Book Review: Edith Head-The Life and Times of Hollywood’s Celebrated Costume Designer by Michael Chierichetti

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When you think of Hollywood’s golden age you probably think of the movies, stars, and directors of that glittering era. I know I do. But I also think of Edith Head, costume designer extrodinaire.

Edith Head’s career began in the silent era and ended in the early 1980s.

Some of the movies she worked in include All About Eve, A Place in the Sun, Roman Holiday, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid, and several films by Alfred Hitchcock.

One of the most Oscar nominated people in show business, she won eight of those golden boys.

Head also designed for television productions, often working with Bob Mackie and Nolan Miller. She even designed costumes for the Muppets!

Head had one heck of a career, which deserves one heck of a biography. Is Michael Chierichetti’s book Edith Head: The Life and Times of Hollywood’s Celebrated Costume Designer up to such a daunting task? I should think so considering Chierichetti is a film historian, costumer, and was a confidant of the legendary Head.

After an opening chapter recalling Head’s early life, Chierichetti quickly moves onto Head’s lengthy and impressive career, starting out as a lowly apprenticeship, her commitment to getting costumes just right, her strong work ethic, her talented design staff, and the relationships she had with the stars she fitted with her costumes.

But Chierichetti isn’t shy about revealing low moments in Head’s life and career. He also gossips about some of her unsavory personality quirks.

Head made sure her costume were true to the time period the movies’ reflected. She had a gift for highlighting a star’s figure assets while hiding his or her faults. And like many of the stars she outfitted, Head was often a media sensation.

As a fan of film and fashion, I thought I knew a lot about Head. But my knowledge wouldn’t fill up a thimble. Fortunately Chierichetti’s research and commitment to telling Head’s life story as thoroughly as possible helped me sew up some loose threads. I have to admit I was overwhelmed by the names of film, dates, studios, colleagues, and movie stars named in this book.

Interspersed throughout Edith Head are pictures of her actual sketches, film stills, screen tests, professional and candid photos, and glossies that do a wonderful job illustrating Head’s exemplary career. Chierichetti also divulges some secrets about her creative process.

Edith Head: The Life and Times of Hollywood’s Celebrated Costume Designer sews things up for film lovers and fashionistas alike.

 

Book Review: Becoming Michelle Obama by Michelle Obama

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Even my cat, Pokey Jones, liked this book!

Once upon a time, in land called the south side of Chicago, lived a girl named Michelle Robinson. Instead of living in a huge castle, she lived in a modest house on a street called Euclid Avenue. And instead of having to deal with an evil stepmother, she had two loving parents and a protective older brother. Like a lot of girls, Michelle Robinson dreamed of adventures that would take her beyond her humble roots and finding her own Prince Charming. She did that and so much more, thus becoming the history-making first lady Michelle Obama, not only the first black first lady (not to mention one of the most educated and admired, and if I may dip my toes into the shallow end of the pool, one of the most stylish first ladies, in the history of the United States).

Unless you’ve been living under a rock or are so “unwoke” you might as well be in a coma, you are fully aware of Michelle Obama’s years of living in the White House – her “Let’s Move” campaign to alleviate childhood obesity, her work with second lady Dr. Jill Biden on veterans’ issues, her loving marriage to President Barack Obama, and her challenges of raising two children in the White House under the glare of the media. This is a very compelling part of Becoming, and Mrs. Obama is fully honest about the good, the bad, and the ugly she dealt with during the White House years.

However, most of Becoming focuses on Mrs. Obama’s life before her time as First Lady, and it is both extraordinary and ordinary, which I’m sure a lot of readers with relate to.

Mrs. Obama describes these years in rich detail that had me riveted. Her family was firm and loving, inspiring her to be a striver and excel in whatever she pursued. She writes about teachers who supported her from grade school through law school. She lovingly mentions the girlfriends who inspired her, and are still with her today (even if one standout friend is only with her in spirit). Mrs. Obama discusses the various mentors she was blessed with while navigating the difficulties in the workplace. And she’s brutally honest about these privileges and her gratitude seems truly sincere.

However, she also had to deal with the thorny issues of both racism and sexism, and plenty of naysayers who claimed she’d never make it. For instance, one person tried to convince Mrs. Obama that she wasn’t Ivy League material. Ha, she showed this person, didn’t she?

