Pop Culture Princess

Pop Culture Princess
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Friday, November 24, 2017

A trio of paperbacks to make your Book Buying Black Friday all the better

Happy day after Thanksgiving,folks,and I hope you all had a lovely day as well as a great meal with your loved ones.

 By now, most of you are engaging in the other annual tradition of this weekend, holiday gift shopping, and to that end, I'm recommending a threesome of fresh new paperbacks that should suit a few of the book lovers on your list.

First up is a special edition of L.M. Montgomery's iconic novel, Anne of Green Gables, from Penguin Classics Deluxe. Not only is this edition adorned with charming artwork by Siobhan Gallagher, it comes with an introduction by Benjamin Lefebvre(director of L.M. Montgomery Online) who details the struggles that the author faced in publishing her book.

There's also an engaging foreword by novelist J. Courtney Sullivan, who talks how Anne of Green Gables peaked her interest in writing and in maintaining life long friendships. To this day, one of her good friends is quick to reconnect with as they both loved the 1985 TV adaptation of the series and feel that it's the best one ever:


Being introduced to Anne with an "e" this year, I feel that any new edition of this delightful story is well worth having,whether you prefer your Anne Shirley to be old school or new. As to adaptations, I've enjoyed watching the current PBS films(the latest one,subtitled "The Good Stars" aired last night) and I'm sure even Marilla would agree that this Deluxe Edition would be a suitable and sensible gift for readers new and established indeed:



Next, for those seeking potential prize winners, we have Elmet by Fiona Mozley, a debut novel that was a major contender for the Man Booker Award this year.

This tale,set in the woods of Yorkshire, is narrated by Daniel,who is living with his father John and sister Cathy isolated from the wider world and their home life feels idyllic for the most part.

However, when a local landowner(who once had John on his payroll as an enforcer) becomes determined to take their land for his own financial gain in a larger project, Daniel's family finds their peaceful existence altered forever, yet not without a serious fight. A smartly written story that takes a sure and steady pace as it explores that pivotal fork in the road that we all must take, some sooner than others.

However, if the folks on your list are more in the mood for a sweet relaxing read, debut author Louise Miller has a slice of storytelling pie ready to serve.

The City Baker's Guide to Country Living has a Gilmore Girls flavor to it, only if chef Sookie St. James was the leading lady instead of Lorelai.  Olivia Rawlings decides to move to the small town of Guthrie in Vermont after her personal and professional life in Boston truly blows up on her.

Taking a job at the Sugar Maple Inn, Olivia finds that her culinary skills are still solid yet her new boss Margaret has a very high standard that is in serious need of maintaining. The reputation of the inn is built upon a lengthy winning streak in the apple pie contest at the county fair and that standard has sunken recently.

In addition to that, Olivia becomes attracted to Martin, a former musician who has returned home to Guthrie in order to help his ailing father out with the family farm. Can she create a winning recipe for her new work and love life? Quite the humorously heartfelt read to give and get this holiday season:


Best of luck on your holiday shopping sprees this weekend and I do hope that these suggestions are helpful. In the meanwhile, let us take a moment during the mad rush of gift buying to appreciate the wonderful reads that have sustained us through out the year. Having new books is great but giving thanks to the ones still on our shelves is important,too:


Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Some special live action fun to flavor your Thanksgiving pop culture feast

With Thanksgiving only a couple of days away, I thought it was time for one last reminder of just how fun this holiday can be.

Since we all look forward to animated specials this time of year such as A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving, it's also notable that there are a good number of live action specials that are just as delightful to look forward to as well.

The all-time classic in this category is the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, which starts off our Turkey Day in fine form with balloons, marching bands and scenes from current Broadway shows. The latter portion of that sentence is what I really enjoy watching these days; having a little preview of hits like Cats, Elf and Waitress(which fit in nicely last year with their pie themed songs) is like having dessert before dinner:


A few years ago, we were treated to a Lady Gaga Thanksgiving special, which sadly has not been repeated.

However, the musical showcase,complete with a cooking segment by Art Smith, is available on home video and I'm sure there are many households who will be playing it on their big screen TV in the background during meal time.

