Teenage Angst

Family Forever: Young LoversFamily Forever: Young Lovers by Tamara Miller

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Teenaged twin sisters, Emma and Jani, have after-school jobs and boyfriends who do not merit the approval of the twin’s parents. What could be more normal? There was a little ripple on the calm surface when Emma took a call from her ex-boyfriend informing her that Brad, for whom Emma dumped Frankie, happened to be engaged. That is eventually resolved to Emma’s satisfaction, and she soon accepts an engagement ring from Brad. The next crisis comes when Jani finds Nate passed out from smoking dope and learns that he deals pot on the side. Nate regains her affection, and they decide to elope to Las Vegas, but he has no money. Parents, Harry and Franny, disapprove of both young men but are savvy enough to know that they are no match for two strong-willed young women. So for the sake of economy, they agree, reluctantly, to a double wedding, which has to be accelerated due to the little matter of a pregnancy. Marital bliss does not last long.

Tamara Miller writes with a conversational style about the places where she has spent her whole life. She breathes honesty into her characters through the familiarity of having known them. These family dramas have a delightful truthfulness. They are stories everyone will recognize. The pace holds the reader’s attention, and the prose is genuine. Young Lovers is a candid glimpse into the lives of ordinary people and how life was in the transition from the nineteen fifties to the sixties. It is a solid, stand-alone sequel; however, readers will benefit from reading Tamara Miller’s first book in the Family Forever series, In the Beginning. Young Lovers has this reader’s wholehearted endorsement. It stirred many memories.

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Remembering Burt Boyar

Capture

New York Times #1 Best Selling Author, Burt Boyar, passed earlier this month. He was ninety years old.

I am lucky to have considered Burt a friend. We corresponded regularly, mostly about politics. When his emails stopped arriving, I became concerned and checked his Facebook page to learn the worst.

Two years ago, I interviewed Burt. This might be a good time to revisit that chat.

Burt Boyar Interview

Meet Burt Boyar, syndicated columnist, biographer and novelist.  Burt’s first book, Yes, I Can, the life of Sammy Davis, Jr., written in collaboration with Sammy Davis and wife, Jane Boyar, rocketed to the number one spot on the New York Times Bestseller List.  Burt has a knack for discovering, or perhaps uncovering, outstanding primary source material, which has propelled him to write several more pieces of remarkable literature, including a follow-up to Yes, I Can, Why Me?  An association with tennis pros, Rod Laver and Ken Rosewell yielded World Class.  Research for the sports novel drew Burt and Jane to Spain where they fell into a rental property belonging to the daughter of dictator, Francisco Franco, which resulted in the historical novel, Hitler Stopped by Franco.  Until her sudden death in 1997 Burt always worked with Jane, also producing Invisible Scars and H.L. and Lydia.  Blessed is Burt’s intimate memoir documenting his amazing life, and Low Society reveals the high life in New York of the 50’s and 60’s.  Finally, Photo By Sammy Davis, Jr. is a coffee table book assembled from a treasure trove of photographs taken by Sammy Davis that Burt discovered after the entertainer’s death.  Burt’s reminiscences embellish the photos of Hollywood’s elite.

 

It has been my pleasure to review several, in fact most, of Burt’s books.  You can read those reviews elsewhere on this blog, or on the book pages of most of the retailers.  Now, let’s hear from the great man himself.

 

Tell us how you met Sammy Davis.

 

Answer: I was a Broadway columnist in New York when Sammy arrived on Broadway starring in MR. WONDERFUL. I called him, as I called all celebrities, to get something for my column. He knew my column and suggested we have dinner. We did, that night, at Danny’s Hideaway. We had instant chemistry. The kind when you know this is someone you’re going to be friends with all of your life. Sammy stood up to go do his show and suggested, “Whattya say we have dinner…..say….5 nights a week?”  He was definitely an original. As it happens we were together seven nights a week for the entire year he was on Broadway, for dinner and then after his show until the wee hours of the morning.

 

Do you recall how long Yes, I Can held the number one spot on the New York Time’s list?

 

Answer: I remember that it was on the list for 28 consecutive weeks, most of them up at the top against Truman Capote’s IN COLD BLOOD and the two big Kennedy books by Schlessinger and Sorenson. The List is really a horse race, depending on who you’re up against. I do recall that the paperback by Pocket Books came out at Number One, but can’t recall for how long. That was 1966, 50 years ago.

 

Whose idea was it for you to write Sammy Davis’ autobiography?

