The Girls In The Picture by Melanie Benjamin

Melanie Benjamin

Girls In The Picture

Look what’s new: Melanie Benjamin has a brand new novel. THE GIRLS IN THE PICTURES is a novel that reads like part memoir, part tell-all. You film buffs are going to be gaga about this one!

author

Melanie Benjamin

Beginning in 1969, Frances Marion is looking back over her life. Remembering the years working with Mary Pickford and recalling their years of friendship. Setting the tone.

Flash back to 1914 when Mary and Frances first meet. You see, Mary Pickford became a huge film star. And Frances was right there next to her every step of the way. But Frances was not a movie star. Frances was the screen writer for Mary’s movies. Before and after the silent film era. Their friendship was legendary. Until it wasn’t.

Mary Pickford was a tiny yellow-haired sprite of a girl.  She was poked and prodded into stardom by her mother. I’ve no doubt that’s where the term stage -mother came from. Mary was the sole bread winner for her family.  She hardly had a moment to herself.  And then she ended up in a  bad marriage. Ugh.

Mary and Frances

Frances Marion came along just as Mary truly needed a friend. They became attached at the hip.  This friendship was bound to have ups and downs. And  so it did. Both women shot to stardom and had tumultuous lives.

Frances Marion blew through four marriages.  Mary, who married in haste the first time, fell in love with Douglas Fairbanks while they were both still married to others. It was scandalous, but, after all, Mary was America’s sweetheart. The fans decided it was a wonderful love story.

Not every actor or actress survived the transition from silent movies to “talkies.”  Some of these movie people just could not move into the future. But Mary thrived.  She and Douglas became American Royalty.  Their mansion, Pickfair, became as renown as Buckingham Palace.

PIckfair

Both Mary Pickford and Frances Marion have penned memoirs. Both leave much to be desired, says Melanie Benjamin.  But with her tireless research and her passion for details, she has managed to bring us what she always does: a historical rendering that compels us to want to know even more.

I have to say that I am not a fan of Hollywood; now or then. So when I heard this book was about the movies, I was not wild to read it. Having said that, I have to say that I became engrossed in the lives of these two famous women once I realized how timely this story is. You have to admit that anything to do with the casting couch is very popular right now. These women overcame the limitations of  their gender and conquered their professions.  This happened a century ago. And it’s still going on to this day all over the world, and in every profession. Time for change.

Melanie Benjamin is the best-selling author of THE AVIATOR’S WIFE and  THE SWANS OF FIFTH AVENUE.  She spoke about THE SWANS OF FIFTH AVENUE at Artis-Naples last March and a small group of us had lunch with her. She’s delightful!

My review copy was furnished by Random House. It’s bound to be a big hit with book clubs this year! Timely and important.

 

Advertisements

Everything Here Is Beautiful by Mira T. Lee

Mira T. Lee

Everything Here Is Beautiful

Miranda and Lucia arrived in New York with their mother on a flight from China. Miranda was a  young child, her sister Lucia still residing in their mother’s belly.  Their father had died suddenly, turning their lives upside down.  Life in America looms.

This beautiful debut novel begins with one of those startling first sentences that draws you right in with:  Lucia said she was going to marry a one-armed Russian Jew.  How can you not continue?  Little did I know what a journey I was about to begin.

Moving from America to Ecuador to Switzerland, then back to America, EVERYTHING HERE IS BEAUTIFUL, keeps you on your toes.  There is really no one theme to this novel. It’s about sisters, parenting, immigration, love, empathy, courage. I could go on and on…mental illness.

Lucia is in her twenties when she marries Yonah, who is from Israel. He lost his arm at a young age while fighting in the war. He is full of life and Lucia falls madly in love with this older man who owns a health food store in the East Village in NYC.  They live happily in tiny rooms next door. All is well until Lucia’s latent mental illness roars its ugly head. Thinking herself cured, she’s on no medication. Soon, she’s out of control. Miranda steps in to help, as she always has done.  Lucia’s madness is finally under control again.  But not for long. She begins longing for a child. One day she leaves Yonah for a much younger undocumented immigrant. Manny is from Ecuador. He’s charming and handsome and has no idea that his life is about to change forever.

Told in varying points of view, we get great insight to these characters.  Miranda, always the older sister. Constantly feeling guilty and responsible for Lucia. Never feeling she can do enough. Trying to understand the cause and effects of psychosis.  Putting her own life on hold. Miranda marries and moves to Switzerland. She is hoping Lucia is finally taking her medication regularly.

Lucia and Manny have a beautiful baby daughter and it throws Lucia into the depths of madness once again.  Lucia spends time in the hospital and gets herself back up to par, but it’s taken its toll. Once out of the hospital she persuades Manny to move back to Ecuador with her and the baby in tow. They have visions of opening their own business close to Manny’s family. Yes, they are close to his family, but, once at home, he slides into the cultural ways. Everything is different. Though Lucia is welcomed into the family and the baby is loved and adored, everything about family life in Ecuador is opposite of family life in America and soon Lucia feels stifled and misses her job.

author

Mira T. Lee

Lee does a stellar job of showing us both sides of the story. We learn how Manny feels living outside his home country.  He is also illegal in America and lives with that over his head constantly.  But Lucia has different issues. She is in Ecuador legally. But she has no work outside the home. And the home is little more than a hut with mud floors in the middle of nowhere. Nowhere but a stone’s throw from Manny’s mother.  No modern conveniences. They actually wash their clothes in the river with stones and dry them on the bank.  For the women, the days are filled with cleaning, washing, and cooking the meals. It takes all day to do these, every day.

I know very little of mental illness. At times, I felt worn out reading through the bouts of ups and downs. Loved ones feel helpless and sometimes hopeless. This is genetic. And the cure is medicine to help keep it at bay. Mostly, the meds have adverse side affects that are not nice. And often the patients stop taking them because they either feel they no longer need them, or, they can’t stand the awful affects.

Lee brings us a timely and sensitive story full of characters you will not soon forget. This novel made me think. It has helped make me more aware of the affects of mental illness. And it’s beautifully written by an author I look forward to reading again soon.

My beautiful review copy of EVERYTHING HERE IS BEAUTIFUL by Mira T. Lee  arrived thanks to the generous people at Pamela Dorman Publishing, a division of Viking, in exchange for an honest review. It’s a keeper, one of the big books of this season! Thanks.

Pachinko by Min Jin Lee

Min Jin Lee

Pachinko

Here on the left is the lovely finished hardcopy cover of PACHINKO which first hit the shelves last year in February.  Now this photo on the right is the paperback version that is now available. You will read my review below that was written last year when this amazing novel first came on the scene. I was right!

paperback

Pachinko

PACHINKO, by Min Jin Lee, is bound to be one of the BIG books this season. Great books like THE GOOD EARTH, CUTTING FOR STONE, and THE KITE RUNNER, come to mind…

I’ve been searching for a book that will be special for book clubs to read this season. Bingo! PACHINKO is bound to be a big hit.  It’s unique. It’s gorgeously written.  It tells a blistering story of one Korean family and their life through the generations.

I think of THE GOOD EARTH by Pearl Buck as probably the harshest novel I’ve ever read. PACHINKO comes dangerously close.  The novel starts in the early 1900’s in Korea. Sunja  is the beloved daughter of a poor Korean family.  She helps her mother take care of their home where they rent out spaces within the tiny rooms to boarders. Her father has died.   One day Sunja’s on her way back from the market and is approached by a handsome older man.  They begin meeting secretly. He makes her feel sooo special. And then it all turns sour. The love that Sunja gives Hansu is pure and freely given.  And even though he’s taken with her, he’s already married with three daughters. This is not meant to be. Sunja does not know of his marriage. At least, not right away. Not until she discovers she’s pregnant with his child. Oh the shame that could be brought onto the shoulders of her proud family. And, even though Hansu tells Sunja that he will take care of her and her mother as well as his child, Sunja throws the money he hands her on the ground and flees.

Who is Hansu? Hansu is involved in the mob and operates Pachinko parlors that bring in a lot of revenue. Pachinko is a game like our pin ball. Anyone associated with this game is considered low life… No matter how much money they have.

When a young ailing minister who is traveling through offers to marry Sunja, she accepts with some pressure from her mother. And thus begins  a new life as they move to Japan to live with his family. They are all Korean immigrants living in a hostile environment in Japan. Japan is not kind to Koreans. There is a lot to learn from the interaction of the school children. The shame. The discrimination. I had no idea.

The horrible challenges that this family face deal with faith and identity.  I felt their pain throughout this elegant and soulful saga. This is a classic that will stay with you forever.

Always hovering overhead is the man who fathered Sunja’s son. We wait knowing he is there, bound to return.

This book is one of my favorite books of the year. I think you will put it on the top of your TR list.

Min Jin Lee lives in New York with her family. This is her second novel. Her first novel, FREE FOOD FOR MILLIONAIRES, was one of the “Top 10 Novels of the Year” for the Times (London). I can’t wait to read her next one.

I thank the very generous publishing people at Grand Central for my gorgeous finished hard copy.  I received it in exchange for my honest review. I loved it!

 

 

The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin

Chloe Benjamin

The Immortalists

When I first read the title of this book I immediately put it aside. I pictured a novel filled with sci-fi and fantasy illusions. Wrong, wrong, so wrong!

THE IMMORTALISTS by Chloe Benjamin is a beautifully written testament to family love.

The premise of this novel will draw you right in.  If you knew the day you were going to die, how would you live your life?  Would you even choose to know ?

It’s 1969, NYC, lower east side. The Gold children, all four of them, are about to  embark on a journey of a lifetime. It’s only across the city, but, it might as well be across the continent. They’ve heard there’s a traveling psychic in town; a gypsy woman who can tell the future. They are all on edge. They are quivering to do this. But they are also scared. Do they really want to know the day they will die? But they are kids, and have dared each other. So off they go, to change their lives forever.

THE IMMORTALISTS is told in four sections. Each one is the life of one of the children. Simon is the youngest and is in  dire need of escaping his stifling existance. When his father dies in the 80’s he runs off to San Francisco in the wake of his sister Klara. Klara is older and so intrigued with magic.  Simon feels the call to San Francisco to free his wings and become his true self.  Varya is left behind to care for their mother. And Daniel becomes a Dr. in the wake of 9/11.

Simon’s story is harsh. It’s heartbreaking. It’s very difficult to read in spots. But it rings so true. It’s told in a voice that is authentic and I ask myself how can a young woman write this moving segment.  Just stunning.  She has captured the lives of so many vibrant young men of the time…

Klara has a very unusual story. I don’t know anyone who has grown up wanting to be a magician. It’s a fascinating part of the book.  It’s almost torturous to  watch and wait and see.

Daniel’s story was probably the least compelling for me. But, still, not without merit.

But it is Varya who steals my heart. Her work with the primates is so touching and heartrending. I found myself wanting to shield my heart from the pain.

Each of these siblings is living their lives knowing when they are supposed to die.  How would you choose to live your life if you knew when you would die?  Would you want to know? This is not a story about death.  I found it both inspiring and disturbing. But, most of all, I found it a spectacular read.  One worth slowing down for..

Chloe Benjamin

The writing is extremely brave. Especially Simon’s story. It is, at times, shocking.  However, I believe it needs to be in order to be authentic.

The story probes the lines between destiny and choice-reality and illusion, this world and the next.  This novel will make you think for a very long time.

Chloe Benjamin is the author of THE ANATOMY OF DREAMS, which won the Edna Ferber Fiction Book Award. She’s a San Francisco native and a graduate of Vassar College and of the University of Wisconsin, where she received an MFA in fiction.

THE IMMORTALISTS by Chloe Benjamin will be published by Putnam, Penguin Random House on January 9.  My review copy came from Putnam, a division of Random House. You don’t want to miss it! I’m going to be telling everyone to read this amazing book all season  long and into the future…

 

Happy New Year! Look What You Have To Look Forward To In 2018.

Chloe Benjamin

The Immortalists

Promise

JoJo Moyes

Still Me

Meg W.

The Female Persuasion

Melanie Benjamin

Girls In The Picture

Paula McClain

Love and Ruin

 

Just a few of the amazing line-up for 2018! I’m really reading this far ahead.  A couple of these do not arrive on the scene until April/May. Will be a stellar year for novels.

Here’s an appropriate quote from Maya Angelou. It’s pretty much how I feel nowadays. “ New Year’s resolutions? I don’t do those. Instead, every day I try to do better. See better. Say better. Talk better. I do my best. And I blow it 10 times out of 12. I ask forgiveness of anyone whose feelings I may have hurt. I ask forgiveness of God. I forgive myself. And then I start again….

The Last Castle by Denise Kiernan

The Last Castle

Just look at this cover.  Can you tell what it’s about? Not one single word about The Biltmore or Asheville, North Carolina. What on earth were they thinking when they did this cover? Now, don’t get me wrong. I think the cover is absolutely stunning. However, if Biltmore was mentioned, this amazing book would be getting more attention.

THE LAST CASTLE by Denise Kiernan, is all about the building of The Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina. All about the super-rich Vanderbilt family who designed and built this Downton -Abbyish manor.  I knew I wanted to read  it the moment I realized what this book was all about.

So I waited to do this review until I had a chance to actually visit and tour the house.  We just spent the Christmas holiday in Asheville visiting my daughter and her family.  We toured the house and the gardens and the grounds. Yes, it’s all even more wonderful and truly stunning,  up close and personal.

Asheville, NC

Me at Biltmore

Christmas Eve was pretty chilly in Asheville. But we all bundled up and went to tour the most visual spot in the state. Plus, afterward, we enjoyed hot cider and hot chocolate at one of the cafes.

THE LAST CASTLE is an amazing non-fiction story about the creation of The  Biltmore House and life within. We get a giant look into the life Edith and George Vanderbilt made for themselves.   Written in smooth prose that flows throughout, Kiernan gives life to the stone and mortar building that embodies this story.

Denise Kiernan was asked what attracted her to the story behind the building of the Biltmore Estate.  She said: ” A combination of factors played into it. I visited Biltmore for the first time while I was still in high school and loved the grounds in particular. I never anticipated at that time, that I would ever live in Asheville. When my husband and I moved here more than eleven years ago now, I had the opportunity to visit as an adult and fell in love with the place. I was also stunned at how many people I knew–especially in other parts of the country–who had no idea about the rich history of Biltmore, let alone the fact that no other house in the United States has ever come close to equalling it in size. I kept collecting information over the years, the way I do with lots of ideas, but this one wouldn’t leave me alone. Then I just felt that it was time to write about it.”

Kiernan spent countless hours buried in old documents, letters, newspaper clippings, and photographs, doing meticulous research for THE LAST CASTLE. It  shows in the clear and concise readability of the book.

I was entranced with the library and its 10,000 books.  Another 13,000 are housed elsewhere.  These are loaded on shelves stretching two stories high. And are very impressive, indeed.

Then there is the precious artwork on the  vast walls worth $26,046,020. Yikes! Your head will spin and turn at each corner as  you try to take it all in.

When the Biltmore opened to the public on March 15, 1930, the entry fee for the tour was an amazing $2. Imagine that. Now inflation has ratcheted the price up to a very impressive $ 75. Ouch!  I would definitely recommend going during the Christmas holidays. I can’t imagine the house not all dressed up now that I’ve seen it this way.

All 250 rooms are not included in the tour. Thank God.  The stairs alone can be difficult if you are not used to climbing.  My thighs were sore the next day.

The unparalleled  views of the Blue Ridge Mountains are priceless. Spring brings masses of blooming tulips and aromatic roses. Later in the summer the fields are filled with majestic sunflowers, their sunny smiling faces lifted toward the sky.

Encompassing world wars, the Jazz Age, financial crises, scandalous marriages, natural disasters, murder and suicide, the story of Biltmore House takes readers from the wilds of Appalachia to the glamour of New York, Newport, and Paris, and features  a captivating cast of characters including Edith Wharton, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Thomas Wolfe, Teddy Roosevelt, Thomas Edison, Henry James, John Singer Sargent, and James Whistler. 

There is no bad time to visit Biltmore. But, before you go, you might just want to pick up this wonderful book.  You can buy a copy a copy at

Punta Gorda

Copperfish Books

Copperfish Books in Punta Gorda.  We highly recommend it! My finished hardcopy was very generously sent to me from Touchstone Books, a division of Simon& Schuster, in exchange for an honest review. I  love it!

This is my last post for 2017. My how the year has flown by.   Thank you all for reading my blog and kindly commenting on my posts. There are wonderful books in store for the coming year! Happy New Year! Be safe.

 

Maurice Lists Favorite Books 2017

  • Lisa See

    The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane

    THE TEA GIRL OF HUMMINGBIRD LANE by Lisa See

  • THE LAST DAYS OF CAFE LEILA by Donia Bijan

 

  • Daniel Silva

    The House of Spies

    HOUSE OF SPIES by Daniel Silva

  • Sullivan

    Saints For All Occasions

    SAINTS FOR ALL OCCASIONS by J. Courtney Sullivan

  • Laurie Lico albanese

    Stolen Beauty

    STOLEN BEAUTY by Laurie Lico Albanese

  • Sana Krasikov

    The Patriots

    THE PATRIOTS by Sana Krasikov

  • Jennifer Egan

    Manhattan Beach

    MANHATTAN BEACH by Jennifer Egan

  • Laura Lee Smith

    The Ice House

    THE ICE HOUSE by Laura Lee Smith

  • David Lebowitz

    l’appart

    ( Non fiction) L’APPART by David Lebovitz

  • Jenny Colgan

    Cafe By The Sea

    CAFE BY THE SEA by Jenny Colgan

  • The Last Castle

    ( Non fiction)THE LAST CASTLE by Denise Kiernan

  • Jesmyn Ward

    Sing, Unburied, Sing

    SING, UNBURIED, SING by Jesmyn Ward

  • Mary Alice Monroe

    Beach House for Rent

    BEACH HOUSE FOR RENT by Mary Alice Monroe

  • PACHINKO by Min Jin Lee

These are not in any special order.  Some are literary.  Many are not. All are well-written and wonderful. Most are novels. I have come back and added PACHINKO.  It truly is a favorite and I was reminded of it by a sweet reader. Thanks! Now that it’s in paperback  and has a gorgeous cover the book is on fire!

paperback

Pachinko

I am already reading far ahead into the New Year. I can see a pattern of GREATNESS already. Next year is going to be a blockbuster for unique and fabulous books. So, hold onto your reading glasses and prepare to be wowed in the book world. You will not be disappointed!