Recommendsday: Novels about the Movies

It was the Oscars at the weekend, so what better opportunity to mention some books with movie stars or the movie industry in them

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid

Everyone is talking about Daisy Jones and the Six at the moment because the adaptation is out* but Jenkins Reid’s first book in what she’s called the Mick Riva universe is about an elderly movie star who wants an up and coming journalism to write her life story. I have vivid memories of starting to read this on my phone in the immigration queue at Dulles airport, but I actually didn’t finish it until months later. Daisy is the book that really broke through – probably because Reese Witherspoon optioned it – but I think Evelyn is just as good – it was a Book of the Week when I did finish it. And if you know your old Hollywood, there is a lot of fun to be had in figuring out what inspired which bits of Evelyn’s story.

The Chaperone by Laura Moriarty

It’s sort of a stretch to include this because it is before Louise became famous, but I’ve gone with it because I enjoyed it when I read it a decade ago and it’s a bit different. If Evelyn Hugo is a reimagining of Hollywood history creating a new legendary star, The Chaperone falls into the real people-adjacent category. I’ve written whole posts about novelised real people, and this is sort of that, except that our real person isn’t the main character. It’s 1922 and Cora Carlisle is in charge of taking the teenaged Louise Brooks from Kansas to New York to study dance. Louise isn’t at all happy about having a woman old enough to be her mother chaperoning her on the trip and Cora has her own reasons for making the journey too. Set over about five weeks, this has prohibition New York, Louise Brooks before she was a film star and the rapid changes that were happening in society in the 1920s. I didn’t realise until I was writing this that it had been turned into a film – but it did come out in 2020 and we all know that there was a lot going on then and you couldn’t go to the cinemas so maybe that’s not a surprise, but I’ll have to look it up on the streaming services!

Valley of the Dolls by Jacqueline Susann

Neely, Anne and Jennifer become best friends as young women in New York and across the course of the book climb to the top of the entertainment industry. But their lives are intertwined with the pills they take – the dolls of the title – and they cause more problems than they solve. This is a twentieth century classic – if you haven’t read it, you really should. My copy is a very pretty Virago Hardback, but as you can see the latest edition marks the book’s fiftieth anniversary, although we’re now closer to the sixtieth!

Of course there are loads of other books I could have included – I included Anthony Marra’s Mercury Pictures Presents in a Quick Reviews post a few months back, so it’s a bit soon to write another review of it, but that is set in the world of the studio system during and after the Second World War. Fear in the Sunlight in Nicola Upson’s Josephine Tey series is set around the production of a very real Hitchcock film in Portmeirion in 1936. Carrie Fisher used her own experiences in Hollywood to write Postcards from the Edge about a Hollywood star with a drug problem, and Angela Carter’s Wise Children also includes the twins’ experiences in the movie business

And as is traditional with these things, I have a bunch of stuff that would fit this still sitting on the to-read pile, like Blonde by Joyce Carole Oates (which Ana de Armas was nominated for in this years Oscars losing out to Michelle Yeoh), Their Finest Hour and a Half is about the only Lissa Evans novel (for adults) that I haven’t read – although I have seen the movie that it was turned into, which is just called Their Finest, and Laura Kalpakian’s The Great Pretenders, about the granddaughter of a movie mogul who strikes out on her own in the business, which I impulse bought in Foyles last summer.

Happy Wednesday everyone!

*and don’t this won’t be the last time I mention Daisy I’m sure!


Recommendsday: November Quick Reviews

We’re into December now and I have lots more Christmassy books to tell you about, but today I’m sticking with the quick reviews – because after all, everyone needs a break from Christmas at some point in December!

Better than Fiction by Alexa Martin

As previously mentioned, Alexa Martin wrote some of my favourite American Football romances, and this is her second standalone rom-com. Drew has inherited her beloved Grandmother’s book store in Colorado, and feels way over her head as a self-proclaimed non-reader. Jasper is an author who comes to the store to do a reading and event and who decides to try and change her mind about books in return for her help with his settings for his new novel. I’m not usually a fan of people tryng to turn others into readers – or telling them that they just haven’t found the right things to read yet, but this actually manages to make it work. Drew and Jasper are engaging characters and the gang of old ladies are a delight. Plus Martin makes hiking in Colorado sound so beautiful that even I started thinking that it might be fun – and I *hate* hiking

Mercury Pictures Presents by Anthony Marra*

Cover of Mercury Pictures Presents

This tells the story of Maria Lagana, an Italian in Los Angeles in the 1940s. I really like stories about the movie industry, and stuff set in World War Two and this is both of those – split between Mussolini’s Italy and California, it looks at the immigrant experience in America in war time and the risks that people will take to survive and the sacrifices people will make for the people they love. If you’ve read non-fiction (or fiction) about the studio system or the Hollywood blacklist, this might well be of interest to you.

Chester House Wins Through by Irene Smith

And finally another from my Book Con haul and this makes it onto this list as it’s a massive curio really – a book about a girls school where there is rivalry between the day girls and the boarders. That’s not unusual in itself – but here, the day girls have their own house and are deeply unpopular with the rest of the school for not pulling their weight and for behaving badly in town. It’s also from the late 1960s so it has a side order of society changing and girls wanting to go out and do things in the evenings and not be so protected. So far, so interesting, except there’s a lot of talking about doing things, and not a lot of actual doing on the page. The day girls do turn it around, but it has to be said that there’s not a lot of likeable characters here. One for the Girls Own collectors really.

Happy Wednesday everyone!

reviews, women's fiction

Book of the Week: The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo

A really, really easy decision about what to pick for BotW this week, but I’m ashamed to say that my copy of The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo had been sitting on my Kindle for more than 18 months before I finally got around to reading it.  It was one of those occasions where I requested something from NetGalley, with eyes too big for my reading time and it got lost in the backlog.  And the NetGalley backlog is huge.  One of my aims for the year is to solve that.  We’ll see if that happens, but certainly the attempt has turned up a real gem.

The cover of The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo

Evelyn Hugo was a huge star in her day, but these days she’s pretty much a recluse.  So when Monique Grant is sent out to do an interview with her it’s a big deal.  A massive deal.  And Hugo would only talk to Monique – but why?  Monique is a virtual unknown – a junior reporter at a magazine – and she’s as clueless as everyone else about why Hugo has picked her.  And when Monique arrives to do the interview, Evelyn has a different proposal for her – she doesn’t want to give an interview, she wants Monique to write her biography – she wants to tell Monique the stories and secrets behind her career and her seven marriages.  Monique’s marriage has just broken up and she’s looking to rebuild, so she takes the job.  Soon she’s spending her days listening to Evelyn telling the story of her rise to stardom – from her childhood in poverty in New York to the top of the Hollywood tree.  It’s no holds barred – the domestic abuse, the Hollywood catfighting, backbiting and machinations – and the truth about who was the love of Evelyn’s life.  And Monique finds herself warming to Evelyn, even though the story she’s telling isn’t always pretty or nice and Evelyn doesn’t always come out of it in the best light.  But still she wonders, why was she picked to be the one to tell it.  But as Evelyn’s story goes on, it becomes clear that there’s a purpose to all of this – and somewhere Evelyn’s life is linked to Monique’s.

And I’m not prepared to say any more about the plot than that.  I’ve checked the blurb and I don’t think I’ve given away too much beyond what’s there.  And that’s because Taylor Jenkins Reid’s novel is best discovered blind.  I hadn’t checked goodreads or read any reviews when I went in, so I didn’t know any of the twists and turns that were ahead of me and I think if I had, it would have been a real shame.  But that does mean it’s hard to explain how clever this novel is.  It is a totally page-turning book – the sort of thing you could sit and read on a sun-lounger all day without being bored (if you can read slow enough) but it’s also a very smart look at the world we live in.

Evelyn is a Cuban-America and as she rises up through the Hollywood machine you see the challenges that she faces as a woman and as a Latina and to be herself.  She’s constantly having to change, to tone-down or hide aspects of herself in order to be acceptable and accepted and successful.  But it’s so well written that it’s only afterwards you realise how much social commentary is in there. It’s good and it’s very, very clever. I’ve also gone down a few Google and Wikipedia rabbit holes since finishing this, trying to work out which bits of Evelyn’s story are based on which real life Hollywood stars. I can’t tell you my conclusions though because it’ll give too much away. Sorry, not sorry.

My copy came from Netgalley an age ago, which means this is out in paperback now as well as on Kindle and Kobo. I’m hoping it should be relatively easy to find in an actual bookshop too. Taylor Jenkins Reid has a new book out shortly – which I mentioned in my anticipated books post (my excitement about this has only increased after reading this!) on New Year’s Day – so keep an eye out for that too!

Happy reading!