Eva Maze: With Ballet in My Soul

A life spanning close to 100 years is noteworthy, if only because of its longevity. The rich life of a woman committed to a professional vision ahead of its time, filled with glamour, excitement, and adventure, is truly remarkable. Narrated in her own words, this is the story of such a woman, Eva Maze, who, from the time she left Romania as a teenager in 1939, dreamed of being a ballet dancer, and through a series a circumstances, became instead one of the most successful theatrical impresarios in Europe – with a career spanning more than 40 years.

Now in her nineties, Maze looks back at the path and passion that led her from Bucharest to the United States as an immigrant, and then, as a married woman, back again to Europe and Asia, where she found her professional calling.

Set against key historical events of the 20th century, including the building of the Berlin Wall, the massacre at the 1972 Munich Olympic Games, as well as the rise and fall of Pan American Airlines, Maze’s fascinating past is brought to life through a combination of serious commentary and amusing anecdotes about the risks and rewards of the business side of theater and dance, some of the personalities who were part of those worlds from the 1940s to the 1990s, her own motivation for being an impresario, and her personal life. Her narration is supported by more than 250 captivating historical and modern images going back to her birth in 1922.

Representing artists and companies abroad from a vast array of talent in the performing arts of the time – including The Alvin Ailey Dance Company, The Living Theatre, and The Swingle Singers – this unique woman became a prolific producer of more than 100 different types of theatrical programs from the world of dance, music, mime, cabaret, and drama.

When the publisher contacted me about Eva Maze’s memoir, the stunning woman on the cover caught my attention immediately. After reading the captivating summary, I couldn’t say no to the review request. I was expecting a regular black and white print copy, but when it arrived, I opened the envelope to find a BEAUTIFUL 200 page full-color coffee-table book!

We all have that one neighbor that we want to know more about–she’s lead the most interesting life, and if we could just sit down for tea with her we know we’d learn a lifetime of history. Eva Maze is one of those people, and opening With Ballet in My Soul is that afternoon tea. So you better have a big pot ready, because you’re not going to want to move from your couch until you finish listening to everything she has to tell you.

Eva has been pretty much everywhere. She was born in Romania in the 20s, and then convinced her parents to move to the US so she could see the World’s Fair–THE YEAR BEFORE HITLER INVADED. Her wanderlust saved her family, and from then on she just never stopped globetrotting. Ballet had a great influence on her life, and this book is intertwined with music and theatre and great talent.

But what I really loved about it were the pictures. Usually when you read a memoir, the pictures are a second thought that the publisher tosses into the center of the book. Not here. They are published along with the story, and as I said before, this is in full-color. It’s the kind of book you want to leave around for someone to idly pick up now and then, and glance through–though definitely actually read it. It doesn’t take long!

Moonstone Press provided a copy of this book for unbiased review. Affiliate links included in this post.

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James Ellroy: The Black Dahlia

On January 15, 1947, the torture-ravished body of a beautiful young woman is found in a Los Angeles vacant lot. The victim makes headlines as the Black Dahlia-and so begins the greatest manhunt in California history.Caught up in the investigation are Bucky Bleichert and Lee Blanchard: Warrants Squad cops, friends, and rivals in love with the same woman. But both are obsessed with the Dahlia-driven by dark needs to know everything about her past, to capture her killer, to possess the woman even in death. Their quest will take them on a hellish journey through the underbelly of postwar Hollywood, to the core of the dead girl’s twisted life, past the extremes of their own psyches-into a region of total madness.

Next week is Banned Books Week, and then we have #OwnVoicesOctober. I’m telling you this because I’ve been so disappointed in my reviews this week and hopefully I can get some decent reads after this. Besides Toni Morrison things have been a little rough around here lately.

I’ve been trying to read The Black Dahlia on my phone a chapter at a time and I have just not been having it. I finally gave up. Noir just isn’t my genre, generally. It’s dark and gritty and incredibly sexist. And it’s always got this horrific voice to it. You know what I mean–it’s always the SAME voice. Cocky-ass detective in a floppy fedora talking about some bird with the legs, trying to solve some murder on poor innocent females.

BD is the same exact voice, same exact theme, except it’s true crime, not something made up. Two boxers-turned-cops in the 40s worked a horrific murder. I didn’t get much further than that, mostly because of the voice. I just couldn’t stand it.

So, nope for this one. At least I can mark it off on the Boxall’s list. Making some progress with that!

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Fulfills Boxall #115. This post contains affiliate links.

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Toni Morrison: The Bluest Eye

The Bluest Eye is Toni Morrison’s first novel, a book heralded for its richness of language and boldness of vision. Set in the author’s girlhood hometown of Lorain, Ohio, it tells the story of black, eleven-year-old Pecola Breedlove. Pecola prays for her eyes to turn blue so that she will be as beautiful and beloved as all the blond, blue-eyed children in America. In the autumn of 1941, the year the marigolds in the Breedloves’ garden do not bloom. Pecola’s life does change- in painful, devastating ways.
What its vivid evocation of the fear and loneliness at the heart of a child’s yearning, and the tragedy of its fulfillment. The Bluest Eye remains one of Toni Morrison’s most powerful, unforgettable novels- and a significant work of American fiction.

I have been having a lot of discussions lately about why diverse cultural representation is important in media, and The Bluest Eye is the exact book to prove such a point. Toni Morrison’s entire theme is based on the fact that not only do white people think black people are ugly, but black people believe it to be true as well. Only blonde-haired blue-eyed little girls are considered perfect and beautiful. Everyone with dark skin deserves to be designated as “less-than” and their lives too.

Through that terribly sad filter, we see those “less-than” lives:  the poverty, the brokenness, and as a plot-driver–the pedophilia. Morrison puts a very human face on this subject, both on the abuser and the victim. I don’t think her point is to make us sympathize with Cholly, but to show us the dangerous path one can go down. She doesn’t release him from the responsibility of what he does. His actions are cruel, harmful, and unforgivable. But I wonder if she is asking, “Could this have been preventable?” It’s a difficult question to answer, and one I am not sure of.

Morrison’s writing is legendary. Trigger warning on this, for obvious reasons, but if you can read it, please do. There are lessons here that absolutely should not be missed. Everyone needs Toni Morrison in their lives, she is an author that cannot be replicated. I only hope that by encouraging more diversity in publishing, we find more out there with just as much talent as she.

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Fulfill’s Boxall #114. This post contains affiliate links.

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Everyone Brave is Forgiven

It’s 1939 and Mary, a young socialite, is determined to shock her blueblood political family by volunteering for the war effort. She is assigned as a teacher to children who were evacuated from London and have been rejected by the countryside because they are infirm, mentally disabled, or—like Mary’s favorite student, Zachary—have colored skin.

Tom, an education administrator, is distraught when his best friend, Alastair, enlists. Alastair, an art restorer, has always seemed far removed from the violent life to which he has now condemned himself. But Tom finds distraction in Mary, first as her employer and then as their relationship quickly develops in the emotionally charged times. When Mary meets Alastair, the three are drawn into a tragic love triangle and—while war escalates and bombs begin falling around them—further into a new world unlike any they’ve ever known.

Chris Cleave has written the most unromantic WWII romance ever in the history of WWII romances.

That’s a compliment by the way.

The Goodreads’ summary above makes it seem all about the love triangle (which really doesn’t exist, by the way…not in the way we think of love triangles), but Cleave dives deep into so many social norms of 1930s-40s that most books of this nature don’t bother to look at.

The author uses historical prejudicial words throughout his narrative. Words like the n-word, mongol, retarded. Words that today are incredibly offensive, but in the 30’s were ordinary in context. But those prejudices are exactly the point Cleave is trying to make. He focuses heavily on the fact that healthy white children were rushed out to the countryside while blacks and mentally-ill children were mostly left to fend for themselves.

We also get an incredible portrayal of PTSD (or shell-shock, as it was known then), from multiple characters–and not just those fighting on the front. We see drug addiction, depression, suicide–and all the horrible stigma that went along with it.

Chris Cleave kicks off #MentalHealthMonth with a beautiful, historical not-so-romantic romance that bears the ugly truth about WWII. Everyone Brave is Forgiven comes out tomorrow, May 3, and while it is brave, it certainly does not need forgiveness.

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NetGalley provided this ARC for an unbiased review. Releases May 3.

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The End of the Affair

Why are the shortest books the hardest to write reviews about?

Blah! Probably because there’s not near as much detail, and I think there’s not as much time to get absorbed in the story. Plus, because I know they are short, I don’t invest myself into them–I just rush right through them.

If you’re going to write a book at the 200 page mark, you REALLY need to grab my attention and hold it (like Charlie Holmberg did with The Paper Magician)–otherwise you’re going to get tossed in the Read pile before I can finish a can of peanuts.

Not that I’ve finished those cans of Lord Nuts yet. Of course not.

Graham Greene writes short books. The End of the Affair clocks in at 192 pages. Really, more like 191.2. That last page has 6 lines on it. I will say that I preferred it to the first GG book I read, The Heart of the Matter, but…mostly it was just a short book. Maurice Bendrix is a novelist. He keeps to a strict schedule of 500 words every day. He’s no Stephen King, apparently. He falls in love with a married woman, and becomes increasingly jealous not only of her husband, but her other lovers. He goes so far as to hire a PI to find out what she is up to, supposedly for the benefit of her husband, but mostly he wants to find out who she is sleeping with.

While Bendrix’s jealousy of other men is the focus throughout the book, the real point of the novel is Sarah’s struggle with her faith and the concept of a jealous God. Halfway through the book, the perspective changes for a few chapters from Bendrix’s male narrative to Sarah’s female journals. Through these entries, we see her struggle with the decision to convert to Catholicism, even though her husband and lover are faithless.

These are fairly big concepts for such a short book, which is why I think it’s a stronger book than The Heart of the Matter. However, I did struggle some with his formatting. The first half of the book was all well and good. Bendrix is a little sad and mopey and self-absorbed…but he’s a novelist so…that’s to be expected (sorry writer friends–why is it that every novelist in books is always sad and mopey and self-absorbed?).

Then suddenly it changes to Sarah’s journal…WAIT WHAT? *double take* I was SO CONFUSED. One, because there’s no warning at all, it just starts with dates out of nowhere. And two, she knows Bendrix as Maurice. Which, from a lover’s perspective makes a lot of sense…but we’ve not known him by that name up to that point, and Bendrix has talked about her having other men, so now there’s this guy named Maurice and WHO IS HE? I totally did not make the connection that he was the same person. After a couple of chapters, it goes back to Bendrix’s narrative, again, with no warning whatsoever.

Bendrix as a character bothered me quite a bit too. His jealousy was ridiculous, especially since HE was the adulterer, not the husband. Henry, the actual husband, was not exactly cool with the whole thing, but was kind of a mousy guy. Bendrix just slut shamed Sarah, this woman he loved, all over the damn place. NO NO NO NO NO. You had sex with a married woman, who you knew liked to have sex with other men as well, you do not get to act like a jealous jilted lover.

So…um….remember that whole thing about how I didn’t have any feelings about this book? I apparently lied. Turns out I have a LOT of feelings about this little 191.2 pager. I’m going to rate this 2 Book Dragons. It gave me lots of feels, but they weren’t particularly pleasant ones.

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Fulfills Boxall #98

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