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The Girls in the Picture Book Cover The Girls in the Picture
Melanie Benjamin
Fiction
Delacorte Press
January 16, 2018
Advanced Reader Copy
448
Publisher via BookExpo

A fascinating novel of the friendship and creative partnership between two of Hollywood's earliest female legends--screenwriter Frances Marion and superstar Mary Pickford--from the New York Times bestselling author of The Swans of Fifth Avenue and The Aviator's Wife It is 1914, and twenty-five-year-old Frances Marion has left her (second) husband and her Northern California home for the lure of Los Angeles, where she is determined to live independently as an artist. But the word on everyone's lips these days is "flickers"--the silent moving pictures enthralling theatergoers. Turn any corner in this burgeoning town and you'll find made-up actors running around, as a movie camera captures it all. In this fledgling industry, Frances finds her true calling: writing stories for this wondrous new medium. She also makes the acquaintance of actress Mary Pickford, whose signature golden curls and lively spirit have given her the title of America's Sweetheart. The two ambitious young women hit it off instantly, their kinship fomented by their mutual fever to create, to move audiences to a frenzy, to start a revolution. But their ambitions are challenged both by the men around them and the limitations imposed on their gender--and their astronomical success could come at a price. As Mary, the world's highest paid and most beloved actress, struggles to live her life under the spotlight, she also wonders if it is possible to find love, even with the dashing actor Douglas Fairbanks. Frances, too, longs to share her life with someone. As in any good Hollywood story, dramas will play out, personalities will clash, and even the deepest friendships might be shattered. With cameos from such notables as Charlie Chaplin, Louis B. Mayer, Rudolph Valentino, and Lillian Gish, The Girls in the Picture is, at its heart, a story of friendship and forgiveness. Melanie Benjamin perfectly captures the dawn of a glittering new era--its myths and icons, its possibilities and potential, and its seduction and heartbreak. Advance praise for The Girls in the Picture "Melanie Benjamin, known for her living, breathing portraits of famous figures, takes on the Golden Age of Hollywood, and the friendship between icons Mary Pickford and screenwriter Frances Marion. As riveting as the latest blockbuster, this is a star-studded story of female friendships, creative sparks about to ignite, and the power of women.

My review:

This is my third book by Ms. Benjamin. While I'm not usually a fan of biographies, she does it by way of historical fiction, which seems to make a world of difference, because I like what I'm reading. I can't say that this book tops The Swans of Fifth Avenue (review here), but it was very entertaining and a change of pace from the typical historical fiction war novels. I can't say that I knew much of Mary Pickford or Frances Marion going into the book, but I found that to be a good thing as I got immersed in the story and didn't have to worry about what was truth and what was fictionalized. Side note here.....My grandmother used to play the piano in the theaters for the silent movies, back in the day! I thought this was an excellent look at female friendship, which is not always rosy and constant amidst the flux of people's lives. These two women had their spats, but kept being drawn back to the other throughout their lives and careers. They seemed very real to me, even though they were within the pages of a book. The writing was excellent, the pacing was spot on, and I loved learning more about this era in the movies.

A well drawn novel about the early movie industry, and a friendship for the ages! Ms. Benjamin is a force to be reckoned with for her portrayal of early female figures in our history. I'm looking forward to what she comes up with next.

 

3

Carnegie's Maid Book Cover Carnegie's Maid
Marie Benedict
Historical Fiction
Sourcebooks Landmark
January 16, 2018
Advanced Reader Copy
288
Publisher via BookExpo

In the industrial 1860s at the dawn of the Carnegie empire, Irish immigrant Clara Kelly finds herself in desperate circumstances. Looking for a way out, she seeks employment as a lady's maid in the home of the prominent businessman Andrew Carnegie. Soon, the bond between Clara and her employer deepens into love. But when Clara goes missing, Carnegie's search for her unearths secrets and revelations that lay the foundation for his lasting legacy. With captivating insight and stunning heart, Carnegie's Maid tells the story of one lost woman who may have spurred Andrew Carnegie's transformation from ruthless industrialist into the world's first true philanthropist.

