Monday, June 29, 2015

Antiques Swap (A Trash 'n Treasures Mystery #9)

Author:  Barbara Allan
Genre:  Mystery

Hardcover; also in Paperback and ebook
ISBN #: 9780758293046
256 Pages
$18.63 Amazon; $7.99 Paperback
April 28, 2015

Five Stars

It happened at Serenity's swap meet, right after Brandy Borne and her ever-more eccentric mother Vivian finished shooting the pilot for their very own TV show, Antiques Sleuths.  Brandy just, well, lost her balance and fell...into the helpful arms of an old flame, local tycoon Wesley Sinclair III.  But did Brandy's innocent slip lead to the murder of Wesley's wife, Vanessa?

Sure, Vanessa was furious that she caught Brandy in Wesley's embrace.  And she did storm off threatening dire consequences for her humbled husband.  So when Vanessa turns ups very dead, the local tongue-wag is that Wesley may have permanently dethroned the queen of his castle.  But Brandy--along with her notoriously nosy mother and their sleuthing shih tzu Sushi--is determined to dig for the whole truth.

Each new clue points in a different direction.  What about this suspicious Club of Eight, a super-secret high-society bridge group that supposedly has very liberal rules about "partners"?  When a key witness joins the dead list, Brandy and Vivian know they've got to crack this case before the remorseless killer puts an end to their antiquing days--forever!


On a nice summer day Brandy Borne and her mother Vivian are attending a local swap meet, wrapping up the final taping of their proposed television pilot for Antiques Sleuths.  With Vivian off on a jaunt, Brandy indulges in a local treat under the shade of a tree, and is soon joined by an old boyfriend, Wesley Sinclair III.  After eating, they both stand, and Brandy takes a misstep, falling into Wesley.  However, it is just at this moment that Mrs. Sinclair, Vanessa, spies them and creates a scene, accusing Brandy and Wesley of having a tryst.  While Wes tells her not to worry about it and he will sort it out, Brandy still feels bad that she caused trouble.  

But the next day Brandy is confused when Vanessa calls her to apologize - and ask her to come over because Wes has a beer sign collection he wants to get rid of and thinks Brandy and her mother could buy them for their shop.  So Brandy dutifully complies; leaves shortly after with a promise to return after checking the value online (in order to make a qualified offer), and returns with Vivian in tow - only to find Vanessa dead.  

When Wes denies to the police that he wanted to sell his sign collection, it appears Brandy is the logical suspect, having been seen arguing with Vanessa.  But Brandy is cleared shortly after, and the next logical suspect is Wes himself.  Yet Brandy isn't sure Wes murdered his wife, and Vivian, of course, wants to find out the truth, even as Brandy has promised her boyfriend, Tony, a local cop, that she will stay out of the investigation.

But when Vivian is attacked, Brandy makes it her personal mission to find out the truth.  A truth that will bring her to see that there is more than meets the eye, that Wes and Vanessa were involved in a bridge club that may not have the members playing bridge at all:  that all eight members have a lot to hide and a lot to lose if the truth comes out.

Ms. Allen never disappoints, and this newest is no different.  This latest entry in the Trash 'n Treasures mysteries is done very well indeed.  Brandy is her usual voice of reason, and Vivian is her usual over-the-top drama queen (but I think Vivian may be getting a tad forgetful - it was Bugs Bunny, not Daffy Duck, who said "He don't know me very well, do he?") who definitely needs not a caregiver, but a keeper.  

And when the answer does finally come, it comes from an unlikely source, which allows Brandy and Vivian to put the pieces together so the puzzle can be complete.  Although I had my suspicions all along, the way each piece is connected to the other makes perfect sense in the end.  What pleases me most is that although this is a book series, you do not have to read the previous one; it can be read as a stand-alone (although it is such fun to read that you might want to pick up any previous ones you've missed).  Highly recommended.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Dressed to Kill (A Tourist Trap Mystery #4)

Author:  Lynn Cahoon
Genre:  Mystery

ISBN #: 9781601834164
216 Pages
June 23, 2015

Five Stars

Jill Gardner, the owner of Coffee, Books and More has been suckered into playing a twenties flapper in murder/dinner theater.  Though it is for charity...

