Review: The Garden on Sunset by Martin Turnbull

Book Reviews, Book Reviews

Review: The Garden on Sunset by Martin Turnbull


In 1927, violet-eyed Alla Nazimova, the highest paid and most famous actress in the world, converted her Sunset Boulevard movie-star mansion into a hotel and dubbed it ‘The Garden of Allah.’ Before you could say Prohibition-Schmohibition it became a fabled residence-of-choice for hopeful and ambitious arrivals in Hollywood. The likes of Tallulah Bankhead, Robert Benchley, Dorothy Parker, Bogart & Bacall, Gary Cooper, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Errol Flynn, Harpo Marx, Orson Welles, and others walked, wobbled, wandered, and wafted through its doors and sometimes into its pool. Drunk. Or naked. Or both. And rarely alone.

Drawn to this hallowed haven is Marcus Adler whose own father has run him out of Pennsylvania. There is only one address he knows: 8152 Sunset Boulevard, Hollywood–the home of the luminous Nazimova, a vision in diaphanous lavender tulle who once visited him when he was a child sick with diphtheria. “Come visit me any time,” she whispered into his ear. He takes her at her word but finds her home is now a hotel. With nowhere else to go, he checks in and thinks, Now what? There he meets Kathryn Massey who has run away from her overbearing stage mother to pursue a career as a journalist–God forbid a girl in Hollywood would actually want to use her brains–and Gwendolyn Brick, a hopeful actress from ‘The Other Hollywood’–Hollywood, Florida–who has come to try her luck in Glitter City. The girl is blessed/cursed with a pair of lips that the men in this town are going to be lining up to have a go at. She won’t be able to fight them off on her own.

They band together: three naïve hopefuls madly dog-paddling against a tidal wave of threadbare casting couches, nervous bootleggers, human billboards, round-world Zeppelins, sinking gambling boats, waiters in black face, William Randolph Hearst, the Long Beach earthquake, starlets, harlots, Harlows and Garbos.

THE GARDEN ON SUNSET is the first in Martin Turnbull’s series of historical novels set during Hollywood’s golden age.

Synopsis Courtesy of the Author’s Website.

After coming off a recent reading high after finishing “Love Me” by Rachel Shukert, (review coming soon) I found the perfect solution in “The Garden on Sunset” by Martin Turnbull, book 1 in the Garden of Allah series. This self-published novel was pretty hard to track down, but eventually my library found just one copy in a library in Illinois and sent it my way.

Needless to say, I eagerly devoured this unknown gem in a few short days. It had everything I wanted in a novel about the Golden Age of Hollywood: exotic film stars, intrigue, and excellent descriptions of locales that were familiar to me via other books and movies like Schwabb’s, the Brown Derby, and the Paramount lot. Although some of the content was surprising, it fit very naturally in this plot, and I’m left wondering why this book hasn’t found a home with a traditional publishing house.

My only criticism would be about the timeline and pacing. As a reader, I was not sure if the plot had jumped forward a day, two days, a month or six months with each chapter. A  little more time could have been taken for character development and I believe a little subscript at the top of the new chapters like “Six weeks later” or “Christmas, 1934” might have helped to keep readers a bit more oriented with the timeline.

For fans of the Starstruck series by Rachel Shukert, although definitely intended for an older reader, this series surely has the ability to go further in the publishing industry with some well-placed publicity.

Book 2: The Trouble With Scarlett

About the Author:

Martin Turnbull

Martin Turnbull has worked as a private tour guide showing both locals and out-of-towners the movie studios, Beverly Hills mansions, Hollywood hills vistas and where all the bodies are buried. For nine years, he has also volunteered as an historical walking tour docent with the Los Angeles Conservancy. He worked for a summer as a guide at the Warner Bros. movie studios in Burbank showing movie fans through the sound stages where Bogie and Bacall, Bette Davis, Errol Flynn, and James Cagney created some of Hollywood’s classic motion pictures.

From an early age, Martin was enchanted with old movies from Hollywood’s golden era–from the dawn of the talkies in the late 1920s to the dusk of the studio system in the late 1950s–and has spent many, many a happy hour watching the likes of Garland, Gable, Crawford, Garbo, Grant, Miller, Kelly, Astaire, Rogers, Turner, Welles go through their paces.