My review:

This was such a joy to read! Despite the slightly improbable way that the protagonist Clara comes to her job at the Carnegie estate, I was completely sucked into the story and put it out of my mind as the story progressed. I loved the character of Clara. She was feisty, even at the expense of her livelyhood, scared at her growing fondness for Andrew Carnegie which could put her out of a job, and never forgot her roots. These roots, and her disclosures about growing up poor and without the use of libraries and music, were written into the novel as the impetus for Andrew Carnegie's philanthropic projects the rest of his life. I loved the descriptions of the social events and the estate, and there were several notable secondary characters to add interest and impact to the novel. The writing was the perfect blend of just enough information to add impact to the story, but not enough to be extraneous.

A highly engaging story about a figure in history who changed the world for the better, and the fictionalized woman who may have been the inspiration for that change.

On a side note, I read this novel the weekend that I traveled to New York City to see my oldest daughter perform at none other than Carnegie Hall! This definitely added another fun dimension to my reading and enjoyment of this great book! We took a picture in front of the building to commemorate the occasion.

 

The Wife Between Us Book Cover The Wife Between Us
Greer Hendricks, Sarah Pekkanen,
Fiction
St. Martin's Press
January 9, 2018
Advanced Reader Copy
352
Publisher via BookExpo

A novel of suspense that explores the complexities of marriage and the dangerous truths we ignore in the name of love.
When you read this book, you will make many assumptions.
You will assume you are reading about a jealous wife and her obsession with her replacement.
You will assume you are reading about a woman about to enter a new marriage with the man she loves.
You will assume the first wife was a disaster and that the husband was well rid of her.
You will assume you know the motives, the history, the anatomy of the relationships.
Assume nothing.

My review:

This one was a fun "what the heck is going on" type psychological thriller. Fun may not be quite the right adjective, but considering how many times I changed my mind about what was happening, it became a game of sorts. It did take me until the second section to figure out the players since one of the protagonist is not named at the beginning. Once I figured out the players, while it didn't help me figure out the plot points, at least I had a grasp of the characters. As with any of these kinds of books, the review has to be very vague so as not to spoil the narrative. I will say that the writing was highly engaging, flowed seamlessly (hard to believe that it was co-written), and addictive page turning prose. While the final twist was totally unexpected, I'm not sure that it was even necessary to propel this as a first rate thriller.

Another addictive, page turning thriller that will have you flipping pages to figure out what makes these characters tick, and who is the real villain. A perfect book to devour in short order, you won't want to put this one down.

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The Immortalists Book Cover The Immortalists
Chloe Benjamin
Fiction
G.P. Putnam's Sons
January 9, 2018
Advanced Reader Copy
352
Free copy from publisher

If you knew the date of your death, how would you live your life? It's 1969 in New York City's Lower East Side, and word has spread of the arrival of a mystical woman, a traveling psychic who claims to be able to tell anyone the day they will die. The Gold children--four adolescents on the cusp of self-awareness--sneak out to hear their fortunes. Their prophecies inform their next five decades. Golden-boy Simon escapes to the West Coast, searching for love in '80s San Francisco; dreamy Klara becomes a Las Vegas magician, obsessed with blurring reality and fantasy; eldest son Daniel seeks security as an army doctor post-9/11, hoping to control fate; and bookish Varya throws herself into longevity research, where she tests the boundary between science and immortality. A sweeping novel of remarkable ambition and depth, The Immortalists probes the line between destiny and choice, reality and illusion, this world and the next. It is a deeply moving testament to the power of story, the nature of belief, and the unrelenting pull of familial bonds.

