Showing posts with label Book Review. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Book Review. Show all posts

Tuesday, March 26, 2024

Book Review: "BURN IT DOWN" Goes After Hollywood's Biggest Abusers


AUTHOR: Maureen Ryan
ISBN: 978-0-06-326927-9; hardcover (June 6, 2023)
400pp, B&W, $32.50 U.S., $40.00 CAN

Burn It Down: Power, Complicity, and a Call for Change in Hollywood is a 2023 nonfiction book from author Maureen Ryan.  Ryan is a contributing editor for Vanity Fair, and she has had a three-decade career as a reporter and critic for such publications as GQ, The Hollywood Reporter, The New York Times, and Variety, to name a few.

Abuse and exploitation of workers is baked into the very foundations of the entertainment industry and in Hollywood, specifically.  It is a cycle, and if that cycle is going to be broken, it is important to stop looking at headline-making stories as individual events.  To make change that sticks, we must look closely at the bigger picture, to see how abusers are created, fed, rewarded, and allowed to persist.  People must discover how they can be excised – with the right tools.

In Burn It Down, veteran reporter Maureen Ryan does just that.  Drawing on decades of experience, Ryan connects the dots and illuminates the deeper forces sustaining Hollywood’s corrosive culture.  She offers fresh reporting that sheds light on problematic situations at television series such as ABC's “Lost” (2004-10) and “The Goldbergs” (2013-23); NBC's "Saturday Night Live" (1975-present); Fox's “Sleepy Hollow” (2013-17); HBO's "Curb Your Enthusiasm" (12 seasons over the period of 2000 to 2024), to name a few.

Ryan weaves insights from industry insiders together with historical context and pop-culture analysis.  Most of all, Burn It Down both shows us what’s gone wrong in the entertainment world and also how people can fix it.

THE LOWDOWN:  I first heard of Burn It Down: Power, Complicity, and a Call for Change in Hollywood when Hollywood trade publications and social media started reporting a particular section of Maureen Ryan's book.  The chapter entitled, “'Lost' and the Myths of a Golden Age.”  I think many fans had an idealized view of the creative process behind ABC's Emmy-winning TV series, “Lost.”

What the people behind the scenes of the show knew was that that the production of the series involved the machinations and temperamental behavior of executive producer and showrunner, Carlton Cuse, and the codependency of fellow executive producer, Damon Lindelof.  The report about the book offered juicy “Lost” details, but Burn It Down offers further insight via Ryan's interview of fired “Lost actor, Harold Perrineau.

“Lost” is just one part of the story.  Ryan's revealing conversations with actor Orlando Jones details an ugly behind-the-scenes situation with Fox's former supernatural drama, “Sleepy Hollow.”  It seems that after the first season, which was well-received, Fox became concerned that the series was “too Black,” meaning too much focus on too many African-American characters.

Once again, “Sleepy Hollow” is just one part of the story.  Burn It Down is a virtual horror show of stories of terrible behavior – usually committed by white men – behind many hit TV series.  In the book, actress Evan Rachel Wood talks about the abuse she has suffered over the years, especially at the hands of her former boyfriend, rock star Marilyn Manson.  Burn It Down details the Nxivm cult and also the abuse of EGOT recipient, super-producer Scott Rudin.

Still, fully one-third of Burn It Down (the book's “Part Two”) talks about moving forward.  How can people clean up the industry?  What does “centering survivors” and “doing the work” look like?  How does the industry foster real change or even create a new model of creative leadership?

I get the feeling that writing this book took a lot out of Ryan, but I believe that there are more horror stories to tell, enough to fill several books.  Maybe, other writers can pick up this crusade.  In the meantime, I adore Burn It Down, and I recommend it to fans of non-fiction books about Hollywood and about the “Me Too” movement.  In the meantime, the paperback edition is due June 4, 2024.

I READS YOU RECOMMENDS:   Fans of nonfiction books about Hollywood scandals will want to read Burn it Down: Power, Complicity, and a Call for Change in Hollywood.


Reviewed by Leroy Douresseaux a.k.a. "I Reads You"

A copy of BURN IT DOWN can be bought at AMAZON.

The text is copyright © 2024 Leroy Douresseaux. All Rights Reserved.  Contact this blog or site for reprint and syndication rights and fees.


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Friday, June 9, 2023

Book Review: "THE WAY OF THE BEAR" Takes the Readers Deep into Greed and Murder

THE WAY OF THE BEAR – (A Leaphorn, Chee & Manuelito Novel #8)

AUTHOR: Anne Hillerman
ISBN: 978-0-06-290839-1; hardcover (April 25, 2023)
286pp, B&W, $30.00 U.S., $37.50 CAN

The Way of the Bear: A Leaphorn, Chee & Manuelito Novel is a 2023 hardcover original novel from author Anne Hillerman.  It is the eighth novel in her “Leaphorn, Chee & Manuelito” book series, which began with Spider Woman's Daughter (2013).

This series is a continuation of the “Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee Series” written by Hillerman's late father, bestselling author, Tony Hillerman (1925-2008).  The father's novels are the basis for “Dark Winds,” a television series from the cable network, AMC, and its streaming service, AMC+.  In The Way of the Bear, Chee and Manuelito find themselves caught up in a case that involves fossil harvesting, greed, rejected love, and murder.

The Way of the Bear opens in December.  Navajo Nation Police Officer Bernadette “Bernie” Manuelito and her husband, Sgt. Jim Chee, have traveled to San Juan County, Utah to the place known as “the Valley of the Gods,” near the Bears Ears National Monument.  Chee is on assignment for the Navajo Nation Police Department, and his job is to convince Dr. Chapman “Chap” Dulles, a wealthy fossil hunter and paleontologist., to donate money to a fallen Navajo police officers fund.

Bernie has gone along on the trip and uses the time to visit Bears Ears for relaxation, contemplation, and exploration.  This has been a difficult time in her life for both personal and professional reasons.  While there, she has a terrifying encounter involving a pickup truck that tries to run her down.  One of the truck's passengers even shoots at her.  And after that, Bernie helps a young couple deliver their baby in the middle of the night.

However, an unexpected death on a lonely road outside of Bears Ears for raises questions for Bernie and Chee.  They didn't plan on being involved in a murder, but they also wonder why a seasoned outdoorsman and well-known paleontologist freezes to death within walking distance of his car?  A second death, and apparent murder, brings more turmoil and mystery. Who is the unidentified man killed during a home invasion where nothing much seems to have been taken? Why was he murdered?

The Bears Ears area, at the edge of the Navajo Nation, is celebrated for its abundance of early human habitation sites and for the discovery of unique and revolutionary fossils.  Instead of being able to appreciate all this, Bernie and Chee are faced with an unprecedented level of violence that sweeps them both into danger.

THE LOWDOWN:  I have been crazy about Anne Hillerman's work since I first read Spider Woman's Daughter.  I had read two of her late father, Tony Hillerman's novels a long time ago, so I requested a review copy of Spider Woman's Daughter from HarperCollins when it was offered to reviewers back in 2013.  It was a fortuitous decision, as the “Manuelito, Chee & Leaphorn” series became one of my favorite modern literary series.

When I read the previous novel in the series, 2022's The Sacred Bridge, I didn't know if I should call it a turning point in the series, but the story did suggest that big changes were ahead for both Bernie and Chee.  Joe Leaphorn did not appear in The Sacred Bridge, nor does he appear in The Way of the Bear, except indirectly, and Hillerman continues to hint at big changes for him.

Like The Sacred Bridge, The Way of the Bear is a solid crime thriller, and at times, a riveting suspense thriller.  In this new novel, Bernie and Chee's lives are constantly under threat – sometimes in unexpected ways.  There is level of danger, menace, and peril that I don't remember encountering in earlier novels.  However, the entries in this series always seem to be moving the characters forward.  Nothing is stale, and the lives of Bernie and Chee are ongoing and evolving.  Even with the danger this story imposes on them, the narrative also gives us a deeper look into them.

