Sunday, June 30, 2013

The Supremes At Earl's All-You-Can-Eat by Edward Kelsey Moore

This is one of those smile through the tears novels about female friendship and all the storms it weathers. Three women of color, known collectively as "The Supremes" have been meeting for decades every Sunday after church at Earl's All-You-Can-Eat diner, the first black owned business in Plainview, Indiana.

Clarice, the prim and proper one, the girl who always did what mama said, and gave up a promising career as a concert pianist for marriage, has been struggling for years to cope with her handsome husband Richmond's infidelities and turn a dignified blind eye.

Barbara Jean, the beautiful and vulnerable non-famous black version of Elizabeth Taylor, knows what sadness is all about. Her mama died at thirty-five and left her alone to fend for herself against men who could never leave her alone. She fell in love with Chick Carlson, "The King of the Pretty White Boys," in a world inhospitable to interracial marriages, found herself pregnant and her lover gone, but like a knight in shining armor Lester, an older man who soon became very wealthy, was there to marry her. Then her little boy died, and Barbara Jean began her own struggle with the bottle, and at a funeral, just before her husband Lester died in a fountain, Chick reappeared like a ghost from the past.

Odette, the fearless one, who was born in a sycamore tree, the daughter of a pot-smoking, ghost seeing mama, has started seeing ghosts of her own, including her mother and a wild version of Eleanor Roosevelt, and is fighting the most terrifying battle of her life, one she is afraid she won't be strong enough to win--cancer.

This was a fast read, and a very funny book peopled with vivid, vivacious and eccentric characters. The wedding scene is a tacky, hilarious gem, which I won't spoil for you, you have to read this one yourself. I don't normally read this kind of book, but I'm so glad I picked up this one, it made me laugh and cry, sometimes at the same time.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Auto Focus The Murder of Bob Crane by Robert Graysmith

Robert Crane, the former star of television’s “Hogan’s Heroes,” was a down on his luck, forty-nine year old actor touring in dinner theatre when he was found dead in his bed on the morning of June 29, 1978, in his apartment in Scottsdale, Arizona, with his head bashed in beyond recognition and a VCR cord around his neck, surrounded by thousands of dollars of video equipment he used to feed his addiction to pornography and making sex tapes of his own intimate encounters.

It was a life of masks. The brash, funny, friendly face Robert Crane presented to the world, hid a very insecure man who measured his own self worth by the number of women who went to bed with him. Beset by marital and money woes, he bypassed the usual addictions of drugs and alcohol, and went for pornography instead. With his friend John Carpenter, a former VCR salesman and expert on the use of home video equipment, he picked up women, participated in orgies, and filmed it all for future viewing. He was even rumored to have had a penile implant so he would look more impressive in these videos.

This book charts the course of Robert Crane’s life from start to end and explores all theories and clues relating to his death with a close look at prime suspect John Carpenter.

If you’re interested in the sad and sordid life of Robert Crane and how it all ended, this is a good and thorough book about both.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Released Today: The Queen's Rivals by Brandy Purdy

My latest novel The Queen's Rivals A Novel of The Grey Sisters goes on sale today.

The Queen's Rivals

Their ambitions were ordinary, but they were born too close to the throne…

As cousins of history’s most tempestuous queens, Ladies Jane, Katherine, and Mary Grey were born in an age when all of London lived beneath the Tower’s menacing shadow. Tyrannized by Bloody Mary and the Virgin Queen, the sisters feared love was unthinkable —and the scaffold all but unavoidable…

Raised to fear her royal blood and what it might lead men to do in her name, Mary Grey dreads what will become of herself and her elder sisters under the reigns of Mary Tudor and Elizabeth I. On their honor, they have no designs on the crown, yet are condemned to solitude, forbidden to wed. Though Mary, accustomed to dwelling in the shadows, the subject of whispers, may never catch the eye of a gentleman, her beautiful and brilliant sisters long for freedoms that would surely cost their lives. And so, wizened for her years, Mary can only hope for divine providence amid a bleak present and a future at the whim of the throne — unless destiny gains the upper hand.

A gripping and bittersweet tale of broken families and broken hearts, courage and conviction, The Queen’s Rivals recounts an astonishing chapter in the hard-won battle for the Tudor throne.

.The Fallen Queen

Please note this book will be published in the UK on September 12, 2013 as THE FALLEN QUEEN by Emily Purdy.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

The Queen's Lover by Francine Du Plessix Gray

This much anticipated novel gives us a fresh look at one of history’s great love stories--the doomed romance between Marie Antoinette and the dashing Swedish Count Axel von Fersen.

They were both nineteen when they met at a masquerade ball at the Paris Opera House in 1774. Their love affair would stand the test of time, through Fersen’s other love affairs and service in the American War of Independence, and deepen through the French Revolution when Fersen tried to save his beloved and her family. He would continue to love her even after the guillotine took her life, until his own death at the hands on an angry mob in 1810.

The novel is narrated by Count Fersen himself and his beloved sister, Sophie, in places when supposedly the narrative would have been too painful for him. It weaves actual journal entries and letters in for added authenticity and includes many fascinating little tidbits of historical gossip.

I've been intrigued by the character of Count Fersen and his relationship with Marie Antoinette ever since I saw MGM's extravagant 1938 film "Marie Antoinette" starring Norma Shearer as the doomed queen and Tyrone Power as her Swedish Sir Galahad several years ago on Turner Classic Movies, and it's still one of my favorites.

I really wanted to like this book, I had been waiting for it for months, and even pre-ordered it as soon as Amazon started taking orders, but…I don’t quite known how to explain it, but something was just off. 

I am quite familiar with the lives of Marie Antoinette and Count Fersen, and the morals of the eighteenth century aristocracy, so I wasn’t expecting a beautiful romance and fidelity; I've known about the other women in Count Fersen’s life for years. If they were actually lovers they had little time together and lots of time apart in which time Fersen, an unabashed sensualist rather vain of his conquests liberally indulged himself with just about any woman who was willing from noblewomen to chambermaids, while Marie Antoinette stayed at Versailles being a faithful wife to Louis XVI, a mother to her children, and being hated by the masses for her excesses until the guillotine made her a tragic heroine and frequent and beloved fixture in romantic dramas, costume epics, and historical fiction. So none of this came as a surprise to me. I think it was simply that Fersen isn't a very likable narrator. And I’m not really blaming the author for that, as I've read some of his actual journals and am familiar with the man’s character. He’s not one of those charming and witty rakes like Casanova that you can love to hate and like personally even though you don’t like the way he behaves. For instance, when boasting of one of his conquests, the Fersen of this novel says “I’d rather not be thought of as a rake, just as an average, venturesome sexual athlete.” Even in his much vaunted devotion to Marie Antoinette, there are disappointing lapses. In fairness, Fersen was only human, and he probably did his best to save the royal family, but knowing that he went straight from what would be his last meeting with Marie Antoinette to hiding in his mistress’s attic so her live-in lover wouldn't suspect anything, and they could enjoy each other when he was absent, it just takes some of the shine off this Swedish knight’s armor.

Or it may be that we as the readers don't really get to see the relationship between Fersen and Marie Antoinette grow and actually being played out. Fersen gives us tantalizing glimpses, and little summaries about the time they spend together, but most of the time we don't actually get to "see" it. Instead of letting us look through the window, Fersen discreetly draws the blind on his private moments with the Queen.

If you’re looking for a beautiful romance, this novel isn't it, but if you’re interested in Marie Antoinette and her relationship with Count Fersen, given that there’s not a whole lot out there to choose from, you might want to give this a chance. And if you want the fairy tale, as well as some truly scrumptious eye candy that actually has some substance as well as style, make sure you treat yourself to a viewing of the lavish 1938 film version and Tyrone Power's performance as the gallant and romantic Count Fersen.

I can't help myself, I just LOVE this movie.