And yes, Mrs. Obama also dishes on a certain fellow named Barack Obama, from her initial meeting when she was his mentor to her twenty-five plus years of their marriage.

But just as Mrs. Obama is grateful for her blessings, she is also honest about the trials and tribulations she faced personally. Prince Charming was sometimes a bit of a challenge and often their marriage was less than ideal. Mrs. Obama also faced issues with having children, finally reverting to using fertility treatments and later giving birth to her cherished daughters Malia and Sasha. In other words, her life is at turn both typical and atypical, one that inspires and one that a lot of us can relate to.

Now, it’s no secret I’m a huge fan of Michelle Obama. However, as a book reviewer I realize I must be truthful of my assessment of Becoming. Not to be gross, but you can’t crap on a cone and expect me to call it ice cream. Thank goodness, Becoming is a sundae of a read and truly exceeded my expectation. It’s both down to earth and out of this world, one that takes a treasured place on my book shelf. I can’t recommend it enough.

Book Review: Drink Like a Woman-Shake, Stir, Conquer, Repeat by Jeanette Hurt

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When it comes to liquor and libations Milwaukee-based food and drink writer Jeanette Hurt knows her stuff. So I was only too delighted to come across her book Drink Like a Woman: Shake, Stir, Conquer, Repeat.

Drink Like a Woman provides over 70 cocktail recipes and so much more. It goes beyond the fruity, sweet, pink and girly drinks like the Cosmopolitan popularized by Sex and the City to provide cocktail recipes for all kinds of palates and tastes.

After a foreward by Ann Tuennerman, founder of Tales of the Cocktail, Hurt share a few words on so-called “girly drinks,” in which she claims there are no “girly drinks.” Women like what they like and we don’t have to apologize for it.

But before we can make a cocktail we need to get our home bar together. Hurt provides a very thorough list of needed accessories like jiggers, muddlers, shakers, strainers, pourers and glasses to make your home bar top notch whether you’re new to the cocktail game or an experienced mixologist. And you don’t have to break the bank. Many of these items can be found at thrift stores, estate sales and rummage sales.

Okay, now we’re onto the fun part-the cocktail recipes, which are inspired by fierce femmes and our herstory, which spans from the 1600s to the modern age.

Chapter One, Witches and Bar Wenches covers the years 1600-1900, which celebrates the Revolutionary War, authors Jane Austen (Jane Austen’s Zombie) and the Bronte Sisters (Bronte’s Brew). You can also make a toast to trailblazers with drinks like Nellie Bly-Tai, Curie Royale and Amelia Takes Flight. That time of month? Ditch that Midol and enjoy a Monthly Medicinal instead.

Chapter Two, Votes for Women, Whiskey for All, covers the years 1900 to 1950. Drinks celebrate flappers with Flapper’s Firewater, Rosie the Riveter with Rosé the Riveter and the iconic artist Frida Kahlo with a Frida Kahlúa. Do you need a virgin cocktail for non-drinkers or those underage? Stir up it up with a Suzy B’s Virgin Voter, which honors Susan B Anthony, famous suffragette and a proponent of the temperance movement.

Chapter Three, Libations for the Liberated, covers the years 1950 to 2000. Pop culture icons like Mary Richards, Princess Leia and Buffy the Vampire Slayer get their own drinks (Bloody Mary Richards, Kissed by a Wookie, and Buffy’s Stake), feminism is in fine form with the Bra Burner, Sister Solidaritea, and the Gloria Stein’em.

Chapter Four, Stirring Up Cocktails and Shaking Up the World, covers the 2000s. You can also make a toast the LBD with The Little Black Dress, denounce manpslaining with Mansplainer Antidote and celebrate friendship with the BFF.

Drink Like a Woman also provides recipes for all kinds of syrup, the rules for creating creamy drinks, and hangover cures in case you indulge too much. And Drink Like a Woman also provides a list and brief bios of the ladies of liquor, the mavens of mixology who shared these cocktail recipes.

Drink Like a Woman is also a fun read for its quotations, lists of music and movies to love while enjoying your cocktails and Paige Clark’s charming illustrations. Drink Like a Woman is a welcome addition to any one’s book shelf whether one imbibes or does not.

Book Review: Hidden History of Detroit by Amy Elliot Bragg

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Mention the city of Detroit and, at best, people might think of the auto industry or classic Motown songs. Yet, there is a history to Detroit that dates long before Henry Ford and the Supremes. And this history comes alive in Amy Elliott Bragg’s Hidden History of Detroit.

Inspired by her blog Night Train to Detroit, Michigan native, Bragg writes of Detroit’s beginnings, from its founding by the expedition leader Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac to its namesake the Grand Monarque of Ville de Troit to the advent of the automobile at the turn of the last century.

What’s striking about the Hidden History of Detroit is how some of the issues facing the city’s early years are familiar to large American cities in 2012. Detroit’s history has had its share of political rivalries, labor upheaval, ethnic strife and crumbling infrastructure. Not happy with the roads you drive on? Detroit’s earliest “paved” streets were made of wood, which took on rather odd smells when they got wet.

Yet, Detroit grew due to an entrepreneurial spirit long before Henry Ford invented the Model T. Industries like lumber, tobacco, liquor, media and pharmaceuticals were quite successful and inspired many people to find their fortunes in Detroit.

Detroit’s early years were also rich with larger than life characters like the “boy governor” Stevens Thomson Mason, who was acting governor at the tender age of twenty-five. Then there is James Scott, a millionaire gambler and raconteur who left the city a considerable sum of $600,000 when he died but with one caveat — a statue had to be erected in his honor,

The ladies also had an impact on Detroit’s history. Heiress Clara Ward, the Kim Kardashian of her day, scandalized people with her multiple marriages, wild partying and performances at the Folies-Bergere. Sadly, she allegedly died a pauper and in her obituary the Detroit News just had to mention how Clare Ward had been spurned and shunned by her family and companions.

One compelling chapter focuses on early Detroit’s penchant for parties and drinking and is simply called “Liquor.” While many American towns were founded by religious folks who eschewed alcohol, Detroit was founded by traders, and as Bragg puts it, “…where you had trade, you had booze.” These parties were quite rowdy and made frat parties look like prayer circles. I laughed out loud when she described one party as being “liver crushing.”

I have to admit I was overwhelmed at times by all of the information Bragg provides in this slim tome (less than 200 pages). At times I thought I would need to organize the names, dates, facts and figures on an Excel spreadsheet. She certainly did her homework, and I can only imagine her glee over finding out another interesting tidbit about Detroit’s history while doing her research. The book’s illustrations and photographs also aid in telling Detroit’s history.

Thanks to Bragg’s exhaustive research, the early days of Detroit come alive with interesting facts and figures who are fleshed-out human beings. This is no dusty and musty history text book. Hidden History of Detroit is fun read for any history buff, and you don’t have be a citizen of Detroit to enjoy it. It may even make you wonder, “Hmm, what’s the hidden history of my city?”

Book Review: Voices From the Rust Belt – Edited by Anne Trubek

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Just what is the Rust Belt? In simple terms it stretches from Milwaukee to Buffalo with cities like Chicago, Detroit, Flint, Cleveland, and Pittsburgh inbetween, cities that were once known as vibrant communities of manufacturing that have fallen on hard times but are trying to recapture their former glory. The Rust Belt is also a place I call home.

Sometimes romanticized,sometimes looked down upon, and often ignored, the Rust Belt is a place rich in history and tales so I was only to happy to find Voices from the Rust Belt, a collection of essays by people of all kinds who deftly write about what it is like to live in the Rust Belt.

After a brief introduction, which describes what is the Rust Belt and why it matters, Voices from the Rust Belt is divided into four parts.

1. Growing Up
2. Day to Day in the Rust Belt
3. Geography of the Heartland
4. Leaving and Staying

I pretty much loved all the essays written by talented women and men of all kinds. Some stories I could relate and others opened my eyes to experiences completely foreign to me. These stories are written by journalists, immigrants, students, artists, business owners, activists and working stiffs of all kinds who call the Rust Belt home. Nearly every one of theses writers impressed me and I was thrilled to find brief bios of the writers, which gave me further insight to these people beyond their written words. I also pondered what it would be like to see a well-made documentary on the Rust Belt – Ken Burns, I’m looking in your direction.

If I have any quibbles with Voices from the Rust Belt it is there is no voice from Milwaukee. Hmm, maybe in the sequel.

Book Review: The Common Good by Robert B. Reich

Considering I gave Robert B. Reich’s Saving Capitalism a rave review, it’s no secret I’m a huge fan of the former secretary of Labor under President Clinton. So I am thrilled to give Reich’s latest book, The Common Good, another rave review.

The Common Good is a call to arms to anyone who cares about the state of our country and all of its citizens.

And when I mention a call to arms I don’t mean guns and ammunition. This book is a call for us to bring a sense of empathy, sensibility and basic human decency when it comes to politics, business, religion, education, media, activism, and our communities as a whole. And The Common Good is written in an enthusiastic and perceptive manner that will connect with a wide audience.

The Common Good is divided into three distinct parts:

1. What Is the Common Good?

2. What Happened to the Common Good?

3. Can the Common Good By Restored?

Part one is a primer on the common good. It starts out using the sheer awfulness of Martin Shrekeli and how he fully encompasses what is not the common good.

As part one moves on Reich explains both the common good most of us share and origins of the common good.

In part two Reich examines what exactly happened to our nation’s common good through a 3-prong dismantling of the common good’s structure. Believe me, it’s not pretty.

But before readers gnash their teeth in despair, Reich wraps things up with a manifesto on how we can restore the common good, which includes leadership we can trust, the use of honor and shame, resurrecting truth and finally but most importantly reviving civic education for all citizens starting in grade school and high school.

Some of ideas may be a bit difficult to implement and others will be quite simple. But all are vital.

The Common Good is written in an audience-friendly style that instructs and inspires and will hold your interest long after you are done reading it.  I can’t recommend it enough. The Common Good is both timely and timeless.

Book Review: Delivering Virtue by Brian Kindall

It’s 1854. Some people would call Didier Rain a foolish rake with a sinful desire for both liquor and women of ill-repute. Didier would prefer if people considered him a gentleman poet and true bon vivant, a lover of the finer things in life. No matter what, Didier is the unlikely hero of Brian Kindall’s delicious mix of western and fairy tale in the novel Delivering Virtue.

Didier is chosen by a secretive Mormon sect to be a Sacred Deliverer of an angel haired baby girl named Virtue to the bride of the Prophet Nehi in the City of Rocks. Didier knows very little about taking care of babies but after being offered a princely sum of $30,000 Didier is only too happy to take on this task. How hard could it be? Didier is about to find out.

Outfitted with a few supplies and completely in over his head, Didier faces challenging enemies and encounters who want nothing more than to keep Didier from completing his colossal journey. But he also meets true allies like a Native American woman whose lactating breasts keep Virtue fed and growing oddly at a very fast rate. And all of these elements make Delivering Virtue one heck of a tale, with twists and turns that kept me riveted.

Are some of Didier’s actions a bit questionable? Well, yes. A lot of people wouldn’t approve his love of booze and brothels. But for the most Didier’s heart is in the right place and as Delivering Virtue unfolds you view Didier as a man of honor, a true hero, even if this knight in shining armor has a few rusty spots.

Delivering Virtue is hard to sum up in a review. My only advice is read it to fully capture it fantastical tale is a delicious blend of Louis L’Amour western, Brother’s Grimm fairy tale, Tim Burton film that hasn’t made its way to the silver screen and one really weird LSD trip (not that I know what an LSD trip is like).

Author Kindall has a magical way with words. His prose has a visionary quality; he truly shows while he tells this story. His use of dialogue is funny, thoughtful, bawdy and entirely entertaining. Every single character in Delivering Virtue is necessary and intriguing who move the story forward and the book closes with a fully-satisfying denouement.

If you’re wondering why I haven’t given the plot of Delivering Virtue away too much in this review it’s because I believe it needs to be read to be truly enjoyed. I can’t truly sum this book up in one little review. I want the reader to experience the book like I did.

Though I finished reading Delivering Virtue a few weeks ago; it is still with me. I think it would make a great film and I keep thinking of actors who would make the perfect Didier (sadly, Paul Newman is no longer with us). 2018 isn’t even half-way over, and already Delivering Virtue is one of the best books I’ve read this year. And I do hope it’s not the only adult-oriented book Brian Kindall has in him (he’s written several books for young adults). He’s immensely talented and I hope for more great work from him. He’s definitely a writer to watch out for.