Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Julie's Review: Platinum Doll

Author: Anne Girard
Series: None
Publication Date: January 26, 2016
Publisher: Mira
Pages: 368
Obtained: publicist
Genre:  Historical Fiction
Rating: 3.75/5
Bottom Line: Interesting story about what it took Jean Harlow to become famous
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Summary: 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. ~amazon.com  

Review: Platinum Doll is the story of how Harlean Carpenter McGrew became the Plantinum Blonde, Jean Harlow. I have to be honest, I didn't know much about Ms. Harlow before reading this novel. I didn't even realize that she died so young. I wanted to read this one because I've been in the mood for anything Old Hollywood lately. It just seemed to be such a different place back then. Especially as the industry was moving from silent movies to "talkies".

Harlean was a young girl when she first experienced the awe of Hollywood. Her mother, Jean, had high hopes of becoming an actress. It is as a young, married girl when she returns to Los Angeles.  Her husband, Chuck, surprises her by getting them a house in an up and coming neighborhood, Beverly Hills. The neighborhood is filled with young couples with money who have nothing better to do than lunches and golf at the club. For the time period, they sure were free flowing with the drink during prohibition.

It was obvious to me that Chuck and Harlean loved each other but they were young. It was also obvious that Chuck was a little obsessed with her and wanted to control her. Harlean wasn't a young lady that wanted to be harnessed to being a homemaker. She was already going stir crazy after only a couple of weeks there.

What I loved about Harlean was her good natured personality. She was exactly what she seemed to everyone. She also knew what she wanted once she got a taste of it; an actress. She starts off as an extra but soon decides she wants more. This is where her marriage goes to hell. Chuck can't stand not being the center of Harlean's world. It's not just her career that is taking it's toll on their marriage, Chuck also likes to drink a lot.

The most interesting relationship in the book was the one between Harlean and her mom. Her mom was a trip. I found her mom, Jean Harlow, to be extremely overbearing. She didn't have fame so she wants to cash in on her daughter's. Harlean can't seem to break free of overbearing relationships. I really wanted to see her put her mom in her place but she just couldn't do it.

While she had a short life, it seems that it was one of adventure, a bit of love and a bit of heartbreak. She had an outstanding career and one that continues to intrigue people years after her death.


Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Julie's Review: The Ramblers

Author: Aidan Donnelly Rowley
Series: None
Publication Date: February 9, 2015
Publisher: William Morrow Books
Pages: 400
Obtained: publisher
Genre:  Contemporary Fiction
Rating: 5/5
Bottom Line: One of the most beautifully written books I've ever read
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Summary: For fans of J. Courtney Sullivan, Meg Wolitzer, Claire Messud, and Emma Straub, a gorgeous and absorbing novel of a trio of confused souls struggling to find themselves and the way forward in their lives, set against the spectacular backdrop of contemporary New York City. Set in the most magical parts of Manhattan—the Upper West Side, Central Park, Greenwich Village—The Ramblers explores the lives of three lost souls, bound together by friendship and family. During the course of one fateful Thanksgiving week, a time when emotions run high and being with family can be a mixed blessing, Rowley’s sharply defined characters explore the moments when decisions are deliberately made, choices accepted, and pasts reconciled. Clio Marsh, whose bird-watching walks through Central Park are mentioned in New York Magazine, is taking her first tentative steps towards a relationship while also looking back to the secrets of her broken childhood. Her best friend, Smith Anderson, the seemingly-perfect daughter of one of New York’s wealthiest families, organizes the lives of others as her own has fallen apart. And Tate Pennington has returned to the city, heartbroken but determined to move ahead with his artistic dreams. Rambling through the emotional chaos of their lives, this trio learns to let go of the past, to make room for the future and the uncertainty and promise that it holds. The Ramblers is a love letter to New York City—an accomplished, sumptuous novel about fate, loss, hope, birds, friendship, love, the wonders of the natural world and the mysteries of the human spirit. ~amazon.com  

Review: The Ramblers is one of those rare book that is beautiful from start to finish. The characters could easily be someone we all know or perhaps we see some of ourselves in them. They are flawed and gorgeous.