As I have done with the previous books, I am heartily recommending The Way of the Bear.  The more I read, the more I learn about Bernie and Chee, and the more attached to them that I become.  As always, I am sad about reaching the end of the story, doubly so this time because it was just a year ago that I read The Sacred Bridge.  The best recommendation that I can give The Way of the Bear is to tell you, dear readers, that I would like to read another book in the series right now.

I READS YOU RECOMMENDS:   Fans of Anne Hillerman and of her late father, Tony Hillerman, will want to read The Way of the Bear.


Reviewed by Leroy Douresseaux a.k.a. "I Reads You"

The text is copyright © 2023 Leroy Douresseaux. All Rights Reserved.  Contact this blog or site for reprint and syndication rights and fees.


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Tuesday, January 17, 2023

Review: "MASTERS OF MAKE-UP EFFECTS" is a Century of Practical Magic in One Magical Book


AUTHORS: Howard Berger and Marshall Julius
DESIGN: Russell Knowles; Darren Jordan
EDITORS: Ross Hamilton and Roland Hall
ISBN: 978-0-80279-001-6; hardcover – 9” x 11” (September 20, 2022)
320pp, Color, $39.95 U.S., £30.00 U.K.

Forward by Guillermo Del Toro; Afterword by Seth MacFarlane

Masters of Make-Up Effects: A Century of Practical Magic is a film history and art book from authors Howard Berger and Marshall Julius.  Berger is a special make-up effects artist with over 800 feature film credits.  With Tami Lane, Berger won the “Best Make-up” Academy Award for their work on the 2005 film, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the WardrobeJulius is a London-based film critic, blogger, broadcaster and author, whose previous books include Vintage Geek (September Publishing, 2019) and Action! The Action Movie A-Z (Batsford Film Books, 1996).

Masters of Make-Up Effects: A Century of Practical Magic is an illustrated oral history of the art form of make-up effects, celebrating the make-up artists and acclaimed make-up effects masters from the world of both film and television  The authors take their readers into that fascinating world via untold stories from the sets of both popular and cult films and television.  Read the tales behind the make-up and effects on such films as An American Werewolf in London, Star Wars, Pan's Labyrinth, and The Thing, to name a few.  Visit the sets of such TV series as “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” “Doctor Who,” “Star Trek,” and “The Walking Dead,” to name a few.

THE LOWDOWN:  In Masters of Make-Up Effects: A Century of Practical Magic, there are 293 stories over 15 chapters.  I counted.  That made Masters of Make-Up Effects one of my most difficult book reviews – if not the most difficult.  There is just so much good stuff for film fans and movie buffs that reading it can sometimes feels like sensory overload.

First, I'll mention something that absolutely delighted me.  Co-author Marshall Julius pens an introduction that recounts an interview he conducted with his then-future co-author, Howard Berger, in 2006.  It ended with Berger applying his make-up effects magic on Julius, and the result of that magic...  Well, you have to buy Masters of Make-Up Effects to find out what it is.  [If you are a movie fan, you really should already have this book.]

Masters of Make-Up Effects contains hundreds of photographs, a few of which I was familiar.  However, the vast majority were new to me – these photographs of actors, directors, and, of course, the make-up and effects artists who are the stars of this book.  Yes, I have seen make-up special effects legend, Tom Savini (Dawn of the Dead, Creepshow), in film and on television for decades.  However, the other photographs put faces on these make-up effects and make-up artists I only knew as names on screen, on the Internet, and in books.  This includes masters such as Rick Baker, Rob Bottin, Greg Nicotero, Dick Smith, David White, Kevin Yagher, and Louis Zakarian, to name a few.

Seeing a photo of Stuart Freeborn and another of the members of his Star Wars “creature crew” was almost a religious experience.  Thank you, Howard and Marshall, for that.  Freeborn and company were the people behind Chewbacca and the creatures of the “Mos Eisley cantina sequence” in the first Star Wars.  In 1982, I saw Star Wars in a pre Return of the Jedi re-release.  That Saturday afternoon, I followed Luke Skywalker and Obi-Wan “Ben” Kenobi into that “wretched hive of scum and villainy” and movies were never the same for me after that.  So finally seeing the artists behind it is a big deal.

While trying to find a way to talk about all these photos, it was then that I realized that Masters of Make-Up Effects: A Century of Practical Magic is not only a book of photographs, but it is also a book of stories.  If you like science fiction, fantasy, and horror films and television, this book of stories is for you and the fans in your life.  The storytellers include the great Robert Englund, Rick Baker, Doug Bradley, Bruce Campbell, Nick Dudman, Toni G, Doug Jones, John Landis, James McAvoy, Greg Nicotero, Sarah Rubano, and Tom Savini, to once again name a few.

One does not need to be a fantasy film fan to love this book.  After all, film and TV dramas also require make-up effects and make-up artists.  Chapter 13 is entitled “Reel Lives” and focuses on the make-up work behind films based on real-life figures.  Actors have to be made up to resemble historical figures like Alfred Hitchcock (Anthony Hopkins in 2012's Hitchcock); Judy Garland (Renée Zellwegger in 2019's Judy); and Margaret Thatcher (Meryl Streep in The Iron Lady), to name a few.

I bought this book almost a few months ago, and I find myself repeatedly returning to it.  I can't get enough of the photographs or the stories.  Howard Berger and Marshall Julius have created an important book in Masters of Make-Up Effects: A Century of Practical Magic, both for what it is and for what it may mean in the future.

As more people discover this book, some because of a second printing, they will realize that it is a gem.  Over time, it will become an important resource for reference and scholarly research.  Movie and television fans, put those unused gift cards from Christmas and the holidays to use and buy Masters of Make-Up Effects: A Century of Practical Magic.

I READS YOU RECOMMENDS:  Readers who are fans of the magic that is movies will want a copy of Masters of Make-Up Effects: A Century of Practical Magic.


Reviewed by Leroy Douresseaux a.k.a. "I Reads You"

The text is copyright © 2023 Leroy Douresseaux. All Rights Reserved. Contact this blog or site for syndication rights and fees.


Amazon wants me to inform you that the affiliate link below is a PAID AD, but I technically only get paid (eventually) if you click on the affiliate link below AND buy something(s).

Monday, November 14, 2022

Book Review: "THE SACRED BRIDGE" Offers Murder Most Foul x 2

THE SACRED BRIDGE – (A Leaphorn, Chee & Manuelito Novel #7)

AUTHOR: Anne Hillerman
ISBN: 978-0-06-290836-0; hardcover (April 12, 2022)
336pp, B&W, $26.99 U.S., $33.50 CAN

The Sacred Bridge: A Leaphorn, Chee & Manuelito Novel is a 2022 hardcover original novel from author Anne Hillerman.  It is the seventh novel in her “Leaphorn, Chee & Manuelito” book series, which began with Spider Woman's Daughter (2013).

This series is a continuation of the “Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee Series” written by Hillerman's late father, bestselling author, Tony Hillerman (1925-2008).  The original series is the basis for “Dark Winds,” a television series from the cable network, AMC, and its streaming service, AMC+.  In The Sacred Bridge, Chee and Manuelito each investigate an unusual murder.

Navajo Nation Police Officer Bernadette “Bernie” Manuelito and her husband, Sgt. Jim Chee, are enjoying a vacation, but Bernie leaves early.  Jim Chee’s stay in beautiful Antelope Canyon and Lake Powell has a deeper purpose. He is on a quest to unravel a sacred mystery his mentor, the legendary police officer, Lieutenant Joe Leaphorn, stumbled across decades earlier.  Chee's journey takes a dark turn when, after a prayerful visit to the sacred Rainbow Bridge, he spots a body floating in Lake Powell.  The dead man is Curtis Walker, a Navajo with a passion for the canyon’s ancient rock art.  However, Curtis lived a life filled with many secrets, including an affair with a married woman and double-crossing one or more potential business partners.  In his mission to discover why Curtis died and who is responsible, Chee's will put his own life at risk.

