Pop Culture Princess

Pop Culture Princess
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Tuesday, October 25, 2022

Frightening fictional friendships abound this scary streaming season

With Halloween not that far away, it’s a time to consider what really scares you (beyond the daily headlines, that is) and based upon this trio of recently released films on streaming, friends are a terror target indeed.

After all, one of the most chilling things that you can realistically imagine is discovering that your best friend has taken a very wrong turn in life or worse yet, wasn’t who you thought they were in the first place.

That latter element is explored In Netflix’s The School for Good and Evil, where best friends Sophie (Sophia Anne Caruso) and Agatha (Sofia Wylie) are whisked away to the title academy to be trained as future princesses or villains.

Only trouble is that Sophie expected to be a heroine but was sent to the Evil side, run by Lady Leonora Lesso (Charlize Theron) while Agatha is enrolled to the Good section governed by Professor Clarissa Dovey(Kerry Washington). Is this a grave mistake or are both girls ready to learn just who they really are?

This movie is based on the YA fantasy series by Soman Chainani and perhaps a sequel or two may come  if all goes well. I personally like this whole concept and plan on making this my home viewing Halloween treat:

If you want something way more scary, Amazon has the adaptation of Grady Hendrix’s My Best Friend’s Exorcism right on the demonic deck there.

1980’s teen gal pals Abby(Elsie Fisher) and Gretchen (Amiah Miller) decided to spend the weekend at a mutual friend’s lake house that just happens to be near an abandoned shack where something sinister and supernatural once occurred.

When Gretchen encounters whatever lurks in that location, she completely becomes a very different person, one that delights in tormenting every one in her path, including Abby.

As Gretchen’s rampage grows more deadly, Abby teams up with a bodybuilding exorcist (Christopher Lowell) to save her friend. Can she banish this unholy nemesis or is Abby doomed along with Gretchen for a very eighties eternity?

The Hendrix novel is both horrifying and heartfelt so if this movie is as half as good as it’s sinister sweet source material, this film is a true gruesome gem to behold:

However, for a friendship tale told Stephen King style, Netflix does have Mr. Harrigan’s Phone on speed dial.

When Craig (Jaeden Martell) becomes acquaintances with the eccentric millionaire (Donald Sutherland) in his neighborhood by reading to him regularly, he never expected the two of them to become as good friends as they did over the years.

When Harrigan passes away, Craig is sincerely heartbroken and as he pays his respects at the funeral, slips the cell phone that he brought the techno reluctant old man into the casket.

While holding on to his connecting phone for sentimental reasons, Craig does leave a message or two during some troubling times for Mr. Harrigan meant to simply relieve some stress.

He definitely never expected a reply; particularly the rather lethal ones sent to those who wronged him. Has Craig truly dialed the wrong number in more ways than one?

This movie is based on a story from King’s most recent collection If It Bleeds and that novella was sadly scary indeed. Certainly sounds like a good chiller for this time of year:

Whatever you do on Halloween, do have a good time and if possible, share that seasonal joy with a good friend. At the very least, try connecting with a reasonable frenemy, which might be more in tune with this spooky season:


Monday, October 17, 2022

Romancing the vote, page by page


With the midterm election coming up in only a few weeks, most of us do need a break from the major news coverage in order not to be overwhelmed by the intensity of it all.

However, you can have your cake and eat it in an electoral style with this trio of romance titles that have political love interests at the helm. Granted, there are plenty of other similarly themed romance reads out there but these are the ones I’ve fully enjoyed, regardless of politics.

Recently, I finished Incense and Sensibility which is the third book in Sonali Dev’s Jane Austen inspired series about the Raje family. Yash , the eldest son and top contender in the gubernatorial race, receives a shocking attack at a rally, which causes him to hold back from further campaigning.

In order to take control of his understandable fears, he seeks the yoga healing services of India Dashwood , who is balancing her concerns over her mother’s health and her sister China’s secret celebrity romance as well as dealing with the reappearance of Yash in her life.

India and Yash shared a brief moment of emotional intimacy many years ago, with him quickly breaking things off before they could properly begin.

 Part of that reason was the need to have a relationship of convenience with Naina, a friend who needed to pursuit her career goals without family pressure to get married. 

That arrangement worked out for both Yash and Naina while they were in separate countries but now, she wants to change the game as a fast track to her professional endgame. With Yash getting help from India and the two of them placing everyone’s needs before their own, can either of them admit the truth about their feelings without risking the election?

Dev blends the basic elements of Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility within her original narrative in a seamlessly elegant way. Her characters are just as compelling and nuanced as their Regency counterparts given a modern day flair.

Also, basing a potential political candidate on Edward Ferrars is pretty great in my opinion. While he does keep a few too many secrets, Edward has the best intentions and keeps to his word by following through with whatever consequences may come. That mark of character is something we rarely see outside of fiction sadly:

In Evie Dunmore’s Bringing Down the Duke, Annabelle Archer must earn her scholarship to Oxford university by working for the local women’s suffrage society.

