Review: The Garden on Sunset by Martin Turnbull

Book Reviews, Book Reviews

Review: The Garden on Sunset by Martin Turnbull

Synopsis:

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: http://martinturnbull.wordpress.com/

Twitter: @TurnbullMartin

Review: Unsinkable by Debbie Reynolds and Dorian Hannaway

Book Reviews

Unsinkable: A memoir

Debbie Reynolds

and Dorian Hannaway

Library Copy

Grade: ***

Unsinkable: A Memoir

“Unsinkable is the definitive memoir by film legend and Hollywood icon Debbie Reynolds.

Actress, comedienne, singer, and dancer Debbie Reynolds shares the highs and lows of her life as an actress during Hollywood’s Golden Age, anecdotes about her lifelong friendship with Elizabeth Taylor and her experiences as the foremost collector of Hollywood memorabilia, and intimate details of her marriages and family life with her children, Carrie and Todd Fisher.

A story of heartbreak, hope, and survival, “America’s Sweetheart” Debbie Reynolds picks up where she left off in her first memoir, Debbie: My Life.

Unsinkable is illustrated with previously unpublished photos from Reynolds’s personal collection.”

—Synopsis courtesy of Amazon.com

This memoir was highly anticipated for me. Having read Debbie Reynolds’s earlier memoir from the 1980s, I didn’t believe she could write much more on her life—having had quite a full life already!

From her earliest days at the Metro-Goldwyn Mayer Studios, she was that “cute” kid with the really high voice that could do impersonations of famous actors. She had been through several divorces, multiple scandals, earned and lost millions, and worked with some of the most legendary stars of the silver screen. My first encounter with her acting work was in “Singin’ in the Rain” starring Gene Kelly and Donald O’Connor.

This memoir was a bit jumbled in its presentation, beginning with what happened since her last memoir, then working from her beginnings at MGM to her most recent movie. I loved the little anecdotes that were missing since the first memoir, but all in all it seemed like a very long-winded rant on how she has been wronged by all her ex-husbands, and is a bit boastful on how “she came out on top” but everyone should still feel sorry for her because she lost all of her money. I get it. Her marriages were not the best. But using that as the only fuel you have to write another memoir doesn’t make for an excellent tome of your life.

Review: The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater

Book Reviews

The Raven Boys

by Maggie Stiefvater

Library Copy

(****)

cover, young adult, series, fantasy books

Blue Sargent, the daughter of the town psychic in Henrietta, Virginia, has been told for as long as she can remember that if she ever kisses her true love, he will die. But she is too practical to believe in things like true love. Her policy is to stay away from the rich boys at the prestigious Aglionby Academy. The boys there — known as Raven Boys — can only mean trouble.

—Synopsis courtesy of the author’s website.

The Raven Boys, like every other Maggie Stiefvater novel, was highly anticipated by librarians, readers, and booksellers alike. I knew next to nothing about it, but requested it at my library nonetheless. I hadn’t liked her last book, The Scorpio Races, very much even though the premise was wonderful. With The Raven Boys I enjoyed it far better, as the pace wasn’t muddled and the plot lines were much clearer.

As with all of Maggie Stiefvater’s writings, again with this one I felt “something” was missing from the prose. I have yet to pin down exactly what that “something” is, but I had noticed that it was missing when I read the Shiver series, and again with the Scorpio Races. The closest that I could possibly say that “something” would be is a fullness of character, and character settings. Like there are only four or five characters in the entire world throughout each book, and no other life exists outside of this little world inside the book. Where in their world there are no grocers or bankers, or families or other friends in school, or secondary characters that might add a fuller sense of place.

The one book of hers that I noticed had a bit more fullness than the others was Linger, and mainly that had to do with Cole St. Clair’s storyline adding to the Grace and Sam storyline.

The premise of The Raven Boys was unique, and not something you usually see in today’s Young Adult Fiction market. With that being said, I cannot wait for my copy of The Dream Thieves, the second book in the Raven Cycle.

Review: Phantom by Laura DeLuca

Book Reviews, Writer Wednesday

Phantom

Laura DeLuca

Advance Review Copy

Grade: *

Grading Scale: 1 (*) – 5 Stars (*****)

The “Phantom” was a musical phenomenon that Rebecca had always found enchanting. She had no idea that her life was about to mirror the play that was her obsession. When her high school drama club chooses “Phantom” as their annual production, Rebecca finds herself in the middle of an unlikely love triangle and the target of a sadistic stalker who uses the lines from the play as their calling card.
 
Rebecca lands the lead role of Christine, the opera diva, and like her character, she is torn between her two co-stars—Tom the surfer and basketball star who plays the lovable hero, and Justyn, the strangely appealing Goth who is more than realistic in the role of the tortured artist.
Almost immediately after casting, strange things start to happen both on and off the stage. Curtains fall. Mirrors are shattered. People are hurt in true phantom style. They all seem like accidents until Rebecca receives notes and phone calls that hint at something more sinister. Is Justyn bringing to life the twisted character of the phantom? Or in real life are the roles of the hero and the villain reversed? Rebecca doesn’t know who to trust, but she knows she’s running out of time as she gets closer and closer to opening night. Only when the mask is stripped away, will the twenty first century phantom finally be revealed.
—Synopsis courtesy of the author’s website.

This book had a lot of potential. There was a potential for a great interpretation of the Phantom of the Opera, but the way it was carried out was a bit clumsy, and a little too reverent to the Andrew Lloyd Webber version of the story. When they referenced the musical, or were singing from the musical, none of the song lyrics were from the show at all. I’m guessing they were excerpts from the original story by Gaston Leroux, but it felt…off. I can understand from a business standpoint why an independent press might not want to take on the financial aspect of using lyrics from the copyrighted show. I felt that should have been taken into consideration when referencing the show almost exclusively in the text. Using made-up lyrics when Becca and Justyn are singing for example, Point of No Return, was something that should not have happened.

“Lord Justyn” only had one or two good lines in his dialogue, and the rest seemed pretentious and overbearing, like he knew he was trying too hard to be a Byronic-style hero. He was a brooding, stereotypical Goth high school student, who practiced Paganism and wore only black. I wanted a little bit of a variation from this stereotype, and truly wanted to like Justyn. But he was too flat and one-dimensional to be relatable, and his lifestyle as a Pagan was one-dimensional as well. Instead of showing the reader that Paganism wasn’t all black cats and pentagrams, it seemed to do the opposite in my opinion, by seeming a bit comical.

Becca, the heroine of this novel, reminded me a bit of Bella Swan from Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight Saga. She had her good moments, but those didn’t outweigh the terribly cliched areas of her character.

The plot had an interesting twist near the end, and that justified some of the moments that dragged, but I really wanted to like this interpretation more than I had. I felt that the publishing company could have presented this novel in a better way and might have possibly hindered any sort of positive reception to the book by their choice of cover and cover artist in the edition I received. I had to use a black book cover over the design because it was so distracting. A reader’s first impression of a book is always the cover, and this one wouldn’t have made me pick it up off the shelf if I saw it in a library or in a bookstore.

Even if this interpretation of the Phantom of the Opera wasn’t what I expected, I think I would give this author another try anyway.

Visit Author Laura DeLuca’s Website

http://authorlauradeluca.blogspot.com/

Review: “Beautiful Days” by Anna Godberson

Book Reviews

Beautiful Days: A Bright Young Things Novel by Anna Godberson

  • Reading level: Ages 14 and up
  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: HarperCollins (September 20, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • Source: Library Copy

For the bright young things of 1929, the beautiful days seem endless, filled with romance and heartbreak, adventure and intrigue, friendship and rivalry.

After a month in New York, Cordelia Grey and Letty Larkspur are small-town girls no longer. They spend their afternoons with Astrid Donal at the Greys’ lush Long Island estate and their nights in Manhattan’s bustling metropolis. But Letty’s not content to be a mere socialite. She is ready at last to chase her Broadway dreams—no matter the cost.

Cordelia is still reeling from the death of her father at the hands of Thom Hale, the man she thought she loved. Now she is set to honor Darius Grey’s legacy . . . and take her revenge.

Promised to Cordelia’s half brother, Astrid is caught up in a world of dazzling jewels and glittering nights—and the sparkle is blinding. Charlie Grey is a gangster playing a dangerous game; and for Astrid, Cordelia, and Letty, the stakes could be deadly.

From the New York Times bestselling author of The Luxe comes the second book in an epic series set in the dizzying last summer of the Jazz Age.

—Summary Courtesy of Amazon.com

I love the premise of this series: the roaring twenties, booze, jazz, and flappers in New York City. It’s a refreshing view of a time gone by and one that isn’t addressed to often in Young Adult fiction. What I didn’t like, however, was something that could have been avoided:

I get the story lines of the Bright Young Things series mixed up with The Flappers series by Jillian Larkin. Why? The story lines are so similar, I don’t know which character was disgraced and humiliated at which party or who was the daughter of a bootlegger or which one is an aspiring night club singer. Because the story lines from the two series are so similar, I don’t feel each one will get the due that they deserve.

Beautiful Days could have used more of a climactic ending than the one that was written, but the characters are interesting in all of their 1920s glory. The character voices would be more realistic if they evolved into individual voices, because the alternating chapters all sound and read exactly the same. I would love to see how Anna Godberson pursues this series and if so, how differently it will turn out from The Flappers series.

In My Mailbox #3

In My Mailbox

In My Mailbox was created by  The Story Siren. The idea is for book bloggers to come together once a week and post what books they have received in the mail/purchased/found at the library/borrowed from a friend. Anyone can participate!

Final Review Copy

Final Review Copy


Be sure to post your own In My Mailbox links in the comments!

Book Trailer Thursday! “Struck” by Jennifer Bosworth

Book Trailer Thursday, Weekly Features

Once Upon a Twilight

Book Trailer Thursday is a weekly feature started by Once Upon A Twilight, and features a book trailer for a new or upcoming release! Please post links to your own BTTs in the comments!

 “Struck” by Jennifer Bosworth

Book Trailer Thursday!

Book Trailer Thursday, Weekly Features

Once Upon a Twilight

Book Trailer Thursday is a weekly feature started by Once Upon A Twilight, and features a book trailer for a new or upcoming release! Please post links to your own BTTs in the comments!

“Bitterblue” by Kristin Cashore

Bitterblue

Book Trailer Thursday!

Book Trailer Thursday, Weekly Features

Once Upon a Twilight

Book Trailer Thursday is a weekly feature started by Once Upon A Twilight, and features a book trailer for a new or upcoming release! Please post links to your own BTTs in the comments!

“Forever” by Maggie Stiefvater

Review: Days of Little Texas by R.A. Nelson

Book Reviews

“Days of Little Texas” by R.A. Nelson

Publication Date: September 14, 2010

Knopf Books for Children

Advance Review Copy

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars (****)

Ronald Earl, aka Little Texas, almost 16, has been on the road with his Aunt Wanda Joy, elderly Sugar Tom, and Certain Certain for nigh on six years, preaching the gospel and performing healings in a long succession of small Southern towns. Lately he feels a fraud, bedeviled by recurring dreams of being  with a beautiful blond girl, naked. Sincere in his faith, he’s nevertheless beginning to doubt his work, his worthiness. Exhausted after a night’s work, he performs one last healing on a girl, Lucy, that feels different. As the days pass, he can’t stop thinking about her as she melds with the girl of his dreams. When a large, boisterous crowd in Mississippi cows him, he leaves the stage, unable to preach. Wanda Joy hatches a plan to get him back on track that will  test his faith and may, if he’s able, defeat the evil that ruined her grandfather on the same site, years before. Are the women in Ronald’s life working for good, or ill? A substantial subtext about twisted souls ensnared by slavery leads to increasingly scary and disturbing events, culminating in a showdown with evil reminiscent of M. T. Anderson’s climactic battle in Thirsty (Candlewick, 1997). Chapters are brief, the pace is rapid, and the tension is high as Ronald wrestles with demons both temporal and spiritual to find his place in the world.

Synopsis courtesy of Amazon.com

I had a few trepidations about Days of Little Texas. It didn’t get a lot of publicity when it was first published in October of 2010, and the theme of a “paranormal romance” was already a worn out subject.

 Days of Little Texas surprised me in the best way.

First, Ronald Earl, a.k.a Little Texas, had such a unique and powerful voice that I hadn’t seen in YA fiction in quite a while. He was honest, innocent, and had the purest of intentions on what he did with his ministry. He was a truly heartfelt individual and took on quite a bit of a responsibility by using his gift for spreading the Gospel.

Second, the paranormal aspect wasn’t the usual “weepy heroine falls head-over-heels in love with a ghost/zombie/vampire” etc., and the love story between Little Texas and Lucy was genuine and strong. I only wished more was said about Lucy’s past and why she was chosen to free the souls in the end.

It was an unexpected, but pleasant surprise to read Days of Little Texas and I congratulate the author on such a unique YA novel that has been overlooked for far too long.