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Non-Fiction Review – Bette & Joan: The Divine Feud

January 8th, 2024


Bette & Joan: The Divine Feud by Shaun Considine

Review by JJares


Before reading this “tell all” book about these two aging stars, I thought their animus happened during the filming of WHATEVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE. Imagine my surprise to hear that they had been competitors throughout their long careers. This is a delicious book that drops names continuously. Some names are surprising:  Marilyn Monroe, Rock Hudson, Clark Gable, and dozens of others.


Joan Crawford was the earlier star. She worked at MGM as a flapper girl in dancing films. However, she realized early on that flappers would disappear with time, and she looked for another shtick. She was soon everyone’s favorite bad girl. However, that came to a screeching halt when she met Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. Douglas was Hollywood royalty as the son of movie legends Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks, Sr. His parents were underwhelmed; Joan set about turning herself into a demure housewife and society matron to please the Fairbanks parents.


One of the most fascinating parts of the story was the differing relationships between the stars and the heads of the companies they worked for. Joan was part of Louis B Mayer’s “family,” a close-knit group of actors that looked to Mayer as “Papa.” On the other hand, Bette Davis was famous for defying Jack Warner, head of Warner Brothers. This book gives insights into the controversies and results.


Both Bette and Joan were insecure individuals. Joan was always looking to replace her missing father(s) with other men. She wanted someone to take care of her. Bette needed someone to keep her in check, but married men who weren’t that strong. They each married four men.


Obviously, the author spent considerable time with this book because he had alternative comments about the stars in every encounter. Either Bette and Joan had poor memories or created new incidents to show themselves off more favorably. Offering a counterpoint via other people balances the story. Some of the quotes (opening chapters) were particularly insightful.


One of the problems I had with listening (instead of reading this book) was the loss of seeing the candids, publicity shots, and movie stills in the text. However, the reader was accomplished, and it often sounded as if Bette or Joan were reading their own quotes. The description of the ladies’ participation in WHATEVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE? was fascinating. The author also described the two ‘tell-all’ books the stars’ daughters wrote (and the world’s reaction). The author followed the stars to the end of their careers.


This book is entertaining; the pages are full of insider info and rarely discussed peccadillos of the stars. For example, Joan was incredibly promiscuous (the book names names). A priceless part of this book was the incredible barbs the two stars threw at each other throughout their long careers. Delicious reading.


Horror Review – The Hollow Places

January 4th, 2024

The Hollow Places by T. Kingfisher

Review by Cyndi J. (cyndij)

Freelance graphic designer Kara and her husband have just split up, and Kara’s faced with moving back in with her parents. But her beloved Uncle Earl offers her a room in his place, which is also his labor of love: The Glory to God Museum of Natural Wonders, Curiosities, and Taxidermy. The Wonder Museum, for short. Kara grew up helping Earl tend to the bizarre exhibits and sell T-shirts to the tourists.  While she doesn’t believe in all Earl’s eccentric theories, she’s got a fondness for the place. He calls her Carrot, very cute. So she moves in, and starts cataloguing all the oddities, and hanging out at the next door coffee shop.

When Uncle Earl has to go for a knee operation,  Kara says she’ll be fine on her own, no problem. But when she discovers someone has knocked a hole in the wall upstairs, she asks Simon the barista to help her fix it. It’s then they discover the hole leads somewhere really, really strange. And Kara, despite warnings from Simon, wants to explore. This is going to be a very bad idea.

Kara and Simon are great characters. I loved them both, even if Kara makes some incredibly dumb decisions.  Simon says a couple times that this is how people in horror movies get killed, but she just sails on, and he follows.  Simon’s eye thing is both creepy and funny, I loved it. Uncle Earl comes alive too and even Kara’s ex, whom we only meet over the phone, is solid. I could easily visualize the eerie willow world and its inhabitants.  And I absolutely loved the finale and what comes about with all the taxidermied critters.

This is a Lovecraftian horror novel, not a slasher kind of thing. Not creepy enough to keep me awake at night, but still plenty of tense moments and icky situations.  Excellent pacing, vivid imagery, and as I mentioned excellent characters.  T. Kingfisher (pen name for Ursula Vernon) is becoming my new favorite author – I’ve yet to read a book of hers I didn’t really like.






Book Review – Ancient Egyptian Conspiracy Theories

January 1st, 2024

Ancient Egyptian Conspiracy Theories: The History of the Most Popular Conspiracy Theories about Egypt in Antiquity

Charles River Editors

Review by JJares


This book is an explanation of the biggest conspiracy theories about ancient Egypt. Some seem possible, while some seem outlandish. However, they are interesting reading. You may enjoy this book if you are unfamiliar with these ancient theories. I found the most interesting one to be about Moses. These stories are —

–  Akhenaten and Moses
– The Curse of the Pharaohs
– The Secret Chambers in the Great Pyramid and Sphinx
– Ancient Astronauts
– The Lost Army of Cambyses
– Cleopatra’s Death

Amenhotep IV (also known as Akhenaten, the heretic king) is thought to be related to Moses. Jewish-Roman historian Flavius Josephus argued that Moses was the leader of Judaism and closely related to Akhenaten, possibly a son or grandson. Manetho, an Egyptian historian, said that Moses was an Egyptian priest who organized the leper’s rebellion against forced labor pushed on them by Amenhotep III and others. The most interesting fact about this section was the evaluation that Judaism was unlike any other religion but very similar to Akhenaten’s.

When the archeologists started opening the Pharaohs’ tombs, people related to the excavations began to die. There has been wild speculation about these deaths. However, someone finally evaluated the 60 workers closest to the openings and found that ten died during the twelve years most closely associated with the excavations.

The next theory is even wilder. Erich Von Daniken said aliens came and taught the Egyptians how to create the Pyramids of Giza and the Sphinx. His theory said that the Egyptians did not have the technology to create them. Edgar Cayce said there was a secret room in the paw of the Sphinx that would explain an advanced civilization that existed a million years ago.

After extraterrestrials in Egypt, some folks believe that long-ago astronauts influenced development on our Earth by landing and assisting humans in creating things (they could not create alone), such as the Moai statues on Easter Island. They also point (on page 59) to airships (similar to our helicopters) in Australian cave paintings of the Wandjina people.

I was unfamiliar with this conspiracy theory regarding the lost army of Cambyses. It happened during a desert storm in 534 BCE. Persian troops specially trained for desert conditions disappeared without a trace while escaping the Egyptians following them. Two Italian archaeologists think they have unearthed the solution. They came across the remains of an army in the desert. Local Bedouins told them that the wind uncovered the bleached bones briefly, and then the wind covered them again with fifteen feet of sand.

Finally, the authors recounted the Ptolemy family history in Egypt. The story ends with the deaths of Cleopatra and Mark Antony. Stories are told that Egyptian archaeologists found Antony’s death mask and the tomb of Cleopatra and Antony about 30 miles outside of Alexandria. They say they found 20 coins minted during her reign.

I wasn’t overly convinced of the validity of these theories. There wasn’t enough proof. The stories were engagingly told. I’m sure these rumors help sell travel tickets to the country. Interesting reading.





Sci-Fi Review – Little Fuzzy

December 31st, 2023

Little Fuzzy by H. Beam Piper

Review by Cyndi J. (cyndij)


On the planet Zarathrustra, the Chartered Zarathrustra Company pretty much owns it all.  They exploit the natural resources, develop what they want, and pretty much run the show without much interference from the Colonial Government. Jack Holloway is an eccentric miner, making his living from sunstones, an exotic fossil that glows with the wearer’s body heat.

Coming back from a day’s hard work, Jack surprises a little creature in his house. It’s cute, it squeaks at him, it’s not particularly afraid, and he feeds it a bit of pre-packaged rations which it really, really likes. Jack decides he wants a pet and calls it “Little Fuzzy”. Before you know it, Little Fuzzy has invited the rest of his family to enjoy the comforts of Jack’s home. But after observing them carefully, Jack thinks that these creatures are really intelligent beings, and he calls in a friend with the government to check it out.  We’re given POV from not just the humans but also Little Fuzzy, so we readers already know they’re intelligent, if childlike.

The Chartered Zarathrustra Company gets wind of Jack’s enquiry and alarm bells go off everywhere. Billions of dollars are at stake, because the Company cannot own a planet if there’s intelligent inhabitants. They hatch a scheme to murder the Fuzzies.  Of course this is going to backfire on them, and we get some tense moments of rescue along with an interesting court trial and vindication for the Fuzzies. To my mind, the trial is the highlight of the book. Justice in action, and the rule of law preserved.

The book veers between very one-dimensional villains and the overly adorable Fuzzies, and serious discussions about what intelligence actually is. There’s an evil corporation, with the government and the military stepping in to save the day, which is kind of odd for the 1960s.  The tone is also somewhat juvenile, but the characters smoke and drink constantly, not to mention the murder.  Despite some of the outdated references, I think this still holds up very well. John Scalzi “rebooted” it several years ago with FUZZY NATION, but this holds its own. It’s a fun, fast read with things to think about.






