Pop Culture Princess

Pop Culture Princess
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Monday, November 21, 2022

Welcoming some Pride and Protest to the Jane Austen arena

In these troubling times, we find comfort in many things and one of the best sources for that is in the classics; especially in those we know so well.

For Jane Austen fans, regardless of which book is our personal favorite, Pride & Prejudice is the preferred go-to in this category and like any good recipe for greatness, the best one for newcomers to add their own  imaginative ingredients to create a delicious read.

Pride and Protest by Nikki Payne introduces us to Alize”Liza” Bennet, who hosts her own radio show as “the DJ who gives a jam”, particularly when her family’s home at Longbourne Gardens in DC is about to be taken over by the Pemberley corporation.

While Pemberley is promising the community that their Netherfield Court will be beneficial to all, Liza is ready to raises her voice against the potential gentrification at the first chance to do so, namely the opening reception being given by the company.

As she arrives at the party with a batch of protest signs to slip into the back door, Liza thinks she has an instant ally in a waiter for the event and asks for his help. 

Turns out, he’s not who she thinks is he-Dorsey Fitzgerald, the adopted son and heir to the Pemberley corporation has enough trouble getting the board of directors to take him seriously without adding some social activism to this media event(even if he finds this particular protester to be incredibly beautiful).

Liza discovers her mistake soon enough and despite Dorsey’s efforts to throw her off her game, does manage to stir up some attention for her cause that night. She would prefer to stay enemies but when her sister Janae starts to fall for David Bradley, one of Dorsey’s good friends, she finds herself stuck in that social orbit yet refuses to censor her true thoughts about his company’s agenda:

While Dorsey is also trying be accommodating for his friend as well as his business interests, his attraction to Liza pulls him firmly in her direction.

While being on the opposite sides of just about every argument, the mutual passion between them creates a slow but steady smolder that grows hard for either of them to resist.

As Liza and Dorsey attempt to simply be the best of frenemies , that spark keeps on growing. Can they become more than that or will their opposing goals in life force them apart?:

I do love a good Austen retelling and Payne gives us a delightfully engaging modern twist to this pivotal story amongst Jane’s celebrated works.

The blend of lively humor and emotional depth given to the characters makes this book more than just another literary remix. Payne creates a romance that doesn’t overly rely on the source material; rather she gives the reader a pair of relatable people who we root for in more ways than one.

Her writing reminds me of a combination of Jasmine Guillory with Uzma Jalaluddin but make no mistake, Payne is her own literary woman who I hope to read more of as time goes by.

Books as good as Pride and Protest not only have me reading it slowly in order to savor the page by page moments of pleasure, they also make me thankful for writers who create these wonderful stories that help us take a break from the real world when needed.

Even with the challenges that lie ahead for all of us, it is a great comfort to know that we have plenty of excellent authors out there to make these times a bit better and perhaps, give us a happy for now ending to inspire us along the way.

 I have no doubt that Miss Austen would be proud in the best sense of such fine writing here:


Wednesday, November 16, 2022

My Series-ous Reading has me meeting Mrs. Roosevelt’s Confidante


As this year is quickly coming to a close, my Series-ous Reading feels a bit rushed there.

However, some things are worth taking your time with and a Maggie Hope mystery by Susan Elia MacNeal certainly falls into that category.

Mrs. Roosevelt’s Confidante brings our leading lady Maggie back to America as part of Winston Churchill’s official entourage upon the US entering WWII.

 While seeing her aunt(who raised her after the alleged death of her parents) again as well as possibly patch things up romantically with former beau John Sterling are key priorities for Maggie, those focuses are shifted as the First Lady is in need of someone with spy skills to solve a potential murder.

When Mrs. Roosevelt’s current secretary, Blanche Balfour, goes missing at work , Maggie joins the First Lady in checking in on the young woman personally. To their mutual shock, Blanche is found dead in what is meant to be seen as a suicide but evidence casually left behind makes it clear that this was not the case.

