Book Review – The Other Side Of Oz

TITLE: The Other Side of Oz: An Autobiography
AUTHOR: Buddy Ebsen
FORMAT: Hardback
PUBLISHED: 1994

This book lets Buddy tell the story of his acting career.  I picked it up at the dollar store brand new a couple weeks ago  (who the heck is stockpliling quantities of Hardback books for twenty years?!), and it was a fairly quick read.

Fundamentally, I had a few issues with this – first of all, Buddy Ebsen was cast as the Tin Man and acted for just a couple weeks before the costume tried to kill him and he ended up hospitalized while his lung re-inflated.  So titling your book after the most famous role you never had seems weird.  Clearly he was trying to cash in on that fame, even though he never got to have any of it.  (I don’t think it’s much of an argument to say that The Wizard of Oz has way more staying power than any of the roles he ever had.  A lot of them are very dated to the time period they came out of.  TWoO seems to have a little bit better longevity as far as that sort of thing is concerned.)

Second of all, this book is not an autobiography.  An autobiography is supposed to cover your entire life up to that point.  A memoir, otoh, covers a specific aspect of your life.  So a book that barely says anything about his childhood, overlooks any aspect of his family life except for a few random mentions of things (“By this time I was divorced and had a new wife.  She suggested I take this role..”)  and doesn’t cover the duration, is certainly not an autobiography.  Honestly, I lose a little faith any time a publisher can’t manage to get those details right.  Then again, they couldn’t manage to sell this volume for 20 years so maybe that explains a lot.

With that said, the book is pretty much Mr. Ebsen telling stories.  Each chapter has a different focus (Shirley Temple, Vaudeville with his sister, acting without his sister, The Beverly Hillbillies, etc).  Unfortunately for a book about somebody that spent his time on the screen, there’s very little content about any of his shows.  “Walt Disney put a show on and there I was…”  isn’t really a description about Daniel Boone.  And if you’re covering fifty years in a career, maybe you *should* explain something or other about the shows because there’s a good chance your fans haven’t been around for all of it, and it’d be cool to get a better understanding of the show anyway.

The book suffers horribly from lack of content and organization.  At first it’s in order, then it skips around.  One chapter pretty much just exists to say that he worked with a famous but now dead actress.  I feel like somebody took a bun, added lettuce and ketchup, and then gave it to us before they put the burger patty there.  In other words, they forgot t he meat of the book.  Plus, don’t let the binding deceive you – the pages are thick and glossy, there are a ton of photos, and the font is large and much bolder than it needs to be.  In a more standard book format, this book would have been half the thickness.

I guess it’s not totally bad.  Some of the stories were entertaining.  It’s just not what I expected when I grabbed it at the store.

Over all, I’m only going to give it 2/5 stars.  If you like Hollywood or were a fan of Buddy, go ahead and give this a read if you come across it.  But just be aware that there’s a lot of fluff and it’s not as it appears.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Book Review: 84, Charing Cross Road

TITLE: 84, Charing Cross Road
AUTHOR/EDITOR: Helene Hanff
FORMAT: Paperback
COPYRIGHT: 1970
THIS EDITION: 1990

Another find on the library date, 84, Charing Cross Road, is nothing but a series of letters that follow an aloof writer/reader and a bookstore from 1949 to 1969.

Basically, these start with her writing from NYC to London, a request with a little bookstore to find a book she’s craving because she saw their ad in a magazine and their “antiquarian” expertise is something she equates with money.

What follows is quite charming – a $5/book cap on prices, which inflates to about $50 today, that seems quaint even though it wasn’t, a friendship that includes powdered and fresh eggs and nylons when they couldn’t get them because of post-war rationing, and a friendship that continued in letters for decades, ending only in her main friend/contact’s death.

I love that the letters were all kept to the point that this book could happen.  We don’t have this kind of society anymore.  We don’t have quaint bookshops that will operate under the honor system and mail a book across the ocean and send a bill.  We have e-Commerce sites and anonymous people and warehouses and not shoppes.  Credit cards and anonymity.

This book made my heart sing and it made me happy for a time that I wish I could have been a part of.

Life today is easier, but it isn’t better.

I’m giving this a 5 out of 5.  Beautiful in its simplicity.  (Also, they’ve made it into a movie, if you’re so inclined.)