It was a lovely show, with Gaga in serious glam mode through out and singing some of her best songs along with a duet or two with Tony Bennett. I do love how dressed up she got for fried turkey and waffles:



If you're in the mood for laughs, Saturday Night Live will be airing a prime time special of their Thanksgiving themed skits over the years.

However, their latest episode with host Chance the Rapper had plenty of holiday style giggles on hand, such as this sketch that had Gotham City's Bruce Wayne getting some serious critiques about his "buddy" Batman's crime fighting techniques at the annual Wayne food drive:




For some foodie flair, you can always count on Rachael Ray to deliver the holiday goods. No doubt she'll have a great episode on air to help out and entertain during your cooking time.

Her daytime talk show has heaps of Thanksgiving delight, from cooking tips to table settings and quirky things you can do with food. This clip of a woman who creates works of art with edible items is a treat in and of itself:



I wish everyone a very Happy Thanksgiving and to round this live action salute out, I give you a second serving of Chance the Rapper on SNL as he gives us a new Thanksgiving song that should come in handy once your relatives arrive:


Monday, November 20, 2017

A Library Haul and a back to the Binchy reread

One thing that I'm thankful for this Thanksgiving is having an active library card,not to mention making a little library trip to have new reads in time for Turkey Day.

My first pick was Into the Water, the much anticipated second thriller from Paula Hawkins,whose debut The Girl on the Train was truly a runaway hit. Granted, I thought the TGOTT was just okay yet it was very addictive to read(one of those stay-up-all-night deals),so I'm willing to take a shot with this one.

The leading lady of this story is Jules Abbot, who reluctantly returns to her home town of Beckford due to the death of her estranged sister Nel. She met her demise by drowning in a local lake known as the Drowning Pool, infamous for the watery graves that many women have found there over the years.

Jules not only has to untangle the mysteries surrounding her sister's death and the other Drowning Pool victims, she has a teenage niece named Lana to try and connect with as well. This set-up has an old fashioned feel to it that might be worth investigating,even with the batch of mixed reviews Into the Water has gotten so far. Who knows, I might like it better than Girl on the Train,we shall see:


The library book that I started reading,however, is Allegra Goodman's The Chalk Artist which has a variety pack of storytelling to unfold.

We first begin with a budding romance between Collin, a struggling of sort artist looking for direction in his life, and Nina, a new to the system teacher struggling to connect with her students. As things go on, Collin learns that Nina's father is a high tech mogul who invented one of the biggest video games of all time.

While Nina wants to get Collin a job with her father, she's worried about how that could change the nature of both relationships. Also, one of her students, Aidan, becomes pulled into a viral marketing scheme to promote the newest version of the game and that could have serious real world repercussions.

These story lines seem far apart but Goodman slowly yet surely draws them close together. The characters are instantly engaging, one of the author's hallmarks, and I'm more than willing to see what will become of them as the pages turn.

Meanwhile, with the holidays fast approaching(not to mention the horror of the daily headlines), I am feeling the need for some emotional comfort food and the best place for that on my bookshelf is my Maeve Binchy section.

Yes, I do have a good chunk of space devoted to the Irish authoress who is sadly no longer with us. I was well into her books before Tara Road was an Oprah pick and rereading it now is doing me a world of good.

Sure, it's a bit melodramatic at times but so what? Binchy always managed to level that out with solid characters and plots that had the ring of realism with a small town flair, even if some of her stories were set in a big city like Dublin.

The plot of Tara Road is what I always liked to call "female friendly" as two women sharing a troubling time in their lives swap houses and countries in order to recoup and reassess. We start off with Ria Lynch, a seemingly happy housewife who is willing to sacrifice for her charming husband Danny but he betrays her good nature to a point where she has to make a stand.


 Once she spends some time in America at the Connecticut home of Marilyn(who is mourning the loss of her son), she begins to get a new sense of herself as well as a new lease on life.

 The book was originally published in 1999 but still stands up as a heartfelt read. Binchy didn't sugar coat the problems that her characters faced, instead she showed just how people felt they should either deal with or ignore the situation at hand until finding the solution at hopefully just the right time.