When he discovered the wonderful world of biographies, autobiographies, and memoirs, his love of reading merged with his love of movies and his love of history to produce a three-headed hydra gobbling up everything in his path. Ever since then, he’s been on a mission to learn and share as much as he can about this unique time.

Originally from Melbourne, Australia, Martin moved to Los Angeles in the mid-90s.

Author Website:

Twitter: @TurnbullMartin

Review:”Jane” by April Lindner

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“Jane” by April Lindner


Publication Date: October 11, 2010

Little, Brown & Co., Poppy Imprint

Complimentary Advance Review Copy

Listing Price: $17.99

Ages 15 & up.

Overall Grade: 4 out of 5 stars (****)



Forced to drop out of an esteemed East Coast college after the sudden death of her parents, Jane Moore takes a nanny job at Thornfield Park, the estate of Nico Rathburn, a world-famous rock star on the brink of a huge comeback. Practical and independent, Jane reluctantly becomes entranced by her magnetic and brooding employer and finds herself in the midst of a forbidden romance. 

But there’s a mystery at Thornfield, and Jane’s much-envied relationship with Nico is soon tested by an agonizing secret from his past. Torn between her feelings for Nico and his fateful secret, Jane must decide: Does being true to herself mean giving up on true love?

An irresistible romance interwoven with a darkly engrossing mystery, this contemporary retelling of the beloved classic Jane Eyre promises to enchant a new generation of readers. 

Synopsis Courtesy of 

This book had me at “hello.” After glancing at the new Young Adult listings on I was immediately intrigued. A retelling of Jane Eyre? I received an ARC within a few days, and finished the book in under two days, glued as I was to the page.

I haven’t read the original Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte yet, so I was truly interested in how this book would be since I was a fresh reader without the prejudices or bias to the original work.

Jane Moore was an interesting character to watch on her journey from dead-broke college student to a rock musician’s nanny. She was a bit quiet, in that her character didn’t speak her mind too much and I hoped she would gain more confidence and strength than what was “told” on the page instead of shown. I imagine this was partly due to the character constraints of the original novel.

I really liked Thornfield Park and the image of the house and grounds were very distinct and had a moodiness to it that made the reader believe that something wasn’t quite right about it.

Nico Rathburn was a great Byronic character, moody, rich, narcissistic and self-absorbed—the bad guy all of the girls want and his interaction with his daughter was sweet and innocent, similar to the interaction between Mr. Darcy and Georgiana Darcy in Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice.

This book kept me glued to the pages, and although the narrative was periodically interrupted with already-outdated pop culture references like the original Conan O’Brien show, its lyrical and eloquent style felt true to the original book’s time period. It truly made me want to rush out and buy the original Jane Eyre, which I believe is a great thing this book can do.

April Lindner is a fresh talent with a knack for interpretation of the classics, and who knows what she might write next? A retelling of Wuthering Heights, maybe?… In any case, April Lindner is a welcome sight in the YA genre that is overflowing with zombie, werewolf, and vampire stories.


Watch the book trailer for “Jane” by April Lindner below!



Note: This book was a complimentary Advanced Review Copy courtesy of Little, Brown Books for Children, Poppy Imprint. Publication Date: October 11, 2010

Review: “Keys to the Repository” by Melissa de la Cruz

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Keys to the Repository by Melissa de la Cruz

Lavish parties. Passionate meetings in the night. Bone-chilling murders. Midterms. The day-to-day life of Schuyler Van Alen and her Blue Bloods friends (and enemies) is never boring. But there’s oh-so-much more to know about these beautiful and powerful teens. Below the streets of Manhattan, within the walls of the Repository, exists a wealth of revealing information about the vampire elite that dates back before the Mayflower. In a series of short stories, journal entries, and never-before-seen letters, New York Times bestselling author Melissa de la Cruz gives her hungry fans the keys to the Repository and an even more in-depth look into the secret world of the Blue Bloods.

Won’t you come inside?

Synopsis Courtesy of

A companion book to the New York Times Bestselling Series, “Blue Bloods”, I received this book from Melissa De La Cruz’s office early in June but only recently had the privilege of reading it.

Serving as a guidebook to the series while midway in the story arc, Keys to the Repository has maps, snippets of character information like Jack Force’s hair and eye color (I always imagined him with dark hair, not platinum blonde) and the past lives of the Coven. There were a few short story in-between scenes throughout the book that weren’t covered in some of the novels, most notably Jack and Schuyler’s first private meeting in the dark apartment.

Even though that particular “extended scene” snippet fell a little short on the promised “goods”, I thoroughly enjoyed the extra scene featuring Dylan Ward and the house on Shelter Island. The mood was dark and gloomy, more so than anything else that Melissa has written in this series and the mood was reminiscent of “The Others” film starring Nicole Kidman. Creepy house, cold nights, fog, and a dark figure trying to get inside… What else could you ask for so close to Halloween?

Keys To the Repository would have been better placed after the series was finished, instead of awkwardly released in the middle, as a lot of information about the characters that should have been “revealed” was a bit ambiguous for my taste. I really liked the cover design, and is a cool book to add to my collection. I think a further in-depth guide in the future is needed to have a clearer picture of all of the characters and their past lives, but this was a great book full of hints of what is to come next for Schuyler, Jack, Mimi and Bliss in the Blue Bloods series.

Review: Bloody Jack by L.A. Meyer

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With the plague running rampant in London in 1797, Mary’s parents and sister are soon counted among the dead. Left alone and penniless, the eight-year-old is taken in by a gang of orphans and learns survival skills. However, when their leader is killed, Mary decides to try her luck elsewhere. She strips the dead body, cuts her hair, renames herself Jack Faber, and is soon employed as a ship’s boy on the HMS Dolphin. When the vessel sees its first skirmish with a pirate ship, her bravery saves her friend Jaimy and earns her the nickname “Bloody Jack.” Told by Mary/Jack in an uneven dialect that sometimes doesn’t ring true, the story weaves details of life aboard the Dolphin. Readers see how she changes her disguise based on her own physical changes and handles the “call of nature,” her first experiences with maturation, and the dangers to boys from unscrupulous crew members. The protagonist’s vocabulary, her appearance and demeanor, and her desire to be one of the boys and do everything they do without complaint complete the deception. This story also shows a welcome slant to this genre with an honorable, albeit strict Captain, and ship’s mates who are willing and able teachers. If readers are looking for a rousing, swashbuckling tale of pirates and adventures on the high seas, this title falls short. However, it is a good story of a brave ship’s “boy” with natural leadership abilities and a sense of fair play and humanity.
Synopsis Courtesy of


Bloody Jack has been a book I’ve intended to read for several years, having seen it on bookstore shelves, noticed it, read the back cover and inside flap several times…and every time I put it back on the shelf with the intention of reading it just after getting through another stack of books. It gave me the feeling it would be a middle-of-the-road young adult book about the sea, but young Mary “Jacky” Faber pleasantly surprised me.

Jacky had a very distinct character voice throughout the novel, sometimes brash and salty like an old sailor, other times fearful to the officers or cheeky to the other ship’s boys. Even the way the author progressed her speech pattern from the uneducated cockney in England to the more refined speech she had upon the course of her commission on the Dolphin—was flawless and natural.

There weren’t many epic scenes as usual in nautical/piratical novels, Bloody Jack was able to pique my interest in a wonderful manner. There were areas of great character development and action scenes spaced evenly throughout, and I rather liked her cheekiness at times. Jacky Faber’s goal was only to keep her commission aboard the Dolphin because all she really wanted was food and a place to sleep, and she ended up being a bit of an reluctant hero at the end.

A few parts were a bit muddy, as to the reader Jacky had become almost too male to remember she was a girl only disguised as a boy. The near-rape scene with a crewman in its execution lost sight that she wasn’t a boy, and made me a little uncomfortable.

That particular scene aside, I thoroughly enjoyed this seafaring tale and look forward to reading the next installment of Bloody Jack’s adventures, The Curse of the Blue Tattoo.

Review: Milk Fever by Lisa Reece-Lane

Book Reviews, Book Reviews

In the misnamed town of Lovely, newcomer Julia Heath is struggling to adapt to life in the country, especially when she begins to suspect that her yoga-teacher husband is having an affair with the butcher’s wife.
But Julia soon falls under the spell of Tom, a handsome, if troubled, dairy farmer who experiences the world through extra-ordinary senses. When Julia’s husband sets out to cure Tom’s migraines and memory lapses all three lives become entwined and changed and Julia is forced to heal the wounds of her past and abandon all ideas of the perfect family.
Milk Fever is an uncommon romance. It is a novel of love, yearning, the fragility of modern family and forgiveness. And of how, despite our desire to remain separate, we are all incredibly precious, connected and, ultimately, necessary to each other.