Book Review – Fables: Legends in Exile, Vol 1 by Bill Willingham

Title:  Fables: Legends in Exile, Vol 1

Author:  Bill Willingham

Illustrator: James Jean and Alex Maleey

Published: 2003

 

To start this review I have to make it known that I am a huge fan of werewolves.  You tell me a book has werewolves in it and you have my attention at the very least.  So when I heard about fables it was Bigsby who drew me in.  Bigsby is the Big Bad wolf from the fairy tales turned human and working as sheriff of the fair tale community known as Fabletown, which is located in New York.  When I first heart about Bigsby and Fables was actually via the video game series the released.  I have only played a demo of it but I fell in love with the concept, the story and the character Bigsby as he is a no nonsense kind of guy.

 

Though the story in the game is different than the story in the books it was still interesting as we follow Bibsby as he tries to solve the mystery of the murder of Rose Red the sister of Snow White. The story serves as a great introduction to the situation that is found in Fabletown, how the residents of Fabletown known as Fables. The mystery and intrigue keeps pace as the reader learns of the world and how Fables hide their true nature and how they came to be in our world, as they were forced out by one known as the Adversary.

 

The end revelation is rather good and the character are vibrant and real and the relationships between them are most intriguing.  This is a world I can happily get lost in.   Though, I think my favorite part of the book was a small section in the back that was in all prose.  It told of the life of Bigsby before he came to our world and gives some interesting insight into what happened to certain characters before the created Fabletown and why Bisby does some of the things he does in the main story.  The story crafted in prose is compelling and heart warming in some ways.  I would love to read more and will look forward to when my pocket books can afford me the next installment, or I can bum it off a friend who bought it recently.  Till then I shall wait and leave this review stating that this comic is a solid 4 out of 5 pages, with nothing but promise for future installments.

Books Review – Caroline, Rebecca, Kaya

Meet Caroline
Kathleen Ernst
Illustrations Robert Papp
Hardback, 2012

Meet Rebecca
Jacqueline Dembar Greene
Illustrations by Robert Hunt
Paperback, 2009

Meet Kaya
Janet Shaw
Illustrations by Bill Farnsworth
Hardback, 2002

As part of Pleasant Company/American Girl’s decision to retire Molly, Misheal and I went back and read through some of the books – Misheal tackled Molly’s six book series, but I went through and did Molly’s companion books and have now moved on to the other Meet whoever books from the American Girl catalogue.

In Meet Caroline, we’re looking at the first shots of the War of 1812, and a little girl who lives in upstate New York on the shore of a great lake.  When war breaks out, she’s in a boat that her father built with her father and two cousins.  As they go towards Upper Canada, still British owned, they get seized by the British Army, who takes the girls back to their family but hold her father and cousin, Oliver, as prisoners of war.  [Side note – if Oliver is from Upper Canada, he’s a British Citizen.  I don’t know why they took him prisoner…]

In Meet Rebecca, we’re with a Jewish family in the midst of World War I.  Her problems start with not being allowed to say the prayer to light the candles on Saturday, and end with her persecuted Jewish cousins trying to get out of Russia with their lives.

In Meet Kaya, we’re in the midst of a Native American tribe somewhere in the Oregon/Washington/Idaho area (they only show us a map of the tribal lands, they don’t really say where they are) during Salmon Fishing Season.

So now on to my feelings about the books themselves.  First of all, I am a little disappointed (no really) that they broke their format of all the dates ending in 4, but it did open them up to things like the War of 1812, which we learned sadly little about in school.  (The other one, so far, is Cecile and Marie-Grace in New Orleans in 1853.)  But it doesn’t have any bearing on what I thought about these stories, I just wanted to throw it out there.

Some of the early dolls/books were period specific but didn’t really have a lot to deal with/understand.  What I noticed in these three books is that they have gotten a little bit more serious in what they’re talking about.  Caroline is captured by troops, Rebecca is dealing with religious persecution and Kaya gets into a lot of cultural stuff that we may not be that familiar with – family/community obligation, behavior affecting everyone (at one point, something she does causes all of the children of the village to get whipped), etc.

Caroline and Rebecca feel similar, despite being 100 years apart, because they’re dealing with the same sorts of things.  They both have family in really precarious positions – Caroline’s father in a POW camp, Rebecca’s cousins trying to get here from Russia – and they’re both in New York and family centric (although that’s a common theme in all American Girl books).

Interesting, though, was that even though Rebecca’s book starts in 1914, there’s absolutely no discussion about WWI.  For now, I give it the benefit of the doubt, as the assassination of Frans Ferdinand didn’t happen until the end of July, but the way the series starts out, it doesn’t feel like they’re planning to talk about it at all, and that’s my interest in the era.  What I did find curious was that the Russians were persecuting the Jews way back then and that’s not something I’ve *ever* learned in history class.  Public Education Fail for sure.  America seriously needs to stop being so selfish and start teaching about the world.

Kaya’s book, on the other hand, was so totally different.  Her story takes place in 1764, and aside from the Small Pox epidemic being a fleeting comment (her grandmother has the scars and the story to tell), her family doesn’t really have much to do with anything outside her tribe.  What I did like, however, was how close the tribe was.  Even the ones who weren’t blood relation were considered cousins and part of the extended family.  When Kaya’s actions (leaving her little brothers in the care of a blind person so she can go off and race her horse) cause the Whipping Woman to come out and punish all the children of the village, Kaya learns humility and to be a team player.  I have to say, I kind of like the Nimiipuu (nee-MEE-poo aka Nez Perce) culture.  I like how the focus is for the greater good and having a group of people that are family even when they’re not; too often in modern culture, we have families who don’t speak to each other, people who move apart and then let distance cause an emotional separation as well, etc.  Kaya’s motivation was to be a citizen that her tribe was proud of.  If only we had that today.

In all, I love that these books deal with serious topics, but do so in a way that kids (well, girls anyway) can relate to.  In all of these books, we get to see that girls, even if they’re expected to do submit to the female roles of society, can be strong, courageous, and awesome.  Women are more than the cooking and the cleaning, and even if that’s what’s expected of them, they can rise to any occasion, and that is a lesson that I hope every girl gets – you can be amazing, you just have to do it.

I’m going to give these books a 4/5.  I know they’re geared towards 10-year-olds (all the characters turn 10 in their birthday books), but I think they have a broader range than that (easily 7-12, but beyond that), and they’re great as topics of conversation.

Book Review – And Tango Makes Three

ladyfreadom

 

 

And Tango Makes Three

Justin Richardson & Peter Parnell

Illustrations by Henry Cole

Hardback, 2005

In the newer ranks of suddenly banned books, we have “And Tango Makes Three.”  So, of course, back to my ongoing saga of having to read it.

In this book, we are transported to New York City and the zoo.  There, all the penguins are taking mates and doing all the things that mates do together, including building nests, making eggs, and hatching penguin babies.

Except that we don’t follow one of those couples, we follow Roy and Silo, two boy penguins who, as it turns out, are very very happy together.  And they do all the things that a penguin couple do, except lay an egg, even though they actually take a rock to their nest to see what happens.

A zookeeper puts an egg in their nest for them, and they nurture it, just like the other penguin couples, and love it, just like the other penguin couples, and take turns taking care of each other and the egg, just like other penguin couples, until it hatches into little baby Tango.  Thus making three.

So, you know, parents banned this adorably cute book because, *gasp*, Roy and Silo are big, gay penguins, and we can’t have that no matter how fabulous the two of them are.

And the book ends with them lovingly snuggled together.  And then I turned the page and read… “Author’s Note:  All of the events in this story are true.”

*sigh*

So let me get this straight.  (*snicker*) People are trying to ban a true story from being in our libraries?  Again?  Just… *sigh*

I’m sure you know what my opinion on that is.

As for the book, it’s sweet, it’s charming, it’s simple, and again, it’s 100% true.  I love this book.  5/5

Writer Wednesday – Susan C. Finelli

Let’s start with the basics. Who are you?
I was born and raised in New York and currently live in “The Big Apple” with my husband and Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, Riley Rian. I am an Executive Producer at Manhattan Neighborhood Network Public Access Television. I also host the talk show “Behind the Shadows” a program where my guests and I explore what goes on “Behind the Shadows” of what meets the eye.

Tell us (briefly) about you…
Before I gave in to my passion for writing, I was executive in corporate America for many years. Always yearning to write, I have numerous published articles in The New York and National Law Journals on financial and law firm management.

…and a bit about what you’ve written…
In addition to writing “Fading Shadows” my first published novel was “Behind the Shadows” I also write short stories and poetry. When I was very young I tried to write a novel, which I abandoned. After many years of it collecting dust on the top shelf of my closet, I took it down and read it, realized how dreadful it was, and had a shredding ceremony.

…and what you’re working on right now.
I am currently working on my third novel, yet to be titled.

What are your earliest book-related memories?
My earliest book related memories are those in the first grade, sitting in circles on tiny chairs, learning how to read and listening to my teacher reading to us, wishing that I could one day go to the faraway places that we read about. I often see myself sitting in that tiny circle.

What are your three favorite books?
“Time and Again” by Jack Finney, “Sons and Lovers” by D. H. Lawrence, and “Grapes of Wrath” by John Steinbeck.

How many books to do you read at any given time? What are you reading now?
I only read one book at a time. I am currently reading “GOD A Story of Revelation” by Deepak Chopra.

Finish this sentence; when I curl up with a book, I ___
get lost.

To re-read or not to re-read that is the question.
I only re-read the classics and my three favorite books.

How likely are you to read a book that’s been recommended to you?
It depends who recommends the book to me.

How likely are you to recommend a book (that isn’t yours)?
I am in the habit of recommending books that I enjoy. Other than my three favorite books, I give the person the book I am recommending with no expectation of getting it back.

What do you look for in a good book?
A plausible story that haunts me until I have finished reading it.

Why do you write?
Writing gives me a sense of free expression. I have a vivid imagination and I write to let it run wild! A friend once told me that a magician can only pull out of a hat what he/she puts in and wanted to know what I put in my hat!

If you couldn’t be a writer, what would you be?
If I couldn’t write I think that I would like to sing or act.

Where do you draw your inspiration from?
I am inspired by the world around me. A wise person once told that “when you walk down the street, don’t look straight ahead; instead look up, down, right and left.”

What has writing taught you about yourself?
I have patience that I never thought I had.

How do the people in your life seem to view your writing career?
Happily. My friends and family enjoy my novels and poetry and keep nagging me to finish my third novel, which is far from finished.

Are there any stereotypes about writers that you don’t think are true?
Writers seem to be perceived as either being “nerdy” or “eccentric”

What do you see as the biggest challenge today for writers starting out?
Recognition.

Have you made any writing mistakes that seem obvious in retrospect but weren’t at the time?
Trying to force my way through writer’s block; I have learned that when blocked, just think about and talk to my characters, they tell me when it is time to get back to the keyboard. I am certain that there have been many other mistakes which I have made and learned from, and that there are many more to come. Like life, writing is a never ending learning process.

Is there a particular project you would love to be involved with?
I would love to write a screenplay, however I have learned that it is an entirely different discipline and method of writing.

How do you deal with your fan base?
Graciously.

Finish this sentence; my fans would be surprised to know ___ about me.
That I write in the middle of the night with my dog curled up on my lap.

Anything else we should know?
I am included in the 2013 edition of “Who’s Who in American Literature”

Book Review – Fair America by Rydell, Findling and Pelle

Title: Fair America
Author: Robert W. Rydell, John E. Findling and Kimberly D. Pelle
Format: Paperback Manga
Written: ?
Published: 2000

This is a depressing review to have to type.  Fair America is about the World’s Fairs in the United States.  It’s arranged simply enough, the four sections are different periods of time, with an intro and a conclusion.

I love World’s Fairs.  It’s a life dream to go to one someday.  Somewhere.  (The US will probably never get another one, sadly enough.)  I volunteer in a historic building left over from a similar event.  So when I caught Robert Rydell talking about these events on History TV (CSPAN 3, just so you know) I immediately rushed to the library to get his books.

And I was soooo disappointed.  The book is slim, about 150 pages, and even at its short length, I found myself not wanting to keep reading.

The three authors of this book are professors and editors and unfortunately, this reads like a text book.  I love non-fiction, but I prefer it to read like creative non-fiction.

Another major problem that I have is the suggestion that so many of these fairs were racist showings of white supremacy.  I don’t deny that the affluent and (certainly mostly) white committees that planned these events gave them a bit of a slant.   But suggestions made by the authors… well, they’re odd.  Mock battles, according to the authors, undermined Indian relations, information about the Civil War was slanted (hello, how?!), etc.

At the Tennessee Centennial in 1897, a diorama of the Battle of Gettysburg was one of the most popular attractions of the event, and regiments on both sides came together to reunite – not to chant about white supremacy or anything else. Hell, most of the cultural events that happened at a lot of these weren’t even mentioned.   (In fact, Tennessee’s centennial was glossed over and barely discussed at all.)

My favorite story of all the fairs was from the 1894 Columbian Expo (celebrating 400 years of America after Columbus landed) – Mr. Ferris himself paid for the engineering of the Ferris Wheel because he so believed in his vision.  In this book, the mention goes a little bit like “engineering like the Eiffel Tower and Ferris Wheel…”  Oooh, so they happened.  Thanks for bothering to write that at all!

In the end, I’m rating this book at 2 out of 5 pages.  I read the first third and the book sat here for two weeks where I just didn’t give a crap if I picked it up again or not.

If you’re doing research and need a book like this, it’s awesome and you should totally get it.  If you like books that feel like a term paper, it’s good then, too.  Unfortunately, if you want it as a fun read, you should probably look for something else.

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