The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid

The lives of classic movie actresses and actors have always piqued my interest. How they lived their lives, their scandalous affairs(if they actually had any), and what they did to become an icon are just a few of the things that I always want to know. Media coverage of both classic film stars and modern film stars seldom reveal the whole truth and as a result, fans usually have to wait until after the star’s death to learn the full truth, if that. Shelving a cart of new books one day, I stumbled upon The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid. The cover immediately captured my interest as the woman looked like she could have been a classic movie star. Reading the blurb proved that she was and I knew I needed to read this book.

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid is the gripping tale of Evelyn Hugo, an adored movie icon. Evelyn’s story is heart-wrenching and pure psychological romance fiction as readers are drawn into Evelyn’s stunningly glamorous world. With her popularity blossoming in the 1950s when she made her way to Los Angeles, Evelyn dominated the Hollywood scene in her relentless and ruthless rise to the top of the movie industry. Evelyn always knew what she wanted and was not afraid to use her body or the people around her to get it. Living in the public eye was a price she paid for being famous, but Evelyn still managed to keep secrets from the public and some of her closest friends that they never would have guessed.

After her decision to leave the Hollywood and show business in general in the late 80s, Evelyn became a recluse. She was never seen out, declined to sit down for interviews, and pictures of an aging Evelyn were almost non-existent. When she reaches out and contacts an unknown magazine reporter named Monique Grant to interview her, everyone in the journalism community is shocked. Why would Evelyn choose Monique to reveal her scandalous and glamorous life? What makes her so special? Why is Evelyn choosing to do this now? Monique has her own issues. She’s not exactly the number one journalist in the world, let alone her city or even her area of expertise. She’s not even 100% happy with where she is working as her career has stalled. Monique’s personal life is just as messy. Her husband left her just five weeks prior and Monique is still reeling.

Recognizing the Evelyn Hugo interview as the potential major career boost that she desperately needs, Monique decides she will do whatever it takes to make this a success and sits down with Evelyn. It becomes clear right off the bat that Evelyn has ulterior motives and it’s left to Monique to figure those out. Quickly Monique becomes wrapped up in the story of Evelyn’s life from her entrance to Los Angeles in the 1950s and the seven husbands she had before she retired in the late 80s. As Evelyn weaves her life’s story for Monique, she discovers that Evelyn’s ruthless ambition led her to some slightly questionable, but nevertheless sustaining, friendships and a major forbidden love that had the ability to potentially ruin Evelyn’s career. Evelyn’s professional and personal lives are forever linked together. As Monique formulates Evelyn’s story, she realizes Evelyn never does anything without having a reason. Monique begins worrying why Evelyn chose her to write her story and when Evelyn’s story finally reaches the present, Monique realizes that she and Evelyn are connected in a truly tragic and life-changing way.

I enjoyed this book more than I thought that I would. Multiple storylines were at play throughout the novel and I found myself thoroughly engrossed in each one. The vivid descriptions of Evelyn’s life as she navigated the rocky waters of fame and her personal life were so well depicted that I found myself believing for a bit that she was a real person. I wanted to learn even more about Evelyn Hugo and her seven husbands. She is fascinating. Highly recommended.

Five Came Back by Mark Harris

five came backFive Came Back gives us the untold story of how Hollywood changed World War II, and how World War II changed Hollywood through the prism of five film directors caught up in the war: John Ford, William Wyler, John Huston, Frank Capra, and George Stevens.

It was the best of times and the worst of times for Hollywood before the war. The box office was booming, and the studios’ control of talent and distribution was as airtight as could be hoped. But the industry’s relationship with Washington was decidedly uneasy – hearings and investigations into allegations of corruption and racketeering were multiplying, and hanging in the air was the insinuation that the business was too foreign, too Jewish, too “un-American” in its values and causes. Could an industry this powerful in shaping America’s mind-set really be left in the hands of this crew? Following Pearl Harbor, Hollywood had the chance to prove its critics wrong and did so with vigor, turning its talents and its business over to the war effort to an unprecedented extent.

No industry professionals played a bigger role in the war than America’s most legendary directors: Ford, Wyler, Huston, Capra, and Stevens. Between them they were on the scene of almost every major moment of America’s war, and in every branch of service – army, navy, and air force; Atlantic and Pacific; from Midway to North Africa; from Normandy to the fall of Paris and the liberation of the Nazi death camps; to the shaping of the message out of Washington, D.C. As it did for so many others, World War II divided the lives of these men into before and after. Even less well understood, the war divided the history of Hollywood into before and after as well. Harris reckons with that transformation on a human level and on the level of the industry and the country as a whole. Like these five men, Hollywood too, and indeed all of America, came back from the war having grown up more than a little. (description from publisher)

Unbearable Lightness by Portia de Rossi

As a big fan of Arrested Development and actress Portia de Rossi, I had to be first to check out her new book, Unbearable Lightness.  Though de Rossi is a very talented comedic actress, this book is a truly sad story:  it details the eating disorder she suffered from since the age of 12 when she began her modeling career.  Starting with a yo-yo diet that included binging and purging before photo shoots and acting jobs, de Rossi eventually became severely anorexic, eating less than 300 calories a day in order to lose weight and maintain her career.    Despite the protests of her family and the fact that she at one time weighed only 82 pounds, de Rossi only saw herself as a chubby girl with big thighs and rolls on her stomach.

This book was extremely shocking and really opens your eyes to what the mindset of an anorexic person is really like. De Rossi does a great job of letting the reader really get inside her head to understand why she treated her body the way she did.  The pressures of staying thin in order to get jobs and being a closeted lesbian in an industry that didn’t accept gay actors really exacerbated her condition and forced her into a downward spiral of self-loathing.  This book is also incredibly eye-opening into Hollywood life.  Knowing how common the pressures de Rossi faced are, I can’t say I ever want to look at another fashion magazine again.  Though she came out of this ordeal alive and has a very happy life with wife Ellen Degeneres, this isn’t the case for everyone who goes through anorexia and bulimia.  Not only is this book very informative, it’s also an emotional and inspirational story about overcoming your personal demons, and  I highly recommend it to anyone.

Confections of a Closet Master Baker by Gesine Bullock-Prado

ConfectionsFed up with a Hollywood lifestyle of “doing lunch”, massive traffic jams and insincere relationships, Gesine Bullock-Prado abandoned all the things that are supposed to make you happy – money, designer clothes, access to famous stars – and escaped to the Green Mountains of Vermont. There she found peace and happiness by following her true passion – baking.

In 2004 Gesine and her husband Ray opened Gesine Confectionary in Montpelier, Vermont largely on the popularity of her macaroons. Expecting to start small and build by word-of-mouth, they were overwhelmed by the long lines that snaked out the door on opening day – maybe it was the fact that Gesine’s sister, movie star Sandra Bullock, was helping at the register?

Star gazing might have brought people to the shop at first but the sweet, luscious treats bring them back again and again. Pies, sticky buns, croissants, scones and cakes of all description guarantee a slew of return customers. Customers become regulars, who become friends and consultants and the empty existence of their former Hollywood life becomes a distant memory. Not everything is perfect – there are setbacks and frustrations, bad employees and unreasonable demands – but mostly it is a dream come true.

Each chapter of Confections of a Closet Master Baker – written in a wry, straightforward voice – finishes with a delectable recipe. Gesine’s stories of her beloved family and memories of her hated Hollywood job ring clear and true. For anyone who longs to drop out of the rat race and follow their passion – or for anyone that loves to eat – this is a must read!