Wednesday, December 23, 2015

5 Stars: Platinum Doll by Anne Girard

Publisher: MIRA
Historical Fiction
Buy: AMZ

About the Book

Set against the dazzling backdrop of Golden Age Hollywood, novelist Anne Girard tells the enchanting story of Jean Harlow, one of the most iconic stars in the history of film.

It's the Roaring Twenties and seventeen-year-old Harlean Carpenter McGrew has run off to Beverly Hills. She's chasing a dream;to escape her small, Midwestern life and see her name in lights.In California, Harlean has everything a girl could want;a rich husband, glamorous parties, socialite friends;except an outlet for her talent. But everything changes when a dare pushes her to embrace her true ambition: to be an actress on the silver screen. 

With her timeless beauty and striking shade of platinum-blond hair, Harlean becomes Jean Harlow. And as she's thrust into the limelight, Jean learns that this new world of opportunity comes with its own set of burdens. Torn between her family and her passion to perform, Jean is forced to confront the difficult truth;that fame comes at a price, if only she's willing to pay it. Amid a glittering cast of ingenues and Hollywood titans: Clara Bow, Clark Gable, Laurel and Hardy, Howard Hughes, Platinum Doll introduces us to the star who would shine brighter than them all.
~

Long before we held the story of Marilyn Monroe as the gold standard for Hollywood tragedy, there was Jean Harlow. She was beautiful and talented, a competent film comedienne (go rent Dinner At Eight). I picked up Platinum Doll because I love Old Hollywood fiction, and I hadn't read a Harlow biography before, though I know her story.

Girard keeps the timeline limited to the beginning and peak of Harlow's fame, perhaps the few moment of happiness in life. You can't help but feel for young Harlean who wants a career and to please her overbearing mother (who makes Kris Jenner look complacent, damn) and her dissatisfied husband. Harlean/Jean sadly didn't have a long, happy life, but burned brightly like a star she was.

I enjoyed this book. If you love classic Hollywood stories I think you'll enjoy this.

ARC received from the publisher via NetGalley.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

4 Stars: Anything For You by Kristan Higgins

Publisher: HQN Books
Contemporary Romance
Buy: AMZ

About the Book

Before you get down on bended knee…

…you should be pretty darn sure the answer will be yes. For ten years, Connor O'Rourke has been waiting for Jessica Dunn to take their on-again, off-again relationship public, and he thinks the time has come. His restaurant is thriving, she's got her dream job at Blue Heron Vineyard—it's the perfect time to get married.

When he pops the question, however, her answer is a fond but firm no. If it ain't broke, why fix it? Jess has her hands full with her younger brother, who's now living with her full-time, and a great career after years of waitressing. What she and Connor have is perfect: friends with an excellent benefits package. Besides, with her difficult past (and reputation), she's positive married life isn't for her.

But this time, Connor says it's all or nothing. If she doesn't want to marry him, he'll find someone who does. Easier said than done, given that he's never loved anyone but her. And maybe Jessica isn't quite as sure as she thinks…

~

When it comes to series like Blue Heron and others one would read in the HQN line, I find if the characters are strong and likable and the setting has appeal it's worth to read the next one and see where the overall story takes you. Like with Brenda Novak's Whiskey Creek stories, I've had issues with some books here, but I enjoyed Anything For You, more so than book 4.

It's been a while since I read the last story, but book 5 brings us to restaurateur Connor and Jessica, who managed to cross the wrong side of the tracks to a respectable position in town...though some people haven't let her forget her past. After weaving through their backstory - flashbacks interspersed with current action we learn of Jessica's reluctance to have a long-term relationship with Connor - family issues and emotional baggage prevent her from opening up to him. Connor's stubborn nature can't wear her down, though it's not until they stop tip-toeing around issues that Jessica realizes she can have love.

I think this series could keep getting better if Higgins continues it. If not, AFY is a great place to leave Blue Heron, happily.

ARC received from publisher via NetGalley.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

5 Stars: Things No One Will Tell Fat Girls by Jes Baker

Publisher: Seal Press
Non-Fiction
Buy: AMZ

About the Book

Things No One Will Tell Fat Girls is a manifesto and call to arms for people of all sizes and ages. With her trademark wit, veteran blogger and advocate Jes Baker calls people everywhere to embrace a body-positive worldview, changing perceptions about weight, and making mental health a priority.

Alongside notable guest essayists, Jes shares personal experiences paired with in-depth research in a way that is approachable, digestible, and empowering. Things No One Will Tell Fat Girls is an invitation to reject fat prejudice, fight body-shaming at the hands of the media, and join this life-changing movement with one step: change the world by loving your body.
~

If I'd won Powerball I would have bought a few cases of this book to hand out to people. I enjoyed it that much. I discovered Jes's blog after her Abercrombie & Fitch response went viral, and this book is a fantastic by-product of her site. It's funny, blunt, unapologetic, and encouraging. It's worth pointing out that Jes writes for everybody with body issues - the title refers to fat girls but this book is for anybody who's ever glanced in the mirror and sighed.