Back at their home base of Shiprock, Bernie is driving home when she witnesses a black Mercedes sedan purposely kill a hitchhiker.  The search to find the killer leads her into an undercover investigation at KHF – “K'é Happy Farm,” a cannabis farming operation that was supposed to benefit the Navajo Nation.  However, the place is surrounded by mystery and rumors and also reports that workers are shooting dogs.  Even the guy who is supposed to own the place, Dino Begay Perez, is missing.  Bernie discovers a dangerous chain of interconnected revelations involving KHF.  It is an evil that jeopardizes both her mother and sister, Darleen, and puts Bernie in the deadliest situation of her law enforcement career.

THE LOWDOWN:  I have been crazy about Anne Hillerman's work since I first read Spider Woman's Daughter.  I had read two of her late father, Tony Hillerman's novels a long time ago, so I requested a review copy of Spider Woman's Daughter from HarperCollins when it was offered to reviewers back in 2013.  It was a fortuitous decision, as the “Manuelito, Chee & Leaphorn” series is one of my favorite modern literary series.

I don't know if I would call The Sacred Bridge a turning point in the series, but the story does suggest that big changes are ahead for both Bernie and Chee.  While Joe Leaphorn does not appear in the novel (although he plays an indirect part in the plot), Hillerman also hints of a big change for him.

Of all the books in this series, The Sacred Bridge is the one that I would most describe as a crime thriller or a suspense thriller.  Both mysteries that confront the lead characters are filled with danger, and it seems that their lives are always under threat.  It is not a spoiler to say that both come close to being killed, and Chee's case is filled with heartbreak that will vex some of the characters long after the story ends.  In Bernie's case, the characters end with hope and reunion.

As I have done with the previous books, I am heartily recommending The Sacred Bridge.  As usual, I was sad when I finished the last page.  I always want more, and, dear readers, if you give this book a chance, you will want more, also.

I READS YOU RECOMMENDS:   Fans of Anne Hillerman and of her late father, Tony Hillerman, will want to read The Sacred Bridge.


Reviewed by Leroy Douresseaux a.k.a. "I Reads You"

The text is copyright © 2022 Leroy Douresseaux. All Rights Reserved.  Contact this blog or site for reprint and syndication rights and fees.


Amazon wants me to inform you that the affiliate link below is a PAID AD, but I technically only get paid (eventually) if you click on the affiliate link below AND buy something(s).

Monday, October 17, 2022

Comics Review: "DIRE DAYS OF WILLOWWEEP MANOR" is Imaginative and Great Fun

SIMON & SCHUSTER/Margaret K. McElderry Books

STORY: Shaenon K. Garrity
ART: Christopher Baldwin
COVER: Christopher Baldwin
ISBN: 978-1-5344-6086-7; paperback (July 20, 2021)
224pp, Color, $14.99 U.S., $19.99 CAN

Demographic: Ages 12-up; Grades 7 and up

Available in hardcover and eBook editions

The Dire Days of Willowweep Manor is a 2021 full-color, original graphic novel written by Shaenon Garrity and drawn by Christopher Baldwin.  It has been released in both hardcover and paperback editions.  [My review is based on the paperback.]  The story focuses on a teenage girl who is swept up in a strange new universe and must save it from an all-consuming evil in order to return to her home.

The Dire Days of Willowweep Manor introduces Haley, a high school student with a passion for Gothic romance novels.  Haley's passion has gotten her into trouble with one of her teachers who is tired of reading essays about Gothic romance novels.
One dark and stormy night, Haley is walking home with an armful of books.  She is thinking ahead of a glorious night of reading, but while crossing a bridge, she sees a stranger drowning in the river below.  Sensing that her moment to be a heroine has arrived, Haley leaps into the water to rescue the stranger.  Exhausted from the effort to save the man, who seems rather ungrateful, Haley later awakens on the shores of a placed called Willowweep.

The place certainly looks like the setting of one of her favorite Gothic romance books.  There is a stately manor (Willowweep Manor) that happens to employ a sinister housekeeper (Wilhelmina).  There are three brothers: brooding Laurence, the eldest; daffy Cuthbert, the youngest; and middle brother, Montague, the one Haley rescued.  Willowweep even has a ghost, Cecily, who seems to know a lot about the place.

Willowweep, neither the land nor the manor, is not what it seems.  The Gothic romantic exteriors and trappings hide what it really is and the fact that a force of great evil is set on destroying Willowweep.  Could the same fate that brought Haley to this place make her the heroine Willowweep needs?

THE LOWDOWN:  I could call The Dire Days of Willowweep Manor clever, which it certainly is, but that would be shallow.  I like that the heroine is an African-American teenage girl, but that does not play a part in narrative.  Haley's skin color is happily never a point of interest with the other characters.

The Dire Days of Willowweep Manor seems like an exercise in creative storytelling.  It is as if writer Shaenon K. Garrity starting imagining this scenario and never stopped being ingenious and inventive.  Every page is a surprise, and the narrative moves in unexpected ways, as does the lead character.  By the end of the story, Haley has changed.  She is still a teen girl, but now she is more open to the possibilities of what she can do, what she can be, and what she can expect from the things that she enjoys.

Artist Christopher Baldwin brings Garrity's delightful tale to life as a sweeping epic.  Baldwin builds this world and invites the readers into its nooks and crannies.  He encourages us to look behind the curtain, to examine the walls, and to push past borders into other places and dimensions.  Without forgetting that Haley is the lead, Baldwin also makes the other characters intriguing and attractive, the better to play off the heroine.

The Dire Days of Willowweep Manor exemplifies how two skilled comic book creators can make the union of their different talents and perspectives appear seamless.  The result is that The Dire Days of Willowweep Manor is a winning read for all ages … and, of course, there should be a sequel.  After reading this delightful Gothic comic romp, dear readers, you will want to follow Haley to other universes, again and again.

I READS YOU RECOMMENDS:  Fans of juvenile science fiction-fantasy, girl heroes, and middle grade graphic novels will want to read The Dire Days of Willowweep Manor.


Reviewed by Leroy Douresseaux a.k.a. "I Reads You"

The text is copyright © 2022 Leroy Douresseaux. All Rights Reserved. Contact this blog or site for syndication rights and fees.


Amazon wants me to inform you that the affiliate link below is a PAID AD, but I technically only get paid (eventually) if you click on the affiliate link below AND buy something(s).

Wednesday, January 6, 2021

Negromancer Book Review: "AMERICAN GODS: The Tenth Anniversary Edition"


AUTHOR: Neil Gaiman
ISBN: 978-0-06-205988-8; hardcover (June 21, 2011)
560pp, B&W, $26.99 U.S.

American Gods is a 2001 fantasy novel by Neil Gaiman (author of The Sandman comic book series).  In 2002, the book won several “Best Novel” awards from organizations that honor fantasy fiction, including the Hugo, Nebula, and Bram Stoker Awards.  The novel centers on a taciturn and mysterious protagonist caught in a struggle between the gods of the old world and the new gods of America.

In celebration of the novel’s tenth anniversary, William Morrow published American Gods: The Tenth Anniversary Edition (Author’s Preferred Text) in June 2011.  This edition contains an additional 12,000 words and is the first time that this version of the text has been made widely available.  Gaiman also provides an introduction to this edition in which he explains the origins and development of the novel.

The premise of American Gods is that gods, mythological beings, spirits, and figures of legend, folklore, and fairy tales exist because people believe in them.  Through their beliefs, immigrants brought these gods and beings from the Old World to the new world of America.  Over time, the immigrants’ descendants either forgot the gods or their belief in their ancestors’ gods waned.  Now, out of America’s obsession with media, celebrity, technology, and even drugs (among other things) sprang new gods.

The story centers on an enigmatic figure named Shadow, who has just been released from prison after serving three years.  He can’t wait to get back to his wife, Laura Moon, but tragedy strikes.  With nothing left to which he can return, Shadow accepts a job from a beguiling stranger who calls himself Mr. Wednesday.  A charming rogue who can get ladies in bed with ease and a trickster extraordinaire, Wednesday seems to know a lot about Shadow, the man who becomes his bodyguard, driver, and general errand boy.  Wednesday takes Shadow on a long, strange trip across America, as Wednesday attempts to recruit some of the old gods to his cause.  But only Shadow can uncover the whole story about “the Storm,” the war between the gods.

