Former child actress and current Fox news anchor Melissa Francis joins Allison Arngrim, Melissa Gilbert and Melissa Sue Anderson as Little House on th...moreFormer child actress and current Fox news anchor Melissa Francis joins Allison Arngrim, Melissa Gilbert and Melissa Sue Anderson as Little House on the Prairie actresses who have penned memoirs. Ms. Francis’ tome, however, is more like Ms. Arngrim’s, in exposing a dysfunctional nuclear family in which one member was on an enormously popular television show, than Ms. Anderson’s, which is primarily about the show itself. (I have not read Ms. Gilbert’s as of this date so I cannot comment on the focus of her book). I am an unapologetic Little House fan and within a day of hearing of this book’s release, I contacted the publisher and had a copy on the way to me.
Diary of a Stage Mother’s Daughter was not at all the read I expected. Not to say it’s a bad read; far from it, it’s a painfully honest and raw look at a family that moves at the whim of one member. But if you’re looking for a book almost exclusively devoted to Little House, you will be disappointed. Ms. Francis does give some behind the scenes details on Michael Landon’s penultimate show, including Landon’s jokester personality, as well as his drive for perfection, the horrible stage makeup that made each actor look as if they belonged more so in Willy Wonka’s Oompa Loompa land than on the prairie and the torture required to get those prairie braids. Her biggest “reveal” may be the blatant lack of education that many child actors were exposed to. She writes that the parents of those children “homeschooled” them but homeschooling was little more than blowing off education altogether so that the kids were available to audition and work. She writes of knowing a fifth grader who had never heard of long division but that went on to win an Academy Award and an actress on Little House who, not being allowed to leave the classroom until she could spell “prairie”, had to have lunch brought in. Since Ms. Francis’ time on the show was short (only two seasons), Little House is but a small portion of the book. The main drive of the book is her tumultuous relationship with her mother and her difficult relationship with her sister, Tiffany - - also a child model and actress.
While Ms. Francis’ mother is not presented in the Mommie Dearest stereotype, she would certainly make Judy Garland’s mother (known as the ultimate stage mother) sit up and take notes. She was desperate for both Melissa and Tiffany to be successful and famous, despite what their own wishes might be. Her life revolved around preparing her daughters for auditions, taking them to auditions and accompanying them on jobs . . . all while passively aggressively blaming them for any failures and for her own unhappiness.
In contrast to the stage mother routine seemingly making Melissa stronger, it has the opposite effect on Tiffany, who shuns the entertainment industry by adolescence and turns inward, to alcohol, drugs and inappropriate behavior and friends.
Ms. Francis’ father also plays a role in this sad sack of a family, both as a weakly complicit co-conspirator with his wife and a victim of her mood swings, erratic behavior and anger. However, his love and compassion for Melissa is evident throughout the course of the book, as well as her own deep love for him. I wish that he had stood up for his children more but having never walked in his shoes, living with a wildly unpredictable woman who likely was suffering from some type of chemical imbalance or mental issues, I suppose I can’t judge.
While I wouldn’t term Diary of a Stage Mother’s Daughter a happy read, I came away from the book being very impressed with Melissa Francis. Having only “known” her previously as Cassandra on Little House, she is obviously much deeper than that one role. A Harvard graduate, who also attended classes at Stanford, she is very intelligent and seemed to have a good, solid head on her shoulders from the beginning. (Unfortunately something that could possibly have helped her sister Tiffany during their upbringing). It’s nice to read of a child actor who had more interests than merely stardom and money and who managed to voluntarily walk away from the industry and career prospects for education and a career not involving auditions and series renewals. I am happy that Ms. Francis has found herself with her career, with her supportive husband and their two children. She came a long way from the prairie and emerged victorious and I say way to go, Melissa Francis!
For readers who enjoy a good memoir I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend Diary of a Stage Mother’s Daughter. I would also encourage fans of Little House on the Prairie to pick this book up. Despite the relative brevity of the beloved show, it’s always worthwhile to read of the reality of what truly went on with the actors and actresses on the show.
Note: This is a joint review of both "Family Storms" and "Cloudburst"
When I think back to my adolescence, V.C. Andrews always pops into my mind. She w...moreNote: This is a joint review of both "Family Storms" and "Cloudburst"
When I think back to my adolescence, V.C. Andrews always pops into my mind. She was my absolute favorite author, with her Dollanganger/Flowers in the Attic series being the first set of books I became absolutely obsessed with. I still remember the thrills and excitement of a new V.C. Andrews release and hurrying to the local B. Dalton (pre-Barnes & Noble and Amazon) to pick it up as quickly as I could and staying up late into the night to devour it. Such were my emotions when I was asked to read and review Family Storms and Cloudburst, the two entries in the new "Secrets" saga - - thrills, excitement and a flashback to my teen years.
For those readers not in the know, author V.C. Andrews passed away in 1986, leaving her family to hire a writer to continue her legacy with outlines of future stories. Sadly, those sketches left by Ms. Andrews seem to be long gone.
Perhaps it's unfair for me to rate these books against the Flowers in the Attic series - - my absolute favorites - - but I can't help but do so. No one would accuse V.C. Andrews' writing of approaching Shakespearian levels; in fact, she was the late 70s/early 80s generation's Stephenie Meyers. She was a storyteller of addictive proportions, creating absolutely unforgettable characters and giving her tales a creepy, gothic factor. Family Secrets and Cloudburst fall short in this regard, although not for lack of potential.
The premise is good enough - - homeless young girl taken in by an obscenely wealthy family shrouded in secrets and with a young daughter who died tragically and a living daughter, spiraling out of control, who not only is responsible for the accident that placed Sasha in her family home and took her mother away from her but who deeply resents her.
I can't help but think if this book had been written and published 25-30 years ago, a deep dark secret would have been revealed about the younger daughter's death, one of the housekeepers might have been a Rebecca-esque Mrs. Danvers and perhaps Jordan Marsh may have literally tried to turn Sasha into her deceased daughter. Alas, none of this came to pass.
Similarly, in Cloudburst, several interesting storyline opportunities were passed up or allowed to slowly peter out. Characters that could have and should have been fleshed out were not; some issues were dragged out to nearly painful proportions.
Sasha was a confusing heroine for me. I liked her better in Family Storms although her ignorance at times was confounding. In Cloudburst she didn't seem like the best kind of friend and frankly, I couldn't understand how she kept the friends she had or why any of them would want to befriend her. I wanted to like her more than I did but she was so frustrating at times that I wanted to pull at my own hair.
I was disappointed with the ending of Cloudburst, which felt more like a non-ending to me. I waited for the trademark V.C. Andrews twists and turns and they simply were not forthcoming. Also missing was the gothic feel so apparent in early Andrews works, like the Flowers in the Attic series and the stunning stand alone, My Sweet Audrina.
Purely cosmetic and shallow but I loved the covers from the earliest Andrews books - - they added to the stories and told tales of their own. I don't particularly care for the more recent covers that feature simple photos. They are rather dull and honestly, the model(s) on the covers look(s) much too old to be Sasha.
That said, these are still V.C. Andrews books and, as such, they make great vacation books, or a good book to curl up with on a cold and rainy day. They won't be the filet mignon of your library but they are a quick fast food burger and will satisfy your literary cravings.
The Woman in Black is a good old fashioned ghost story, with slowly building tension and all out atmosphere. Reading this book left me feeling chilled...moreThe Woman in Black is a good old fashioned ghost story, with slowly building tension and all out atmosphere. Reading this book left me feeling chilled, as if I had been on the moor myself.
Horror lovers will rejoice over The Woman in Black but don't expect a book chock full of action, gore and/or monsters. You will find none of that here. What you will find is an intriguing story, with the weather and the house being as much characters as the self-titled Woman in Black herself.
This isn't a fast paced book as the story and tension builds with relatively quiet precision. Impatient readers may have a difficult time giving The Woman in Black a chance but it is well worth the dedication. I myself found the book to be a slow starter, so spoiled I have been by Dean Koontz/Bentley Little/John Saul, et al. whose many books start off with a bang. The Woman in Black is more like a measured sizzle, with cracks and pops throughout, until the burn at the end. Although I had guessed somewhat how the story would end it didn't take away from the overall excellence of the story.
Interestingly enough, I found thinking back on the story - - the eerie sounds, the rocking chair moving on its own, the woman in black's appearance - - after I had finished it more chilling than when I was reading it.
I would recommend The Woman in Black for those readers who want a more old fashioned horror story, those who don't want vampires, werewolves, zombies and the like, and who don't care to read about serial killers. It's a quick read and one you won't regret. (less)
I love a good legal mystery and if the mystery comes with a hero or heroine that I really like and it has a good personal drama and/or romance thrown...moreI love a good legal mystery and if the mystery comes with a hero or heroine that I really like and it has a good personal drama and/or romance thrown in, I am there. Claim of Innocence by Laura Caldwell delivered. It is a solid legal mystery with strong characters and addictive writing.
This was my first novel by Ms. Caldwell and she did not disappoint. Despite Claim of Innocence being the fourth installment of the Izzy McNeil series, and the first that I have read, I was easily able to pick up the book and delve in. And did I!
Claim of Innocence is a fast read, if for no other reason than you will find yourself as tenacious as Izzy is during the course of the book, flipping the pages and keeping that light on late into the evening to find resolution to both the legal case at issue and Izzy's personal life. In this regard, Claim of Innocence is unique because Izzy is both a main character driving a major plotline as well as being a secondary character to the legal drama.
I was pleased to discover that the mystery surrounding Valerie Solara was not quickly telegraphed from the beginning and had enough twists and turns to keep things humming. Valerie wasn't an easy to character to decipher, either by myself or by Izzy, and such questions were like an addictive drug, keeping me coming back for more.
I enjoyed Izzy because she seemed real. She works hard, she (stubbornly) rides a Vespa and she's torn between the present and what she could have in her future dependent upon her past. She's also a devoted friend to Maggie, who brings her into the legal fray of the questions surrounding Valerie Solara. I liked that Izzy really dug into Valerie and her life to find answers to her questions and that she did not commit, in this reader's opinion, the cardinal sin of committing foolhardy and dangerous actions in order to move a plot forward. You won't find any of that in Ms. Caldwell's book.
What you will find is an engrossing, if relatively light, end of summer read that is low-cal on the violence, with a generous side of sexual situations and a very rich and fattening hearty storyline. Ms. Caldwell's writing is quick and fast paced; at no time will you find this story sluggish or slow to get moving. She drops the reader into the action from the first page and will keep you hanging on until the last sentence. I found myself thinking that this book would be a fantastic airplane read because it's such an obsessive read, you will be disappointed if your flight is actually on time, requiring you to put the book down.
I was happy with the overall tone and direction of the story and closed the book hoping that I would have further legal exploits with Izzy and company. I would not hesitate to recommend Claim of Innocence to readers who enjoy a good legal drama, a good mystery and/or a book with romantic angst as a neat little subplot. Job well done, Ms. Caldwell.
Let me get right to the point. "The Biograph Girl" was a delight to read. I loved it from the first page to the last. Of course the subject matter was...moreLet me get right to the point. "The Biograph Girl" was a delight to read. I loved it from the first page to the last. Of course the subject matter was right up my alley - - - classic Hollywood (the 1910s and 1920s are the bulk of the flashback story here), glamorous ladies, fashions, fashions, fashions, the movies and a mystery. How can you possibly go wrong?
Author William J. Mann, who also penned the sharp nonfiction biography Wisecracker, simply does not. He nails the character of Florence Lawrence, who was indeed the world's first movie star, and events from her actual life - - including her unusual death in 1938 from ant paste - - and manages to create a solid, entertaining and historically accurate book.
I loved the character of Florence, especially Florence as a 107 year old wisecracking and smoking lady who still has a razor sharp mind and the guts to speak it. I could easily envision her, painted fingernails, caftan and all. Mr. Mann created a wonderful character and it did give me pause to think if the real Florence Lawrence had lived, would she have been the delightfully acerbic centenarian that he penned?
The side story of brothers Richard and Ben were almost filler to me, as I adored Flo so much. They had an interesting background and it made for a good plot point but I was always happy to get back to Flo current day and Flo in the past.
I really enjoyed the "what if" nature of "The Biograph Girl" and the fascinating turn of events that Mr. Mann spun in order to allow Florence Lawrence, the movie star, to die and Flo Bridgewood to live. Since urban legend and suppositions have been spun for years about many public figures and celebrities (Garbo, Elvis, Jim Morrison, even Jimmy Hoffa) it's a unique take on the public's fascination with escaping and/or faking death.
"The Biograph Girl" isn't an official biography, although it does detail many real life events and aspects of Florence Lawrence's life, including her background, rise to fame and her marriages, as well as her topple from stardom. If nothing else, Mr. Mann's book gives a voice to the real Florence Lawrence and allows a new generation to understand why she exploded into stardom and, just as quickly, fell from Hollywood's graces.
For readers who obsess over Hollywood as much as I do, as well as readers who enjoy historical fiction (and even a good mystery thrown in), I would not hesitate to recommend "The Biograph Girl". It's the type of book that will keep you flipping the pages, guessing what will happen next and keep you up at night. A real winner.
I picked up this book from my local library thinking it would be the literary equivalent of the 1989 movie with Meryl Streep and Roseanne Barr. I love...moreI picked up this book from my local library thinking it would be the literary equivalent of the 1989 movie with Meryl Streep and Roseanne Barr. I love the movie with inexcusable glee - - it's a guilty pleasure, the revenge is wonderfully satisfying and Meryl Streep is incredible, as always. Unfortunately I was sorely mistaken.
First, the book is quite different from the movie. Or perhaps I should say that the movie is quite different from the book, since the book came first. I felt sympathy for the movie version of Ruth. She was unattractive (although not the towering giant as portrayed in the book) and put upon by her husband, who had absolutely no problem being unfaithful. Despite destroying her husband's life one calculated step at a time, you still want movie Ruth to succeed and best not only cheating Bob but also the annoyingly pink romance author Mary Fisher who embarks on an affair with Bob.
Not so with the literary Ruth, who comes across as cold, uncaring and almost sociopathic. In other words, completely unsympathetic. Her actions felt extreme, to say the least, from the destruction of the family home, leaving a pet inside, to abandoning her children to the care of their cheating father and his mistress, who was hardly maternal, to her almost casual and callous attitude toward sex post-split. I felt absolutely no bond or connection with her whatsoever, nor did I understand what drove her.
The plot could have been a fantastic one - - betrayed wife seeks revenge. It could have been a serious book or a tongue-in-cheek, campy styled one. Either would have worked but "The Life and Loves of a She Devil" doesn't seem to know which direction it should take - - serious cautionary tale or humorous tale of love gone wrong? Not knowing what direction to take left me, as the reader, in the same state of confusion.
I expected that "The Life and Loves of a She Devil" would be humorous, witty and cutting. It was certainly cutting but the wit and humor was lacking. Scenes that were funny in the movie came across flat out mean in the book (if they were included in the book). For me, I simply did not enjoy reading about Ruth, who was allegedly symbolizing the liberated and independent female of the age (late 70s/early 80s), acting more like a felon than a strong woman. By the end of the book, I simply didn't like her.
Had I not seen "She Devil" and adored the movie for its late 80s overblown silliness, I likely would not have finished the book. The first chapter drew me in but I quickly lost interest. I persevered and finished the book but only because I continued to hope that the story would improve.
I personally did not care for the book and would not recommend it. If you are looking for a wife's revenge tale, "The First Wives Club" might be a better choice. However, I would not hesitate to recommend "She Devil" for its guilty pleasure and the always impressive Meryl Streep.
I am one of the few people on the planet who don't think In Cold Blood is the definitive true crime classic - - in fact, I didn't finish it because it...moreI am one of the few people on the planet who don't think In Cold Blood is the definitive true crime classic - - in fact, I didn't finish it because it simply didn't live up to expectations for me. So I cannot compare Bringing Adam Home directly to it although I will say that this recent book on the noteworthy and law changing Adam Walsh case left me disappointed.
The writing itself was well done and I found no fault with author Les Standiford, who with more than twenty books under his belt is indeed a professional. However, the book felt both anemic and strangely bloated. While reading through the text I felt that much of the informaton was repeated ad nauseaum. It is fact that suspect Ottis Toole gave more than eight confessions to this horrific crime to various detectives but I didn't feel it was necessary to recount each and every confession unless his recounting had significantly changed.
I wish more emphasis had been placed on the Walshes themselves, and the wonderful work they did in the aftermath of this incredible tragedy, rather than so much of the spotlight being placed on Toole and his lover and fellow serial killer Henry Lee Lucas. As a long time reader of true crime I know that the majority of books dealing with crime focus extensively on the perpetrators, out of necessity, and the victims themselves often lose their individual voices but I felt this book had a prime opportunity to really present this case from the victims' standpoints and it didn't quite do that in my opinion.
In addition to disappointment, the book left me frustrated and angry on behalf of the Walshes. In recounting the case it's glaringly obvious that the case should have been officially solved and closed back in 1983, two years after the murder, when Lead Detective Jack Hoffman was given the multiple confessions of Toole. However, for reasons probably best known to him, he stubbornly refused to believe Toole guilty of the murder, much less arrest and charge him. Granted, it was 1981 but the way the Hollywood Police Department handled the Walsh case is a textbook example of how not to handle missing and murdered children.
Given its graphic subject matter and descriptions, Bringing Adam Home is not for the sensitive or squeamish reader. There is violence aplenty and rude language so reader beware. However, Bringing Adam Home is a fascinating study of law enforcement and detecting gone wrong and should be required reading for any person looking into the field of law enforcement.
Let me preface this review with two confessions. First, I began Memoirs of a Widowed Mistress with some trepidation. Second, I was prepared, before I...moreLet me preface this review with two confessions. First, I began Memoirs of a Widowed Mistress with some trepidation. Second, I was prepared, before I read the first line, to dislike Megan van Eyck. And while Memoirs of a Widowed Mistress surprised me on both counts, it was not an easy read.
The subject matter - - adultery - - is mature, it's highly emotional and everyone has an opinion on it. And Megan van Eyck pulls no punches in recounting an airport meeting that was intended to be a one-night stand and instead became a passionate five year long affair. She makes no excuses for her relationship with Carlos, instead freely admitting that if it were not for her children and her fear that they would be taken from her, she would have happily run off with her married lover. van Eyck's husband is presented as a flawed character who blames van Eyck for their marital difficulties pre-affair but ultimately is shown as a man who is suffering with his own pain and dysfunctions.
van Eyck lays bare chapters of childhood memories, which lead her on the path to destructive relationships, an unfulfilling marriage and down the road of betrayal. I felt her shame and pain in the descriptions of her father's neglect after her parents' separation and divorce, and the appalling condition of the home she shared with her mother, as well as her mother's appearance and behavior. If van Eyck is attempting to psychoanalyze the person she is today by looking back on her childhood environment, the window revealed in this book is a fascinating one. I was angry with her father, wishing I could jump through the book's pages to yell at him and shake him, for teaching van Eyck a woman's place in his world and affecting her sense of self-worth.
Carlos is presented through van Eyck's eyes, as a passionate and loving man, married to a woman who neither understands him nor appears to care to try. I liked Carlos merely because van Eyck's love for him is so saturated in the pages of this book, it's impossible not to. Leading me to another confession - - I didn't want to like him any more than I didn't want to like van Eyck. But like him I did - - and I felt grief upon reading of his eventual terminal illness. As well as anger over his wife's seeming coldness toward it.
Of course we don't have her side of the story, only van Eyck's. van Eyck is so brutally honest throughout the book that I almost felt like a voyeur, peeking into her private life. She recounts many details of her affair with Carlos, including their active sex life and the lies they each told their respective spouses and families. I did wonder often as I read how both were able to lie so often and so easily to their families and how they were able to keep their relationship a secret for so long. I also can't help but wonder how van Eyck's family may feel now, having her betrayal so publicly memorialized.
Regardless, Memoirs of a Widowed Mistress is an emotional roller coaster ride of a book, shocking, disturbing, raw and heartwrenching. And hynotizing. It's a heavy read and yet I couldn't put it down. It's not for the weak of heart - - there is quite a bit of descriptive sex and some language that more discerning readers might find objectionable. In the end, though, Memoirs of a Widowed Mistress is a tale of two unfulfilled people who found fulfillment, however briefly, with each other. As the byline of the book states, "A Love Story". And the illicit affair ended up providing van Eyck not only with a loving partner in Carlos but also, eventually, with a loving partner in her husband. I ended up liking both van Eyck and Carlos and I think, by the last page, I understood her. (less)
The back cover of Brad Meltzer's newest thriller proclaims "Secrets. Lies. Power. Betrayal. Murder. . . The Inner Circle - Once you're inside, there's...moreThe back cover of Brad Meltzer's newest thriller proclaims "Secrets. Lies. Power. Betrayal. Murder. . . The Inner Circle - Once you're inside, there's no way out." That pretty well sums it up.
This was my first Meltzer book and being a fan of the thriller genre, not to mention adventure movies like National Treasure (where there are quite a few similarities to The Inner Circle), I thought this would be a fun and entertaining book.
The backdrop for the story is phenomenal. I loved reading about The National Archives, the secret vault and the inner workings of the U.S. government. Meltzer's writing was descriptive and colorful, allowing this reader to visually grasp the ins and outs. The average layperson would easily be able to follow the story; he doesn't pepper the tale with too many characters or too much prose.
I wish there had been more references to the history involved, which I found fascinating. A 200 year old dictionary belonging to George Washington, you say? I would have thoroughly enjoyed getting more of a peek as to everything that was written in that book rather than just a scrumptious taste here and there.
The book's hero, Beecher, was a perfect anti-hero in the sense that he wasn't an everyday Joe. He was a loner, kept to himself and more than just a bit of a nerd. He appeared to live solely for his job, with not even so much as a cat or dog waiting at home for him. The reappearance of a childhood friend after many years, an accidental find in a room he isn't supposed to be in and a sudden death throws Beecher's world into a tailspin and himself into a whirlwind of espionage and conspiracy and a fight for his life.
I liked Beecher precisely because he wasn't an everyday Joe and his actions and feelings were realistic without being calculated. He never seemed to act out of character; rather, he reacted perfectly in character to the world spinning out of control around him.
As much as I enjoyed the overall story and Beecher, I did feel as if there was something missing - - maybe that one puzzle piece that is never located or waiting on the edge of your seat for something that never happens. The ending, however, was relatively satisfying, if a bit unresolved,leaving the door open for a sequel that I would welcome.
In short, I found The Inner Circle to be a fast paced, adventurous thriller that kept me entertained for the duration and Brad Meltzer an author that could easily be put on my "go to" list. If you like political thrillers and books that are geared for entertainment, The Inner Circle will be a good fit.
On Maggie's Watch is author Ann Wertz Garvin's debut novel about a dark subject but handled with lightness and humor. I was interested in the book bec...moreOn Maggie's Watch is author Ann Wertz Garvin's debut novel about a dark subject but handled with lightness and humor. I was interested in the book because I normally find books that revolve around a small community and cast of characters fun to read. On Maggie's Watch did not disappoint mainly because of main character Maggie's over the top actions and reactions.
As someone who herself has gone online to see what sexual predators are residing in and around my neighborhood, I related with Maggie's quest to keep her child and her neighborhood safe. I chuckled out loud picturing Maggie in her purple pajamas, on her bike, stalking the stalker and her handful of pranks. Her attempts at vigilante justice are humorous and yet also have a strong, serious undertone. In less capable hands, Maggie could have been a brash, borderline annoying character but Ms. Wertz Garvin keeps her from falling in that precipice while also allowing her to remain very relatable, a commendable task.
I enjoyed the supporting characters, from best friend Julia whose no-nonsense personality allows her to tell it like it is to husband Martin who oftentimes seems oblivious to Maggie's obsessive nature to the overzealous Beverly Finker and helpful handyman David. Personally I would have loved to read more about some of the neighbors - - who knows what delicious secrets and dirt Maggie, heading up the Neighborhood Watch, could have learned - - but the neighborhood cross between Melrose Place and a Fannie Flagg novel is simply too tasty to resist.
The best part of On Maggie's Watch is Ms. Wertz Garvin's writing style and overall story. She has taken a relevant and timely issue and managed to pen a thoughtful, funny and inspiring book. Maggie's journey, as told through Ms. Wertz Garvin's eyes, is worth the read - - from her marriage teetering on the brink of disaster to the domino effect her Neighborhood Watch sets off to the deep affection she shares with her best friend. All ring true and will leave you, the reader, anxious to share in Maggie's tale and desperate to know how it all ends.
For a debut novel On Maggie's Watch is surprisingly poignant and sinfully rich with plotline and personality. It will strike a powerful chord in every parent out there and every female will relate to the joy and fear pregnancy brings and the inate maternal instinct to protect your child at all costs. On Maggie's Watch is worth the read and I encourage you to pick it up.
Actress Janet Gaynor once said of her frequent co-star and one-time love interest Charles Farrell “There will never be another love couple like Janet...moreActress Janet Gaynor once said of her frequent co-star and one-time love interest Charles Farrell “There will never be another love couple like Janet Gaynor and Charles Farrell” and after reading Lucky Stars, I am most inclined to agree.
As much of a devout lover of old Hollywood and especially movies from the 1930s as I am, I feel somewhat ashamed to admit that I have never seen a Janet Gaynor/Charles Farrell movie. In fact, before picking up this book, I had no idea how very popular the duo were in the late 1920s/early 1930s - - a sad statement on how many of the silent screen stars and teams have largely been forgotten. I knew Ms. Gaynor from her wonderful performance in A Star is Born but have never seen her Academy Award winning performances (the first best actress winner) in Sunrise, Seventh Heaven and Street Angel (the first ceremony in 1929 was for films from 1927 and 1928). Additionally, I knew of Mr. Farrell from his 1950s television work but have never seen one of his films when he was a matinee idol. Lucky Stars does a solid job of delving deep into both actors’ backgrounds, showcasing not only their decades long careers and star-making roles but their (at times) flawed human sides of their personal lives.
Author Sarah Baker does a wonderful job in bringing Charlie and Janet to life, using interviews with family and friends, archives, libraries, historians and documents from Gaynor’s and Farrell’s own personal files. The result is a splendid dual biography which will leave the reader in no doubt as to why movie audiences took so strongly to Gaynor and Farrell. Ms. Baker leaves out the gossipy speculation and rumors that are found in many biographies but does address some of the speculation on sexual orientation that has dogged both Farrell and Gaynor throughout the years . She does so with straightforwardness and without an ounce of sensationalism.
I did wish that there was more on Gaynor’s marriage to designer Adrian and I would have loved to have seen pictures of their marital homes which certainly would have been a visual feast given both Adrian’s and Janet’s love of fashion and art. However, I was gratified to learn that Janet was no shrinking violet and a woman very much ahead of her time.
In the end, you will walk away from Lucky Stars feeling as if Charlie and Janet are friends, as if you know them personally. I was left with admiration at both of their careers, as well as a sadness that their real life love story, like so many movie plotlines, was left unrequited. It is a great joy to know that Charlie and Janet are forever captured and saved on film, for many generations to enjoy and treasure. I know that Lucky Stars has given me a desire and a passion to find these films myself and, as movie audiences of the 1920s and 1930s did, fall in love with the incomparable team of Farrell and Gaynor.
I will give you fair warning before you pick up Beyond Justice by Joshua Graham - - the next 24 to 48 hours of your life will be utterly consumed by t...moreI will give you fair warning before you pick up Beyond Justice by Joshua Graham - - the next 24 to 48 hours of your life will be utterly consumed by this book.
I can be an intense, all-inclusive reader but it takes a special book to have my unconditional and unwavering attention from page one to the conclusion. Beyond Justice does just that; it draws you in from the first page and literally does not let go of you or your emotions until the rollercoaster conclusion.
Author Joshua Graham has managed quite a feat in writing a powerfully gripping legal thriller, featuring a brutal serial killer, that includes thought provoking views on faith and divine intervention. Neither the brutality of a merciless killer nor the religious overtones are too graphic or overwhelming to upset readers who generally do not prefer genres of either type. The legal aspects are hit upon hard, most especially dealing with a criminal trial and wrongful conviction. Even knowing that central character Sam Hudson would be convicted and imprisoned, my heart remained in my chest while reading of the trial and the horrors awaiting him in prison.
I was absolutely captivated by Mr. Graham's writing, leaving me with a strong emotional connection to Sam and his adopted family of supporters. I liked Sam, I thought him a realistic and endearing character and more importantly, I cared about Sam. I wanted him free and exonerated and I wanted justice for him. To say Sam's story was mesmerizing would be a gross understatement. Sam's story, told through the able pen of Mr. Graham, is inspiring in every aspect. Sam isn't a believer in God in the beginning of the book and does not become a believer due to the horrors his family is subjected to, nor due to his imprisonment and branding as a "family killer". It's a gradual process in which he truly sees the light.
Was there anything negative about Beyond Justice? I am a very particular reader in certain aspects. Typographical errors make me crazy and I have been known to put a book down due to such errors or inconsistencies not caught by editing. While I did notice typographical errors throughout the book, absolutely nothing short of an act of God or nature would have stopped me from finishing this book. That's how unbelievably powerful and spellbinding this book is. Beyond Justice is not a light read; the story will stay with you long after you finish it.
I would highly recommend this book to any reader looking for a strong and powerful story, period. The legal thriller and spiritual aspects are just icing on top of this very substantial literary cake. Do not hesitate. Rush to get your own copy of Beyond Justice.
When I picked up Dark Road to Darjeeling by Deanna Raybourn, not only had I not read the previous three books in the Lady Julia Grey series but I had...moreWhen I picked up Dark Road to Darjeeling by Deanna Raybourn, not only had I not read the previous three books in the Lady Julia Grey series but I had not read anything by Deanna Raybourn. I found this book a pleasant and engrossing read.
It did start a bit slow for me, which I accounted to acquainting myself with characters that had been delighting other readers through three earlier adventures. Once I felt settled with the characters I was quickly drawn in to the vibrant and rich tale of the Himalayas.
Ms. Raybourn creates an intriguing mix of romance, historical fiction, travel and mystery in Dark Road to Darjeeling. The characters are rich, with the lush scenery deserving of its own place in the cast. I was thoroughly enchanted with the opulent imagery that came alive on the pages. I could quite easily see The Peacocks in my mind (the tea plantation as well as the colorful birds) and smell the Darjeeling tea as well as the colorful flora mentioned throughout.
Perhaps the strongest aspect of the story was Lady Julia, a strong, obstinate and determined female, who was most certainly not a woman of her times. I loved the fact that while Julia was willful and strong natured she wasn't careless or stupid. You won't find her putting herself in a ridiculous position simply to move the plot forward. I found her a very realistic heroine, most particularly based on her relationships with her siblings (complete with some heckling) and her husband (frought with frustrations, worries and flat out annoyance at times). She loves her family but her relationships aren't perfect by any means.
The mystery was appealing, leaving me fairly well in the dark until all was revealed. All pieces of the puzzle fit together very nicely, leaving me to find the "big reveal" gratifying and very content with the resolution. At no point in the book did I feel shortchanged or confused by storyline, or did I feel the persons were acting out of character.
I would not hesitate to recomment Dark Road to Darjeeling to bibliophiles who are passionate about romance, history and foreign lands. I plan on reading Ms. Raybourn's earlier books in the series, and look forward to future efforts by her.