Pop Culture Princess

Pop Culture Princess
especially welcome to extensive readers

Wednesday, March 22, 2023

Checking into a Christie inspired Spring Into Horror suite

One of the true signs that spring has officially arrived for me these days is the sign up post for the latest Seasons of Reading readathon.

Spring Into Horror begins in April (which also happens to be my birth month-yah!) and what I consider as a birthday bonus is that you can read any type of scary story ranging from cozy mystery to suspense and beyond.

Since I’m feeling very much in the mood for some old school with a modern day twist mystery, my TBR trio for this month long event is in the moderate range. Kind of a bookish staycation that starts by checking in with Agatha Christie‘a Miss Marple.

At Bertram”a Hotel sends our dear Jane Marple to the title establishment in London as a trip down memory lane, so to speak.

While the place is not as grand as it once was in her youth, she finds much to entertain her by observing the various guests, particularly a mother and daughter whose estrangement may lead to murder.

I do enjoy the laid back nature of Miss Marple’s crime solving ways as it allows for the other characters to fully develop without suspecting the quiet elderly lady taking mental notes on them all. Should be quite the sinister sight seeing trip indeed:

Speaking of Agatha and her mysterious ways, my next pick is Marie Benedict‘a The Mystery of Mrs. Christie which looks at the eleven day disappearance of the world famous author back in 1926.

That unexpected vanishing act threw her rather unfaithful husband Archie into a white hot spotlight of suspicion from not only the police but others around him. Is he actually the cause of her unknown departure or just as confused as everyone else? And does he deserve this scrutiny for many other reasons there?

There’s a bit of a Gone Girl vibe to this setup but perhaps a more justified version of that theme based upon what I know of their real life marriage. Making Christie the centerpiece of a mystery she might have written ought to be slowly simmering fun:

Rounding out this literary visit is a check-in with The Maid.

The leading lady of Nita Prose’s debut novel is Molly, whose passion for cleaning is well channeled by her job at the Regency Grand hotel. It also suits her particular personality traits which make Molly seem off putting to some people.

When she discovers the dead body of a prominent guest   in one of the rooms she’s assigned to, Molly and her manner of fact tone about the whole thing brings unwarranted suspicion on her from the police and her less than friendly coworkers. 

In order to protect herself from prosecution, Molly must put her eye for detail to use to find the real killer before her check out time is made permanent.

The Maid has such great word of mouth and critical praise that I’m surprised that I waited so long to read it. My patience will be well rewarded, no doubt. What really appeals to me about this story is the Knives Out energy that it has, with its sly look at mystery tropes and social commentary asides there:

Spring Into Horror begins on April 1(no joke) and lasts the whole month. You can check out more info on it here and my thanks to Michelle Miller at Seasons of Reading for making  such great opportunities for book talk happen.

When it comes to reviving old fashioned murder mysteries these days, nobody does it like writer/director Rian Johnson, I must say. 

From Knives Out to The Glass Onion and now the streaming series Poker Face(which I haven’t seen due to Hulu not being in my entertainment budget), making everything old new again is not as easy as it seems yet he pulls it off as splendidly as a magician doing the tablecloth trick to a T.

He’s even spurred a renewal of interest in Columbo, which is credited as the muse for Poker Face. Now that show is readily available for viewing in so many ways and my whole family likes to have a Columbo night at least once a week. 

With all of the tension out in the world today, it feels nice to spend some crime time with Mr. “Just one more thing” there indeed:


Tuesday, March 14, 2023

Soaring to new heights with a couple of Women’s History Month reads

 March is more than just the start   to spring or setting up basketball brackets; it’s also Women’s History Month, where we honor the achievements of all women everywhere.

While I don’t get into nonfiction as much as I should perhaps, an interesting book came my way recently that not only suits this theme perfectly but shows that underestimating certain groups of people is usually an unexpected advantage in the fight for equality.

The Great Stewardess Rebellion by Nell McShane Wulfhart tells the real life tales of several women during the 1960s and 70s who worked as airline stewardesses and fought to bring the power of the union to make serious changes to the industry.

One of those women was Patt Gibb, who planned to become a manager someday rather than be made to leave her job by the age of thirty five or when she got married (whichever came first). 

She wound up being elected as a union representative meant to speak up for her co-workers but soon realized that the male dominated Transport Workers Union only saw her and her colleagues as add-ons at best.

Patt decided to form The Association of Professional Flight Attendants with the aid of such folk as Tommie Hutto who was a key member of Stewardesses for Equal Rights and lawyer Sonia Pressman who encouraged her bosses at the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission to take the airlines to court for sexual discrimination.

Wulfhart narrates their stories in an instantly engaging manner, displaying the earnest energy each woman had to make this new working experience for women be a rewarding one. 

I was lucky enough to win a copy of the newly released paperback edition of this book along with a TWA travel bag and other items seen in the picture above (super heroine figures not included, just part of my personal collection!) and very thankful for that indeed. The best part of this prize pack is the chance to learn more about how stewardesses went from being seen as sky high servants to viable members of the airline community:

Since I do like historical fiction for subjects like this, I checked my TBR stacks and found something that should pair up very well with this nonfiction narrative.

Beatriz Williams’ Her Last Flight uses Amelia Earhart as the inspiration for her leading lady Irene Foster, a female pilot who trains with former war hero Sam Mallory to become an independent flier in her own right.