Typically, there is one character that I am drawn to or love a little more than another in these kinds of novels but not in this one. I enjoyed each of their stories immensely. Smith, is the beautiful one, but she is the one suffering from a terrible break-up and it doesn't help that her younger sister, Sally, is getting married. Salt on a very open wound for Smith. Smith seems all tough and put together but there is an open vulnerability to her that even makes her more attractive. It would be easy to hate Smith based on appearances because she seems to have it all. You also immediately love her because of the way Clio talks about her.

Clio is amazing and resilient. She is whip smart but shy and unsure of herself.  She has found the love of her life in Henry, but isn't sure how to tell him about her past. She is used to running away, it's always worked for her in the past, but this time, she has to run towards her past to confront it.  Clio's story is one of healing and forgiveness. It is about grabbing your past, facing it and not letting it define you.

I wasn't sure how Tate was going to fit into the story but he did and not just a potential love interest. He has his own story of heartache and learning to trust himself. He is trying to break free from what people expect of him to following his passion. He is ballsy and adventurous. He is what Smith needs to help heal her heart and to help her break-free from her family. Smith is what he needs to give himself the confidence to pursue  his passion.

Ms. Rowley is a gifted storyteller. Her love of New York City is evident in each chapter and page. It makes me want to visit the city just to go to Central Park to find The Ramble. I'm not even a bird watcher but I would be to listen to someone like Clio. She has a way of writing her characters so that you appreciate their flaws instead of having them aggravate you. I loved how she wrote Smith and Clio's friendship. I felt that even though it could have been one-sided, it wasn't. There was a deep appreciation and love for each other.

I can't recommend The Ramblers to you readers enough. Even though it is early in the year, I know this one will be on my Best of 2016 list.


Thursday, January 14, 2016

Julie's Review: I'll See You in Paris

Author: Michelle Gable
Series: None
Publication Date: March 1, 2016
Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books
Pages: 352
Obtained: Amazon Vine
Genre:  Contemporary Fiction, Historical Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Bottom Line: Thought I had it all figured out and then BAM!
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Summary:  I'll See You in Paris winds together the lives of three women born generations apart, but who face similar struggles of love and heartbreak. After losing her fiance in the Vietnam War, nineteen-year-old Laurel Haley takes a job in England, hoping the distance will mend her shattered heart. Laurel expects the pain might lessen but does not foresee the beguiling man she meets or that they'll go to Paris, where the city's magic will take over and alter everything Laurel believes about love. Thirty years later, Laurel's daughter Annie is newly engaged and an old question resurfaces: who is Annie's father and what happened to him? Laurel has always been vague about the details and Annie's told herself it doesn't matter. But with her impending marriage, Annie has to know everything. Why won't Laurel tell her the truth? The key to unlocking Laurel's secrets starts with a mysterious book about an infamous woman known as the Duchess of Marlborough. Annie's quest to understand the Duchess, and therefore her own history, takes her from a charming hamlet in the English countryside, to a decaying estate kept behind barbed wire, and ultimately to Paris where answers will be found at last.  ~amazon.com

Review: I'll See You in Paris is part mystery and part family drama. It all starts when Annie finds a book in her mom's study that her mom pretends to have no clue about the book she's talking about to Annie. Of course this piques Annie's curiosity, so she sneaks it into her bag for their mysterious trip to England.

I loved how Annie went into full on nosy kid mode when they reached Banbury. She didn't quite believe her mother's story and the book about the Duchess of Marlborough has wet her appetite for an adventure.  Luckily she's in the right place at the right time and meets an older gentleman that can fill her in on the backstory of the biography she's currently reading.

The story flashes back to 1972 when a young woman named Pru had no other options than to take a job in England for a woman she knew nothing about and upon her arrival being greeted by that woman who brandished a gun. Shortly after Pru arrives, Win enters the picture to try to write a biography on the Duchess who he believes is Gladys. It's not too hard to see that there are sparks between Pru and Win, even if they squabble all the time.

