Book Review: Cinderella & The Carpetbagger

GraceRobbinsBookCoverCinderella & The Carpetbagger: My Life as the Wife of the “World’s Bestselling Author,” Harold Robbins by Grace Robbins (Bettie Youngs Book Publishers, 2013)

Genre: memoir

Amazon describes Robbins’ memoir…

Harold Robbins s steamy books were once more widely read than the Bible. His novels sold more than 750 million copies and created the sex-power-glamour genre of popular literature that would go on to influence authors from Jackie Collins and Jacqueline Susann to TV shows like Dallas and Dynasty. What readers don t know is that Robbins whom the media had dubbed the prince of sex and scandal actually researched the free-wheeling escapades depicted in his books himself, along with his drop-dead, gorgeous wife, Grace. Now, in this revealing tell-all, for the first time ever, Grace Robbins rips the covers off their REAL lives. The 1960s and 70s were decades like no others radical, experimental, libertine. Grace Robbins chronicles the rollicking good times, peppering her memoir with anecdotes of her encounters with luminaries from the world of entertainment and the arts not to mention most of Hollywood. The couple was at the center of a globetrotting jet set, with mansions in Beverly Hills, villas and yachts on the French Riviera and Acapulco. Their life rivaled and often surpassed that of the characters in his books. Champagne flowed, cocaine was abundant, and sex in the pre-AIDS era was embraced with abandon. Along the way, the couple agreed to a modern marriage, that Harold insisted upon. With charm, introspection, and humor, Grace lays open her fascinating, provocative roller-coaster ride of a life her own true Cinderella tale. 

I had no idea about the contents of this book when I downloaded it. It wasn’t until I began prepping this blog post that I discovered just what this book was about. Grace is indeed in a pivotal place to reveal a tell-all: Grace Robbins is the wife of the legendary Harold Robbins, whom the press dubbed as “The World’s Best-Selling Author.” Considered one of the first five Beverly Hills Housewives; Grace Robbins is now working on movie based on her book, Cinderella and the Carpetbagger. Even though I barely scraped the surface in getting an idea about this book, I was looking forward to reading it.

And was disappointed.

I read through half of chapter 16 and just could not continue reading this book, and here’s why: I don’t believe Grace Robbins. There are several incidents in this book that as a girlfriend/fiance/wife/mother she just ignores of her husband. For example, several people (including his mother and sister) tell Grace not to believe a word he says; he takes his wife, screenplay writer, and ex-mistress (and mother of his first child) to a happening bistro and tells the maitre de that he has his ex-mistress, wife and future mistress with him to have lunch. And she doesn’t say a word, even at home in private. As I said, there are several incidents in which Grace should have asked questions as a wife, but she didn’t and I don’t buy this as a reader. I feel there was A LOT glossed over or sugar coated.

In addition, Grace Robbins only had a “life” because of her husband. Before, she was married to a jealous, pathetic, voracious alcoholic with a dead-end job and no friends. She had no motivation, no drive, no dreams she wanted to fulfill. And after walking into Harold’s life, that doesn’t change! The only decisions she makes in their entire relationship are to get married on a whim when they go to Vegas with friends, and the suggestion they buy a yacht to “do something different.”

I enjoyed reading about the connections between people of old Hollywood and Beverly Hills, but I cringed every other page because it is obvious Grace Robbins is not the writer in the family. Grace, leave that to Harold. There were incorrect uses of commas (or lack of needed commas) EVERYWHERE!! It was deplorable. With has much money as she brags about having in this book, it seems she couldn’t spare it to hire an editor.

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Book Review: Stalking Sapphire

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Stalking Sapphire by Mia Thompson (Diversion Books, 2013)

Genre: fiction, mystery, suspense, thriller, chick lit

Sapphire Dubois is not the typical Beverley Hills girl, but to all eyes she appears to be. She surrounds herself with people to fill her life and give her the look of the snobby, rich bitch. She detests having to date a douchebag, attending charity galas, going the the country club, seeing her mother’s infidelity and wearing $400 pajamas….OK, maybe not that last one.

It’s all a persona, because underneath it all Sapphire is an independent criminal detective. She operates on her own, does her research and leaves the bad guy (or girl, she doesn’t discriminate) in a bind and masks her voice as she calls the local police. She has solved six cases in the last two years that she’s been fighting crime, and semi-regularly visiting and confiding her side-work in a priest, Father O’Riley, at a Catholic church in San Diego.

