Tuesday, January 16, 2018

The Girls in the Picture: A Novel by Melanie Benjamin

The Girls In the Picture: A Novel.  Melanie Benjamin. Random House Publishing Group. January 2018. 448 pp.  ISBN#: 9781101886809.

What was it like to be part of the beginning of silent and sound pictures in the first half of the 20th Century?  Mary Pickford and Frances Marion meet and immediately recognize the independent and creatively talented spirit in each other.  They also will learn how talented actresses and screen writers are used to make money and then shunted aside when no longer useful.  They also initially have no time for love as they are obsessed with their artistic craft. 

Mary Pickford, with her slight, blond figure is delightful to audiences as “America’s Sweetheart;” but after Frances creates scripts depicting a childhood Mary never had but will now get to live on camera in “Poor Little Rich Girl,” Mary is viewed as America’s darling for sure.  The story of how that movie was at first rejected by producers but was produced by Mary is intriguing and thrilling. Audiences went crazy with delight as this story called forth the inner child in every viewer.  More importantly, this experience cemented their trust and belief in their own creative vision of what audiences wanted on film.

Then love arrives for Mary, after a failed marriage, in the person of Douglas Fairbanks and for Frances in a love she finally found and lost.  Mary and Frances are tested with these loves, the Academy Awards and other glamorous acknowledgments of excellence.   

The thrills of this novel lie in the descriptions of love, betrayal, forgiveness, renewal and artistic growth representing the rise and fall of two magnificent careers, a celebration of women’s rise in the film industry and a tribute to the art of drama on screen and stage.  A magnificent historical fiction read!

A Treacherous Curse - Veronica Speedwell #3 by Kathleen Rowland

A Treacherous Curse (Veronica Speedwell #3). Kathleen Rowland. Penguin Publishing Group. January 2018. 320 pp. ISBN#: 9780451476173.

Another intriguing mystery fuels the intelligent investigator, Veronica Speedwell, and her just as skilled mysterious friend Stoker. This one hits closer to home as it involves the disappearance of John De Morgan who was at one time very close to Stoker’s world indeed a best friend.  The mystery begins with an archaeological dig in Egypt which centers on the discovery of the burial site of the Egyptian Princess Ankheset.  But along with the discovery comes a curse that has shadowed the expedition with first a death and then the disappearance of both De Morgan and the diadem of the Princess.

This third mystery in the Speedwell series is not as engaging in plot as it is in diverse types of characters.  You’ll meet the eccentric head of the expedition and his cool, deviously calm character who knows more than she tells, as well as their son who is a keen observer and not as detached as he often appears.  Jealous couples, a friend of both Veronica and Stoker who knows everyone and a tad of information about the present disappearance and theft, and someone willing to commit murder over a lost relationship.  Add to bone-chilling scenes the presence of ancient Anubis, god of the embalming process and dead, who visibly appears to a few of the characters at the exhibition site.

There are also some interesting discussions about how mummies of royal Egyptian rulers and their keepsakes buried with them were deliberately moved from their known burial sites and hidden. 

The end of the plot left this reader a bit weary as it’s rather anticlimactic.  However, if one is into a good mystery, with plenty of scintillating banter (as usual) between not only Veronica and Stoker but also other characters, and some fascination with exotic locales, this is a good read.  Nicely done, Deanna Raybourn!