Thursday, 16 May 2019

‘BETTE & JOAN: THE DIVINE FEUD’ BY SHAUN CONSIDINE


Two years ago when I sat down to watch TVs FEUD created by Ryan Murphy I immediately remembered this bio by Shaun Considine which I had a blast reading and which is the inspiration for the high-rated series. In it Susan Sarandon and Jessica Lange, playing Bette Davis and Joan Crawford respectively, winningly bring back the Hollywood glamour as well as the much-publicised rivalry between the two. It was a fabulous eight-parter of bitchiness, cigarette smoking, on-spot re-enactments, superb gowns, lavish locations, and most importantly, a slew of dramatic moments that touched a nerve in all of us. Murphy and his crew delivered a great season—and we would have gladly taken another one if FX hadn’t cancelled the series soon after.  

Thank goodness we still have the Considine reprint from Graymalkin Media to go back to (in my case it’s the 1990 paperback edition from Dell) if we are ever in need of a fix. I never get tired of reading about these two legendary divas who allegedly nearly came to blows on the set of WHATEVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE. Their love-hate relationship is as famous as their tormented lives behind the camera. The author clearly has fun taking us back before, during and after the filming of this timeless classic. It is a thrill ride you’ll likely never forget. Sure the content sometimes reminds of an ET interview vault but, who cares, the fun is certainly there for any movie classic buff to enjoy. 

I will certainly pick up BETTE & JOAN: THE DIVINE FEUD again one of these days, just to remind myself how much cray-cray these two broads really were. I have a better penchant for Crawford, probably because of the MOMMIE DEAREST craze, but give me a Davis or a Crawford film marathon on TCM and I’m gone for the day. It’s probably a gay thing but to those who get it with or without the label attached to them, more power to you I say. Now if only Ryan Murphy could tag himself to Shaun Casidine’s other highly delectable bio BARBARA STREISAND: THE WOMAN, THE MYTH, THE MUSIC and adapt it to the screen, big or small, I would die a very happy fan.





Until next post—Martin  
The 2017 reprint edition



Tuesday, 30 April 2019

‘THE SPANISH PROMISE’ BY KAREN SWAN



I’ve got to hand it to prolific writer Karen Swan for always delivering the goods. I don’t know how she does it—well, maybe I do a little, read on—but in her latest one, THE SPANISH PROMISE (2019, Pan Macmillan), she again succeeds in capturing her readers with an encompassing tale of Spanish ancestry and the after affect of secrets long forgotten. Or are they really? You don’t have to be Nostradamus to know exactly where this one is headed. We all know that towards the end the truth will finally be revealed and in effect set every one free. There’s a gimmick to these types of read. Take a smart but clueless when it comes to love heroine and put her in an unfavorable situation, most preferably overseas, and watch her crumble then flourish as she finally confronts whatever she has to confront. It’s the rule of the game in romantic sagas, and believe you me this one is no different.

If I sound a bit like a know-it-all I apologize. I have nothing but good will regarding these reads. They help me escape from whatever gets my goat, and I’m always grateful for that, especially when a title like THE SPANISH PROMISE hits my Kindle. The central character is what you call a lovable mess. She is good at her job (a wealth counsellor. In other words, she helps people deal with a sudden load of cash) but when it comes to her own personal life, well, everything is in chaos. She’s about to get married to a guy she does not really fancy. The one she so very much digs does not want anything to do with her (even after a hot session of lovemaking, I might add). But most importantly, she keeps finding herself caught in vulnerable, if not embarrassing, positions that only make things worse for her.

Thank goodness her personal predicaments are only half of the plot since everything else is greatly focused on a rich man’s will. This guy has a big secret to share and in no time do the flashbacks involving another heroine, one that is as feisty as she is beautiful, are on the go. To say that these parallel lives are equally strong would be a false statement on my part. Truth be told, I much preferred those remembrance parts than any of those present-day plights involving all. Call it a far more original tale perhaps, who knows. But I found myself turning the pages even more quickly whenever flashbacks beckoned.