Gladys is a hoot. She's definitely eccentric and maybe even being a little off kilter but she's most definitely had an interesting life. It is evident that she wants to talk about her escapades but without revealing that she's the Duchess. As the book goes on, it's hard not to believe she's the Duchess. Win is good at asking questions that make her talk and reveal things that only the Duchess would know.

I enjoyed the time we spent with Pru, Gladys and Win but I also wanted the modern day resolution to what Annie finds out about her mom and her mom's past. Her mom's past is in some ways the only way that Annie can move on to her future. They really are linked together, more so that most parent/child history.

If you like the Historical/Contemporary Fiction flip-flop story telling, then you won't want to miss out on I'll See You in Paris.


Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Julie's Review: The Sea of Tranquility

Author: Katja Millay
Series: No
Publication Date: June 4, 2013
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Audio
Length: 13 Hours 10 Minutes
Narrator: Kirby Heyborne,Candace Thaxton
Obtained: purchased
Genre:  YA
Rating: 4/5
Bottom Line: Interesting novel on how pain can cause us to re-define ourselves
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Summary: I live in a world without magic or miracles. A place where there are no clairvoyants or shapeshifters, no angels or superhuman boys to save you. A place where people die and music disintegrates and things suck. I am pressed so hard against the Earth by the weight of reality that some days I wonder how I am still able to lift my feet to walk. Former piano prodigy Nastya Kashnikov wants two things: to get through high school without anyone learning about her past and to make the boy who took everything from her - her identity, her spirit, her will to live - pay. Josh Bennett's story is no secret: Every person he loves has been taken from his life until, at 17 years old, there is no one left. Now all he wants is be left alone and people allow it because when your name is synonymous with death, everyone tends to give you your space. Everyone except Nastya, the mysterious new girl at school who starts showing up and won't go away until she's insinuated herself into every aspect of his life. But the more he gets to know her, the more of an enigma she becomes. As their relationship intensifies and the unanswered questions begin to pile up, he starts to wonder if he will ever learn the secrets she's been hiding - or if he even wants to. ~amazon.com  

Review: Sea of Tranquility is a breath of fresh air when it comes to YA for me. In the age of dystopian novels, reading a YA book about normal issues and struggles that teens encounter or could encounter. Ms. Millay starts off with the characters being sterotypes of teenagers. You have the male flirt, the brooder and the mysterious girl. Thank goodness, each of these turns out to be so much more than the stereotype.

I did wonder a few times if I would have liked this books just as much if I read it rather than listening. Frankly, the narrators were fantastic. Kirby was great as Josh and Candace nailed Nastya. There is much angst as one would expect in a YA novel but I didn't find that it grated on my nerves. Both Josh and Nastya have been hurt and disappointed in their short lives but in very different ways. It isn't that either one is trying to rescue the other one and it isn't that they necessarily need rescuing but they need each other.

What happened to Nastya is alluded to in the beginning of the book but it all slowly starts to come together until the big reveal. Josh has his own story and it doesn't take as long to reveal but it's still devastating.

Ms. Millay has a gifted way of telling a story and the way she lets everything slowly build up is brilliant. There wasn't a time when you weren't wondering what happened to make Nastya so angry. What happened to make Josh so guarded.

I am looking forward to whatever Ms. Millay writes next, in whatever genre she chooses.

Jenn's Review


Thursday, January 7, 2016

Julie's Review: Stars Over Sunset Boulevard

Author: Susan Meissner
Series: None
Publication Date: January 5, 2016
Publisher: NAL
Pages: 400
Obtained: Amazon Vine
Genre:  Contemporary Fiction, Historical Fiction
Rating: 3.5/5
Bottom Line: Fish out of water story set in old era Hollywood
Grab, Just get it at the library, or Remove from your TBR list? Library
Summary: 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.  ~amazon.com

Review: Stars Over Sunset Boulevard is a well-written novel that alternates between the past and the present with much more time spent in the past. It is what connects the past and the present that ties us to Old Hollywood and to one of the most famous movies ever, Gone With the Wind. I wish there was a bit of a stronger tie to the movie but in the end it's about the relationships created because that movie was made, not the movie itself.

Audrey is vivacious and outgoing. Violet is quiet, reserved and wants nothing more than a normal life but for now that has escaped her. She came to California wanting something different and she found that in her friendship with Audrey. It's not far fetched to see why they are friends, each has a different effect on the other.

While each tackles their dreams separately what they want most in life will intersect in ways that neither of them could have forseen. It is what will keep them bonded together and what will almost tear them apart.

My one wish for this book was that it was a little less dull. That isn't to say that the writing isn't deft and exsquisite, it is but I wanted more of a tie to Hollywood. To the actors and actresses in Gone with the Wind. That's where the book was lacking for me.

I am interested in some of Ms. Meissner's other books because people have raved about her writing, so I will check those out.


Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Julie's Review: Medici's Daughter

Author: Sophie Perinot
Series: None
Publication Date: December 1, 2015
Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books
Pages: 384
Obtained: publisher
Genre:  Historical Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Bottom Line: Slow to get started but worth it in the end
Grab, Just get it at the library, or Remove from your TBR list? Grab!
Summary: Winter, 1564. Beautiful young Princess Margot is summoned to the court of France, where nothing is what it seems and a wrong word can lead to ruin. Known across Europe as Madame la Serpente, Margot's intimidating mother, Queen Catherine de Médicis, is a powerful force in a country devastated by religious war. Among the crafty nobility of the royal court, Margot learns the intriguing and unspoken rules she must live by to please her poisonous family. Eager to be an obedient daughter, Margot accepts her role as a marriage pawn, even as she is charmed by the powerful, charismatic Duc de Guise. Though Margot's heart belongs to Guise, her hand will be offered to Henri of Navarre, a Huguenot leader and a notorious heretic looking to seal a tenuous truce. But the promised peace is a mirage: her mother's schemes are endless, and her brothers plot vengeance in the streets of Paris. When Margot's wedding devolves into the bloodshed of the St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre, she will be forced to choose between her family and her soul. Médicis Daughter is historical fiction at its finest, weaving a unique coming-of-age story and a forbidden love with one of the most dramatic and violent events in French history. ~amazon.com  

Review: Medici's Daughter is a tale of intrigue, betrayal, loyalty, lust and love with a good amount of history within it as well. It always hard for me to remember that the young women in these novels are as young as 13 when they are married away for political or religious gain. Margot is different because she's a bit older when she's married off to bring peace between the Catholics and Protestants. It is a long road for her before we get to that point in Margot's life.

This is very much a coming of age story even if it is within the confines of a treacherous court. It is also a book about war and political/religious alliances. Family doesn't mean what it means to you and me, it's about what you can gain from those familial ties. I wouldn't want to be Queen Catherine's daughter or sons for that matter. Both of her brothers use Margot for their own various reasons but her brother Henri gave me the chills from very early on in the book. Something just wasn't right with him. It's not like King Charles was much better. He suffered from "episodes" which mad his moods tricky to  and meant his mother did much of the managing of the country. So in some ways, King Charles was just a figure head.

What is wonderful about Margot is that she follows her heart and her conscious. She is young but learns quickly and has good friends she can rely on. Early on in the novel she has a lot to learn about the way politics works and strives for her mother's approval and love. As she grows older she realizes she's a pawn but that she can control it to a certain extent.

I love that she remains loyal when her heart is tearing out of her chest. I was disappointed that the one person she loved with her whole heart ended up being a complete arse. I should have seen it coming but I kind of thought I might get a happy ending. I should have done a little research before reading instead of after.

I think that's what I like about Historical Fiction, is it makes me Google an event or a person that I didn't really know much about previously.

If you are looking for a solid, historical fiction set in France, then Medici's Daughter is for you.