Sapphire’s snobby friend, Chrissy, drags her to this charity event where she runs into newly promoted and transferred Detective Aston Ridder. He’s got a bum leg and got a demotion via promotion via transfer from downtown LA to picture-perfect Beverly Hills. He does his usual – takes Sapphire home, sleeps with her and then throws her out. Only, she gets the last laugh…

All the while, Sapphire keeps getting the feeling that someone is watching her – and then she knows for sure when a personal memento is stolen from her vehicle – parked right in front of the BHPD. And whoever it is wants Sapphire to pay – in blood.

Mystery Murder Man has Sapphire stumped, and he’s also sending her pieces of a missing girl. Sapphire’s onto Aston that he’s following/stalking her. It’s not clear to Detective Ridder, or even Sapphire, why Mystery Murder Man is sending Sapphire appendages of a certain middle-class girl, Shelly…until she shakes Aston, hotrods to San Diego, breaks into the McCormick house and discovers a brief entry in Shelly’s diary mentioning one Father O’Riley….

She’s also seeing her trainer show some feelings for her. She gets dumped by her boyfriend and she lashes out at Chrissy. Meanwhile, Aston’s having to fend off Sapphire’s mother, Vivienne, who uses men like tissues behind her elderly, disabled, nearly-vegetable husband that she overtly neglects. Talk about a viper! On top of it all, her friend and housekeeper Julia is engaged – which really shows the double sides of Sapphire.

For explicitly stating all she did in the beginning of the book about wanting to be different than all the other Beverly Hills rich women, she sure is acting like one of them with Julia. It’s strange to see such  jealously from a female character in this way, and especially cruel comments made directly to the reader about Julia’s choice…and then she blows up on him, insisting he’s the accomplice the first time she meets him! Needless to say, Sapphire is so bent on catching this serial killer that she’s not firing on all cylinders and is itching to capture him. Rushing leads to sloppiness.

The Mystery Murder Man is indeed only one person – and someone Sapphire knows! But the least-likely person she would suspect….

The book has a few light twists at the ending, but Sapphire showed some character development and is able to let Julia go, peacefully. She also confronts her mother about a question that’s been burning in her heart for her entire life – which was quite a surprise, as it never really came up at any time during the novel. Things are left unresolved between Sapphire and Aston, especially after her big announcement…and another crazy is on the loose – and he’s looking for Sapphire!

Book Review: The Next Thing on My List

The Next Thing on My List by Jill Smolinski (Shaye Areheart Books, 2007)

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Genre: fiction,

I received a digital copy via Smashwords in return for an honest review.

After a car accident in which her passenger, Marissa, dies, June Parker finds herself in possession of a list Marissa has written: “20 Things to Do by My 25th Birthday.” The tasks range from inspiring (run a 5K) to daring (go braless) to near-impossible (change someone’s life). 

To assuage her guilt, June races to achieve each goal herself before the deadline, learning more about her own life than she ever bargained for. (Amazon)

I’d only met her the night she died. 

This book has gotten mixed reviews on Goodreads and Amazon. However, I find it quite interesting that reviewers on Amazon didn’t make the same statements (and lower ratings) than those on Goodreads. I think this is due in large part to Amazon being a consumer site for purchasing. Goodreads is straight-up people who enjoy books (and in my opinion, know more about what they’re talking about). I also heard they’ll be turning this into a movie…

This is an incredibly light read, great to take on a trip and a good read for summertime.

First – the promoted reviews of entities (not individuals) doesn’t do this book justice, at all.

June Parker, the main character, is a newbie to a Weight Watchers class – and as she’s leaving fellow classmate Marissa Jones – who just reached her weight goal of losing 100 pounds! – is waiting for the bus. June decides some of Marissa’s luck will rub off on her, and gives her a ride. But it ends in tragedy – Marissa is thrown from the vehicle. June attends the funeral, all bruised and in casts.

The only thing that brought me out of the hole was a soul brave enough to reach in and grab me. 

June is wracked with guilt – mostly, that she lived and Marissa died…and it all stems from a list. Marissa made a list of 20 things she wanted to do before her 25th birthday, and only one item was crossed off. She died before she could cross off “Wear sexy shoes,” June discovered once the items of the scene were returned to her. She gave all of Marissa’s belongings back to her family except for the list, which she doesn’t mention until she bumps into Marissa’s brother, Troy, six months later at her grave.

June admits to keeping the list, and in a panic, spins a heart-felt lie she is then compelled to keep:  complete the items on the list before Marissa’s 25th birthday. In less than six months.

People are living too much or too little, and I wondered if anyone out there is living the right amount.