Some might still think that Binchy's work(and other writers like her) are frivolous entertainment but they couldn't be more wrong. While her books are comforting, they're not simply candy flavored tonics for the spirit. Rather, they give readers a sense of hope that good things are possible despite the bad times in front of you and the way things are now, we could all use a nice relaxing read such as this to help us out:



Don't get me wrong, I'll be reading plenty of new books before this year is out(finally got started on my last Series-ous Reading selection,The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss). Yet, it is nice to revisit an old friend as it were,book wise.

Chances are that I will be making another library visit soon,which is great but I do wish that one of those little lending libraries that people set up in their neighborhoods was within my reach. Then again, my withdrawals vs my deposits might not be as well balanced there,so best to avoid temptation!:



Friday, November 17, 2017

Some good choices on the media menu for tasty Thanksgiving TV

With Thanksgiving being oh-so-close, I felt it was time for another  flavorful reminder of the season with a look at a few of the best TV shows that highlight holiday cooking and eating.

First up is The Chew, the daytime darling of the foodie circuit that has pretty much spent the whole month of November on prepping for Thanksgiving, ranging from recipes old and new to dinner table settings and creative leftover suggestions.

Part of what makes this show fun as well as a great reference guide is the crackling chemistry between the quartet of hosts, with the dynamic dueling contrasts of Iron Chefs Michael Symon and Mario Batali, Top Chef Carla Hall's good humor and the always engaging Clinton Kelly. It's like hanging out with the cool culinary kids, who would gladly invite anyone over for some good food and good talk:



In the evening, however, Chopped is your best bet for some offbeat Thanksgiving meals. Actually, it's a weirdly entertaining way to live vicariously through the bizarre mystery basket ingredients there.

After all, what are the odds on you having to cook with gummy turkey feet, pumpkin pie ice cream, smoked turkey gizzards and green bean casserole? Granted, that was not all in one basket but it could very possibly be in the future,you never know.

Even the regular rotation of judges take their shot at the stove at holiday time, whipping up dishes that may seem strange but are nine times out of ten, taste delightfully savory for any season:



 Speaking of green bean casserole, if you're just looking for some old school food flair, Cooking Channel tends to air the classic Alton Brown series Good Eats for just such an occasion.

The smart and sassy take on nearly every edible item known to human kind has plenty of Thanksgiving highlights, from cranberries(which can be made into a candle!) to the right way to prep that turkey and the perfect mashed potatoes. If you like your Thanksgiving with a side of culinary cleverness, then you are in need of some good eats indeed:



And finally, for those of us who simply want a little home style cooking, Ree Drummond has that on tap as a key ingredient for her daytime series, The Pioneer Woman.

Ree's sincere charms make many of her meal time recipes feel both warmly old fashioned and satisfyingly modern all at once. That special emotional blend of hers is great for Thanksgiving, as she certainly knows how tricky it can be to spread the dinner table love yet she pulls it off with an ease and grace that pours out as smoothly as gravy:


 So, whether you're in need of cooking tips or just want to see the other holiday options out there, there is something for everybody when it comes to Thanksgiving food TV. The recipe is easy and no cook to boot: just take one remote control and click around a few channels until that just right show comes into view. Then sit and watch for a hour or so,binging purely optional.

If done right, your Thanksgiving TV will serve as many as possible and be that small screen sweet treat that tops off your holiday viewing in a most delicious way:


Tuesday, November 14, 2017

The LRG Best Books of 2017

As we're getting close to the end of the year, those "best of" lists are beginning to pop up and I am not one to ignore the chance to celebrate some of the great reading that I've done in 2017.

True, the year is not quite finished with and there are still a number of wonderful books that I have not gotten to yet. However, mid-November is a safe enough zone,pop culture wise, that making an official list is pretty reasonable.

 After all, Goodreads is the final stretch of their Choice Awards voting(and yes, I am participating in that) as we speak,so the time is nigh. Most of my picks are novels(with one nonfiction selection) and if you haven't read any of these yet, I so strongly urge you to at some point in the near future:

BELLE OF THE BALL: Min Jin Lee's second novel,Pachinko, was a long time coming but well worth the wait as the numerous critical raves and a nomination for the National Book Award clearly show.

