Checking In With The Imaginary Summer Book Club: Lace By Shirley Conran

(Click here for information on the 2016 edition of Molly’s Imaginary Summer Book Club Featuring Classics of Women’s Literature. As all of the four selected titles have filmed adaptations, we will be looking at the movie versions as we go along. This month, the June selection, Shirley Conran’s Lace.)


You may have noticed that this review is about two and a half weeks late. The reason is because that is how much longer than anticipated it took me to slog through Conran’s epic bestseller, a scandalous potboiler blown up to Clavellian (Michner-like? Ferberesque?) proportions, taking in Swiss boarding schools, secret teenage pregnancies, blackmail, S&M, purloined finacés, Arab sheiks, alcoholism, late-life lesbianism, a fashion heist, more blackmail, the Soviet occupation of Hungary, an illegal abortion, marital rape, the Arab-Israeli Six-Day War, cocaine, frigidity, swinging London, science-fiction cancer research, porno-chic, dead parents, a daring escape involving acrobatics from behind the Iron Curtain, near-incest, actual incest, decapitation, and a cross-dressing husband.

And the amazing part is that Conran manages to make all of this so deadly boring.

It all starts out promisingly enough, as four high-powered women, the richest, the most famous, the top of their respective professions, are summoned to the Pierre hotel at the behest of international superstar Lili, an actress and sex symbol who is treated as the second coming of Greta Garbo (and comes off more like Blue Lagoon-era Brooke Shields), who delivers the immortal line to assembled group:

“All right,” she said, “which one of you bitches is my mother?”

Publicist Judy Jordan, champagne vintner and countess Maxine de Chazalle, war correspondent Kate Ryan, and socialite Pagan (real name: Jennifer) Trelawney then flash back to their Swiss boarding school days (and most of the rest of the last half of the 20th century, after a fashion). Continue reading

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Yobgorgle: Mystery Monster of Lake Ontario By Daniel M. Pinkwater

This week, I am on vacation but  you can join Eugene Winkleman on his to beautiful… Rochester, NY!

I grew up in the Rochester area, where this book was very popular due to the meticulous descriptions of local landmarks (many of which are now lost to history).

However, in my original write-up, I inadvertently overlooked the fact that Eugene and his uncle are clearly staying at the Downtowner Motor Inn (which would have closed by the book’s publication, but was probably on its last legs when Pinkwater was doing his research).

I also strongly suspect that the unnamed movie theater where they go see the Yobgorgle documentary was probably the Waring 1 & 2, also closed for 20+ years as of this writing.

However, I can report that the Clock of Nations still greets weary travelers at its permanent-temporary home at the airport.

Lost Classics of Teen Lit, 1939-1989

This is about the time I lived for two weeks in a motel in Rochester, New York, with my Uncle Mel, and what happened to me while I was there.


Background: Daniel Pinkwater’s 1970s work tends toward the surreal, featuring bizarre characters, moony hippie mysticism and satirical anti-corporate diatribes, along with nomenclature that would give ME Kerr a run for her money.

(He was briefly in the news a few years ago when an excerpt from one of his short stories appeared as part of New York State’s notorious standardized tests, to the bafflement of students, teachers and the author alike. Why any state bureaucrat would choose from Pinkwater’s aggressively zany catalog remains a mystery, although the author suggested that “this was done by someone who was barely literate.”)

Yobgorgle is definitely in this vein, a shaggy dog story that pays meticulous detail to its setting, only to go nowhere in…

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Cher! By Vicki Pellegrino

The child bride turned vamp!


Unlike the last week’s quickie celebrity biography, in which the subject had not yet done much of note, the author here has to contend with a subject that might just be (GASP!) washed up.

With a publication date of September, 1975, Cher! came at a low point in Cher’s career: recently divorced from Sonny Bono and mired in lawsuits, hit TV show cancelled due to the divorce, and re-married but legally separated from Gregg Allman, Cher’s life is kind of a mess. Author Pellegrino also undertakes to make the biography as breathlessly sensational as humanly possible, relying on sources identified as “former friends”, as well as Cher’s estranged father.