Of course everyone is expecting a "dead" body at the dress rehearsal...but this one isn't acting!  It turns out the main suspect is the late actor's conniving girlfriend Sherry...who also happens to be the ex-wife of Jill's main squeeze.  Sherry is definitely a master manipulator...but is she a killer?  Jill may discover the truth only when the curtain comes up on the final act...and by then, it may be far too late.


Jill Gardner, owner of  Coffee, Books and More, and business community liaison to the city council, isn't happy about her boyfriend Greg's ex-wife Sherry moving to South Cove and opening a store, Vintage Duds.  She's less than happy that Sherry insists on hosting the next meeting at her shop; irritated that Sherry has a much larger turnout of business owners than Jill herself ever has; and downright confused why Greg King, sheriff of South Cove, would be attending the meeting at all, a meeting that didn't end well.

Since then, Jill has been recruited, along with a reluctant Greg, to participate in a murder mystery at the winery for charity.  When the curtain opens, there is a dead body on the stage - that of local banker Kent Paine, who also happens to be Greg's ex-wife Sherry's new boyfriend.  Since Sherry was apparently the last person to see Kent, she is the obvious main suspect in his death.

Jill is later surprised when Sherry's best friend Pat appears on her doorstep and asks her to prove Sherry innocent.  In return, Pat tells Jill that she will get Sherry to back off and leave Greg alone.  Jill insists that she has nothing to do with the investigation, but Pat tells her she knows Greg will listen to her, and Jill, who has a curious nature at heart, while noncommittal to Pat, knows deep down she is going to try and find the killer on her own.

And here we have the start of another one of Ms. Cahoon's wonderful tales.  This latest installment in the Tourist Trap mysteries does not let us down.  We dislike Sherry as much as Jill (and isn't that what books are supposed to do?  Involve us in the characters?) and would probably enjoy watching her trip on her "hooker heels" and breaking a leg - but no such thing comes to pass.  Instead, we are treated to another installment of Jill doing her best to stay out of Sherry's line of sight, pass along clues to Greg as she finds them, and convince him that she's not trying to solve the murder on her own.  

Along the way, Jill is doing her best to try and keep her aunt out of jail; deal with Josh Thomas, antique store owner/thorn in her side who thinks there's too much litter and has been going around photographing it; marvel at the hypnotic power her part-time barista/police officer Toby has with women; and wonder if Esmeralda, her neighbor and police dispatcher, is truly able to tell fortunes or just very, very good at reading people.  

It is a delightful journey for readers, lovers of cozy mysteries, who can really settle down with a nice cup of coffee (or tea) and dive right in.  Do so - you won't be disappointed.  Highly recommended and I look forward to the next in the series.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

The Rhyme of the Magpie: A Birds of a Feather Mystery

Author:  Marty Wingate
Genre:  Mystery

Alibi Publishing
261 Pages
June 2, 2015

Five Stars

With her personal life in disarray, Julia Lanchester feels she has no option but to quit her job on her father's hit BBC Two nature show, A Bird in the Hand.  Accepting a tourist management position in Smeaton-under-Lyme, a quaint village in the English countryside, Julia throws herself into her new life, delighting sightseers (and a local member of the gentry) with tales of ancient Romans and pillaging Vikings.

But the past is front and center when her father, Rupert, tracks her down in a moment of desperation.  Julia refuses to hear him out; his quick marriage after her mother's death was one of the reasons Julia flew the coop.  But later she gets a distressed call from her new stepmum:  Rupert has gone missing.  Julia decides to investigate - she owes him that much, at least - and her father's new assistant, the infuriatingly dapper Michael Sedgwick, offers to help.  Little does the unlike pair realize that awaiting them is a tightly woven nest of lies and murder.


Julia Lancaster is the daughter of a famous BBC personality, Rupert Lancaster, an orinthologist whose show A Bird in the Hand is extremely popular.  She worked as her father's assistant for years, until he remarried Beryl, her mother's best friend, only six months after her mother's death, crushing her.  She felt he never grieved for her mother, and wondered if he was having an affair even before her mother died. Closing off all communication with him, she accepts a position as a tour manager for the estate of an earl.

When her father enters her place of business one day, hoping to talk over a problem, she's very short with him and he leaves dejectedly.  Later, when Beryl calls her claiming Rupert is missing, Julia reluctantly goes to see her, and meets her father's new assistant, Michael Sedgewick.  Calming Beryl with the fact that Rupert has been known to take 'unplanned vacations' before, she and Michael go to the cottage at Marshy End, where Rupert should be.  Instead, they find a dead body - and Rupert is nowhere to be found.

