Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Ten Books, Volume 7

CPA Boy made fun of me. All because I said that I needed to finish my book because it was "number 70".

Him: Why does it matter?

Me: Because I can't blog about books again until I finish one more!

Him: [Hysterical laughter]

Pffff. It seems obvious to me that I can't blog about 9 books when I have already been writing in blocks of 10 this year.

Yeah, yeah, obsessive-compulsive, blah blah blah.

Anyway, I finished book 70 so now here I am to blog about them.

NON-FICTION
  • Joan Blondell: A Life Between Takes by Matthew Kennedy
    • Joan Blondell was one of those actresses who was never a superstar but she was a constant presence in films and television.
    • She was in: Public Enemy, Gold Diggers of 1933, Footlight Parade, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Desk Set, and Grease to name a very few.
    • She was married to Dick Powell and then Mike Todd.
    • Miss Blondell had a pretty interesting life so this was a good read.
  • Roadshow!: The Fall of Film Musicals in the 1960s by Matthew Kennedy
    • I liked this book a lot but it could have used a stronger fact checker/proofreader. The song "If Ever I Would LEAVE You" is referred to as "If Ever I Would LOVE You". Peter Sellers' name is spelled "Sellars". 
    • Every movie studio in the 1960s wanted to have a success like The Sound of Music, Mary Poppins or My Fair Lady. Many films were produced and, for the most part, quality and interest in them plummeted.
    • Here are some examples of unsuccessful films: Camelot, Finian's Rainbow, Hello Dolly!, Sweet Charity, Doctor Dolittle, Star!, Goodbye Mr. Chips, Man of La Mancha, Paint Your Wagon, Darling Lili and On a Clear Day You Can See Forever.
      • How many have YOU seen? I am a huge movie watcher and I have seen none of these except for the first 1/2 hour of Finian's Rainbow and that was only because of Fred Astaire. 
    • One thing this book covers is the terrible behavior of the male actors. Rex Harrison would decide to do a film and then change his mind. Everyone basically kissed his derriere and he would change his mind again. He decided he didn't want to work with Sammy Davis Jr because he was not an actor, just a dancer and singer. (Never mind that the movie was a MUSICAL.) They hired Sydney Poitier at Rex Harrison's insistence and then cut the part out completely. Anyway, his poor behavior goes on and on.
      • Peter O'Toole and Richard Harris were both heavy drinkers in those days (though O'Toole didn't drink on the job). Their "bad boy" behavior was legendary but boys will be boys, ya know.
      • Then comes Barbra Streisand who, while completely professional in all ways, disagrees strongly with the director and is a perfectionist so she's considered a raging bitch who's completely out of control. SUCH a double standard.
        • Granted, she could have played Rex Harrison-like mind games with the producers or come to work hungover and she still would have been considered a bitch. But I bet if Rex Harrison or the other "boys" wanted a camera angle changed everyone would have jumped up to placate them.
        • It reminds me of something I read recently by Sheryl Sandberg: Girls aren't "bossy". They are exhibiting "executive leadership skills"! 
          • Hear, hear!
  • Of Time and Chase by Edison B. Allen
    • This book, from 1969, is a compilation of editorial cartoons by John Churchill Chase. He was the cartoonist for New Orleans newspapers from 1925 to about 1964. Then he started drawing his cartoons on the air during the nightly local news show. He was the first cartoonist to do this.
    • There was a copy of this book at my grandparents' house. My brother Everest and I loved it because it had a personal inscription inside the front cover to my grandparents. It was really cute because it was a written dedication to my grandfather, Bill, along with a cartoon drawing. And then at the bottom as a postscript it said: "And Ida too!" Unfortunately the book disappeared so maybe someone out there has it and wonders who Bill and Ida were.
    • John Chase was born in New Orleans in 1906 the same year as my grandfather. I wish I knew how they knew each other. From high school maybe? 
    • The editorial cartoons themselves are interesting, covering local, national and international news from the late 1920s to the 1960s. The editor of the book includes commentary for each year of cartoons.
      • I think Pop will enjoy this book because he will understand a lot more of the local stuff. I remember hearing the names on the news but that's about it.
  • The Middle Sea: A History of the Mediterranean by John Julius Norwich
    • This book took me a couple of months to get through as I read a few chapters a week. 
    • When you read history like this you are struck by how little things have changed over time. This book only continues until the years just after World War I but the same old things are still causing trouble even now. 
    • The Carthaginians hate the Romans. The Romans hate the Christians. The Christians hate the Muslims. The Muslims hate the non-Muslims. The Venetians hate the Sicilians. The Ottomans hate the Christians. The Spanish hate the Moors. The Pope hates anybody who threatens the Papal States. The Cypriots hate each other (it's half Greek and half Turk). And as Tom Lehrer sings in one of his brilliant satirical songs, "And everybody hates the Jews."
      • NOTHING EVER CHANGES. The groups may change names or location but every child is still taught to hate.
      • This is one of those fraught questions but why do these hatreds need to keep going generation after generation? 
    • I love history so I really enjoyed this book. The biggest issue is trying to keep everyone straight. Lots of dynastic names repeat several times so it's easy to get confused.
    • I am more a student of English history so this was a different angle to learn about general history. 
    • War and conflict are a constant in human history. No leader is ever satisfied. Most people just want to live their lives: grow/buy their food and raise their families. So many of the tales of war lead to the same basic conclusion: the people are massacred or sold into slavery. The brutality is horrific. You read of sieges, deaths by disease, beheadings, slavery and then you think: Hey! This is all still happening today! Groups like ISIS have always existed in history and will always exist most likely.
    • Man, I should really stop reading history. It's depressing.
FICTION
  • No Dawn Without Darkness by Dayna Lorentz
    • The concluding third book to a Young Adult series. This book was not as good as the first two. A main character in the first two books is absent from this one for almost the entire book. And like I mentioned in the last book installment one of the characters who murdered people gets no punishment but to go on with his life. Weird.
  • Doctor Sleep by Stephen King
    • This is a sequel to The Shining. In this book Danny Torrance is all grown up and a mess. He gets his life together just in time to fight a supernatural group who feed off the energy of children like Danny who have the "shining" power.
    • This was a pretty quick read and I really liked it. It takes a while for adult Danny to straighten out but once he does the story just zips along.
  • Frog Music by Emma Donoghue
    • By the author of Room, this is a complete departure from that book. That book was about a kidnapped woman who's kept locked up in a storage shed for years along with the son she bears in captivity to the kidnapper. It's told from the point of view of the 5-year-old son.
    • This book takes place in 1876 San Francisco and is based on real people. A woman known for wearing men's clothes is murdered. Her friend Blanche thinks she knows who did it and sets out to get justice.
    • I read the first few pages and wasn't gripped but I persevered and in the end I really liked it. At the end of the book you find out about the real people in the story. The author read about the circumstances of an unsolved murder and created a story around it.
  • The String Diaries by Stephen Lloyd Jones
    • A horror novel of sorts although it's not very scary really. A supernatural creature falls in love with a woman. He, however, had raped another woman and was under sentence of death by his people. His true love is killed while he is being tracked by his executioners and from then on he stalks her descendants who, naturally, are her spitting image. One of his powers is to shapeshift so he keeps trying to turn himself into their husbands and friends.
    • This was okay but could have been even better if you just understood the motivation more. Why would her descendants fill the bill just because they look the same? Is the creature insane? Plus it's always nice to read the details about a fictional group of supernaturals. They were given short shrift and the story focuses on the line of human descendants instead. 
  • That Night by Chevy Stevens
    • A mystery about a woman whose younger sister is murdered and the woman goes to jail for the crime. When she gets out she tries to make a new life for herself and reconcile with her parents. Then her old boyfriend, also convicted for the crime and newly released from prison, convinces her to help find the real killer.
    • I really liked this including the narrative skipping where there are three timelines: one present day, one leading up to the murder and one from the murder to her release form prison.
    • The only thing I thought was odd was that the woman insisted on returning to her small hometown where everyone thinks she's a murderer. Really? Go to some big city where no one knows you! But there wouldn't be a story if she doesn't go back so there you are.
  • The House We Grew Up In by Lisa Jewell
    • This is a novel about a family whose mother ends up hoarding, which is exacerbated by a tragedy that happened years ago.
    • This was really enthralling; I read it in one evening because I couldn't put it down. There's a mystery to the tragedy and I am not sure it lived up to its full potential but overall the story was satisfying. 
    • I kept waiting for all the "egg foils" (the story took place in Great Britain) to make a dramatic reappearance. They did not. (The mother kept every foil wrapper from the children's' Easter Candy.) It seemed a clue but I guess it was just an interesting way to show the mom's hoarding tendencies always existed.

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