Friday, 12 February 2016

The Immortal Rules

Author: Julie Kagawa
Genre: Supernatual, Dystopian
Type: e-book
Times Read: 2
Series: #1 in the Blood of Eden series
Source: Own
Publisher: Harlequin Teen
First Published: April 24, 2012
First Line: "They hung the Unregistered in the old warehouse district; it was a public execution, so everyone went to see."

Book Description from GoodReadsTo survive in a ruined world, she must embrace the darkness…

Allison Sekemoto survives in the Fringe, the outermost circle of a walled-in city. By day, she and her crew scavenge for food. By night, any one of them could be eaten. Some days, all that drives Allie is her hatred of them - the vampires who keep humans as blood cattle. Until the night Allie herself dies and becomes one of the monsters.

Forced to flee her city, Allie must pass for human as she joins a ragged group of pilgrims seeking a legend - a place that might have a cure for the disease that killed off most of civilization and created the rabids, the bloodthirsty creatures who threaten human and vampire alike. And soon Allie will have to decide what and who is worth dying for…again.

Enter Julie Kagawa's dark and twisted world as an unforgettable journey begins

My Review:  I rarely re-read books.  Too many books, too little time but I'm also a little hesitant to re-read a book that I loved because I'm afraid that it won't have the same impact on me.  Or, the fear that I won't have the same love for the book or characters that I had the first time around.

I read The Immortal Rules for the first time almost 4 years ago and since then I've suggested it to countless friends (who have loved it!) and customers at the library where I work.  When I first describe it as 'a dystopian read about vampires' some people shut down the idea right away.  Perhaps they're tired of vampires in general but this series is different from other vamp tripe out there.  It's a smartly written story with great characters and a non-stop pace.  I'm not a big fan of Kagawa's other series (Iron Fey or Talon) but this The Blood of Eden series is amazing.

Just like my first read through, Kagawa took me into her world and didn't let go until the last sentence.  I read this book in a couple of days and even though I still remembered how things would pan out for Allie I was riveted.  I love the idea of this young girl suddenly having to embrace something that she's feared her whole life as she struggles with the monster within her.  She's a strong, self-sufficient girl who readers can relate to right from the beginning.  She makes mistakes but she's fiercely loyal and just trying to figure out how to deal with her new lot in 'life'.

After re-reading this book I'm more than eager to re-read the second book in the series, The Eternity Cure (which was also amazing!!!), followed by The Forever Song, the third book in the trilogy which I have yet to read but has been on my Kindle for years.  Shameful, I know.

Fast-paced with a new look at the popular vampire theme this book will have you on the edge of your seat with its twists as the reader follows Allie's journey to be more than the monster within her.

My Rating: 4.5/5 stars

Thursday, 11 February 2016

No Ordinary Life - Review and Interview with Author Suzanne Redfearn

Author: Suzanne Redfearn
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Type: ARC e-book
Source: NetGalley
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
First Published: February 2, 2016
First Line: "Molly and I sit outside the principal's office, my eyes staring at my hands in my lap like a defendant awaiting a verdict."

Book Description from GoodReadsFaye Martin never expected her husband to abandon her and her three children . . . or that she'd have to struggle every day to make ends meet. So when her four-year-old daughter is discovered through a YouTube video and offered a starring role on a television series, it seems like her prayers have been answered. But when the reality of their new life settles in, Faye realizes that fame and fortune don't come without a price. And in a world where everyone is an actor and every move is scrutinized by millions, it's impossible to know who to trust, and Faye finds herself utterly alone in her struggle to save her family. Emotionally riveting and insightful, NO ORDINARY LIFE is an unforgettable novel about the preciousness of childhood and the difficult choices a mother needs to make in order to protect this fragile time in her children's lives. 

My Review:  A couple of years ago I read and loved Suzanne Redfearn's debut novel, Hush Little Baby so I was quite eager to get the chance to read and review her latest novel.

In her new novel, No Ordinary Life, Redfearn tells the story of Faye, the single mother of three children, whose four year old, Molly is suddenly put in the spotlight after a video of her performing goes viral.  The craziness of Hollywood offers ensue and Faye quickly finds out that things aren't as golden as they seem in Hollywood.  The family learns about Hollywood's allure and glamour as well as its pitfalls, stresses and even danger.  It's also an interesting and in-depth look at the life of a stage mother and the price that fame takes on an entire family.

