Sunday, February 23, 2014

BOOK REVIEW : Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen

Water for ElephantsWater for Elephants by Sara Gruen
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Firstly, buy this book.

Secondly, buy this book NOW!

'Water for Elephants' is richly narrated by the now-geriatric main character, Jacob. His life was all planned out – he was studying to be a vet. Then everything changed with the sudden and tragic deaths of his parents in an auto accident.

Since Jacob's kind-hearted father, a local doctor, would not turn away a patient who could not pay, and was rarely paid with actual money since there was a depression going on, there had been nothing for them to leave Jacob. Even their property had been mortgaged to fund him attending veterinary college. He was destitute. Alone.

With no home to go to, Jacob wanders, at a loss what he should do, where to go. And suddenly, a caravan of traveling circus trains pulls up beside him. He's hired to tend the animals by the odious little dictator who runs the show, and before he knows it he's enchanted by young, beautiful Marlena, the star performer of the circus. The feeling is mutual, but Marlena's psychotic, brutal alcoholic of a husband stands in the way of their perfect love affair.

Sara Gruen writes so compellingly and convincingly that I was transported to the ringside, could almost smell the sawdust in the air and hear that familiar tune, 'Entry of the Gladiators' by Julius Fucik. You probably won't recognize the title or the composer – I didn't; I had to look them up – but you would certainly know the tune. I had this melody playing in my head all the way through the book. I have never read anything that conjured up so many images, sounds, scents. It is a remarkable piece of writing.

One more thing that should be mentioned about this book is the painstaking depth of research that I know must have gone into writing it. From the period colloquialisms to the technical aspects of the day to day operation of a circus, from putting up a tent to what the band plays when everything has gone pear-shaped, the research is impeccable. You REALLY believe it was written by a ninety (or ninety three,) year old man who spent his life in the circus.

In closing, this book defies classification and I will not put my own label on it – to do this would be to do it a disservice and may put some people off reading it. The simplest way I can put it is that this book is for everybody and anybody who just loves to read exceptionally good writing. Period.

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BOOK REVIEW : Clara Bow : Runnin' Wild by David Stenn

Clara Bow: Runnin' WildClara Bow: Runnin' Wild by David Stenn
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

As a major Clara Bow fan, sometimes you'll pick up a book and be sickened by the lies that endure through the decades, like the Kenneth Anger trash. But this book makes all of those fade away. This is the REAL Clara Bow. She was an actual person, one who felt, and cried, and feared, and hurt – just like we all do. But we can sometimes forget that about celebrities, and imagine that their lives are perfect fairy tales. Well, they're not, especially when you're used, abused and exploited by the people you made rich, by people who she helped make legends in the movie industry.

Clara Bow came from abject poverty, an abusive home, and had a mentally ill mother and an alcoholic, sexually and physically abusive father. The mere fact she didn't end up in a gutter somewhere is astonishing in itself. But Clara had a dream – to be in the movies, to be a star, to be loved the way she loved her favorite stars on the silver screen. Clara Bow is a legend. She's 'The 'It' Girl;' the one and only. Clara's face is the one we see when we think of a Silent Movie Star.

David Stenn writes from a place of love, respect and passion for his subject and is a joy to read. I've read several books on Clara Bow and for me 'Clara Bow : Runnin' Wild' is the definitive biography, researched meticulously and written beautifully.

Essential reading for anybody who loves Silent Era movies, Golden Age Hollywood, or is just a movie buff in general. An important book about one of Hollywood's best and brightest shining stars.

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BOOK REVIEW : A Diamond Mine Christmas by Jennifer Traveler

A Diamond Mine ChristmasA Diamond Mine Christmas by Jennifer Traveler
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Geneva, in fear for her life after being the star witness for the prosecution on a big drug case, decides to take a job as a cook for dozens of rough and ready miners at a diamond mine just a couple of hundred miles shy of the arctic circle. As remote as it is, and accessible only by air, Geneva figures it's the safest place on earth.

Immediately she is attracted to mine foreman, Jack Walker, as strong as he's hot and sure to protect her. But something's not right – things start to go missing from the kitchen, stuff's being moved, and some of the mens' rooms have been broken into. Who can she trust? Jack? Anybody?

This is a really different Holiday romance novella! It has all the usual hallmarks of a good romance with the tension and sparks between the main characters, but the setting – a diamond mine in the frozen north – mixed in with a mafia murder mystery, makes for a great read with a difference. I wasn't going to read this book, to be honest – didn't think it would be Christmassy enough for me, since I'm such a geek – but I'm glad I did. Once in a while read something you wouldn't normally read, like I did this one, and you might be in for a pleasant surprise, just like I was.

With tight writing, lean prose, a few little twists and turns, and good dialog, I really enjoyed this novella and look forward to reading more form Jennifer Traveler.

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BOOK REVIEW : Mistletoe Mischief by Stacey Joy Netzel

Mistletoe Mischief (Romancing Wisconsin Series, #1)Mistletoe Mischief by Stacey Joy Netzel
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Mistletoe Mischief by Stacey Joy Netzel is a cute wee novella that gives you a little festive romance – at the zoo in July! And I'm all about cramming as much Christmas into the year as I possibly can.

Right from the start, ex-army paramedic, Eric, is simply irresistible. He's handsome, funny, cheeky...and sexy. He's also a doting dad and recently divorced and longs to see more of his daughter, Reese.

Marissa is a single mom, and fine with it being just her and her daughter, Heather. And then Mr. Hot Stuff, Eric, comes crashing into her life, at the zoo, of all places. She's wary, doesn't want to be hurt again, doesn't want Heather getting close to a man and then watching him walk out on her or her daughter. But can she really resist him? She tries and tries, to the point of being stand-offish with him. But he's a determined soul when he knows what he wants. And 'The Mistletoe Rules' are not meant to be broken...even if it is only July!

A delightful opener for the 'Romancing Wisconsin' series. I for one will be reading the others.

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BOOK REVIEW : Complicated Women : Sex and Power in Pre-Code Hollywood by Mick LaSalle

Complicated Women: Sex and Power in Pre-Code HollywoodComplicated Women: Sex and Power in Pre-Code Hollywood by Mick LaSalle
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

'Complicated Women' takes us back to Hollywood, before the enactment of the 'Hayes Code' in 1934. This code ripped the heart out of Hollywood movie making and brought us things like married couples sleeping in twin beds and only kissing on either the upper or lower lip, and other assorted ridiculousness.

Before the Hayes Code, men took a back seat in the movies. Women were the real stars, the box-office draws, the money-makers. Norma Shearer features heavily in the book and is obviously the writer's favorite Screen Siren. I have to admit I'd never even heard of her before I picked up this book and I'm heavily into Golden Age Hollywood, but had never run across this actress before. LaSalle makes sure we know what a badass she was, that she knew exactly what she wanted to achieve, and wasted no time in making it happen for herself.

LaSalle obviously loves his subject matter (especially Shearer!) and 'Complicated Women' makes for a fascinating read about the history of Hollywood when women ruled the roost and a horrible little man made sure all that came to an end.

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Friday, January 24, 2014

BOOK REVIEW : 'Save Me From Myself' by Brian 'Head' Welch

Save Me from Myself: How I Found God, Quit Korn, Kicked Drugs, and Lived to Tell My StorySave Me from Myself: How I Found God, Quit Korn, Kicked Drugs, and Lived to Tell My Story by Brian "Head" Welch
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is an incredible memoir and should be read by anybody who is struggling with depression or any type of addiction. It's a raw, no-holds barred confession that becomes an inspiring and uplifting read written by somebody who turned his back on the fame and the fortune in order to save his own life.

Even being an internationally famous, rolling-in-money rock star with the world at his feet couldn't save Brian 'Head' Welch from the iron-fisted grip of addiction, depression and suicidal thoughts. Only two things in this world saved him from the brink - love for his young daughter and finding God.

Highly recommended...for EVERYONE.

- Holly.

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