One of her first assignments is recruiting influential men to support The Married Women’s Property Act, which would allow wives and widows to earn their own money through home ownership.

As it happens, the first man she approaches is Sebastian, the Duke of Montgomery who has been given personal incentive by Queen Victoria herself to oppose this policy. Nonetheless, Annabelle crosses his path more than once and each encounter encourages him to respect her intelligence as he falls in love with her to boot.

While she begins to feel the same towards him, Annabelle knows that there are more than politics that would get in the way of any serious attachment between them. Is there a chance at a happy ending for them on a personal and a political front?

This novel is the first in a series (A League of Extraordinary Women) and I plan to read the others in the near future as this debut was truly a promising delight.

So nice  to have a set of  stories where independent women  are leading the way to equality in all
things including matters of the heart:

In Party of Two by Jasmine Guillory,  new resident of L.A. Olivia Monroe is pleasantly surprised to meet Max, a cute guy who appreciates a good slice of cake.

While she intends to spend her days focused on her legal career, Olivia is willing to spend the evening hours with Max, who seems familiar to her somehow.

Turns out that he’s Max Powell, a rising political star as a newly elected congressman. Although they click in more ways than one, the hazards of a romance that will eventually go public are difficult to avoid. Yet, can love save the day for them both?

Guillory’s  novels are a nice blend of sweet and savory with the meat of the story allowing for the delicious romantic elements to compliment each other on the plate of pages before you. Plus, there are wonderful moments of dessert delights described with love that are a joy to behold:

While these books are fun to talk about, I do hope that all of you reading this plan to vote. Midterm elections tend to get overlooked but the direction of the country could very well be determined by who gets to take a power seat this time around.

If you think “My vote doesn’t matter”, you are mistaken. If individual votes are so unimportant, then why are so many people trying to limit access to voting places and insisting that “fraud” is running amuck?

On top of that, the right to think, read and live freely is being challenged across our nation in rapid form and mainly against folks who aren’t given a loud enough voice in government. 

Voting is a right that many before us risked their lives and personal freedom for and we honor that struggle by taking the time to do our duty by not only our country but by society as well.

Not to mention that it would be nice to have someone in higher office who actually knew what the 19th Amendment was all about!:

Monday, October 10, 2022

Stocking up on awesome autumn reads with my latest book haul

 With the cold weather and falling leaves starting to arrive , it’s fair to say autumn has officially begun.

 While I can’t go trick or treating this Halloween season (I’ll be getting a booster shot on that day!), between Book of the Month club, my local library and Better World Books, my literary larder is well supplied enough to last me into December there.

Starting with BOMC, my main pick was Hester by Laurie Lico Albanese, which takes a fresh look at Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter.

Our leading lady is Isobel, a young wife emigrating to Colonial America in search of a fresh start with her much older than herself husband Edward. With her spouse deciding to head out to sea, Isobel has no choice but to use her extraordinary skills as a seamstress to make some sort of living yet being on her own like this raises suspicions amongst the townsfolk.

The only person who even gives Isobel any kind of friendship is young Nat Hawthorne, who finds her to be an inspiration for his writing and perhaps more than that. However, such a bond appears to be doomed in more ways than one.

I’ve always liked The Scarlet Letter(except for that Demi Moore adaptation) and it’s great to see such a classic novel get a creative new coat of paint on it here. Really looking forward to a nice bit of page turning with this one:

Speaking of reimagined classics, I was so delighted to find the final book in Sonali Dev’s Jane Austen themed Raje series, The Emma Project, on the shelf at my local library.

Naina is still dealing with her breakup from elder brother Yash when a new work project has her partnering with his younger sibling Vansh.

Vansh is very talented but also very unfocused, using his looks and charms to get by in life. Feeling slightly guilty that his new found goal will be depriving Naina of some of the funding for her non profit, he agrees to find a solution for both of their agendas.

Naina reluctantly goes along with, despite wanting to stay out of his family’s orbit as much as possible. Sparks do fly between them, romantically, and keeping things casual quickly becomes less of an option for either of them. 

Having just finished Incense and Sensibility, I’m torn between diving right to this last entry in the series or waiting a little bit longer(as long as my library renewals on it last!) to enjoy it.

This take on Austen’s novels has been such a joyous ride that I hate to see it end. Yet, Dev’s storytelling prowess promises to give us more wonderful tales of modern day love and it’s been grand to see her embrace one of her literary inspirations with us all:

Also at the library was a Miss Marple mystery that I haven’t read but will do so soon.

Agatha Christie’s A Carribean Mystery takes Miss Jane Marple away from her usual homestead at St. Mary’s Mead and sends her off on a cruise, where even such a major change of scene keeps her in proximity of a juicy murder.

