I hope is a bounty of new cozy adventures, there’s quite a bit of table setting going on as Miriam also takes on using her food anthropology skills to star as a cooking instructor on local TV and suspicions about what her husband Robert is up with his professional and private business.

However, once everything is properly laid out on the storytelling table, Reyes treats us to a tasty literary meal(complete with recipes!). I look forward to more of these savvy and savory stories from this new Veronica Mars(a nickname given to Miriam by a local police detective that suits her to a T):

Last but far from least, I finished up with Jackie Lau’s Donut Fall in Love.

Popular actor Ryan Kwok meets baker Lindsay McLeod in a very romcom way, by knocking over a fresh of matcha tiramisu donuts that she was putting out for display.

Despite that awkward first impression, Ryan asks for her help when he needs baking lessons in order to compete on a cooking show called Baking Fail. He’s doing this as a in between gig before his next movie but also wanting to win the charity donation prize in honor of his late mother, who loved baking shows.

Lindsay agrees to this private culinary tutoring and finds Ryan to be a good student in the kitchen. 

She also knows what it’s like to deal with the loss of a parent (her dad passed away a few years prior) and adjusting to your new family dynamic, something that Ryan and his emotionally distant father are dealing with as well.

As the two of them become romantically involved, the issue of Ryan’s fame and social media following comes into play but what truly could divide them is a shared fear of loss of a loved one  and the change that comes with it which makes forming  new connections scarier than usual.

So, can they find a recipe for true love or Will their relationship be the ultimate baking fail? Despite the serious undertones here, this is a charming story of not just two people connecting but a whole host of others in their social orbit combining to make a strong emotional support system. 

Some of the best parts of the book are Lindsay finding a way to bond with her new roommate Vivian and Ryan trying to crack his tersely amusing father’s shell(turns out Ryan’s dad has a flair for social media and becomes an online sensation!). 

Lau creates relatable characters with engaging nuances that makes their situations entertainingly down to earth. If you’re in the mood for some delicious romance , Donut Fall in Love is a feast of heartfelt flavor indeed:

Thank you as always to Michelle Miller at Seasons of Reading for setting up these great readathons and I hope everyone who took part had some fun in the bookish sun here.

Yes, I’m already making plans for FrightFall in October but this year, I plan on having a murder mystery theme(the daily headlines are horrifying enough). Some more along the lines of Knives Out rather than Nighmare on Elm Street , we shall see!: