Fictional Book Covers: Mapleworth Murders

I now have a multi-part series on fictional book covers. I honestly didn’t see that coming. But I really like them! And actually this one is sort of like an off-shoot of my previous two. Mapleworth Murders is a parody of Murder, She Wrote (which you can watch for free on Roku) and features a lead character who imagines herself as the protagonist sleuth she writes about in her novellas — not unlike Tom Selleck’s character in Her Alibi.

Peppered throughout the series are book covers featuring the Mrs. Mapleworth mysteries.

Anytime our lead, Abigail (played by Paula Pell), finds herself in a jam, she imagines what Mrs. Mapleworth would do to get out of a bad situation. The fantasy never matches up with the reality and the results are hilarious.

There are also a lot of great guest stars from the greater NBC family, including multiple SNL alums, Terry Crewes, Jack McBrayer, and Paul Lieberstein.

Honestly, I think I need to figure out how to be a book cover designer. I think I’ve uncovered deep passion here.

Can Someone Introduce Me to JB Fletcher’s Design Team?

Hi team! I was watching an episode of Murder, She Wrote that I opted not to include in this year’s Halloweek round-up. But there was this really gorgeous prop book cover for one of Jessica’s mysteries and I simply couldn’t get it out of my head.

Also quick shoutout to the title cards in this series! Here’s the one from the episode I was watching.

I just loveeee that typeface!

Anyway, a million years ago when I was in college, I was the props master for some of the theater productions. My favorite prop that I ever made was an art deco book cover. Suffice it to say I’m verrrrry jealous of the Murder, She Wrote props master.

In the opening shot of “Reflections of The Mind,” we see Jessica Fletcher’s friend asleep on her bed with an open copy of The Umbrella Murders. Can you imagine how much fun it would have been to design this?

Throughout the run of the series, we’re treated to quite a few fun book covers. This tripod page (remember those???) contains a whole catalogue of Jessica’s books that were either mentioned or depicted in the show.

Here are a couple:

In this one from Cinematic Literature, we even get to see Jessica’s author photo. This book is featured in the first season episode “Lovers and Other Killers.” Any other Nancy Drew fans getting some “Dancing Puppet” vibes from this?
Here’s another cover from the Murder He Watched blog. This cover is also from a first season episode: “We’re Off to Kill the Wizard.”

If you can’t get enough of the Murder, She Wrote typeface, you can get our own journal with the look from MissKayleenMarie on Redbubble.

My Best Friend’s Exorcism: Another Book I’m Sad I Didn’t Write

This cover called to me from the drab piles of “new release” paperbacks at my local Barnes & Noble. “I’m not like the others,” it said. “I’m everything you’ve ever wanted in a creepy beach read,” it cooed as I ran my fingers over it’s soft-matte cover. It looks like a freaking VHS rental tape and I SOOOOO wanted it. IMG_1004

People sell books like this in major retailers?? Maybe I’ve missed my calling!! But ultimately, I put it down because I got worried that the scary parts would be less Stranger Things and more the actual-movie-The Exorcist. But I don’t know. I’m still thinking about it, so maybe I’ll be bold and give it a read.

Tender Wings of Desire

Very Special Readers, I finally found my dream job. AND IT IS TAKEN! I hope the ghostwriter of Tender Wings of Desire appreciates the perfection that is being paid to write a romance novel about Colonel Sanders.

Special for Mother’s Day, KFC has published Tender Wings of Desire: A Colonel Sanders Novella. You can download it for free on Amazon and 100 lucky people will be selected to receive a hard copy on Facebook.

Check out the promo video here:

I never imagined anyone would dream of making sweet, sweet love to Colonel Sanders. But KFC went there and I APPLAUD THEM FOR IT.

I’m several chapters into the novella and it’s not what I expected. I thought it would be like set in rural America (right)? But no, it’s all about a Downton Abbey-type lady who runs away from her arranged marriage to become a barmaid in a small fishing village. (The tavern’s owners are surprisingly chill with her lack of domestic skills.) It’s through her new job that she meets the Colonel, who heads out to sea with career fisherman for the fun of it.

I haven’t finished the whole thing, but it seems very PG. The riskiest thing to happen thus far is some serious kissing and chapped lips. I’m pretty sure it won’t progress any farther than that because THIS IS A FAMILY RESTAURANT, PEOPLE. So if you’re into romance novels, then I’m not sure I can recommend it as traditional romance novel fare, per se. But I can say that you better read this is you love absurd pop culture humor (me) or love chicken (me) or love Americana (me).

Plus, it’s free. It’s literally free.

Grumpy Cat’s All About Miserable Me: A Doodle Journal for Everything Awful

51nki1utskl-_sx373_bo1204203200_First of all, let me preface this by saying that I just finished a 3 day work retreat, but like the kind of “retreat” where tons of people come in from out of town and you’re the one coordinating how everyone is getting from point A to point B and making sure the restaurant has gluten-free options and didn’t forget your reservation for fifteen in the private room. So yes, I’m probably a bit tired. But to be perfectly honest, I love doodling and I love complaining and those two factors really drew me to this diary for children. But hey, Lisa Frank is making a comeback so I feel like we don’t need to feel like only children can benefit from this really cool doodle book. Also, I love cats. That was also a selling point for me.

So for kids, I feel like this would be a book that kind of teaches you to “use your words” and express your emotions in a healthy way. For adults, I feel like this is a great way to draw pictures of cats and list things that piss you off. I’d say it’s a win-win for all ages. Maybe it’s even something you could enjoy WITH your kids. Although, if I’m being perfectly honest, I think it would be kind of hard to share. Grumpy Cat’s All About Miserable Me will be released on July 20th and is available for pre-order on Amazon for a mere $3.87.

The Best Epistolary Chick Lit

When I’m not nit-picking hard-hitting, emotional, life-lessons from sitcoms, I like to read books.

A few months ago, I wrote about my totally ecstatic reception of the first Princess Diaries book for adults. This is not exclusively due to the fact that I love the protagonist and her weird behavior, but also because my childhood spoiled me with epistolary novels and the adult world is sadly devoid of them! I started with the Dear America series and then forayed into the classics: P.S. Longer Letter Later and Absolutely Normal Chaos. The Princess Diaries and Confessions of Georgia Nicholson series basically ruled my middle school life. Then there were of course the countless other books I devoured and have since forgotten. But basically, if the book was written in a diary, series of letters, or newspaper clipping format (or better yet, all of the above!) then I read it immediately and desperately searched for my next fix.

But then I grew up and no one wanted to let me read fun books of letters anymore. So I’ve decided to compile a list of the best epistolary chick lit I’ve managed to find. (If it’s a serious book, then I don’t want to read it in the form of notes between friends, so that’s why this is specifically geared toward chick let. But hey, The Very Special Blog does not want to be gender normative, so go ahead and partake of this list as well, gentlemen):

71zlxoecx4lAttachments by Rainbow Rowell
I loved this because it like really innocently fulfilled all of my Harriet-the-Spy dreams. It’s the turn of the millennium and this kind of glum-fellow takes a job reading a newspaper employee’s flagged emails. So basically he’s reading a lot of silly/crass emails that have nothing to do with work and then he like kind of gets inspired by those emails to…well I’m not going to spoil this for you.

Daisy Fay and The Miracle Man by Fannie Flagg
Daisy Fay is a precocious 12 year-old when she starts her diary, and she basically just writes about the weird things that happen in her family. Her family is REALLY strange, so it’s a very fun read.

whered-you-go-bernadette-book-coverWhere’d Ya Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple
While this book isn’t entirely written in the epistolary style, in my opinion the best parts are. I loved reading Bernadette’s messages to her outsourced “personal assistant” and all of her husband’s bitchy admin’s emails. I just like really really really want there to be a sequel to this book.

The Boy Next Door by Meg Cabot
Honestly, this one is kind of boring in places but I was really illin’ for some epistolary reading when I picked it up. Meg Cabot is definitely funnier in The Princess Diaries, but she’s pretty funny here too.

Notably absent: Bridget Jones’s Diary–I could not get through this book. I loved the movies, but the writing drove me nuts! Bridget’s thoughts are far easier for me to comprehend when spoken by Renee Zellwegger.

Things I Can’t Explain

It’s been decades since we’ve heard from Clarissa and when I started this book I was pretty nervous. There’s a lot of legacy to live up to here. Did she turn out okay? Will I feel okay reading about her outside of the TV series? Things I Can’t Explain, is written by series creator Mitchell Kriegman and will be released November 10th. You can pre-order it now on Amazon.

But full disclosure, I did not care for this book. Frankly, parts of it felt like a real chore to get through. I found myself a bit bored by the plot. And I found it hard to get past the fact that the math glaringly does not add up. I’m sure this was done for creative reasons, but Clarissa is such a cultural icon of the early/mid 90’s to me, as I’m sure she is for many other girls of that era. So to hear that she graduated from college in 2009 (and figuring that means she must have spent over a decade in high school for that to even remotely make sense) just doesn’t sit right with me.

Plus, financial crisis recent-grad millennial is not Clarissa as we grew up with her. Clarissa Explains It All first aired in 1991 and Clarissa was in the 9th grade. She’s on the cusp of the Gen-X/Millennial generation. She’s the teenager that all of the younger millennials (the one’s who actually did finish college in 2009 without any math tricks) looked up to and aspired to be. If she’s suddenly supposed to be the same age as a younger millennial, then it somehow spoils everything.

I’d be much more interested in reading about her in her early to mid thirties. She could still have a life-crisis. I’m down to hear about that. But something about this book rings false. Clarissa doesn’t belong with her contemporaries in this book. Suddenly, she’s a “millennial” and she throws around words like “SnapChat” but it doesn’t even sound like she knows how what she’s saying. She describes a friend, who is presumably Clarissa’s age, who changes her Facebook profile picture every “43 minutes.” That’s not something a late-twenties millennial would do. That sounds more like something a seventeen or eighteen year old millennial might do. And those kids don’t even have Facebook because Facebook is what “old people” use.

I feel like the character’s voice is missing, and maybe that’s a by-product of how amazingly Melissa Joan Hart depicted her on the television show. But I don’t think that’s entirely the problem. Rob Thomas wrote a couple of books using Veronica Mars as a character and the character was still very much Veronica Mars. This just does not feel like Clarissa. She feels like she’s in the wrong time and place and I feel like just about anyone could be telling me this story. Frankly I just do not care about this character, and that’s mostly because I don’t feel like there’s much of a character to care about.

I guess there are a few other elements of insincerity to me as well, but I’m not sure they’ll bug others as much. As a former New Yorker, I find it really odd that Clarissa, while trying to convince her parents that a near-stranger is her boyfriend, would mistakenly pick Riverdale as his neighborhood of residence. I’ll point out that this guy runs a coffee stand in the lobby of a corporate building in lower Manhattan, so he’s pretty much as far socioeconomically and geographically as possible from Riverdale. She also has all of these stupid rules about little New York interactions that require you to not know anyone’s names. So she’s been getting coffee from this one guy for years and has intentionally not learned his name. Aside from making her sound like a jerk, this is also another weird attempt at a “local’s characterization” of New York City–like people have these little interactions and then intentionally do not learn each others names? It’s odd and patently false, in my experience.

I hate to say it, but I couldn’t recommend this book to you. The best thing about Clarissa in the Clarissa Explains it All  years was that she managed to be a totally genuine kid while also being a trendsetter. Actually, the whole fact that she was a trendsetter stemmed naturally from the fact that she was genuine and creative. Now, it feels like she’s a square peg forced into the round hole of the 21st century, and the transition is not happening smoothly. And no, it’s not because she is having a “quarter-life crisis.” The few shining moments in this book are those in which we get a fun graphic or cool list that remind us of Clarissa’s glory days. Those are fun, but not worth the price of trudging through everything else.

I say this as someone who runs a nostalgia blog: this character is certainly better left in your memories.

5 Things I Learned from Danielle Fishel’s Memoir

Danielle Fishel’s memoir is super funny and a very quick read! You could probably knock this book out in a day or two, but it took me about a week because I do most of my reading at 11 pm right until my eyelids give out on me. Nevertheless, I did finish this book! And here are some of my favorite moments:

  1. She played Skipper in a live-action commercial for Mattel. I totally remembered seeing this as soon as I read about it. But when I turned to the internet to confirm my memories, I could not find the commercial. But in retrospect, I feel like they probably cast Danielle because of her really great hair.
  2. Justin Timberlake called her pretending to be Lance Bass because Lance was too nervous to call her himself. Also, Lance took her to a taping of Celine Dion’s Christmas Special on their first official date. And after prom, he gave her a set of gifts: a Barbie nightgown (referencing the commercial above), a Prada makeup bag, and a book on Taurus Birthdays (they’re both born in early May). And at no point in their relationship did it ever once crossed her mind that he might be gay.
  3. The BMW cast regularly goes over to Will Friedle’s house to catch up with each other. This was how she and Rider Strong learned that they were most likely getting married on the same weekend. And then Rider leaked that to the media and Danielle’s low-key wedding in downtown LA turned into an paparazzi event so whoops…
  4. She’s incredibly dedicated to her dogs. Like the phrase “animal lover” would not even being to cover it. This included adopting an aggressive rescue who had to have regular insulin shots (among other serious health problems). For obvious reasons, it’s kind of hard to give an angry dog a shot. And Danielle accidentally gave herself the shot when she pulled away quickly as he tried to bit her hand. I feel like any normal person would have called 911, but she drove herself to class and asked her professor to make sure she didn’t die. And she still takes care of that dog to this day. So I kind of want to be her best friend.
  5. She really wants people to follow her on Twitter and also has some really great food suggestions if you’re traveling to Maui. So if you have Twitter and are going to Maui, you should reach out to her. I think she’d have some great ideas.

As If!

Jen Chaney’s oral history about Clueless, the aptly titled As If!, feels like one of those case study books of classic literature that you can find in any college library–but if the case study was awesome pop culture. This book not only shares memories and viewpoints from cast and crew, but also includes analysis from academics who have taught entire courses on Clueless (many of them asserting that this is by far the best interpretation of Jane Austen’s Emma.)

In the spirit of the film, the book manages to be both easy and insightful as it catalogues the behind-the-scenes action from inception to production and beyond. (By the way, I’m totally buggin’ that this move is twenty years old.) Included amongst the stories of casting the perfect ensemble and dealing with cold, uncharacteristically wet California weather are references to films that influenced Clueless and a refresher glossary of all the film’s most important slang.

The book’s author thoughtfully intersperses narration amongst direct quotes in order to clarify, enhance the dialogue, or to provide context. Having read an oral history book before that provided no narration, I found it very easy to get lost or confused. This was simply not the case with As If! It truly felt easy to follow (especially because each person’s name is always followed by title, i.e. “Elisa Donovan, Amber”or “Dean Wilson, prop master.”)

Yet the book’s narrative voice does more than just make it easy to read, it also feels like a fellow fan who is reading right along with you and sharing cool details at all of the perfect moments. You can really tell how much Jen Chaney loves her subject matter, and I appreciate that because I love it too.

As If! is available for pre-order on Amazon and will be released on July 7th.

Punky Brewster: The Graphic Novel

I discovered today that Punky Brewster has been re-imagined for 21st century elementary school readers as a graphic novel. And even though I totally don’t fall into that age group, I loved the advanced copy. In fact, I know some baby girls who will be getting this book from me in a few years.

Broken down into seven sections (which kind of remind me of the 5 part story arcs the television series used to use) the story takes introduces us to Punky as a “street urchin,” who discovers a long-lost cousin named Henry. If you watched the original series, you’ll have to accept this as one of the “re-imagined” parts but no modern-day kid would care or notice the difference.

We follow Punky (and her dog Brandon) in her quest to be placed in foster-care and/or adopted by Henry. I know that this adoption was an integral part of the television plotline, but I did feel like it was a bit drawn out in the graphic novel, especially for young readers. It was still a fun read though, and the design of the book is just as adorable as Punky herself. I think would be very appealing to anyone who likes Pippi Longstocking or Amelia Bedelia (or, like me, loves both).

The full title of this graphic novel is Punky Brewster: Volume 1, so here’s hoping that volume 2 includes the infamous very special refrigerator episode, “Cherie Lifesaver.” I’d like to see that re-imagined, and also on my book shelf for multiple re-reads.