At the heart of this book is family which include Faye's three kids - Emily, Tom and Molly who were well-developed characters.  From the moody preteen to the quiet middle child to the adorable Shirley Temple-esque four year old, they each had distinctive personalities and issues which made parenting them a struggle for their single mother.

Faye definitely struggled to deal with all that life had thrown at her.  Her marriage and life were in shambles and her emotions and fears were palpable.  I liked that she was a flawed mother and I think that initially many of her insecurities and struggles were realistic for the situations she found herself in. You don't doubt her love for her kids but the way she dealt with some issues made it hard to always stand behind some of her choices. 

It's obvious that Faye desperately wants to make things work for her family but sometimes it seems like she's her own worst enemy.  It soon felt like she was out for her own interests while, at the same time, admonishing her estranged husband, Sean for doing the same thing. Some of the interactions between Faye and Sean as well as Faye and twelve year old Emily were an accurate portrayal of a family in a lot of pain but a few of these interactions were so emotionally charged that, as a mother myself, I found them hard to read.  

But it was Faye's poor decision making that I found hard to swallow - especially the decision which would have put Molly in harm's way and Faye's decision that put the livelihood and respect of innocent people in jeopardy.  That last decision felt sudden and disjointed with the rest of the book and didn't sit well with me.

While No Ordinary Life wasn't as big of a page turner for me as Hush Little Baby, it was a different kind of read and still very enjoyable.  Redfearn has done a lot of research on the subject of child stars and gives her readers a glimpse into the flashy world of Hollywood as well as its underbelly of paparazzi, stalkers, sex, drugs, the exploitation of children which plague many young child stars.  This was a quick read and I think that many of the issues addressed would make some great book club discussions.

My Rating: 3.5/5 stars

Disclaimer:  My sincere thanks to author Suzanne Redfearn and Grand Central Publishing for providing me with a complimentary e-book copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. I'd also like to thank Suzanne for taking the time to answer the my questions in the following interview.

My Interview with Author Suzanne Redfearn

   How did you research your behind the scenes look at Hollywood? -- I read every autobiography written by former child stars that I could get my hands on, and I also did research on television production and the psychological effects of fame. My cousin had worked as a production assistant and her husband is a grip (lighting and rigging technician), so they were also helpful in checking the technical details.

    How did you want readers to view Faye? -- I wanted them to be sympathetic to her. She doesn’t set out to exploit her kids. She believes she is making a better life for them. She is a young, single mom, who is financially destitute and doing the best she can in tough circumstances. I hope the readers relate to her and understand her plight. She makes some mistakes, but her heart is in the right place.
   Where do you get your inspiration for your plot and characters?  Are you initially inspired by the plot or do the characters come to you first? -- The inspiration for No Ordinary Life came when I was in line at the grocery store. I knew my editor wanted me to write another story about a mother protecting her children, so I was keeping my eye out for ideas, and there in front of me was a tabloid with the headline, “Zac Efron Enters Rehab Again.” My daughter was a High School Musical fan when she was little, so I felt like I had watched Zac Efron grow up, and to know he was suffering and that his suffering was being made public made me feel horrible for him and his parents. The idea Child Star popped in my head. At that point I wasn’t certain what the story was going to be, but I liked the idea of exploring what goes on behind the glitz and glamour that causes so many young actors to suffer such tragic setbacks and downfalls. That’s how all my ideas sort of happen. I’m not really focusing too hard on it, and wham bam something hits me. Not all the ideas are great, but when a good one strikes, it feels like a gift, a zap from the universe.

    The traumatic experience that Emily experienced was handled differently than I would have expected.  Why did you deal with it in the way you did? -- Truthfully, the novel was too long and needed to be edited down, so some of the explanation for what Emily went through and how it was dealt with was taken out. While traumatic and awful, I didn’t want to veer too off course from the story about Faye and the choices she needed to make. What happened to Emily was a catalyst for what happened after, the final straw for Faye and a pivotal turning point for Sean.

    What authors inspire you?  What are a few of your favourite ‘I wish everyone would read this book’ books? -- Lately I’ve become a fan of authors of contemporary stories about substantial topics told with humor—JoJo Moyes, Lianne Moriarty, Gillian Flynn. I think everyone should read The Power of One by Bryce Courtenay and The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway.

    What was the hardest scene for you to write about in No Ordinary Life? -- Sex scenes are always the most difficult, but that’s with every book. In No Ordinary Life, I don’t know if it was the hardest scene, but the one that affected me most was the airport scene. I was once in a Bed, Bath, and Beyond when my daughter had a meltdown because I wouldn’t buy her a toy she desperately wanted. For twenty minutes I stood there while she screamed and had a tantrum with people walking by with either sympathetic expressions or judgmental frowns. It was the worst feeling, and to imagine something like that happening while dozens of photographers documented it, knowing it was going to be plastered in every tabloid and shown on every celebrity gossip show in the world made my heart split in two with sympathy for Faye. It was the pinnacle moment in the story that illustrated how out of control Faye’s life had become.

     As a former architect and current owner of a restaurant, what prompted you to change things up and become an author? -- It was a bucket list endeavor. I sat down one day with an idea and thought, Why not? Everyone always says they’re going to write a novel. I’m going to give it a try. It was terrible. I had no idea where commas went, every sentence started with “she” and I think I used the word “amazing” three thousand times. But miraculously, after seven months, a story was there with characters and suspense and plot. And I was hooked. I had finally figured out what it was that I wanted to do when I grew up.

   About the Author

Suzanne Redfearn is the author of Hush Little Baby, which was chosen as a Target Recommends selection and Target’s Emerging Authors program. She graduated summa cum laude from California Polytechnic University and, prior to becoming an author, was an architect. She is an avid surfer, golfer, skier, and Angels fan. She lives with her husband and children in Southern California. No Ordinary Life is her second novel.

     My sincere thanks to Suzanne Redfearn for taking the time to answer my questions.

Wednesday, 10 February 2016

My Grandmother Sends Her Regards and Apologises

Author: Fredrik Backman
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Type: Trade Paperback
Pages: 340 pages
Publisher: Sceptre
First Published: June 4, 2015
First Line: "Every seven-year-old deserves a superhero."

Book Description from GoodReads: Everyone remembers the stories their grandmother told them. But does everyone remember their grandmother flirting with policemen? Driving illegally? Breaking into a zoo in the middle of the night? Firing a paintball gun from a balcony in her dressing gown? Seven-year-old Elsa does.

Some might call Elsa's granny 'eccentric', or even 'crazy'. Elsa calls her a superhero. And granny's stories, of knights and princesses and dragons and castles, are her superpower. Because, as Elsa is starting to learn, heroes and villains don't always exist in imaginary kingdoms; they could live just down the hallway.

As Christmas draws near, even the best superhero grandmothers may have one or two things they'd like to apologise for. And, in the process, Elsa can have some breath-taking adventures of her own ...

Heartbreaking and hilarious in equal measure, the new novel by the author of the internationally bestselling phenomenon A Man Called Ove will charm and delight anyone who has ever had a grandmother.  

My Review:  After listening to A Man Called Ove this past summer and adoring it I knew picking up this new book by the same author was a no-brainer.  Once again Backman brings some unique characters and some of his signature humour to a new story.

Reading this book I had a roller coaster of feelings. First, I loved that Backman's latest book has his sense of humour and truly quirky characters.  But as I kept reading I wasn't sure that I liked all the references to this mystical, magical land that Grandma had invented for Elsa, The Land of Almost Awake.  It seemed like a lot of detail and the farther into the story I went, the more messy and jumbled it felt as I tried to keep track of the make believe land and what was happening in Elsa's real world.  At some points the Land of Almost Awake seemed to take over Elsa's story and I wasn't a fan. 

I kept reading and luckily things started to come together in the second half of the book and I began to see where Backman was going with this fairy tale theme.  I still think there was a bit too much 'story within the story' but once I finished reading the book I realized just how much work it must have been to weave and intertwine so many different stories with a gaggle of unique characters and I had more respect for Backman's process.

Grandma was my favourite character.  Obviously.  She's smart, hilarious, has made mistakes in her long life and loves her granddaughter Elsa more than a wurse loves chocolate.  Her spunkiness and love are very reminiscent of my own Nana who could throw out some great sass when she wanted and her booming voice told others that if they wanted to mess with her grandchildren they'd better think again.  This is also Elsa's grandmother to a tee.  I love that Backman brought this relationship to the forefront in this book because there's nothing like a grandparent's love for their grandchild.

I found it a little hard to get behind Elsa as a main character.  She's a lonely kid who has a lot more knowledge and wicked word use in her wee head than any 'almost 8 year old' that I have ever come across.  I think that Backman perhaps should have made her a little older because the way she handled her self and how she spoke didn't ring true for a child of that age.  She was almost unbearably too precocious for a lot of the book.  But once you suspend belief and accept that Elsa is an extraordinarily smart child then things go a little smoother. 

I enjoyed the modern references present throughout the book including Harry Potter (Elsa's got taste!), Star Wars, knights, swords and many fantastical creatures.  But it's not all fairy tales and Muggle bashing here.  Backman tackles some serious issues such as loss, fitting in, regrets, making amends, family history, the importance of being different and just generally a nice person.  Lessons we could all learn.

"There is nothing wrong with being different. Granny said that only different people change the world." -- spoken by almost 8-year old, Elsa

"Granny and Elsa used to watch the evening news together. Now and then Elsa would ask Granny why grown-ups were always doing such idiotic things to each other. Granny usually answered that it was because grown-ups were generally people, and people are generally shits. Elsa countered that grown-ups were also responsible for a lot of good things in between all the idiocy – space exploration, the UN, vaccines and cheese slicers, for instance. Granny then said the real trick of life was that almost no one is entirely a shit and almost no one is entirely not a shit. The hard part of life is keeping as much on the ‘not-a-shit’ side as one can.” 

Overall, this was a good read but not quite as funny or touching as Man Called Ove but still worth the read.

My Rating: 3.5/5 stars

Monday, 8 February 2016

Our Basement Renovation - Part Three -- Paint!

Now that we're on my third home renovation blog post we're entering into my favourite part.  Starting to make it all pretty.  Sure electrical and plumbing are nice and necessary yadda yadda yadda.  Walls are good and the drywall was kinda of exciting (as much as it can be called exciting) but when you start to pull out paint samples?  Ooooo baby.  That's when mama gets excited!

If you follow me on Pinterest you'll know that I pin a fair bit and you can tell when I'm interesting in something because I'll obsess about it whether it's fireplace stone veneers, shaker cabinets or the delight that are Ryan Reynold's abs.  *le sigh* ......  But I digress.  

One of my Pinterest boards is devoted to everything that inspires me for our basement renovation.  Pinterest is so addicting and such a time sucker and yet I can't help but keep coming back for more inspiration.  Brad and I obviously haven't used every idea I've pinned but it's nice to see some awesome things that others have done.  A little tip of the hat to their ability to make nice spaces.

Ok, this is much more in my wheelhouse!  I love seeing the drastic change when you begin painting!  But first we had to decide on paint colours.  

For the main colour I knew that I wanted it to be gray but there are about a bazillion different grays each with their own subtle hues.  When you start putting them beside each other it gets a little ca-razy.  We started getting overloaded with inspiration so we went to our local Sherwin Williams dealer for some help.  Normally we're strictly Benjamin Moore people but SW had a sale and my sister (who is equally picky) had loved their paint.  It's pricey with a capital P but we waited for their 40% off sale.  This is not our first rodeo.

We ended up with two gray colours that we liked.  One was a very 'elephant' gray colour   -- Argos (SW 7065) -- and the other, Mindful Gray (SW 7016), had more of a beige hue (or 'greige').  We ended up buying a tester can of each colour and a small sheet of underlayment (thin board) - about 2'x4'.  We painted half of the board with a sample of each gray knowing that we'd probably go for the Argos.  But when we brought the board into the basement and saw how it looked down there with the lighting we surprised ourselves by going for the greigey Mindful Gray.

Tip: Paint up a sample board.  It may cost you a bit of money but it'll pay off in the long run.

We decided on the rest of the colours fairly quickly and we love how they all go well with each other.

Poolhouse (SW 7603) is the colour Brad chose for the den.  At first, I admit, that I was afraid it would look too 'under the sea' and dark but it looks amazing and I love the colour it adds to a fairly gray basement.

Grizzle Gray (SW 7068) we're using on an accent wall (which will be in a future DIY post -- so excited!!!), and on the wall behind the TV.  It's a nice, fairly dark gray.

Watery (SW 6478) is the colour I chose for the powder room.  It was a beautiful soft blue on the paint chip and in the can.  But when I start to paint the walls it took on a slightly bright and greenish 'oh-em-gee what was I thinking!!' tinge and I started to worry I had chosen wrong, wrong, WRONG! I had a 'Sweet Mary Tyler Moore what have I done?!' moment.  But once the white vanity, light counter top and toilet went in the colour miraculously toned down and so did my anxiety.  S'all good now.  Crisis averted with a toilet.  Who knew?

The last colour, Cityscape (SW 7067) is the colour we chose for our custom wet bar cabinetry.  It's a nice medium gray that's in between the main colour, Mindful Gray, and the dark Grizzle Gray.  We love it!

Painting - The Process Brad and I are weird because we actually like to paint.  A lot of this enjoyment of painting stems from the fact that we make a good painting team. We have good painting mojo, if you will.  You can't buy that at the Home Depot (at least I don't think you can).  Typically I do all the cutting with an edged brush and he is the Wonder with the Roller.  In this case it was such a big job that we each did both jobs.  

We took a week off work to get all the painting done.  At first I thought that a week was overkill but as you'll quickly learn (and Brad has known for almost 19 years) I am the poster child for poor time estimation.  Once we got started I quickly figured out that a week would be a good amount of time.  It took us five days of painting to get one coat of primer and two coats of paint on all of the walls.   This is a big space! With some good music and conversation it was actually a fun time.

I think that part of what Brad enjoys about home renovation with me is that I'm some serious renovation eye candy.  I'm not gonna lie, I'd totally bring all the boys to the yard if they were to see me in my old capris, old MS Run T-shirt and green striped fluffy socks!! Back off boys!  I'm all Brad's. Lucky, lucky lad.

I'd like to say that I like to have a more organic look when I pick my painting attire and that I prefer to focus on creating beautifully painted walls ... but I'd be lying.  When I'm in the painting zone all sense of fashion (obviously) goes out the window.  I'm in it to be comfy and not worry about wrecking good clothes - and I'm obviously not thinking about being in future blog posts.  Hence the old capris, ponytail and fluffy green socks.

Final coat is done! The fluffy socks worked 
their magic because we love it!

The den looks amazing with that punch of blue
Here's a picture of the two-piece bathroom. 
Now do you see why I was getting nervous about the colour?

It was hard to get a good picture of the powder room's real wall colour due to lighting and the size of the room.  But here's a picture of the cabinetry paint colour (we're going for a shaker-style cabinet instead of what's pictured), our Formica counter top pick and the paint stick with the SW Watery to give you an idea of where we're going with the powder room.

So that's where we stood at the beginning of October 2015.  The painting is done!

Next up?
Picking furniture and flooring -- To Carpet or not to carpet?  That is the question!

Choosing custom cabinetry and finishes - 'Um, I think you mistakenly added a few zeros at the end of that quote, madame!'

Previous Basement Reno Posts
1. In the Beginning (planning things out and moving plumbing)
2. Insulatin', Lighting and Drywall ... Oh my!

Friday, 5 February 2016

Fatal Whispers

Author: Sandra Nikolai
Genre: Light Mystery, Canadian
Series: #2 in the Megan Scott/Michael Elliott series
Type: e-book
Page Count in Paper Copy
Publisher: Vemcort Publishing
First Published: August 29, 2013
First Line: "There were times when I wished I could change the future."

Book Description from GoodReadsA millionaire’s beautiful young wife. A homeless woman. A parish priest.

Three baffling deaths within days. No sign of foul play. No police leads. An unprecedented occurrence in Portland, Maine. Even medical authorities can’t explain the cause of death.

Ghostwriter Megan Scott and investigative reporter Michael Elliott look for answers when their trip to this alluring New England town coincides with the mysterious deaths. After police question Megan’s cousin, a flower shop owner, in connection with one of the deaths, the investigation hits close to home. A fire at the shop, stolen documents, and blackmail threats prompt Megan and Michael to probe deeper. They discover ominous secrets buried decades ago and ruthless killers who won’t let anyone get in the way of revenge.

My Review:  I jumped right into this series with Fatal Whispers, the second book in the Megan Scott/Michael Elliott series by Canadian author Sandra Nikolai.  Normally that's not something I like to do but Nikolai gives her readers enough background story to help them figure out how Megan and Michael first met while not giving anything away about her first mystery.

This was a good mystery with lots of twists and red herrings.  Even though I predicted a few of the twists it was still an engaging and enjoyable read.  The budding romance was sweet and believable but takes a backseat to the mystery which I liked.  Personally, romance is nice but I'm in it for the mystery!  

The characters were pretty well fleshed out and I like how certain characters' behaviours made me keep questioning who I thought had 'dunnit'.  I think having Michael being a crime writer is a good way to ensure many more interesting plot lines and I would like to see him play a bigger role in future books.  As a proud Canadian I was happy to see that Megan and Michael are also Canucks and that the next book in the series, Icy Silence, brings readers back to Quebec for a new adventure.

The first two-thirds of the book had a cozy mystery feel to it but Nikolai writes a fabulous heart-stopping scene in the last third that upped the energy level considerably as the mystery was coming to a close.  If a few more of those nail-biting scenes were sprinkled throughout the first part of the book I would have given Fatal Whispers a higher rating.  As it is, this was an easy read and kept my attention so much so that I finished the book in two days.  I look forward to more from this author!

My Rating: 3.5 stars

Disclaimer:  My sincere thanks to author Sandra Nikolai for providing me with a complimentary e-book copy of her book in exchange for my honest review.

Thursday, 4 February 2016

Super Bowl Munchie Ideas

This weekend something big is happening.  Everyone is talking about it.  Many people are extremely excited!  Lots of fun, shouting, cheering and dishes upon dishes of pub grub will be lovingly made for my family ... 

apparently there's a big football game on too.

Yup, it's Super Bowl weekend!  Woot woot!

The only real hitch I see is that our family isn't into football.  Brad and Boy 1 understand it better than the rest of us.  I kind of get the gist of the game but it's not something that I'd sit down and watch ... except for the Super Bowl.  Because during Super Bowl people lose their minds when it comes to eating and the fact that there are funny commercials on in between snippets of the game is the icing on the cake for our family.

I have a couple of friends, Beth and Kym and even my dear ol' Mom and Dad to be precise, who are avid football fans.  They know the game inside and out and regularly cheer on their favourite teams.  They are probably going to shake their heads when they are reminded of my lack of football love.  And yet they still love me.

Boo!  Hiss!  from the football lovers out there.  I know.  I get it.  You love your sport and that's great.  The Bookworm Family loves eating dips, chicken wings and cheesy bacon fries with abandon.  S'all good.  There's room for everyone's bliss.

To give you some inspiration for this weekend I've prepared a list of Super Bowl Worthy snack ideas.  You can check out my mega list of appetizer ideas on my blog under the Recipe Index heading at the top of the page.

Good luck to the two teams (whoever you may be).  We'll be (sort of) watching, cheering at inappropriate times and stuffing our faces.

Buffalo Chicken Dip
Consistently one of my top blog (and Pinterest) posts. Spicy and good!

Cheesy Bacon Fries with Ranch Dip
Fries, cheese, bacon ... the trinity of yum!

Hot Broccoli Dip
One of my all-time favourite dips.  Don't let the broccoli scare you away.  This dip is awesome!

Crispy Breaded Goat Cheese with Sun-Dried Tomato Pesto
For those wanting a more upper crust affair these goat cheese bites are fantastic and rather impressive.

Loaded Ranch Pull-Apart Bread
A definite crowd pleaser!

Jalapeno Popper Dip
Another one of my top Pinned appetizers because it tastes exactly like those delicious little poppers!

Layered Greek Dip
Looking for something easy to bring to a Super Bowl Party?  This dip is easy to whip up and a nice cold dip idea.

And finally, one cannot attend a Super Bowl Extravaganza party without the signature
Super Taco Dip.  Layered with a spicy cream cheese layer, diced veggies and black olives, salsa and cheese this is always a hit.

Good luck to the two teams.  I'll be cheering on the Toronto Blue Jays. ;) 

Wednesday, 3 February 2016

Very Good Lives: The Fringe Benefits of Failure and the Importance of Imagination

Author: J.K Rowling
Genre: Non-Fiction
Type: Hardcover
Pages: 80
Source: Local Public Library
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
First Published: April 14, 2015
First Line: "The first thing I'd like to say is 'thank you'."

Book Description from GoodReadsIn 2008, J.K. Rowling delivered a deeply affecting commencement speech at Harvard University. Now published for the first time in book form, Very Good Lives offers J.K. Rowling’s words of wisdom for anyone at a turning point in life, asking the profound and provocative questions: How can we embrace failure? And how can we use our imagination to better both ourselves and others?

Drawing from stories of her own post-graduate years, the world-famous author addresses some of life’s most important issues with acuity and emotional force.

My Review:  I remember vaguely hearing that J.K Rowling had spoken at Harvard's commencement years back and my initial thought was "Oh man!  That would have been a speech to remember!" followed quickly by some rather large feelings of envy since I can't even remember who spoke at my commencement.

In this short book people can read her speech to Harvard's class of 2008 where she instills them with some good insight using her signature dry humour and some rather amazing quotes. 

She speaks about the merits of failure in her life so far

“Failure meant a stripping away of the inessential. I stopped pretending to 
myself that I was anything other than what I was and began to direct all my 
energy into finishing the only work that mattered to me. Had I really succeeded at anything else, I might never have found the determination to succeed in 
the one arena where I believed I truly belonged.”   

Personally, my favourite quote from this speech will be the following: 

"It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all – in which case, you fail by default."

She also shares her experiences when she worked for Amnesty International in her early 20's.  She worked with people who had survived horrific experiences and how learning about these experiences changed her.  Real change in the world can start with a single person imagining that it can happen.  Imagination breeds compassion - the more people can use their imaginations, the less violence there will be as we imagine what others have experienced.

"Unlike any other creature on this planet, humans can learn and understand, without having experienced. They can think themselves into other people’s places. Of course, this is a power, like my brand of fictional magic, that is morally neutral. One might use such an ability to manipulate, or control, just as much as to understand or sympathise."

"We do not need magic to change the world, we carry all the power we need inside ourselves already: we have the power to imagine better."

The book itself is very short (shorter than I would have expected for her speech) and I read it in 20 minutes.  I think anyone, fan of Harry Potter or not, will enjoy and get something out of this speech.  Rowling is undoubtedly well spoken and gives her readers, and especially the grads, a lot to think about.

Note: Readers should know that sales from this book will go to Rowling's international charity, Lumos whose goal is to end the institutionalization of children. Lumos is the perfect name for this charity because, as Harry Potter fans will know, Lumos is the spell from Harry Potter that is used to create light. By using her charity she hopes to bring light and hope to children suffering in institutions worldwide.

My Rating: 5 stars

Monday, 1 February 2016

Platinum Doll - Review and Interview with the Author

Author: Anne Girard
Genre: Memoir, Historical Fiction
Type: Paperback
Pages: 352
Source: Author
Publisher: MIRA Books
First Published: January 26, 2016
First Line: "April, 1928 - "Slow down, Chuck, or you'll get us both killed!"

Book Description from GoodReads: Set against the dazzling backdrop of Golden Age Hollywood, novelist Anne Girard tells the enchanting story of Jean Harlow, one of the most iconic stars in the history of film.

It's the Roaring Twenties and seventeen-year-old Harlean Carpenter McGrew has run off to Beverly Hills. She's chasing a dream;to escape her small, Midwestern life and see her name in lights. In California, Harlean has everything a girl could want; a rich husband, glamorous parties, socialite friends; except an outlet for her talent. But everything changes when a dare pushes her to embrace her true ambition :to be an actress on the silver screen. With her timeless beauty and striking shade of platinum-blond hair, Harlean becomes Jean Harlow. And as she's thrust into the limelight, Jean learns that this new world of opportunity comes with its own set of burdens. Torn between her family and her passion to perform, Jean is forced to confront the difficult truth; that fame comes at a price, if only she's willing to pay it. Amid a glittering cast of ingénues and Hollywood titans: Clara Bow, Clark Gable, Laurel and Hardy, Howard Hughes, Platinum Doll introduces us to the star who would shine brighter than them all.

My Review: Platinum Doll is an interesting look into the life of the young Hollywood ingénue who took Hollywood and the world by storm.  Filled with many references to Hollywood elite like Laurel and Hardy, Clark Gable, Greta Garbo and Carole Lombard this book shows the struggles, both personal and professional, that teenager Harlean Carpenter, who later became Jean Harlow, experienced during her rise to fame.

Underneath it all, Platinum Doll is a coming of age story. Seventeen year old Harlean arrives in California as a very naive and impressionable young bride from Kansas City.  Initially she wasn't interested in pursuing a career in Hollywood but soon she changed her name to Jean Harlow, set her sights on Hollywood her rise to fame began.  She paid her dues and found that she had to fight to be taken as a serious actress and not a brainless blonde bombshell the studios thought her to be.  As her star rose she quickly became one of the most famous actresses of the time but not without many struggles along the way as she tries to take control of her life and career from those around her.

At the heart of the book is Jean's relationships with her family.  Readers get an up close look some of these relationships including the very complicated, dysfunctional yet sometimes touching relationship Jean had with her mother.  "Mama Jean" was a controlling woman who was living out her former dream to be a Hollywood star through her daughter.  She fought hard for her daughter but took just as much (if not more) than she gave.  Theirs was a tumultuous relationship as was her rocky marriage to her childhood sweetheart, Chuck McGrew which affected some of her future romantic entanglements.

This book has many references to old Hollywood - the glamour, the limitations for young women and all the dazzle of the Roaring 20's.  While I enjoyed this book I think people who know more about Hollywood in the 1920's would love this book even more.  There were so many famous names referred to that I sort of recognized but didn't have a good enough grasp on their careers to fully get the reference.

I was eager to read Platinum Doll because I wanted to know more about this infamous actress and Anne Girard gave me a good look at the young woman behind the Hollywood glamour.

My Rating: 3.5/5 stars

Disclaimer:  My sincere thanks to author Anne Girard for providing me with a complimentary paperback copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. I'd also like to thank Anne Girard for taking the time to answer my questions in the following interview.

My Interview with Author Anne Girard

I didn’t know much about Jean Harlow before reading this book.  What is the most important thing that you’d like people to know about Jean?

That she was far more than the stylized iconic photos we see of her today. Jean, whose real name was Harlean, was a funny, well-educated, and sensitive young woman, one who loved books and animals—who was only 17 years old when she first became a star, and 26 when she passed away.

Why did you specifically choose to write about Jean Harlow instead of another actress/actor of the era?

It intrigued me to learn that Harlow was the first blonde bombshell and that she was an idol to another huge icon—Marilyn Monroe, who had actually planned to play Harlow in a film. That was what initially piqued my interest. When I discovered how young she was, and that she was married to a hot-headed young man who was threatened by her career path—and by her domineering mother, for me, those were the seeds of a book I knew I wanted to pursue.

What was the hardest scene for you to write in the book?

Definitely it was the scene that takes place in the car with Harlow’s mother. Jean Bello was such a dominant force in Harlow’s life, and she trusted her mother absolutely, which made for most of the conflict between Harlow and her husband, who was threatened and entirely out-matched. It was definitely difficult to put myself into the mindset of a panicked young woman being forced to do something she didn’t want to do, but having no unearthly idea of how to get out of it. I thought that was really poignant and sad. I hope I conveyed that.

How rigorously do you adhere to historical accuracy when writing about such a well-known celebrity?

Very rigorously for the exact reason that she is so well known. As I was writing, I learned that there is a large and devoted Harlow fan base alive and well out there. If I strayed too far outside the lines of fact, even though PLATINUM DOLL is a novel, they would let me know about it! Also for them, I really wanted to make certain that I honored Harlow in the way I portrayed her.

Did you fictionalize some encounters to make your plot work?

Obviously there was no tape recorder there so exact exchanges must be imagined, particularly for the car scene, or the speakeasy, so that is where the work of a novelist is involved when writing about true characters from history. We take the outline of known facts, and then we are required to write scenes that flesh those facts out believably and hopefully entertainingly.

Do you think Jean could have made it in Hollywood on her own, without the help of her strong-willed mother?

That’s an interesting question. While she was ‘discovered’ and found work without her mother’s help, Jean Bello most definitely pushed and prodded her daughter forward. If her mother had remained in the Midwest, I think there is a good chance that Harlean would have had a child during that period before her star rose. She could well have stayed married and grown content with that life, which she was before her mother arrived in Hollywood. She was quoted years later as saying that she missed Chuck and still mourned the loss of their child, so it seems to me a definite possibility.

Can you share what your next book will be about?

I would love to but right now it’s still top secret. What I can say is that it is about another super interesting character from history. I’m knee-deep in research and writing at the moment and loving every discovery…. Thanks very much for having me, and letting me talk a bit about PLATINUM DOLL.

About the Author

Diane Haeger, who currently writes under the pen name Anne Girard (Madame Picasso), holds a Master’s Degree in Clinical Psychology from Pepperdine University, and a Bachelor’s Degree in English Literature from UCLA. A chance meeting with the famed author Irving Stone 25 years ago sharply focused her ambition to tell great stories from history, and write them only after detailed research and extensive travel to the place her character lived. That determination has provided a fascinating journey that has taken her from the halls of Chenonceaux, to a private interview with one of Pablo Picasso's last surviving friends, and most recently an invitation inside Jean Harlow's home.

Since the publication of her acclaimed first novel, Courtesan, in 1993, a novel that remains in print today, her work has been translated into 18 different languages, bringing her international success and award-winning status.

Platinum Doll, a novel about Jean Harlow, is her 15th book. She lives in Southern California with her husband and family.

Twitter:            @annegirard1

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