Saturday, October 31, 2015

My First Time in Hollywood, by Cari Beauchamp. Wasashina & Wallace, 2015

This is a collection of short memoirs from some forty people who were in the film industry when it first started in Hollywood. It ranges from famous actors- Mary Pickford, Lionel Barrymore, and Gloria Swanson-to producers and directors (lots of them), to writers, and people who furnished the sets. It even includes the infamous Will Hayes, who was brought to Hollywood to institute censorship.

These first person pieces are gleaned from various sources- magazine articles, autobiographies, oral history, letters, and lectures. They are all about the very first time each of these people set foot in Hollywood, back when Hollywood was not even really Hollywood. The dates range from 1909 to the 1929, during the time in which Los Angeles and Hollywood exploded and grew exponentially, going from deserted semi-desert to built-up phenomenon.

All but one person entered Hollywood via rail. All remember the vast, boring plains they had to travel through. All remember being rather bemused by the lack of buildings in Hollywood. It’s as much a history of the town and the industry as it is memoirs, and I found it fascinating because of that (I grew up in Los Angeles). It includes lots of  photographs, too. 

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 Net Galley in return for an unbiased review. 

Neither of these things influenced my review.  

Sunday, October 25, 2015

The Omen, by David Seltzer. Signet, 1976

Ever since this book & movie came out in the 70s, I’ve heard about how scary it was. I was very disappointed in it now that I’ve finally gotten around to reading it.

American ambassador to England, Jeremy Thorn and his wife Katherine, after a couple of miscarriages, are having a baby. But when Thorn gets to the hospital, the priest in charge tells him the baby has died. But a mother with no next of kin has just died giving birth. The baby is healthy and has no one to take it. Will Thorn adopt the baby, pretending it’s his own, lying even to his psychologically fragile wife? Yes, yes he will. He never even sees the body of his own baby.

Four years later, bad things start happening around Damian. The nanny commits suicide at his fourth birthday party. A new nanny appears the next day out of the blue, without anyone calling the agency. Katherine begins to get neurotic as the boy gets closer to the nanny and withdrawing from her. A priest follows Thorn, babbling strange warnings. A paparazzo who follows Thorn finds ghostly images in the photos he takes; on the nanny before her dramatic suicide, on the priest who follows Thorn. Animals fear Damian, except for a mysterious black dog that keeps getting into the house. Churches induce a hysterical fear in him. What is the child? Is he the antichrist?

Sadly, the book didn’t induce even mild fear in me. I think the problem is that you have to believe in Satan to be scared by this book, and I don’t. So while I felt tension, waiting to see who lived and who died, it couldn’t really creep me out. The book has flaws, too. The characters are two dimensional; no one is really likable. There is no depth to the story. I think the problem may be that Seltzer was also the screenwriter, and I think the screenplay may have come before the novel. In a movie, things aren’t described for us. The actor’s facial expressions, the set designers, the lighting person, all add the depth missing from the printed word in the screenplay. I think it didn’t occur to Seltzer to add these cues for the novel reader.


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.  

Saturday, October 24, 2015

The Abbess of Whitby, by Jill Dalladay. Lion Fiction, 2015

In the 7th century AD, young Hild, who attends her queen, is chosen as the handmaid of Eostre. She goes about blessing the plants and animals to insure their fertility. The handmaid serves for one year, when a new one is chosen. Hild, however, turns out to be the last handmaid, as the rulers of the land turn away from the old religions and adopt Christianity. While Hild’s king holds to the old religion of Woden and Thor, the queen is a Christian.

“England” as a unified country does not exist yet. Numerous kings battle constantly over land and resources. Many marriages are made to cement peace treaties; every royal girl must expect this to happen to them. Hild did not expect this to happen to her, but it turns out she has enough royal blood to be a bargaining chip. A marriage that is loveless at first is arranged for her and she has to leave the people she grew up with. This won’t last long though; the incessant battles mean she is driven from her new home.

Hild is a very resourceful woman. She knows the healing arts and is skilled in running a household. As she finds herself pushed from place to place during a hard life, she always manages to make the best of her situation; not just making things better for herself, but for those around her. She finds herself curious about this new religion, as joyous Christian brothers roam the land, spreading their faith. She learns to read and write, copying their books and memorizing them. Gradually, without really thinking about it, she finds herself the leader of a Christian community, where despite their poverty, everything is shared.

Of course even they are buffeted by raids and wars. Brothers and bishops are killed. The plague wipes out a huge segment of the population. But a change as big as the baptism of the population comes when one bishop takes on the ways of Rome, insisting on gathering riches for the church, forsaking the vow of poverty, and making the accoutrements of the church and the bishop-hood of gold and silk.

The book covers Hild’s life in detail from childhood to death. It vividly portrays the hardships of the era- no one, including royalty- had comfortable, easy lives. People slept on straw. Food was scarce, particularly in drought years or when raids occurred. Medicine consisted of a few herbal remedies. Every single thing had to be made from scratch. But despite the vividness of the settings and the details of everyday life, the book is slow and pretty unexciting. Hild is strong, smart, and of good heart, but she never really springs into life on the page. The book was interesting, but not really gripping. And I found the portrayal of the Old Norse religion as ‘evil’ annoying. Just because it was different doesn’t mean it was evil. 

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

I received a copy of this book free from Net Galley in return for a fair review. 

Neither of these things influenced my review.  

Usher’s Passing, by Robert R. McCammon. Pocket Books, 1984

In this sequel to Poe’s “The Fall of the House of Usher”, McCammon proposes that not all of the Usher family died at the end of the story, that a brother lived on. And while the brother had the Usher Malady, he also had the power to attract good things to him And the family prospered, beyond all imagination. But the power did not come without strings attached; while materially blessed, the people of the family all have major problems.

Rix Usher is the family black sheep; he escaped the family estate and has had a career as an author, but now he finds himself with writer’s block. When his father sends the older son, Boone, to fetch him to his death bed, he decides to go, despite swearing he’d never go back. This places him in a veritable cornucopia of weirdness.

This is, bar none, the gothiest novel I have ever read. We have a southern mansion. We have a mother who refuses to accept that her husband is dying, even though he’s rotting away- literally. An alcoholic, gambling, wife beating, bully of an elder brother. A sister who has done exceedingly well in business as a model, but is a drug addict. A lodge in the middle of the family estate that no one lives in that Rix got shut into as a child for two long, dark, terrifying days; a building that changes its layout on a whim. Mountain folk just outside the estate who believe in the Mountain King (good guy) and the Pumpkin Man (very bad guy who steals children), and a huge black panther named Greediguts. There is the teenage mountain boy who finds he has supernatural powers. There is also the ruins of a town that was smashed apart years ago buy comets. A newspaper owner who wants to know what’s going on with the family patriarch and her father, writing a history of the Usher family. And then there is the soul voices of reason: the head caretaker and his wife, who basically raised Rix, the only people who showed him love when he was growing up.

There is a LOT going on in this book. Every time you turn around there is a new twist. Almost no one is what they seem. There is a mix of supernatural, technical, and human evil. Threat is everywhere. This is one of the creepiest books I’ve ever read, despite it being so over the top. And it is very, very, over the top. But, damn, I loved it! 

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.