Thursday Movie Rundown ~ The DUFF #moviereview #review @meganslayer

Monday Movie Rundown BannerThis week, I’m a little late with the post, but it’s because I’ve been watching a movie I really love. The more I’ve watched this flick, the more I identify with the characters.

This week, I’m focusing on The DUFF. I wasn’t sure I’d like this movie because it seemed like yet another teen flick. What would make this one resonate with me? It’s about teens and I’m not a teen any longer.

It’s the pecking order thing and knowing your place. Bianca, the main character, has been labeled a Designated Ugly Fat Friend by her perceived as better looking friends. It’s all about perception. She thinks she’s not as good as the others, so she tries to find out why. Then there’s the social pecking order. The people who believe life in high school is only the start of how important they will be for the rest of their lives. This is a microcosm of high school. We want to find our places and how we fit into the world. Bianca chooses to try to improve herself, but all she really needs to do is be herself. High school only lasts for four years. Life goes beyond that.

I was that kid in high school that people knew, but didn’t pay much attention to. I sort of blended in until they needed something. Oh, and I was labeled. Not the DUFF, but a brown-noser. Yeah, how nice was that? I did my thing and didn’t complain, yet I was seen as someone who kissed up to the teachers. It took me a little longer than Bianca to realize I wasn’t just that one thing. So I was the weird kid? So I wasn’t like everyone else? Didn’t mean I didn’t want to be a little bit like them. Didn’t mean I didn’t want to be accepted. I’m older now and am comfortable in my own skin. The DUFF proves you should be yourself. It might not be the easiest thing to do, but it’s worthwhile. You’re being true to you.

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Book Review ~ Amy: My Search for Her Killer: Secrets & Suspects in the Unsolved Murder of Amy Mihaljevic #bookreview

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“I fell in love with Amy Mihaljevic not long before her body was discovered lying facedown in an Ashland County wheat field. I fell for her the first time I saw that school photo TV stations flashed at the beginning of every newscast in the weeks following her kidnapping in the autumn of 1989―the photo with the side-saddle ponytail . . .”

So begins this strange and compelling memoir in which a young journalist investigates the cold case that has haunted him since childhood.

It’s one of Northeast Ohio’s most frustrating unsolved crimes. Ten-year-old Amy Mihaljevic (Muh-ha-luh-vick) disappeared from the comfortable Cleveland suburb of Bay Village. Thousands of volunteers, police officers, and FBI agents searched for the girl, who was tragically found dead a few months later. Her killer was never found.

Fifteen years later, journalist James Renner picks up the leads. Filled with mysterious riddles, incredible coincidences, and a cast of odd but very real characters, his investigation quickly becomes a riveting journey in search of the truth.

Interesting and sad.

I’m reading this book for my local book club. Would I have picked it up on my own? Not sure. I remember quite clearly when this case happened. I remember my mother freaking out that I – or any of my friends – might be the next kid taken. Sadly, kids are taken all the time. I remember when she was found and how my mother cried. Now that I have a tot, I can identify with my mother’s reaction.

This book though, is like reading a diary. The author isn’t detailing the case, in so much as he’s recalling his reactions to what happened, his path to writing the initial story for the Cleveland paper and eventually the book deal.

In some instances, I got a little spooked. I know the area where she was taken and where she was found. It hit a little too close to home for me. There were moments in the book that the author talks about his life and I recall what I was doing around those times. But the thing that struck me the most about this book is the author certainly got too close to the subject. I know, how can one get close to a deceased person? Let’s just say there were more than a few times when it seemed like he was more interested in getting with the fictionalized version of the girl that he’d created in his mind, than anything else.

I get it. If you were a kid around that time, the whole thing was scary. I learned from the example. Don’t go anywhere without telling anyone and don’t go off with anyone you don’t know. Renner hits that point home often in this book. While it’s a quick read, I had to go in with the mindset that he’s writing more from his own perspective than that of an omniscient observer.  I don’t know how being possibly hit on by one of the girl’s friends had much to do with solving the murder. Honestly, that moment felt like an aside that didn’t need to be in the book. But the murder did affect his life and that of the people who knew the girl. Sadness affects everyone differently and if this was his way to cope, then so be it.

If you like crime stories and are willing to get past the personalized ares in some of the book, then this might be the read for you.

Book Review ~ A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman #bookreview #review

5151jMdx7TL._SX319_BO1,204,203,200_Meet Ove. He’s a curmudgeon—the kind of man who points at people he dislikes as if they were burglars caught outside his bedroom window. He has staunch principles, strict routines, and a short fuse. People call him “the bitter neighbor from hell.” But must Ove be bitter just because he doesn’t walk around with a smile plastered to his face all the time?