Still, everything in THE SPANISH PROMISE is top shape, from the tight narrative to the Spanish setting, not to mention the romantic liaisons that keep the story moving along. If not only for those, there are enough of twists and turns to satisfy any jaded reader who might be looking for something extra. Karen Swan has got another best-seller in her hands.

THE SPANISH PROMISE is available in Canada wherever books are sold. The rest of the world will have to wait until July 11 to get their hands on a copy. My thanks to NetGalley and the publishers for this ARC.




Until next post—Martin 






Wednesday, 10 April 2019

‘A BREED APART’ BY JEANNE DAY LORD




I have seen A BREED APART (Pocket, 1988) very often during my many trips to used bookstores across the land but I always chose to leave the novel behind. Why? Well, it does have a great ‘80s cover art by famed photographer Onofrio Paccione, I’ll admit that, but the subject matter is a little bland for my taste. It’s all about horses; thoroughbred racing, to be precise. I figured if it isn’t written by Jilly Cooper (Google her) the best thing is to keep away, and I did, for many years. Then one late summer during our vacation in Miami I found a copy real cheap. Again I got tempted and, suffice to say, succumbed despite my misgiving. Did I eventually regret the decision of buying it? Keep on reading, people. 

First and foremost, I had no idea at the time that A BREED APART was written by Robert Rosenblum, this multitasker fellow whose use of pseudonyms (Joanna Kingsley, Jessica March...) made him hot for a little while in the ‘80s. To me, Jeanne Day Lord was solely a one hit wonder novelist published a year earlier in the UK. It took this blog and the web to finally figure out who she really was.  

Since my last Rosenblaum novel, FACES by Joanna Kingsley, failed to impress me, I held on a couple of years before venturing into this one. One night after reviewing many forthcoming books for Net Galley I decided to give this guy another shot. Who knows? I might hit the jackpot after all. Besides, I was in desperate need to read some vintage trash, any vintage trash. People often think that calling a book trashy or sleazy is quite demeaning. But to me, it’s always been the highest of compliments. It means that the work in question is hitting all the right buttons. The more glamorous the novel gets, the more fun I end up having. Sure, the narrative needs to always be on point but put me up with the trouble of the rich and I’m a happy guy.  

This Jeanne Day Lord effort, however, failed to get me there, probably because the novel focuses too much on the main character’s long rise as a top vet (300 hundred pages of it) and not enough on her life as a jet-setter. Sure, the author redeems himself in the second-half by getting her right into the swing of things—without ever relinquishing the ABCs of horse breeding and racing—but it all ends up being just a little too late and too much for this reader.  

Oh don’t get me wrong. A BREED APART is far from being a bad book. It is actually well-written and the heroine is quite likable. Her story of a child of poverty who makes a name for herself despite the odds is almost gripping at times but in the long run I found it to be quite boring. I’m sure there are plenty of horse lovers out there who will dig it. It just isn’t for me. It’s the second time that a novel penned by Rosemblaum fails to win me over. I cringe into thinking what the rest of his work looks like. Better stay away, I think. On second thought, TREASURES, again by his nom de plume Johanna Kingsley, looks mighty tasty.





Until next post—Martin

UK edition



Thursday, 21 March 2019

‘PRIME TIME’ BY JOAN COLLINS





When Joan Collins decided to put out this fiction number in the late ‘80s I remember thinking, oh here we go, another actress who thinks she can write, forgetting that she had already proven her skills with a few highly successful autobiographies a decade or so earlier. Furthermore, to me, moving into her sister’s established turf seemed, well, very shady. Remember, I had been (and still am) a die-hard Jackie Collins fan and I just couldn’t see anyone else doing it just as well, even if it’s her wildly successful sibling. But curiosity won me over and I just had to take at least a peek. Turns out I did more than that, finishing the novel in a record time. Now, was this title just as good as a Jackie Collins novel? Read on.

The thing about PRIME TIME (Pocket) is that you have to avoid comparing it to any other work to truly enjoy it, and I did enjoy it, make no mistake about that. It may not be the sharpest book to come out but, boy, it sure is one of the sleaziest. And I say that with all the genuine love I have for this type of efforts, because what we have here is a fun, no holds bar romp of the rich and the rotten that highly deserves the accolades from seekers of trash fiction. It sorts of remind me of THE DEBUTANTES by June Flaum Singer which reached the top of the best-seller list in 1982 despite being considered unreadable by many insiders. Both narratives have little substance but a whole lot of scandals to compensate.

In a nutshell PRIME TIME centers around five women who vow for a spot on a top-rated TV series à la Dynasty. There are many secrets and sins already attached to their names and half the fun is trying to figure out who will eventually overcome them to win the coveted part as, what else, the wife of a business tycoon. The other half is trying not to smirk too much at all of the silliness of the bed-hopping, demoralized urgings, crazy antics that fill the pages of this juicy best-seller.

Not once did I find the book boring and say what you want, Joan Collins is a great storyteller. She may not have the opus operandi of say, her dear departed sister, but boy does she know how to make a scene sparkle. The last time I uttered those exact words were in reference to Jacqueline Susann’s body of work. Not too shabby a compliment, if I may say so myself. 

Collins has written many other novels since PRIME TIME. All have been international best-sellers. If you want a go at them you can easily use a Kindle or a Kobo. As for I, I will stick with my physical paperbacks and hardbacks ‘cause, hey, that’s the kind of crazy dude that I am. 



Until next post—Martin








Tuesday, 5 March 2019

‘NEVER LOVE A STRANGER’ BY HAROLD ROBBINS



If you ever want to experience Harold Robbins the writer—and not the redundant storyteller he later became—start with his debut novel NEVER LOVE A STRANGER. This one’s a sure bet. His best even. Some may argue otherwise, preferring THE CARPETBAGGERS or A STONE FOR DANNY FISHER, but I still believe he gave all he’s got for NEVER LOVE A STRANGER. Mind you, he did hit home runs with his early subsequent novels but in my heart of hearts nothing can beat this reviewed title. Whether it’s in his strong narrative, likable protagonist, fine storytelling, or sexual situations—which, BTW, is a lot tamer on account of the novel being published in 1948—there is something important going on in between those pages, and I’m not talking about Robbins’ fresh gutter mind. No, what I’m getting at is that Robbins is actually a talented bloke if you scratch beneath surface, and in insight NEVER LOVE A STRANGER is the perfect example of that.


The plot, told mostly in first-person flashbacks in a span of over twenty years, is all about Frankie Kane who, we come to learn early on, is an orphan who knows his way around. He’s what you call street smart, a thing I always wish I could have been, but this isn’t about moi so let’s just move on. After numerous dangerous situations that would be too long for me to describe Kane eventually becomes one of the biggest mobsters of his time—but at what price? From rotten deals to violent confrontations of all sorts, Kane manages to find himself and eventually becomes the person he’s meant to be. Nothing new, I admit, but handled with care, and, dare I say it, class. Yes, Robbins takes out his Sunday clothes for this one, delivering a riveting tale of a hoodlum whose ups and downs make for a fine character study. And of course, this character deserves everything that comes to him because, as you all know, without his despair there wouldn’t be a novel such as this one. In return, the reader can’t help getting caught up into the swirl of things and before he knows it the end is near and a few chapters more would have been more than welcome. Yes, this is the kind of a novel NEVER LOVE A STRANGER is.  


Mind you, one has to be ready for Robbins’ wicked ways. His world is far from being apple pie. Every female character is used as an excuse to heighten the importance of the male counterpart—when she is not caught solely in the sheets. And of course those women are always fully stacked. I’m sure the Me Too movement would have had a field day with these publications had it ever existed back in the day. But if you’re ready to overlook this tiny little flaw (if you can call using women a tiny little flaw), then I’m positive you’ll find this novel as compelling as anything Robbins has ever written. 


There’s a 1958 B&W movie adaptation starring John Drew Barrymore (son of stage and screen legend John Barrymore and Drew’s dad) and Steve McQueen (in his first film). I own it on VHS. I shall review it one of these days. Until then, I’d suggest that you get busy with NEVER LOVE A STRANGER. If you’re like me, you’ll find the rewards worth your while. At least I hope you will.



You can still get NEVER LOVE A STRANGER wherever digital books are sold.



Until next post—Martin  

Sunday, 27 January 2019

‘THE PARISIANS’ BY MARIUS GABRIEL




I’ve been collecting the work of Marius Gabriel for quite some time now. The first novel I got a hold of was THE ORIGINAL SIN (1992); then I found THE MASK OF TIME (1994). Before I knew it I had at least four of his novels, not counting the Kindle titles I got later on. This book loving of mine is nothing new. Ever since I decided to amass as many racy novels as possible, anything resembling that genre definitely has had a place on my busy bookshelves. So you can easily imagine what my reading room looks like. A tornado of books, I tell you. But am I complaining? No freaking way. I feel rather blessed to have and own so many titles, vintage or current. Some authors I have already read, some I have still yet to. Mr Gabriel used to place himself in the latter category—until a few weeks ago when NetGalley came a-calling for me to review his latest one THE PARISIANS (2019, Lake Union Publishing). Of course I had no choice but to accept.   

Turns out, I very much enjoyed THE PARISIANS where real and fictional characters do a cross over in a plush hotel in Paris during WW2. From Coco Chanel to famed French actress Arletty—not to mention a bunch of other well-drawn fictional characters—all are faced with the invasion of the Nazis and all yearn to survive the best they can. This of course is far from being simple, especially for the central heroine who longs to save her boyfriend who is at the hands of the Gestapo. One thing’s for sure, though, simple or not, their many problems do make for a compelling read. The narrative, as the plot and subplots, is solid, and I found myself totally invested in the denouement of these complicated but oh-so fascinating people. Marius Gabriel has a knack for re-imagining true moments in time, and I look forward to read more of his stuff in the future.  

So I guess I was right about getting a hold of this guy’s work. Funny thing, though, I thought I had everything he ever published but, boy, was I wrong. It looks like he’s also written a bunch of romance novels using the pseudonym of Madeleine Ker, from the 1980s to the mid-2000s. I doubt I’ll ever get to them but I wonder if I would ever change my mind had I easy access to them. Better to focus on the many unread titles I already do own. Besides, I barely have the time or the energy, not to mention the cash, to venture into other publications. Still...



Pick up THE PARISIANS. Like I, you’ll find it interesting, especially if you’re into biographical historical fiction. It’s a new subgenre to me but one I’ll definitely return to now that I had a first taste of it.



Until next post—Martin



Monday, 14 January 2019

‘YARGO’ BY JACQUELINE SUSANN


YARGO (1979, Bantam) is the kind of novel I would never have approached had it not been written by trash connoisseur Jacqueline Susann—or by the likes of Jackie Susann, come to think of it. I mean, let’s be real here, Sci-Fi has always been a bore to me. The genre and I just don’t gel. That’s the truth of the matter. So I was a bit reticent in starting this one. Turns out my worries were for nothing, for I found it to be very delightful indeed.  

The story is rather simple: a beautiful girl is mistakenly abducted by aliens and ultimately falls in love with their leader who strangely looks like actor Yul Brynner (Google him or scroll down to the French edition pic). The planet they take her to is called Yargo. In a space (pun intended of course) of 347 pages we follow her journey as she goes through the motion of discovering the planet, its inhabitants and their ways of life. A little mundane in imagination perhaps, but touched by the Susann pen it is anything but. The author hooks you right away with the misadventures of her sweet protagonist which, BTW, almost read like a romance comic book magazine from the ’50s and ‘60s. I can easily see it as a bi-monthly thing where we discover further on if our heroine will finally settle in Yargo for good or be brought back to earth to forget all about this close encounter of the Susann kind.  

Speaking of the author, she wrote this way before VALLEY OF THE DOLLS, during the mid-‘50s, if I remember correctly. It was then called THE STARS SCREAM, and she tried to get it published without success. It was only after her death in 1974 that if finally saw the light of day, most certainly to cash in on the Susann name. But, like I said, contrary to what some may believe, YARGO is surprisingly effective. Of course you have to dig Jacqueline Susann to really get this one. We’re not talking about Alan Dean Foster here. YARGO is just a quick and satisfying—and yes, silly—read that will make anyone on the Susann band wagon smile and appreciate her range as a trashy novelist.  

One last thing before we part yet again. YARGO can even be taken as a continuing story of January Wayne from ONCE IS NOT ENOUGH, Susann’s third consecutive #1 best-seller from 1973. Remember, the novel left us to believe that her sudden disappearance was the cause of an abduction by a UFO. Well, there you have it—in all its sleazy glory no less—the unofficial continued drama of poor January in a galaxy far far away. Makes some of you drool, doesn’t it? 



Until next post—Martin  
French edition 



.




Wednesday, 2 January 2019

‘GAMES’ BY VERA COWIE


In my quest to find the best trashy book there is I often find myself salivating over eye-catching covers. Like this title by British author Vera Cowie (1987, Avon) whom I discovered while vacationing abroad. She was one of many authors I brought back home that day, and that cover alone just made me want to jump right in, especially with that blurb describing it as Dynasty-like. Sold, as they say! Though it took me a couple of years to finally get to it, I can now finally attest that, alas, as much as I wanted it to be Dynasty-like, in the end the content didn’t exactly match the drapes, if you know what I mean. 

GAMES (called THE BAD AND THE BEAUTIFUL in the UK) is all about a gorgeous interior designer who marries a hot looking rich swinger who, we come to find out, has a scary mother fixation. This mother in question is a well-respected and well-feared socialite who, upon hearing of her son’s surprised wedding, schemes her way to destroy it and eventually does, big time I must add. Suffice to say, our talented but oh-so clueless when it comes to love heroine is soon left with a broken heart, not to mention a black and blue face after a major couple’s brawl.  

Cut to a few years later when our gorgeous but now divorced interior designer is a mother. The father is of course her hot ex, whom, BTW, she’s still mad about (!) despite having learned that he has remarried (the bride handpicked by his mother, this time). Since he has no clue he is a daddy our gorgeous heroine tries her hardest to keep it that way to avoid any unfavorable confrontation. No can do, it seems. Upon a chance meeting in Hollywood where her career flourishes even more, they talk, he cracks, the child gets kidnapped, he confronts his controlling mom (she apparently knew about the child but kept it from him). The socialite mom croaks, so does his second wife in a silly murderous subplot and eventually they all live happily ever after: the hot swinger, the successful and gorgeous designer and their safe and sound perfect little daughter.  

Perhaps I should have put a spoiler warning ahead but I figured, what the heck, live a little. Besides, I just couldn’t resist making fun of the whole thing. It’s not that it’s a bad book. The narrative, if bloated, is fairly competent but the story, boy, it’s like watching paint dry. The author loves to linger on beautiful things and descriptive dialogue (“I feel this, I feel that...”) to the point of making the reading experience almost cringe-worthy. But I do have to admit that when it’s good, it’s very good, especially when it involves Mommy Dearest. God, what a bitch she is. I loved everything about her. We need more characters like her in trashy novels. Just in better ones than this offering.

  

Until next post—Martin  
UK edition