My review:

Such a great premise for a book! What would you do, or how would you live your life differently if you knew the date of your death? While I loved the thought process of each of the four members of the Gold family, I wasn't as keen to buy into the way they came to the information about their death date. They learned this through a psychic, and the way each of them dealt with the information was detailed in four sections of the book (one for each child). The whole idea of a psychic was off putting for me, I'm not a believer in any of that  way of thinking, but they were children when they came to the information, so I could buy into the story a bit more and give them a pass. What followed from there, while a great story, was a bit weird for me. Without going into any spoiler details, I'll just say that while I could go along with their rationale and their choices (which we are led to believe are the result of knowing their death date), by the time we got through a couple of the siblings I was rolling my eyes a bit at the coincidences. Even though I may not have bought into the prediction part, what I did buy into was the author's writing style, which was smooth, captivating, and without any excessive wordiness to get her point across.

Overall a fascinating read, with lovely writing and a wonderful plot. If I could have gotten past my dislike of psychic's, this likely would have been a solid four stars. Read it for the premise and writing, I don't think you will be disappointed.

 

 

The Music Shop Book Cover The Music Shop
Rachel Joyce
Fiction
Random House
2018
Advanced Reader Copy
304
Publisher via First to Read

It's 1988. The CD has arrived. Sales of the shiny new disks are soaring on high streets in cities across the country. Meanwhile, down a dead-end street, Frank's music shop stands small and brightly lit, jam-packed with records of every kind. It attracts the lonely, the sleepless, the adrift. There is room for everyone. Frank has a gift for finding his customers the music they need. Into this shop arrives Ilse Brauchmann - practical, brave, well-heeled. Frank falls for this curious woman who always dresses in green. But Ilse's reasons for visiting the shop are not what they seem. Frank's passion for Ilse seems as misguided as his determination to save vinyl. How can a man so in tune with other people's needs be so incapable of helping himself? And what will it take to show he loves her? The Music Shop is a story about good, ordinary people who take on forces too big for them. It's about falling in love and how hard it can be. And it's about music - how it can bring us together when we are divided and save us when all seems lost"--

My review:

This book has several things going for it that Rachel Joyce is so good at. Her ability to create quirky lovable characters is legendary. I loved the group of misfits that come together in this town that is slowly dying, as business after business closes down. Frank not only refuses to sell his record shop, he also refuses to sell anything other than vinyl records, in an age when CD's are becoming the norm. This part of the story was my favorite, but we are also introduced to a female protagonist who comes into Frank's shop one day. Unfortunately this story kind of takes over, and I never really warmed up to the relationship between these two characters. There was also a lot of extraneous music information (while Frank gives Ilse music lessons), that I would have appreciated more had I been more of a music aficionado. The writing was lovely, and it was obvious that Ms. Joyce has a great grasp of the effect music can have on any individual.

Definitely worth a read if you are into a wide range of music, and a great study of some lovable misfits coming together to save their town. Despite not being a big fan of the Frank/Ilse relationship, I still enjoyed the story as a whole.

I received this book from Penguin First to Read.

 

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Since my husband was sporting his Syracuse shirt, I made him pose with Forks, Knives and Spoons. 🍴🥄🍴🥄 Many thanks to @leah.decesare for gifting me a copy of this book! This is a perfect palate cleanser (see how I incorporated dining?) after reading an intense book. I loved the plot with the utensil classification system for men, such a clever idea. It was also fun to read the pop culture and Syracuse references as several members of my family attended SU. While I’m not usually a fan of books with college age and twenty somethings behaving badly, this one wasn’t too over the top. The ending, while predictable, was sweet and satisfying. A good read with a cute message, you will come away from It classifying the men in your life into cutlery! ⭐️⭐️⭐️💫/5 stars 🍴🥄🍴🥄🍴🥄🍴🥄 #bookblogger #forksknivesandspoons #leahdecesare #ondbookshelf

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The Paris Secret Book Cover The Paris Secret
Karen Swan
Fiction
William Morrow Paperbacks
November 14, 2017
Paperback
416
Free from publisher

Somewhere along the cobbled streets of Paris, an apartment lies thick with dust and secrets: full of priceless artworks hidden away for decades.