Mystery Review – ‘Twas the Bite Before Christmas

December 24th, 2023

‘Twas the Bite Before Christmas by Andy Carpenter

Review by JJares


I don’t care how many lame jokes and impossible situations defense lawyer Andy Carpenter gets himself into; it is always a fun read. I love being swept along with the reluctant Andy (whining all the way). It is a Christmas party at the Tara Foundation when Pete Stanton calls Andy and tells him to come outside. They want Andy to bring out one of the celebrants, Bobby Klaster. Andy knows him by another name and is confused.
Years ago, Bobby was in a gang that turned to murder. He exited the gang by testifying in the trial and joining the Witness Protection Program. I was stunned to learn that the state WPP is wimpy; they relocate the person within the same state, only giving him a new identity. Federal WPPs are moved to another state with more perks than the state model.
Bobby is accused of murdering a former gang member. Of course, the gun is found in his home, along with blood in his car trunk. When the police discover Bobby’s past, they look no further for a suspect. Crime boss Joseph Russo, Jr. appears, helping Andy and his case. Of course, the plot moves predictably, but I don’t care; I love the crazy dogs, especially the Basset Hound. Marcus Clark is in full swing with his fists while Andy cowers in the background.
This is a long-running series about a reluctant lawyer and his dog foundation. Sit back and enjoy another wild story with Andy and all the usual suspects. The laughs start on the first page and continue till the end.






Fantasy Review – Black Water Sister

December 22nd, 2023

Black Water Sister by Zen Cho

Review by Cyndi J. (cyndij)


Jessamyn Teoh has graduated Harvard, but she’s unemployed, still living with her parents, and a closeted lesbian.  But her dad’s health isn’t good, they’re also broke and have decided to move back to Malayasia. As a dutiful daughter who truly loves her parents, she’s going too, leaving behind her girlfriend.  They move in with her father’s sister, who has a big house and innumerable relatives who are always dropping in, ready to discuss the failings of anyone in the family.

There’s enough stress that when she starts hearing a voice in her head, she dismisses it at first. But it turns out this is not a hallucination – it’s the ghost of her grandmother Ah Ma, and Ah Ma is capable of taking over Jess’s body. Ah Ma has a purpose in mind, which she tells Jess is to save a particular small temple in danger of being torn down for developers.  Ah Ma was a medium for one of the gods – Black Water Sister – in this temple, and the god is angry.  But the temple’s plight is only an excuse.

As it turns out, Jess is not the only one in this family keeping secrets.  Events careen out of control almost immediately, with Jess alternately attempting to kick Ah Ma out of her head and then beseeching her to come back and help Jess out of life-threatening crises.  To make it even worse, Black Water Sister has taken ominous notice of Jess.

The book starts out feeling rather lighthearted, but it gets quite dark before Jess manages to placate the gods and others.  It does get a bit complicated towards the end, what with all the various shifting relationships and gods appearing and disappearing. The Malaysian setting is great, very different and very vivid, and the dialect makes it come alive. I liked the sense of place and I liked how Cho educated the reader about the gods and cultural practices via Jess, who hadn’t lived in Malaysia since she was a toddler.  I also loved how the family drama just gets deeper and deeper.   A good, fast-paced and intense fantasy.




YA / Teen Fantasy – The Chaos

December 20th, 2023

The Chaos by Nalo Hopkinson

Review by Cyndi J. (cyndij)

I found this YA/teen fantasy to have a very likable heroine, but it’s definitely in the surreal vein.  Sixteen-year-old Soujourner “Scotch” Smith is a normal Toronto high school girl, she’s got friends, thinks her parents are too restrictive, and is eagerly preparing for a dance contest.  There are troubles too, of course – she is on the outs with her ex-BFF for allegedly poaching her boyfriend; her brother was In jail for drug possession; and she’s got some kind of weird  black, sort of sticky substance growing in patches on her. The doctors don’t know what it is, and nothing gets rid of it.  Oh, and she’s seeing weird little animals floating around too.

When her parents head off for a weekend, leaving Scotch and her brother Rich alone, they head off for an illicit visit to a nightclub.   It’s then that chaos really erupts, literally. A bizarre bubble forms in the nightclub, and her brother disappears into it. A volcano forms in Lake Ontario. People turn into bizarre creatures. A giant house on chicken legs is walking around, and the witch inside is taunting Scotch.  Plus there’s a frightening black thing following her as well.

As Scotch careens through the city, her skin getting progressively worse and worse, trying to find her brother and figure out what’s happening, she’s forced to think about her own identity and accept her flaws.

I found the surreal happenings a bit much, but then, the book is about chaos after all.  I recognized several fantasy elements of course, and Hopkinson adds interesting Caribbean elements. You can’t help but like Scotch. With a white Jamaican father and a black Canadian mother, Scotch’s racial identity isn’t immediately obvious to others although she identifies as Black. I really liked the diversity of her friends, her awareness of racism towards her and her darker-skinned brother, and her horror when she herself expresses bias.  Some of it seemed a bit preachy though. Despite her own predicament, Scotch tries to help others too. As the book progresses I couldn’t really see how Hopkinson was going to get her out of it, but it ends happily enough for Scotch and her family, although not for everyone.

It’s an interesting story with a lot of elements to think about. I wouldn’t recommend it to someone who’s never read fantasy before, but if you’re in the mood for something different, give it a try.