The Girls in the Picture by Melanie Benjamin

I love Melanie Benjamin’s historical fiction, and I love old royalty Hollywood. I probably would have been very disappointed if this combo had let me down…but it didn’t.

The Girls in the Picture front cover (Delacorte Press)

THE PLOT: When Francis Marion meets actress Mary Pickford, she’s not quite sure what role she wants to play in the new business of motion pictures, only that Hollywood is where she’s meant to be. Francis, after two failed marriages, becomes fast friends with Mary, whose own marriage is a disaster. They succeed together as Mary becomes a bigger and bigger star, while Francis finds her niche as a successful screenwriter. But the friends’ priorities and needs change over time. Francis grows up while Mary struggles to remain “the girl with the curls” that her fans adore. When actor Douglas Fairbanks enters the scene, Mary’s obsessions with him and her own youthful identity eventually drive a wedge in the friendship.

MY TWO CENTS: To me, this book succeeds as historical fiction as it immediately had me looking up facts and also looking for the movies discussed. I absolutely love old Hollywood, it’s almost like our version of royalty. And while I knew of Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks, I don’t think I knew of Frances Marion (travesty!)

I didn’t know how disastrous the Fairbanks’ marriage turned out, though. Really, nothing has changed in Hollywood since the very beginning! They risk everything, give up everything to be together, and then somehow let it all fall apart.

When Mary starts to age out of her famous roles, no one wants to see her change. It’s like the more she struggles to hold on to her youth, and Douglas, and the majesty of Pickfair, the more everything slips away.

And poor Francis really got the raw end of the stick, to have everything come together, to mature and find true love, only to have tragedy strike. It makes for a moving story, but such a shame that it was a TRUE story.

BOTTOM LINE: Great historical fiction, although it is a bit depressing to see someone who had everything pretty much work overtime to throw it all away.

TEACUP RATING: Four-and-a-half out of five teacups.

ON SALE DATE: The book is available now in hardcover, eformats, and audio.

Note: Review is based on an ARC provided by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

The Swans of Fifth Avenue by Melanie Benjamin

I requested this book because the author, Melanie Benjamin, is one of my favorites. I knew almost nothing about Truman Capote except that he was in “Murder by Death,” and of course I’ve seen “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.” I had never heard of Babe Paley or any of the other “swans” that made up high society in 1965 New York.

Swans of Fifth Avenue Front Cover ( Delacorte Press/Random House)

Swans of Fifth Avenue Front Cover ( Delacorte Press/Random House)

THE PLOT: Truman Capote is the darling of New York society, riding high on his recent success. He becomes the dearest, most beloved friend of Babe Paley, the wife of Bill Paley, who built CBS into a network. Truman attends exclusive parties with very rich people, but none of them are really friends the way he and Babe are. Truman’s demons, though, propel him to keep pushing the envelope and behave more and more scandalously. From the throwing the famous Black-and-White Ball to writing the tell-all book revealing the deepest secrets of his “swans,” Truman goes on a downward spiral that ends with him alienating all his friends, even Babe.

MY TWO CENTS: As far as historical fiction goes, the 1960s are definitely not my usual comfort zone! But I was immediately sucked into this world that was completely foreign to me. The descriptions made me feel as if I were there, living this dream life that only a very privileged few ever experience. Of course, the flip side is that it isn’t a dream life at all. There is no love, no family; only appearances, false friends, cheating husbands, and children cared for by nannies.

Babe Paley and Truman Capote seem to have a real, true friendship amidst all this falseness. On Babe’s side, it’s a platonic romance with the love her life; on his side, a replacement for his mother’s indifference. But Truman has a self-destructive streak that won’t allow him to be happy. After finding great success and real love, Truman seems to intentionally and aggressively wreck his life.

Babe is written almost as Melanie Hamilton. As the world of graciousness she knows decays around her, she will stay a true lady to the end.

BOTTOM LINE: Not my usual choice for historical fiction setting, but I was completely captivated. Readers will probably come away from this book thoughtful and sad, but not depressed. That’s an important distinction to me.

TEACUP RATING: Four-and-a-half out of five teacups.

ON SALE DATE: The book will be available in hardcover, eformats, and audio on January 26, 2016.

BONUS: Reckless Hearts, a short story prequel about the relationship between Slim Hawks and Ernest Hemingway, is also now available in eformats.

Note: Review is based on an ARC provided by the publisher via Netgalley and Amazon Vine in exchange for an honest review.


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