Stories I Only Tell My Friends (CBR4 #19)

You see celebrities of various stripes telling you about the latest book they’ve written on television or hear them on radio or see the advertisements as you bounce around the internet. Generally I think to myself, well I’m sure that’ll be interesting to someone and decide to leave it alone. For instance, this happened just the other night when Billy Bob Thornton was on The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson shilling for his new book. This conversely was not the case when I saw Rob Lowe talking about his own memoir Stories I Only Tell My Friends. For a reason I have not yet been able to identify this time I thought, hey that looks intriguing.

And  honestly, it was.

Stories I Only Tell My Friends covers Lowe’s life from its beginnings in Virginia and Ohio to about the time he leaves The West Wing in 2003. Admittedly there’s a throw away paragraph outlining how he feels about being able to do dramatic and comedic work simultaneously in the post West Wing years (Brothers & Sisters and Parks and Rec respectively). While Lowe’s is an entertaining tale with the usual missteps I think the thing that caught me perhaps the most off guard was how much the public figure of ‘Rob Lowe the movie star’ did not line up with Rob Lowe saw himself, particularly in the 1980s.

The beginning of the autobiography tends to bounce around a little as far as chronology, generally hitting the memories that stand out to Rob about how he grew into the person he is and the memories and early experiences of an actor. It had not occurred to me that someone could feel so compelled to act at such a young age as Lowe did. I guess I always thought child actors enjoyed what they did because in some ways it’s the best game of make-believe ever, but I simply didn’t assign the idea of a professional drive to someone so young. Maybe I was wrong (completely possible) or maybe Lowe is remembering the way he wants. Either can be true, and either can be valid.

As far as tone this is a very open memoir in most ways. Lowe published this book after the death of his mother and he is very frank about his relationship with her and her ongoing health issues. He is less frank about his relationships with his brothers, but as they are alive and well and generally not part of his acting career it makes sense that they be excused the spotlight. Lowe talks honestly about how he felt during the ‘Brat Pack’ article’s publication and being perhaps the first celebrity with a sex tape and speaks openly about what led to his alcoholism and subsequent sobriety. But perhaps the most interesting thread woven throughout the memoir is that of the experiences along the way – the people, the work, the politics both Washington D.C. and California-based that inform who Rob Lowe ultimately is.

Much of the book is a trip down the IMDb page as he remembers it. The great part of this for me was the introduction to movies or projects I had missed (I was too young to see most of the movies Lowe starred in during his early career as they were released) as well as realizing that Lowe’s tone is a nice cross between two of my favorite characters of his – Sam Seaborn and Robert McCallister. This one’s worth a read if you are a Lowe fan generally speaking or a consumer of pop culture autobiographies.

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City of Shadows (CBR4 #18)

Reviewing City of Shadows by Ariana Franklin is a tough one since I nearly gave up on the book entirely several different times within the first 150 pages, but at the end of the day I did end up liking the narrative quite a bit. The only reason at all that I refused to stop reading this book is that the list of books I have started and left unfinished is incredibly short, just Beloved by Toni Morrison and The Bedroom Secrets of the Master Chefs by Irvine Welsh. I have pushed through everything else.

This book was passed off to me by a friend on vacation. The best part of telling people that I’m participating in the Cannonball is that they are likely to hand me books to read. I am totally fine with this.  This one arrived in my hand from a friend who said simply “I know you like history so this one should be great for you.” This is probably a fair judgment. The cover lists this as a novel of suspense but I’m rather sure I was not feeling the suspense the author had in mind.

The titular City of Shadows is Berlin starting in the 1920s. Our main protagonist is Esther Solomonova, an exiled Russian Jew who works as a personal secretary to ‘Prince’ Nick, nightclub impresario. ‘Prince’ Nick is not a prince of a guy, working every backhanded trick in the book to keep his three clubs up and running. However, Nick hatches a plan that will fill his bank account and make him a household name.  He’s going to train an asylum patient to play the part of Anastasia, heir to the Romanov throne. He cannot do this along and needs Esther to train her to be a lady and Natalya to teach her about the monarchy. There is a big problem – there is a man hunting this Anna Anderson and every six weeks someone dies.

The problem I had early on with this work is that no character jumped off the page and made me care. Esther is so downtrodden that she doesn’t even care what happens to her, so why should I? She cares about the characters that kick the bucket but I haven’t known them long enough or well enough to mourn them. It wasn’t until the introduction of Inspector Schmidt, police detective that I started to care about the meat of the story and its characters. I think Franklin is trying to base the suspense of the novel around the ‘is she or isn’t she’ question of Anna/Anastasia while the only suspense for me was would Esther escape Germany before Hitler and the S.S. take over in 1932.

Part Two of the book, the last 170 out of 420 pages is a much tighter crisper narrative than is achieved in the seemingly routine killings of the first 200 pages of the book. We meet a character, six weeks passes, and they are killed. The second half of the book works to unravel the puzzle of who Anna/Anastasia is and who is trying to kill her and has been killing these other people all along.