Nonetheless, she and Sam do gain some fame together due to being marooned during an attempt at a nonstop fight to Australia during the 1930s. Their rescue separates them emotionally before Irene’s mysterious disappearance on a solo flight appears to do so for good but is she really gone and was that vanishing act the right choice?

Williams possesses a flair for vivid fictional portraits of  women who wish to fly free from the seemingly impenetrable restrictions of their society and yet have to find their footing as carefully as possible. With a figure like Amelia Earhart as her guiding star here, this novel appears to be the ideal vehicle for her talents:

Women’s history should be more than just a one time special event (and that includes ALL women from every section of our world) . It is good to use this month as a starting off point there, if only to discover how any woman can be the superhero of her own situation and get a little help from her friends along the way:

Tuesday, March 07, 2023

My Series-ous Reading looks for love and Murder in the Paperback Parlor

With such late winter chills arriving just before a new spring season, it’s very fitting that my second session of Triple Play themed Series-ous Reading tied into Valentine’s Day so nicely.

Ellery Adams’ Murder in the Paperback Parlor brings us back to Storyton Hall, the delightful book themed retreat(and secret location of a hidden library of wonders) run by Jane Steward, who is hoping that her newest literary event is less dangerous than her prior one was.

The hotel decides to have a Romance week just in time for Valentine’s Day with such fun activities as a Regency styled ballroom danceand a male cover model contest. The main draw, however, is a panel of popular romance writers with the headliner being Rosemund York, best known for her Venus Dares novels that have an independent matchmaker as her leading lady.

 Things seem to be going well for the most part until Jane is awakened one night by the news that Rosemund has been discovered dead upon the grounds. The author’s demise was due to poison and sadly, there are quite a few suspects to choose from amongst their guests.

Those potential killers include a reporter who was seen arguing with Rosemund the day before her death, a rival writer named Georgia Dupree that openly detested Rosemund‘a bestseller status and Maria Stone, a fervent fan that became angry with Rosemund’s upcoming new book .

In fact, many of the fans attending had been given copies of Rosemund’s departure from her previous work called Eros Rising, which featured a very alpha male lead that infuriated them all. The list of suspects grew vey long from that indeed!:

If that wasn’t enough on her plate, Jane was considering having a bit of romance with Edwin, her best friend Eloise’s mysterious brother who seemed to be settling down with a new restaurant in town.

Unfortunately, Jane was warned by her family and friendly book protectors (aka The Finns) that Edwin’s motives for courting her might not be honorable. Turns out Edwin is a international book thief who is known for stealing rare editions for select clients.

His key tactic is staying awhile near his bookish targets and gaining the trust of locals in order to make his heist all the more successful.

 As the new Guardian of the secret library that her family has looked after for generations, Jane is torn between her duty and her possible heart’s desire. It’s a dance that she struggles to resist but even on the ballroom floor, manages to watch her step:

The Book Retreat series is a nice blend of cozy mystery with the spice of a spy novel and a generous dose of book lore.

Jane is a fully rounded character who even with her work(secret and public) responsibilities and being the widowed mom of two rambunctious boys(Fitz and Hem, who are really nice kids), does make some time for herself and her book club buddies called The Cover Girls for a little fun. 

Also, the staff at Storyton Hall has a combo of Downton Abbey and James Bond’s band of spy equipment suppliers which is  nifty to say the least!

My stay at Storyton Hall will draw to a close soon as my next Series-ous Reading selection is Murder in the Secret Garden , which ties in the classic children’s book by Frances Hodgeson Burnett into the mystery mix. Granted, I may renew my visit on my own but for now, this third time should prove to be charming enough:

Tuesday, February 28, 2023

Winding down from a Winter’s Respite of reading

 It not only happens to be the last day of the Winter’s Respite  readathon (courtesy of Seasons of Reading and Michelle Miller) but also the first major snowfall of this entire winter season!

After waiting so long for a decent bit of snow, this does feel like a good reason to celebrate by doing my wrap up post a day or two early. I am also pleased to report that I finished all three of the books on my TBR for this challenge-yah me!

The newest book on this list is Kayla Olson’s The Reunion , which brings two former TV actors back together to film a reunion episode of their teen hit series Girl on the Verge.

Since those days, leading lady Liv Latimer has made a quiet acting career in various indie films while her male co-star Ransom Joel has become an action movie hero. Working together again doesn’t just bring up fun memories of the past however; Liv and Ransom came close to declaring their mutual love for one another but certain issues got in the way.

Now with the possibility of reconnecting in more ways than one, Liv and Ransom have to decide if the media scrutiny they both face from such a pairing is worth it or was theirs a love never meant to be?

Olson’s novel is a nice slow burn romance set against a modern Hollywood backdrop, complete with social media commentary and heartfelt scenes of emotional depth.

 While I do wish that there was a little more interaction between some of the other cast members (such as the ambitious Sasha-Kate) with Liv, the intimate moments between her and Ransom definitely make you want to turn the page and tune in for more:

As per my usual, a cozy mystery was added to the mix and I went with Donut Disturb, the next to latest entry in Ellie Alexander‘a Bakeshop Mystery series.

For baker Juliet “Jules” Capshaw, things are going well in her beloved town of Ashland, especially for her good friend Thomas who is about to marry Kerry, his partner in crime fighting as well as life.

When Kerry’s ex-con father shows up just before the wedding, Jules hopes that his unexpected presence won’t ruin the day for all involved. That surprise turns out to be the least of anyone’s worries when the bassist from the jazz trio to perform at the reception is found dead under the bandstand. 