However, the word of mouth for this generational story of a Korean family struggling to find their place in Japanese society during and well after WWII was just as dazzling, with many readers moved by her heartfelt prose.

I was fortunate enough to meet Min Jin Lee at a BEA event many years ago, where she signed my copy of her first novel Free Food for Millionaires(a highly recommended read as well) that I brought with me in a quilted tote bag. She was charming and generous that day and from what I've seen in interviews and articles for Pachinko, she's even more gracious as a person.

With the NBA ceremonies only a day away, I wish her the best of luck and hope that her next book will arrive sooner than expected:


JOURNEYWOMEN: My next pair of picks are debut authors whose first novels may truly feel miles away from each other, yet they share the same sense of knowing that some feelings are universal.

Kathleen Rooney's Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk has it's title lady taking a personal stroll through memory lane in New York City on New Year's Eve in 1984, intending to head to her favorite restaurant yet finds herself making a few unexpected detours before midnight approaches.

Lillian's take on the changing times as well as looking back on her life as an independent woman well ahead of her time is thoughtful,funny and bittersweetly touching at times. It would make for a great movie(Kathy Bates would be my choice as the lead) but as it is, this subtly sincere novel is a true mental breath of fresh air.

Speaking of fresh air, The Windfall by Diksha Basu displays a dazzling array of characters in a twist on the classic comedy of manners genre set in modern day Delhi.

From Mr. and Mrs. Jha,who are overwhelmed by their newfound wealth to their son Rupak in America who is torn between two women and not doing well in school to their new neighbors the Chopras who have just as much anxiety about the Jhas as they do about them, this set of social norms is upended in a most delightful way.

This isn't all fun and games,however; a good amount of emotional drama and potential romance within the fictional framework helps to ground the story and make the characters fully three dimensional. Basu makes such a wonderful first impression with this entrancing novel that I long to see what she does next and soon,I hope!:


SINISTER SITUATIONS: The next two books on this list are inventive chillers that defy the usual tropes of their genre and then some.

To begin with, Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz starts out with an editor happily reading the latest entry in a popular detective series,only to be stumped not by the story but by the lack of final chapters.

When she goes in search of them, the author turns up dead and more than one mystery is in need of solving,not just for the characters but the reader as well.

Horowitz tips his hat to Agatha Christie here, especially with the fictional detective Atticus Pund, who I wish we did have a whole slew of his crime solving adventures to read our way through.  At least we do have this clever tale to enjoy and marvel at, with all of it's properly puzzling twists and turns:



Iconic author Stephen King joined fictional forces with his son Owen to bring Sleeping Beauties to waking life and boy, what a beauty of a nightmare vision it is.

Set in a not-too-distant future, the world is quickly undone by a mysterious ailment that puts most of the female population into a deep,cocoon wrapped slumber and simply waking the ladies up is not a safe option.

With a strange woman who calls herself Eve Black and is unaffected by the outbreak known as Aurora, a small mountain town becomes the focal point for the bizarre phenomenon,with a showdown at a women's prison possibly deciding the fate of all humanity.

Mixed with pathos,dark humor and elements of fantasy, this glimpse of a brave new solo gendered world is incredibly timely and gives the well worn notion of "battle of the sexes" a terrifying stage to showcase itself on:



 HOCKEY AND HEARTBREAK: I've been reading the works of Fredrik Backman for a good portion of this year, from A Man Called Ove to My Grandmother Says to Tell You That She's Sorry and Britt-Marie Was Here.

I do have a novella of his to catch up to but for the most part, his books have been amazingly excellent reads. However, I do have to agree with the critics that his latest novel,Beartown, is next level writing.

The title refers to a dying small town whose whole identity and hope for any viable future is wrapped up in the local high school hockey team. This drive to make it into the championship game offers a way out of despair for some and a constant annoyance to others but sadly, it also allows too much leeway for misbehavior to it's young players.