 Synopsis Courtesy of

As a rule, I rarely read adult fiction. As I have found over the years, nearly every adult fiction book I’ve read has been pretentious and over-wordy, as if the author wanted to see just how big their vocabulary really was. Upon receiving Milk Fever, I was still a bit prejudiced against adult fiction in general, even though I have recently loved Dan Brown’s thrillers.

I will be the first to say just how wrong my prejudices were.

Milk Fever is a hidden gem in the literary world. I felt pulled in by Julia’s struggles of maintaining a happy facade for her family and friends, the skewed visions Tom occasionally had about burying his mother, and the heartbreak of discovering Julia’s husband might be having an affair with a vivacious woman in Lovely.

The prose was brilliantly written, love for this work of art etched into every word and phrase, small moments and climactic scenes. I was entranced by the descriptions of the songs the earth made, and feeling that I, too, was not alone in feeling this way about the world around me. Milk Fever makes you feel fragile and strong at the same time. It makes you appreciate every small and sometimes insipid detail about your life that you might take for granted. A child sleeping soundly, grassy fields at the height of summer, the wind upon your face…

It felt like a Polaroid picture of the way our hearts are meant to feel, without our heads getting in the way of our happiness. It made me believe in love truly existing in the perfect harmonic key.

All I have to do…is listen.


In case you missed it, here is an encore presentation of my interview with Lisa Reece-Lane.


Interview with Lisa Reece-Lane

Author of “Milk Fever”.

—Tell us a little about Milk Fever… 

I must confess that the best descriptions I’ve read for Milk Fever so far have been written by other people. But here goes:

Milk Fever is a story about all of us and how we interact with each other, how we process the wounds of our past through our current relationships. And ultimately, how we are all flawed and precious. It explores the lives of two characters, Julia an accomplished ballet dancer turned house wife attempting to adjust to live in the dismal country town of Lovely, with her infuriatingly optimistic husband who has started up a yoga school. And Tom, a handsome, yet deeply disturbed dairy farmer. When Julia’s husband, Bryant sets out to cure Tom of his migraines and memory lapses, their worlds and lives are changed forever.

 —What inspired you to write Milk Fever?

It started life is a short story. The idea for someone burying their mother in the night and her showing up at breakfast the next morning just came to me one day out of the blue. Julia came later and perhaps was a way of working through the challenges I was having in my marriage at the time.

 —What was the hardest part of writing this book for you?

Trusting myself. I was lucky enough to work with some amazing people, who gave insights and helpful advice. But with the help came a period of confusion and I lost sight of the overall picture of what I was trying to express. I had to put Milk Fever aside for a couple of months (I wrote a kid’s book in the meantime so I could keep the brain in working order) and rediscover what I wanted the book to be about. More than once, I considered giving up on it. I think writers are sensitive people, so we easily doubt ourselves. What I learned from the whole process was that it’s good to take on advice from others, mull it over, see what fits, but in the end assimilate that knowledge while keeping true to your own inner voice.

 —Did you always know you wanted to be a writer?

When I was a young girl I used to write horse books; heaps of them. But I put that aside as my passion for music grew. After I quit music, I discovered a creative hole inside me, which writing filled up very nicely.

—What is your typical day of writing like? Do you use the same set of “tools” everyday or does it vary depending on mood? (i.e. computer, listening to music, writing with quill and ink…)

Good question. I think it’s an excellent idea to have rituals for creativity. Coffee is my brain stimulator of choice. I love making the perfect cup with my espresso machine and then I take it into a little shed at the back of my house and stare out of the window until I feel the words begging to be written. I very much like the idea of quill and ink though. I think that poetry begs for ink, rather than a keyboard, but the poets would be a better judge of that.

—Who are your main literary influences? I already know you like Jane Austen… 🙂

I adore Jane Austen, you’re right!! I love her restraint, I love her bantering prose, I love Jane full stop. But there are so many writers. I love Tim Winton, and Sonya Hartnett, I think Markus Zusac is a master. I’m a huge fan of Rose Tremain and Belinda Haynes. The common link? They all are such individuals. Not a cliche in sight. I aspire to be a quarter as good as any of these.

—What do you hope your readers will take away from Milk Fever?

I hope readers will feel uplifted. Especially those that beat up on themselves. I hope readers will realise how precious they are. We are all of us flawed, we’re all making mistakes, we’re stuffing up, and yet we are beautiful beyond measure. If a reader likes themselves a little better after reading my book, I will be content.

 —Are any personal experiences hidden in this book?

Ah, yes. Here are the personal experiences: I moved to the country, but unlike Julia I made sure that the town I went to had some decent cafes in it! I love coffee. My marriage went crash. I trained as a yoga teacher (before Pilates) and finally, I can hear that this world is all music

—If you could cast the film version, who would you cast in the lead roles and why?

Oh, what a delicious question. Can I have anyone? Right, male lead would have to be Ioan Gruffudd, simply because I have the most ridiculous crush on that man (it doesn’t really matter that he doesn’t quite fit any of the character roles). Female lead, Cate Blanchet, because she can do ballet and is a stunning actress. And of course, me: I will give myself a walk on part, whenever Ioan is on screen, just so that I can stare at him.

—What do you think is the most important part of the writing process that novice writers don’t know about?

The balancing acts: trusting your own voice and yet be willing to take on advice; having a thick skin to deal with the rejections, and yet retaining enough sensitivity to be open to the world; having confidence, and also humility; being an introvert so you can create in solitude and an the extrovert necessary to promote what you’ve written. And finally, having restraint and also wild abandon and knowing what the writing calls for in each moment.

 —Any plans on a sequel to Milk Fever?

Not just yet, but maybe one day…

—What is your next project?

 I’ve written my next novel and am in the process – long process, I might add – of editing.

—How can your fans find you on the web? Twitter, Myspace, Facebook, etc.

Ooh, I like the idea of fans. If there are any out there they can drop me a line through my website:

 Or leave a comment on the blog at:

 –Anything you’d like to say to your fans?

I loved writing Milk Fever, although there were a few tears of frustration shed, and I enjoy feedback, so let me know what you think. I hope to meet you one day. :-))


Shylock Books wishes to thank Lisa Reece-Lane for her candid interview.

Please visit her on the web at :

Her Publisher: Murdoch Books

Review: “Troubadour” by Mary Hoffman

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This is a story of persecution and poetry, love and war set in thirteenth century southern France. A troubadour, Bertran, witnesses the brutal murder of the Pope’s legate, and risks his life to warn others of the war that he knows is certain to follow this act. The lands of the peaceable Cathars – deemed heretics – are now forfeit and under threat from crusaders who have been given authority by the Pope to take the Cathar domains by force. But the Pope is trying to track Bertran down and so is somebody else: Elinor, a young noblewoman, in love with Bertran but facing a loveless arranged marriage, flees her family and becomes a minstrel herself. Soon both Bertran and Elinor find themselves enveloped in a rising tide of bloodshed that threatens the very fabric of their society.

Synopsis courtesy of


Troubadour was a richly told story told in third person, jam packed with little-known facts of France from this time period when the tumultuous Crusades were still in full swing. Although the deluge of minute details wouldn’t engage a teen reader unless they particularly love this author or this genre, I felt thoroughly educated while reading this historical novel.

Elinor was a relatable character and displayed a great deal of attributes common in a modern feminist. She refused to marry the suitor her family had chosen for her and ran away disguised as a young boy in order to gain her freedom.

I felt there was a lot of buildup in the ‘relationship’ of Elinor and Bertran the Troubadour, and sadly this ‘tale of love’ fell short in that department. There was no budding love between them as the dust jacket promised, only the gift of a red brooch to Elinor was the only indication of their romance. The age difference between Bertran and Elinor was a contributing factor to this dilemma, and I felt sorely disappointed when Elinor chose to marry someone she had only known for a few chapters near the end, when she pined over Bertran for ninety percent of the novel. Elinor’s husband could have been a better developed character and come earlier into the story for her choice to make more sense.

The sudden switching in viewpoints mid-chapter without much indication that the narrator had changed was a bit confusing at times, causing me to backtrack to find out who exactly was speaking.

But despite the novel’s shortcomings in the character and relationship development it was rich in plot and historical details. I will give Mary Hoffman a lot of credit for doing her research so carefully and painstakingly. It takes quite a dedicated author to but that much detail into a novel! It was enjoyable and I will probably read Mary Hoffman’s other works.