Sunday, June 27, 2010

Book Review: Hollywood Hellraisers

We live in an age where celebrity dirt is a hot commodity. We want to know who has a drug problem, who's dating who, who's going broke. In Hollywood Hellraisers, Robert Sellers dishes the dirt on "old Hollywood" -- actors Marlon Brando, Dennis Hopper, Warren Beatty and Jack Nicholson. And readers better get out their shovels -- there's a lot of dirt to dish out on these four.

The book, written before Hopper's recent death from prostate cancer, covers both the professional and personal lives of these iconic actors; there are numerous stories from the sets of such American classics as Easy Rider, The Godfather and Apocalypse Now.

But even before they became stars, Sellers digs into their early years and reveals all of these men had parent figures who were heavy drinkers; Hopper even believed his dad to be dead for years before finding out that he really had a job in top-secret intelligence work. For decades, Nicholson believed the woman who was actually his grandmother was his mother; in reality, his older sister was his birth mother. He didn't find out until a reporter uncovered this information when Nicholson was almost 40 and both women were dead. Brando had an abusive father and a mother who was such a drunk, he'd end up wandering the streets looking for her many nights.

Needless to say, their upbringings helped them become talented artists, but it also created many personal problems for them. Hopper became a major alcoholic and drug addict -- before getting sober later in life, he reportedly was consuming a half gallon of rum, 28 beers and three grams of cocaine daily. Brando fathered many children with different mothers, and later experience tragedy when one of his daughters committed suicide and a son was jailed for manslaughter. Beatty is known for being one of the biggest womanizers of all time; a new biography estimates he's slept with almost 13,000 women (although Beatty denies it). Nicholson was also a womanizer in his own right. The women between all four men sometimes overlapped; Michelle Phillips of The Mamas & The Papas had been Hopper's wife (very briefly) and a girlfriend of Nicholson and Beatty.

But underneath all the scandals, there are also interesting tidbits in here that really give you the picture of how these men felt about their fame and Hollywood careers. For example, Brando claimed to have never really enjoyed acting; when he got older, he had an assistant feed him his lines through a device in his ear.

Hollywood Hellraisers is a fun, scandalous and insightful read about four of Hollywood's all-time best actors.

Hollywood Hellraisers is available from Skyhorse Publishing.

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary advanced review copy of this book from the publisher.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Book Review: The One-Week Job Project

It's probably safe to say that most every college graduate gets his or her diploma and then says, "Now what? What am I supposed to do with the rest of my life?"

This happened to Sean Aiken, who graduated from Capilano College in North Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada with a business administration degree in 2005. After some post-graduation traveling, Aiken found himself facing the all-mighty question: "what next?"

His father gave him some valuable advice: find a job you're passionate about. The problem was, Aiken wasn't sure what he was passionate about. To find out, he decided he wanted to work a new job every week for an entire year. He started a Web site,, that let people offer him jobs across the globe (and eventually decided to share his tale via this book).

With no looking back, Aiken traveled all over Canada and America trying out 52 different jobs -- from a florist to a cattail picker, from a Hollywood producer to an NHL mascot, from a stock trader to an aquarium host. From week to week, he isn't always sure just where he'll be next, or what he'll be doing.

Aiken writes extensively about his 52 bosses... they all seem to love their jobs, and they all seem to give Aiken good advice about the working world, and finding a career you love.

Aiken openly embraced the challenges of all his jobs, including a not-so-great boss during his stint as film festival reporter, and having to deal with cow poop while working as a dairy farmer. "It's like walking in the rain," he wrote. Ew. He also experienced some major job perks, like attending a Sylvester Stallone movie premiere in Las Vegas, being featured on The Rachael Ray Show and rubbing elbows with Wyclef Jean (who told him one of his jobs should be at a strip club).

A great thing about The One-Week Project is that it's not just about the destination; it's the journey. Aiken doesn't just discuss the pros and cons of all the jobs he's tried out, but he describes the people and places he's seen, how he would get (on a very limited budget) from one place to another, whose couch or floor he was sleeping on.

While on the road, Aiken also falls in love, finds out his mother has breast cancer and learns how to deal with his rising fame as "The One-Week Job Guy"... all while learning a new career on a weekly basis.

The One-Week Job Project should be handed out to all college graduates when they get their diploma. Aiken's important message of finding passion in your job is something all people strive for, and his questions about "what he wants to be when he grows up" and how he wants to live his life will ring true with many twentysomethings -- and even those beyond that age.

The One Week-Job Project is available from Villard Books, Random House Publishing Group.

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary advanced review copy of this book from the publisher.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Book Review: Insatiable

Meena Harper is pretty sick of hearing about America's obsession with vampires. Needless to say, this almost 30-year-old Manhattanite is peeved when she finds out the soap opera she writes for, called Insatiable, is taking on a vampire plotline. She's even more angry when she finds out her rival, the woman who has proposed the storyline, has gotten the new head writer position.

Besides dealing with a sucky (pun intended!) work environment, Meena has her unemployed brother living with her, and she's tired of her neighbor trying to set her up each time she gets on her elevator. Oh, yeah, and one more thing: she's extremely frustrated with her longtime gift of being able to see how people die.

But Meena's life starts to look up when a handsome stranger saves her from a bizarre bat attack late one night while she's walking her dog, Jack Bauer. Her rescuer, Lucien, sweeps her off her feet, and Meena's world starts to look brighter. He even happens to be a prince, and related to her nosy neighbor, Mary Lou.

Unfortunately, after a handsome man named Alaric Wulf storms into her apartment, she finds out some interesting information: her Prince Charming is actually the Prince of Darkness, prince of all the vampires, and Dracula's son. Ironic, no?

Meena's conflicted feelings about Lucien drive the second half of the novel, and gets her, her brother Jon, her friends and vampire hunter Alaric into some major trouble as they realize Lucien, a vamp who does not believe in killing humans, is in the middle of a vampire war with his dastardly bother Dimitri, who may be behind the recent murders of a bunch of NYC women.

Cabot obviously put out Insatiable at just the right time, when the country is in a vampire frenzy. Readers who are also Twihards will see some similarities between Cabot's novel and the Twilight series, especially the suggested love trial between Meena, Lucien and Alaric.

Maybe it's the spell of being with a vampire, but the fact that sensible, down-to-earth Meena pretty much starts planning her life with Lucien after one night with him (and before learning some valuable info about him) bothered me a little -- it seemed to go against her character. I could just see her doodling his name in a heart on a notebook, and that bothered me.

Then again, Meena herself more than makes up for it as a fun, witty character. Actually, all of the characters are pretty enjoyable, especially Meena's brother Jon and the gruff Alaric.

It's rare these days to finish a book surprised by the ending -- especially a chick lit novel. But I was very taken aback by Insatiable's ending. It seems Cabot set her audience up for a sequel about Meena and her pals.

This light, funny fare is a great beach read for vampire fans who are thirsty for more vamp lit. And here's to Cabot satiating her fans' desire for an Insatiable sequel!

Insatiable is available from HarperCollins Publishers.

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary advanced review copy of this book from the publisher.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Book Review: Facebook Fairytales

In this technology-driven world we're living in, Facebook has become not just a phenomenon, but a way of life. It is home to over 350 million users, and 8 billion minutes are spent on it daily. If Facebook were a country, it would be the fourth largest in the world.

Facebook can be a time waster, a way to stay in touch with old friends or even a good business tool. But even more, the social networking juggernaut connects people in almost fascinating ways... it's not just a way for you to check out a friend of friend's wedding pictures (you creeper, you!). Many people practice goodwill on Facebook. Recently, my friend's fiance lost his wallet in a parking lot. He pretty much thought it was gone for good, when someone contacted him -- via Facebook! -- and said he had his wallet.

This story is a small-time example of the ones you'll find in Emily Liebert's Facebook Fairytales: Modern-Day Miracles to Inspire the Human Spirit. Liebert tells 25 different stories about people and Facebook, and some of them are just miraculous. Sisters reunite after 40 years
together; a couple finds a child to adopt; a sick mother finds a kidney donor; a family finds their cat after moving to a different city. There's even a story of an American girl saving a British boy from suicide after he sent her a random Facebook message. Another inspiring story is of a girl who dies of meningitis and how her parents use Facebook to prevent other children from dying of the disease.

There's also some names you'll recognize in this book. Comedian Johnny Dam talks about how Facebook help him land a TV show. Peter Shankman, founder of a handy tool I use all the time, the Web site Help a Reporter Out, describes how his brain child started on Facebook. Philadelphians may recognize the name of local journalist Brian Hickey. Hickey suffered major injuries after being involved in a hit-and-run accident. He's currently using Facebook to try to track down the person who hit him.

Oh, and there's another name I'm sure you'll recognize: Barack Obama. No, it's not about the President's personal Facebook use, but how Chris Hughes, who helped conceive Facebook with CEO Mark Zuckerberg, used Facebook to bring Obama's presidental campaign to new heights.

For all Facebook fans, this book is a fun and inspirational read, teaching us just how much Facebook can help bring people together and create miracles.

Facebook Fairytales is available from Skyhorse Publishing.

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary advanced review copy of this book from the publisher.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Book Review: The Outside Boy

When I told some of my Irish friends I was reading a book about the Irish tinkers (or travellers or Pavees, as they preferred to be called), they all pretty much scoffed and complained about them. I had never heard of the nomadic group before reading The Outside Boy by Jeanine Cummins. But I didn't get any of the negative connotations of these individuals from the novel.

Cummins beautifully tells the story of Christy, an 11-year-old "tinker" who travels across Ireland with his dad, grandparents, aunt, uncle and cousins. Christy's mother died 7 minutes after giving birth to him, and it's always been something that haunted him.

Within the first 50 pages, Christy's beloved Grandda also dies, and after Christy's cousin Martin sets fire to Grandda's wagon in an attempt to "free" their dead patriarch, Granny decides it's time to stay in one place for a little while so Christy and Martin can go to school and receive Communion; Granny is sure Martin has the devil in him.

After the two young boys are finally accepted into a school and the family temporarily leaves their wagons in one place for a while, Christy gets to live the life he's always wanted to. He's so excited to start school, where he starts crushing on a girl he calls Finnuala Whippet.