Worst of all, Kerry’s dad may be a prime suspect due to an unfortunate link between the two men. Can Jules help the newlyweds find a happily ever after here or is this case the ultimate wedding jinx? 

Alexander gives us another charming entertainment here with lively characters and tasty descriptions of the treats prepared at her restaurant Torte. Oddly enough, I had just finished her most recent release, Muffin but the Truth, before this one yet that didn’t get in my way of devouring this delicious read down to the last storytelling morsel:

My final read was the second volume in The School for Good and Evil trilogy, A World Without Princes, by Soman Chainani.

Agatha and Sophie, the two “Readers” thrust into the fairytale school in the first book, are trying to adjust to life back home but that magical realm isn’t quite done with them just yet.

When each girl makes a wish regarding their past, the door between worlds is opened again and both of them are forced to return or face dire consequences.

However, they are still not safe as the twin training facilities are now divided into either all boys or all girls with both sides determined to destroy each other. Will Agatha and Sophie be able to claim a true happy ending or is this the beginning of the end?

This twist upon fairytale tropes and gender roles is incredibly engaging to say the least. The Netflix adaptation was fun(part two is supposed to under way as we speak) but the books have much more depth to them and I hope the full trilogy will be done well onscreen.

In the meantime, I do have to read the third book, The Last Ever After, soon as stopping at this book would be like ending Star Wars at The Empires Strikes Back. It’s so good to have a new take on old school notions of heroes and villains indeed:

My thanks to Michelle Miller at Seasons of Reading for a great bookish start to another year of reading. I do hope everyone who joined in had a great time and plan to sign up for Spring Into Horror this upcoming April.

For my TBR this time around, I’m planning a bit of old fashioned murder mystery fun that has an Agatha Christie flair. At least one of my picks will be a Miss Marple worth checking into for a brief visit at a certain hotel…:

Monday, February 20, 2023

Celebrate some Oscar love with these movie themed reads

 With the Academy Awards set for March 12th, it’s not too soon to feel that Oscar Night energy embrace the pop culture world.

As a long time fan (the Oscars are my Super Bowl), this year almost feels like a much needed revival as several great films are up for major honors and hopefully some of the joy expressed on that night will come from those who truly deserve to be acclaimed there.

To that end, I thought it would be enhance the movie love mood by highlighting a few fictional stories that showcase the effects of  Hollywood lore on entertainers and fans alike.

First up is While We Were Dating by Jasmine Guillory, where A list actress Anna Gardiner finds herself getting romantically involved with Ben Stephens, an ad executive who she only meant to have a professional relationship with.

They do start out as business casual but when Anna needs to be privately driven across country due to a family emergency , Ben offers his assistance and that time together brings them much closer than before.

Eventually their romance becomes public yet can Ben only playact the part of a camera ready boyfriend or this role the real deal for both him and Anna off screen?

It’s been awhile such I gave myself the pleasure of diving into a Jasmine Guillory novel and about high time that I did. The Notting Hill vibes of this story make me think that Anna Gardiner will be much like Anna Scott of that film; a talented actress feeling trapped by her public persona yet able to find a worthy life partner and push back at crass commenters all on her own:

Our next feature film book is Taylor Jenkins Reid’s The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo. The title leading lady is a renowned actress who is finally telling the story of her life to reporter Monique Grant on the condition that her memoir be published only after her death.

Evelyn‘a tale of climbing the Hollywood ladder is more that just a glitzy recount of an ambitious actress ruthlessly achieving her goals. Instead she relates the real world struggles that a woman in the 1950s had to deal with in such a cutthroat business and the secrets and lies involved in doing so on her own terms.

I’ve heard nothing but great things about this book and plan to read before the Netflix adaptation is released in possibly the near future. 

One interesting factoid that I did learn is that one of inspiration for this novel was the iconic actress Ava Gardner, who planned a tell-all book with a journalist only to be persuaded by several influential people not to go through with it. She did eventually put out such a book but one wonders what the screen goddess did leave out in the final edit:

To round this up, we have Waiting for Tom Hanks by Kerry Winfrey, a book that I have enjoyed more than once.

Aspiring screenwriter Annie hopes to become the next Nora Ephron, due to her passion for such rom com classics as Sleepless In Seattle and You’ve Got Mail(favorite movies of her late mother as well). She’s even secretly writing a script based on the unrequited romance between her best friend Chloe and the coffee shop owner that debates Chloe over her choice of music at work.

When a romcom is being filmed in their home town, Annie is lucky to be given an assistant position to the director (an old friend of her eccentric Uncle Dave) but finds the leading man of the movie, TV star Drew Danforth, to be far from a perfect casting choice.

Can Annie realize that the romantic comedy of her dreams is right in front of her or will she resign herself to being on the outside looking in always?

This is a charming story that does have a great sequel (yes, that movie about Chloe does get made!) and even if you’re not a huge Tom Hanks fan, there’s plenty to love and laugh at here:

Books and movies do go well together like a comfort meal such as soup and sandwich which balances the hearty texture of the story with the soothing warmth of cinematic delights.

Combing the two mediums is appetizing for heart and soul, especially if there’s enough popcorn on hand. I’m willing to wait for the Oscar Night magic to begin with the help of one of these good books and maybe a movie marathon or two to keep my strength up:

Monday, February 13, 2023

A trio of romantic reads that’ll put a song in your heart

With Valentines Day on the horizon, finding a fitting book for the occasion almost seems like a cliche.

