Ava Gardner: The Secret Conversations

51jcxSFcWwL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_In a recent article in Vanity Fair, one of my favorite things to read, I saw a preview for a new biography on Ava Gardner: Ava Gardner: The Secret Conversations.  Other books have been written about this starlet, none of which she actually colloborated on.  Before reading the book, I didn’t know much about her, but now I am definitely interested in watching some of her old movies!  Ava worked with Peter Evans on this book, who had already written a few notable biographies.  He wrote biographies of Brigitte Bardot, Aristotle Onassis, and Peter Sellers.  Evans began working on this book in 1988, when he was approached by Gardner, but was sidetracked for a variety of reasons.  He began taping their conversations for later work on the biography.  These conversations went on for quite some time, and he kept all of them.

Before really finishing this project, she decided to go with another biographer, one who would create the image she wanted to present in a biography.  This book was published in 1990, called Ava: My Story.  At the time she began working with Evans, Gardner was 66, and had suffered from a stroke in 1986.  She had once been one of Hollywood’s greatest stars, but at this point in her life she was nearly broke.  She reminds Evans several times 9781451627695_p0_v4_s260x420throughout the course of the book that the only reason she wants to work on the book is because she needs the money, she is also very concerned about her image that will be represented in the book.  She seems to not trust Evans in presenting this image, which probably explains why this biography was not finished during her lifetime.  Evans, along with the BBC, had been sued by Frank Sinatra in 1972 by exposing his alleged connection with the mafia.  Ava passed away in January of 1990, and it took years for Evans to gain the permission of the Gardner family to publish these taped conversations.  He passed in August of last year, and it was after that the publication of this book truly began.

“She had been called ‘the most irresistible woman in Hollywood,’ and ‘the world’s most beautiful animal.’  Such encomiums were typical of the hype that was de rigueur in the Hollywood marketing machine of the 1940s and ’50s, but they were not inappropriate.  Ava Gardner’s whole life had been defined by her beauty and the many and various lovers it ensnared – and she famously devoured…She had seduced by, married to and divorced from, lived with and walked out on, some of the most famous names of the twentieth century.”

She was apprehensive of writing a biography, believing it was tacky to write a Hollywood tell-all.  She also worried about the reputation of Frank Sinatra, her third husband, whom she still had strong feelings for.  She was also once married to Mickey Rooney and Artie Shaw, and had once dated Howard Hughes.  Because the book is published almost as a transcript of these taped conversations, Ava’s voice and story is uncensored.  The details of these relationships are just as juicy as any tabloid tale today.  She is not necessarily known for her great moves, as she is remembered for her famous lovers.  Like many actresses, her career began to decline as she got older.  Yet, as these conversations illustrate, she was sensual, charming, and very.  This is a must-read!

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Undead and Underwater

9780515145496_p0_v1_s260x420So last week we introduced you to Mary Janice Davidson, and her series about mermaids.  This is a popular series, but she’s known for much more than just mermaids!  She not only writes series like the Undead, Fred the Mermaid, and Werewolves of Wyndham, she also writes short stories, a lot of short stories and publishes them in anthologies.  Her most recent anthology is Undead and Underwater.

There are three stories in this particular book.  The first is Super, Girl! about Hailey Derry.  I’ll be honest I tried reading this one but I just couldn’t get into it.  I love paranormal books and fantasy books but for some reason this story seemed a bit out there even for my tastes.  I may have to try it again though just because I do love MJD.

The second story, which shares its title with the book brings together the self-centered Queen Betsy and the equally self-centered Fred the Mermaid.  The story is filled with them trading barbs, well after Betsy bewitches Fred and then Fred cleans her clock that is.  Former aquarium intern Madison is “rilly rilly in big trouble from some rilly rilly bad guys” and yes she really does talk that way.  I’m with Fred on her first thought, just let the bad guys have her already.  UGH.  The fun really begins with Queen Betsy the shoe obsessed meets Jonas THE most metrosexual male in the world who also just happens to be Fred’s best friend.  They bond over smoothies and begin planning what to do with the baddies.  This story is just fun.

The third story centers on Lara Wyndham, newly minted pack leader of the werewolves.  Lara’s dad has decided to retire, the first Pack Leader in history to do so.  Suddenly I’m wondering if MJD was inspired by Pope Benedict retiring.  Lara has big shoes to fill and strange things are happening.  When dead things begin to appear on her doorstep Lara contacts some familiar characters, yep you guessed it Betsy and Fred.  Oh did I forget to mention this story happens in the future, post Kardashian Riots of 2025, oh please can that not come to be, pretty pretty please!  Lara also reencounters Jack Gardner, son of her father’s best friend, a Packer that does not change form and has never been far from her mind.  Also appearing in the book is her little brother Sean who is remarkably laid back for a predator.  Again I really enjoyed this story, another great installment in the Wyndham series.

I just put the newest Queen Betsy book Undead and Unsure on hold, as soon as I get it I’ll be sharing my thoughts.  Anyone else a fan of MJD??

A Bad Boy Can Be Good For a Girl

515YVSToefL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA278_PIkin4,BottomRight,-67,22_AA300_SH20_OU01_A few weeks ago I came across an article in The Virginian Pilot about a “controversial book” that some parents in the area were attempting to ban from school libraries.  The book was A Bad Boy Can Be Good For a Girl and it was written by Tanya Lee Stone in 2006, so its interesting now that it’s being challenged.  It was checked out by a high school student in Currituck, NC, and was challenged by the mother of that student.  When I read the article I thought I had to find out what all the fuss was about.  Since the book’s challenging by the school board, it has been nearly impossible to get this book from any of the local libraries.  Want to get kids interesting in reading?  Tell them they can’t read a certain book!

Parts of the book are somewhat explicit, but it’s nothing like some of the erotic novels that have gotten really popular lately.  The protest from parents may have been the book’s availability in school libraries, and their inability to keep it from their children.  Instead of what the title seems to suggest, that girls might be encouraged to get involved with a “bad boy”, it’s more of a cautionary tale for young girls.  Written in verse, the book is somewhat poetic, something young female readers will be drawn to.  Told through the voices of three girls attending the same high school, each of whom have been involved with the same boy.  He is a senior, and although not all of the girls’ ages are given, they seem younger and less experienced as he is.  Josie, Nicolette, and Aviva each have their own experience with him, each one negative.  These girls are vulnerable, naive, and fall into his prey, each one end up feeling used.  Through Josie’s voice this experience is described:

“Now, I have never understood all that he’s my other half soul mate stuff or when people sometimes talk about having an empty space inside or that they’re missing pieces or something.  But then he walked over and fit himself right into my puzzle.”

“He says things like ‘You’re so soft, you feel so good,’ lame things that shouldn’t work on anybody but actually work on everybody.”

41Nd8SGfxXL._SY344_PJlook-inside-v2,TopRight,1,0_SH20_BO1,204,203,200_Josie decides not to have sex with him, and ends up getting dumped.  As a young woman scorned, she finds Forever, that famously scandalous book written by Judy Blume, in the library and adds her own note at the end, warning other girls at the school to stay away from him.  This book survives for at least four years in this high school library.  Josie was the first to write a warning in the back, over the course of his high school career, many other girls at the school share their experiences as well.

At the end of the book there are discussion questions and questions for the author.  These probably struck me more than the actual story.  These comments and questions put the book into a different context, and will be just as important for young readers to read.  The question is, will those who pick up the book read them??  Look beyond the title – this boy is definitely bad, but there is good in this book.  The girls help others steer clear of him, but also to trust each other, and to think more carefully before getting involved with boys.

Underwater Love

51QHGDTftEL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Did you know mermaids are real?  I mean for real they’re real.  Ok so maybe only in books and movies, but in the universe of MaryJanice Davidson’s books that include the Undead and Werewolves of Wyndham there are also mermaids and one just happens to be a marine biologist in Boston. Fred, don’t call her Frederika it’s Fred, the mermaid is actually only half mermaid.  Her hippie mom and mermaid dad had a one night stand on the beach and here she is.  Fred is the star of a trilogy of books: Swimming with the Fishes, Swimming Without a Net, and Fish Out of Water all bound together now in Underwater Love.

Fred has known since she was a child that she’s a mermaid.  She is a smart-mouthed, anti-social twenty nine year old with THE most metrosexual best friend the world has ever known.  In Swimming with the Fishes, Fred meets another of her kind for the first time, and not just any old mermaid uh merman, the prince of the Undersea Folk as they call themselves, Prince Artur.  The Prince is infatuated with Fred, her abrasive personality is also no turn off for the new doctor at the aquarium, Dr. Thomas.  The 51hTkreeNgL._SY344_PJlook-inside-v2,TopRight,1,0_SH20_BO1,204,203,200_two men begin to fight for Fred’s affections which rapidly confuses and delights her, though the delight seems to only further anger her.  Fred is one complicated fishie-chick.

Prince Artur has come seeking Fred’s help.  Fellow Undersea Folk have reported to the king of pollution in Boston Harbor.  Fred enlists Thomas to help thinking she can just leave it to the two boys to solve, oh but nothing is ever that simple for her.

I like Fred, I like Fred a lot.  She is self-centered much the way Queen Betsy of the Undead series is yet she does care about her friends even when she tries not to show it.  I love Fred’s friend Jonas, Thomas, and Prince Artur.  This is just another fun series to read.

Fred’s adventures with her Undersea Folk brethren continue in Swimming Without a Net when she is called to be part of a meeting of all of the Undersea Folk in the world.  The U.F. are discussing revealing themselves to the world, hey what could possibly go wrong?  Well when Fred brings Jonas along and Thomas shows up as well you can only imagine.  Let’s just start with the fact that Thomas introduces the King to the world of two-legs by showing him the series Deadwood, yeah that was a brilliant idea.

I will definitely be looking for MJD to write further adventures of Fred even if they are only short stories.  Oh by the way there is a short story I’ll write about another time with both Fred and Queen Betsy in the anthology Undead and Underwater.

Nickel and Dimed

9780312626686_p0_v2_s260x420Banned books week is officially celebrated in September, from 22 – 28.  Around that time I saw some great displays at the library and at Barnes and Noble.  Of course I browsed, and found that I had read a few them already.  One book I had recently read I was surprised to find was banned or challenged in a couple locations in 2003, 2010 and 2011.  Writer, journalist, and activist Barbara Ehrenreich wrote Nicked and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America in 1998, and even 15 years later this book is still making waves.

Before taking on this project, Ehrenreich had been an experienced journalist.  In research for the book, she went undercover, working several minimum or low wage jobs in a couple of different spots around the country.  She does this bravely, without the help of friends, contacts, her degree, work experience, or health insurance.  Some of the jobs she took on during this year-long experiment include waitressing, housekeeping, and being a Wal-Mart sales associate.  What she discovers while working some of these jobs full-time is that she could barely survive, often having to get a second job just to be able to house, feed, and clothe herself.  She makes a strong argument for a living wage – even back in 1998.  What she’s suggesting is not that radical, and even though I was a strong believer in this ideology before reading the book, I’m only more firm in that belief now.

It’s no wonder that some may feel threatened by what she reveals in this book.  It’s not exactly celebrating or promoting capitalism.  Sure, minimum wage may be perfect for young people just starting out, with little experience or education, searching for their first jobs.  What about adults who are possibly supporting families on these paltry salaries?  It’s almost impossible.  Her sharpest criticism of the American capitlist system comes at the end of the book, where she evaluates her experience as a low-wage worker:

“When someone works for less pay than she can live on – when, for example, she goes hungry so that you can eat more cheaply and conveniently – then she has made a great sacrifice for you, she has made you a gift of some part of her abilities, her health, and her life.  The ‘working poor,’ as they are approvingly termed, are in fact the major philanthropists of our society.  They neglect their own children so that the children of others will be cared for; they live in substandard housing so that other homes will be shiny and perfect; they endure privation so that inflation will be low and stock prices high.  To be a member of the working poor is to be an anonymous donor, a nameless benefactor, to everyone else.” – 221

The introduction of the book includes some interesting statistics about minimum wage, and what a living wage was considered then.  It would be nice to see some of this updated, especially in today’s tough economic climate.  Those who may have voted to have t his book banned may consider it to be an argument for socialism, and that may have some validity.  Instead of choosing one side of the living wage issue or the other, how about a reevaluation of our minimum wage or living wage as a compromise?

Killing Kennedy

9780805096668_p0_v1_s260x420So, last night National Geographic premiered Killing Kennedy, a movie somewhat based on the popular book written by Bill O’Reilly.  I first saw a preview for the movie about a week ago and was definitely interested.  I enjoyed watching it – although it wasn’t great, it definitely got me interested in reading the book!  Isn’t that always the case??  Rob Lowe starring as JFK – seriously, 20 years ago no one could have predicted that!  One of the only things that made this movie interesting, in my opinion, were the roles of Ginnifer Goodwin and Michelle Trachtenberg who played Jackie Kennedy and Marina Oswald.  The movie took on the usual JFK – related topics – infidelity, the mafia, the Cuban missile crisis, Robert Kennedy serving as his attorney general and their close relationship, and the public’s fascination and adoration with him and his family.

O’Reilly has written a few books in the past couple of years, each “killing” an important figure; Jesus, Kennedy, Lincoln.  Subjects and individuals who have been extensively studied, and whose deaths have been thoroughly analyzed.  The interest and suspicion surrounding Kennedy’s assassination has never dissipated, even fifty years later, so it’s no wonder O’Reilly found a welcome audience.  Killing Kennedy: The End of Camelot was published first in October of 2012, Killing Lincoln: The Shocking Assassination that Changed America Forever was released just a year before, and just this fall Killing Jesus: A History was released.

O’Reilly had written several books before taking on  this genre, but with these three books he had a co-writer, Martin Dugard.  O’Reilly actually has a degree in history, something I didn’t know before researching more about these books, so it’s no wonder he’d be interested in these topics.  Killing Kennedy doesn’t seem to shed new light on the subject.  Instead, it seems to put his assassination into a narrative, highlighting some of the lowest points of Kennedy’s political career.  This of course plays up the many conspiracy theories, which is still so fascinating – especially to some who may know little about Kennedy’s death.

Why is O’Reilly so focused on the deaths of these three men?  The titles of the books alone are attention grabbers.  What explains their popularity?  Maybe it’s because he’s bringing these topics to a new audience.  Maybe it’s because O’Reilly himself is a successful author, and his popular show on Fox News.  One of the only things I found interesting about the book was the introduction, where he explained his personal connection to Kennedy himself.  “The assassination of JFK was somewhat personal for me.  My maternal grandmother was born Winifred Kennedy, and my Irish-Catholic family had deep emotional ties to the young president and his family…Like most kids on Long Island, I didn’t care much about national politics.  But I vividly remember pictures of JFK displayed in the homes of my relatives.  To them, he was a saint.  To me, he was a distant figure who died in a terrible way, his brain splattered all over the trunk of a car.  The vision of his wife, Jacqueline, crawling onto the back of the limo in order to retrieve the president’s shattered skull has stayed with me always.”

Planning on reading this, or watching the TV movie?

New Fiction Friday

Revenge??

9781439136638_p0_v2_s260x420So Lauren Weisberger, one of chick lit’s most popular authors (do people still say that?), recently released a new book.  As a sequel to her most popular book, The Devil Wears PradaRevenge Wears Prada catches the main character, Andrea Sachs ten years after Devil left off.  As one of Weisberger’s first books, Devil was wildly successful, as was its movie adaptation.  I enjoyed both the movie and the book, and was interested to find out what Andi had done since leaving Runway magazine, and after her dramatic exit from the magazine and it’s head, Miranda Priestly, at the end of the book.

If you haven’t already read Devil, you should.  It was such a great book – of course the movie is great too.  The great Meryl Streep and Anne Hathaway made a classic; there’s also Emily Blunt and the talented Mr. Stanley Tucci!  The book starts with a really interesting quote from Henry David Thoreau in 1854 “Beware of all enterprises that require new clothes”.  It’s an interesting start to the book because this is exactly what Andi does throughout the course of this first book.  Devil was published in 2003, and 9780767914765_p0_v2_s260x420the author herself wasn’t that much older at the time than the main character.  Andi, who had just graduated from Brown University, moves into the city to pursue her writing career.  She lands a job at Runway Magazine, of Elias Clark publications, as Miranda Priestly’s second assistant, which would have been many young women’s dream.  It was not Andi’s dream though.

Revenge Wears Prada picks up ten years later.  Andi’s life has changed quite a bit, and she has become quite successful in the publishing world.  After leaving Runway, she began working on her own projects, eventually teaming up with her best friend Emily to launch The Plunge.  Emily and Andi actually met while working at Runway, and it’s interesting just how t heir relationship has changed.  While working on their magazine launch Andi met her husband Max, who was a potential investor.  He was part of a declining publishing empire, and was interested in adding The Plunge to his company’s portfolio.

She seems to have quite a bit going on in her life – and once again, seemingly everything she could possibly want.  She and Emily are stunned when they are contacted by the office of Miranda Priestly.  Having both served as Miranda’s assistants, they each had a unique experience in that role.  Emily is still in awe of Miranda’s brilliance as the head of Runway, now she is serving as the head of Elias Clark publications.  Andi is still traumatized by her time at Runway, and with her relationship with Miranda.  Unexpectedly, Elias Clark makes an offer they can’t refuse…  Or can they?  It seems that Miranda is willing to buy The Plunge for quite a lot of money.  The trouble begins when the co-founders of the magazine, Andi and Emily, disagree on the offer and possible sale.

I enjoyed both books, Devil was incredibly funny, witty, and well-written.  With Revenge, when I reached the end of the book, I was scratching my head.  I did enjoy the book, Andi seemed out of her element at The Plunge, just as she had at Runway.  What I really didn’t get was the title.  I won’t give away the ending, but I’m not sure where the title “revenge” comes from…  I was expecting something much juicier, but I was kind of disappointed  Weisberger has written a few other books, and along with this one, they fall short of the high standard set by Devil.