Behind the cranky exterior there is a story and a sadness. So when one November morning a chatty young couple with two chatty young daughters move in next door and accidentally flatten Ove’s mailbox, it is the lead-in to a comical and heartwarming tale of unkempt cats, unexpected friendship, and the ancient art of backing up a U-Haul. All of which will change one cranky old man and a local residents’ association to their very foundations.

Initially, I wasn’t fond of this book. I’ll admit it. Ove got on my nerves. I am not the very factual, very direct kind of person that Ove is. I have grey areas. He doesn’t. Honestly, two-thirds of the way through the book, I still wasn’t converted. I didn’t see the point. I kept expecting something nasty to happen to ‘cat’, too.

But then about the two-thirds point, the book changed. Okay, maybe the book didn’t change, but my perception, did. I got to see the man, Ove, become more than he was. I understood him better and quite honestly, I rooted for him. I liked his interactions with the neighbors and ‘cat’. There was a sweet man under that curmudgeon facade. I won’t give away the ending, but I did cry. I felt like I’d known Ove all along.

If you want a book that might take some getting used to and some endurance to get through (you’ll be rewarded), then this might be the book for you. I’m glad I picked it up.

Monday Movie Rundown ~ Inherit the Wind #moviereview @meganslayer

Monday Movie Rundown Banner This week I thought I’d talk about an oldie but goodie movie I’ve seen a couple of times, but haven’t watched recently until this past weekend. Inherit the Wind is a must-see movie.

In the movie, which takes place in the early part of the twentieth century, a teacher was taken to task for teaching evolution in school. Now today this would seem ridiculous. We’ve all learned about evolution. We learn science. But all those years ago, the church was the thing and the only way children were taught until secondary school. Science was considered…questionable. Can you imagine questioning science? But arguing that creationism was real…it happened. This movie tells a version (it’s a thinly veiled version of the debates between Clarence Darrow and William Jennings Bryan and the teacher is based on a real person, John Thomas Scopes – hence the references in the marketing material about the Scopes Monkey trial) of the trial involving that teacher and those who wanted to bring him down.

Besides seeing actors I know from other situations – Col Potter from MASH is there, Darren from Bewitched, Mr Roeper from Three’s Company as well as Gene Kelly – there is the fantastic speech given by Spencer Tracy most of the way through the film, was very taxing on Tracy and done in one take. When you consider it was done in one take and all at one time…it boggled my mind.

Although the players in the movie aren’t real, they are based on real people. This movie is one to watch more than once and to discuss. Why? The moral of the story is when we fear something and don’t take the time to try to understand, we just might be hosing ourselves over.

Wednesday Book Review ~ Dorothy Dandridge by Donald Bogle

DOROTHYDorothy Dandridge — like Marilyn and Liz–was a dream goddess of the fifties. All audiences ever had to do was take one look at her — in a nightclub, on television, or in the movies — and they were hooked. She was unforgettable, Hollywood’s first full-fledged African American movie star.

This definitive biography — exhaustively researched — presents the panoramic dimensions of this extraordinary and ultimately tragic life. Talented from the start, Dorothy Dandridge began her career as a little girt in Cleveland in an act that her mother Ruby, an actress and comedienne, created for her and her sister Vivian. By the time she reached her teens, she was working in such Hollywood movies as Going Places with Louis Armstrong and A Day at the Races with the Marx Brothers. She also appeared at New York’s Cotton Club in a trio called The Dandridge Sisters, but soon went solo, determined to make a name for herself. She became one of the most dazzling and sensational nightclub performers around, all the white breaking down racial barriers by integrating some of America’s hottest venues.

But she wanted more. Movie stardom was her dream. And she got it. Dandridge broke through the glass ceiling of Tinseltown to win an Academy Award nomination as Best Actress for her lead role in Otto Preminger’s Carmen Jones. Other films such as Porgy and Bess, Island in the Sun, and Tamango would follow and the media would take notice. In an industry that was content to use Black women as comic mammy figures, Dorothy Dandridge emerged as a leading lady, a cultural icon, and a sizzling sex symbol.

She seemed to have everything: glamour, wealth, romance and success. But the reality was fraught with contradiction and illusion. She became a dramatic actress unable to secure dramatic roles. While she had many gifts to offer, Hollywood would not be the taker.

As her professional frustrations grew, so did her personal demons. After two unhappy marriages — her first to the great dancer Harold Nicholas — a string of unfulfilling, love affairs, and the haunting tragedy of her daughter Lynn, she found herself emotionally and financially — bankrupt. She ultimately lost all hope and was found dead from an overdose of antidepressant pills at the age of 42.

Drawing on extensive research and unique interviews with Dorothy Dandridge’s friends and associates, her directors and confidantes, film historian Donald Bogle captures the real-life drama of Dandridge’s turbulent life; but he does so much more.This biography documents the story of a troubled but strong family of women and vividly recreates Dandridge’s relationships with an array of personalities such as Otto Preminger, Sammy Davis Jr., Pearl Bailey, Harry Belafonte, Diahann Carroll, Peter Lawford, Ava Gardner, and many more. Always at the center though is Dorothy Dandridge, magnetic and compelling.

Donald Bogle — better than anyone else — goes beyond the surface of one woman’s seemingly charmed life to reveal the many textured layers of her strength and vulnerability, her joy and her pain, her trials and her triumphs.

I’ve heard the name Dorothy Dandridge many times. I’m from northern Ohio and she’s a cult figure there because she, like Halle Berry, made it big. But I didn’t know much about Dandridge. I’d seen pictures of her and knew she was a star, but who was this woman?

That’s where this book comes into play. I’d watched the documentary, Jazz, by Ken Burns and in the course of the episodes, Dandridge’s name was mentioned. I’m the kind of person that when I hear the name, I want to know more. But not just a simple internet search. I love my library and went there.

Bogle covers all of her life. There aren’t any glossed over portions and he’s candid about who this woman was. She wanted a happy life. She wanted to be happy and to have the love of her life. Bogle touches on her marriages, her struggle with her daughter–who was special needs before special needs was a thing–and her problems with drugs.

Dandridge is fascinating in her drive. She let very few things hold her back. When she wanted something, she went for it. Of course she dealt with racial discrimination, but the way she did, with grace and aplomb, was interesting. She held her head high when others might have cowered.

This isn’t a short read. It’s long and detailed, but it’s so fascinating. I didn’t breeze through it, but once I dove in, I had the book devoured in a matter of days. Check it out for yourself.

@MeganSlayer ‘s Wednesday Book Review ~ The Ice Cream Blonde: The Whirlwind Life and Mysterious Death of Screwball Comedienne Thelma Todd by Michelle Morgan

Every so often, I’ll post about books I’ve read. Mostly these aren’t in my writing genre. Why? Everyone needs a break and to read for pleasure. This is one of those reviews. I’m a sucker for old Hollywood bios and this one was no different.

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A beloBLONDEved film comedienne who worked alongside the Marx Brothers, Laurel and Hardy, and dozens of others, Thelma Todd was a rare Golden Age star who successfully crossed over from silent films to talkies. This authoritative new biography traces Todd’s life from a vivacious little girl who tried to assuage her parents’ grief over her brother’s death, to an aspiring teacher turned reluctant beauty queen, to an outspoken movie starlet and restaurateur.

Increasingly disenchanted with Hollywood, in 1934 Todd opened Thelma Todd’s Sidewalk Café, a hot spot that attracted fans, tourists, and celebrities. Despite success in film and business, privately the beautiful actress was having a difficult year–receiving disturbing threats from a stranger known as the Ace and having her home ransacked–when she was found dead in a garage near her café. An inquest concluded that her death, at age just twenty-nine, was accidental, but in a thorough new investigation that draws on interviews, photographs, documents, and extortion notes–much of these not previously available to the public–Michelle Morgan offers a compelling new theory, suggesting the sequence of events on the night of her death and arguing what many people have long suspected: that Thelma was murdered.

But by whom?

The suspects include Thelma’s movie-director lover, her would-be-gangster ex-husband, and the thugs who were pressuring her to install gaming tables in her popular café–including a new, never-before-named mobster. This fresh examination on the eightieth anniversary of the star’s death is sure to interest any fan of Thelma Todd, of Hollywood’s Golden Age, or of gripping real-life murder mysteries.

I’ve always loved the work of Thelma Todd. She’s a riot on screen and one of the gems Hollywood didn’t get to use nearly enough. When I saw this biography was available, I had to read it.

The author did her homework on Todd. I not only loved Todd more, I respected her as a person and businesswoman. Oh, sure. She had her moments, but who doesn’t?

The writing flowed well. Once I started the book, I couldn’t put it down. Nope. I had to know how it would end–okay, I knew…, but I wanted to see how the author put her spin on telling the tale.

My one quibble with the book was the author’s tendency to add speculation into the writing. No one knows exactly how Todd died. There are theories and she did suffer from carbon monoxide poisoning, but how she got there…it seemed like the author spent more time wondering than finding more information. Still, it was a good read and I’m glad I did.