However, this particular holiday is also a great opportunity for diving into some of the more recent additions to my TBR and while I might not get to them all before the day is out, rest assured that this trio of romcom reads is at the top of my sweetheart stack:

Lunar Love: This debut novel by Lauren Kuang Jessen introduces us to Olivia, who is taking over her family’s matchmaking business. Their tried and true methods of using Chinese astrology to find suitable soulmates for others hasn’t yet worked for Olivia but mixing business and pleasure is the last thing on her mind right now.

All of that changes when she meets Bennet, whose new dating app is practically a copy and paste of her family’s life work. Determined to fight back any way she can, Olivia challenges him to find her true love online before she can use her old school skills to do the same for him.

As incompatible as their birth signs are, Olivia finds herself feeling more inclined to connect with Bennet but does he feel the same and what does that say about their mutual interest in matchmaking in modern times?

Jessen’s novel was a January Book of the Month club pick that I decided to get in February as a rather picture perfect selection for the season.

 Also, the story has a bit of a Jane Austen energy (Olivia has a nice Emma Woodhouse vibe) mixed with the personal and professional rivalry of You’ve Got Mail, a favorite movie of mine, that makes my literary heart beat fonder for it indeed:

The Love Hypothesis: I’ve heard plenty of good word about Ali Hazelwood’s STEM set romance and thought it was time to see for myself the results of this experiment in love.

Grad student Olive wants her best gal pal to take an interest in a former boyfriend of hers and the only way to prove that she is over and done with that relationship is by impulsively kissing Adam, a professor known for making his research students cry before quitting his class.

With Adam needing to look more relatable at work and Olive wanting her friend to make a real live connection with her ex, the two of them agree to engage in some fake-dating.

While that mock romance brings about some benefits, they come at the expense of Olive’s professional reputation. Also, both she and Adam start to realize that their feelings for each other are far from fake. Is this a failed experiment or new theory of love that should be tested further?

I’m not a science person but chemistry is one subject that everyone is familiar with and the wave of book smart love stories that this book has inspired alone proves that this new take on the genre is worth researching there:

Something Wilder:

Christina Lauren has become a must read author for me lately and fortunately the backlist is readily accessible.

This particular book is one of their most recent titles and has a bit of an action adventure boost to the romantic proceedings.

Lily has been wanting to make her late father Duke’s life ambition come true by finding the lost treasure that he searched for for so long. Losing her boyfriend Leo on top of that made those dreams harder to fulfill.

Ten years later, Lily is still holding on to her father’s old maps while giving guided tours to the usual set of tourists. However , who shows up but Leo and a few of his buddies hoping to finally find that treasure.

Since she does want to buy back her father’s ranch, Lily agrees to work with Leo and company but a few unexpected twists along the trail makes this expedition more than a fun ride to fortune hunting.

Turns out that Lily and Leo have to put their past to the side and work together not only to discover the hidden treasure but to safely see the sunrise as well.

This does sound fun in a Romancing the Stone/Jewel of the Nile kind of way and definitely a nifty change of pace for my romance reading to be sure:

However you chose to celebrate it, I wish you all a Happy Valentine’s Day with plenty of half price chocolate and good books on hand. A nice love song or two is always appreciated as well , especially if it as well written as any classic story of hearts can be:


Tuesday, February 07, 2023

Keeping warm with a cool book haul

Despite few truly bone chilling days this prior week, winter seems to be on vacation this year for the most part. The lack of snow in my neck of the woods is rather dire and while I am not hoping for a blizzard, a decent snowfall would be nice.

However, to make up for such meager weather, an abundance of books has been flowing my way.

To start, a lovely surprise in my mailbox was a giveaway prize from Between the Chapters, Alan Hlad’s  The Book Spy. Set in WWII Lisbon, Maria Alves uses her librarian skills to assist bookseller Tiago Soares with his work in creating documents to help refugees escape from Nazi occupied territory.

She also does spying for the OSS and when asked to be a double agent in order to mislead a prominent banker, Maria finds herself getting closer to the action than she’d like. Putting her life and love for Tiago on the line, Maria decides to take that risk for the good of all both then and now.

This sounds like an amazing adventure to behold and since it’s based on real librarians who took such chances during the Second World War , this is proof positive that not all superheroes wear capes:

Then, I made a trip to my local library where I picked up a few titles that I’ve been meaning to get into.

One of those was A Very Bromance Christmas and before you can say “Isn’t it a little late for a Christmas book?”, I must say that I have read every book in Lyssa Kay Adams Bromance Book Club series and this was definitely a must have on my TBR.

The Bromance Book Club is made up of a group of guys who read romance novels in order to be better partners in their relationships and for this book, the focus is on Colton Wheeler, a country music star whose fortunes are starting to fade.

After a mutually romantic night with Gretchen Winthrop, an attorney specializing in immigration issues, over a year ago, Colton hears from her when Gretchen’s whiskey rich family asks her to make him a business offer that could help his flagging career.

Colton is more interested in why Gretchen has been avoiding him since that night and agrees to listen to the proposal only if she presents it to him via a series of dates. While she is considered to be the rebel of the family whose values she despises, Gretchen is hoping to be placed on the company’s charity board in order to increase the aid for her clients and reluctantly goes along with Colton’s plan.

Over time, the two of them get to know more about each other and reevaluate what they feel about one another. Yet, can they ultimately agree on anything, including the joys of Christmas?

I do like this series a lot , due to not only the romantic comedy elements of each story but the thoughtful time given to character development by Adams. This blend of heartfelt humor and bittersweet emotions is definitely worthy of a great country music ballad indeed:

I paired that with Adult Assembly Required by Abbi Waxman. 

When Laura Costello moves to LA, she’s hoping to make her life not worth but within a week, she is out on the street due to a fire that may or may not be her fault.

Lucky for her, one of the new friends she makes in town is a plucky bookseller named Nina who is more than willing to help Laura find a new place to stay. 

That place happens to be a welcoming boarding house (which might not have a proper license ) and when an ex-boyfriend comes along to give their past relationship a shot at renewal, Laura finds herself facing a fresh start at love with her too good looking to be true neighbor Bob. Can she finally be grownup enough to make such difficult choices on her own or is her meddling family right about her adulting abilities?

I did read one of Waxman’s earlier books, The Bookish Life of Nina Hill(who is the bookstore owner in this story), and enjoyed the quirky poignancy of that novel very much.  Just have a really good feeling about this one and pretty sure that my gut instinct will be well rewarded:

To round things out in this department, my Book of the Month Club box arrived with my main selection being an Emily Henry novel that I need to catch up with.

People We Meet on Vacation traces the long term friendship between Poppy, a perky travel writer living in New York, and Alex, a schoolteacher who still lives in their hometown in Ohio. 

Their polar opposite personalities are the glue that binds them together, despite the geographical distance between them and those bonds are renewed at least once a year when they share vacation time together.

This year, that vacation is more important than ever because it’s been two years since they went on one with each other, due to a fight that hasn’t been fully resolved.

In need of a revival in more ways than one, Polly proposes the trip to Alex, who is willing to take another chance at their friendship and perhaps maybe, find something more to this relationship there.

I did enjoy Henry’s Beach Read and have meant to dive into her other books but just haven’t found the right time. Well, clearly that time is now and I am looking forward to the When Harry Met Sally energy that this story and it’s many delighted readers have assured me is waiting for me with every page turn:

This won”t be the last stack of books on my literary plate to be sure and just savoring such tasty reading is a sweet sensation as it is.

Not only will these reads keep me company during whatever wintery weather comes my way, they will provide plenty of comfort as I await Oscar night on March 12. I am seriously pumped up for the Academy Awards this year since Everything Everywhere All At Once is a major contender with 11 nominations!!!

I saw this movie in theaters on my birthday last year and it was truly a gift worth getting. I must confess that I had my doubts about the Academy giving EEAAO any serious recognition but they did not skimp on the categories with four nominations in the acting competition alone!!!

I’m so rooting for EEAAO to make a major sweep , especially when it comes to Michelle Yeoh for Best Actress, The Daniels as Best Director and Best Picture. They even got a Best Original Song nomination and just seeing “This is a Life” performed on the show will certainly make up for such a lackluster winter, if you ask me:

Monday, January 30, 2023

My Series-ous Reading books a vacation for Murder in the Mystery Suite


Welcome to another year of Series-ous Reading ,folks, where books from various series get their literary due.

Our theme for 2023 is Triple Play which means that I read three titles in a row from a certain set of well established mysteries and to start things off right, we begin with the first book in Ellery Adams’ Book Resort Mystery series, Murder in the Mystery Suite.

Our leading lady is Jane Steward, a widowed mother of two boys who runs Storyton Hall, a literary themed resort set in a small Virginia town.

Along with her charmingly eccentric Aunt Octavia and Uncle Aloysius , Jane loves  her work in setting up bookish getaways for her guests with the help of the local community who have bookish names for their businesses like Run for Cover and The Cheshire Cat Pub. It’s basically Stars Hollow for book lovers:

No matter how great her job is, Jane knows that renovations are necessary to keep the place going, so she arranges for a Murder and Mystery event to draw some big crowds in.

Everything gets off to a good start as guests dressed up as their favorite fictional detectives arrive, ready for a good time. The opening entertainment is a scavenger hunt with the big prize being a signed copy of letters from renowned author Adela Dundee.

The winner of that book, Felix Hampden, happens to be dressed up as Dundee’s famed sleuth and his prize is quickly sought after by two other participants but to no avail. By the morning, Hampden is declared a “Rip Van Wrinkle”( hotel code name for a dead person on the premises) and the book he won has disappeared.

Jane is stunned by this news and finds herself looking into the case as other deadly departures follow with that book of letters being the key cause. Not only does Jane want to protect her family and her guests, she soon learns that there is a special secret about this collection of letters that some are willing to kill for:

I’ve read Ellery Adams before, mainly her Secret, Book and Scone Society books, so it helps to know that a good time was awaiting me here.

I also read one of the later books in this series-Murder in the Cookbook Nook-and part of my reason for wanting to dive into Storyton Hall more was to get the fuller origin story of the hidden secret library tucked into the place.

Turns out that Jane’s family has been the hereditary guardians of a special collection of literary works such as unpublished plays of Shakespeare and other closely protected lore, a mantle that has now been passed on to her. 

There’s a whole secret society of trained protectors within the Storyton Hall staff known as the Finns who use the secret passages on the hotel grounds to train, spy on suspicious guests and secure the books from all unauthorized after them.

I do love this adventure element to the series and Adams blends it in with the cozy mystery themes of the story quite nicely there. All in all, just like any good book, the Book Resort mysteries are more than meets the eye indeed:

As you can imagine, my appetite for book two is throughly whetted and since February is fast approaching, I am happy to report that Murder in the Paperback Parlor does have a Valentines Day theme!

Jane is pleased to host a romance inspired outing featuring Regency romance writer Rosamund York for the holiday but unfortunately, the author is not as beloved as her books.

