Saturday, February 6, 2016

Platinum Doll: A Novel about Jean Harlow, by Anne Girard. Mira, 2016

Harlean Carpenter-Jean Harlow’s real name- was the first blond bombshell of Hollywood. She arrived there 1928, seventeen years old, and newlywed. Despite having a mother who tried a few years earlier to break into film, Harlean had no intention of working- her young husband was a trust fund baby and could support them in style. But a friend was trying to break into movies, and needed a ride to a casting call. An agent saw Harlean waiting in her car and the rest was history.

This is the story of how Harlean became a glittering Hollywood star, but even more than that it is the story of her marriage to Chuck McGrew. Orphaned early, he grew up rich and came into even more when he turned 21. He loved Harlean to distraction, drank too much, and was jealous of anyone who took too much of Harlean’s attention or time. He didn’t care for her budding acting career and imagined affairs with men she worked with. His biggest problem, though, was with Harlean’s mother, Jean Bello. Jean Bello saw Harlean as an extension of herself, treated Harlean like she was six years old (she called Harlean “the Baby” right up until her death at age 26), managed everything about her, spent Harlean’s money, and added greatly to the stress that broke up Harlean’s marriage to McGrew. Indeed, Jean Bello is almost a caricature of a stage mother, but the story is supported by facts.

Harlean comes across as a smart, vulnerable and charming young woman who is happy in her marriage and their fairy tale life in Los Angeles. With the money to buy what she wanted and entertain endlessly, McGrew couldn’t understand why she wasn’t content. Harlean was bored with shopping trips and drunken parties; she read incessantly and knew there was more to life than just existing. I really liked the character that the author built out of historical sources. She was neither silly starlet nor vamp, and really struggled to balance husband, mother, and career.

Not only is the story of Harlean and Chuck gripping, but I loved the details about old Hollywood. Girard brought the houses, parties, and studios to life. I loved this book. 

The above is an affiliate link. If you click through and buy something- anything- Amazon will give me a few cents. 

I received this book free as part of the Amazon Vine program. 

Neither of these things influenced my review.  

Halfway Down the Stairs, by Gary A. Braunbeck. JournalStone, 2015

Gary Braunbeck has been writing since the late ‘90s, but somehow I’d never discovered him. I’m glad that I have now.

I have to admit that some of the stories were not to my taste. He mainly writes horror but the type is all over the map. Some of the stories in the collection were what I refer to as ‘human horror’- the terrible things that people do to one another, rather than supernatural terrors. Child abuse and sexual abuse feature in a couple of stories and I found them very difficult to read. I thought about putting the book aside, but I persisted and I’m happy I did. Not all the stories are about human brutality-although the ones that are, are amazingly, stomach turningly so. Some are like fairy tales. One, ‘Afterward, There Will Be a Hallway’, is a life-after-death story that is achingly beautiful. A tale of Charles Fort and Bram Stoker is darkly amusing. It’s all very dark; things and people rot and decay. It’s as much noir as horror. “We Now Pause for Station Identification” is a zombie apocalypse told in a unique manner. Some are horror overlaid on the human condition- love, sex, working one’s life away. It’s a pretty great collection, but you do have to have a strong stomach. 

The above is an affiliate link. If you click through and buy something- anything- Amazon will give me a few cents. 

I received this book free from the Library Thing Early Reviewers program

Neither of these things influenced my review.  

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

The Forgotten Seamstress, by Liz Trenow. Sourcebooks, 2014

In 2008, Caroline is clearing out her mother’s attic when she finds a quilt, which her grandmother left to her. It’s an unusual piece of needlework; the seaming and embroidery are extraordinary, and some of the fabrics are very striking silks. So striking that when Caroline shows it to a friend who is a textile expert, she recognizes them as tiny pieces of fabrics known as the May Silks, specially woven for the wedding of Princess May (Mary) of Teck. How they ended up in a patchwork, and in Caroline’s grandmother’s possession, is unknown, but Caroline intends to find out.

Another story goes along as Caroline searches for who made the quilt. In 1970, a graduate student in psychology is interviewing an inmate of a mental hospital. The patient, Maria, tells the story of being an orphan who is taught to sew and is selected to work in palace for the royal family. She talks of the Crown Prince, of a baby that was taken away from her, and her belief that she is in the mental ward to keep her from telling the world of the Prince’s baby. All fantasy, of course, the hallucinations of a schizophrenic. There is no way a lower class girl attracted the attention of the Prince! But how are these two woman connected?

I enjoyed the puzzle of figuring out the origins of the quilt, the descriptions of life in the palace, and especially the descriptions of the fabrics and clothing. I was less impressed by the characters, however. Caroline and Maria are both people to whom things happen, but who rarely initiate action of any kind. In Maria’s case, a lot of that is out of her control, but her passivity with the Prince is kind of annoying. But she was a teenager in love, and so that’s a pretty common attitude. Caroline, however, is kind of annoying- she is older, supposedly independent, educated, and in control of her own fate, but she seems to float along. While I liked the two women, it was a lukewarm sort of liking. The other characters didn’t have much depth. It’s an enjoyable book but not a stunning one. 

The above is an affiliate link. If you click through and buy something- anything- Amazon will give me a few cents. 

This in no way influenced my review.