Friday, December 11, 2015

3 Stars - Stars Over Sunset Boulevard by Susan Meissner

Publisher: Penguin
Historical Fiction
Buy: AMZ

About the Book

Los Angeles, Present Day. When an iconic hat worn by Scarlett O’Hara in Gone With the Wind ends up in Christine McAllister’s vintage clothing boutique by mistake, her efforts to return it to its owner take her on a journey more enchanting than any classic movie…

Los Angeles, 1938. Violet Mayfield sets out to reinvent herself in Hollywood after her dream of becoming a wife and mother falls apart, and lands a job on the film-set of Gone With the Wind. There, she meets enigmatic Audrey Duvall, a once-rising film star who is now a fellow secretary. Audrey’s zest for life and their adventures together among Hollywood’s glitterati enthrall Violet…until each woman’s deepest desires collide. What Audrey and Violet are willing to risk, for themselves and for each other, to ensure their own happy endings will shape their friendship, and their lives, far into the future.

~

I wanted to read this title because I enjoy Old Hollywood fiction, and the premise reminded me a bit of A Touch of Stardust, which I enjoyed. Like that book, Stars Over Sunset Boulevard is set during the filming of Gone With the Wind, but the movie is merely a distant backdrop in the story of two women with different ambitions in the 1930s. Audrey wants to be a "star," more so than being an actress, while Violet longs for a picket fence and family. The progression of their friendship could easily have existed without the GWTW subplot - unlike Kate Alcott's book, there's very little interaction between the film stars and the main book characters.

Overall, the book reads rather quickly, but seems to fall short in places. It's not exactly a love triangle story, and you might lose sympathy for one character in the story due to her meddling and manipulation of her friend and the gentleman in question. I suppose I had expected something different in the story.

ARC received from NetGalley.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

3 Stars - Groucho Marx: The Comedy of Existence by Lee Siegel

Publisher: Yale University Press
Biography
Buy: AMZ

About the Book

Born Julius Marx in 1890, the brilliant comic actor who would later be known as Groucho was the most verbal of the famed comedy team, the Marx Brothers, his broad slapstick portrayals elevated by ingenious wordplay and double entendre. In his spirited biography of this beloved American iconoclast, Lee Siegel views the life of Groucho through the lens of his work on stage, screen, and television. The author uncovers the roots of the performer’s outrageous intellectual acuity and hilarious insolence toward convention and authority in Groucho’s early upbringing and Marx family dynamics.

The first critical biography of Groucho Marx to approach his work analytically, this fascinating study draws unique connections between Groucho’s comedy and his life, concentrating primarily on the brothers’ classic films as a means of understanding and appreciating Julius the man. Unlike previous uncritical and mostly reverential biographies, Siegel’s “bio-commentary” makes a distinctive contribution to the field of Groucho studies by attempting to tell the story of his life in terms of his work, and vice versa.
~

This book is actually part biography and part criticism of the Groucho character in film. The title is bit of a misnomer as well, since the authors touches also on the lives of the others brothers, in particular Chico and Harpo, perpetuating the theory you can't tell one Marx Brother story without involving the rest. I wanted to read this book because I'm reading up on the era, and opinions vary on the quality of other bios.

Siegel spends a lot of time dissecting Groucho's humor, touching on the moments of cruelty and misogyny apparently passing as rebellion in their earlier movies. While reading this book I got the impression I supposed to have more pity for the brothers than admire their talent. It's difficult for me to explain, but I can say after reading this book I might look at their movies differently.

If you're looking more for a criticism than a straight-out bio, be warned this is more academic than entertainment.

ARC received from the publisher via NetGalley.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

3.5 Stars - Career of Evil by Robert Galbraith

Publisher: Sphere
Mystery
Buy: AMZ

About the Book

When a mysterious package is delivered to Robin Ellacott, she is horrified to discover that it contains a woman’s severed leg.

Her boss, private detective Cormoran Strike, is less surprised but no less alarmed. There are four people from his past who he thinks could be responsible – and Strike knows that any one of them is capable of sustained and unspeakable brutality.

With the police focusing on the one suspect Strike is increasingly sure is not the perpetrator, he and Robin take matters into their own hands, and delve into the dark and twisted worlds of the other three men. But as more horrendous acts occur, time is running out for the two of them…

A fiendishly clever mystery with unexpected twists around every corner, Career of Evil is also a gripping story of a man and a woman at a crossroads in their personal and professional lives. You will not be able to put this book down.

