Thursday, January 28, 2016

Platinum Doll - Book Review

Jean Harlow, the famous actress from the early days of talking pictures, was born Harlean Carpenter in the dull Midwest. As a girl she accompanied her mother to Hollywood on her mother's failed attempt at stardom. Now, seventeen years old and beautiful, Harlean has run off with her rich and handsome young husband. Madly in love, together they're enjoying the glamorous life of Hollywood, California.

Encouraged by friends and pushed by a dare, Harlean takes a chance at an acting career. With her sparkling personality and stunning blond hair, the actress Jean impresses the right people and catapults her right into acclaim and stardom.

But fame and success will come at a price.

Platinum Doll by Anne Girard introduces a cast of characters that graced the silver screen in the early, glamorous days of Hollywood. I spent so much time Googling the actors and actresses that I didn't immediately recognize and even watched old clips of Jean Harlow on YouTube. (Her earliest roll with Laurel and Hardy is a fun one to watch). I was actually surprised that the novel inspired so much interest in a subject that I've rarely cared about before. Jean Harlow really was a fascinating woman who gained so much success so quickly.

I liked that the novel focuses on her early life with her husband and her experiences starting out in Hollywood. Jean is manipulated and used by so many people around her. Her flamboyant and controlling mother is quite the character and adds a lot of drama to the story. Her experiences in early Hollywood were interesting and it was fun to peek behind the scenes of the classic movies.

However, as intrigued as I was with the story of Jean, I found myself skimming through chapter after chapter. The story moves slowly and gets bogged down in scenes and long conversations that don't successfully advance the plot or the emotion. Even in the dramatic scenes between Jean and her husband, the intensity of passion is lacking. Huge sections could have been cut right out.

Though there are issues with the writing, I did overall enjoy learning more about Jean Harlow in Platinum Doll by Anne Girard.

Platinum Doll by Anne Girard is published by MIRA and released on January 26, 2016.

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**I received a complimentary copy of Platinum Doll. All opinions are my own. I was not compensated for this review.**

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

The Swans of Fifth Avenue - Book Review

From the cover :

Of all the glamorous stars of New York high society, none blazes brighter than Babe Paley. Her flawless face regularly graces the pages of Vogue, and she is celebrated and adored for her ineffable style and exquisite taste, especially among her friends—the alluring socialite Swans Slim Keith, C. Z. Guest, Gloria Guinness, and Pamela Churchill. By all appearances, Babe has it all: money, beauty, glamour, jewels, influential friends, a prestigious husband, and gorgeous homes. But beneath this elegantly composed exterior dwells a passionate woman—a woman desperately longing for true love and connection.

Enter Truman Capote. This diminutive golden-haired genius with a larger-than-life personality explodes onto the scene, setting Babe and her circle of Swans aflutter. Through Babe, Truman gains an unlikely entrĂ©e into the enviable lives of Manhattan’s elite, along with unparalleled access to the scandal and gossip of Babe’s powerful circle. Sure of the loyalty of the man she calls “True Heart,” Babe never imagines the destruction Truman will leave in his wake. But once a storyteller, always a storyteller—even when the stories aren’t his to tell.

Truman’s fame is at its peak when such notable celebrities as Frank and Mia Sinatra, Lauren Bacall, and Rose Kennedy converge on his glittering Black and White Ball. But all too soon, he’ll ignite a literary scandal whose repercussions echo through the years. The Swans of Fifth Avenue will seduce and startle readers as it opens the door onto one of America’s most sumptuous eras.

My thoughts :

Melanie Benjamin excels at bringing lesser known stories from history back to life (I loved The Aviator's Wife). Imagining the unusual relationships between Truman Capote, devious and charming, and his beautiful alluring "Swans", Benjamin plunges her readers right into the shallow glamorous world of New York high society in The Swans of Fifth Avenue. Everyone is out for themselves in this world and they tell themselves and each other lies to cover their own insecurities and infidelities. Yet, Baby Paley feels like she has finally made a true and lasting connection with Capote. They love each other in a truly honorable and complete way and will always be faithful to each other. Of course.

I was completely captivated and entranced by Benjamin's treatment of these people, their story and scandal. It's not a world I've ever paid much attention to and yet I was immediately intrigued. I interrupted my reading regularly to google the characters on my phone so that I could see their pictures and their gorgeous clothes and the stunning lifestyles in Benjamin's novel. I found and read about Truman's Black and White Ball in Vanity Fair online. It was fun to see the pictures and it added to my enjoyment of the story. However, Benjamin recreated the scenes and the clothes and the people so well that I didn't really need the pictures. When the pictures are added, they so perfectly fit the scenes already described by Benjamin that I felt surely she had been there. At the very least, her research is impeccable. 

These flamboyant people led lives of excess and grandeur and were loathsome, yet I couldn't look away. And in the midst of all the distasteful scandals, Benjamin paints the picture of Baby Paley, always classy, vulnerable and sympathetic. I cared about her--really cared, even while pitying her in her fortune. Benjamin doesn't just tell the story and the scandal and the fallout. She writes about people and she inspires the reader to respond with powerful emotions whether disgust or empathy.

The Swans of Fifth Avenue is a book to devour and to talk about. Intrigued by Truman Capote, I ordered a copy of In Cold Blood. I shared all the sordid details with my husband. It would make a great novel for book clubs because at it's heart it is a book about relationships with people and how we hurt and abuse those we love for our own personal gain. It's a human story with a human heart.

The Swans of Fifth Avenue by Melanie Benjamin is published by Delacorte Press and released on January 26, 2016.

**I received a complimentary copy of The Swans of Fifth Avenue. No compensation was received. All opinions are my own.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Noah's Wife - Book Review

In this allegorical tale, Noah's wife accompanies him on his mission to replace the former minister in a small town up in the hills. It has been raining unceasingly for years and the once thriving tourist community is suffering. Only the stalwarts townsfolk remain and they have abandoned their church and faith as the rain continues to dampen their spirits and their livelihoods.

Full of fascinating characters, Noah's Wife by Lindsay Starck tells of the courage, stubbornness and despair of some people as they lose control of their lives and let go of their faith. I was enamored by her beautiful writing and the wit and wisdom in which she details their personal struggles and their desire to hold on to hope. Sometimes when we have lost our faith, all we have left is hope.

Written in a style that combines allegory with contemporary subjects, I was drawn in by her use of language and her story-telling skills. Noah's Wife compares in it's fable-like qualities with other favorites such as The Snow Child, No One is Here Except All of Us and Evergreen. I love these stories and I fell in love with Noah's Wife as well.

I am excited to see more from this new and wonderful talent.

Noah's Wife by Lindsay Starck is published by Putnam and released on January 26, 2016.

**I received a complimentary copy of Noah's Wife. All opinions are my own. No compensation was received.**