When a sexual assault occurs at a victory party, most of the town is willing to overlook it in order to gain fortune and fame, not to mention being quick to blame the victim and any of her allies. Yes, it's a sad and no doubt triggering for some story but it's a sincere and well developed one that should be a beacon of emotional light to those looking for the right way to go in this all too well charted territory.


THE CAT'S MEOW: Writer and blogger Tim Hanley is one of the best chroniclers of comic book history from a female perspective out there, as his previous works about Wonder Woman and Lois Lane show.

In The Many Lives of Catwoman, he does more than trace the rise and occasional fall of Batman's feminine nemesis. Hanley calls out comic book legends such as Bob Kane and others for their exploitation of fellow artists as well as the character herself. However, her villain/antihero status is not enough to keep this princess of crime down for long.

Hanley also showcases her more positive features over the decades and happily highlights her live action incarnations(yes, the infamous Halle Berry film is given it's own chapter) as well. This is truly one stop shopping for all there is to know about the feline queen that rules Batman's world:


I hope this list gives you a few new books to pick up and I do have a few honorable mentions to name as well: Certain Dark Things by Silvia Moreno-Gracia,Miss Treadway and the Field of Stars by Miranda Emmerson,Kevin Kwan's Rich People Problems(so excited for the Crazy Rich Asians movie due out next year!) and Young Jane Young by Gabrielle Zevin.

This year was and still is a troubling one to get through. With any luck, signs of better things to come will show up by the end of the calendar and for me, pop culture can offer us a bit of relief as well as inspiration as to how to handle the upcoming challenges set before us.

 A new year has many good things in store for us,including books, movies and books made into movies. I know one thing for sure about 2018 and it's that I am ready like Freddy for Ready Player One:


Friday, November 10, 2017

Setting the TV table for some Thanksgiving family fun

As a fan of Thanksgiving,it's been my observation that this savory holiday tends to get fast forwarded nowadays( all the better to start up your seasonal shopping spree!) and to bring us back to enjoying this delicious occasion properly, I will be posting a few Turkey Day pop culture reminders.

To start with, Thanksgiving is a time meant to spend with family and friends,which doesn't always go off perfectly but that's what makes for a great anecdote to share at holiday gatherings for years to come! Many of our favorite TV shows do serve up a good Thanksgiving episode or two yet also offer us a look at different ways that people get together and deal with each other for this special meal,so here's a tasting menu of small screen T-Day delights:

GILMORE GIRLS: Our title ladies begin their Thanksgiving run with a visit to the Kim family, with Lane nervously watching the punch bowl as her mother scowls at relatives who abuse her furniture and cheerfully passes out plates of tofurkey. While Lorelai is hardily a tofurkey fan, she does keep up a fine tradition of bringing a little something to the dinner,even if her napkin maneuver is hard to pull off:


SUPERGIRL: Yes, even superheroines need some holiday time and while it's always fun to watch Kara cook the turkey with her heat vision(so not kidding about that), it's the family drama that brings the real flavor there.

Last season, her sister Alex and buddy James had big reveals to make at dinner but an inter-dimensional disruption cut both of those announcements short. Just as well, since the bland blathering of future boyfriend Mon-El was also nipped in the bud(so glad that he won't be back for Thanksgiving this year!),although his confusion about the holiday was further enhanced:


SNL: It's a long standing joke that Thanksgiving forces you to mingle with those particular relatives whose world views are decidedly different from yours and that a fight at the table is inevitable ,to say the least.

However, one recent Saturday Night Live skit gave us the best solution to stopping such disputes from ruining everyone's appetite. Just crank up the music of the moment and in this case, it was Adele's latest album,which allowed even the uptight aunt at the table to rock harmoniously and humorously with her niece's new boyfriend:


FRIENDS: Over the years, the Central Perk pals joyfully shared many a Turkey Day together yet there was one time that they did not.

Most of them had made other plans or good reason not to go home to their family this time out and yet Monica wound up cooking three different versions of potatoes,only to have the entire meal burned to a crisp due to a parade balloon distraction. The mood of the day went downhill from there.