With the demise of York, Jane not only fears that the mood has been killed at Storyton so she enlists the aid of her book club buddies to assist in saving the day. Should be seasonal fun for sure and as any Jane Austen fan knows, the search for love can be a sinister affair in more ways than one:

Monday, January 23, 2023

Making a few reading resolutions for 2023

This time of year, all kinds of resolutions are made by people with the goal of self improvement in mind.

While I try not to follow the crowd too often in this regard, I do feel that setting up some achievable challenges are a good way to start things off towards creating some positive energy to fortify me through the ups and downs of the year there.

So, my first challenge I call “ A Visit with Mrs. Woolf” as in Virginia, whose acquaintance I wish to renew. Over the holidays, a good friend gifted me a 1928 Modern Library edition of Mrs. Dalloway, the most iconic of her works and that seemed like the perfect invitation to a long overdue reread.

However, adding something new to this familiar setting also felt right. To that end, I’m now reading Quentin Bell’s Virginia Woolf : A Biography , which is considered to be a major work in not only chronicling the life of his famous aunt but the artistic social circle she and his mother Vanessa ran with known as the Bloomsbury group.

The first line of this book is “Virginia Woolf was a Miss Stephen”, a simple yet elegant sentence that sounds like something written by the title lady herself. 

The intricate details of the family and friendship connections that Virginia both relied upon and struggled against are keenly described with the proper emotional distance but not in a remotely cold manner. 

Instead, Bell weaves in notes of empathy towards his aunt and other family members who made their mostly unintentional imprints on her life(except for her creepy stepbrother George, that is!). Having such an insider’s look at this influential corner of the British book world is a blessing that Bell doesn’t squander and at this point in the book, does not seem to cloud his literary focus as well. How long that holds up, we shall see.

After this biography, I shall reread my new-to-me copy of Mrs. Dalloway along with a revisit to The Hours by Michael Cunningham. That feels like a pitch perfect renewal of Woolf-ian style there, for sure:

Next, I decided to take a Jane Journey (similar to my Julia Child book journey last year) with a set of nonfiction books matched with classic Jane Austen novels.

My inspiration for this comes from the podcast “The Thing About Austen” , which looks at the small scale history behind such details in her books like just how fancy could toothpick cases be for a character in Sense and Sensibility to place an elaborate order for? ( quite fancy as it turns out-you could even get one in the style of a mermaid necklace!).

Upon checking over my stack of Austen themed books, there were three that I hadn’t gone through yet and now feels like the right time. So, I paired Jane Austen and The Theatre by Paula Byrne with Mansfield Park, of course, and naturally Brian Southam’s Jane Austen and the Navy with Persuasion.

It was tricky, though, to match Irene Collins’ Jane Austen and the Clergy with just one Austen novel. Given the likes of Dr. Grant, Mr.Elton, Edmund Bertram and even Henry Tilney, there are so key church men in her works to make such a simple selection all the more complex!

However, my choice was truly clear as Mr. Collins from Pride and Prejudice cannot be denied his regrettable moments in the sun, as much as he flatters himself most humbly:

Finally, I must attend to Alison Weir, in particular to her Six Tudor Queens series.

By now, I have read them all except for one; Jane Seymour, The Haunted Queen. Frankly, out of the noted wives of Henry the Eighth, it does seem that I’m not alone in hitting the fast forward button when it comes to this middle of the pack princess(and yes, I know she wasn’t a princess, just couldn’t resist the alliteration).

Seymour was wife number three and understandably nervous about her position after seeing what both Catherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn went through. She was the only one to give birth to a much desired son(which lead to her demise via natural causes) and said to be really beloved by Henry, for what that’s worth!

I do like Weir’s blend of historical research (she is a full fledged historian) and narrative energy which makes this series so appealingly page turning. I also have The Last Tudor Rose by Weir, which may be the start of a War of the Roses series, that I need to get to as well but I definitely want to fully complete her version of Six before the year is out:

This set of reading resolutions should start me off nicely for 2023 and perhaps lead to other bookish goals along the way. 

I have been thinking about a reread of Tom Jones , for example, due to the upcoming new adaptation on Masterpiece PBS this spring. Quite a long haul with that book(my copy actually has cover art from the 1997 miniseries !) but a good read is always worth the time, especially when a great new reason to do so comes along like this:

Tuesday, January 17, 2023

Awaiting a welcome Winter’s Respite

Even with the lack of snow in my neck of the woods this season, I’m more than happy to relish a Winter’s Respite of reading this upcoming February.

The first readathon of the year from Seasons of Reading (hosted by the excellent Michelle Miller) is really a nice way to get the bookish ball rolling there. You are free what you want and the company kept there is always awesome.

When it comes to readathon TBR piles, I find that the rule of three works the best for me and to top my trio of sweet reads here is Donut Disturb, the fifteenth entry in Ellie Alexander’s Bakeshop Mystery series.

Our leading lady Juliet “Jules” Capshaw is busy catering the wedding of her friend and police detective Thomas to his fellow partner in crime fighting, Kerry. Jules is thrilled to be a part of this big day for her friends, especially since Kerry requested a wedding cake made up of donuts!

However, the wedded bliss is marred by the unexpected arrival of  Kerry‘s father(who she hasn’t spoken to in years) and the sudden demise of the bassist from the music band hired for the reception. Can Jules save the day on more than one frosted front or will this ceremony be the ultimate “I don’t ?”