Not wanting to believe her father is involved in the murder, she knows she must find him before the police do, and unwillingly enlists Michael's help, because someone has stolen her car, and she needs him for transportation if nothing else.

So we have the beginning of a mystery that involves murder, birds (yes, birds) and misunderstandings between several people.  We see Julia trying to find her father while sorting out her feelings for her stepmother, and not at all wanting to face the fact that she needs to deal with things head on.  Julia, you see, is a great believer in the fact that If You Ignore It Then It Will Go Away.  Confrontation is not her strong point; and that's putting it mildly.  Because of this, she has encountered troubles in her life that could have been avoided; and now it looks as if she'll need to face them all at one time, which leads to some hasty decisions on her part, and not all good.

Just when she thinks she has one problem solved, another pops up in its place.  And we are taken along on her journey to find peace with her stepmother, reinforcement of her relationship with her father, and the ability to be able to carry a new relationship without sabotaging it in some way or another; all the while she is trying to find out who murdered the dead man, and why.  

Along the way, we learn quite a bit about how buildings can destroy the future environment for their habitats.  We also learn about birding itself, which made me want to look up their biological and controls and bio-indicators as well.  Fascinating, to say the least.  Not only beautiful to look at, as the saying goes...

When the answer comes, it is so simple that it makes sense.  And the ending is tied up nicely, giving us a feeling of satisfaction, much as Julia must feel for herself.  This is a book that is not only truly enjoyable to read, but satisfying in its resolution of a crime without seeming cloying or unbelievable.  Kudos to Ms. Wingate for another delightful book.  I look forward to the next in the series.  Highly recommended.


Thursday, June 18, 2015

A Week at the Lake

Author:  Wendy Wax
Genre:  Fiction/Chick Lit

ISBN: 9780425274477
432 Pages
$11.40 Amazon; $7.99 Kindle
June 23, 2015
Five Stars

Twenty years ago, Emma Michaels, Mackenzie Hayes Russell, and Serena Stockton bonded over their New York City dreams.  Then, each summer, they solidified their friendship by spending one week at the lake together, solving their problems over bottles of wine and gallons of ice cream.  They kept the tradition for years, until jealousy, lies, and life's disappointments made them drift apart.

It's been five years since Emma has seen her friends, an absence designed to keep them from discovering a long-ago betrayal.  Now she's in desperate need of their support.  The time has come to reveal her secrets-and hopefully rekindle their connection.

But when a terrible accident keeps Emma from saying her piece, Serena and Mackenzie begin to learn about the past on their own.  Now, to heal their friendship and their broken lives, the three women will have to return to the lake that once united them, and discover which relationships are worth holding on to...   


Emma, Mackenzie and Serena met when they were all starting out in New York City.  Emma is the daughter of a well-known acting family and lives in California with her daughter Zoe; Mackenzie, a fashion designer, married Adam and moved to Indiana to run a community theater; and Serena still lives in New York City, voicing a caricature of herself named Georgia Goodbody.  They have always met for one week every summer at the lake cottage that Emma was left by her grandmother - up until five years ago, when Emma stopped asking them to come.

But this year, Emma wants to resume the tradition, and, the day they are set to leave Emma has an argument with Zoe that results in an accident and Emma being left in a coma, with Mackenzie and Serena constantly at her side.

Serena, damaged by a relationship that should have materialized and never did, now only dates married men: the premise being the men aren't worth having anyway.  Mackenzie, who has been relatively happy living in Indiana, has had her life turned upside down by the fact that her husband Adam has finally seen interest in one of his screenplays and is over the moon at seeing it possibly bought by Hollywood, which would mean great changes.  Emma, before the accident, realized that she needed to confront her friends and share with them a secret she has hung onto for years, terrified by the fact that it could change all of their lives forever.