The whole thing is pretty sleazy behind that teen-mag style cover. By the end you just want to yell “DON’T WORRY, CHER! THERE WILL BE HIT ALBUMS AND ACADEMY AWARDS SOON! HANG IN THERE!” Continue reading

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John Travolta: An Illustrated Biography By Suzanne Munshower

TV’s most popular Sweathog and one of today’s most promising actors!


Pity the poor celebrity biographer, charged with turning out a quickie mass-market paperback on a star that may turn out to be HUGE, but at the moment is a 24 year old that has done little of note.

This is the dilemma author Munshower must have been faced with in 1976, when writing this extremely lightweight volume on John Travolta, less than a year into stardom thanks to “Welcome Back, Kotter” (I have a second edition [!!!] with a 1976 & ’78 copyright, which can only speculate on how much people will surely love him in his upcoming roles in Saturday Night Fever and Grease). Continue reading

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Checking In With The Imaginary Summer Book Club: Sybil By Flora Rheta Schreiber

(Click here for information on the 2016 edition of Molly’s Imaginary Summer Book Club Featuring Classics of Women’s Literature. As all of the four selected titles have filmed adaptations, we will be looking at the movie versions as we go along. This month, the June selection, Flora Rheta Schreiber’s Sybil.)


Purporting to tell the true story of one of the first documented cases of Multiple Personality Disorder (now known as Dissociative Identity Disorder), it is difficult to separate fact from fiction in Schreiber’s account. In the 40+ years since the books initial publication, and a very popular 1976 TV mini-series, several books have been published debunking the case, and accusing Schreiber of colluding with the subject and her psychoanalyst, Dr. Cornelia Wilbur, to create a cottage industry to make money off of the case.  A 2007 TV movie claimed to tell the “real” story of Shirley Ardell Mason, the patient who took the pseudonym of “Sibyl Dorsett” in the book, but further muddied the water by offering contradictory information. Continue reading

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Buddies By Barbara Park

How could just one person ruin an entire summer vacation?


Summer Camp stories usually are usually either given a paramilitary setting, with demerits and saluting and color wars, or just leave the fictional campers completely unsupervised and let them do, like, whatever. (Getting sent to camp is also usually treated as a punishment, I guess because kids are super-eager to spend the summer hanging around with their parents?)

This one falls into the latter category, although the whole enterprise is so underdeveloped that one wonders why the author even bothered at all.

The Plot: Thirteen year old Dinah Feeney has actually begged her parents to be sent to Camp Miniwawa for two weeks, so at least there is that. Continue reading

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Summer of Fear By Lois Duncan

Rachel’s not jealous of her cousin. But she is afraid.


Like many readers, I was saddened to hear about the sudden death of Lois Duncan last week, at the age of 82. Best known for her YA thrillers, she was a contemporary of Judy Blume, taking on some of the same social issues of Gen-Xers (particularly relating to the Women’s Movement), but never quite reaching Blume’s stature in the popular imagination, probably because she backgrounded those issues with occasionally lurid tales involving witchcraft, psychic powers, kidnapping and murder.

Despite (or more likely, because of) the genre trappings, Duncan was able to occasionally push the envelope even further than Blume, Norma Klein, Sandra Scoppettone, and other “serious” YA writers when dealing with these issues, while never sacrificing the emotional honesty she affords to her (largely teenage and female) characters.

Duncan wrote roughly a dozen and a half YA novels in this vein between the early 1960s and the late 1980s, before taking a hiatus due to a personal tragedy: the murder of her youngest daughter in 1989, a case which remains unsolved. Duncan would be consumed by her personal investigation into the murder for the rest of her life, writing two books on the subject, Who Killed My Daughter? (1992)  and One to the Wolves (2013). She returned, in fine form, to YA Thriller genre for one last time in 1997, with the novel Gallows Hill.

Duncan also had the reputation of being incredibly generous in interacting with her readership in the internet age, including this writer. When she “stopped by” a few years ago, she shared a few comments on the inspiration and writing process for Killing Mr. Griffin, When the Bough Breaks and The Twisted Window. Continue reading

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