Reader, Writer, Reviewer


Platinum Doll by Anne Girard

platinum dollRating: *** (3/5)

Published: Mira, January 2016

Format: Trade Paperback

Genre: Historical Fiction

Source: Publisher

If I had to use one word to describe this novel, it would be Conflict. And not the good kind of conflict that drives a plot, but the bickering kind that gets tiresome.

Before Jean Harlow became a screen siren and household name, she was Harlean Carpenter McGraw, a Midwestern teenager who relocates to Hollywood with her new husband Chuck. Despite being in a town synonymous with creating stars, Chuck does not want his wife involved in show business. His vehement jealousy is fueled by alcohol and his drunken tirades cause Harlean nothing but embarrassment and heartbreak. Enter Harlean’s overbearing mother Jean, who never approved of Chuck anyway, and you have the ultimate standoff between a mother who is fulfilling her own failed ambitions through her daughter and a husband who can’t stand to see another man even glancing at his bombshell wife.

The momentum of the book finally picks up halfway through, once Harlean wises up and leaves Chuck and thus, her star begins to rise. I enjoyed the second half of the novel more because it gave a glimpse of the Hollywood scene and all that Harlean had to endure to get famous. Cameos from Laurel and Hardy, Howard Hughes, Clark Gable, and numerous others are what I was expecting all along. Just as her star is shining brightest and she’s leaving her handprints in cement, Harlean’s story ends, and that’s where I had the biggest problem.

The book concludes in 1933, a year after her second husband Paul Bern committed suicide. My goodness, if the author would have capitalized on that aspect of Harlean’s life, it would have made for a dramatic conclusion! Not to mention that she died only 4 years later at the tender age of 26! I only wish the story focused less on her volatile first marriage to an obnoxious drunk and divulged on the juicier latter-half of her career. I know, the author’s note stated that she wanted to portray the lesser known aspect of Harlean’s life, but it just wasn’t as captivating. It’s too bad; what could have been a great novel was a mediocre tribute to a woman who died tragically before her time.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher.

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Death Dealer by Rudolph Hoss

death dealerSubtitle:  The Memoirs of the SS Kommandant at Auschwitz

Rating: **** (4/5)

Published: Da Capo Press, 1996

Format: Trade Paperback

Genre: Memoir

Source: Personal Collection

Edited: Steven Paskuly

Translated: Andrew Pollinger

Forward: Primo Levi

(Because you can’t give a Nazi 5 stars)

“Rudolph Hoss’s memoirs are perhaps the most important document attesting to the Holocaust, because they are the only candid, detailed, and essentially honest description of the plan of mass annihilation from a high-ranking SS officer intimately involved in the carrying out of Hitler’s and Himmler’s plan.” (from the book’s preface). I think that is a pretty accurate depiction of what this book is. Hoss was forthright in conveying his own personal history, his role in the Nazi machine, and his position as Kommandant of Auschwitz. His formative years during WWI, his 6 years in prison, and his early years in the SS all led up to the position he would be most notorious for.

I learned a lot about SS hierarchy, especially in regards to concentration camp administration. The pre-war and pre-final solution camps were mainly for political prisoners (ENEMIES OF THE STATE). They eventually evolved to become death factories, as Hoss reflected, “…who could imagine the horrible tasks that would be assigned to the concentration camps during the war.” When he was finally given the assignment to establish and build Auschwitz, he adamantly vented his frustration toward his subordinates. “A person can fight active opposition but is powerless against passive resistance.” He was definitely an if-you-want-something-done-right-you-have-to-do-it-yourself kind of guy.

The worst possible fate for a Jew at Auschwitz would be Sonderkommando, herding fellow Jews into gas chambers, removing the bodies, liberating them of their gold teeth and hair, and feeding the corpses into the furnaces. “It often happened that Jews from the Sonderkommando discovered close relatives among the bodies [dug up after being in mass graves] and even among those who went into the gas chambers.” Good Lord.

Hoss seemed remorseful when recalling the atrocities he witnessed, though he admitted he had to maintain a fiercely indifferent façade and portray himself as unaffected. He was responsible for developing Zyklon B, which would be the vehicle that allowed the Nazi’s to fulfill the Final Solution at such a rapid pace. And he stood by as millions were led into the gas chambers. His excuse follows the typical Nazi adage that they were just following orders. “Hoss was a man who needed something to believe in and, more importantly, someone to tell him what to do.” (from epilogue)

His own account, and especially his final letters to his family almost make him sympathetic. ALMOST. No doubt he was monstrous, but there is a sense of humanity beneath his Nazi uniform and ideology. His complicacy in “spilling the beans” to prosecutors attests to that. “Hoss was one of the few who could, and also would give precise information about every aspect of the mass killings. In fact, he answered everything asked of him.” No doubt this is a historically significant book. It also offers supplementary material, like Hoss’s recollections of his collegues (I didn’t read all of them, only major, recognizable players like Himmler) and Wannassee conference minutes. Overall it was a chilling, if necessary glimpse at life inside the Nazi regime and concentration camps.

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The Rising by Ryan D’Agostino

the risingSubtitle: Murder, Heartbreak, and the Power of Human Resilience in an American Town

Rating: ***** (5/5)

Published:  Crown, September 2015

Format: Hardcover

Genre: True Crime

Source: Publisher

I was familiar with the generalities of the Cheshire, Connecticut home invasion case that made headlines almost 10 years ago, but this in-depth account was absolutely riveting. It doesn’t divulge the grisly details about how one perpetrator raped and strangled the wife and mother Jennifer Petit while the other violated her 11 year old daughter. There are implications made to the most sordid aspects of the crime, but plenty of those heinous facts had already been reported in the press. The main story follows patriarch Dr. Bill Petit through the ordeal he faced as the sole survivor.

At first I was confused by the title; after all, what does The Rising have to do with a family destroyed by violence? Then I realized that Bill is the Phoenix, rising from the ashes of unthinkable tragedy. This is Bill’s story, how he survived, endured two trials, media scrutiny, and the darkest moments imaginable. Through the generosity of his community, he was able to establish a foundation in honor of his wife and daughters. He even found reasons to smile again, finding love and having another child.

As horrifying and sad as the whole thing was, this book is a testament to the three Petit girls who were selfless, kind, and undeserving of their fate.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher via Blogging for Books.



The Evening Spider by Emily Arsenault

the evening spiderRating: ** (2/5)

Published: William Morrow, January 2016

Format: ARC

Genre: Mystery

Source: TLC Book Tours

Abby is convinced a malevolent presence in her house is responsible for bruising her infant daughter and making a shushing noise. Then she discovers that a former occupant of the house, Frances Barnett, was sent to an insane asylum in the 19th century. With a little sleuthing and the journal of Frances in hand, Abby is determined to discover why Frances would be haunting her home.

Take alternating perspectives (Abby’s paranoid 3rd person narrative, Frances’s 1st person recollections, and her journal entries), a real life crime that occurred in the 1880’s, and Abby’s guilt about her college roommate’s suicide, and you have one hot mess. I was initially intrigued, but then I just started to get really annoyed with Abby. She doesn’t seem to occupy her time enough with meaningful activity that is not centered around her daughter. Thus her imagination runs wild and she allows herself to dwell on superstitions and ambiguous white noise. To cap it off, the conclusion that was unresolved and I was so done with Abby, it was a relief to finish.

I received a complimentary copy of this book via TLC Book Tours



Bookish (and not so bookish) Thoughts

This month has certainly thrown me for a loop!  Not in a bad way, but for someone like me who’s a bit OCD, deviating from my routine really throws me off (last week it was oversleeping and train delays).  This week, I spent two days working out of the Rockford branch helping out a colleague, so I missed out on some quality train reading time (4 hours).

I FINALLY got my computer back after Geek Squad had it for 9 days (3-7 days, my ass).  Thankfully I  had a few tour posts formatted so I could just paste my reviews into the draft and schedule them from my phone.  Now I have to play catch up with a few other things and make sure everything is up and running, including my ability to work remotely.

Now that iTunes will be working properly, I need to download some tunes:

  • Black Star album by David Bowie (I heard Lazarus on the radio, and WOW)
  • Where is my Mind by The Pixies (from the Fight Club Soundtrack)
  • 6 Underground by Sneaker Pimps (a little nostalgia)
  • First by Cold War Kids

I added some new books to my TBR courtesy of my fellow blogger recommendations:

  • Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea by Barbara Demick, via Maphead
  • The Hours Count by Jillian Cantor via Fourth Street Review
  • Careless People: Murder, Mayhem, and the Invention of The Great Gatsby by Sarah Churchwell via Sophisticated Dorkiness

I am totally digging the new X Files episodes!

Last weekend we watched Everest, which is supposed to be the film adaptation of Into Thin Air.  But Jon Krakauer was just a peripheral character, and it focused a lot more on Rob Hall.  The Hubs thought it was a bit melodramatic, but I liked it, it had me on the verge of tears.

Is it bad that I’m already desperately anticipating President’s Day?  Hell, I’m excited for my dentist appointment the week before so I get an afternoon off.

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The Secret of Lizzie Borden by Brandy Purdy

secrets of lizzie bordenRating: **** (4/5)

Published: Kensington, January 2016

Format: ARC

Genre:  Historical Fiction

Source: Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours

Purdy’s novel envisions Lizzie’s life through a first person narrative and it was relatively successful in making her a sympathetic character. The circumstances of her youth and the events culminating in the murder of her father and stepmother were compelling. There were so many factors that lead Lizzie to be a miserable spinster. It was primarily her miserly father Andrew’s cruelty, but also her sister Emma’s selfish scheming, and the Victorian attitude towards sexuality that kept Lizzie from perhaps finding companionable happiness. Though this particular retelling justifies Lizzie’s brutal slaying of the Bordens, it also illustrated that what goes around comes around.

Despite her acquittal, the universe delivered its justice, as Lizzie couldn’t escape her notoriety and every subsequent relationship was suspect. Loneliness was her ultimate punishment. As much as I loved the first half of the book, I didn’t find the last 1/3 or so as engaging. I was more interested in HOW she became a murderess, not necessarily how she spent the latter half of her life spending Daddy’s money and wallowing in self-pity. Despite a few flaws, I thought it was a richly detailed account of one of the most notorious characters of the late 19th century.

I received a complimentary copy of this book via Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours

Also by Brandy Purdy: The Ripper’s Wife

lizzie borden tour

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An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth by Col. Chris Hadfield

chris hadfieldSubtitle:  What Going to Space Taught Me About Ingenuity, Determination, and Being Prepared for Anything

Rating: *****(5/5)

Published:  Little, Brown, & Co, 2013

Format: Trade Paperback

Genre: Nonfiction

Source: Personal Collection

 This book has something for everyone, as it is part science manual, part memoir, and part motivational guide. Hadfield’s outlines his earlier career as a test pilot, through the ranks of the Canadian Space Agency, to being the first Canadian commander of the ISS. His vast experience as an astronaut not only makes him an authority on all things space travel related, but he’s an all around super guy. On his last and longest mission, Hadfield inadvertently became a YouTube sensation, and thus an ambassador for the space program. Besides just narrating his own experiences, he also discusses how what he learned along the way can translate to being a better person every day, whether problem solving or contributing to a team or a goal. His sincerity and enthusiasm are admirable and his positive attitude and humor are endearing. Hadfield not only makes space travel engaging, but makes you want to improve yourself.

You might also like Packing for Mars by Mary Roach


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