I didn't know what to expect reading this book, but I absolutely loved it.  Of course there were aspects I didn't really agree with (is it ever okay to sleep with someone else's husband?) but none seemed to detract from the pleasure I derived in it.  I felt for Emma, who was 'divorced' from her parents and estranged from her siblings, people for whom acting was their life blood and far more important than she ever could be in their lives; not understanding why she didn't strive as deeply as they did for the top prize.  Mackenzie had spent her entire life in Adam's shadow without ever knowing it, her love and desire for him showing through ever fiber of her being, happy to be his second-in-command, and even expecting it.  Serena, tough as nails New York style, never allowing herself to become involved with anyone in order that she might lay herself open to the raw, blistering pain she felt when her first love, Brooks, deserted her at the last minute in order to remain in Charleston and marry another local Southern belle.

While Emma lies in a coma we are treated to the strong friendship Mackenzie and Serena have for her, and each other; and the love they have for Emma's daughter, Zoe, who is lost and devastated by what has happened with her mother.  When they finally do make it to the lake we watch as they navigate their time together, with Mackenzie's insecurities about Adam bubbling to the surface, and Serena's refusal to look at her life and see things she never wants to look at; we watch Emma's recovery and her struggle to remember exactly what it is she wants to reveal to them.

I think that we know what it is long before Emma remembers, but it doesn't matter, we need to watch, and hope, that everything will turn out alright - Emma will help Zoe navigate life as she returns to hers; Serena will finally become the woman she was always meant to be; and Mackenzie will pull herself from Adam's shadow, realize she will always love him but refuse to remain an added fixture to his personality.  It is a book that shows us what happens by wanting the best for those you care about; and the strength of friendship after tragedy and betrayal.

I have to say that I enjoyed Nadia's character; it gave some much-needed comic relief (a Russian weight-lifter turned nurse).  This book is well worth reading, both for fans of Wendy Wax and those who have never read her before - it is a great starting-off point.  Highly recommended.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Knock on Wood (A Superstition Mystery, Book 2)

Author:  Linda O. Johnston
Genre:  Mystery

ISBN #: 9780738745527
Midnight Ink
336 Pages
Release Date: October 8, 2015

Four Stars

Rory Chasen, now the manager of the Lucky Dog Boutique in Destiny, California, is delighted when her closest friend Gemma Grayfield, a librarian, comes for a visit.  But Gemma arrives early and seems upset.  It turns out she has broken up with her boyfriend, Frank Shorester.  Gemma is soon hired to manage the Broken Mirror Bookstore.  Frank follows her to Destiny, where Gemma is also wooed by two local men.  Rory may be a little jealous - until one of those men turns up dead.  Lou, the dead man, is known for knocking on wood for everything, but despite Destiny being all about superstitions that did not save his life.

Rory tries to help Gemma clear herself of being a murder suspect, even counting on her lucky black and white dog Pluckie to help.  But is Gemma guilty of murder - or of just having a run of bad luck?


Rory Chasen moved to Destiny, California to find out the reason for superstitions.  All because her former fiance, Warren, died shortly after walking under a ladder (in Book 1, Lost Under a Ladder).  She has decided to stay, at least temporarily, after being offered a job managing the Lucky Dog Boutique, and is pleased when her friend Gemma Grayfield arrives in town.

All is not a happy reunion, though; Gemma has broken up with her boyfriend Frank, because he wanted more from the relationship than she did.  Still, two of the town's residents, Stuart and Lou, have noticed Gemma and begun pursuing her.  Then Frank arrives suddenly, remaining territorial about Gemma and showing up everywhere she happens to be, in effect stalking her.

When Lou is found dead one morning, it appears that Gemma may be the main suspect, but Rory knows better and does her best to turn the investigation to someone else, even though she doesn't know who that someone else might be; but this doesn't stop her from trying to find out who, even as police chief/wannabe boyfriend Justin warns her off the investigation.

In this second book, we still aren't getting to know a lot about the residents of Destiny, but we are getting more insight into the relationship between Rory and Justin, and I did enjoy the fact that Rory is slowly weaning herself from the feeling of disloyalty to Warren while trying to find her way with Justin.  We are privy to her thoughts and changing emotions as she goes through them, which is nice to be part of, and luckily, Justin being Justin has a lot to do with this.

As things are heating up with the above couple, things are also heating up with Gemma, but in a different way.  Frank has become aggressive toward her, and the police are becoming even more convinced that she had the real motive for killing Lou.  To top it off, while Justin and his staff are trying to find the killer, they are being pressured by the mayor, Bevin, to find out the truth behind the death of a tourist, fearing that if the answer doesn't come soon, it will negatively impact the tourism factor of his town.

