Saturday, August 6, 2011

August 2011 Book List

20. American Idol: The Untold Story by Richard Rushfield

As a big American Idol fan, when I saw this book prominently displayed in my library's "new" section, I snatched it right up. I wasn't sure if it was one of those "unofficial" tell-all books or if it was from a truly legitimate source (which it is). Rushfield, as a reporter for The Los Angeles Times, had full access not only to the creators of the hit phenomenon, but to the crew, the stars, and the contestants.

The book begins with a semi-interesting history of American Idol, introducing Simon Fuller, Nigel Lythgoe, and Simon Cowell. From there, the book follows a logical progression of the quickly-thrown-together first season, the second break-out season, all the way through to Simon's final season (season 10) - all the while highlighting the various forms of contestants that paraded through them.

Interviews with Idol semifinalists sheds a lot of light on the rigorous schedules the contestants must face and the bonds they form with their fellow competitors.

There's also a chapter devoted to dealing with the Idol-hater website, Vote for the Worst. Amid cries every year of conspiracies and faulty voting, VFTW also gets its share of the blame for great singers being sent home while the more mediocre one get to stick around week after week.

The judges and host are also highlighted: Simon Cowell's attitude, Randy Jackson's congeniality, and Paula Abdul's. . . incoherence. When Kara DioGuardi was introduced as a new judge, there was quite a rivalry, not just between Paula and Kara, but between the three original judges and the "freshman". After Paula's departure, Ellen Degeneres' stand-in (and stand-up) did nothing to help ratings in Simon's tenth and final season.

There's so much more here, as well. If you're an Idol fan, this is definitely a book worth reading.

21. Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen

The title of this book intrigued me every time I saw it, but I never picked it up to read the inside cover. After seeing the movie previews on TV, I decided I wanted to read it, but by then I had to wait to get it from the library. When I first put it on hold, I was somewhere in the low 30's in line for it. It was finally ready for me last week. Once I got started, it was extremely hard to put down.

Jacob Jankowski is an old, old man - somewhere in his 90's, but he can't really remember. He's living in a nursing home after falling and breaking a hip, and he's alone. A circus comes to town and sets up next to the nursing home, causing Jacob, a former circus vet, to remember his first stint as a circus worker - and the secret he's been keeping for over 70 years...

He is preparing to graduate from Cornell University with a veterinary science degree when tragedy strikes his family. In a stupor, he leaves school and jumps aboard a train - the Benzini Brothers Circus train. An old man takes pity on him and saves him from being tossed off. Before long, he's placed in charge of the care of the menagerie, a mix of horses, giraffes, big cats, an orangutan, and a chimp, among others. He is immediately drawn to the lovely Marlena, wife of August, a madman. And there the trouble begins...

I'm really looking forward to seeing the movie and seeing if they can do the book justice. It's on my Netflix queue, but they haven't released it into circulation yet. Once they do, it'll go to the top of my list!

22. Jeannie Out of the Bottle by Barbara Eden

I loved watching reruns of I Dream of Jeannie when I was growing up. I wish I could find some now, but we don't have cable and it's not on Netflix streaming. Maybe one day...

Barbara Eden is a breath of fresh air in the whirlwind mess of Hollywood lives. Though she's had plenty of heartache in her life, she's still a beautiful person inside and out. She hasn't become bitter or tried to drown her sorrows in drugs and alcohol. Instead, she tried her best to "rise above it", as her mother often told her when she was a young girl.

She shares her rise to fame before her role as "Jeannie", her work on that series, and how that one role has defined much of her life after the show ended. She doesn't shy away from detailing her romance with first husband Michael Ansara, or the traumatic events that led to their separation and divorce. She's also candid about a marriage she entered with blinders on and how she eventually came to her senses and escaped before something horrible happened. Her only son Matthew, the child she wanted for so long and loved so much, struggled with addiction for much of his life. Yet, through it all, she found a strength to go on - and love with a man who has stood by her during some of her darkest moments.

The thing that bothered me most was her frequent use of the term "Jeannie blink" when she wanted to fast forward or flash back to a different time than what she was writing about. Thankfully that was used mostly during the prologue and only a few other times throughout the book. I honestly don't know if I could've read it if she had kept it going any more. Other than that, it's a great book.

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