While also in town, Christy starts to have more and more questions about his mother, and why his dad never talks about her. After his grandfather's wagon burns, Christy finds a strange picture of his mother. He starts on a quest to find out more about this woman he's been grieving for all his life.

For someone who's never been an 11-year-old boy, Cummins voices Christy beautifully. He is a wonderful character; a good boy with a good heart who just wants to find out who he is and tackle these amazing issues no one his age should have to while also dealing with school bullies and his first kiss. Cummins tugs on the reader's heartstrings during Christy's search to find out more about his mother; I teared up more than once.

Whether reading inside or outside, you'll find yourself not being able to put down The Outside Boy.

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary advanced review copy of this book from the publisher.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Trouble at "The Office"

If you know me well, you know I've been obsessed with The Office for over 3 years now. On Thursday nights, you'll find me in front of the TV, tuned into NBC to watch my favorite characters. I secretly (or not so secretly) wish Jim Halpert was real so he could find me and marry me. I've even had The Office desk calendar at my cube for the past two years, and I delight in reading a fun new Office quote every day.

But this current 2009-2010 Office season has, frankly, sucked. And I'm not quite sure why. Except for the wedding episode, every episode has either been so-so or downright bad. What happened to my friends? Are they just not funny anymore? Or are the writers putting them in weird scenarios?

Multiple storylines this year did not go over well. What was the point of having Jim and Michael be co-managers? That went no where -- as did Dwight and Ryan's plot to take down Jim, something that could have been potentially really funny. I didn't like Sabre coming in and buying Dunder Mifflin, a company we've had loyalty to over the past six seasons. I get the writers were trying to reflect how the business world is now with our bad economy. But it just made me sad and brought the show down, not make me connect with the realness of the situation.

Another thing the writers did this season was make likable characters unlikeable. Stanley having an affair bothered me. But even worse, Jim and Pam, the two most lovable, normal characters in the show, are starting to seem unlikeable and even a little annoying. I can't put my finger on what it is exactly. I don't think the show "jumped the shark" by having the pair get married, but something about them changed. Even the birth episode was not that special or exciting in my book -- an episode that should have been just as funny and touching as the wedding episode.

Another problem this year was Michael. We all know Michael says and does stupid things, and puts himself into awful positions. At times this can make for cringe-worthy but interesting TV, like when Michael promises local kids ("Scott's Tots") that he will pay for their college tuition or when he dates a married woman.

But when Michael does things that seem downright mean, like spreading rumors about people in the office, dumping Pam's mom because she's 58 or refusing to let Phyllis play Santa, it just makes him look like a horrible person, not someone who tries but just doesn't get it.

This season didn't have to many continuos plotlines or problems, which was reflected in the season finale. The only thing that keeps us wondering is if Jo will bring Holly back to the Scranton branch like Michael asked.

We can only hope that, if Steve Carell leaves the show next year, NBC decides to end it as well. Even though the supporting characters on The Office are superb, I can't imagine a show without Carell. But, bottom line... and I never thought I'd say this... but The Office just ain't what it used to be. Maybe it's time to end the show before it totally loses all of the magic it used to have.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Book Review: The Jane Austen Book Club

The Jane Austen Book Club, written by Karen Joy Fowler, brings together 5 ladies -- and one guy -- who all get together to read and discuss Austen's six novels. The book is half an analysis of these novels, and half a character study of the book club members.

Jocelyn and Sylvia have been buddies since high school, and even dated the same guy, Daniel, who Sylvia ended up marrying. Now the women are in their fifties, and Sylvia and Daniel are divorcing. Sylvia's 30-year-old daughter Allegra is also in the book club; she went through a recent breakup with her girlfriend. Prudie, a 28-year-old French teacher, doesn't understand why her wonderful husband Dean loves her so much, and she has to come to grips with her relationship with her mother after she dies. Bernadette is in her sixties, has been married three times and is quite eccentric -- she's been known to go to the grocery store in slippers with her hair sticking up. And Grigg is a 40-something "mystery man" to the woman. All they know is that he's a science fiction geek who decides to join the club after meeting Jocelyn at a convention.

The book is broken up into months, and in each month, the club explores a different Austen novel. Along with that, each month gives an in-depth look at one of this book's characters. Sometimes what happens in the month parallels a theme or part of an Austen book. For example, when the club is studying Pride and Prejudice, there is a scene somewhat similar to the ball the Bennett sisters attend in P&P. I found this very clever on Fowler's part.

However, the characters seemed really two-dimensional to me. For example, I didn't see the point in Fowler letting us know that Jocelyn dated Daniel first; it never comes into play in the novel. Prudie's mother dying also doesn't seem to make much of a difference on her character developement. And even more bizarre is why Grigg suddenly starts to have a crush on the older, never married, dog-raising Jocelyn. There is no real chemistry between the two earlier in the book that leads you to believe they might pair up.

The Jane Austen Book Club (which was made into a movie in 2007 starring Emily Blunt) is a quick, easy read fun for any Austen fan. But I'm not sure what the great writer herself would think of this book.