I enjoyed the book for the most part, and thought Rory's belief in Gemma commendable.  Yet when Rory discovered the true murderer, I was slightly disappointed, because I didn't feel there were any clues leading up to it - so you probably won't be able to figure this one out readily.  I did feel, however, that we're treated to the bathroom habits of Rory's dog far too often.  Still and all, the book is written well and fun to read.  Recommended.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Defending the Dead (Relatively Dead Mysteries Book 3)

Author:  Sheila Connolly
Genre:  Mystery

Kindle, ASIN: B00WTBTRHU; Beyond the Page; 224 pages; $3.99; April 27, 2015

Three Stars

Abby Kimball has slowly accepted her recently discovered ability to see the dead, but none of the harmless sightings she's experienced could have prepared her for the startling apparition of a centuries-old courtroom scene - where she locks eyes with a wicked and gleeful accuser.  Thrown back more than three hundred years, Abby realizes she's been plunged into a mystery that has fascinated people throughout American history:  the Salem witch trials.

With her boyfriend Ned at her side, Abby digs into the history of events, researching the people ad possible causes of that terrible time and her own connection to them - all the while going more deeply into her connection to Ned, both extraordinary and romantic.

As Abby witnesses more fragments from the events in Salem and struggles with the question of how such a nightmare could have come about, she's suddenly confronted with a pressing personal question:  Were one or more of her ancestors among the accused?  Unraveling the puzzling clues behind that questions just might give Abby and Ned the answer to a very modern mystery of their own.    


Abby Kimball has recently lost her job and moved into the Victorian home of her boyfriend, Ned Newhall.  She spends her days attempting to bring the home back into the glory of what it once looked like; and when she's not doing that, she's...hunting ghost ancestors.  For those of you not familiar with this series, Abby can see the dead; but not any dead - she sees her dead ancestors.

She has recently discovered this ability, unlike Ned, who has lived with it his entire life.  Ned's mother Sarah also has the ability, and so does Ellie, a seven-year-old girl whom Abby has befriended, the daughter of her ex-employer Leslie (and the reason she was let go from her job).

At the present, Abby is concerned with the Salem witch trials.  She has discovered a relative, but doesn't quite yet know how it fits in, so naturally wants to know how and why.  Ned, although not as enthusiastic about the subject, agrees to take Abby to Salem to further her exploration...

...and there we have the basic plot of the book.  This is the third in the series, and I am sad to say, I did not enjoy it as much as the first two.  A great part of the book was Abby doing her genealogy research, which is fine, as I also am interested in genealogy.  The difference is that I'm not involving anyone else in my research except those who are truly interested in it.  This, unfortunately, makes the book run slower than it ordinarily should.  There is so much involvement regarding the witch trials, that very little time is given to anything else.  Which is not to say I didn't know this going in:  I knew the book would have references and a plot line regarding the trials, I just didn't know it would be a major portion of the book.  There is supposition as to why the trials occurred in the first place, and descriptions of Salem and surrounding areas where it occurred.  If you are interested in the trials, you will find this book interesting; if not, probably not so much.

This is by no means a cozy mystery.  It is dark, and has dark issues to deal with, so if you are expecting anything light and 'frothy' you will be dissatisfied.  There isn't a murder to be solved, no deep dark secrets to be revealed, no peril to our heroine or her loved ones.  It is a book that basically deals with the witch trials, and Abby's relationship to some of the participants.

While I understood what Abby is going through just trying to understand her new-found abilities, I personally felt more time was spent on research and the trials, and less on her relationship with Ned, her fledgling relationship with Ellie, and her strained relationship with Leslie.  They seemed to have taken a back seat to the other part of the story.

However, the writing is good, as always, and what we have come to expect from Ms. Connolly, who does very well in this area.  Since I enjoyed the first two in the series, I will probably read the next.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

The Longest Yard Sale (A Sarah winston Garage Sale Mystery #2)

Author:  Sherry Harris
Genre:  Mystery
ISBN #:  9781617730191; 288 Pages: Kensington; June 30, 2015; $7.99

Five Stars

When Sarah Winston turns Ellington, Massachusetts, into New England's largest garage sale for a day, it's the small town's biggest event since the start of the Revolutionary War - but without the bloodshed.   That is, until a valuable painting goes missing...and the lifeless body of an Air Force officer is found in Carol Carson's painting studio, his face perfectly framed with the murder weapon - a metal picture frame.

Sarah is mad as heck that someone used her town-wide garage sale to commit a crime - and frame her good friend Carol.  She is definitely on this case...but it's not easy rummaging through increasingly strange clues that point to cheating spouses, downright dirty  investment schemes - even the mob.  And Sarah will have to be very careful if she wants to live to bargain another day.


Sarah Winston, divorced from Ellington's chief of police, CJ, is finding a new career for herself in something she loves to do - organizing garage sales.  She is asked to organize a city-wide garage sale in the town square, which seems to go swimmingly, until there are a series of small fires being set which definitely puts a damper on things.

Later on, her friend Carol asks her to come to Carol's painting studio, where Sarah discovers that there is the body of a dead man, blue from strangulation, and with one of Carol's recently-purchased frames around his neck.  Also missing is Carol's re-creation of the town's famous painting, Battled, which is regarding the Revolutionary War.  Now Sarah decides she needs to help her friend, and find out who the dead man is, where the missing painting went to, and what the two mean together.

Thus begins a very entertaining story of murder, theft, blackmail, art forgery, and, in a very "conflicting" way, Sarah's own love life. 

When Sarah is told to stay out of the investigation both by CJ, her ex, and Seth, her might-be-boyfriend District Attorney, we know from the get-go that she isn't going to listen.  After all, this is her friend, and she doesn't want to see her railroaded for a crime she didn't commit.  But the evidence keeps piling up against Carol.

Also, Stella, Sarah's downstairs neighbor and landlady, has begun a relationship with Dave "Bubbles" Jackson, an old Air Force friend of Sarah's, and it seems he was in business with the dead man and is now receiving threatening letters warning that he's next on the list.  

When Sarah is asked by Stella's Aunt Gennie to help her 'liquidate' some of her furniture, Sarah discovers that there's more to the story:  Gennie is an investor in the company that Dave and Terry (Mr. Dead Guy) own, which brings her into the investigation, in Sarah's mind

Meanwhile, Sarah is being pursued by both Seth and CJ, and she's trying to keep both at arms' length until she decides what she wants to do with her life.  She also doesn't want CJ to know anything about her new relationship with Seth until she's decided once and for all what decision she's made, which makes the "juggling" even harder.

The tale is woven nicely, and all the pieces fit beautifully together at the end.  We are given a conclusion that is both believable and satisfying, and that is what a mystery - or any book, for that matter - should do.  Highly recommended.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Wild Bill Wellman: Hollywood Rebel

Author:  William Wellman, Jr.
Genre:  Biography
ISBN #. 9780307377708; 656 pages; Pantheon; April 7, 2015

Five Stars

The extraordinary life—the first—of the legendary, undercelebrated Hollywood director known in his day as “Wild Bill” (and he was!) Wellman, whose eighty-two movies (six of them uncredited), many of them iconic; many of them sharp, cold, brutal; others poetic, moving; all of them a lesson in close-up art, ranged from adventure and gangster pictures to comedies, aviation, romances, westerns, and searing social dramas.

Among his iconic pictures: the pioneering World War I epic Wings (winner of the first Academy Award for best picture), Public Enemy (the toughest gangster picture of them all), Nothing Sacred, the original A Star Is Born, Beggars of Life, The Call of the Wild, The Ox-Bow Incident, Battleground, The High and the Mighty...

David O. Selznick called him “one of the motion pictures’ greatest craftsmen.”

Robert Redford described him as “feisty, independent, self-taught, and self-made. He stood his ground and fought his battles for artistic integrity, never wavering, always clear in his film sense.”

Wellman directed Hollywood’s biggest stars for three decades, including Clark Gable, Gary Cooper, Barbara Stanwyck, John Wayne, Lauren Bacall, and Clint Eastwood. It was said he directed “like a general trying to break out of a beachhead.” He made pictures with such noted producers as Darryl F. Zanuck, Nunnally Johnson, Jesse Lasky, and David O. Selznick.

Here is a revealing, boisterous portrait of the handsome, tough-talking, hard-drinking, uncompromising maverick (he called himself a “crazy bastard”)—juvenile delinquent; professional ice-hockey player as a kid; World War I flying ace at twenty-one in the Lafayette Flying Corps (the Lafayette Escadrille), crashing more than six planes (“We only had four instruments, none of which worked. And no parachutes . . . Greatest goddamn acrobatics you ever saw in your life”)—whose own life story was more adventurous and more unpredictable than anything in the movies. Wellman was a wing-walking stunt pilot in barnstorming air shows, recipient of the Croix de Guerre with two Gold Palm Leaves and five United States citations; a bad actor but good studio messenger at Goldwyn Pictures who worked his way up from assistant cutter; married to five women, among them Marjorie Crawford, aviatrix and polo player; silent picture star Helene Chadwick; and Dorothy Coonan, Busby Berkeley dancer, actress, and mother of his seven children.

Irene Mayer Selznick, daughter of Louis B. Mayer, called Wellman “a terror, a shoot-up-the-town fellow, trying to be a great big masculine I-don’t-know-what. David had a real weakness for him. I didn’t share it.” Yet she believed enough in Wellman’s vision and cowritten script about Hollywood to persuade her husband to produce A Star Is Born, which Wellman directed.

After he took over directing Tarzan Escapes at MGM, Wellman went to Louis B. Mayer and asked to make another Tarzan picture on his own.

“What are you talking about? It’s beneath your dignity,” said Mayer.

“To hell with that,” said Wellman, “I haven’t got any dignity.”

Now William Wellman, Jr., drawing on his father’s unpublished letters, diaries, and unfinished memoir, gives us the first full portrait of the man—boy, flyer, husband, father, director, artist. Here is a portrait of a profoundly American spirit and visionary, a man’s man who was able to put into cinematic storytelling the most subtle and fulsome of feeling, a man feared, respected, and loved.


If anyone doesn't know who Wild Bill Wellman does, I can only tell them:  You should.  He was Hollywood's original maverick director, who refused to bow not only to producers of his films, but to the studios themselves.  He did things his way, and he did them with passion, determination, vision, integrity, honesty, independence, style; and, if I chose to continue on, I could probably come up with a few more words to describe Bill Wellman.

To tell the truth, I fell in love with his movies the first time I saw Night Nurse with Barbara Stanwyck, Ben Lyon, and a very un-mustachioed Clark Gable as the heavy of the piece.  It was, in my opinion, a great movie, and made me want to learn more about the man behind the camera.

And learn I did.  This is a hefty book (656 pages) but well worth the read.  We learn about Bill's parents, his birth, his abiding love for his mother Celia, his rampant and uncontrollable childhood and youth (through no fault of his mother's, I might add), his determination to become a flyer, even as it took him to Europe and becoming a part of the elite Lafayette Escadrille.  Highly decorated, jaded in war, devastated in love, Bill returned home tired - but never broken.  He was determined to make something of himself, and that something brought him to a fateful meeting with Douglas Fairbanks, Sr. that would change his life forever.

Once in Hollywood he turned his talents to acting, but decided early on that he wanted to become a director.  Given a chance to show what he could do, he gave us one of the most famous films in moviedom, and the recipient of the first Academy Award for Best Picture:  Wings.

While his troubles in Hollywood with the studio heads - and actors - continued for years, Bill stayed true to himself and created a wealth of movies that will stand the test of time.  They are some of the best classics around: The aforementioned Night Nurse, Safe in Hell, Midnight Mary, Nothing Sacred, The Light That Failed, Beau Geste; and along with Wings, two masterpieces without a doubt:  A Star is Born, and The Public Enemy with James Cagney, who, by the way, was given the role of a lifetime by Bill Wellman himself.

But please know that this book is not merely a filmology of Mr. Wellman's work.  It is also the story of his life:  Five marriages, seven children, his relationship with them and his family; his relationships with actors, crew, and the studios he worked for.

I could probably go on and on about all the wonderful things regarding this book, but I would rather leave you with the request to read it yourself, and a quote from Miss Barbara Stanwyck herself, who once told someone something regarding Bill:  "I love that man."  Well, Miss Stanwyck, so do I.  Highly recommended. 

Tragic Toppings (A Donut Shop Mystery #5)

Author:  Jessica Beck Genre:   Mystery Mass Market Paperback; Digital Book ISBN #:  9780312541095 Minotaur Books 290 Pages [Various Prices];...