Unsinkable A Memoir by Debbie Reynolds and Dorian Hannaway

Debbie Reynolds has led a fascinating life. As a teenager she was signed to MGM during the last days of the movies’ “Golden Age,” she starred with Gene Kelly and Donald O’Connor in Singin’ In The Rain, was encouraged by the master himself, Fred Astaire, when the dancing seemed impossible and she doubted she could do it,  co-starred with popular leading men like Frank Sinatra, Tony Curtis, and Dick Powell, and became a star in her own right, portraying the indomitable Titanic heroine in the boisterous musical The Unsinkable Molly Brown, she became one half of “America’s Sweethearts” when she married crooner Eddie Fisher, then front page fodder for the tabloids when she, and their two young children, lost him to the siren charms of Elizabeth Taylor. In her eighty years, Debbie Reynolds has pretty much seen it all. She was also one of those rare individuals in the disposable world of Hollywood who saw the need for preserving the past and fought a lengthy crusade to establish a permanent museum displaying the costumes and memorabilia she had collected over the years, including such well known treasures as a pair of Judy Garland’s ruby slippers from The Wizard of Oz, Rudolph Valentino’s matador “Suit of Lights” from Blood and Sand, the stunning black and white lace gown Audrey Hepburn wore to Ascot in My Fair Lady, and Marilyn Monroe’s white dress from The Seven Year Itch.

When she ended her autobiography, published in 1988 (which I have not had the pleasure of reading), she optimistically believed that the third time really was the charm and that she had finally found Mr. Right. But Mr. Right betrayed her in just about every way a man can, through him her dream of a Las Vegas hotel and museum for her collection, briefly came true, but then was lost in a morass of lawsuits. Ultimately, she had to sell the bulk of her precious collection, to escape from ruin. As a classic movie fan, it really saddened me to read of her decades long fight to save these relics of Hollywood’s past, to find a permanent home for them so everyone could see them, but in the end, to save herself from total ruin, to see them dispersed throughout the world into the hands of private collectors. But she had to do it, to clear her massive debts, a little something for the future, and to give herself a fresh start.

The book also includes some anecdotes and reminiscences about her Hollywood years, which began at sixteen when she entered a beauty contest just because every girl who entered got a free blouse and a scarf and led to her being signed to a movie contract. She started as a starlet and worked her way up to stardom and is still working today. She also relates clearly and candidly, the whole infamous Eddie Fisher and Elizabeth Taylor saga, and how she and Elizabeth Taylor mended their friendship and remained friends until Elizabeth Taylor’s death, and gives some insight into her daughter Carrie Fisher’s courageous ongoing struggle with mental illness.

Despite the financial and emotional struggles it relates, this is a very readable and lively book written in a frank, down to earth tone, candid and funny even through the tears, by a woman who has always lived her life by the philosophy “The show must go on.” This is one of those books that really shows that fame and fortune are never the answer to life’s many problems.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Virtual Book Tour for The Queen's Rivals by Brandy Purdy (The Fallen Queen by Emily Purdy) Begins Today!

Please join Brandy Purdy as she tours with Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours for The Queen’s Rivals from June 17 – August 7.

The Queen's Rivals

Publication Date: June 25, 2013
Kensington Publishing
Paperback; 384p
ISBN-10: 0758265999

Their ambitions were ordinary, but they were born too close to the throne…

As cousins of history’s most tempestuous queens, Ladies Jane, Katherine, and Mary Grey were born in an age when all of London lived beneath the Tower’s menacing shadow. Tyrannized by Bloody Mary and the Virgin Queen, the sisters feared love was unthinkable —and the scaffold all but unavoidable…

Raised to fear her royal blood and what it might lead men to do in her name, Mary Grey dreads what will become of herself and her elder sisters under the reigns of Mary Tudor and Elizabeth I. On their honor, they have no designs on the crown, yet are condemned to solitude, forbidden to wed. Though Mary, accustomed to dwelling in the shadows, the subject of whispers, may never catch the eye of a gentleman, her beautiful and brilliant sisters long for freedoms that would surely cost their lives. And so, wizened for her years, Mary can only hope for divine providence amid a bleak present and a future at the whim of the throne — unless destiny gains the upper hand.

.The Fallen Queen

A gripping and bittersweet tale of broken families and broken hearts, courage and conviction, The Queen’s Rivals recounts an astonishing chapter in the hard-won battle for the Tudor throne.

Please note this book will be published in the UK on September 12, 2013 as THE FALLEN QUEEN by Emily Purdy.

Virtual Book Tour Schedule

Monday, June 17
Review & Giveaway at Luxury Reading
Tuesday, June 18
Feature & Giveaway at Passages to the Past
Thursday, June 20
Review & Giveaway at Broken Teepee
Monday, June 24
Review & Giveaway at Oh, for the Hook of a Book!
Thursday, June 27
Review & Giveaway at A Bookish Libraria
Monday, July 1
Review & Giveaway at Unabridged Chick
Wednesday, July 3
Review & Giveaway at The Musings of ALMYBNENR
Friday, July 5
Review at Sharon’s Garden of Book Reviews
Monday, July 8
Review at A Book Geek
Tuesday, July 9
Review & Giveaway at One Book at a Time
Wednesday, July 10
Review & Giveaway at The True Book Addict
Friday, July 12
Review & Giveaway at Flashlight Commentary
Monday, July 15
Review & Giveaway at A Chick Who Reads
Wednesday, July 17
Review at Ageless Pages Reviews
Giveaway at Bibliophilic Book Blog
Thursday, July 18
Review at CelticLady’s Reviews
Friday, July 19
Review at Psychotic State Book Reviews
Monday, July 22
Review at The Lit Bitch
Review & Giveaway at Bippity Boppity Book
Wednesday, July 24
Review & Giveaway at My Reading Room
Monday, July 29
Review & Giveaway at The Broke and the Bookish
Wednesday, July 31
Review & Giveaway at Always with a Book
Monday, August 5
Review & Giveaway at Tanzanite’s Castle Full of Books
Wednesday, August 7
Review & Giveaway at Cheryl’s Book Nook

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Speeding Bullet The Life and Bizarre Death of George Reeves by Jan Alan Henderson

The world was devastated when tv’s Superman, George Reeves, was found dead with a bullet in his head on June 16, 1959. Was it suicide, a tragic accident, or murder? Those questions are still being asked to this day. A movie, Hollywoodland, was even made about this enduring Hollywood mystery.

This is not just a book about a mysterious death. It takes us back to George Reeves’ humble beginnings in Iowa, through his theatrical training at the Pasadena Playhouse, where he met his wife Eleanor, and his early days in Hollywood, where, after a few small parts in B-westerns, he landed a part as one of the pair of tangerine-haired Tarleton twins in Gone With the Wind. But appearing in one of the most famous and best loved movies of all time wasn't the break George hoped it would be. More small roles of varying qualities followed. He seemed poised on the brink of stardom when he was cast alongside Claudette Colbert in So Proudly We Hail, but then, as luck would have it, he was drafted.

After the war, he just could not seem to get his career back on track. He began a long term affair with a wealthy older woman, Toni Mannix, the wife of an MGM studio executive, and in 1951 accepted the role in a kiddie serial, The Adventures of Superman, solely for the money. To everyone’s surprise, it became a smash hit, and he was signed for six more seasons playing Clark Kent and his alter ego Superman, which meant dyeing his prematurely gray hair black and being laced into a corset and strapping on twenty pounds of rubber muscles beneath the famous blue and red suit.

To George’s dismay, he became typecast, trapped by the role that made him famous. When audiences saw him on the screen in other roles they screamed Superman! He tried to be a good sport about it, and hid his pain behind wisecracks and alcohol. Though whether he actually became an alcoholic or not is open to debate.

In 1958 a new woman came into his life, the alluring life of the party girl Lenore Lemmon. Toni didn't take being jilted gracefully; she was hurt and angry, and begged mutual friends to intercede and try to talk some sense into George. But he and Lenore stayed together and there were rumors that they planned to marry.

Then it all came to a sudden end that night in June when shots rank out in Benedict Canyon. George was found dead, nude in bed, with a bullet wound in his head while downstairs Lenore hosted a small party downstairs where the drinks flowed freely.

The truth about George’s death remains a mystery. Did the aging and depressed actor (he was forty-five), trapped by his success as Superman, see death as the only graceful way out? Was it an impulsive act of despair? Or was it an accident or murder along the lines of “Hell hath no fury like a woman spurned”? All theories are explored in this book.

As for the women George Reeves left behind, Lenore continued drinking and partying until she died, while Toni Manix, heartbroken over George’s death, became a recluse, sitting in her bedroom of her Beverly Hills mansion watching old episodes of Superman and eating the peanut butter and jelly sandwiches that had been his favorite until she died.

This author exposes some of the errors in the more sensational and popular book about George Reeves’ death, “Hollywood Kryptonite,” which I will also be reviewing. He has a very honest, down to earth approach, and if something is unknown or open to debate he says so, and that’s something I give biographers high marks for when we all know sensation and scandalous new revelations are what sells celebrity biographies. Of the two books currently available about George Reeves’ death, I would say “Speeding Bullet” is the best.

Hollywood Kryptonite by Sam Kashner and Nancy Schoenberger

This book claims to reveal the truth about one of Hollywood’s great unsolved mysteries—the death of George Reeves. It puts his affair with Toni Manix squarely at the heart of the matter.

Toni, “The Lady,” was the wife of “The Bulldog,” Eddie Mannix, a powerful executive at MGM Studios, and George Reeves was “The Boy,” in this love triangle that went murderously wrong when party girl Lenore Lemmon came on the scene and ousted Toni from George’s bed and affections.

It all makes a very interesting story, and it’s hard not to feel some sympathy for George Reeves, torn between two women in his personal life, and professionally being trapped by the role of Superman, an all too human and aging man played a character expected to be always young, strong, and handsome, and worrying about children being injured trying to fly like their television hero (one little boy even brought a real gun to one of George’s public appearances as Superman, an incident dramatized in the movie Hollywoodland), but I can’t honestly say I’m convinced they've solved it. I was also struck by a glaring error in this book, the authors state there was no window in George Reeve’s bedroom, but there definitely was, if you look at the illustrations in the book you can even see the window, and when an author makes an important error like that in a nonfiction book it really makes me wonder if they've played fast and loose or misinterpreted or ignored other facts for the sake of their story and proving their theory.

If you read this in the spirit of a novel, or a dramatization of George Reeves’ death, like watching the movie Hollywoodland, it makes a great story, riveting and page turning, and is definitely worth reading, but as a true crime book I think it falls a little short. Ultimately, I think the death of George Reeves is fated to remain one of Hollywood’s unsolved mysteries.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Amazing Dogs A Cabinet of Canine Curiosities by Jan Bondeson

Jan Bondeson is one of my favorite non-fiction authors, he is a medical doctor with an interest in medical and historical oddities and an easily readable, honest, and straightforward style.

This book is all about some interesting characters from canine history. Highlights include the “Learned Dog” sensation that swept London in the 18th century, where various animals displayed their knack for spelling and math as well as the more traditional acrobatic tricks. One dog was even billed as a reincarnation of Phythagoras. Munito the poodle toured the world displaying his genius at spelling, calculus, and playing dominos, and telling fortunes. “The Egg Laying Dog of Vienna,” a mongrel who laid eggs out of his anus, which his owner proved were real by breaking them open, frying, and eating them before a paying audience. Carlos, the Newfoundland dog who became a stage star, the RIn Tin Tin of his day, appearing in several early Victorian melodramas in which he tackled villains and dove into an artificial lake to rescue a drowning child. Then along came Don, “The Speaking Dog” who made his debut in 1910 and toured the world, speaking his famous catchphrase “Hungry! Give me cakes!”

On a less theatrical note, there is also a chapter on dog saints, like St. Guinefort of France, who was slain by an over-hasty owner who mistakenly thought the devoted animal had killed the baby it was meant to be protecting. Actually, a wolf was the culprit. A similar tale, that of Prince Llewelyn of Wales, and his faithful greyhound Gelert, has led to the dog’s supposed gravesite becoming a popular tourist attraction.

And working dogs, like the now extinct turnspit dogs, once a fixture in every English kitchen, in which a dog ran round and round on a wheel, like a hamster, to turn a spit over the fire on which the night’s dinner was roasting, rat killing terriers, rescue dogs like Saint Bernards, and charity dogs, who once roamed the railway stations of Victorian and Edwardian London with boxes strapped onto their backs, to collect money for hospitals and other worthy causes.

There is also a chapter on cemetery dogs, exploring the popular theme of the devoted dog keeping vigil over its master’s grave, including the famous Greyfriars Bobby of Edinburgh which Mr. Bondeson later expanded into an entire book, a review of which you can find on this blog.

Whether you’re a dog or a history lover or both, this is a very interesting and well illustrated book that is definitely worth a look.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Salome's Conversion by Rohn Federbush

Decius Invictus, a Roman guard in Herod’s palace, is devoted to the beautiful fourteen-year-old Princess Salome, who, unbeknownst to him, is equally smitten with him. After the infamous Dance of the Seven Veils, where, as a finale, to please her mother, Herodias, Salome demands the head of John the Baptist, Decius spirits the disgraced princess out of the palace to save her life.

The only one who is willing to offer Salome shelter is Jesus’ mother, Mary. Decius readily embraces Jesus as the Messiah, but Salome has her doubts until that fateful night in the Garden of Gethsemane when Salome is blinded but regains her sight in time to witness the miracle of The Resurrection.

I've always been fascinated by the character and motivations of Salome, so I’m always pleased when I happen upon a novel about her. This one, however, was rather disappointing. This Salome is a little too bland and agreeable, too accepting of the obstacles Fate throws in her path. Somewhat too easily, she makes the transition from pampered royal princess to the humble, anonymous working person’s lifestyle. Perhaps I’m being overly practical, maybe I should have read this novel in a fairy tale or more escapist mindset, but it’s hard to believe that a princess, who would have been a valuable pawn in the royal marriage game, would have just been thrown to the wolves despite public opinion over the death of John the Baptist, and have just been allowed to quietly disappear, surely she would have been protected until the storm blew over, she was after all only doing what her mother wanted.  And when Salome is blinded, and also when she regains her sight a few pages later, her reactions are lacking in the kind of intense feelings one would expect going through these dramatic, drastic life changing events.

If you’re interested in Salome, I think this one of those times when you’re better off using your own judgment instead of being influenced by mine. If you’re at all intrigued by the plot I’ve described pick up a copy and see what you think, and feel free to let me know in a comment attached to this post.

One further note, I know some readers find certain things distracting, like an overabundance of italics for instance, so I wanted to mention that in this book every time the name “Jesus” is mentioned it is in red type. I believe this is customary in some bibles, but I have never seen it before in a novel, so I wanted to mention it.

Child’s Play by Carmen Posadas

Luisa Davila, the author of a successful an mystery series featuring a sexy Latin Americcrime solving psychoanalyst, lives a comfortable life in Spain with her twelve-year-old daughter, Elba.

Elba, who is named after the island where Luisa went on a “mating trip” in response to the urgent ticking of her biological clock when she was forty, is about to start the new school year at the same private school her mother attended, where a young boy, a friend of Luisa’s, died under mysterious circumstances. This incident is very much on Luisa’s mind as she pens her latest mystery, so when her daughter, and the offspring of two of Luisa’s classmates, is involved in an accident at the school, she has to wonder if history is repeating itself, or if it is all a strange coincidence.

Although this was a short book, less than 300 pages, it seemed much longer and a very slow read to me. Most of the time I can fly through a book of this length in a day or two depending on what is going on, but this one I was able to put down for days at a time without regret or even thinking about it, I just couldn’t really get into it. However, I want to emphasize, this may have just been me, so if you’re at all intrigued by the plot I urge you to read a few more reviews or see if there’s a sample chapter available at Amazon. I was reading this while going through a very difficult time in my life and that may have influenced my lack of enjoyment or involvement in the story.