It’s funny that I’m going to be reading this right after finishing the latest book in the series, Muffin but the Truth, thanks to NetGalley the other night. Fortunately , I am so caught up with these charming culinary capers  that taking a step back isn’t a setback at all.

Plus, Valentines Day is next month and what could be more romantic than reading about a wedding, with donuts to boot?:

Next up on my page turning playlist is the second book in the School for Good and Evil series,  A World without Princes by Soman Chainani.

While formerly mismatched magical students Agatha and Sophie are glad to be returned to their regular lives, a regretful wish brings them back to the title educational institute that has undergone some changes to say the least.

Instead being trained as either witches or princesses, the girls are taught to battle the boys in more ways than one. With the two sides on the brink of all out war, can Agatha and Sophie restore some semblance of order before there’s no happy ending for anyone?

I did enjoy the first book as well as the Netflix adaptation, which may have this sequel on screen very soon, and the tweaks given to the fairy tales tropes within these stories are good to see. 

Not sure how far I’ll get into this YA fantasy series but so far, these happily ever afters are only the beginning of new adventures for readers and characters alike:

To round things up, my third pick is one of my newest Book of the Month Club selections, Kayla Olson’s The Reunion.

Liv Latimer and Ransom Joel were once the biggest teen stars on TV due to their lead roles on the hit show Girl on the Verge.

While some of their fictional romance blend into off screen love, a major misunderstanding ultimately drove them apart.

Brought back together for a twentieth anniversary special, Liv and Ransom are in very different places both personally and professionally from those small screen days of yore. Ransom is an A list action movie star while Liv is an indie film darling who holds on to her privacy as tightly as she can.

As the sparks between her and Ransom seem to be reigniting, Liv wonders if pursuing this potentially rocky path to a renewed relationship is worth the trouble (not to mention the media attention). Is Ransom considering a reboot of romance as well or is Liv’s heart stuck in development hell?

Pop culture themed romances are my personal catnip and this one sounds like must-read TV to me! Plus, with Olson being inspired by beloved teen shows like Boy Meets World, the nostalgia energy levels are pumped up indeed:

There is plenty of time to sign up for the readathon if you’re interested in joining us for a good curl up by the fire with a good book bit of fun. Even without those flakes of snow a-falling, keeping warm by a reading lamp is perfectly suited for this time of year.

As for me, my set of three should put me in the right frame of mind, a Rory Gilmore mode if you will. I really should treat myself to a Gilmore Girls binge watch; it’s been awhile since I went to Stars Hollow and it’s the perfect reading haven, if you ask me:


Wednesday, January 11, 2023

My 2023 book hauls are only just beginning…

 With a new year comes many more opportunities to pile up more books for reading and already my TBR stacks have started to get a bit steep there.

So, let’s begin with my Christmas book haul, which was  comprised of my December BOMC box(just easier that way).

Under my holiday tree we’re two more Evie Dunmore titles(A Rogue of One’s Own, Portrait of a Scotsman) and R. F. Kuang’s Babel, the latter that I’m making a leisurely but steadfast progress through.

Set in pre-Victorian England, a young man who has named himself Robin Swift is entering the title institute for advanced studies in translation. 

Robin was brought to Britain as the ward of Professor Lovell as a boy due to his mother’s death in Canton from a raging epidemic of cholera. Robin’s skills at multiple languages are impressive as well as his talent for tapping into the magic of silver bars, a much sought after power source dominated by the British empire.

Adjusting as well as he can to another new life, Robin makes a few friends who are considered outsiders much like himself and who are equally excited to increase their linguistic abilities.

However, Robin discovers a group of rebels known as the Hermes Society who seek proper redistribution of the silver bars for those unable to use their powers for the betterment of the less fortunate. He also learns a few secrets about his benefactor that tips him further towards a set of divided loyalties that could change not only his future but the world itself.

So far, this story is incredibly engaging, the kind of book that you need to force yourself to slow down and savor. Kuang’s world building is as elegantly designed as a Christopher Wren piece of architecture and this tower of knowledge is well worth climbing indeed:

Meanwhile, my January Book of the Month Club picks have been delivered and it’s a tempting trio to be sure.

One of the headliners here is Queen of Thieves by Beezy Marsh, which chronicles an underworld gang of female criminals in post-WWII London.

Ruled by the infamous Alice Diamond, this select set of high class shoplifters regularly rob the top department stores of thousands of pounds worth of merchandise. Least you think these ladies are the meek and mild sort, Alice arms herself with a razor at the ready and uses her often worn diamond rings as a set of brass knuckles.

Entering this ruffian realm is Nell, hoping to better her already unfortunate circumstances by making some needed coin but soon enough sees a chance to move up this precarious ladder. Can she join the inner court of Queen Alice without stepping on too many toes or better still, make a play for this criminal throne herself?

I do like historical fiction set within a time frame of social upheaval, which was a significant part of this era in England, and Alice Diamond is definitely a crown princess of crime that I would love to get more acquainted with:

While I’m saving my other recent BOMC pick for an upcoming readathon (more on that soon!), I did round my selections out with a much talked novel from last year-Lessons in Chemistry
by Bonnie Garmus.

Our leading lady is Elizabeth Zotts, a chemist in the 1950s who is unceremonious drummed out of her job at a research laboratory due to the rigid moral code placed on women in those days(which haven’t changed enough, some would say).

Nevertheless, she manages to find work as the hostess of a TV cooking show called Supper at Six. As it turns out, Elizabeth is deftly able to mix in a few chemistry tips during her culinary lessons that appear to go under the radar of the men in charge.

