Pop Culture Princess

Pop Culture Princess
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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: