Saturday, 15 July 2017

‘PANDORA’S BOX’ BY ELIZABETH GAGE



 
Sure took me a while to read this one. Not that it was boring. I certainly had a ball. It’s just that with all the ARCs coming my way via NetGalley I just had no time for it. I tried my best to get back to it in between books but the truth of the matter is it was just a pain to leave it aside. Now that peace has started to reign again since I have slowed down on my NetGalley requests I can tell you that not only did I finish PANDORA’S BOX (1990, Pocket Books) a happy man but I found myself cursing the gods of trashy books for having read my last of the Elizabeth Gage’s contractual five novels from Simon & Schuster. I’m almost sure nothing will be the same once I start her Mira books which are supposedly tamer than what we’ve gotten so far. 

Anyway, getting back to PANDORA’S BOX, I must point out that it’s a lengthy novel, a door stopper as some of you like to call it. At 864 pages (mass market paperback) the novel has to be pretty darn good for me to invest my time in it. It is, as it turns out. The story revolves around two women who, born on the same date but different as night and day, come to cross paths later in life against a backdrop of political agenda. What happens before is a series of scandals and sins à la Elizabeth Gage. Lies, adultery, business takeovers, all spiced up by a strong narrative and a psyche of its characters that really lets you in on the reasons of their ways. In fact, if I had one negative thing to say about PANDORA’S BOX it’s that the author relies too much on explanation. The show, don’t tell mantra seems completely forgotten at times, which, in the end, irks quite a bit, but since the positive overcompensates the negative I am—and was—willing to let it go.  

Indeed, getting into the nitty-gritty of this frothy read that spans over thirty years was a joy still, most specifically because it took over from the real world. With its fleshed-out characterization and well-thought of plot twists (some expected some not) nothing came to matter except the fate of these fictitious people. I even found myself getting soft on the antagonist who the author managed to render human-like. Just go to show you that even a trashy novel like PANDORA’S BOX can impress on a literary level. But are we really surprised? This second offering (after the riveting A GLIMPSE OF STOCKING) is nothing less than what we’ve come to expect from a writer who, in my humble opinion, should come back from the pseudonymous grave ASAP.
 

 

Until next post—Martin

MMP UK edition
 

 

 

 

 

Wednesday, 12 July 2017

‘FITNESS JUNKIE’ BY LUCY SYKES AND JO PIAZZA



 
Rarely do I give a novel an outstanding review. Yes, many have had my seal of approval over the years but the ones that earn a notch above the rest happen once in a blue moon. Like this featured title, for example, penned by the duo team of Lucy Sykes and Jo Piazza (THE KNOCKOFF). It was such a joy to read that a second go at it would have been more than welcomed had I not had to reduce my reading pile. FITNESS JUNKIE (Doubleday, 2017) tells the tale of a career woman who’s on a quest to find the magic solution that will give her back her girly figure. Not a simple task—of course—but at the hands of these two talented writers anything is possible. 

The fun—or should we say the hardship—begins early on when gay bestie and longtime business partner of a couture wedding dress company urges 40 year-old Janey to take a leave of absence to slim down about 30 pounds (bad for business, he claims). Since the weight issue has been contracted (!) when they were in their ‘20s Janey realizes she has no choice. So in come a slew of fitness gimmicks that eventually do more harm than good. Aided by a college chum who’s just as obsessed with health and fitness as she is and a spin-instructor of a niece who has a mouth like a sailor, Janey will stop at nothing to regain her rightful place as CEO.  

First and foremost let me say that the recipe for riveting reads is to always showcase a knockout of a protagonist, and in this novel, Janey is her. She is sympathetic, smart, resilient, kind, funny but most importantly relatable. Women of all sizes will see themselves in her. If not so much, then at least her crazy encounters with the human kind will make them grin from ear to ear and sometimes warm their heart. Because FITNESS JUNKIE is not always all fun and games (which are aplenty, trust me). There are also moments of sensitivity such as the scene where the heroine clearly sees that she’s no longer considered a muse in the eyes of her business partner or the one involving a group therapy session which almost moved me to tears with its message of hope after despair. I say almost, because I’m a mean S.O.B.  

The real star of this novel, however, is the over-the-top fitness regimes that just can’t be real (according to the writers some are). From drinking clay to attending a Free the Nipple Yoga session, not to mention getting high on cactus juice, all are nuttier than the next. But the most important thing in FITNESS JUNKIE, besides giving the heroine not one but two male counterparts to coddle with, is the strong and effective narrative. Like last year’s THE KNOCKOFF the story breezes by like a summer wind and before you know it the end is near and your only wish is to go back in time and enjoy it all over again. Can’t wait to see what’s next in the horizon from these dynamic authors.  

 

Thanks to the publisher and NetGalley for the chance to read this novel in exchange for an honest review.

  

Until next post—Martin


 

Sunday, 2 July 2017

TOO MUCH, TOO SOON (1958)


 
I remember a time when PBS used to showcase vintage movies on weekend afternoons during which I caught TOO MUCH, TOO SOON starring the ever-interesting Dorothy Malone. The aim was to recreate movie house magic with previews, intermissions between double-bills, and it totally worked. I was around 17 (I think) and already had a thing for silver screen cinema. I was so absorbed by this latest showing that I spent years trying to catch it again, to no avail. It took the possession of a VHS player and the magic of eBay for me to finally find a print. Fast-forward to early 2010 and what do you know, a DVD copy finally comes my way, courtesy of Warner Brothers.   

 
Based on the 1957 best-selling  memoirs of Diana Barrymore (Drew Barrymore’s aunt), TOO MUCH, TOO SOON shows the world what it’s really like to have it all and still self-destruct. Malone’s downward spiral from the golden days of Hollywood to the sleazy side of the boulevard involves booze and booze and more booze. Did I say booze? 

The fun starts pretty early when teen Malone—already in her 30s at the time—visits her matinee idol of a dad (an impressive Errol Flynn) whom she hadn’t seen in years on account that he’s a wandering lush (but stuck on a yacht for this scene). She quickly sees his ways when he drunkenly throws himself into the ocean to crash a party on another yacht. This sudden abandonment doesn’t bode well for Malone as the gauzy soft focus equipped camera zooms in on her sadden face. Cut to a few years later and Malone, now a society belle, yearns to see her name in lights but fails at it big time after receiving scathed reviews (sort of like in this film). Married now to fellow actor Efrem Zimbalist Jr (from SCRUPLES fame) and rid of her dad who has finally passed on, she sets out to be a good wife. Not for long, though, since she rather sleeps with tennis pro Ray Danton (who wouldn’t?) while hubby is away. 

Divorced, she and Danton get hitched and live off her domineering mom. The two party like the Lowans before he swirls a tennis ball at her in a fit of rage. Ouch!  She soon divorces him as well and consumes pints of alcohol to forget it all, especially the fact that she is now dead broke (her deceased mom’s has done a MOMMIE DEAREST on her in her will). Then we get to the film pivotal scene where Malone, drunk as a skunk and not much to look at, does an awful burlesque act in a seedy club to earn money and is quickly thrown off the stage. She ends up in rehab, cleans up finally and chance meets sweet old friend Martin Milner (Neely‘s first hubby in VALLEY OF THE DOLLS) who offers a helping hand. She kindly refuses but promises to keep in touch and heads off to her new sober life.  The end. 

In real life Diana Barrymore had a much longer battle with booze (and pills) which lasted until her untimely death (ruled suicide) in 196o. She was 38 years old. In between drinks she had tried to revive her acting career from the success of her novel but failed again. Clearly her life was meant to be shitty. Supposedly Lana Turner’s character in THE BAD AND THE BEAUTIFUL is based on Barrymore. It has been years since I have seen that film. Need to check it out once again.

 

 

Until next post—Martin