My recommendation is to read this book if the time period or the Anastasia lore interest you but be prepared to push through until the second half when things pick up.

Happy Ever After (CBR4 #17)

I know I covered my hate of the title of the books in this Nora Roberts series while reviewing Savor the Moment but come on – I’m pretty sure this one isn’t even grammatically correct. Shouldn’t it be Happily Ever After? And it’s uttered by a Yale educated character in the book! Admittedly while joking about what she’d get as a tattoo, but still. Not okay.

Book four of Nora Roberts’ Bride Quartet, Happy Ever After, focuses on no-nonsense Parker. Parker is the younger daughter of the Browns, sister of Delaney who is newly engaged, and she is the coordinator of the Vows wedding business which she shares with her three best friends from childhood. Business couldn’t be better; she’s landing bookings left, right and center, including a major society bash for the following spring. Everything is looking good as she heads into the autumn. Except for her personal life.

As an author Roberts’ is great at sneaking in future protagonists as secondary characters in early books in her various series. In this case that would be one Malcolm Kavanaugh who appears quietly in Vision in White when Mac acts out against her mom, again in Bed of Roses at Emma’s parent’s Cinco de Mayo party, and then even more during Savor the Moment culminating in the characters being away at the beach house.  Each time Malcolm shows up we get to see more and more of his personality and his friendships with the males associated with the Quartet. By the beginning of Happy Ever After the reader is almost as equally invested in Malcolm as they are in Parker.

I like the character of Malcolm, or Mal, quite a bit. While Parker is your typical type-A driven entrepreneur who puts her business before most other things Mal has taken a slightly different route to be a small business owner and is much more relaxed in the running of both his business and his life. Mal owns an auto repair shop and rebuilds classics as a sideline. He earned the money to purchase this business, as well as a home for his mother, by being in an accident while working as a stuntman in Hollywood  caused by the cost-cutting of others. I appreciate that Roberts’ doesn’t just assume that her characters have the requisite wealth to accomplish her authorial whims, but instead puts together plausible explanations of income. Laurel worked in a restaurant kitchen before and during the early years of Vows; Emma worked in a florist shop, etc.

Another aspect of this story I appreciate is how Mal is perfectly comfortable with Parker’s businesswoman side. He is attracted to that part of her as he is to everything else and never judges or blames as she is working to pursue her dream – even when that means taking 5 am phone calls from nervous brides while he is trying to sleep. That is never the problem in their relationship. Trusting emotional intimacy is the problem. A relatable one at that.

So yep, go ahead and read this set of stories; I quite liked them – this one and Bed of Roses in particular.

Savor the Moment (CBR4 #16)

There’s something about the Bride Quartet books (of which this is the third) that both irritates and entertains. I admittedly gave several hours of my time to reading each book, quite enjoyed them as I sped through them but the moment I closed them after reading the happy ending I was just a little ‘bleh’. I think part of the problem is the titles. The four titles are: Vision in White, Bed of Roses, Savor the Moment, and Happy Ever After. Yep, those are definitely a part of my disappointment.

On face value these books do have an interesting setting. The quartet of friends, Mackensie, Emmaline, Laurel, and Parker, has known each other from childhood. There was a terrible car crash and Parker lost her parents and inherited their massive estate. She convinced her friends to pursue their individual dreams jointly and create a full service wedding venue on said family estate. They do, and the three remaining members of the quartet, one photographer, one florist, and one pastry chef move onto the estate and pursue this new shared dream.

Savor the Moment is about the pastry chef, Laurel. Laurel is perhaps the closest to Parker both emotionally and physically. They each live in a separate wing of the Brown estate’s main house. They have been friends since their youngest years and in many cases Parker’s parents and Mrs. Grady, the housekeeper and resident mother hen, served the function of parent for Laurel when her own parents did not do the job. All of this works to make Laurel’s relationship with Parker’s brother Delaney very complicated.

Delaney has always viewed Laurel, as well as Emma and Mac, as his sisters. The problem is that no matter how hard Laurel tries to keep herself in the sister box, she is in love with Del. In the first two books there are hints of this, but now in book three we are receiving the story from Laurel’s point of view and it is very clear, very early on, that she can no longer live under the pretense and proceeds to change the status quo for herself and Del.

Perhaps I struggle with enjoying this one because I too chose to date someone whose relationship to my family was similar to the one Laurel and the Browns have and in my case it turned out to be a giant failure. But, in this one it isn’t (I refuse to think of that as a spoiler, it’s a romance novel for goodness sake). Perhaps my favorite scene in this book was when the quartet and appropriate male counterparts spend a rainy day at Parker and Del’s new beach house having a games tournament. (Pinball!) I’d say it’s worth a read, but my favorite books in this series are two and four.