A Thousand Steps

A Thousand Steps
A Thousand Steps by T. Jefferson Parker

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Things My Son Needs to Know About the World by Fredrik Backman


The #1 New York Times bestselling author of A Man Called Oveshares an irresistible and moving collection of heartfelt, humorous essays about fatherhood, providing his newborn son with the perspective and tools he'll need to make his way in the world. 

Things My Son Needs to Know About the World collects the personal dispatches from the front lines of one of the most daunting experiences any man can experience: fatherhood.

As he conveys his profound awe at experiencing all the "firsts" that fill him with wonder and catch him completely unprepared, Fredrik Backman doesn't shy away from revealing his own false steps and fatherly flaws, tackling issues both great and small, from masculinity and mid-life crises to practical jokes and poop.

In between the sleep-deprived lows and wonderful highs, Backman takes a step back to share the true story of falling in love with a woman who is his complete opposite, and learning to live a life that revolves around the people you care about unconditionally. Alternating between humorous side notes and longer essays offering his son advice as he grows up and ventures out into the world, Backman relays the big and small lessons in life, including:

-How to find the team you belong to
-Why airports explain everything about religion and war
-The reason starting a band is crucial to cultivating and keeping friendships
-How to beat Monkey Island 3
-Why, sometimes, a dad might hold onto his son's hand just a little too tight


Things My Son Needs to Know about the WorldThings My Son Needs to Know about the World by Fredrik Backman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Things My Son Needs to Know About the World by Fredrik Backman is a 2019 Atria publication.

I knew I loved this author for a reason!

Fredrik Backman stole my heart with “A Man Called Ove” but he has been keeping it in safekeeping ever since.

This is Backman’s first non-fiction book, a series of essays about parenting that nearly anyone who has children, no matter what age they are now, or cared for them, can relate to. His musings are laugh out loud funny, chronicling the insanity an infant can spawn on two reasonably well- adjusted adults. The mistakes, the fears, the special moments between father and son, and the future hopes and dreams for his child are all beautifully captured in this book.

The snicker bar recipe won me over early in the book because Backman apparently feels the same way I do about a certain over rated actor. (Still chuckling and feeling so totally vindicated)

All gushing aside, though, there were times when I thought the author rambled, almost illogically, about things that didn’t seem to have much of a connection to parenthood. It only happened once or twice, but when it did, all I could do was shake my head and move on the next essay.

Other than that, I can’t tell you how much fun this book is. Not only that, it is so poignant and bittersweet, just like Backman’s fictional work.

While this book may hit home for newer parents in a more ‘in the moment’ way, even if your children are older, or like me, grown and carving out their own lives, this book will bring back a lot of memories. You may develop a lump in your throat or a swipe a tear from your eye, because Backman reminds all of us to take pleasure in all the small treasures of life, to focus on what is truly important, to admit our human frailties, and most importantly, to see the humor in it all.

If you love Backman – you don't want to miss this one!







Fredrik Backman, a blogger and columnist, is the New York Times bestselling author of A MAN CALLED OVE and MY GRANDMOTHER ASKED ME TO TELL YOU SHE'S SORRY. Both were number one bestsellers in his native Sweden and around the world, and are being published in more than thirty five territories. His latest novel is BRITT-MARIE WAS HERE. He lives in Stockholm with his wife and two children. Visit him online at his blog: FredrikBackman.com, on twitter @backmanland, or on instagram @backmansk.

Monday, April 29, 2019

Monday's Musical Moment: Grace: Based on the Jeff Buckley Story- by Tiffanie DeBartolo- Feature and Review


A moving graphic biography for music lovers, Grace: The Jeff Buckley Story is painstakingly researched and created in collaboration with Jeff Buckley's estate.

California, 1991. All his life, people have told Jeff Buckley how much he looks like his father, the famous ’60s folksinger he barely knew. But Jeff believes he has gifts of his own: a rare, octave-spanning voice and a songwriting genius that has only started to show itself. After he falls in love with a mysterious girl in New York, he sets out to make a name for himself outside his father’s shadow.

What follows are six turbulent years of music, heartbreak, hope, and daring—culminating in a tragedy that’s still reverberating in the music world today. Written by Tiffanie DeBartolo and with art by Pascal Dizin and Lisa Reist, this graphic novel biography uses archival material provided by Jeff’s mother, Mary Guibert, to reveal the young songwriter in the process of becoming a legend.


Grace: Based on the Jeff Buckley StoryGrace: Based on the Jeff Buckley Story by Tiffanie DeBartolo
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Grace: Based on the Jeff Buckley Story by Tiffanie DeBartolo is a 2019 First Second publication.

I have never read a standard biography about Jeff Buckley, and I can’t claim to be a rabid fan. But, of course, I am very familiar of his haunting version of Leonard Cohen’s ‘Hallelujah”, and I knew he was the son of folk singer, Tim Buckley, and that Jeff died young in a freak accident. Beyond that, I couldn’t have told you much else.

I do read my fair share of music memoirs and biographies, but this is the first one I have read in a Graphic Novel format. The story pretty much sticks to the basics, so for diehard fans the book may not cover much new territory. However, even if the story is familiar to you, the outstanding illustrations truly bring out an amazing amount of depth and emotion you most likely would not experience in a standard text only biography.

The writing is a bit simplistic, but I’m thinking this book might be a learning tool as well, perhaps to entice YA readers as well as older fans.

Jeff’s life was cut short, and he was always a bit of an enigma, so this book certainly will give readers a little more insight into his life and the artist behind the music. I enjoyed the experience of reading this book, and learning more about Jeff, and of course it has inspired me to revisit Jeff’s music, hearing it from a new perspective now.

I recommend this one for anyone who loves music, biographies or Graphic Novels.






Tiffanie DeBartolo is the author of 'Grace: Based on the Jeff Buckley Story', (2019), 'How To Kill a Rock Star' (2005), and 'God Shaped Hole' (2002), and is the writer and director of the movie 'Dream for an Insomniac' (1996) starring Jennifer Aniston, Ione Skye, and Mackenzie Astin.
She is the Founder and CEO of SF Bay Area record label Bright Antenna Records featuring such artist as The Wombats, Wilderado, Roman Lewis, Sports Team, Mona, Flagship, Beware of Darkness, Love Thy Brother, Cheerleader, and Middle Class Rut.
Tiffanie lives in Marin with her husband Scott Schumaker and her two dogs Dipsea and Kazoo.
She was born in Youngstown, OH and went to Villa Maria High School in Villa Maria, Pennsylvania before studying Philosophy at University of California, Berkeley, California. She has two sisters: Lisa DeBartolo & Nikki DeBartolo.

Friday, April 26, 2019

FLASHBACK FRIDAY- The Girls by Emma Cline


Northern California, during the violent end of the 1960s. At the start of summer, a lonely and thoughtful teenager, Evie Boyd, sees a group of girls in the park, and is immediately caught by their freedom, their careless dress, their dangerous aura of abandon. Soon, Evie is in thrall to Suzanne, a mesmerizing older girl, and is drawn into the circle of a soon-to-be infamous cult and the man who is its charismatic leader. Hidden in the hills, their sprawling ranch is eerie and run down, but to Evie, it is exotic, thrilling, charged—a place where she feels desperate to be accepted. As she spends more time away from her mother and the rhythms of her daily life, and as her obsession with Suzanne intensifies, Evie does not realize she is coming closer and closer to unthinkable violence, and to that moment in a girl’s life when everything can go horribly wrong.



The GirlsThe Girls by Emma Cline
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Girls by Emma Cline is a 2016 Random House publication.
Disturbingly realistic, weird, thought provoking and engrossing-

Loosely based on the Manson cult in the late sixties, this novel explores the allure of the hippie commune atmosphere for fourteen- year old Evie, who is adrift and marginalized by her divorced parents, and suffering from loneliness and boredom.

Evie meets Suzanne while out roaming around and continues to run into her until she is finally invited to visit ‘The Ranch’ and meet the charismatic ‘Russell’. Finding herself more immersed in this life and less a tuned to her own home life, she spends more and more time at the ranch, eagerly participating in anything her role model, mentor, and secret crush, Suzanne might be into. But, as the climate on the ranch begins to shift, turning dark and tense, Evie will find herself right on the cusp of a life altering moment- one that will forever haunt her throughout her adult years.

When this book was published back in 2016, I waffled on it, not sure if was a good fit for me or not. The reviews were mostly positive, however, so I put it in my ‘wish list’. I am always overwhelmed by the books I am assigned, or must be read within a certain time frame, and with those who are always competing for my attention- the private reads and library books- so it wasn’t long before this book fell completely off my radar- out of sight- out of mind.

However, while cleaning up my Overdrive wish-list a few weeks back, I once more found myself wondering if I should keep it on the list, check it out, or delete it. Obviously, curiosity finally got the better of me and I decided to borrow it and read a few chapters to see how it went. I ended up reading it in nearly one sitting.

The author did an admirable job with time and place, sending the reader back to the tumultuous year of 1969. The story is a familiar one, we know the players, even though their names are changed, but the atmosphere is no less fraught with a sense of impending terror, made worse by knowing exactly what is coming.

Evie’s story, while fictional, is still, even now, a cautionary tale. Her near obsession with Suzanne, her parent’s self-absorption and preoccupations, and her teenage angst, make her the perfect target, and she easily falls under the spell of Russell and Suzanne, and their strange, squalid lifestyle, quite willingly.

As an adult Evie looks back on that period in her life with a plethora of emotions, some of which were puzzling and truly shocking, and left me feeling more than a little unsettled.

Overall, this is a well-written, dark, and nearly mesmerizing novel of suspense. I am glad I decided to take the plunge instead of discarding this one!

4 stars

View all my reviews






Emma Cline is from California. Her fiction has appeared in The New Yorker, Tin House, Granta, and The Paris Review, and she was the winner of the 2014 Plimpton Prize from The Paris Review. Her novel The Girls was a finalist for the First Novel Prize, a National Book Critics Circle Award, and the LA Times Book Prize, and was the winner of the Shirley Jackson Award. In 2017, Granta named her one of the Best Young American Novelists.

Thursday, April 25, 2019

The Dakota Winters by Tom Barbash- Feature and Review


An evocative and wildly absorbing novel about the Winters, a family living in New York City’s famed Dakota apartment building in the year leading up to John Lennon’s assassination

It’s the fall of 1979 in New York City when twenty-three-year-old Anton Winter, back from the Peace Corps and on the mend from a nasty bout of malaria, returns to his childhood home in the Dakota. Anton’s father, the famous late-night host Buddy Winter, is there to greet him, himself recovering from a breakdown. Before long, Anton is swept up in an effort to reignite Buddy’s stalled career, a mission that takes him from the gritty streets of New York, to the slopes of the Lake Placid Olympics, to the Hollywood Hills, to the blue waters of the Bermuda Triangle, and brings him into close quarters with the likes of Johnny Carson, Ted and Joan Kennedy, and a seagoing John Lennon.

But the more Anton finds himself enmeshed in his father’s professional and spiritual reinvention, the more he questions his own path, and fissures in the Winter family begin to threaten their close bond. By turns hilarious and poignant, The Dakota Winters is a family saga, a page-turning social novel, and a tale of a critical moment in the history of New York City and the country at large.



The Dakota WintersThe Dakota Winters by Tom Barbash
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Dakota Winters by Tom Barbash is a 2019 Ecco publication.

Melancholy, offbeat, humorous, nostalgic and quirky!!

For some reason, when I added this book, I thought it was a non-fiction book about the Dakota apartments written by a real- life resident telling stories about his encounters with some of the famous residents.

Well, as it turns out, this is a novel, set in New York City, in 1979 and is centered around the Winter family. Buddy Winter is a washed -up talk show host, who went into seclusion after a very public meltdown.

His son, Anton, has just returned home from the Peace Corps after surviving Malaria. Now the timing feels right for Buddy to attempt a comeback, but he leans heavily on Anton to help him.

Anton, however, feels trapped in Buddy’s shadow, wishing he could break free and find success on his own merit.

The Dakota remains “‘The Winters’” home, despite their fragile economic state. This set up allows Anton to run into the infamous apartment’s most famous residents, one which is John Lennon. As it happens, John, at this stage in his life, is also ready to stage a comeback.

Anton and John strike up a friendship, and Anton begins to plot out ways to convince John to be a guest on Buddy’s new show, which he also hopes will help both John and Buddy.

If you have the chance, add the audio version to complement this book. This is a poignant and nostalgic look back at New York City in 1979. The narrator did a fairly decent impression of John Lennon and Ted Kennedy as well as few other famous figures in this era. The story itself is a little eccentric, with an undercurrent of dolefulness, which contrasts against the cautionary optimism of second chances and new beginnings.

Although the book was not at all what I was expecting, I found myself caught up in it, enjoying the trip down memory lane and the poignancy of touching base with John Lennon during the last year of his life, even if it was a fictional imagining.

The ending was a bit too abrupt, although the reader knows where everything is headed, and what to expect. Still, I thought the story was original, and off the beaten path, which is always a good thing for someone like me, who can become easily bored with traditional genres.

Overall, this was an enjoyable read and I’m glad I  stumbled across it and was able to readjust my preconceptions about it.






Tom Barbash is the author of the award-winning novel The Last Good Chance and the non-fiction book On Top of the World: Cantor Fitzgerald, Howard Lutnick, and 9/11; A Story of Loss and Renewal, which was a New York Times bestseller. His stories and articles have been published in Tin House, McSweeney's, Virginia Quarterly Review, and other publications, and have been performed on National Public Radio's Selected Shorts series. He currently teaches in the MFA program at California College of the Arts. He grew up on the Upper West Side of Manhattan and now lives in Marin County, California.

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

The Familiars by Stacey Halls- Feature and Review


Young Fleetwood Shuttleworth, a noblewoman, is with child again. None of her previous pregnancies have borne fruit, and her husband, Richard, is anxious for an heir. Then Fleetwood discovers a hidden doctor’s letter that carries a dire prediction: she will not survive another birth. By chance she meets a midwife named Alice Grey, who promises to help her deliver a healthy baby. But Alice soon stands accused of witchcraft.

Is there more to Alice than meets the eye? Fleetwood must risk everything to prove her innocence. As the two women’s lives become intertwined, the Witch Trials of 1612 loom. Time is running out; both their lives are at stake. Only they know the truth. Only they can save each other.

Rich and compelling, set against the frenzy of the real Pendle Hill Witch Trials, this novel explores the rights of 17th-century women and raises the question: Was witch-hunting really women-hunting? Fleetwood Shuttleworth, Alice Grey and the other characters are actual historical figures. King James I was obsessed with asserting power over the lawless countryside (even woodland creatures, or “familiars,” were suspected of dark magic) by capturing “witches”—in reality mostly poor and illiterate women.



The FamiliarsThe Familiars by Stacey Halls
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Familiars by Stacey Halls is a 2019 Mira publication.

Very impressive debut novel!!

Fleetwood Shuttleworth is once more with child, hoping this time she will be able to give her husband, Richard, the heir he is so desirous of. But, when she stumbles across a letter, written to her husband from a physician, warning him that if Fleetwood should once more find herself in childbed, she would not survive.

To keep herself and unborn child from certain death, Fleetwood hires the midwife of her choosing, a young woman named Alice Grey. Fleetwood knows that Alice’s methods are unconventional, but she is desperate, willing to try anything. But, when Alice is accused of witchcraft, Fleetwood will do whatever it takes to free Alice, but time is of the essence.

I loved this book!! This is the style of Gothic mystery that I first fell in love with. This debut author has done an outstanding job of creating a heavily laden atmosphere of suspense, casting doubts in all directions and pitting our heroine against those she should be able to trust, against society, and against time.

The fever pitch anxiety and furor which permeated the air during the real Pendle Hill Witch Trials creates the perfect backdrop for the danger, paranoia and suspicions surrounding Fleetwood. Using real life characters in the book is a nice touch, adding a nice theoretical solution to an age- old mystery.

Other real- life props and events are scattered throughout the novel capturing the atmosphere of the times perfectly. The story is a Gothic lover’s dream, with the suspense building and building, becoming nearly unbearable. But the story is also one of courage, of hope, determination and of friendship and unbreakable bonds forged out of desperation.

I can’t say enough nice things about this one. Right now, historical fiction is one my very favorite genres, and then add in these unmistakable Gothic elements- a genre that is hands down my favorite of any genre, then how can I go wrong?

The straightforward prose fits the style of Gothic fiction, I think, and compliments the characterizations, especially that of Fleetwood. The pacing it pitch perfect, never hurried, which is what creates that fraught, nervous, sitting on pin and needles sensation, and is where many young Gothic novelists flounder. I’m sure it is harder to pull off a slower, more balanced pace now, than in days past, with the limited word count required by most publishers. So, apparently, this author obviously understands this genre, has studied it, and appreciates the nuances that make it successful.

Overall, Stacey Halls has my undivided attention. I’m super excited to see how she progresses from here on out.






Stacey Halls was born in 1989 and grew up in Lancashire in the north-west of England. She lives in London and has worked as a journalist at publications including Stylist, The Independent, Psychologies and Fabulous magazine. The Familiars is her first novel.

Monday, April 22, 2019



The long, strange journey of Michael Nesmith is as fascinating as it as was fraught--from fleeing Dallas as a young man with his pregnant girlfriend, to gaining international fame as a member of the Monkees, to falling deep into the grips of what he calls Celebrity Psychosis, to finally achieving inner peace and finding a creative wellspring in the teachings of Christian Science. Influenced in equal parts by the consciousness-expanding ambitions of Timothy Leary and the cerebral humor of Douglas Adams, in "Infinite Tuesday," Nesmith spins a spellbinding tale of an unexpected life, in which stories about meeting John Lennon, or recording with Nashville greats, or inventing the music video trace an arc from Hollywood to Silicon Valley, illuminating a remarkable mind along the way."



Infinite Tuesday: An Autobiographical RiffInfinite Tuesday: An Autobiographical Riff by Michael Nesmith
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Infinite Tuesday: An autobiographical riff by Michael Nesmith is a 2017 Crown Archetype publication.

Leave it to Michael Nesmith to reinvent the autobiography. I, for one, am very pleased with his style and the format he chose to tell his life story because it certainly fits his personality.

However, if you are a huge Monkees fan, hoping for a book centered mostly around Michael’s time on the show, then this book might not be for you. Not to make light of the many doors that show opened for Michael, but the Monkees were only on the air for a couple of years. When this book was published in 2017, Michael was in his early seventies. To center his entire life story around two years of his long life would be boring, and that is something Michael definitely is not. In fact, Michael has a led a most fascinating and interesting life and accomplished much more than having appeared on a popular television show back in the sixties.

His approach is stunningly intimate. It is almost like having a one on one conversation with Michael. He’s refreshingly honest, admitting his moral missteps, laying bare his heartbreak and disappointments, and occasionally his genuine confusion regarding certain situations, such as his lawsuit with PBS. (What a weird story that was!)

I appreciated his candor, loved the stories he told about his friendship with Douglas Adams. What struck me here was that Michael and Douglas were so very different, yet they were able to put those differences aside and respect the other’s opinion. We could all stand to borrow a page from this book in that regard, as no one appears able to respect a differing opinion anymore.

Michael is a very bright and intelligent person and has more of an impact on our lives than many realize. This is a very unique memoir, one I found incredibly absorbing and not the least bit pretentious. In fact, I think Michaels aversion to ‘Celebrity Psychosis’ as he terms it, has left him with a more down to earth viewpoint on life, as has his faith in Christian Science- (not to be confused with Scientology).

That said, I must admit I loved The Monkees when I was a kid and I had the biggest crush on Davy Jones. Even now the pop tunes they are famous for, are fun, even if the group was, for all intents and purposes, manufactured.

So, while I still think of The Monkees when Michael’s name pops up, I also think of Videoranch and MTV, of his liquid paper fortune, his incredible life experiences, and his willingness to take a risk, to utilize current technology or trends in creating new and visionary ideas, and respect his entrepreneurial talents immensely.

This is a fascinating journey and I am very happy I accepted Michael’s invitation to join him as he recounts his triumphs and failures, and the many strange avenues he’s traveled down. I believe he will continue to work, to experiment, play music, and have faith in the here and now.

4 stars





Michael Nesmith's career in music and television took him from starring in The Monkees to a celebrated run of albums as a solo artist and in the First National Band. He created the TV show Popclips, a forerunner of what would become MTV, and produced the films Repo Man and Tapeheads. He is the author of two novels and the founder of the Pacific Arts Corporation, which produces projects in the worlds of audio, video, and virtual reality, including Videoranch 3D. He lives in Carmel, California.

Friday, April 19, 2019

FLASHBACK FRIDAY- The Paris Key by Juliet Blackwell- Feature and Review


An American in Paris navigates her family's secret past and unlocks her own future, in this emotionally evocative novel by New York Times bestselling author Juliet Blackwell. 

As a girl, Genevieve Martin spent the happiest summer of her life in Paris, learning the delicate art of locksmithing at her uncle's side. But since then, living back in the States, she has become more private, more subdued. She has been an observer of life rather than an active participant, holding herself back from those around her, including her soon-to-be-ex-husband. Paris never really left Genevieve, and, as her marriage crumbles, she finds herself faced with an incredible opportunity: return to the magical city of her youth to take over her late uncle's shop. But as she absorbs all that Parisian culture has to offer, she realizes the city also holds secrets about her family that could change her forever, and that locked doors can protect you or imprison you, depending on which side of them you stand.



The Paris KeyThe Paris Key by Juliet Blackwell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“Genevieve slid open the 'special' drawer. It was full of ancient keys—many of which, like her necklace, bore little resemblance to keys today. She smiled as she picked up a black iron ring, from which jangled a dozen different skeleton keys: she remembered her uncle explaining that this was a Victorian-era thief's ring. Dave had always intended to write a book about such historic hardware.”

“Complete with photos, Genevieve, what to do you think? C'est super, n'est pas? I am going to call it: Love Laughs at Locksmiths. Or maybe, The Paris Key, because really, Paris is the key to happiness! What do you think?

I enjoyed this charming ode to Paris, France, and loved walking along the streets of Paris with Genevieve as she comes full circle back to the place that makes her happy and gives her hope.

I recommended this book to those who enjoy contemporary fiction, Chick-lit, or women's fiction.





Juliet Blackwell was born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area, the youngest child of a jet pilot from New York and an editor from Texas. She graduated with a degree in Latin American Studies from University of California, Santa Cruz, and went on to earn Masters degrees in Anthropology and Social Work from the State University of New York, Albany. While in graduate school, she published several articles based on her research with immigrant families from Mexico and Viet Nam, as well as one full-length translation: Miguel León-Portilla's seminal work, Endangered Cultures. Juliet taught Medical Anthropology at SUNY-Albany, was producer for a BBC documentary about Vietnamese children left behind by US soldiers, and worked as an elementary school social worker in rural New York. Upon her return to California she became a professional artist and ran her own decorative painting, historical renovation, and domestic design studio for more than a decade. In addition to mainstream novels, Juliet pens the New York Times Bestselling Witchcraft Mysteries and the Haunted Home Renovation series. As Hailey Lind she wrote the Agatha-Award nominated Art Lover's Mystery series. She is past president of Northern California Sisters in Crime and former board member of Mystery Writers of America. Juliet lives in a hundred-year-old house with extensive botanical gardens in Northern California, but spends as much time as possible in Europe and Latin America. She believes in the magic of language, travel, and cultural exchange to open hearts, minds, and souls.

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Second Time Sweeter by Beverly Jenkins- Feature and Review


NAACP nominee and USA Today bestselling author Beverly Jenkins continues her beloved Blessings series with a new heartwarming novel set in Henry Adams, Kansas.

Malachi “Mal” July has run into trouble in the past. With a reputation as a player, he’s now a recovering alcoholic and has made progress in redeeming himself in the eyes of his family and the citizens of Henry Adams, Kansas. He’s not only turned his diner into a profitable business, but also mentors the town’s foster kids. And he’s even staying true to one woman—Bernadine Brown.

But all it takes is a moment of pride to blind Mal to his blessings—a moment that makes him betray his friends and family, and lose Bernadine’s trust and love. Will he ever be able to win her forgiveness?

Meanwhile Homecoming Weekend is fast approaching, and store owner Gary Clark is reunited with his high school sweetheart. All it takes is a few minutes for them to realize the spark is still there, but is it too late for second chances?

A little help from the good people of Henry Adams may give both Mal and Gary the best second chance at the happiness they missed the first time around…



Second Time SweeterSecond Time Sweeter by Beverly Jenkins
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Second Time Sweeter by Beverly Jenkins is a 2018 William Morrow publication.

I added this book on a whim because I was so surprised to see a contemporary novel written by Beverly Jenkins, an author, who for me, has always been associated with historical romance novels.

Apparently, this book is a part of an ongoing series I knew absolutely nothing about. I didn’t intend to start reading another series- I know, you’ve heard that a million times- much less start in on the ninth book. I don’t have time to binge read the previous eight installments, so I just took a leap and dived in, hoping for the best.

The story appears to be centered around Bernadine Brown, the owner of the small Kansas town of Henry Adams. As the story begins, we learn that Bernadine is broken hearted after the man she was dating, Malachi July, pulled a terrible stunt, putting everything he had worked so hard to achieve at risk.

If that weren’t bad enough, Mal, knowing he has disappointed so many people and hurt Bernadine terribly, is behaving almost as if HE is the injured party.

Meanwhile, store owner, and single father, Gary Clark is hoping to reconnect with the woman he was forced to give up years ago, but never really got over. However, his ex-wife has other plans…

As the title suggests this is a story about second chances and forgiveness, which is the kind of story I’m always a sucker for. I loved Gary’s daughters and the solid family life he provided for them. I was rooting for him, hoping he would finally have a chance to regain what he lost.

While the story with Mal seemed more front and center, I confess I was a little flummoxed by his behavior, and his motives were a little weak. It took me a long time to warm up to him. I was hoping for more of a grand gesture from him, however, since this is an ongoing series, maybe Mal will get his chance to impress Bernadine in more sincere and thoughtful ways- Maybe with things money can’t buy, perhaps.

Although, I couldn’t shake the feeling I was missing out on some pertinent backstory with a few of these characters, I thought this was a super sweet story. I definitely want to keep up with the Henry Adams gang in the future, and hope to add a few of the previous chapters in the series into my reading schedule so I can get caught up to speed.





Beverly Jenkins is the recipient of the 2018 Michigan Author Award by the Michigan Library Association, the 2017 Romance Writers of America Nora Roberts Lifetime Achievement Award, as well as the 2016 Romantic Times Reviewers’ Choice Award for historical romance. She has been nominated for the NAACP Image Award in Literature, was featured in both the documentary Love Between the Covers and on CBS Sunday Morning. Since the publication of Night Song in 1994, she has been leading the charge for multicultural romance, and has been a constant darling of reviewers, fans, and her peers alike, garnering accolades for her work from the likes of The Wall Street Journal, People Magazine, and NPR. If you would like to be notified when Beverly has a new release, you can sign up for her newsletter at http://www.beverlyjenkins.net.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Fay Wray and Robert Riskin: A Hollywood Memoir by Victoria Riskin- Feature and Review


A Hollywood love story, a Hollywood memoir, a (dual) Hollywood biography--the woman who stole the heart of King Kong and the man, Robert Riskin, one of the greatest screenwriters of all time, an Academy Award winner, producer, and longtime collaborator with Frank Capra on eight pictures. By their daughter, an acclaimed writer and producer.

A Hollywood love story, a Hollywood memoir, a dual biography of two of Hollywood's most famous figures, whose golden lives were lived at the center of Hollywood's golden age, written by their daughter, an acclaimed writer and producer.

Fay Wray was most famous as the woman--the blonde in a diaphanous gown--who captured the heart of the mighty King Kong, the twenty-five-foot, sixty-ton gorilla, as he placed her, nestled in his eight-foot hand, on the ledge of the 102-story Empire State Building, putting Wray at the height of New York's skyline and cinematic immortality.

Wray starred in more than 120 pictures opposite Hollywood's biggest stars--Spencer Tracy, Gary Cooper (The Legion of the Condemned, The First Kiss, The Texan, One Sunday Afternoon), Clark Gable, William Powell, and Charles Boyer; from cowboy stars Hoot Gibson and Art Accord to Ronald Colman (The Unholy Garden), Claude Rains, Ralph Richardson, and Melvyn Douglas. She was directed by the masters of the age, from Fred Niblo, Erich von Stroheim (The Wedding March), and Mauritz Stiller (The Street of Sin) to Leo McCarey, William Wyler, Gregory La Cava, "Wild Bill" William Wellman, Merian C. Cooper (The Four Feathers, King Kong), Josef von Sternberg (Thunderbolt), Dorothy Arzner (Behind the Make-Up), Frank Capra (Dirigible), Michael Curtiz (Doctor X), Raoul Walsh (The Bowery), and Vincente Minnelli.

The book's--and Wray's--counterpart: Robert Riskin, considered one of the greatest screenwriters of all time. Academy Award-winning writer (nominated for five), producer, ten-year-long collaborator with Frank Capra on such pictures as American Madness, It Happened One Night, Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, Lost Horizon, and Meet John Doe, hailed by many, among them F. Scott Fitzgerald, as "among the best screenwriters in the business." Riskin wrote women characters who were smart, ornery, sexy, always resilient, as he perfected what took full shape in It Happened One Night, the Riskin character, male or female--breezy, self-made, streetwise, optimistic, with a sense of humor that is subtle and sure.

Fay Wray and Robert Riskin lived large lives, finding each other after establishing their artistic selves and after each had had many romantic attachments--Wray, an eleven-year-long difficult marriage and a fraught affair with Clifford Odets, and Riskin, a series of romances with, among others, Carole Lombard, Glenda Farrell, and Loretta Young.

Here are Wray's and Riskin's lives, their work, their fairy-tale marriage that ended so tragically. Here are their dual, quintessential American lives, ultimately and blissfully intertwined.



Fay Wray and Robert Riskin: A Hollywood MemoirFay Wray and Robert Riskin: A Hollywood Memoir by Victoria Riskin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Faye Wray and Robert Riskin: A Hollywood Memoir by Victoria Riskin is a 2019 Pantheon Books publication.

“You will star opposite the tallest, darkest leading man in Hollywood” – Merian C. Cooper, co-director of King Kong, 1933

I don’t recall the first time I watched the original version of King Kong, but it was aired frequently on television when I was very young. I watched it over and over again. I never felt afraid, only fascinated by it. Fay Wray’s performance probably had a lot to do with that fascination. It has been over a decade, at least, since I watched the old, original classic, which, if memory serves, aired on the Turner Classic Movie Channel, at the time.

However, I remember the movie vividly, and despite remakes of the film, the Fay Wray classic is the only one I have ever seen, or ever will watch.

Yet, not once, can I ever recall feeling the slightest bit interested in Fay Wray’s personal life. However, when I stumbled across this book on Overdrive, my interest was piqued.

Written by the daughter of Fay Wray and famous screenwriter, Robert Riskin, this is not only a biography, but a piece of unique history and a real, authentic Hollywood love story.

This book is well-researched and very organized- the first things I look for in any kind of memoir or biography. The book is packed with wonderful memories of some of the best old movies, with plenty of wonderful bits of behind the scenes information. The book alternates between Fay’s career and personal life and Robert’s, leading up their marriage, which wasn’t until Riskin was in his forties.

From there the author explains the ups and downs the couple initially encountered due to world war two and the climate in Hollywood at the time. This portion of the book is a very interesting and informative period of history.

The information is backed up with lovely letters written to Fay from Robert while he was away from home. Unfortunately, Fay and Robert had a limited time together, due to Robert’s health, but one can practically feel the humming chemistry between them while reading this book.

“Every time I’m in New York, I say a little prayer when passing the Empire State Building. A good friend of mine died up there.”
Fay Wray

I didn’t know anything about Fay personally, and embarrassingly, didn’t initially recognize Robert’s name. Now, of course, I do recall his name and understand his vast contribution to films, many of which were collaborations with Frank Capra. I also learned that Fay appeared in many feature films prior to and after her most iconic role. I had a lot of fun looking up these old movies!

Overall, this not a standard biography, it feels like a labor love for the author- a tribute to her mother, and a vindication for her father, who didn’t always get the credit he deserved. It’s a movie lover’s dream, and, is also a treat for those who enjoy history. It will even appeal to romantics who enjoy a good love story- especially one that is true!

I for one, found this book endlessly fascinating, and enjoyed the overall tone of the book. It is obvious the author poured herself into this project, remaining objective, yet allowing her love for her parents to flow through the pages. But, course, no one could blame her for setting the record straight when it came to her father’s work. Victoria’s research is impeccable, but most importantly, I felt like I got to know her parents in an intimate way, which is a feat most biographers rarely accomplish.

I came away with a deep respect for Fay and the life she carved out for herself and the impact she had on cinema and pop culture.

I also feel Robert’s work, is equally important, and I was awed by his body of work and the amazing movies his writing helped bring to life.

However, the most important impression I was left with is that in a business notorious for self-absorption, Fay and Robert prioritized home and country giving them the levity and attention they should have.

Anyone who loves old Hollywood, movies, pop culture, and history will find this very personal, touching, and quite impressive biography of great interest.






VICTORIA RISKIN is an award-winning writer and producer, adapting Willa Cather's "My Ántonia" for television and producing Carson McCullers's "The Member of the Wedding". Riskin was president of the Writers Guild of America West and served for twelve years as a director of Human Rights Watch. She lives on Martha's Vineyard.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

The Hunger by Alma Katsu- Feature and Review


Evil is invisible, and it is everywhere.

Tamsen Donner must be a witch. That is the only way to explain the series of misfortunes that have plagued the wagon train known as the Donner Party. Depleted rations, bitter quarrels, and the mysterious death of a little boy have driven the pioneers to the brink of madness. They cannot escape the feeling that someone--or something--is stalking them. Whether it was a curse from the beautiful Tamsen, the choice to follow a disastrous experimental route West, or just plain bad luck--the 90 men, women, and children of the Donner Party are at the brink of one of the deadliest and most disastrous western adventures in American history.

While the ill-fated group struggles to survive in the treacherous mountain conditions--searing heat that turns the sand into bubbling stew; snows that freeze the oxen where they stand--evil begins to grow around them, and within them. As members of the party begin to disappear, they must ask themselves "What if there is something waiting in the mountains? Something disturbing and diseased...and very hungry?"



The HungerThe Hunger by Alma Katsu
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Hunger by Alma Katsu is a 2018 G.P Putnam’s Sons publication.

Deeply engrossing!

The Donner Party is an epic tragedy that has been explored and analyzed for ages. It’s a gruesome and ghastly tale all on its own. But now, Alma Katsu has added a paranormal tint to the story which only adds yet another horrifying possibility into the mix.

I wasn’t sure what to expect from this book. It has been categorized as a horror novel and since it is centered around the Donner party, it certainly should fall within that genre. However, this is not your typical novel of horror by any means.

Bad luck plagued the Donner party from the start. The wagon train was filled with those hoping for a better future and those who were running away from problems, and those trying to make trouble.
Yet, in this re-imagining- the Donner Party was pursued by something worse than the winter storm of the century. Yes, food is running out, but the survivors are suffering from a different kind of hunger…

This is an ambitious novel, which features both real life characters-The Breen family, William Eddy, and The Donner’s, of course- and fictional ones, pitting them against the unusually harsh realities of a plan gone horribly awry as they make desperate choices just to survive, but also putting them into a supernatural element, offering an alternative theory about what may have been beleaguering the travelers.

The author did a fantastic job with describing the scenery, and an even better one with the character analysis. This story grabbed me right away and kept me glued to the pages from start to finish. It is atmospheric, and truly creepy, but I did feel lost on a few occasions wondering about the various conjectures implied. While the reader is focused on the puzzling ‘hunger’ that is quickly spreading, the true evil may be the one lurking in the hearts of humanity and the sinister motives behind their actions.

I was drawn more towards the characters and the horrible circumstances they found themselves in that the folklore and history of the ‘Hunger’. I did find the trail to the ‘carrier’ of the strange affliction to be quite interesting, although I still felt as though I was missing a key element, leaving me to draw my own conclusions.

Overall, this is a solid chiller, made all the more absorbing due to its basis in factual events. This is one you might want to read in the light of day- for to attempt it in the dark of night, may have consequences!





NPR 100 Favorite Horror Stories

Author of THE HUNGER, a reimagining of the Donner Party's tragic journey (Putnam);
THE TAKER, THE RECKONING and THE DESCENT (Gallery Books). The Taker was selected by ALA/Booklist as one of the top ten debut novels of 2011.