While she enlightens her home audience in more ways than one, Elizabeth does her best to find her own way to personal happiness with the help of some good friends and a clever dog named Six Thirty.

This book has made quite a few Best of the Year lists and the word of mouth praise has been abundant to say the least. 

However, I am intrigued by the whole cooking show/chemistry education angle of the story here as modern cuisine has taken up this combo strongly with the past several years and checking this concept out from the Julia Child era of televised culinary fare sounds delicious to me:

In between all of this, I was able to make a quick trip to the library (mainly to return an overdue book but trust me, The Hacienda was worth taking the extra time with!).

My library haul was rather small but as it happened, there were two books by the same author that were side by side on the shelf that I have wanted for a long while and couldn’t pass up the opportunity in front of me.

J. Ryan Stradal got a nice bit of notice from his novel of interconnected stories entitled Kitchens of the Midwest but his next  book after that, The Lager Queen of Minnesota , did make folks sit up and notice there.

It’s a tale of two sisters, Edith and Helen, who made a decision regarding their father’s inheritance that not only changed their lives but broke them apart as well.

Decades later, Edith is content with her quiet life of baking pies and taking care of her teen granddaughter Diana despite their difficulties in making ends meet.

Helen, on the other hand, has prospered by investing fully into her husband’s brewery and making his brand a household name.

 She refused to mend the breech with Edith but when Diana starts becoming a rising star in the brewing business, a chance for the sisters to reconnect bubbles up to the surface. Will they take it before the foam of a new found friendship dissolves for good?

Food themed fiction is my weakness (drinks included sometimes) and this quietly told story of savory emotions seems like the perfect comforting meal of the heart for these cold winter days ahead:

A new year of books is a welcome sight indeed and even with the all too real headlines these days, we still have much to look forward to.

Plenty of new movies and returning TV shows like Abbott Elementary (which is so good!) are just some of the pop culture delights that await as we wait for more new books to be claimed for the literary good.

 Also, lots of readathons need to be prepared for as well, so taking a TV break is just fine to rev up those reading engines for the bookish road trip ahead of us:

Tuesday, January 03, 2023

Seeing If Books Could Kill before a new season of Series-ous Reading begins

Welcome back to a brand new year of Series-ous Reading as well as a Happy New Year for all of us to enjoy some more good books together.

Before we can go forth with our new theme of Triple Play, last year’s Sisterhood of Sleuthing must be completed with a look at Kate Carlisle’s If Books Could Kill , the second volume of her Bibliophile Mystery series.

Our leading lady Brooklyn Wainwright is pleased to be getting back to her work as a bookbinder by attending the annual Edinburgh Book Festival both as a speaker and participant in a restoration workshop.

She runs into plenty of old friends such as Helen, who is on the verge of divorce from her dreadful husband Martin, and a very special former friend, Kyle McVee.

Kyle was Brooklyn’s boyfriend at one time but his roving eye ended that romance for good. Nonetheless, they remained bookish pals and their reunion at this event gives him the chance to ask her for help in authenticating a rather unique book of poems.

The tome in question is a rare edition of Robbie Burns poems that tell a tale of forbidden romance between himself and an English princess. While Brooklyn isn’t a historian, she’s willing to assist Kyle but little does she know what a world of trouble that she’s stepping into:

Not longer after Brooklyn takes the book into her keeping , Kyle is found dead at a tourist attraction and the murder weapon is one of her own bookbinding tools. 

Fortunately for Brooklyn, former MI-6 agent Derek Stone who helped to clear her name before from a murder charge is on hand here to lend a hand. It’s a good thing that he and the lead detective Angus MacLeod are both colleagues in crime solving and willing to look at other suspects.

Plenty of those abound, such as a persnickety bookseller offended by the very idea of an illicit royal love affair, a woman claiming to be Kyle’s wife and a band of men who profess to be members of The Robert Burns Society determined to protect their countryman’s name.

Brooklyn also becomes the target of several attacks, including a raid of her hotel room (awakening her in the middle of the night!) and a library incident that rivals a certain scene from 1999’s The Mummy, which is quite the close call indeed:

When another body turns up, the list of suspects grows shorter yet the threat level for Brooklyn keeps going up higher. Can she find the killer and keep the book safe from those on either side who want it to vanish from public sight?

Having read later books in this series, it’s fun to catch up with Brooklyn’s past adventures and see how her relationship with Derek develops, not to mention appearances by the mysterious Gabriel(a rogue book buyer) and even the arrival of Brooklyn’s offbeat parents, especially her flighty but feisty mom who is eager to recommend all sorts of herbal cleansing to cure what ails you!

The book lore is charmingly entertaining as well as educational (the Robbie Burns secret romance being truly a work of fiction there). All in all, a true delight with an additional mystery that gave a James Bond flair to the proceedings rather well:

Now for our 2023 theme known as Triple Play, where I cover three books in a row from the same series and author.

We begin with Ellery Adams’s Book Retreat Mysteries, the first book being Murder in the Mystery Suite.

Widowed mother Jane Steward runs Storyton Hall, a resort dedicated to the love of books , and to that end she plans a Murder Mystery week long event to drum up some much needed new business.

All goes well until one of the guests winds up as an actual corpse and it’s up to Jane to solve this all too real mystery before the final page is turned for a fatal finale. So far, it’s a welcome romp into a reader’s wonderland with touches of warmhearted humor and heart that I look forward to more and more: