Sunday, July 29, 2012

Never Knowing by Chevy Stevens

Sara Gallagher is a thirty-three-year-old single mom, with an adorable six-year-old daughter named Ally, she’s engaged to a great guy, and owns her own business restoring antique furniture. Yet she can’t stop wondering about her birth mother and what genes she might have passed on to her daughter, and any children she might bear in future.

When she finally succeeds in locating her, the woman wants nothing to do with her. Sara can’t shake the feeling that she is hiding something, so she hires a private investigator. The truth soon comes out—Sara’s mother was the sole survivor of the Campside Killer, one of the worst serial killers in Canadian history, with at least thirty victims. Sara’s mother managed to survive, after he shot and killed her parents and raped her, but the assault left her pregnant with the daughter she gave up for adoption—Sara.

When the story is leaked to the press, Sara and her family have good cause to be afraid—if the Campside Killer is still alive, he now knows he has a daughter. Then the calls begin, some are obvious pranks, but amongst them is one who claims he is Sara’s father and sends her one of the earrings he took from her mother as a souvenir as proof. He says he wants to get to know Sara and sends her dolls made from his victims’ clothes and hair.

The police want to use Sara to capture the notorious killer, but poor Sara finds her formerly happy life begins to crumble and fall apart under the pressure.

This was a fascinating, fast-paced book, with each chapter staged as a one-sided therapy session, with Sara telling her story to a silent therapist named Nadine. This is the second book I’ve read by this author and I was not disappointed. I will be eagerly awaiting her next one.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

The Girl In Alfred Hitchcock’s Shower by Robert Graysmith

1959-60 was Marli Renfro’s year, the beautiful redhead was cast as Janet Leigh’s nude body double for the movie Psycho, and also graced the cover of numerous men’s magazines, including the September 1960  issue of Playboy, she danced in the chorus at Las Vegas casinos, was one of the first Playboy bunnies, and was even featured in a couple of “nudie” or “sexploitation” films when movie censors lifted the ban on nudity. One of her many admirers was then college student Robert Graysmith who kept a scrapbook of her photos and her Playboy cover tacked on his wall for inspiration. Then, just as suddenly, she disappeared. Years later it was reported that life had imitated art and she had been murdered. And the author, inspired by the film noir classic, “Laura” in which a detective falls in love with the portrait of a supposedly dead one, decided to someday write a book about the beautiful redhead.

This is one of those books that has the feel of an interesting magazine article crammed and stuffed and padded with detail in order to make a nearly 300 page book. That’s not to say it isn’t interesting, and if you want a combination history of Marli Renfro, her life and misreported death, the making of Psycho, Las Vegas casinos, the Playboy franchise, nudie movies, and Francis Ford Coppola’s foray into them as a film student, as well as the stories of a few serial killers thrown in—Ed Gein, Sonny Busch, and oh yes, lest we forget, Kenneth Dean Hunt who actually did murder Myra Davis who was Janet Leigh’s fully clothed stand-in for Psycho—you’re all set, this is the book for you. But if you’re expecting something more focused and to the point chances are, depending on your temperament, you might end up throwing this book at the wall.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Pittsburgh Historical Fiction Examiner Review of The Queen's Pleasure

Kayla Posney, of the Pittsburgh Historical Fiction Examiner, has written a review of The Queen's Pleasure. You can read it at 

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Pleasures and Pastimes In Tudor England by Alison Sim

I’ve read several of Ms. Sims books on various aspects of life in Tudor England and I find them to be a great introduction if you’re new to the subject or a nice refresher course if you already have some degree of familiarity.

This one focuses on the lighter side of life, the things people did for fun in the long ago days before movie theatres, tv, and the internet. Ms. Sims takes the reader on a tour of the tournaments, pageants, religious ceremonies, weddings, christenings, funerals, games, sporting events, and theatricals people of the time attended. She also delves into the fashions, music, and popular dances of the period. Whether you write about the Tudors or just enjoying reading about them, this is a great book that’s not overly scholarly or pedantic to help understand the people and their way of life better. 

Food And Feast In Tudor England by Alison Sim

Like Ms. Sims other volumes on everyday life in Tudor England, this is a great book for either someone new to the Tudors or someone who already possesses some knowledge. This is also a great book for anyone interested in the history of cooking and dining. It explores all aspects of food preparation, the various courses and types of food, and dining in Tudor England. If you are a writer and researching a character who is a cook from any walk of life or works in the kitchen of a palace or a noble house, I highly recommend you read this.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

The Pretender by Mary Morrissy

I remember being a little girl and seeing a miniseries on TV about Anna Anderson, the woman who claimed to be the Grand Duchess Anastasia, the youngest daughter of the last Tsar of Russia, who had miraculously escaped execution with the rest of her family. The very next day I went to the library and checked out the book by Peter Kurth on which it was based. I have read everything I could find about this controversial royal pretender ever since, so I was delighted to discover this novel.

This novel attempts to explain how a poor Polish factory worker named Franziska Schanzkowska became a real life princess and one of history’s greatest enigma’s that endured until science spoiled the party and used DNA to unmask her. But before the coach turned back into a pumpkin, it was a grand ride. From Polish poverty to war-ravaged Berlin, a city of want and rationing, punctuated by hot, grueling factory work, love and loss, then on to an icy plunge in the Landwehr Canal, and rebirth in a German insane asylum as a princess, a life of aristocratic luxury replete with monogrammed undies, fur coats, and feathered hats paid for by believers, supporters of her cause, ending with a marriage of convenience with an eccentric Southern history professor twenty years her junior and a life of eccentric squalor in Charlottesville, Virginia. And along the way we see the pieces that went into the creation of the Anastasia myth. It’s a fascinating novel, shorter than you might expect given the scope of the Anastasia/Anna Anderson story, but well worth a read.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Peg Entwistle's Biographer James Zeruk's Interview With Brandy Purdy and Tabby

One of the books I am most looking forward to reading is James Zeruk's biography of Peg Entwistle, the actress who today is best remembered for her fatal plunge from the Hollywood sign. Mr. Zeruck recently did an interview with me (and Tabby). You can read it here

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Mrs. God by Peter Straub

This is a bizarre little book. To be honest, I’m not quite sure what to make of it. The story sounded so promising, and I love a good ghost story, that’s what sparked my love of history, but this one...let’s just say that I’m glad it was short and quick.

The story is centered around Esswood House, a grand old English country estate in Lincolnshire, the ancestral seat of the Seneschal family. Great patrons of the literary arts, for more than a hundred years the Seneschals have played host to the likes of Henry James, D.H. Lawrence, T.S. Eliot, and Ford Madox Ford. As a token of their gratitude, each author has bequeathed manuscripts or personal papers to the estate’s library. Permission to study the papers in their archives is eagerly sought by scholars all over the world, but is hard to come by. Professor William Standish is one of the lucky ones. His almost-grandmother, the first wife of his grandfather, was Isobel Standish, an obscure but brilliant poet, and frequent guest at Esswood House, who published one slim volume of work in 1912. Her personal papers are stored in the library and Standish is over the moon to gain access to them.

But Esswood House harbors secrets. Stories of pale children suffering from a mysterious wasting disease whose spirits still walk, filling the halls with ghostly laughter and the pitter-patter of ghostly little feet. Strange faces appear the library windows and unseen servants serve the same meals for dinner and breakfast every night and morning. Standish is plagued by strange dreams and…here’s where I have to stop this review. Is it all a strange dream, horrifyingly real, some kind of time warp thingy, or does Standish’s mind crack under the pressure? I haven’t a clue. Maybe I missed something? All I know is I would rather read the fishing magazines in my dentist’s office than this book again, and trust me, I’m an indoor girl who couldn’t care less about bait and tackle or whose trout is bigger. Based on other reviews I’ve seen, this is one of those books that people either think is unbelievably brilliant or appallingly bad; so this may be one that it’s better to make your own mind about rather than be guided by anyone else’s opinion. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.