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Try, try again!

And completing the list proves for June that she was really quite boring and didn’t have an aspirations or direction in her life. She was literally going through the motions, not speaking up at work when her boss steals her ideas to pass off as her own (until they fail!) and letting her co-workers torment and humiliate her. Hell if she’s telling them what she’s trying to do, when they’re accusing her of killing Marissa!

Through trying to complete items on the list, June…

  • establishes better relationships with her coworkers
  • enlists the help of her coworkers to accomplish work tasks and list tasks
  • finds the “perfect” guy – Marissa’s brother, Troy
  • sets out to change some lives – her brother’s and his wife’s, and her Little Sister Deedee
  • gets a backbone, takes charge of work tasks, and sells herself to the big boss Lou
  • finds a relationship with an unlikely person
  • realizes how much Marissa set out to do
  • realizes she had no motivation for anything in life
  • tries…and fails

Some of June’s plans go wrong, some are quite hair-brained, and some of the items are difficult. Who is Buddy Fitch? She enlists the help of her blind date, coworkers, Troy, family and Little Sister to complete the list. There is a lot of sarcasm and humor in doing it all.

I’d already done the finger-counting thing and realized the most sleep I could hope for was five hours.

As I said, this is a quick and light read. I enjoyed it for the sake of reading, but was left unsatisfied. June is only the completing the items on the list for sake of completing them because she LIED to the dead girl’s brother. Way to start off on a good foot. And the big boss, Lou Bigwood, is notoriously known for “finding” good-looking women (dubbed Charlie’s Angels) at conferences to manage his company… seriously, Bigwood? Big wood? Come on!Big-Brother-Big-Sister

Throughout the whole book June makes snarky comments about her parents and her brother, who was obviously the favorite…and yet, she writes a letter “expressing gratitude” to her brother to show how much he means to her. Since rules were set down that actions to complete the items on the list had to be genuine, this one doesn’t count. June failed on that one. She sets out on changing a life by signing up to be a Big Sister – who she parts ways with after a difficult last-minute decision and heartbreak for June’s own brother and his wife.

The thing that made me feel any kind of emotion was an incident between June and Troy. He made it quite clear how he felt about June’s efforts to “change a life” Plan A. And yet, she still crushing on him. NO! If a man can’t deal with a non-life-threatening decision, such as wanting a child on your own terms, kick him six streets down! Troy proves to still be somewhat of a friend, and at times it seems they will reconcile, but June discovers something quite unexpected.

The ending was cheap and bland – I expected much more. The one good thing I liked: June decides it’s time she make her own list.

I knew there was something that I needed even more: the truth. I’d been running from it for a long time, and now it was time to face it. 

Jill is the author of two other novels, Objects of My Affection and Flip-Flopped: A Novel, as well as several how-to origami books.

Readers: if you enjoy bucket lists, check out this excellent blog post. Maybe some of the items on your list will change, maybe some of them will be borrowed or added by others. You never know.

What’s on YOUR list? Check out mine in an up-coming post.

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Book Review: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

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Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling (Scholastic Press, 2000)

Genre: fiction, young adult (YA), fantasy, supernatural, mystery, suspense

Curriculum Building Ideas:

  • Language Arts: Reader’s Notebook, Literary Circles, Guided Reading Groups, Writer’s Workshop, Sequencing, Plot, Character Map/Analysis, Inferences/Predictions, Connections (Text to Self, Text to Text, Text to World), Graphic Organizers, Book vs. Movie (i.e. Venn Diagram, Persuasive Essay), Reader’s Theatre, KWL Chart
  • Social Studies: Scale Diagram of Hogwarts, Map of Hogwarts, Timeline of Hogwarts vs. Real World…
  • Math: “Design Hogwarts” – based on information provided from the book, students create floor plans, diagrams or models of what they think Hogwarts looks like; “Potions” – students measure and record ingredients for the science part of this lesson (below)…
  • Science: “Potions” – students use correct measurements of ingredients to predict reactions between chemicals, create a set number of reactions, and record the reaction and observations in their science journals…

*Author’s Note: There have been numerous reviews of Harry Potter to date, and  Rowling has racked up many awards for her books.  I’m going to try and stay away from writing things that can be easily found in other reviews from years past. Note that I am now nearly 24 years old and this is my first time reading Harry Potter, which was published when I was in elementary school. I remember my mother reading them, and then my middle brother. I was into other genres, and for some reason I had an unfounded stigma toward Harry Potter. I have seen the first four movies; I didn’t really keep up with the latter movies. But I didn’t know what was going on because I missed out on so much that was in the books! I wish that I had read Harry Potter as I was growing up, instead of waiting – I feel that I’ve lost a lot of the magic in waiting, and also in seeing the movies before reading the books. Also note that there are spoilers in this review toward the end.