THE LOWDOWN:  As much as I enjoyed American Gods (and I sooooo enjoyed it), I don’t believe that I have fully grasped its meaning, but I have some idea on that.  It is an epic fantasy and a road novel.  It is steeped in Americana, but also in folklore and folktales.  It is part suspense thriller that dabbles in conspiracy.  A side of it is a small town murder mystery complete with eccentric characters; that includes a good-natured and lonely chief of police who is horny enough to plot having sex with a female cousin.

It is a bit of everything and is all over the place, but that makes me wonder if this novel was Neil Gaiman’s attempt at the great American novel.  People think of the United States as a melting pot, in which people from different nationalities, backgrounds, and cultures blend into a new ethnic group, the American.  In reality, however, some people just don’t “melt” very well, and it is obvious that they can never physically look like what many consider to be an American – a white person.  America may be a melting pot, but it is equally a mosaic, a nation made of different pieces that have broken off from old world cultures and other nationalities. [Some would argue that the United States Constitution is the only thing that unites us.]

American Gods is a mosaic novel made from pieces broken off other stories, or maybe it is a melting pot of different kinds of fiction – the American novel for a melting pot/mosaic nation.  Gaiman reconciles the melting pot and mosaic of America by bringing them together and recognizing that American culture is about the tension between old and new.  It may be a jumble, but they can live side by side.  All that we need recognize is the forces that would tear us apart and use our strife to benefit themselves.  We can be different and even not united, but all be American.

Frankly, I did find a few sections of this novel to be dry and even dull, but the further you go into the novel, the tighter its hold on you.  Gaiman fills American Gods with inventive scenarios, imaginative characters, and ingenious concepts, although the new American gods are mostly flat and vague characters.  Still, it feels like this novel reinvigorated the fantasy genre, making fantastic literature that is not about escapism.  American Gods speaks of the soul of this country by delving into the dreams and the beliefs of the people and the supernatural that call this great land home.

I READS YOU RECOMMENDS:  Fans of Neil Gaiman will want to read American Gods: The Tenth Anniversary Edition.

8 out of 10

Reviewed by Leroy Douresseaux a.k.a. "I Reads You"

The text is copyright © 2021 Leroy Douresseaux. All Rights Reserved. Contact this blog or site for syndication rights and fees.


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Monday, December 28, 2020

Negromancer Book Review: Roald Dahl's THE WITCHES


[This review was originally posted on Patreon.]

AUTHOR: Roald Dahl
ILLUSTRATOR: Quentin Blake
ISBN: 978-1-9848-3716-5; hardcover with color dust jacket; 5.31 in x 7.75 in; (September 3, 2019)
224pp, B&W, $17.99 U.S.

Ages 8-12

The Witches is a 1983 children's dark fantasy novel written by the British author, the late Roald Dahl.  The book was published with almost 100 full-page and spot illustrations by Quentin Blake (who illustrated many of Dahl's works).  This review is based on a hardcover edition of The Witches published in September 2019 by Puffin Books, an imprint of Penguin Random House.

The Witches is narrated by an unnamed young British boy who recounts his and and his grandmother's experiences battling a society of child-hating witches.  Some people are familiar with The Witches through two film adaptations, director Nicholas Roeg's 1990 adaptation, which starred Anjelica Huston, and the recently released 2020 film directed by Robert Zemeckis.

The Witches opens in Norway where we meet the story's narrator, an unnamed seven-year-old English boy whose parents were Norwegian immigrants to England.  After his parents are killed in an accident, the boy goes to live in Norway with his grandmother, whom he calls “Grandmamma.”  He has already previously spent much time with her, and he loves all her stories, especially the ones about horrific witches who seek to either kill human children or to transform them into animals.  It turns out that Grandmamma is a retired witch hunter, and she tells the boy how to spot witches.  They all look like ordinary women, but they are actually disguising their deformities,  For instance, they have bald heads, have claws instead of fingers, and do not have toes, to name a few of their deformities.

The boy eventually returns to England with Grandmamma in tow, and while on holiday at the grand Hotel Magnificent in Bournemouth, England, the boy has his second experience with witches.  While hiding in the hotel ballroom, the boy discovers that a meeting of the “Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children” (RSPCC) is really the annual gathering of all the witches in England.  At that meeting, the boy sees something that almost no human has ever seen – the Grand High Witch, leader of all the world's witches.  And nothing can prepare the boy for the Grand High Witch's diabolical plan to get rid of all the human children in England.

THE LOWDOWN:  My experiences with Roald Dahl revolve around his 1964 children's novel, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and the two film adaptations of it, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971) and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005).  I read the novel once, sometime after the release of the 2005 film, and I have seen both films a few times.

I remember when Nicholas Roeg's film adaptation of The Witches was originally released, and I planned to see it but never did.  I have been putting off seeing the film ever since, but when I heard about Zemeckis' then-upcoming adaptation of The Witches, I chose the book as one of my Christmas 2019 gifts.  After finally reading it, I wish that I had read The Witches a long time ago.  I feel it could have been a formative reading experience for me when I was young.

That aside, it is a fantastic novel.  I am amazed that Dahl could create such evocative and vivid prose in writing for children.  Well, I guess that's why he is beloved by generations.  From the moment he introduces the unnamed boy, Dahl transports readers into another world, one that is fantastical, but one in which the readers will want to believe.

I also love that Dahl makes both the boy and his grandmother, who is 86 in the book, both plucky and adventurous.  The boy is not afraid of new things, and his child's sense of wonder and nosiness makes him not afraid to try new things and to go new places, as well as to try dangerous things and to go to dangerous places.  The boy is one of those classic characters onto which the readers will graft themselves in order to follow him on an incredible and perilous journey.  The witches of The Witches are unique and scary, but are also a little pathetic and funny, which is enough to make them creepy.

The best thing that I can say about Roald Dahl's The Witches is that when I got to the end of its 200 pages, I could have read another 200 pages.  Also Quentin Blake's illustrations are the perfect accompaniment to the novel.  I feel like the world of The Witches as my mind imagines it should look similar to the way Blake presents it.

I READS YOU RECOMMENDS:  Of course, fans of Roald Dahl should read and re-read The Witches, and fans of great children's literature will want to fight The Witches.

[This volume includes a 16-page from another Roald Dahl book, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.]

10 out of 10

Reviewed by Leroy Douresseaux a.k.a. "I Reads You"

The text is copyright © 2020 Leroy Douresseaux. All Rights Reserved. Contact this blog or site for syndication rights and fees.


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Tuesday, December 22, 2020

Negromancer Book Review: "TWILIGHT" Novel a Delight

TWILIGHT (The Twilight Series Book One)

AUTHOR: Stephenie Meyer
ISBN: 978-0-316-16017-9; hardcover (October 5, 2005)
544pp, B&W, $22.99 U.S., $28.99 CAN

Twilight is a 2005 young adult novel written by Stephenie Meyer.  A vampire romance, Twilight focuses on a 17-year-old girl who falls in love with a 103-year-old vampire who looks like a 17-year-old boy.  Twilight is the first in the four-book “Twilight series.”  It was also adapted into the hit 2008 film, Twilight, which became the first entry in a five-film franchise.

When Isabella “Bella” Swan moves from Phoenix, Arizona to Forks, a small town in the Olympic Peninsula of northwest Washington state, she thinks that her life will be miserable until she graduates from high school.  Forks is not unfamiliar to Bella, as she was born there.  After her parents divorced and she followed her mother, Renée, to Phoenix, Bella often returned to Forks to spend summers with her father, Police Chief Charlie Swan.  Now, however, because of her mother’s new marriage, Bella is moving in with her father full time.

Adjusting to her new school is not as much as a problem as Bella thought.  In fact, the very things that made her unpopular in sunny Phoenix, makes her attractive to the high school kids in this remote rural area.  Bella makes, or rather tolerates friends, but then she sees him, Edward Cullen.  This pale-skinned Adonis, so beautiful and graceful that he seems supernatural, captures Bella’s attention and imagination.  She can’t stop thinking about him, but he’s distant, even hostile towards her.  Then, Edward saves Bella’s life in an act of bravery that is as shocking as it is impossible.  What is Edward Cullen, and why does he make Bella feel so madly in love and out of sorts that she can’t seem to live without him?

THE LOWDOWN:  Since its debut in October 2005, Twilight, the young adult (YA), fantasy, romance novel by author Stephenie Meyer, has been a favorite with teen female readers.  Twilight spawned three follow ups (with the four books forming The Twilight Saga) and recently became a hit movie.  I am of the mind that novels that are hugely popular and that also spawn a devoted following or fan base might actually be quite good, although many pop novels are really trash.  Twilight, however, is a damn good read.

The books strength comes from two strong elements:  strong characters (especially the leads) and a deeply seductive romance.  Bella and Edward are strong individual characters, but as a pair, they are magic.

Bella comes across as a modern goth-type girl, more stubborn and individualistic than sullen, but she has a romantic’s heart and a generous spirit.  She doesn’t dislike people so much as she prefers her solitude.  Simply put, Edward is chivalrous.  Loyal and brave, his protective way towards Bella may seem odd in this era of the independent woman.  On the other hand, it is also easy to see why young women would be attracted to the character of Edward, especially in an era in which young men consider loutish, self-centered behavior to be cool.

How does an author bring the girl who loves solitude and the boy who seems to be a gentlemanly hero from a 19th century romance novel together?  This is where the seductive nature of Meyer’s writing comes into play.  Meyer builds so much of the text on dialogue, and all that talk gives the novel such warm colors.  Even in the cold and damp setting of the evergreen forests of Washington, the way Meyer has Bella and Edward talk to each other brings a heat to the story that the reader feels.  In his own way, Edward seduces Bella, and in turn, Bella seduces him in her own way.  Their verbal play is searing, and although their conversations run for pages on end, it’s attractive the way real conversation was in the movies, Before Sunrise and Before Sunset.

The majority of the last act becomes a twister of suspense running on the razor’s edge.  Still, the thrills exist in the context of this dangerous, but alluring romance that will have readers flipping pages.

POSSIBLE AUDIENCE:  Readers who enjoy a well-written romantic novels, even a supernatural romance, will like Twilight.

7.5 out of 10

Reviewed by Leroy Douresseaux a.k.a. "I Reads You"

The text is copyright © 2020 Leroy Douresseaux. All Rights Reserved. Contact this blog or site for syndication rights and fees.


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Friday, December 4, 2020

Negromancer Book Review: "LOVECRAFT COUNTRY" is a Brilliant Novel, an Uncanny Read

HARPERCOLLINS – @HarperCollins

AUTHOR: Matt Ruff – @bymattruff
ISBN: 978-0-06-229206-3; hardcover (February 16, 2016)
384pp, B&W, $26.99 U.S.

Lovecraft Country is a 2016 fantasy novel from acclaimed cult novelist, Matt Ruff (Fool on the Hill; The Mirage).  Blending fantasy, historical fiction, Lovecraftian horror, and weird fiction, Lovecraft Country focuses on a Black man, his father, his uncle, and a small circle of Black friends and relatives who take on sorcery and Jim Crow-era secret occult societies.

It's 1954.  22-year-old African-American, Atticus Turner, recently received a letter from his estranged father, Montrose Turner.  The letter was a summons for Attitcus, a Korean War Army veteran, to return home to Chicago.  When he arrives at his father's apartment, Atticus learns that Montrose left several days earlier in the company of a young White man.  His destination – a mysterious, small village named Ardham, deep in the Sabbath Kingdom Woods of Devon County, Massachusetts.

Atticus embarks on a road trip to New England to find Montrose.  He is accompanied by his Uncle George Berry, his father's brother and the publisher of The Safe Negro Travel Guide, a periodical that informs African-American travelers which hotels, restaurants, and business serve “Colored” people.  Letitia Dandridge, a childhood friend of Atticus', insists on tagging along.

Shortly after arriving in Ardham, they find Montrose in chains, held prisoner by Samuel Braithwhite, the leader of a secret cabal known as the Order of the Ancient Dawn.  Braithwhite and his fellow conspirators plan to orchestrate a bizarre ritual that requires Atticus' participation.  To escape, Atticus and company will need the help of Braithwhite's son, Caleb, who has his own need of the Turner clan.

Late last year, I saw the movie, American Ultra, which basically failed at the box office and received mixed reviews from film critics.  I, however, loved it, and I had a blast watching it.  American Ultra reminded me of why I watch so many movies:  no matter how many bad or disappointing movies I watch, I will always find movies that thrill me, spark my imagination, inspire me to make a difference, or just make me happy.

Lovecraft Country does all those things.  I am embarrassed to admit that I seem at a lost to completely and accurately describe how much I enjoyed this book and what it did to me.  There are so many shocking and amazing things about Lovecraft Country.

For one thing, author Matt Ruff is a White man.  His depiction of how African-Americans had to live in segregated, racist, Jim Crow America match what other authors have detailed in non-fiction books written by Black and White Americans, who lived in that America or researched it.  What boggles the mind, however, is that a White man captures the indignities heaped on Black people and the dangers they faced during Jim Crow with such intensity that you might think that he is a Black man.

And let's be honest, Jim Crow may have lost a lot of feathers, but he is still alive.  There are quite a few things that Ruff depicts in this book that I have experienced in our allegedly more enlightened times.  Ruff gets it, so much so that he must be a secret Negro, or he has some kind of telepathic connection with a lot of Black folks – past and present.

The copy on the back of the book jacket calls Lovecraft Country a “...brilliant and wondrous work of the imagination....” and “...a devastating kaleidoscopic portrait of racism—the terrifying specter that continues to haunt us today.”  That's the triple-truth Ruth.  Lovecraft Country blends the modern fantasy inventiveness of writers like J.K. Rowling and Neil Gaiman with the inspired pulp fiction imaginations of H.P. Lovecraft and Robert E. Howard and their contemporaries.

Matt Ruff does these writers one better, however.  His fantastic fantasy invention does not leave out the true darkness and terror, and that is the real malevolence of venomous racial hate, bigotry, and prejudice.  By making his characters Black people living under the yoke of oppression, Ruff dares to imagine a world of magic that is as poisonous as it is wondrous.

Readers are always looking for great books.  Some want the kind of novels that are usually called the “best of the year.”  Well, they should travel to Lovecraft Country.


Reviewed by Leroy Douresseaux a.k.a. "I Reads You"

The text is copyright © 2016 Leroy Douresseaux. All Rights Reserved. Contact this blog for reprint and syndication rights and fees.


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Thursday, September 17, 2020

Negromancer Book Review: "BTS: Blood, Sweat & Tears"


[This review was originally posted on Patreon.]

WRITER: Tamar Herman
DESIGN: Evi-O Studios
ISBN: 978-1-97471-713-2; hardcover; 7.875 x 10.5 (August 2020)
312pp., Color, $27.99 U.S.

BTS: Blood Sweat & Tears is a new hardcover book about the worldwide musical phenomenon known as BTS.

BTS (also known as the Bangtan Boys) is a seven-member, South Korean boy band.  The group was first put together, beginning in 2010, by “Big Hit Entertainment,” a South Korean entertainment company.  The members of BTS are RM – leader and rapper; Jin – vocalist; Suga – rapper; J-Hope – rapper; Jimin – vocalist; V – vocalist, and Jungkook – vocalist.  The members write and produce much of their recorded musical output, and while BTS was initially a hip hop group, the members have embraced a wide range of musical genres.

BTS's debut musical recording was the “single album,” 2 Cool 4 Skool.  A June 2013 release, it contained seven singles and two “hidden tracks.”  August 2014 saw the release of the group's debut, Korean-language studio album, Dark & Wild.  December 2014 saw the release of their debut, Japanese-language studio album, Wake Up.  In December 2015, BTS's 2015 album, The Most Beautiful Moment in Life, Pt. 2, became the group's first album to make the “Billboard 200” United States' album sales chart.  On May 27, 2018, BTS's third studio album, Love Yourself: Tear, debuted at the number one position on the Billboard 200 chart.  It was the first time a Korean album had topped the U.S. album sales chart, as well as being the highest charting album by an Asian musical recording act.

And there is something... almost... magical about them.  BTS's music videos are visually striking with dazzling effects, imaginative production design, and alluring colors  Their songs embrace familiar hip-hop and electronic popular music (“electropop”) sub-genres.  They also sing R&B-inspired ballads, which should be familiar to fans of Backstreet Boys and NSYNC.  BTS's music also sounds like something different and new – sounds from a future that is leaving behind the funky phantoms of pop anthems past.  And a seven-member boy-band slash vocal group is just hard to ignore.

Well, BTS has a story to be told, and the New York City-based journalist, Tamar Herman, is telling it in the new hardcover, illustrated book, BTS: Blood Sweat & Tears.  Part music-bio and part analysis, this new book is a thorough exploration of BTS's approach to music in the age of globalization, as this super boy band has brought Korean music to the world.  Focusing on the members, the music, and the fans, Tamar Herman brings forth the extraordinary story of these young K-pop idols:  Jin, Suga, J-Hope, RM, V, Jimin and Jungkook to life as they transcend the limitations of language, geography, and genre in a way not seen since, perhaps, The Beatles.

THE LOWDOWN:  Author Tamar Herman starts her book, BTS: Blood Sweat & Tears, with an informative “Intro” and  first chapter, “BTS Meets the World.”  In Chapter 1 is a crucial subsection, entitled “What is K-Pop?”  Herman uses this essay to inform the readers about the basics of “K-pop,” including that it is more of a brand than a genre of music.

As such, Herman explains how BTS has used songwriting to distinguish itself within the brand.  Two members of the group were already writing songs before joining BTS.  With other members writing songs plus a dedicated team of songwriters, the group has been able to evolve its songs and sound.  Through their own songwriting, BTS produces music and performances that rally against societal norms, express poetic ideas of romance, and praise self-acceptance in the face of adversity.  Being involved in the songwriting also allows BTS to stand out both within K-pop and within the larger, crowded, global music scene.

Overall, this book has over 80 photographic images, most of them color and many of them oversize.  Herman goes into exacting detail about BTS's collaborators, and she breaks down the group's albums, song-by-song.  Herman puts such effort into talking about BTS's music that this book, BTS: Blood Sweat & Tears, is as much a reference book as it is an overview of the band's public life to date.

It is through Tamar Herman's analysis of the who, what, when, and how, as well as the analysis of the music that BTS: Blood Sweat & Tears stands out as a serious book about a group that is serious about its music, it performances, and its public face.  BTS: Blood Sweat & Tears is a thorough exploration of an extraordinary musical act and is certainly not some thrown-together paperback looking to make a quick buck off BTS's fame.

I READS YOU RECOMMENDS:  Fans of BTS who are looking for a book that will take them inside BTS and its music will want BTS: Blood Sweat & Tears.

Reviewed by Leroy Douresseaux a.k.a. "I Reads You"

The text is copyright © 2020 Leroy Douresseaux. All Rights Reserved. Contact this blog or site for syndication rights and fees.


Tuesday, August 18, 2020

THE CONTENDER: The Story of Marlon Brando (Negromancer Book Review)

HARPERCOLLINS – @HarperCollins @HarperBooks

[This review was originally posted on Patreon.]

AUTHOR: William J. Mann – @WilliamJMann
ISBN: 978-0-06-242764-9; hardcover (October 15, 2019)
736pp, B&W, $35.00 U.S.

Who is Marlon Brando?  Some would, will, and will always tell you that he was and is the greatest American film actor of all time.  Marlon Brando won two Academy Awards, for his performance as Terry Malloy in On the Waterfront (1954) and again for his performance as Don Vito Corleone in The Godfather (1972).  His performance as Terry Malloy is considered the performance that changed film-acting in American motion pictures.

Marlon Brando the Hollywood legend was born Marlon Brando Jr. on April 3, 1924 to Dorothy Julia “Dodie” (Pennebaker) and Marlon Brando Sr. in Omaha, Nebraska.  He grew up in Libertyville, Illinois (where he met Wally Cox, an actor who would be a lifelong friend), and even attended a military school.  But who was Marlon Brando?

The award-winning film biographer, William J. Mann (Kate: The Woman Who Was Hepburn), presents a deeply-textured, ambitious, and definitive portrait of Marlon Brando.  The greatest movie actor of the twentieth century was also elusive, and Mann brings his extraordinarily complex life into view as never before in the biography, The Contender: The Story of Marlon Brando.

The most influential movie actor of his era, Marlon Brando changed the way other actors perceived their craft.  His natural, honest, and deeply personal approach to acting resulted in performances, especially in A Streetcar Named Desire and On the Waterfront, that are considered to be without parallel.  Americans hailed Brando as the “American Hamlet.”  He was the Yank who surpassed Laurence Olivier, John Gielgud, and Ralph Richardson, the holy trinity and the royalty of British stage and screen, as the standard of greatness in mid-twentieth century acting.

Brando’s impact on American culture, however, went beyond acting.  He was was also one of the first American movie stars to use his fame as a platform to address social, political, and moral issues, and he courageously and boldly called out the United States' deeply rooted, persistent racism.

The Contender illuminates this cultural icon for a new age, and Mann, its author, argues that Brando was not only a great actor, but also a cultural soothsayer.  Mann reveals that Brando was a Cassandra warning America about the challenges to come.  Brando’s admonitions against making financial gain the primary purpose of nearly every aspect of the nation's culture, and his criticisms that the news media's obsession with celebrity and other shallow and ultimately unimportant subjects were prescient.  Many public figures, from fellow Hollywood actors to politicians and media figures, criticized Brando's public protests against racial segregation and discrimination at the height of the Civil Rights movement. Yet less than half a century later, Brando's actions as an activist and an advocate have become the model many actors follow today.

In The Contender, William J. Mann shows the sides of Marlon Brando that many moviegoers never imagined him to have.  From his childhood traumas to the evolution of his professional life and the growing mess of his personal life, Marlon Brando is revealed anew.

THE LOWDOWN:  William J. Mann's biography of Marlon Brando is a story that runs over 600 pages.  That is not counting the section entitled “Marlon Brando Stage and Television Credits;” a two-page “Sources” section; and a 60-page “Notes” section.  Mann's The Contender is not only “psychologically astute” as the book's press materials state; it is also painstakingly and masterfully researched.  Mann's research is based on new material, previously revealed material, and interviews with the people who knew Marlon Brando, some of whom died during the time Mann worked on this book.

Mann's book is not a Hollywood tell-all, nor is it a celebratory festival of Brando's work.  The Contender explores the man that Brando was, and being a ground-breaking, celebrated, and revered actor was only part of the man.  To that end, The Contender and its author told me things that I did not know about Brando.  I did not know that he was “sexually fluid,” having sexual relationships with both men and women.  I did not know that he was a hopeless philanderer and womanizer; Brando cheated on every woman he dated or was married to – often with multiple women.

I did not know that Brando did not consider acting to be something important.  He certainly had a fidelity to his vocation, as seen in his numerous performances on film, but he did not take the profession seriously.  He did not tolerate people whom he believed took acting too seriously.

I had no idea that Brando supported human rights causes for African-Americans and supported the Civil Rights movement, both financially and in person, up to the time of his death.  He participated in numerous marches, including some in the American south.  Brando was also a participant in the 1963 “March on Washington.”  Brando was also a vocal and tireless advocate for Native Americans, which including him declining his best actor Oscar for The Godfather at the 45th Academy Awards on March 27, 1973 in protest of the way the U.S. had treated American Indians.

It is not so much that Mann tells Brando's story in vivid detail, which he does.  It is also that Mann uses his prose to transport readers back to the times and places of many key moments in Brando's life.  Mann puts us there, right next to his subject, and the result is the story that makes you think and feel the man, his life, and his times.  This is a big book for a monumental figure in American culture.  The Contender is a dazzling biography, the kind befitting our nation's greatest actor.

It took me forever to read this biography – seven months.  By the time, I finished, however, I wished there were more.  The Contender: The Story of Marlon Brando is for all time the biography for Marlon Brando fans and admirers, present and future.

I READS YOU RECOMMENDS:  Fans and students of Hollywood films and of Marlon Brando will want to read The Contender: The Story of Marlon Brando.

[The Contender: The Story of Marlon Brando includes sixteen pages of photographs.]

8 out of 10

Reviewed by Leroy Douresseaux a.k.a. "I Reads You"

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The text is copyright © 2020 Leroy Douresseaux. All Rights Reserved. Contact this blog or site for syndication rights and fees.


Thursday, December 22, 2016

Review: THE PRINCESS BRIDE: A Storybook to Color


ARTIST: Rachel Curtis
ISBN: 978-1631407734; paperback (November 2016)
80pp, B&W, $16.99 U.S., $21.99 CAN

The Princess Bride is a 1987 fantasy and romantic film from director Rob ReinerWilliam Goldman wrote the film's screenplay, basing it upon his 1973 fantasy novel, also entitled The Princess Bride.

The film uses as its framing sequence a grandfather reading a book, entitled “The Princess Bride,” to his ailing grandson.  The book's story concerns a beautiful farmgirl, Buttercup, and the love of her life, the farmhand-turned-pirate, Wesley, and their struggle against the arrogant Prince Humperdinck of Florin who is determined that Buttercup marry him.

The film will celebrate its 30th anniversary in 2017; it was originally released to U.S. theaters in October 1987.  Oscar-nominated, The Princess Bride has a loyal following that seems to continue to grow, and among movie fans, it is one of the most beloved American films of all time.

Adult coloring books have been all the rage the last few years.  Of course, it is conceivable that The Princess Bride would be perfect for adaptation into a coloring book, adult or otherwise.  It should only be done, however, if it can be done right.  An artist and her publisher, in fact, did it right.

IDW Publishing presents The Princess Bride: A Storybook to Color, a new adult coloring book with illustrations black and white illustrations created by Rachel Curtis.  Curtis provides more than 70 illustrations based on The Princess Bride for you, dear reader, to color as you wish.  These illustrations are printed on high quality paper that won't let colors bleed through.

I love The Princess Bride, and so does Rachel Curtis.  She turns practically every key moment in the film into double-page illustrated spreads for readers to color.  There are even pages that take as a theme objects that are key to the film, including swords, ropes, items of clothing, eyeglasses, implements, and crowns, to name a few.

The spreads that I like the most include recreations of some of my favorite scenes in The Princess Bride.  Curtis offers a stylish take on the scene in which Buttercup faces giant eels that menace her as she tries to swim to safety; it looks like a stain glass illustration.  Curtis perfectly captures the poison-wine duel sequence between Wesley and Vizzini, the Sicilian crime boss who holds a knife on Buttercup.  I can't resist the two-page spread of decorative R.O.U.S. (rats of unusual size), and her wide screen interpretation of Count Rugen's torture experimentation chamber is impressive.

I love Curtis' take on the sequence of the heroes riding off into forever after their victory at Humperdinck's castle.  If you want to draw your own version of that scene or any other, Curtis crafted a few pages with decorative borders and space for you to illustrate.  Rachel Curtis' detailed, decorative, and emotive illustrations are a love letter to both The Princess Bride and to its fans.  That makes The Princess Bride: A Storybook to Color a superb gift for The Princess Bride fan.


Reviewed by Leroy Douresseaux a.k.a. "I Reads You"

The text is copyright © 2016 Leroy Douresseaux. All Rights Reserved. Contact this blog for reprint and syndication rights and fees.


Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Book Review: "Mary Astor's Purple Diary"

W.W. NORTON & COMPANY/Liveright – @wwnorton and @LiverightPub

[This review originally appeared in Patreon.]

ISBN: 978-1-63149-023-1; hardcover (October 4, 2016)
176pp, Color, $25.95 U.S., $33.95 CAN

Lucile Vasconcellos Langhanke a.k.a. Mary Astor (1906 – 1987) was an American actress whose career spanned the silent film era of Hollywood through its “Golden Age” and into the end of Hollywood's “studio system.”  Her two most famous films were released in the year 1941.  She won the“Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress” for her performance in The Great Lie.  Astor is probably best remembered for her role as “Brigid O'Shaughnessy” in The Maltese Falcon, directed by John Huston and starring Humphrey Bogart and also released in 1941.

Born in 1929, Edward Sorel is an illustrator, caricaturist, cartoonist, and graphic designer.  His work is known for its leftist and liberal social commentary and its criticism of reactionary right-wing politics and organized religion.  As a cartoonist and caricaturist, Sorel once regularly contributed to magazines such The Nation, New York Magazine and The Atlantic, and of late, Vanity Fair.

Sorel is also known for his work as a writer-illustrator who tells stories through his prose that is accompanied by his illustrations (which are done in his wavy pen-and-ink style).  An example of Sorel's illustrated storytelling is his new book, Mary Astor's Purple Diary (subtitled, The Great American Sex Scandal of 1936).   How did such a book come to be?

In 1965, Sorel was a struggling young artist recently beginning his second marriage and living in a $98 a month apartment on the Upper East Side of New York City.  His new wife, Nancy, demanded that he pull up the linoleum of the kitchen floor in the apartment.  Under layers of rotting linoleum, Sorel discovered a bunch of New York newspapers from the year 1936.  It was the New York Daily News and New York Daily Mirror.  The front pages of these newspapers concerned a lurid Hollywood sex scandal surrounding the divorce and custody trial fought by Mary Astor and her then (second) husband, Franklyn Thorpe.  At the center of this scandal was Mary Astor's diary in which she chronicled her sexual conquests, and Thorpe had found it!

Ed Sorel's newspaper find led to a life-long obsession with Mary Astor.  Drawing on film history and a deep love for the cinema, Sorel tells the story of Mary Astor... and of her “purple diary.”

I am familiar with Sorel's work, but I did not follow him the way I did other magazine and newspaper cartoonists and caricaturists, such as my beloved Charles Addams.  I know Mary Astor's name, but that is related to her role in one of my all-time favorite movies, The Maltese Falcon, which I think is one of the best American films ever made.

Still, I found Mary Astor's Purple Diary to be a fascinating read.  Frankly, I read it quickly in big chunks.  Sorel is a riveting storyteller, who populates his prose with striking illustrations that caricature the people and the time of Astor's diary scandal.  Honestly, I cannot say that I am particularly interested in Astor's scandal, but I am drawn to the way Edward Sorel tells it.

Obviously, Astor's custody battle with her second husband riveted audiences during the Great Depression.  However, for a sex scandal to live again or to be reborn decades later, it needs a storyteller who can get the best story out of history, which Sorel does.  It does not matter if you do not know Sorel's work or Mary Astor's films, although I recommend The Maltese Falcon.  If you are looking for a damn good read, it is Mary Astor's Purple Diary.


Reviewed by Leroy Douresseaux a.k.a. "I Reads You"

The text is copyright © 2016 Leroy Douresseaux. All Rights Reserved. Contact this site for reprint and syndication rights and fees.


Saturday, January 24, 2015


HARPCOLLINS – @HarperCollins

AUTHOR: Scott Saul
ISBN: 978-0-06-212330-5; hardcover (December 9, 2014)
608pp, B&W, $27.99 U.S.

Richard Pryor (1940 to 2005) was an American comedian, actor, writer, and filmmaker.  He was best known for his work as a stage comic or stand-up comedian.  Actor and comedian Bob Newhart once called Pryor “the seminal comedian of the last 50 years.”

Becoming Richard Pryor is a biography of Pryor, written by Scott Saul.  Saul, an associate professor of English at the University of California–Berkeley, is the author of Freedom Is, Freedom Ain't: Jazz and the Making of the Sixties.  Saul has also written for Harper's Magazine, the New York Times, and the Nation, among other publications.

In the “Author's Note” to his book, Saul says that “Pryor revolutionized American comedy with his improvisational approach, his frank talk about sex and race, and the new psychological depth that he brought to the stage.”  One of the groundbreaking things about Pryor's comedy was that it was often autobiographical; the genius and complexities of his act was born from the story of his life.

Saul says that “For all his openness about his life onstage, he [Pryor] was guarded about the facts of it offstage.”  Pryor was standoffish with reporters, and, according to Saul, both Pryor and his elder relatives did what they could to make things difficult for people seeking to write biographies of Pryor.

Saul also describes how Becoming Richard Pryor is different from previous biographies and biographical efforts concerning Pryor.  First, Richard and the elder Pryor were dead by the time Saul began his research for this book in 2007.  [Pyror died in 2006.]  Also, the younger Pryor relatives were willing to share memories, pictures, papers, and other documentations with Saul.  Secondly, Saul says that he approached Pryor as a “historical figure,” so he used a “historian's tools” like research paperwork, and official documents to reconstruct Pryor's life so that he could “unpack its meaning.”  Saul writes that by working like a historian, he was able to follow Pryor's life from month to month, and, in some instances, even day to day.

Thirdly, and finally, Saul says Becoming Richard Pryor is different because its aim is to “... trace, meticulously, Pryor's evolution as an artist.”  Saul traces this evolution up to the point of the release of Richard Pryor: Live in Concert (1979), which may be the most celebrated, if not greatest stand-up comedy performance and comedy concert film of all time.  Saul is right:  Live in Concert (by influence, inspiration, and homage) may have created more stand-up comics (both good and bad) than any other film in history.

So how is Becoming Richard Pryor?  Is it any good.  Is it interesting?  I am reluctant to call Becoming Richard Pryor “fascinating,” as that word seems inadequate to describe either Saul's book or his subject, Richard Pryor.  I know it sounds crazy considering that Becoming Richard Pryor is built on so many words – over 600 pages densely packed with words, but words don't really describe this book.  Becoming Richard Pryor has to be experienced directly by a reader, to be read in order to truly understand the depth of detail by which Saul tells the story of Pryor.

In fact, the story begins decades before Pryor was born (as Richard Franklin Lennox Thomas Pryor on December 1, 1940), so that Saul can talk about Pryor's beloved paternal grandmother, His “Mama,” Maria Carter Bryant – later Maria Pryor.  Saul also goes into details about Pyror's relatives' lives before Pryor was born in 1940.  Later, Saul takes us through a journey of Pryor growing up and becoming a budding performer as a child.  Then, he takes us through Pryor's travels as his learned, gathered, and constantly evolved.

It is a long journey to Richard Pryor: Live in Concert.  As big as this book, it is shocking to consider that Saul does not follow Pyror's life and career into the 1980s, when he experienced his greatest financial success as a film actor and movie star.  The 1980s also marked the beginning of Pryor's battle with multiple sclerosis (MS).  That battle along with Pryor's death on December 20, 2005 are discussed in the book's epilogue.

I am glad Scott Saul used the epilogue to discuss that last quarter century of Pryor's life.  What Saul presents is so grand in scope and so intimately and realistically detailed that I don't think I could read much more.  Becoming Richard Pryor is a great Hollywood biography and a masterfully work of history about an important figure in American arts and culture.

Is Becoming Richard Pryor a must read?  Well, as Pryor himself might say, “Hell yeah, m**********r!  So fans and students of American comedy, of American film, and of African-American arts and entertainment must read Becoming Richard Pryor.


Reviewed by Leroy Douresseaux

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Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Review: Shohreh Aghdashloo's Dazzling Memoir

HARPERCOLLINS – @HarperCollins

AUTHOR: Shohreh Aghdashloo
ISBN: 978-0-06-200980-7; hardcover (June 4, 2013)
288pp, B&W with 8-page color photo insert, $26.99 U.S.

Shohreh Aghdashloo is an Iranian-American actress. She is probably best known for the Oscar nomination she earned as “Best Actress in a Supporting Role” for portraying Nadereh “Nadi” Behrani, the wife of Ben Kingsley’s Colonel Behrani in the 2003 film, House of Sand and Fog (76th Academy Awards). In 2009, Aghdashloo won the Primetime Emmy Award for “Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Miniseries or a Movie” for portraying Sajida Khairallah Talfah in the BBC/HBO miniseries, House of Saddam (2008).

Superhero fans may remember Aghdashloo for portraying Dr. Kavita Rao in X-Men: The Last Stand (2006). In the film, Dr. Rao is a scientist working at Worthington Labs on the “mutant cure,” an inoculation (or shot) that will suppress the X-gene that gives mutants their abilities and makes them different from other humans.

Now, Shohreh Aghdashloo is sharing her journey from a childhood in Iran to the red carpets of Hollywood in her new memoir, The Alley of Love and Yellow Jasmines. The actress tells stories of family, faith, revolution, and hope.

She was born Shohreh Vaziri-Tabar on May 11, 1952 and grew up in affluent Tehran in the 1950s and 60s. However, Shohreh begins her story on Sunday, February 29, 2004 – the day of the 76th Academy Award ceremony. That day and the beginning of the night take up the first chapter, in which Shohreh even tells us about the two big Hollywood stars that snubbed her.

Afterwards, Shohreh, the author and storyteller, returns to her youth. Shohreh dreamed of becoming an actress, despite her parents’ more practical plans that she study to become a doctor. Shohreh was enchanted by the movies she watched while growing up in affluent Tehran in the 1950s and 60s. She fell in love and married her husband, Aydin Aghdashloo, a painter twelve years her senior and from whom she got her professional name. Shohreh made him promise he’d allow her to follow her passion.

The first years of their marriage were magical, as Shohreh began to build a promising acting career on screen and stage. Meanwhile, Aydin worked at the royal offices as an art director, exhibited his paintings in Tehran, and collected calligraphy. However, in 1979, revolution swept Iran, toppling the Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi’s regime and installing an Islamic republic ruled by the former exiled cleric, Ayatollah Khomeini. Shohreh, alarmed by the stifling new restrictions on women and art, decided to escape the new regime and her home country. She began a journey that would eventually lead her to Los Angeles, to a new home, to a new family, and finally to the Hollywood career of which she’d always dreamed.

The most surprising thing about The Alley of Love and Yellow Jasmines is how well-written it is, and I say that because the tale Shohreh Aghdashloo tells is occasionally mesmerizing. Shohreh the acclaimed actress becomes Shohreh the acclaimed author with this dazzling effort. Not every celebrity can pull off a well-written opinion piece, let alone an entire book. Is there anything that has come out of Charles Barkley and Bill O’Reilly’s mouths that makes you think they are actually articulate and literate enough to have written the books credited to them?

Shohreh’s prose is impressive and especially vivid. Readers will imagine that they are experiencing the sights, sounds, and sensations Shohreh describes, as if her memories are also their memories. Speaking personally, when Shohreh wrote of her time as a young fashion model, her words made my imagination work to envision the clothes and fashions she wore so many decades ago.

Iran comes to life for me as it never has before, because I was seeing a place where people lived and not as an enemy state, which is how Iran is so often portrayed in Western media. I think the most important thing, however, is that the reader comes to feel and to understand Shohreh Aghdashloo’s desire to be an artist and an actor.

I do think that Shohreh is vague in some spots. She really only scratches at the surface of her political and social activism. It is almost as if it is something she does not want to hide, yet is forced to leave out details in some instances.

Shohreh is relatively unknown to American audience, even with her success. The Alley of Love and Yellow Jasmines, this book written in such a dazzling and colorful manner, will make you want to know her. This is one book written by an actor about her life that is certainly worth reading.

Readers of actors’ memoirs must have The Alley of Love and Yellow Jasmines.


Reviewed by Leroy Douresseaux