While discreetly looking into the matter, Maggie learns that Blanche’s demise is part of an overall scheme to discredit Mrs. Roosevelt, who is trying to get her husband to stop the unjust execution of a young man named Wendell Cotton.

Wendell’s trial and soon to be carried out death sentence was railroaded through the system as a political gain for the governor of Virginia, which makes FDR somewhat reluctant to get involved due to needing support form the southern states to fund the new war effort.

Maggie is willing to help on more than one front here, particularly since this sinister campaign against Mrs. Roosevelt could affect both England and the US in working together to fight the Axis powers.

 Not to mention that Eleanor herself is such an inspiration to the many causes for the betterment of others that Maggie consider it her duty to assist her as best she can:

I’ve compared these books to watching a great TV series like Agent Carter(which should’ve lasted longer than two seasons!) and that standard still holds true in this fifth entry.

MacNeal’s cast of characters, from historical figures like the Roosevelts and Walt Disney (who plays a pivotal part in Maggie’s renewed relationship with John) to her fictional folk, are vividly created enough that their own story lines are just as engaging as the main mystery of the book.

We also get welcome moments of amusement as Maggie gives one of her British friends a copy of Little Women for Christmas and his first time reading reactions are fun to say the least-reminds me of that book swap between Rachel and Joey on Friends that time!

MacNeal also keeps continuing plot points going on that don’t directly affect the central action yet are definitely important to keep an eye.

 The escape of a persistent nemesis occurs towards the end of the book(semi spoiler alert) and while it may be awhile before I get back to this series, I am most intrigued to see what trouble this particular shady lady causes for Maggie and company in the books to come:

Meanwhile, my next to last selection for Series-ous Reading is Homicide in Hardcover , the first title in Kate Carlisle’s Bibliophile Mystery books that I am finally reading for the first time!

After reading this series out of order for quite awhile now, it’s great to now get to where it all started for Brooklyn Wainwright, a bookbinder who literally faints at the sight of blood, on her sleuthing side hustle so to speak.

With Brooklyn reuniting with her mentor Abraham at a library event celebrating the restoration of a rare edition of Faust, finding him dead before the book is fully repaired is startling in more ways than one.

While she does want to find the killer and make sure that Faust is ready for display, Brooklyn is up against challenges from friends as well as foes. Plus, this particular edition is supposedly cursed to boot, which is fitting for anything to do with Faust, if you ask me:

Friday, November 11, 2022

Thankful for a plentiful TBR

It’s been quite the week, with a lot of uncertainty both online and in the real world there. While things may not be as bad as they first seemed, the chaos is still too close for comfort.

Fortunately, the one constant that remains for me(other than family) is my ever expanding TBR pile.

For example, my latest Book of the Month Club selection was a pair of backlisted titles, the most recent being Helen Hoang’s The Heart Principle.

Anna Sun is a violinist who is feeling burnt out after a tour fueled by extra attention from a viral video. Upon hearing a mental health diagnosis that her relatives object to and her current boyfriend wanting an open relationship (on his terms), Anna decides to make a major change in her personal life.

She meets Quan, the owner of a clothing line who is recovering from cancer, on a dating app and even tho neither of them are looking for something serious, their connection promises to be more than casual. Especially when Anna’s father experiences a severe physical crisis that challenges them all.

I know that some readers found the switch in gears in this book to be off putting since her earlier works were very romance focused. Yet, I’m fine with a writer wanting to add some additional nuance to their work and Hoang’s prior novels with their engaging down to earth energy certainly make her future  books worth checking out.

My other BOMC pick was a new edition of Little Women, a childhood favorite of mine that keeps popping up in some of my current reads lately.

With that in mind, I went to Better World  Books for a copy of Beth and Amy by Virginia Kantra, the follow up to her modem take on the Alcott classic Meg and Jo.