We already know from the first book that Harry is going to encounter a scary, dangerous situation while at Hogwarts – and it is all about him. (Cue Voldemort and his minions.) Each subsequent book in the series brings additional characters into the life of Harry Potter. And with them come more knowledge, more mystery and more story lines.

The fourth book of the series doesn’t start out with Harry. Instead, we get a glimpse of the life of the Riddles – all who mysteriously die in the night of no determined cause. But each had a “look of terror on his or her face” and the long-time gardener overhears a plotting conversation and Harry awakes with his scar hurting. Oh boy.

Difference of habit and language are nothing at all if our aims are identical and our hearts are open.

Harry is looking forward to the end of his summer and the Quidditch World Cup, between Ireland and Bulgaria. Mr. Weasley has scored the best seats in the house for the Weasley clan and Ron’s two friends. However, Harry takes note of some odd things Ron’s older brother Percy (now working at the Ministry of Magic) says about some peculiarities at the Ministry, as well as some other abnormal things about two heads of Ministry departments, Crouch and Bagman, and the odd disappearance of  Ministry woman in the last known location of You-Know-Who. Although the Quidditch match is quite rousing, something goes horribly wrong…

Death Eaters (Voldemort’s strongest supporters, cloaked and hooded) are storming the place seeking Muggle blood – and Harry, Ron and Hermione are in the wrong place at the wrong time when Voldemort’s Dark Mark is cast into the sky. Ministry officials are overwhelmingly suspicious of Harry, Ron and Hermione, until they find Crouch’s house-elf Winky standing in the spot where the Dark Mark was cast…with Harry’s wand! Crouch immediately dismisses the terrified Winky, but raises the question in everyone’s mind: Why did Crouch send Winky to save him a seat in the Top Box, where the Weasleys, Harry, Hermione, the Malfoys and other Ministry officials were seated, if he wasn’t going to show up for the Quidditch match? Harry knows he has to tell Sirius, still in hiding.

The Goblet of Fire
The Goblet of Fire

Harry and Ron learn before setting off for Hogwarts that there won’t be any Quidditch matches or a Cup to be won – something quite different will be happening this school year. At the feast, Dumbledore explains all: a Triwizard Tournament!

A friendly competition between the three largest European schools of wizardry: Hogwarts, Beauxbatons, and Durmstrang in which in the past the death toll mounted so high that the tournament was discontinued. YIKES!

The tournament has been restricted to wizards age seventeen and older so that unprepared wizards are not at risk. It will be judged by the three headmasters of the competing schools, as well as a few other objective judges including Crouch. One representative from each school (Hogwarts, Beauxbatons and Durmstrang) will be selected by the Goblet of Fire to be the “champion” of their school and compete in three tasks. Yet…Harry’s name is chosen as the fourth competitor! And he must compete – it’s the rules! No one believes him that he didn’t submit his name, and it sets a huge rift between Harry and Ron. A lot of anger lies between them, and Hermione is trying to bring them back together. Meanwhile, the whole school is angry at him, taunting him with ridiculous lies from a reporter’s article, flashing POTTER STINKS buttons. Everyone’s turned on Harry, and he’s definitely got the feeling of being and outcast. Sirius and the new Defense Against the Dark Arts professor, Moody, are on alert: someone put Harry’s name in the Goblet of Fire – because they want him dead!

CONSTANT VIGILENCE!

"Mad-Eye" Moody
“Mad-Eye” Moody

Hogwarts gets a new, but rather old, Professor for Defense Against the Dark Arts. Indeed, “Mad-Eye” Moody is quite qualified: he used to work at the Ministry as an Auror (a Dark wizard catcher). Snape avoids Mad-Eye (as well as Drumstrang’s headmaster). He goes against Ministry restrictions for teaching: he wants students to be prepared for danger, and teaches students how to recognize the three Unforgivable Curses (one of which killed Harry’s parents), and how to combat them. And he also highly embarrasses Malfoy in quite a humorous way. He is obviously Harry’s secret champion, a fresh delight in the quite ugly and nastiness that is Snape.