~

I'm giving it 3.5. A lot of readers here are calling this the best so far, and I liked revisiting the series but it took a while for me to get through. The story is darker and bloodier than the previous books, and as you're reading it you may get the impression the Cormoran/Robin dynamic is going to shift into shark-jumping territory. I won't spoil that, but will stick around for the fourth book to see how that pans out.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

3.5 Stars - The Swans of Fifth Avenue by Melanie Benjamin

Publisher: Random House
Historical Fiction
Buy: AMZ

About the Book

Centered on two dynamic, complicated, and compelling protagonists—Truman Capote and Babe Paley—this book is steeped in the glamour and perfumed and smoky atmosphere of New York’s high society. Babe Paley—known for her high-profile marriage to CBS founder William Paley and her ranking in the International Best-Dressed Hall of Fame—was one of the reigning monarchs of New York’s high society in the 1950s. Replete with gossip, scandal, betrayal, and a vibrant cast of real-life supporting characters, readers will be seduced by this startling new look at the infamous society swans.

~

I became aware of Truman Capote early on - I wrote my first term paper on Breakfast at Tiffany's, and off and on over the years I've been fascinated by the man and the mid 20th century era of the New York socialite. Had Babe Paley, Slim Keith, and Pam Churchill existed in this time as they did in the 50s they'd all have reality shows, with Capote flitting around each one for his closeup. Capote, arguably, is the first "celebrity writer" in that he milked his successes for all they were worth and did his damnedest to parlay his talents into ongoing fame. If you know his story, you'll know how well that turned out. :/

Swans offers a dramatic account of Capote's friendships (if it can be called as such) with the doyennes of NYC chic, in particular Paley. Benjamin's retelling of events is done almost lovingly, but not entirely sympathetic of all the players. One might look down upon these women, wives of rich men, and ask why they deserve any respect - I can hear in my head the jokes Joan Rivers made about Jackie Onassis using sex as something else to do besides shop at Bergdorf's all day, you could apply it here. 

Anyway, I found through the story that while I couldn't identify with any of the swans I felt the most for Babe Paley, who seemed to have her lot in life forced upon her. Her mother pushed her toward a high station, her husband wanted a classy woman on his arm to make him look good, Capote wanted an (gullible?) ear to bend and somebody to fawn over him. We find at the end a broken soul and the oft-told lesson of how money can give you many things, except the one thing you really need.

I liked this book. Readers might be irritated with the portrayals of Capote and Lady Keith, etc., but when you consider how irritating they probably were in real life, then perhaps Benjamin captured them well. There are moments of Capote cattiness, more so than you'll find in the PSH movie. 

Having read this, I'm off to read Capote's Answered Prayers. You may want to read that first before you get into this.

ARC received from publisher via NetGalley

Saturday, September 5, 2015

3 Stars - Rosemary: The Hidden Kennedy Daughter by Kate Clifford Larson

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Biography
Buy: AMZ

About the Book

Joe and Rose Kennedy’s strikingly beautiful daughter Rosemary attended exclusive schools, was presented as a debutante to the Queen of England, and traveled the world with her high-spirited sisters. And yet, Rosemary was intellectually disabled — a secret fiercely guarded by her powerful and glamorous family. Major new sources — Rose Kennedy’s diaries and correspondence, school and doctors' letters, and exclusive family interviews — bring Rosemary alive as a girl adored but left far behind by her competitive siblings. Kate Larson reveals both the sensitive care Rose and Joe gave to Rosemary and then — as the family’s standing reached an apex — the often desperate and duplicitous arrangements the Kennedys made to keep her away from home as she became increasingly intractable in her early twenties. Finally, Larson illuminates Joe’s decision to have Rosemary lobotomized at age twenty-three, and the family's complicity in keeping the secret.

Rosemary delivers a profoundly moving coda: JFK visited Rosemary for the first time while campaigning in the Midwest; she had been living isolated in a Wisconsin institution for nearly twenty years. Only then did the siblings understand what had happened to Rosemary and bring her home for loving family visits. It was a reckoning that inspired them to direct attention to the plight of the disabled, transforming the lives of millions.
~

I had known a little about the "secret Kennedy" child and I was very interested in reading this book. It is a challenge not to judge the book solely on the actions of the Kennedy family. I wasn't a Joe Sr. fan going in, but after reading this you want give him a swift kick. This poor girl didn't have a chance in that family.

That said, this is a swift read because it's not very long. I was surprised to see how much of the book is acknowledgements and notes and index. It also read a bit imbalanced to me - there's more information on Rosemary up until her operation, then it slides rapidly toward a conclusion. There's quite a bit of filler on Kathleen and Eunice, who I'm guessing haven't been the subjects of extensive biographies.