 

Answer: We took Sammy to the “chic” nightclub El Morocco, and though the customers were thrilled to see him and applauded as he walked in and the dance band began playing all the music from Mr. Wonderful , the owner, John Perona was unthrilled at the presence of a black man in his club, despite his elegant  attire and celebrity, so we weren’t treated well. We had one drink and left and when we got back to Sammy’s apartment he sighed, “They don’t understand. We’ve got to let them know.” So Jane and I took a one year leave of absence from my column and began writing a book which became Yes I Can. The one year became six.

 

You have struggled for years, probably decades, to see Yes, I Can made into a movie, which it rightly deserves.  What is the problem?

 

Answer: Sammy had three children with May Britt (2 adopted) and one adopted during his marriage to Altovise. After Sammy’s death the kids could never agree on who owns what of his estate. No movie studio will invest 50 million dollars and then be sued by some family member who claims  they didn’t give permission. Even if they own 1% of the coyright. I own 50%.  But until everyone signs off nothing can happen. Happily, Lionel Richie got    involved and convinced the kids that 100% of nothing is nothing and we are now going forward. There will be an announcement of an A-List film producer and writer and director very soon.

 

Racism is major theme in Yes, I Can.  What are your thoughts on race relations today?

 

Answer: It still exists in many ways and places. Our country is deeply divided. Hopefully our film and Sammy’s experiences will help a bit to change that.

 

You devoted hundreds of thousands of words to telling the world what Sammy Davis was like.  Can you give the readers the short form here?

 

Answer: The only short explanation of Sammy Davis, Jr. is that he was a genius off stage as well as on.  A five-foot two-inch giant of a man. He did not have one day of formal education in a school but he read everything he could and could hold his own on any major topic of the day with people like Henry Kissinger.

 

When did you discover, and how did you feel about renting a house at Marbella from Francisco Franco’s daughter?

 

Answer: When we rented the house from the administrator I asked for a mailing address to give to my parents and was told Casa de la Marquesa de Villaverde, Los Monteros, Marbella, (Malaga) Spain. The only titles I knew of at that time were Best Seller, Oscar Winner, etc. Only when we were living in the house did we learn that our landlady was the daughter of the Chief of State.

 

I know that you and Jane became friends with Carmen Franco.  Did you interview her for Hitler Stopped by Franco, or did you absorb the facts over time?

 

Answer: Both. As friends we spent many weekends with Carmen and her husband Cristòbal, in their country home outside of Madrid, and they in our (their) house. We were there for 28 years. Around the 15th year of seeing how peaceful and well organized Franco’s Spain was we thought it would make a good book. We spent many hour interviewing Carmen, her mother (Franco had died) numerous former Ministers to whom they opened the doors for us. All on tape.

 

You always collaborated with Jane.  After her death did you find it difficult to write alone?

 

Answer: Everything was difficult after Jane died. And it still is 19 years later

 

You lived in Spain for twenty-eight years.  What do you miss about it?

 

Answer: It is a beautiful country and the Spaniards are warm and welcoming people, but I only miss the life we had there together. Those were truly our Golden Years.

 

 

Your social media footprint makes your political views abundantly clear.  If the 2016 election were to move the United States even farther from your liking, would you consider living abroad again?

 

Answer: No. I love my country, and no matter what they do to it, The U.S.A. is still the most wonderful, most generous country in the history of the world.

 

What is your opinion of the advent of self-publishing?

 

Answer: Self-publishing is wonderful for many people but very difficult compared to being published by a mainstream publisher who has a sales force for distribution and clout with the literary media.

 

Who are your favorite authors, and what do like to read?

 

Answer: Frankly, I have read all the great American, Russian, French and English writers, but I now find myself most entertained by erotica. Naively I did not know of it until a few years ago. But I’m making  up for lost time. It’s a lot more fun than the “classics”.

 

 

Invisible Scars is the story of a woman dealing with loss.  Is it pure fiction or is there some factual basis?

 

Answer: Half and half. The story is largely fiction but the characters are all based on real people we have known well.

 

Are you working on something new?

 

Answer: Yes. A book that will be called Conversations with Sammy. Jane and I taped 150 hours of old-friends-chatting with Sammy as part of the research for our second book with him, Why Me? He talks about his relationship with Frank Sinatra, Martin Luther King and his urging Bobby Kennedy to run for president, among many other fascinating things. He speaks of his relationship with his audiences, preparation for his shows and how he stumbled onto his two most successful songs, “Mr. Bojangles” and “The Candy Man” both of which he hated and didn’t want to do, commenting, “You think you’ve got all the show business smarts, but it’s the people who decide.” The transcript of those conversations runs two thousand pages, so it is a painful editing job to bring it down to a workable 4 or 5 hundred. There is enough great material for two volumes.

 

A Princess’s Tale

Iron Blood: 300 Years of the Dmitri Kantemir DynastyIron Blood: 300 Years of the Dmitri Kantemir Dynasty by Princess Eleonora Borisovna Kantemir

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Dmitri Kantemir was an 18th century Moldavian prince who was aligned with the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire. The duplicitous Ottomans demanded increasingly usurious tribute, so Kantemir decided to join with Peter the Great of Russia to vanquish the treacherous Mohammedans. Unfortunately they lost. The Kantemirs were forced to flee to Russia where Peter declared Dmitri a Russian prince and bestowed a lavish estate, including 70,000 serfs, upon him. Not bad for losing the battle.

Iron Blood, which is what Kantemir means, is an interesting historical fiction told from the perspective of a descendant who went on a lengthy quest to discover the truth of her ancestry. Princess Eleonora Borisovna Kantemir’s father was a member of the anti-Communist resistance and was captured by the Germans during World War II. Eleonora was born in Germany, but the family moved to Connecticut in the fifties when she was a young girl. Her father lived his life looking over his shoulder for the KGB.

This is a fascinating story, unfortunately, the writing is rather poor. I heard the princess speak to the California Writers’ Club. Her English is flawless, but it did not transfer to Iron Blood very well. If I were Ms. Kantemir, I’d shoot my editor.

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Really Chaotic

The Chaos of ChangeThe Chaos of Change by J.T. Riggen

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The US federal government is dysfunctional. (What else is new?) Separatist groups form in New England, the Deep South, Minnesota, the West, and on the Texas-Louisiana border there is a strange thing called the Independent Nation of Milam. Former president, Richard Jackson, has twin sons, Andrew and Thaddeus. Richard is the leader of the Southern Territory, he is suffering from cancer, and he has a right wing agenda. Thaddeus is a liberal who runs away to Alaska where he lives off the grid as a survivalist. The former director of the CIA launches something called Broken Protocol, which prompts the recall of Agent Lozen Kyway from France. She is dispatched to Alaska to guard Thaddeus and take him to the Federal North Pole, which is the splinter group in Minnesota. The Federal North Pole is big into a mysterious alternate energy source and some strange device everyone has to wear on their wrists. The Southern Territory is determined to take Washington DC. The New North is determined to stop them. The Federal North Pole wants Thaddeus to be their diplomat in negotiating an alignment with the New North. We don’t know anything about the Independent Nation of Milam or the western region.

The Chaos of Change is the first book in a trilogy. In the opinion of this reader, each installment of a series should be a stand-alone story. Chaos ends in chaos with no satisfying conclusion. The plot in general is rather disjointed. Many things happen that apparently do nothing to advance the story. We never learned what the function is of the wrist devices in the Federal North Pole, and their new energy source has a byproduct that is some kind of high-tech club, which seems pointless because everybody else has guns and rocket launchers. The prose is solid enough. J.T. Riggin uses some unusual word pairings that sometimes work and sometimes don’t, like ‘dipping’ into a stairwell. The characters are well enough developed, but some of them aren’t particularly likeable. In a story of this sort, one would expect there to be an agenda—support of liberalism or conservatism—but I couldn’t determine which way it leans. Maybe it doesn’t lean. I couldn’t be sure of that either. I dislike leaving unfavorable reviews, and I would not write this one if I weren’t obligated by the rules of the Rave Review Book Club to write reviews of members’ books. I hope Mr. Riggen can be philosophical about this.

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Phoenix artist brings Arizona wonders to life in her studio

I went to school with Marsha a few eons ago and have only reconnected with her recently. She’s a great painter.

AZ Wonders

I meet so many interesting people in my travels around Arizona that I’ve come to expect it. However, I would have never expected to meet an award-winning artist at the trailhead in my own neighborhood.

As I was wrapping up a wonderful 6-mile hike in the Phoenix Mountain Preserve, I exchanged pleasantries with Marsha LAZAR Klinger who was finishing her hike at the same time. We agreed on what perfect weather we were having and how beautiful it was that day. She mentioned she had sketched a few images while on her hike and I asked to see them.

I often find it challenging to capture with a camera the real beauty of the sights I see out on the trail, so I was amazed at what she had been able to portray with a pencil and a small pad. We chatted for a few blocks as we walked toward…

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A Man for the Ages

Leonardo da VinciLeonardo da Vinci by Walter Isaacson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

An illegitimate, homosexual, left-handed, genius who could also paint. That describes Leonardo in broad strokes. He pitched himself to patrons as a military engineer, hydrologist, architect, and city planner. Painting was an afterthought. Ultimately, he supported and amused himself as a designer of stage sets. At various times he was patronized by a Medici, a Borgia, and a pope. He was notorious for accepting commissions, then never finishing them. He hauled the Mona Lisa around with him for fourteen years and died without delivering it to Lisa’s husband who commissioned it. To perfect his ability to paint figures with precision, he dissected dozens of human cadavers, horses, and the odd pig, which he vivisected to study the beating of the heart. He made numerous discoveries that were centuries ahead of their time, including the function of heart valves, the function of the retina, and the lift mechanism of birds’ wings. Perhaps the most bizarre study on which he embarked was to learn the nature of a woodpecker’s tongue. He wore foppish clothes of outlandish colors, kept pretty boys, and practiced vegetarianism. The scholarly journals that he prepared ran to thousands of pages, but he never published anything.

Walter Isaacson, who previously wrote biographies of Steve Jobs and Einstein, obviously travelled the world to research da Vinci. His credentials gained him access to remarkably arcane bits of information on this unique character from the time of Columbus. Isaacson delves into the quest for lost masterpieces, the intricacies of Leonardo’s genius, and workings of his studios, where students often contributed to his paintings and churned endless copies of them. This book is perhaps a little long and occasionally dense with detail, but it is the end all and be all of Leonardo da Vinci.

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FBI Good or Evil

FBI

In the light of the #ReleaseTheMemo flap, Congressmen, reporters, and news anchors trip over their tongues to venerate the FBI while accusing its leadership of corruption. They repeat, “The vast majority of FBI agents are loyal hardworking Americans.” Fine, but to whom are they loyal? One thing an FBI agent does extremely well is follow orders.

 

The FBI was founded in 1935 by Franklin Roosevelt, Democrat, with the assistance of its first director, J. Edgar Hoover. Hoover remained director for thirty-seven years because he collected damaging files on Americans, especially politicians and dissidents.

 

The following is a taken from Wikipedia:

 

Later in life and after his death, Hoover became a controversial figure as evidence of his secretive abuses of power began to surface. He was found to have exceeded the jurisdiction of the FBI, and to have used the FBI to harass political dissenters and activists, to amass secret files on political leaders, and to collect evidence using illegal methods. Hoover consequently amassed a great deal of power and was in a position to intimidate and threaten sitting presidents.

 

Wikipedia also quotes Harry Truman:

 

… we want no Gestapo or secret police. The FBI is tending in that direction. They are dabbling in sex-life scandals and plain blackmail. J. Edgar Hoover would give his right eye to take over, and all congressmen and senators are afraid of him. —Harry S. Truman

 

Even Richard Nixon was afraid to fire Hoover. He was the original untouchable.

 

Hoover did not personally place wiretaps or steal personal information, rank-and-file FBI agents did—those same hardworking, loyal Americans who the contemporary pundits set on a pedestal. It is not my intention to paint today’s FBI agents with the Hoover era brush, but I would call your attention to the inescapable fact that from 2008 to 2017, FBI recruiters must surely have had an overarching liberal agenda. The FBI’s attrition and new hire rates are apparently classified, but in nine years it would not be hard to imagine a significant ideological shift.

 

Robert Mueller served as director of the FBI from 2001 until 2013, longer than anyone except J. Edgar Hoover. Mueller was criticized by George Bush, who nominated him, and Dick Chaney for failing to incarcerate terrorists in the US. Obama extended his term by two years. Comey succeeded Mueller as FBI director, and Mueller and Comey are personal friends. Those are the facts, and I draw no conclusion from them. However, it is abundantly clear that Comey lied to Congress and to the public. Mueller interviewed Comey, and thus far, Comey has not been indicted, whereas Flynn has for the same crime.

 

In conclusion, I see no need to blindly glorify the FBI. History shows that FBI agents are perfectly capable of corruption. The most frequent failing of politicians, and people in general, is to ignore history. It always repeats itself.