When one of her new colleagues, a retired major who was eager to show Miss Marple a rather auspicious photo he had recently taken, winds up dead due to unnatural causes, she must put her beach bag aside to lend her considerable talents towards solving this case.

While my Christie reading isn’t as extensive as I’d like it to be, I am firmly on Team Marple all the way. Poirot is all well and good but give me a clever older lady with subtle wit and solid good sense to find the true culprit  every time:

My library find of that Miss Marple book was fitting as my recent order from Better World Books included a pair of Agatha Christie themed novels.

One of them , The Christie Affair by Nina de Gramont, is told by a woman named Nan O’Dea, who may have one of the reasons that Christie vanished from sight for eleven days back in 1926.

Nan was the current mistress of Agatha’s never do well husband Archie, who often complained of playing second fiddle to his celebrated wife’s career. Christie’s sudden disappearance made that whole “ careful what you wish for” phrase become dangerously real for all involved.

Nan takes a cue from Agatha and hides out herself, staying at a remote hotel where she’s sure to not be noticed. Yet, when a murder occurs on the premises, Nan finds that she may need some help in solving the case and receives an assist from a most unexpected source.

Leave to Christie to have an unsolved mystery as part of her legacy for other writers to indulge their talents in. With the chill of the season settling in, this does feel like the kind of novel to curl up with over a warm cup of tea:

This quartet of books is just the tip of the iceberg of my bookish finds lately. Given the present state of the world right now, a good book is a healthy way to keep a steady balance on things  these days.

Plus, autumn is rather a bookish time of year as many literary awards are announced, Best of the Year lists are being made(working on one myself) and film adaptations are arriving on screens big and small there.

 Some people stock up on pumpkin spice items edible and otherwise, which is fine by me, and others pile  up on enough books to stock a bookstore or two. Fall enjoyment comes in as many varieties as the colorful leaves do indeed:

Monday, October 03, 2022

My Series-ous Reading examines Jane and His Lordship’s Legacy

 For September’ s Series-ous Reading selection, the Sister in Sleuthing that I revisited was Jane Austen, via Stephanie Barron’s delightful mystery series, with Jane and His Lordship’s Legacy.

The late gentleman of the title was Lord Harold Trowbridge, aka The Gentleman Rogue, who often included Jane is some of his secret missions for king and country. His demise took place in an earlier entry(which I haven’t read yet but have future plans to do so here).

Upon setting up house keeping with her mother at Chawton Cottage, Jane is greeted by a pair of strange surprises. The first is a lawyer from Sir Harold’s estate bearing a large chest that contains a bequeath from his Lordship’s will.

The contents, much to her mother’s dismay, are not monetary-rather, the private letters and other writings of Sir Harold that are meant to be literary inspiration for her.

While freshly adjusting to this unexpected abundance of insight into the one man she truly cared for, Jane discovers the remains of a local workman named Shafto French in the cellar.

How Mr. French’s body(which shows disturbing signs of having been down there before Jane and her mother arrived) came to be there is mystery enough without most of the neighborhood appearing to hold a grudge against the newly arrived Austens, due in part to her brother Edward’s lackluster attention to his tenants.

However, Shafto’s death may be part of a more sinister plot as the chest of Sir Harold’s papers is stolen from the house. As it turns out, the parentage of a potential heir to the nearby estate of Stonings named Julian Thrace, may be confirmed within those papers.

The other claimant is Lady Imogene, whose gambling debts would be secured by such an inheritance. Jane suspects that her ladyship may have hired some local workers (such as the man caught climbing out of a Chawton Cottage window!) to learn the truth for herself.

As the rivalry between the two heirs grows deadly, Jane  persists in investigating before more lives are lost as well as  holding onto the hope of retrieving the only solid remembrance of the only man she may ever have loved:

Despite reading a good portion of this series out of order, this story resonates strongly with some of the sorrowful notes that one sees in Austen’s later works for me. Barron knows the world of Austen so well that her blend of real life and fictional characters feels engagingly authentic.

Speaking of engaging, Jane’s mother is quite the comic delight with her complaints about her daughter not at least getting some jewelry from Sir Harold’s will but starts digging up her yard upon hearing a local legend about a buried ruby necklace!

She is so Mrs. Bennet like here and a welcome note of levity in the midst of this detective drama:

Heading into October, my next Series-ous Reading adventure has me paying another call on Maggie Hope in Susan Elia MacNeal’s Mrs. Roosevelt’s Confidante.

As America officially enters WWII, Maggie accompanies Winston Churchill on a trip to Washington DC to start their alliance off on a good foot.

While there, Maggie makes the acquaintance of the indomitable First Lady and the two of them team up to solve a mystery and right a few wrongs along the way. Sounds like an inspiring read for these troubling times indeed!: