July 18, 2014

Book Review: Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye by John O'Dowd


Title: Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye: The Barbara Payton Story
Author: John O'Dowd
Genre: Non-Fiction, Biography
Format: Paperback
Year published: 2007
Source: I purchased this book.
Rating: 5 of 5

Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye: The Barbara Payton Story by John O’Dowd is the very sad true story of how a beautiful actress who once co-starred with big stars like William Cagney and Gregory Peck ended up as an alcoholic street prostitute on Skid Row.

Barbara Payton seemed to have it all in 1951. She was starring in a film with James Cagney, she had youth and beauty, and she had a string of lovers. She didn’t care what people thought of her, but flaunting her complicated private life in the staid 1950s didn’t win her many supporters in the movie industry. She paid far more attention to her love life than her career, and people in the movie business did not take her seriously.

Here is the trailer for her best film, Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye, in which she is touted as an emerging star:


Her apparent inability to contain her private life is what did her in. She had a compulsive nature and a perverse wish to destroy herself. Both of her parents were alcoholics, and Barbara’s eventual severe addictions to drugs and alcohol ruined her career and drove her into prostitution on Skid Row and eventually killed her at age 39. She may also have suffered from an undiagnosed mental disorder, which would explain some of her most self-destructive tendencies, in addition to a genetic predisposition to alcoholism.

The book was meticulously researched and well written. The author goes into incredible detail about Barbara’s life. What I like best is that he shows both sides of the story, not just the self-destructive side, and you get to know Barbara had many good qualities, too.

If you are interested in Old Hollywood, you might be very interested in this book. It is extremely well done.

You can read more about the book here

July 14, 2014

Book Review: The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson



Title: The Devil in the White City
Author: Erik Larson
Genre: Non-Fiction
Format: Audiobook
Year published: 2003
Source: I purchased this audiobook
Rating: 4 of 5

The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America is Erik Larson’s account of The world’s Fair held in Chicago in 1893. There are so many intersecting storylines that happened during that unusual event – including a serial killer who lurked in Chicago at that time.

So many events coincided with each other – The World’s Fair was a difficult project to bring off for the architect Daniel Burnham. The project included construction of many temporary buildings - "The White City" - and included the first Ferris Wheel.

Also part of the story is the first modern serial killer in H.H. Holmes, the killing of Chicago’s mayor by an assassin in the last days of the Fair, and a deep economic depression (The Panic of '93). 

H.H. Holmes, a trained doctor, apparently committed between 27 and 200 murders during this time period. He even built a special hotel for his victims, including a gas chamber and crematorium! Holmes’ crimes are quite gruesome and very sad. We will never know how many victims he had. Larson really makes you feel as if you know the victims (most of whom were women, but some were men and he even killed children).

I never got around to reading this book, but listened to the audio version of the book on a long trip. It is interesting to realize how different it is listening to the book, since I find reading so visual. It was a little confusing at first, because the narrative jumps around to many different characters, and I had to keep them clear in my head (in a physical book it is easier).

Tony Goldwyn has a fine speaking voice and his narration is excellent. Larson’s story is well done considering how many different personalities are involved. It is indeed amazing how so many events happened concurrently. Larson did an excellent job explaining the complicated sequences of events as they occurred.

July 11, 2014

Book Review: Brain on Fire by Susannah Cahalan




Title: Brain on Fire
Author: Susannah Cahalan
Genre: Non-Fiction
Format: Kindle
Year published: 2012
Source: I purchased this book
Rating: 5 of 5

Brain on Fire, Susannah Cahalan’s memoir of her difficult struggle with a mystery illness, is a fascinating exploration of medicine and survival.

Cahalan was a 24-year-old reporter for the New York Post. She had it all: youth, talent, love, and the beginning of a terrific journalism career. Then she suddenly started to act strangely. She was convinced her apartment was filled with bedbugs, the colors surrounding her became garishly bright, and she became paranoid. This started affecting her work and her personal life.

Diagnosed by one doctor as suffering the effects of too much partying, and by other doctors as suffering from a sudden and severe mental illness, it wasn’t until she started suffering violent seizures that she was hospitalized.

During the month that followed, as the doctors tried desperately to figure out exactly what was wrong with her, Cahalan became increasingly more ill.

She spent the month in the hospital, where she was occasionally caught on camera.

After more than $1,000,000 in medical tests, a very simple exam finally came up with a solution. She was suffering from a very rare malady.

After she made her slow process towards recovery, Cahalan decided to explore her lost month. There were some videos that the hospital camera captured, and they were hard for her to watch. She looks totally frightened and lost in those videos. Watching herself on video was like watching a stranger. She also interviewed her doctors and friends and family, because she has few memories of that time in the hospital.



She also may have saved some lives:


It is an excellent combination of medical mystery and reportage. I found this book fascinating and well written, and have already read it at least twice!


July 9, 2014

Book Review: Love Saves the Day by Gwen Cooper



Title: Love Saves the Day
Author: Gwen Cooper
Genre: Fiction
Format: Kindle
Year published: 2013
Source: I purchased this book
Rating: 5 of 5

Gwen Cooper wrote the charming memoir about her amazing blind cat Homer. I reviewed it here.

She has since written a novel about a dysfunctional mother-daughter relationship and about the cat that brings them together, but only after the death of the mother. Love Saves the Day tells the story of a mother, Sarah, who raised her daughter in New York’s then-shabby Alphabet City in the 1980s.

Sarah runs a record shop with only the coolest records, and the daughter, Laura, grew up in an area where the odd was normal. She was surrounded by rockers, druggies, and prostitutes.

A series of traumatic events happen in Laura's childhood that changes her perception of her mother forever. Laura is bitter over things she believed her mother did or didn’t do. When Sarah dies, she leaves behind Prudence, her loyal and smart cat. Laura, now a successful lawyer, is going through her mother’s things and must take Prudence home to share her apartment with her husband, Josh.

The novel in alternating chapters is sometimes in Prudence’s voice (yes!), sometimes in Laura’s, and sometimes in Sarah's. In Prudence’s chapters, you get a cat's-eye view of the situation. She doesn’t understand that Sarah is dead. She keeps waiting for her to come home. It is touching because Prudence cannot figure out where Sarah is! It takes her quite awhile to realize that Sarah is never coming back.

To Prudence, Laura is just another cat, and not a particularly affectionate one. Prudence is very upset being in Laura’s apartment because she instinctively feels that Laura does not want her there. Laura does associate Prudence with all her bad feelings about her mother.

At first it was odd to read some of the chapters in the cat’s voice, but I actually found it touching and poignant.  Laura may not come across as particularly likable at first, but her childhood was so fractured that you come to understand why she is the way she is. She has a fine career and is a fully functioning member of society.

Prudence just doesn’t understand why Sarah never comes home!  Cooper has a deep understanding of cats. Like her, I firmly believe that cats can be very wise.

Why is she now living in Laura’s apartment? Where is Sarah? Because of Prudence, Laura finally learns to come to grips with her complicated relationship with her mother. Prudence’s innocent love does, indeed, save the day.

You will both laugh and cry reading this book, and Prudence will steal your heart!



July 7, 2014

Book Review: The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman



Title: The Light Between Oceans
Author: M. L. Stedman
Genre: Fiction
Format: Kindle
Year published: 2012
Source: I purchased this book
Rating: 4/5

This novel is a tragic story studying the choices we make and how they can have long-lasting repercussions.

In the early 1900s, Tom Sherbourne takes a job as the lighthouse keeper on Janus Rock, nearly half a day’s journey from the Australian coast. The island is very isolated, and there are few visitors. The supply boat comes once a season.

Tom marries Isabel, a young and devoted wife. Their extreme physical isolation from the rest of the world means that they depend on each other for everything.

After Isabel suffers two miscarriages and one stillbirth, the grieving Isabel hears a baby’s cries on the wind. A boat washes up onshore carrying a dead man and a living baby. Isobel makes a critical decision: she wants to keep this baby! After all, who would know?

Tom does not approve, but Isabel has been so wracked with depression over losing her other children that he finally acquiesces. Tom never stops regretting the decision, however.

This decision leads to a heartbreaking series of events that will change their lives forever. His guilt increases over the years until he has to decide whether to tell the authorities. The story was depressing, but so well written that I really wanted to find out what happened.

What prices would Tom and Isabel pay for the decision to keep someone else’s baby? They are not bad people at all; they just make serious lapses in judgment.

I found the final chapters convincing in tying up the storyline. The story is poetically written but it is overwhelmingly sad.


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