Here, Beth is an aspiring country music singer struggling with an eating disorder and Amy is a designer of fashion accessories who once had a brief fling with Jo’s best friend Trey(who was still carrying a torch for her sister).

With Jo about to get married, all four sisters are reunited for the first time in a long while. This allows them not only a chance to reconnect but to face a few hard truths, particularly when it comes to Beth’s health and Amy’s love life with Trey being back in the picture due to Jo’s impending nuptials.

I did enjoy Meg and Jo(will probably reread that one) and this companion piece should make a nice set of satisfying reading with my brand new edition of LW. I do hope that Beth does better here than in the original as the idea of her sharing her talents with a wider audience is the best update for this character that I can imagine:

I paired that book with Jennifer Ryan’s The Kitchen Front, a WWII in England set novel about a cooking competition.

The big prize here is to be the co-host of a BBC radio show devoted to teaching British housewives frugal recipes for the war effort.

Anxious to do their part as well as take a much needed chance to change their lives, a group of four women from very different backgrounds find themselves in direct culinary competition with one another.

Will it be Audrey, a widow trying to get her bakeshop going or her sister Gwendoline, who thinks she’s above it all as the wife of a major manufacturer? Could the gently spoken Nell rise from her housemaid station with such a win or perhaps Zelda, the upperclass chef can claim victory  despite the secret that threatens to destroy her personal and professional life?

Author Ryan does have a flair for making such women on the home front stories engagingly compelling without being overwhelmed by the standards of the genre, so I do look forward hungrily to this one. Plus,a cooking contest amongst the British is culinary catnip to me:

And yes, I did pick up a new release for my cozy mystery collection. 

Donut Disturb is the latest in Ellie Alexander’s Bakeshop Mysteries series that has leading lady Juliet Capshaw preparing a specially requested wedding cake for her good friend Thomas and his bride/coworker Kerry.

Things get tense when an unexpected guest in the form of Kerry’s estranged father shows up but even more troubling is the sudden demise of the bassist from the band hired for the reception. Can Juliet lend more than her pastry prowess to the occasion to protect her friends from the “til death do us part” portion of the marriage vows?

Alexander is amazing at whipping up these tasty detective desserts and I hope to finish this book before her next one comes out later this year( Muffin But The Truth, another win in the punny title game there!). Plus, a donut wedding cake sounds awesome!:

No matter how wild the world around us can get, some ports in such storms are worth holding on to like family/friends, a good meal and a great read.

That’s probably why I like Thanksgiving so much. Yes, the origin story of this holiday is troubling to say the least(the Wednesday Addams speech in Addams Family Values is more historically accurate than some textbooks, sad to say) but the pilgrim pageantry is not what interest me.

It’s the concept of gathering together with loved ones to celebrate the good in our lives that is of real and lasting importance, if you ask me. A good dinner can’t solve all of our differences yet it’s a good place to start as any. After all, kitchen tables do make for welcome conversation for a reason:


Thursday, November 03, 2022

Finishing up my FrightFall reading romp

 We are definitely into autumn now, with plenty of leaves on the ground and pumpkin spice scenting the crisp cool air.

Another sign of the season is the FrightFall readathon, which fitfully ended on Halloween. Out of my original TBR, I made one switch and completed two and a half books(am into the latter half with the last one), so a pretty good reading run here.

My first FrightFall read was Deanna Raybourn’s Killers of a Certain Age in which a set of four older female friends on a retirement cruise are not what they seem.

The ladies in question-Billie,Helen, Natalie and Mary Alice-were recruited in their youth by a secret organization dedicated to tracking down former Nazis and other bad guys for elimination. Now in their advancing years, this trip was meant as a peaceful last hurrah.

Instead, the cruise was a ruse to take them all out at once, a fatal mistake for those who set them up as pawns in a power grab. Despite their being caught off guard at first, Billie and her friends manage to turn the tables but the endgame is more complicated than any involved could have imagined.