High-flying Fine Art Agent Flora from London, more comfortable with the tension of a million-pound auction than a cosy candlelit dinner for two, is called in to asses these suddenly discovered treasures. As an expert in her field, she must trace the history of each painting and just who has concealed them for so long.

Thrown in amongst the glamorous Vermeil family as they move between Paris and Antibes, Flora begins to discover that things aren't all that they seem, while back at home her own family is recoiling from a seismic shock. The terse and brooding Xavier Vermeil seems intent on forcing Flora out of his family's affairs - but just what is he hiding?

 

My review:

This is my first foray into reading Karen Swan, and I like what I see! I'm going to call this an adult Nancy Drew, which is a big compliment, as I devoured these books as a kid. The mystery surrounding the artwork reminded me somewhat of the B.A. Shapiro books (The Art Forger and The Muralist), also favorites of mine. The story was intriguing, I loved the art references as well as the idea of working in the auction business. The details revealed that tie the story into the war years was also fascinating, and I couldn't wait to figure out just what was going on (kind of like Nancy Drew 🙂 ). I'm going to sound like a broken record when I say that the only thing I did not like about the book was the romance (why why WHY does there always have to be one of these?). I didn't like the love interest from the beginning, didn't believe that he would change, and just.....ugh! But enough of that, because this book had so much else going for it, that I'm going to pretend that part just didn't exist. The writing was fluid, the end of chapter cliff hangers were spectacular ways to keep me reading, and the way the mystery pans out was interesting and satisfying.

A great read, with art history, mystery, WWII tie-ins, and the proverbial romance (for those that like a little of that on the side). And we can't forget that it's set in Paris, which deserves a look all on its own. I'm impressed with this author's writing style, and will certainly be checking into some of her earlier works.

Radio Free Vermont Book Cover Radio Free Vermont
Bill McKibben
Fiction
Penguin
November 7, 2017
E-book
240
Publisher via First to Read

"I hope no one secedes, but I also hope that Americans figure out creative ways to resist injustice and create communities where everybody counts. We've got a long history of resistance in Vermont and this book is testimony to that fact." -Bernie Sanders A book that's also the beginning of a movement, Bill McKibben's debut novel Radio Free Vermont follows a band of Vermont patriots who decide that their state might be better off as its own republic. As the host of Radio Free Vermont--"underground, underpowered, and underfoot"--seventy-two-year-old Vern Barclay is currently broadcasting from an "undisclosed and double-secret location." With the help of a young computer prodigy named Perry Alterson, Vern uses his radio show to advocate for a simple yet radical idea: an independent Vermont, one where the state secedes from the United States and operates under a free local economy. But for now, he and his radio show must remain untraceable, because in addition to being a lifelong Vermonter and concerned citizen, Vern Barclay is also a fugitive from the law. In Radio Free Vermont, Bill McKibben entertains and expands upon an idea that's become more popular than ever--seceding from the United States. Along with Vern and Perry, McKibben imagines an eccentric group of activists who carry out their own version of guerilla warfare, which includes dismissing local middle school children early in honor of 'Ethan Allen Day' and hijacking a Coors Light truck and replacing the stock with local brew. Witty, biting, and terrifyingly timely, Radio Free Vermont is Bill McKibben's fictional response to the burgeoning resistance movement.

My review:

I was initially drawn to this book because it's about the state where I was born, and lived in for three and a half decades. Other than hoping for a casual reference to some places I remember, I wasn't sure what to expect. I LOVED this book! It was sometimes funny, but then would throw in some serious facts about the current state of our nation. The way that this merry band of misfits go about organizing the idea of Vermont becoming a free state was spectacular, in that there was absolutely no violence (only brains) involved. Vern was a great character, witty and wise from his long running radio show, and respected enough to begin to plant the seeds of what would happen if Vermont were to secede from the United States in order to get back to its small roots. There was a plethora of historical information about the early days of Vermont (the first state to outlaw slaves and allow same sex marriage), to what has become of small farms and businesses due to corporate conglomerates. And lest you think that it reads like a history book........oh my goodness not at all! Most of the information is given out while answering callers to Vern's radio show. Of course, once the government gets wind of what Vern is up to, shenanigans ensue with trying to get their information out without being tracked down and thrown in jail. I was definitely not ready for the book to finish, I hope the author comes up with a sequel!

Such a short book that packs a whallop of facts and fun! A solid 4 star read, I'm sure an extra star had to be added because of all the Vermont references that had me squealing (I was born in Barre.......I mean Thunder Road....AHHH! ).  While most of the names have been changed, there are a few references in the book to current political office holders that may have you nodding your head. A definite for Vermonters, and a do not miss for others!

I received this book as part of the Penguin First to Read program. All opinions are my own.

 

In the Midst of Winter Book Cover In the Midst of Winter
Isabel Allende
Fiction
Atria Books
October 31, 2017
Hardcover
352
Free from publisher

New York Times and worldwide bestselling “dazzling storyteller” (Associated Press) Isabel Allende returns with a sweeping novel about three very different people who are brought together in a mesmerizing story that journeys from present-day Brooklyn to Guatemala in the recent past to 1970s Chile and Brazil. In the Midst of Winter begins with a minor traffic accident—which becomes the catalyst for an unexpected and moving love story between two people who thought they were deep into the winter of their lives. Richard Bowmaster—a 60-year-old human rights scholar—hits the car of Evelyn Ortega—a young, undocumented immigrant from Guatemala—in the middle of a snowstorm in Brooklyn. What at first seems just a small inconvenience takes an unforeseen and far more serious turn when Evelyn turns up at the professor’s house seeking help. At a loss, the professor asks his tenant Lucia Maraz—a 62-year-old lecturer from Chile—for her advice. These three very different people are brought together in a mesmerizing story that moves from present-day Brooklyn to Guatemala in the recent past to 1970s Chile and Brazil, sparking the beginning of a long overdue love story between Richard and Lucia. Exploring the timely issues of human rights and the plight of immigrants and refugees, the book recalls Allende’s landmark novel The House of the Spirits in the way it embraces the cause of “humanity, and it does so with passion, humor, and wisdom that transcend politics” (Jonathan Yardley, The Washington Post). In the Midst of Winter will stay with you long after you turn the final page.

My review:

This was an interesting story about three people thrown together by circumstance when a horrific blizzard hits New York City. Richard inadvertently plows into the back of a car driven by Evelyn, who later comes to him for help getting her out of a bad situation with her employer. Because Richard cannot communicate with her, he enlists the help of his downstairs tenant Lucia. Both of these women have immigrated to the states from South America, and we go back in time as they tell their respective stories of their harrowing life experiences. Richard is also not without a sad story of his own. Together the three hatch a plan to take care of Evelyn's problem, and a grand adventure ensues. I loved the fact that two of the protagonists in this book were middle aged, it's so rare to find in books that I read. The way that their love story evolves (but doesn't take over the plot of the book) was poignant and real. I will admit that the adventure takes some rather silly turns, but at that point I was so invested in the characters, that I just went along for the ride (no pun intended). The writing was crisp, and even though we are going back in time with each character's story, it flowed together with the current timeline smoothly. Each of the three characters were really well drawn, and the ending has a little twist that I suspected, but was very satisfying.

This was a very engaging book with a unique plot, engaging characters, a wonderful backstory about immigration, and even a bit of mystery and suspense thrown in. The escapade these three characters embark on is a bit over the top at times, but that did not keep me from truly enjoying this story.