Monday, August 30, 2010

Scandalous Book Review: Angelina by Andrew Morton

Dear Mr. Morton, I first became aware of you when I purchased your first book on the late Princess of Wales, DIANA'S DIARY. And of course, I read your international bestsellers, DIANA, HER STORY and the unexpurgated version published after her death. Sadly, I have not found your subsequent unauthorized biographies as compelling. Not even your book on Monica Lewinsky which was written with her cooperation. Somehow you managed to make Bill Clinton and that whole sordid business boring. Now you have written an unauthorized biography about Angelina Jolie entitled appropriately enough ANGELINA.  I'm afraid that I'm going to have disagree with the LA TIMES that this book keeps you up at night, with your blood racing. Frankly, I accidently left this book (I'd taken it out of the library) at the Lincoln Center Barnes & Noble, and I probably would have left it there if I weren't going to be liable for paying for it as a lost book.
Perhaps it's the fact that with your first book you have the cooperation not just of Diana's friends but also with the Princess herself that made the book so compelling, also the backstory of the writing of the book, how tapes were smuggled out to you. There is nothing so compelling about this book. The reader never gets the sense as to why Angelina is like kryptonite to men, why they are drawn to her. Is it the bad girl persona? Or is that they sense the little girl who felt abandoned by both parents?

In fact the most interesting parts of the book are not about Angelina at all but about her parents Jon Voight and Marcheline Bertrand. I almost wish you had just written a biography about Jon Voight, although I understand that no publisher is probably going to offer you the huge advance that you probably got for writing this book. I would have liked to have read a little bit more about their courtship. You dismiss it in a few brief sentences but then you drop the bombshell that Marcheline was torn between Voight and Al Pacino. WTF? Who told you that, a unicorn? You don't back up that statement at all, other than to say that Pacino was the unrequited love with her life, along with apparently Mick Jagger.

The person I felt sorriest for reading this book was Voight. He clearly tried to be a good father to Jolie and her brother despite cheating on their mother. The impression I got from your book was that Voight never wanted a divorce, but Bertrand froze him out after discovering the affair. The book comes alive when it deals with Jolie's relationship with Voight and his with Bertrand. I had no idea how similar Voight and Jolie are, which would explain why they have such a hard time getting along. I would love to have heard your thoughts about how Voight went from being such a liberal to supporting McCain and Palin during the last election. It's clear that Bertrand was just repeating a pattern that had started with her mother, living vicariously through Bertrand and then Bertrand through Jolie. Three generations of women who were frustrated that they never became the big stars they thought they should have been. At the end of the book, at Marcheline's funeral, you quote something that actor and teacher Lee Strasberg said about her, applying that he was there at the funeral, which would have been impossible unless they had a seance since he died in 1982.

I sense that you became interested in Angelina because of the parallels between her and Diana. Both came from broken homes, and had tortured relations with the parent  who left, had strange and strained relationships with their brothers, became world famous while young, became involved with charity work and learned to manipulate the press. I'm amazed though that you didn't play those parallels up more. There are no huge bombshells in this book, at least not in regards to Angelina. I began to find the constant comments from pyschiatrists who have never treated Angelina boring after awhile, primarily because they repeated the same mantra, Angelina has a hard time bonding and trusting people because of her abandonment issues. Also I would have liked a little more analysis as to why people like Timothy Hutton put up with her playing him the way she did. Were they attracted to each other because they were both second generation actors who won Academy Awards very young, and have struggled to match their earlier success? Most people have suspected that Brad Pitt, if not physically unfaithful while he was married to Jennifer Aniston, was emotionally unfaithful. The book is a fast read I'll give you that. I managed to finish it in two days although I skimmed quite a bit of the parts of the book where I already knew information from reading various interviews that Angelina has given over the years.

Here are some interesting tidbits that I did learn from the book:

  • For the first two years of Jolie's life, she lived in a seperate apartment from her mother with babysitters because her mother found it too painful to look at her.