They get a weird vibe from Durmstrang’s headmaster, Karkaroff. They’re on even higher alert when Karkaroff bursts into the dungeon during a Potions lesson. Harry fiddles and spills things to stay and overhear their conversation, with Karkaroff showing Snape something in great fear, who shushes him. And Harry finds Crouch himself ransacking Snape’s office from his magical map, which he hands over to Moody. If Crouch is so sick, as the Ministry and Percy Weasley are insisting, why is he sneaking into Hogwarts? Things are not adding up….

Hermione helps arrange for Harry to meet Sirius in late November in the Gryffindor common room. And boy does Sirius have a lot to say! He shares some scary information about Karkaroff, connecting him to Voldemort, and perhaps the reason Dumbledore wanted an Auror at Hogwarts…to keep Harry safe. Sirius is very strict in asking Harry to notify him of any strange happenings, which actually happens quite frequently.

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Triwizard Tournament

Harry and Ron do make up; being boys, they leave things unsaid but Harry is more mindful of Ron and his feelings. The gang work together to help Harry complete the last two tasks. Harry gets in the good graces of Beauxbatons champion Fleur, and Karkaroff, is continually unfair in his judging marks for Harry’s tasks.

All the while, Hermione is hellbent on advocating for house-elves, who are basically slaves. But they’re delighted about their work, which Hermione doesn’t understand. Dobby and Mr. Crouch’s formerly employed Winky come to work at Hogwarts, and Winky reveals that Crouch has some rather dark secrets. Winky upholds that she won’t reveal them, and insists that Mr. Bagman is a bad man….but toward the end of the book we find out that Bagman and Crouch are kind of enemies and exactly what kind of secrets Winky has been keeping.

During Voldemort’s powerful time, Crouch was an avid prosecutor of his supporters – he was definitely on a manhunt. Harry gets the full experience of Crouch coldly sending his only child, his only son, to Azkaban without a trial, without an explanation as to how he got swept into the Dark Arts. Some insisted he was at the wrong place at the wrong time, which even Harry has been accused of…and which a young Bagman was also accused of. But his popularity as an England Quidditch player roused sympathy and support, which eliminated his connection with Voldemort. Crouch was none too happy that his peers let Bagman walk free. Indeed, throughout the entire book, play goes back and forth between Bagman and Crouch making readers think one is connected with Voldemort, who we learn some interesting information about. Harry also finds out who some of the other Death Eaters are, and is very surprised to find one of them is a professor at Hogwarts!

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Even Dumbledore was fooled…

During the final task, Harry saves Cedric’s butt a couple of times…and they find that Durmstrang’s champion is not what he seems. Harry is badly hurt, and he and Cedric make a monumental decision as to the outcome of the winning champion. And what they get is not at all what they expected, as Harry comes face to face with Voldemort again. And this time Voldemort’s out for blood – Harry’s – and death.

The ending is QUITE twisted – readers will definitely be thrown for a loop as all comes together and is explained. It is quite a lot, but brings Sirius to Harry’s side…and dually he reveals himself to Mrs. Weasley and Snape. Snape and Sirius unceremoniously agree to disagree over their tangled past at Dumbledore’s urging, and to help Harry and the wizarding world.

You are on the same side now. Time is short, and unless the few of us who know the truth stand united, there is no hope for any of us. 

Dumbledore sends Snape off on a covert task, that will be revealed in a later book. Sirius is sent to rally “the old gang.” Mr. Weasley is called upon to reach out to contacts in the Ministry who won’t turn a blind eye to the fact that Voldemort is back – and many within the Ministry who were cleared so many years ago are indeed still supporting the murderous Dark Lord.

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Durmstrang champion and Hermione

One thing of great note that’s different from the other books so far is that readers get more exposure to Harry’s inner thoughts – he wants to enter the Triwizard Tournament, he wants to cast an Unforgivable Curse on Snape, etc. This is probably due in large part to the volatile amount of anger Harry has, especially toward Ron, and feeling as if everyone at Hogwarts hates him.

Also of important note is the growing crush of Hermione and Ron. Ron is extremely jealous of Hermoine, how she spends her time and who she spends it with. It will be interesting to see if this continues throughout the series or if Hermione decides she’s had enough of Ron’s oafish ways.

No good sittin’ worryin’ abou’ it. What’s comin’ will come, an’ we’ll meet it when it does. 

Of the series so far, I think I enjoyed this book the most. It was quite a bit longer, but I loved the entire idea wrapped up in this book – Rowling did some thorough planning and dropped hints at just the right times. If you’ve never read the Harry Potter series, I highly encourage you to do so. It is truly an enjoyable (and easy) read.

Check out what Harry, Ron and Hermione will run into in the next book, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.