However, one more look out the window caused them to rally together and full embrace the spirit of the day, even Chandler, who got to carve the cheesy main course:

 
So, no matter what the circumstances, Thanksgiving is a good time to gather around your loved ones and rejoice in the good things in your lives. Granted, counting your blessings is getting harder to do these days but it's not impossible.

Also, don't caught up in the fancy trappings of the day such as the perfect place setting and the right style of food. As one of the best episodes of Everybody Loves Raymond shows us, a Thanksgiving dinner tastes fine any time and especially in your pajamas:


Tuesday, November 07, 2017

Bits of book hauls for a fall bouquet of reading

I buy books the way other people might buy shoes-somewhat practical but can quickly get into impulsive territory. Having a church rummage sale near my house doesn't make that urge any easier but I do try to shop as smartly as possible there.

My book purchases were few at the rummage sale this time out(one book, I found out later that I already had, so it will be donated during my next shelf clearance run). However, I did get a nice three-in-one deal by picking up Paul Auster's New York Trilogy, a snazzy Penguin Deluxe edition no less.

This trio of off beat noir novels have become cult classics, with City of Glass starting things off by sending a mystery writer named Quinn out on a late night odyssey through the streets of New York. That's followed up by Ghosts, with characters that have names right out of an early Tarantino script hunting each other and the finale is fittingly entitled The Locked Room.

I've heard of Paul Auster over the years but never read any of his works,they just didn't call to me. That doesn't mean I won't give this set of his most famous stories a try,bargain price or not. Maybe this is the right moment for me to see what he's all about, at least fiction wise:


Another fortunate find was The Truth About The Harry Quebert Affair by Joel Dicker, a novel that was a big hit in Europe a few years ago but didn't do quite as well in America(sort of like that film adaptation of Jo Nezbo's The Snowman at the box office these days).

The plot of the book is rather bookish as a successful young writer,Marcus Goldman, seeks inspiration for his next book via a visit to his former college professor of the title. Upon arriving at the seaside New Hampshire town where Quebert lives, the body of a dead girl  who had been missing for over thirty years is discovered with the professor being the prime suspect.

Despite the mixed reviews, I'm willing to give this a go. Turns out my purchase is rather timely as the book is being turned into a cable TV series for Epix, with Patrick Dempsey signed up to play Harry Quebert. Granted, I don't get that channel but this is still a good way to get introduced to this tale one way or the other:


My book bargain buying also extends to online(and Better World Books does give to charity,so more justification!) as well and yes, I really did need a new edition of Anna Karenina.

I've been doing well reading War & Peace in the Maude translation and since I've tried in the past to read AK but to no avail with the Constance Garnett version, it made sense to get the Maude edition. I did donate my older Anna Karenina before getting the new one(newish,so to speak).

My new Maude AK happens to be a movie tie-in edition, the latest big screen film starring Keira Knightley. I do like movie covers on books,plus the print size is good which is important for such a long read. I intend to read Anna Karenina as soon as I finish with W&P(yep, doing the full Tolstoy there) and who knows, I might see this film version,too:


 Also, I have a good excuse for getting The Black Moon by Winston Graham. It's the fifth book in the Poldark series,which is being featured on the new season of the PBS series(along with Four Swans, which I should really have as well). True, I'm a little behind in my Poldark reading yet I do have a plan as to how to fix that.

My Series-ous Reading challenge for 2017 will be wrapped up soon, with Patrick Rothfuss' The Name of the Wind, and my reading blog goal for next year is Stephen King's The Dark Tower books.

However, that series has only seven titles(I know, there's a side story as well but sticking to the main books for this one) and for a full reading year,perhaps adding some of my Poldark TBR to this literary quest might be a good idea. Series-ous Reading 2:Electric Book-a-loo, how does that sound?

 A little corny, I know but being overwhelmed by unread books is something that most readers face and it's certainly a solution. Another round of catch-up is not too bad and it's better than being jinxed at birth by a black moon,that's for sure!:


Seriously, I do need to slow down my book buying as the holidays draw near, not to mention that I have a few library books to return soon. I'll do my best but so many sales, so many books, so little resistance to temptation....: