Thursday, November 17, 2016

Possessed: The Life of Joan Crawford by Donald Spoto

Posted by Rebecca Brendel

Reviewed by: Jim Patrick

What I Read: Possessed: The Life of Joan Crawford by Donald Spoto

Find It @YCLD: Here!

What It's About: Donald Spoto opens his 2010 biography of Hollywood legend Joan Crawford by recounting his happy memory of writing Crawford a fan letter as an 11-year old and receiving a signed personal reply from the actress.  This anecdote sets the tone for Spoto's sympathetic effort to humanize a woman who has frequently been caricatured as the vicious "Mommy Dearest" of daughter Christine's infamous memoir and the 1981 film starring Faye Dunaway.  The real Joan Crawford was much more complicated and fascinating.  She rose from a troubled working-class background in the Midwest to Hollywood royalty with her 1929 marriage to Douglas Fairbanks, Jr.  This first of four marriages did not last, however.  As Spoto quotes Crawford, “I was always an outsider.  I was never good enough—not for the Fairbanks tribe, not for Mayer; not for his so-called film society.”  Joan Crawford used this sense of inferiority to constantly drive herself to improve as an actress, as a self-taught student of the arts, and as a mother of four adopted children.  Yet late in her life Crawford admitted that she had not been an ideal mother:  “You wanted to be a mother, but there just wasn’t time for it.”

What I Thought: I am a fan of Joan Crawford, although I will concede that her overcharged performances—especially in weaker films—often teeter on the brink of campy melodrama.  Donald Spoto does a fine job of guiding the reader through Crawford’s long, prolific career, pointing out high and low points along the way.  He gives examples of Crawford’s on-set behavior that confirm her reputation of being difficult and demanding, but he also shares reflections of costars and directors who spoke fondly of her support and loyalty.  Even Bette Davis—an alleged hated rival—discounted the infamous “feud” that supposedly played out during the filming of “What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?”:  “In three weeks of filming together, nothing bad happened between us.”  Donald Spoto defends Joan Crawford against the charges of her daughter Christine, but he doesn’t devote much space to Joan’s home life.  He does discuss her four marriages and numerous love affairs.  Interestingly, she remained close and friendly with most of these men long after the romances ended—particularly with Clark Gable.  Overall, I found Donald Spoto’s biography of Joan Crawford to be quite enjoyable and informative.  I would also recommend these Joan Crawford movies which can be found in the library’s DVD collection:  “The Women” (1939), “Mildred Pierce” (1945), and “What Ever Happened to Baby Jane” (1962).

Readalikes: Dark Victory: The Life of Bette Davis by Ed Sikov; Clark Gable: A Biography by Warren Harris

Or look this book up on NoveList!

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Hunter by Mercedes Lackey

Posted by Rebecca Brendel

Reviewed by: Andrew Zollman

What I Read: Hunter by Mercedes Lackey

Find It @YCLD: Here!

What It's About: Mercedes Lackey's post-apocalyptic science fiction mixes magic and technology and a view of society 250 years after a series of catastrophes call the “Diseray”. Millions died and creatures once a part of legends and folktales came into the world to terrorize those who were unprotected. Some were terrors ripped from our collective imaginations, remnants of every mythology across the world. And some were like nothing anyone had ever dreamed up, even in their worst nightmares. Monsters.

Long ago, the barriers between our world and the Otherworld were ripped open, and it’s taken centuries to bring back civilization in the wake of the catastrophe. Now, the luckiest Cits (Civilians) live in enclosed communities, behind walls that keep them safe from the hideous creatures fighting to break through. Others are not so lucky. To Joyeaux Charmand, who has been a Hunter in her tight-knit mountain community since she was a child, every Cit without magic deserves her protection from dangerous Othersiders. Then she is called to Apex City, where the best Hunters are kept to protect the most important people.

Joy soon realizes that the city’s powerful leaders care more about luring Cits into a false sense of security than protecting them. More and more monsters are getting through the barriers, and the close calls are becoming too frequent to ignore. Yet the Cits have no sense of how much danger they’re in—to them, Joy and her corps of fellow Hunters are just action stars they watch on TV. When an act of sabotage against Joy takes an unbearable toll, she uncovers a terrifying conspiracy in the city. There is something much worse than the usual monsters infiltrating Apex.

What I Thought: Where should I start… Ah, although the book is set for adults, it should be noted that the book would have been better served for a young adult or transitioning teen reader. The friendships, relationships, and interactions between characters have an innocence to them that you don’t generally find in adult relationships.

Just remember that there are no bad books, just poorly written ones.

I have to say that Mercedes Lackey did not do a good job writing to build or create this new post-apocalyptic world. This may be why our library hadn’t picked up the book and series until 2016 even though it was released in 2015 as a paperback. There might have been revisions and changes for the rerelease to warrant buying it.

I know I may be ostracized for saying this, but I wish authors wouldn’t base their stories in the same type as hunger games or another series just because it is successful. Mercedes Lackey’s Valdemar Series, is better constructed and well written, where Hunter was slow and painful to read. Initially, the book was hard to understand and the background of the character is barely touched upon throughout the first 25% of the book. When looking on Goodreads, I found that many readers did not finish the book at this point and gave up. I however didn’t let this daunt me, so I continued to plug away and read through.

Once again, it seems this book was written for a younger audience. The story does eventually pick up and actually start moving forward at about the halfway point. I believe if Mercedes Lackey had provided a little more information about the society and how people live, it would have given me a better understanding and made it easier to follow. Joy did learn about Cit customs and society, but these interactions were limited to semi intimate dates and interviews with Apex News reporters with Hunters. This was the reader’s only window to society and how it worked. I wish shed had fleshed out the story and built the world a little bit better.

The second half of Hunter took a complete turn back to the story and its objective. Lackey introduced the conflict and hidden side of society Hunter Joy found alarming. The conflict with other Hunters pushes the story to the true problem of society and what it was doing to the Cits and how it treats the people within and without Apex.

Hunter is not a new type of novel and despite its obvious weaknesses in the first half of the book and throughout, it is not a bad read. The content of the first book is set up to change and grow with the second book Elite. My hope is that the content will mature and become a cohesive whole to the greater issue at hand instead of smaller disputes and political maneuvering going on in Hunter. I recommend this series for younger readers more interested in following a character, learning again about fairy tales, and following the action of the Hunters. It gets better at the end so keep with it, even though it is barely compelling in the beginning.

Readalikes: The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins; The City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau

Or look this book up on NoveList!

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Hourglass by Myra McEntire

Posted by Rebecca Brendel

Reviewed by: Elia Juarez

What I Read: Hourglass by Myra McEntire

Find It @YCLD: Here!

What It's About: Ever since her parents died, 17-year old Emmerson can see ghosts just about everywhere she goes. The problem is, no one believes her, and her older brother has sent her to psychiatrists, psychologists, and hospitals trying to “help” her but the only thing that seems to help is heavy doses of medication that leave Emmerson feeling like a zombie. As a last ditch hope, Emmerson’s brother hires a man from an organization known as “Hourglass,” which claims to be experts in this sort of thing. That’s when Emmerson begins to the dangerous truth about what she’s really seeing, what she really is, and why this is all happening to her. 

What I Thought: Though it has an interesting premise and includes elements of both fantasy and science-fiction, this is pretty typical teen fare. Everyone is impossibly beautiful, impossibly rich and impossibly brilliant (even though none of them are even old enough to legally drink yet) and of course, there’s a kind of love triangle that starts to emerge by the end.

However, this is part of a series, and because of that, lots of strings are left loose, and frankly some of what happens here makes very little sense. Still, I want to give it the benefit of the doubt BECAUSE it is only book 1 of 3 and I am hoping a lot of my unanswered questions get answered before the series is over (book 2 is Timepiece and book 3 is Infinityglass). I did like the uniqueness of the premise, but too many characters seemed one dimensional. And the time travel elements just sort of seem scientifically unsound.

Readalikes: Possess by Gretchen McNeil

Or look this book up on NoveList!

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Boys in the Trees by Carly Simon

Posted by Rebecca Brendel

Reviewed by: Jim Patrick

What I Read: Boys in the Trees: A Memoir by Carly Simon

Find It @YCLD: Here!

What It's About: Now 70 years old, singer Carly Simon reflects on the first half of her life in Boys in the Trees: A Memoir.  The book is so brave and revealing that perhaps another Carly Simon song title would have been more fitting: We Have No Secrets.  

Thanks to an astonishing memory for details—aided by a lifetime of diary writing—Simon recounts incidents from her childhood up to the end of her marriage to singer James Taylor in 1981.  Far from her image as a spoiled rich girl—her father was the Simon of Simon and Schuster publishing—Carly Simon’s youth was scarred by her parents’ unhappy marriage and her own poor self-image.  As a pre-teen, Simon was physically molested by a family acquaintance.  She suffered for years with a stuttering impediment, and she has been treated for depression throughout her life.

Her success as a singer, originally as a duo with sister Lucy, seems to have taken Carly by surprise, and given her lifelong stage fright, Simon’s fame was a mixed blessing.  Her stardom did bring her in contact with others in the entertainment industry, and much of the book details romantic encounters with familiar icons such as Warren Beatty, Kris Kristofferson, Mick Jagger, and Cat Stevens.  And, yes, the mystery inspiration of Simon’s “You’re So Vain” is at least partially answered: Warren Beatty inspired one of the verses.  The latter part of the book details the decade-long marriage to James Taylor, a brilliant musician who was plagued by a heroin addiction throughout his years with Carly Simon.

What I Thought: Since this is not a “breezy” show business memoir, it does not always make for easy reading.  Carly Simon shares painful and unflattering episodes from her life, along with personal and professional joys and successes.  There were times when I would have preferred fewer intimate details (e.g. the description of her 1981 onstage panic attack in Pittsburgh), but overall I came away admiring Simon’s honesty and perseverance.  As a baby boomer who closely followed the music of Carly Simon and James Taylor at the height of their popularity, I would have liked more behind the scenes accounts of that musical era.  Although that was not the primary focus of Simon’s book, I did enjoy the musical anecdotes that were included.  And I look forward to reading the sequel.  

Readalikes: Girls Like Us: Carole King, Joni Mitchell, Carly Simon—and the Journey of a Generation by Sheila Weller; Sweet Dreams and Flying Machines: The Life and Music of James Taylor by Mark Ribowsky

Or look this book up on NoveList!

Thursday, September 29, 2016

The Guns of Empire by Django Wexler

Posted by Rebecca Brendel

Reviewed by: Becky Brendel

What I Read: The Guns of Empire by Django Wexler

Find It @YCLD: Here!

What It's About: This book is volume 4 in a projected 5-volume military fantasy series set in a world similar to Europe in the Napoleonic era. In previous books, the more "fantastic" elements of the story (mostly people who have gained powers by speaking the names of various demons) have balanced themselves with the reality of life on the march in a large army. This volume ratchets up the magical action, however, as tactical genius Janus bet Vhalnich sends his army to defeat the "Priests of the Black" he believes have been threatening the world from the shadows. But their country is not so easily taken, and even within Janus's army, not everyone is sure he's trustworthy - not even his own Queen.

What I Thought: In previous volumes of this series, I'd figured out fairly quickly that Wexler was retelling French history in a fantasy world: previous plot points include a brilliant general, a domestic Reign of Terror, and an immensely successful campaign against a desert country. The previous volume had also ended with Janus assuming more power than any general had in his nation's history. I thought, therefore, that I knew where this story was going.

But if a story draws its cues from actual history, it's easy to surprise the audience by diverging from that history. That's exactly what happens here. And it's excellent.

With The Guns of Empire, Wexler takes his story completely on its own path, making clever use of the magical elements that separate his world from ours. He's already toyed with history in various ways - his Queen character is unlike anyone in the French aristocracy, and not just because she happens to be immortal - but here he both nods to historical fact (do not invade Russia in the winter, for example) and points out all the ways magic subverts it (if they have demons on their side, it does not matter what time of year you invade Russia). Wexler using my expectations against me made reading this book a delight.

He also ties up most of the subplots he's included in previous books so that the final volume can focus on the main conflict. While this does make this book serve as setup for the finale, it's also very satisfying. Like George R.R. Martin's popular A Song of Ice and Fire, Wexler switches between multiple characters' points of view when telling his story. Each of those characters has their own story and motivations and desires, and in The Guns of Empire, many of those stories are concluded (though not necessarily with death). Having followed these characters through several long volumes, I was happy to see their stories resolved. Wexler is very good at creating flawed people it's still easy to root for, with an emphasis on talented yet complicated female characters.

His best character, however, is absolutely Winter Ihernglass, the young woman who'd disguised herself as a man to join the army and now serves as one of Janus's generals. She's also the closest thing this series has to an actual main character, and so it's fitting that of all the stories in this series, hers is the one most closely tied to the conflict he's set up for Book 5. She also, I was happy to note, gets to start a new romance in this book - normally I don't really care for too much romance, but Winter prefers women. A lesbian whose previous relationship ends badly, and then is allowed the chance to be happy with someone new, is a rare duck indeed in fiction (unfortunately). I am rooting for Winter to save the world, get the girl, and maybe finally let her old flame go. They care for each other, but they just aren't compatible anymore.

If Wexler manages to bend history to his will some more in the meantime, however, I will not say no.

Readalikes: Cold Iron by Stina Leicht, for more "flintlock fantasy"

Or look this book up on NoveList!

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Train Go Sorry by Leah Hager Cohen

Posted by Rebecca Brendel

Reviewed by: José Beltrán

What I Read: Train Go Sorry: Inside a Deaf World by Leah Hager Cohen

Find It @YCLD: Here!

What It's About: Leah was one of the first hearing children who attended the Lexington School for the Deaf in Queens, New York. She felt she had missed the boat to belonging to the deaf. “I’m so hearing,” she lamented. She so wanted to share in their intimacy. Her parents were engrossed in the school: her Jewish father, Oscar, was principal then director and her Protestant mother was a nursery school teacher. Oscar was a CODA (hearing child of deaf adults).

Leah’s family was also a cultural microcosm of religions, races, hearing, and deaf. Her parents were hearing. Her grandparents Sam and Fanny Cohen were deaf. Had Sam’s deafness been detected at Ellis Island, he would not have been allowed to enter the USA. In 1916 they were called Deaf-Mutes, more familiarly Deaf Dumb. The insensitivity of the past is erased as cultures and societies evolve. The personal tragedy of the Cohen family was that the hospital did not provide an interpreter to Sam or his wife Fanny, or allow their bicultural son to communicate with the doctors after Sam’s heart attack.

What I Thought: “Train go sorry” is a Deaf idiom for “missing the boat, missed connections, lost opportunities”. This book is an impassioned plea for the civil rights of Deaf culture. The Deaf should be the ones to decide what is best for them instead of being expected to conform to hearing culture or communicating like hearing people. About 1 in 20 Americans are Deaf or hard of hearing (deaf). There are over 4 million Deaf people in the United States. Sign language is used by about 70 million people worldwide and is the fourth most used language. ASL is accepted by many schools for fulfillment of foreign language requirements.

Still many Deaf people feel isolated! Deaf Melissa testified that she had first attended a hearing school then transferred to a deaf school. At the hearing school she was isolated, shy, and passive, unable to participate. In the deaf school, her participation soared as cheerleader, peer counselor, choreographer, and as the lead in the Deaf school play.

The Deaf like all people yearn for connection. But they find themselves confined to the small world of those who know ASL. You can make the world of the Deaf larger by learning ASL. The Yuma County Library District have books and DVDs for learning ASL. Look at the eyes! Use peripheral vision for the hands. Join a Deaf Club!

Readalikes: Deaf Again, Children of a Lesser God, The Mask of Benevolence: Disabling the Deaf Community, When the Mind Hears

Or look this book up on NoveList!

Thursday, September 8, 2016

The 19th Wife by David Ebershoff

Posted by Rebecca Brendel

Reviewed by: Elia Juarez

What I Read: The 19th Wife by David Ebershoff

Find It @YCLD: Here!

What It's About: This book really tells two separate but intertwined stories. The first is a murder mystery, while the second tells the story of the earliest days of the Mormon church in the United States.

The murder mystery goes like this: a young man who was raised in a Fundamentalist Mormon family that practices polygamy is kicked out of his home as a child. Many years later, as an adult, he learns that his mother (who is wife #19 of MANY) has been arrested for the murder of his father, and he must decide whether he wants to return home to help her.

At the same time, we slowly learn the story of Anne Eliza Young, one of famed prophet Ann Eliza Young, who was also a 19th wife. Through her eyes, we learn about the beginnings of the church in America, and get some background on why the polygamist practices of the fundamentalists, were outlawed by the mainstream church.

What I Thought: I found the book to be interesting and engrossing, but I found myself getting much more sucked in by the Anne Eliza Young side of the story, and not as much by the modern-day mystery of the murder. Maybe it has to do with the fact that I tend to read a lot of historical fiction, or maybe it’s because I knew so little about the history of the Mormon church before I started this book, but I found myself wanting to rush through the chapters set in the present to return to the 1800s and Anne Eliza’s story.

The wrap-up of the murder mystery also seemed a bit rushed to me.

Still, I definitely enjoyed the book and would most certainly recommend it.

Readalikes: The Sister Wife by Dianne Noble, Wife No. 19 by Anne Eliza Young

Or look this book up on NoveList!