  • Jon Voight's dad was a golf pro in Yonkers, and his younger brother Chip Taylor, not only wrote Wild Thing but also Angel of the Morning (anyone remember the Juice Newton version).

  • Voight made $18,000 for MIDNIGHT COWBOY compared to the $150,000 Dustin Hoffman made.

  • Voight went to Catholic University, alma mater of Susan Sarandon and Philip Bosco. He originally planned on being an artist not an actor.

  • Worried about the influence that Voight's new manager had over him, Marcheline sent Angelina and some friends to go through the garbage looking for evidence that he was stealing from Voight.

  • Timothy Hutton was apparently a huge womanizer before he met Angelina. Who knew?

  • Laura Dern had to have her friends go over to Billie Bob Thornton's house the night before he changed the security codes at their house to retrieve her stuff. She also used to baby sit for Angelina Jolie when she was a child.

  • An angel appeared to Laura Dern at the now defunct Tower Records in LA, and told her that Ben Harper was her soulmate and to make contact with him.

  • Jennifer Aniston's psychic warned her about Angelina but really she needed a psychic for that?

  • Angelina's mother pushed her daughter towards Mick Jagger for two years, because she idealized Jagger and the band. However, when Marcheline finally met Jagger she felt he dismissed her, and she fell out of love with the band.

  • Billie Bob Thornton can't watch movies made before 1950 and eat at the same time.

  • Billie Bob tried to pick up women so that he and Angelina could have a threesome.

  • Jon Voight's mother Barbara was buried wearing a red bikini.
  • Marcheline was actually born Marcia Lynn, and her family owned several bowling alley's back in Illinois.
  • Jolie's brother James Haven is actually straight.
Verdict:  A miss unless you are a huge Angelina Jolie fan.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Scandalous Book Review: The Girls of Murder City

Chicago in the nineteen twenties conjures up names like Al Capone, Eliott Ness, Leopold and Loeb, Dion O'Banion but what about the women? Chicago was nicknamed "Murder City," but some of its most prominent citizens were those sitting on "murderesses row" in the Cook County jail. And its two most famous residents were Belva Gaertner and Beulah Annan. Anyone who has seen the 2002 movie musical Chicago will known these women as Velma Kelly and Roxie Hart. Both were imprisoned in the Cook County jail for killing their men (though in both cases it turned out that it wasn't their only men). Belva Gaertner was a three-time divorcee, who had once been a show-girl named Belle Brown. Recently divorced from millionaireWilliam Gaertner, she killed her boyfriend Walter Law and left his body sprawled in the front seat in of her car, a bottle of gin and a gun with three shots fired lying beside him while she made her way home.She was later found at her apartment, with blood-soaked clothes on the floor. Belva confessed that she was drunk, but couldn't remember what happened.

Beulah Annan, on the other hand, was a small-town Southern girl, married to a schlub, who worked as a mechanic at a garage.  Beulah met Harry Kalstedt at the laundry where she worked. It wasn't long before two began having an affair.  According to her initial story, she and Harry had been drinking wine that Harry had brought over but soon got into an argument. There was a gun on the bed and both reached for it, but Beulah got it first and shot Harry in the back. She then sat drinking cocktails and playing a record, "Hula Lou," over and over for about four hours as Harry lay dying on the floor. It later came out that if she had called for help earlier, Harry would have lived. Both women were flat out guilty, but in Chicago, whether they would be convicted was another story entirely.

The women would end up famous through the columns of 'girl' reporter Maurine Watkins, the first woman hired by the Chicago Tribune as a police reporter. Although their story took place ninety years ago, all you have to do is pick up an issue of Vanity Fair or turn on TMZ or TRU TV to see that our appetite for celebrity crime and celebrities who commit crimes has not abated one bit. Whether its the call girl who took down Eliot Spitzer, Tiger Woods many mistresses, or Charlie Sheen's mug shot, the public can't get enough.

I have long been obssessed with the 1920's and I couldn't wait to read this book. Reading Douglas Perry's fabulous new book "THE GIRLS OF MURDER CITY" made me one wonder why no one has written a book about these women before. Perry has written a page turning, highly entertaining ride through the spring and summer of 1924. Part true crime, part pure gossipy fun, THE GIRLS OF MURDER CITY book perfectly captures the white hot heat, glamour and notoriety of Jazz-Age Chicago. Reading this book I could hear echoes of Ben Hecht and Charles McArthur's play THE FRONT PAGE in its pages. Beautiful women, grandstanding lawyers, and a voracious public eager for any little tidbit about "Beautiful Beulah" and "Stylish" Belva. If there had been a 24 hour news channel, these women would have devised a way to keep their faces before the media. Whenever it looked like coverage was slipping, both would devise ways to get back on the front page, Belvah took up religion and Beulah claimed to be pregnant.

Murder particularly by women seemed to have become an epidemic. People blamed alcohol and the loosening of morals after the Great War for turning respectable women into murderesses. Despite Prohibition, alcohol consumption had actually increased. Considering what was in the alcohol they were drinking, it's no wonder these women went a little insane! The primary ingredients seem to be made up of chemicals that wouldn't be out of place in paint thinner.The public was shocked that the majority of women accused of murder in Illinois got off. All male juries (women weren't allowed to serve in Illinois until 1939, nineteen years after women received the right to vote) were reluctant to convict women of murder especially if they were young and pretty.But what if you weren't young and pretty like Beulah or had a rich husband like Belvah?

Perry weaves in the story of several other women including Sabella Nitti, an Italian immigrant and Kitty Malm nicknamed "The Tiger Girl" by the newspapers. Neither woman was particularly attractive, Sabella barely spoke English. For women like Kitty and Sabina, justice turned a blind eye. Newspapers called Sabella "a dirty immigrant" among other less attractive epithets. She was convicted in the papers long before she was convicted by a jury, receiving the death penalty proving that justice was definitely different for the rich and photogenic, then the poor and ugly. Belvah takes both women in hand and gives them an EXTREME MAKEOVER: COOK COUNTRY style, teaching them how to dress, wear their hair, make-up, how to conduct themselves in court. THE GIRLS OF MURDER CITY is filled with fascinating stories of women like these, who might have been just footnotes in history until Perry.

What I found even more fascinating then the stories of Beulah and Belva, were the stories of the women reporters who covered the story, Maurine Watkins, Genevieve Forbes, and Ione Quimby. These women not only had to fight for stories, but also faced constant sexual harassment from the male reporters they worked with. Watkins story in particular is fascinating. Almost pathologically shy, she had planned on getting a graduate degree in religion when she took a playwrighting class. Convinced that she wanted to write, she headed to Chicago where she ended up working for The Chicago Tribune. An old-fashioned girl who didn't smoke, drink, bob her hair or wear short skirts, Maurine nevertheless had a keen eye. She was one of the few reporters not to be taken in by either Beulah or Belvah, lacing her reports with a sardonic wit that didn't seem match up with her sweet face. She couldn't believe that people were falling for their act, that men sent flowers to the jail, Beulah once even received a steak dinner from an admirer.

Unlike their fictional counterparts, Beulah and Belvah ultimately discover that crime doesn't pay. Both women found themselves bumped off the front page by an even bigger story, Leopold and Loeb, the two teenage joy-killers from respectable, wealthy Chicago families.

Verdict: The perfect summer read for true crime lovers, gossip lovers, and fans of the musical Chicago.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Winner of the DRACULA MY LOVE Giveaway is.........

Drumroll please!


I will be emailing you to get your address to send you the book.

 I want to thank everyone for entering and don't forget the Twitter chat this afternoon at 1:00 pm PST/4:00 pm EST, TLC Book Tours have a Vampire Lit Twitter chat (#TLCbookchat) with Syrie joining in the chat. They'll be giving away copies of Dracula, My Love before, during, and after the chat.. please join them.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Winner of The Red Queen Giveaway

The Winner of The Red Queen Giveaway is :   AMBER!
I will be emailing you to get your address.  Thanks to everyone who entered and don't forget the DRACULA MY LOVE giveaway is still going on. Enter by Thursday, August 12th.

Monday, August 9, 2010


Thanks to TLC Book Tours, I'm pleased to be giving away a copy of Syrie Jame's new novel Dracula, My Love (US/Canada only). On August 13th at 1:00 pm PST/4:00 pm EST, TLC Book Tours have a Vampire Lit Twitter chat (#TLCbookchat) with Syrie joining in the chat. They'll be giving away copies of Dracula, My Love before, during, and after the chat.. please join them.

Mina Harker is torn between two men. Struggling to hang on to the deep, pure love she's found within her marriage to her husband, Jonathan, she is inexorably drawn into a secret, passionate affair with a charismatic but dangerous lover. This haunted and haunting creature has awakened feelings and desires within her that she has never before known, which remake her as a woman.
Although everyone she knows fears him and is pledged to destroy him, Mina sees a side to him that the others cannot: a tender, romantic side; a man who's taken full advantage of his gift of immortality to expand his mind and talents; a man who is deeply in love, and who may not be evil after all. Soon, they are connected in a way she never thought humanly possible.
Yet to surrender is surely madness, for to be with him could end her life. It may cost Mina all she holds dear, but to make her choice she must learn everything she can about the remarkable origins and unique, sensuous powers of this man, this exquisite monster, this ... Dracula!

The giveaway is open from today until 12 p.m. on Thursday, August 12th. The winner will be announced on Friday, August 13th. Just leave your name and email address in the comments if you wish to enter the giveaway

Good Luck!
Here are some links:

Syrie's website:

Read an excerpt here:
The book trailer for Dracula, My Love can be found here:

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

August Giveaway: The Red Queen by Philippa Gregory

To celebrate the release date of Philippa Gregory's wonderful new novel about Margaret Beaufort, Henry VII's mum, the lovely people at Simon and Schuster have given me a copy of the book to giveaway!

Here's a sneak peek:

Heiress to the red rose of Lancaster, Margaret Beaufort never surrenders her belief that her house is the true ruler of England and that she has a great destiny before her. Her ambitions are disappointed when her sainted cousin Henry VI fails to recognize her as a kindred spirit, and she is even more dismayed when he sinks into madness. Her mother mocks her plans, revealing that Margaret will always be burdened with the reputation of her father, one of the most famously incompetent English commanders in France. But worst of all for Margaret is when she discovers that her mother is sending her to a loveless marriage in remote Wales.

Married to a man twice her age, quickly widowed, and a mother at only fourteen, Margaret is determined to turn her lonely life into a triumph. She sets her heart on putting her son on the throne of England regardless of the cost to herself, to England, and even to the little boy. Disregarding rival heirs and the overwhelming power of the York dynasty, she names him Henry, like the king; sends him into exile; and pledges him in marriage to her enemy Elizabeth of York’s daughter. As the political tides constantly move and shift, Margaret charts her own way through another loveless marriage, treacherous alliances, and secret plots. She feigns loyalty to the usurper Richard III and even carries his wife’s train at her coronation.

Widowed a second time, Margaret marries the ruthless, deceitful Thomas, Lord Stanley, and her fate stands on the knife edge of his will. Gambling her life that he will support her, she then masterminds one of the greatest rebellions of the time—all the while knowing that her son has grown to manhood, recruited an army, and now waits for his opportunity to win the greatest prize.

In a novel of conspiracy, passion, and coldhearted ambition, number one bestselling author Philippa Gregory has brought to life the story of a proud and determined woman who believes that she alone is destined, by her piety and lineage, to shape the course of history.

Here are the rules: This giveaway is only available to American and Canadian readers. The giveaway is open from today until 12 p.m. on Monday August 9th. The winner will be announced on Tuesday, August 10th.

1) Just leave your name and email address in the comments if you wish to enter the giveaway
2) If you are not a follower and become one, you get an extra entry

3) If you tweet about it, you get an extra entry

Good Luck!

Sunday, August 1, 2010

The French Sultana: The Legend of Aimee Dubucq de Rivery

On a dark, sultry night, the scent of the lush bougainvillea and frangipani filling the air, two young girls barely in their teens, cousins, one slight and skinny, the other with hair the color of moonlight slip away from the plantation house where they live. The velvet caresses of the night breezes stir their hair as they creep into the surrounding jungle, giggling at how they have eluded their guardians. They make their way past the swaying vines, entering into an eerie and mysterious world, no light but the fireflies to guide them as they pick their way to the tumble down shack of the conjurer woman who will hopefully tell their fortunes. Both girls know that they will get into trouble if their families know where they have gone, but the urge to know their future is too great.

In the shack they find an elderly black woman of indeterminate years wearing a red turban and crouching on a filthy mat. Frightened and nervous, the two girls hold hands tightly as they tell the woman what they seek. The dark haired girl is the first to have her fortune told. The woman tells the girl that her fortune lies across the sea in France; there she will marry a blond man meant for another in her family. A native of Martinique, he will perish in a tragic manner, she will be left with two children, but fortune will smile on her again, because she will marry a second time to a dark haired man, with an unpromising future. Nevertheless he will wield great power, he will be celebrated and fill the world with his glory. After having astonished the world, she will die unhappy wishing that she had never left Martinique.

The other girl passes the woman coffee grinds to have her fortune told. Euphemia tells her that her fate too lies across the sea, that she will be captured by pirates and taken to a foreign land, where she will give birth to a son, who will one day rule a great country, but his path to the throne will be reddened with the blood of his predecessors. She will never enjoy the public honors of the court but will occupy a vast and magnificent palace which she will command. At her happiest moment, she will die.

These two young girls were Marie Josèphe Rose Tascher de La Pagerie, soon to be known to history as Josephine Beauharnais, Josephine Bonaparte, and the Empress Josephine. The other young girl was her cousin Aimée Dubucq de Rivery who would one day become the mother of the Sultan Mahmud II. This is a story that has been debated over the last two centuries. Was the Nakshedil Sultan Aimée? Unfortunately there is no evidence that the legend is true.

Aimée’s story owes a great deal to a chapter in Lesley Blanch's 1954 book The Wilder Shores of Love which was based on an earlier biography called The Veiled Empress by Benjamin Morton. Aimée’s story reads like part historical romance, part political thriller, and part adventure story. The real Aimée was born on Martinique in 1763 (Wikipedia says 1776) of noble Norman stock. Her father died soon after she was born, her mother when she was six, and she was adopted by relatives. In 1776, she was sent to France to complete her education at the convent Dames de la Visitation, a sort of finishing school for the daughters of the nobility where she learned all the polite accomplishments expected of her. She spent eight years at the convent, unable to return home to Martinique due to the war between France and England.

Blanch’s book details how Aimée was kidnapped on her way back to Martinique from the convent in Nantes by Algerian corsairs (after being rescued from her original sinking ship by a Spanish privateer). When the Dey of Algiers catches a glimpse of Aimée's beauty, blonde hair, pale skin, and large blue eyes, he realizes what an incredible prize she would be. Sending her as a gift to the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire, Abdul Hamid I would score him major brownie points.

As soon as Aimée arrived in the Seraglio, the place where the Sultan’s harem is kept, she enters into a whole new world. The Seraglio held hundreds of girls all hoping to catch the Sultan's eye, and to bear him a son. Since the throne was passed to the nearest male relative and not from father to son, there was an awful lot of poisonings and accidents as women jockeyed to have their son become the next Sultan. The woman ho became the Valideh Sultan could wield an enormous amount of power. She was soon caught up in the political infighting between the Circassian Kadin, mother of Abdul Hamid’s nephew and heir Selim, and the mother of his son Mustapha who are backed by the powerful Janissaries. Realizing that she has no chance of being rescued, Aimée throws her lot in with Selim’s faction, becoming his confidante. She also became a favorite of the Sultan after graduating from the Académie de l’amour with flying colors. Blanch writes an affecting scene of Aimée freaking out on the day that she’s called to the Sultan’s bed. Selim’s mother calms her down, and reminds her of her duty. Aimée gives birth to a son Mahmud, cementing her place in the Sultan’s favor, becoming a Kadin or wife. She is given the name Nakshedil which means ‘Beautiful One.’

After Abdul Hamid’s death in 1789, his nephew ascends the throne as Selim III. According to the legend, it was because of Aimée’s influence that French engineers were employed at the artillery school, one of who might have been Napoleon if he hadn’t pissed off the wrong people. A strong French influence began to pervade Turkey. Ships were built according to plans used by the French navy. For the first time, a Turkish ambassador was sent to the French court, and a French language newspaper was started. Unfortunately Selim was assassinated by the Janissaries in 1807 who disapproved of his liberalism. Mahmud was saved by his mother who concealed him in a furnace. After Mustapha was deposed and killed, Mahmud became Sultan fulfilling the prophecy related to his mother. In 1817, Aimée died, the legend says that on her deathbed, she asked for a prist to perform the last rites. For the first time, a Catholic priest passed through the gates of the Seraglio, to perform the Holy Sacrament before her death.

That is the legend of Aimée Dubucq de Rivery. Nobody knows or probably ever will know whether or not Aimée was Nakshedil Sultan. Benjamin Morton in his biography Veiled Empress lists no sources. The story of a French Sultana had been around since the 16th century in Turkey helped by the fact that since the Sultan could not have relations with his own people, all of the women in the harem were either captured or recruited from foreign lands. We know very little about the mothers of the Sultans apart from a few like Roxelana. However, according to Wikipedia,  historian, Dr. Fikret Saracoglu has found documents in the Topkapi Palace that state that Nakshedil was Circassian, that her family came from the Caucasus region in Georgia. What happened to the real Aimée? That is the $64,000 question, perhaps she was really kidnapped by Corsairs but if she was, she didn't end up in Turkey.

Whoever the Valideh Sultan during this period was definitely western and French influenced. She was said to have given both Selim and Mahmud French lessons and decorated the palace in a rococo style which was popular in France at the time. Some historians believe that if Aimée was not Mahmud’s mother, then perhaps she was his stepmother. Mahmud’s son Abdul Aziz and Napoleon III helped to keep the legend alive for their own purposes when they met in Paris in 1867. For Abdul Aziz, he used the claim to bolster his position against the predatory European powers. For Napoleon III it was a link to his grandmother.

So if the story isn’t true why has it continued to hold sway over the imaginations of writers for the past two centuries? Because it’s a damn good story that’s why! You have everything, a young virgin kidnapped by pirates, who is plucked out of the harem by the Sultan and gives birth to a son who then becomes the Sultan himself after surviving an assassination attempt. The young girl then becomes the power behind the throne. Add to that a kinship to the wife of the French emperor and you have a best seller. It’s no wonder that at least nine novels and one movie (Intimate Power starring F. Murray Abraham and Maud Adams) in the past forty years use the legend of Aimée as inspiration keeping the legend alive for future generations.

Blanch, Lesley. "Aimee DuBucq de Rivery: Message from a Ghost" in the Wilder Shores of Love. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1954
Morton, Benjamin, Veiled Empress: An Unacademic Biography. New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1923
Isom-Verhaaren, Christine, "Royal french Women in the Ottoman Sultan's Harem: The Political Uses of Fabricated Accouonts from the 16th through the Twenty-First Century," Journal of History.

Novels about Aimee:

The Veiled Sultan by March Cost (pen name of Margaret Mackie Morrison) (NY: Vanguard Press, 1969)
Sultana by Prince Michael of Greece (NY: Harper & Row, 1983),
Seraglio by Janet Wallach (NY: Nan A. Talese, 2003),
Valide by Barbara Chase-Riboud
The Janissary Tree by Jason Goodwin (NY: Farrar, Straus and Giroux div. of Macmillan, 2006),  not just about her, but she is a major character
The French Odalisque by Sean Graham (London: Orbach and Chambers, 2009)