This is just a grand roller coaster ride of a book as Raybourn weaves a smartly savvy web of engaging intrigue with dashes of humor and heart.

 I really hope this becomes a movie at some point because the level of awesomeness on the page needs to be shared on more than one media platform. A great testimony to how foolish it is to underestimate older women indeed:

While I did intend to stick to lighter mysteries for the rest of this readathon, my snagging of The Kiss Curse from the Book of the Month Club before it quickly sold out was a sign unto me to make a switch in my literary lineup.

This follow up to The Ex-Hex by Erin Sterling gives Vivi’s cousin Gwyn a chance at magical romance via a professional rivalry with Llwellyn aka Wells Penhallow, the brother of her cousin’s new husband Simon.

Wells has moved to the town of Graves Glen to find a fresh start and part of that includes setting up a magic shop right across from the one that Gwyn and her family have run for years. Never liking Wells to begin with(based on a past encounter), Gwyn is eager to fight back, retail style.

However, a strange set of circumstances forces them to team up in more ways than one. Even with a mix of magic and romance around them, can these two discover their true enemy before the last stroke of midnight on Halloween?

Much like Sterling’s earlier book, this story is a fun bit of storytelling magic that completely enchants you all the way. 

The addition of new characters (the trio of young apprentices that Gwyn takes on, plus the adorable talking cat known as Sir Purricval) and enhanced family drama works out great and encourages more stories to come from the good witches of Graves Glen:

At the moment, I’m finishing up The Grim Reader by Kate Carlisle, one of her most recent entries in her Bibliophile mystery series.

Her leading lady Brooklyn Wainwright is happy to visit her family at their wine making hometown of Dharma with new husband Derek Stone by her side for many reasons, especially since her mother Rebecca is leading the committee for Dharma’s first book festival.

For a dedicated bookbinder like Brooklyn, such an event is pure joy but there are unexpected pitfalls that mar the way such as an obnoxious newcomer trying to literally force his way into the festival, the shocking death of a committee member and missing funds discovered just before things are ready to begin.

While she’s determined to help out(not to mention protect her mother from harm), Brooklyn soon learns that the copy of Little Women she was asked to restore may be a pivotal key to unlocking this case. Can her bookbinding skills save the day or bring on more disaster?

I do enjoy this series with it’s bookish energy and welcoming set of characters who make you feel right at home with every page turn. Plus, all of this talk about Little Women is just pointing me towards a reread of that iconic book as soon as I’m done here:

My thanks to Michelle Miller at Seasons of Reading for hosting these wonderful readathons and while I’m not sure if I will take part in the upcoming Christmas Spirit one, I hope everyone has a wonderful bookish time.

Some sad news to report: the author Julie Powell has recently passed away at the far too soon age of 49. Her yearlong challenge to make every recipe in the first volume of Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking began as a blog and then became a book which lead to a film adaptation starring Amy Adams and Meryl Streep.

While Julia herself wasn’t thrilled with Julie’s project(they never met in real life), these two had much in common.

 Both women struggled to find what ultimate purpose they had to offer the world and found it through food and writing. Each of them received equal amounts of admiration and criticism for their professional and personal choices yet firmly marched to the beat of their own drummers.

I first read Julie and Julia in reader’s advance copy form(still have that edition) as a bookseller and Powell’s lively energy not only introduced  me to the wonders of Julia Child and food writing in general, she inspired this very blog that I still keep pecking away at today.

I recently reread J&J as part of my “Julia journey “ this year and yes, it does hold up. Powell’s emotional honesty and ability to look back with a laugh or two at times , plus her love of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, is the spine of this internet age meets culinary classic story.

She also wrote a memoir,Cleaving, about learning the art of butchering that is in a very different tone from J&J but definitely worth checking out. However, Julie will be forever linked with Julia and that’s a damn good legacy to have, if you ask me.

My deepest condolences to Powell’s friends and family, especially her beloved husband Eric. Truly gone too soon yet destined to be remembered always: