Genuine Lies – Fictional memories of a movie star

Genuine LiesGenuine Lies by Nora Roberts

“There’s always something redeeming in trash. I’ve done plenty of trash and made it shine. This” – she kicked the script again with relish – “is shit.”

“She” is Eve Benedict, an aging movie star who still has a lot of clout in Hollywood. Bossy and manipulative, she lives “alone” in a walled estate in Beverly Hills, drinks champagne like a marathon runner guzzles water, and smokes as if she could not subsist on mere air. Four failed marriages and obsession with her looks add to the impression of a self-absorbed, shallow woman, so one isn’t surprised to read that Eve is poised to tell her story to a celebrity biographer. It’s harder to see why her decision is met with such a wide, almost unanimous disapproval, even from people who have a vested interest in its financial success. When threatening notes start to pop up, both in the manor house and in the guest house where Eve’s biographer and her ten-years-old son stay, it becomes evident that someone is determined that Eve’s tell-all memoir would not materialize.

Eve’s Hollywood career is the backbone of Nora Roberts’ Genuine Lies, a genre-straddling novel, with events unfolding both in the present and in Eve’s recollections of her life and career. Published in 1991, my guess is that the “present” is late 1980s. The “past” starts when “Betty Berenski from Omaha” leaves “Betty and the cornfields behind” and Eve Benedict arrives to Hollywood. Shrewd and ambitious, she volunteers at the Hollywood Canteen, where “Bette Davis pours coffee and Rita Hayworth serves sandwiches.” An actor she meets there becomes her lover. He also helps launch Eve’s acting career, and, since it’s Hollywood, he gifts her a necklace of diamonds with a huge, hot ruby in the center.

“The diamonds were shaped like stars, the ruby like a tear… He took the necklace out, let it run through his hand. ‘When you reach for stars, Eve, you loose blood and tears. That’s is something you should remember.’”

And she remembers this. Eve’s story mixes glamour with criticism of both the Golden Age and the practicality of times “when movies were made by accountants”. There is romance, sex, gambling, and excesses that range from merely annoying to criminal. The cast includes actors (ranging from Hollywood to English theater), servants and assistants, mobsters and cops, and many others. Some of the story seems outdated in 2020s. Dealing with Hollywood, cliches are unavoidable. But in all, most of the story – the hypocrisy of “old fashioned values,” child neglect, and the ambivalence about abortions – seem even more relevant today than when it was published. I expected the romance between Eve’s stepson and her biographer to be a major part of the book, but it was not, for the sixty-seven years old movie star easily eclipsed the much younger, and considerably less flawed couple. It took more than striking looks, dogged determination, and lack of scruples to propel Betty Berenski to stardom and keep her at the top for nearly fifty years.

Reading the novel, I noted similarities between the fictional Eve and legendary Bette Davis, that went beyond their heavy drinking and smoking. Eve Benedict shared her given name with Bette Davis. She had the same number of marriages, an adopted son, and a biological daughter. I could easily see her play the role of the cunning Eve Harrington in All About Eve, where the younger actress Eve manipulates the character of Bette Davis until she threatens the aging actress’s career and personal relationships. Nora Roberts’ Eve is neither particularly good nor evil, which makes her story unusual and way more intriguing. This was a gripping and fun read.

Bette Davis in All About Eve
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Book review: The Tenth Muse

The Tenth MuseThis is a review of The Tenth Muse by Catherine Chung,
that I posted on Goodreads.

The notion of the tenth muse, who is reborn in every generation as a mortal gifted woman drew me to read this book. The protagonist, Katherine, was a brilliant child. Growing up as a biracial girl in the fifties, her childhood was complicated by prejudice and discouragement at school. Fascinated by math, she excelled in it at college and made remarkable progress as a graduate student at MIT. Although Katherine is a fictional character, her struggle seemed real.
The first half of the novel was a quick and interesting read. Invested in the progress of Katherine’s academic career, I expected to find out how she triumphed over hardships and obstacles until she became a prominent mathematician, one who many years later was invited to MIT to respond to Lawrence Summers’ “infamous speech on the natural abilities (or lack thereof) of women in the sciences.”
The novel ended without answering this question. This, by itself wouldn’t be a problem, if the story did not lose cohesion around the middle, when Katherine began to search for her roots. As I hate spoilers, I’ll only say that the second half of the novel was a quick succession of scenes that stretched all over the world (more precisely US, Europe and Asia), went back and forth in time, and too often required a complete suspension of disbelief. Some incidents might have made more sense if they were given enough space and context. As it was, I read the novel to the end, but I wish I didn’t, because it only confused me what the story was about.

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Book review: Ascension

Ascension: A Story of Mental IllnessThis is a book review for
Ascension: A Story of Mental Illness
by Daniel Trump,
which I posted on Goodreads.
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Mental illness is a scary topic, especially when it comes out of the blue for someone young and previously healthy. Dalton Lewis, the protagonist of Ascension, was a bright college graduate in his early twenties when something went seriously wrong with his mind. For me the book’s greatest strength is that it reads like a good fiction, showing, rather than telling, what it feels like to live with paranoid schizophrenia.
In Dalton’s own words: “I know that sometimes I felt like I couldn’t communicate with people or finish sentences. Think of how much better I am on this new medication. Think of the next medication, or the next, or the next. I might be able to articulate ideas more effectively. I might be able to write better. Who knows? I might be able to write something that moves someone, truly, in their mind, heart and soul. That’s the goal…”
I don’t know what in his story is based on facts (the author of Ascension has mental disability) or what is fiction. Nevertheless, it moved me from the beginning to the end.

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Do muses exist?

   “Any medical facility can verify that I have regular vision, hearing, blood type, and every other organ and bodily function. But what does it prove? A hundred years ago, the best doctors and brightest scientists had no clue about DNA. Your society doesn’t have the tools to distinguish between us and what you might call normal people, but only fools will believe that this deficiency can, by itself, rule out our existence.”
Lisa was enjoying herself, Jack observed. And she was quite a good opponent, substituting for a lack of common sense with charm and zeal.
   “Okay, let’s assume that biology and the neural sciences have not yet reached the stage at which they can tell apart a person from a deity assuming human shape. How do you explain the fact that a large complex on Mount Olympus was never detected by any satellite or space station?”
   “I’m a muse, not a NASA engineer.”

So, who Lisa really is?
What does she want?
And how does she intend to achieve it?
Join Jack as he finds more about this disruptive woman, about the people he thought he knew, and also about himself.

Muse Delusion promotion, until October 12, 2021: 0.99 USD, CND, GBP, EURO, AUD
Amazon US, UK, CA, AU | Apple Books | kobo | nook

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Did Thomas Young perform his most famous experiment?

“phenomena of nature resemble the scattered leaves of the Sibylline prophecies; a word only, or a single syllable, is written on each leaf, which, when separately considered, conveys no instruction to the mind; but when, by the labor of patient investigation, every fragment is replaced in its appropriate connection, the whole begins at once to speak a perspicuous and harmonious language.”
Thomas Young, Introduction to A Course of Lectures on Natural Philosophy and Mechanical Arts, 1807
(cited from
The Last Man Who Knew Everything, by Andrew Robinson.)

Thomas Young (1773 – 1829) sought these clues throughout his life. A child prodigy with interest in classics and mathematics, he was, according to Wikipedia, a British polymath who made notable contributions to the fields of physics, physiology and Egyptology. As Young himself attested, these discoveries did not happen randomly, nor were they results of some “lucky guess.” In The Last Man Who Knew Everything, Young’s biographer pieces together how Young’s scientific ideas were developed, communicated and treated by his contemporaries, by later scientists and by biographers. Continue reading

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Muse Delusion – musing about book promotion

“How can publishers influence the books AISA picks?” she asked.
Scott grinned, finding Lisa’s cluelessness funny.
Answer the dumb question, Daphne told Scott in her mind. She did not like women who looked glamorous without making any visible effort, especially if they were silly and ignorant. But neither Lisa’s enviable appearance nor her questionable intelligence justified Scott’s leering smile.
“Advertisement,” Daphne said when she concluded that no one else would bother to reply.
From Muse Delusion
(AISA stands for Artificial Intelligence Shopping Assistant.)

In April, I tried to wear a publisher’s hat and promote Muse Delusion by making the ebook free for five days on Amazon. The promotional “push” started with an announcement on this blog. Nothing happened at first, but a few hours later Muse Delusion was among the six thousand highest-ranked free ebooks on Amazon. Certainly not impressive, but at least a proof that everything worked as intended. Paid promotions on the second and third days (Fussy Librarian on April 6 and Freebooksy on April 7) made all the difference. Muse Delusion made its debut in various bestsellers charts. I watched in disbelief as it gradually climbed up in the “sales” ranking (it was free).

Well, watched is an understatement. A more realistic description is: click, refresh, check another country, click, refresh, see no change, disconnect and try to focus on something more productive; repeat the sequence. When I noticed a change, it was documented with a screenshot. This craziness started early in the morning and continued after midnight. Luckily, it ended after two days. The screenshots remain.

Ranked 137 among free books on Kindle Store in the US
Ranked #9 on Kindle Top Free books in the US, in the Fantasy category
Ranked #2 on Kindle Top Free books in the US, in the Mythology category
Ranked #1 on Kindle Top Free books in the UK, in the Contemporary Literary Fiction category

Muse Delusion is no longer enrolled in Kindle Unlimited, so I cannot make another free promotion. On the plus side, the ebook is now available on Kobo, Apple Books, and Barnes & Noble in addition to Amazon.


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29th Street South – a story with a heart

“God damn the man who shot President Kennedy!” Robbie Doyle said out loud without thinking.
The class turned as one and stared at Robbie. Miss Rodgers actually dropped the book she was holding.
From 29th Street South by Nicholas Rogers.

It seems that an entire generation can recall what they were doing when they heard about Kennedy’s assassination, but Robbie’s response drew me to read on. The sheer absurdity of being sent to the principal by the teacher, the conversations and the people Robbie met that day, created an illusion that I was there, watching and listening to real people. This uncanny immersion continued as the story progressed, and news headlines entwined with Robbie’s private life. I cannot say that I liked everything I read – the hatred during the civil rights demonstrations, Robbie’s friend almost raped – but the bad things did not spoil the story. It has dark moments in a rich canvas with many bright episodes.

Continue reading

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Muse Delusion – first ever promotion

For the first time, my book is free on Kindle. Promotion lasts from April 5 to April 9, 2021.

eBook: | | |

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A clever cat, two unusual kids and a clan of intelligent rats

“You pretend that rats can think, and I’ll promise to pretend that humans can think, too.”
A rat to a man, from The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents by Sir Terry Pratchett

The Changelings – a clan of educated rats – know a lot about people. People know little about rats except that they steal food and cause plagues. When the Changelings arrive to a town that suffers from a shortage of food, they find, as expected, townspeople who hate rats and want to see them gone, by whatever means that takes. But no one is prepared for what else they’ll find in the town.

On one level, “The Pied Piper of … Discworld” is a humorous take on famous fairy-tales. Both sides assume that their opponents will react like they do in fairy-tales, and the “fun” is that nothing happens as prescribed. On another level, the story deals with animal cruelty and its consequences. Survival is tricky when the bad guys do more than getting rid of rats with poison and traps.

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A woman who believed she was a muse

“I’m a muse, not a NASA engineer.”
Lisa to Jack, in Muse Delusion by T.K. Flor

Finally, the long anticipated novel, Muse Delusion, is published!!!
(OK, long-anticipated, and written, by me).

The initial idea for the novel emerged during a family vacation in the spring break of 2015. I could practically see in my mind’s eye the members of the Hopeville Murder Club finding an unresponsive woman in an empty house, what they dreaded, and how they responded. The guy this novel is dedicated to liked the idea. He suggested that I write a lighthearted story. I wanted it to be a love story about two people who seemingly have nothing in common, a contemporary tale with a touch of Greek mythology. Five years later, the story can be distilled to this:

Continue reading

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