January 23, 2013


Diary of a Stage Mother's Daughter: a MemoirDiary of a Stage Mother's Daughter by Melissa Francis
Hardcover, Kindle and Audio
304 pages
Published 6, 2012 by Weinstein Books
ISBN-10:  1602861722
ISBN-13:   978-1602861725

The Glass Castle meets The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother in this dazzlingly honest and provocative family memoir by former child actress and current Fox Business Network anchor Melissa Francis. When Melissa Francis was eight years old, she won the role of lifetime: playing Cassandra Cooper Ingalls, the little girl who was adopted with her brother (played by young Jason Bateman) by the Ingalls family on the world's most famous primetime soap opera, Little House on the Prairie. Despite her age, she was already a veteran actress, living a charmed life, moving from one Hollywood set to the next. But behind the scenes, her success was fueled by the pride, pressure, and sometimes grinding cruelty of her stage mother, as fame and a mother's ambition pushed her older sister deeper into the shadows. 

Diary of a Stage Mother's Daughter is a fascinating account of life as a child star in the 1980's, and also a startling tale of a family under the care of a highly neurotic, dangerously competitive "tiger mother." But perhaps most importantly, now that Melissa has two sons of her own, it's a meditation on motherhood, and the value of pushing your children: how hard should you push a child to succeed, and at what point does your help turn into harm?

My Thoughts on Diary of a Stage Mother’s Daughter
Former child actress and current Fox news anchor Melissa Francis joins Allison Arngrim, Melissa Gilbert and Melissa Sue Anderson as Little House on the Prairie actresses who have penned memoirs.  Ms. Francis’ tome, however, is more like Ms. Arngrim’s, in exposing a dysfunctional nuclear family in which one member was on an enormously popular television show, than Ms. Anderson’s, which is primarily about the show itself.  (I have not read Ms. Gilbert’s as of this date so I cannot comment on the focus of her book).  I am an unapologetic Little House fan and within a day of hearing of this book’s release, I contacted the publisher and had a copy on the way to me. 

Diary of a Stage Mother’s Daughter was not at all the read I expected.  Not to say it’s a bad read; far from it, it’s a painfully honest and raw look at a family that moves at the whim of one member.  But if you’re looking for a book almost exclusively devoted to Little House, you will be disappointed.  Ms. Francis does give some behind the scenes details on Michael Landon’s penultimate show, including Landon’s jokester personality, as well as his drive for perfection, the horrible stage makeup that made each actor look as if they belonged more so in Willy Wonka’s Oompa Loompa land than on the prairie and the torture required to get those prairie braids.  Her biggest “reveal” may be the blatant lack of education that many child actors were exposed to.  She writes that the parents of those children “homeschooled” them but homeschooling was little more than blowing off education altogether so that the kids were available to audition and work.  She writes of knowing a fifth grader who had never heard of long division but that went on to win an Academy Award and an actress on Little House who, not being allowed to leave the classroom until she could spell “prairie”, had to have lunch brought in.  Since Ms. Francis’ time on the show was short (only two seasons), Little House is but a small portion of the book.  The main drive of the book is her tumultuous relationship with her mother and her difficult relationship with her sister, Tiffany - - also a child model and actress. 
While Ms. Francis’ mother is not presented in the Mommie Dearest stereotype, she would certainly make Judy Garland’s mother (known as the ultimate stage mother) sit up and take notes.  She was desperate for both Melissa and Tiffany to be successful and famous, despite what their own wishes might be.  Her life revolved around preparing her daughters for auditions, taking them to auditions and accompanying them on jobs . . . all while passively aggressively blaming them for any failures and for her own unhappiness.  

In contrast to the stage mother routine seemingly making Melissa stronger, it has the opposite effect on Tiffany, who shuns the entertainment industry by adolescence and turns inward, to alcohol, drugs and inappropriate behavior and friends.   
Ms. Francis’ father also plays a role in this sad sack of a family, both as a weakly complicit co-conspirator with his wife and a victim of her mood swings, erratic behavior and anger.  However, his love and compassion for Melissa is evident throughout the course of the book, as well as her own deep love for him.  I wish that he had stood up for his children more but having never walked in his shoes, living with a wildly unpredictable woman who likely was suffering from some type of chemical imbalance or mental issues, I suppose I can’t judge. 

While I wouldn’t term Diary of a Stage Mother’s Daughter a happy read, I came away from the book being very impressed with Melissa Francis.  Having only “known” her previously as Cassandra on Little House, she is obviously much deeper than that one role.  A Harvard graduate, who also attended classes at Stanford, she is very intelligent and seemed to have a good, solid head on her shoulders from the beginning.  (Unfortunately something that could possibly have helped her sister Tiffany during their upbringing).  It’s nice to read of a child actor who had more interests than merely stardom and money and who managed to voluntarily walk away from the industry and career prospects for education and a career not involving auditions and series renewals. 
I am happy that Ms. Francis has found herself with her career, with her supportive husband and their two children.  She came a long way from the prairie and emerged victorious and I say way to go, Melissa Francis!

For readers who enjoy a good memoir I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend Diary of a Stage Mother’s Daughter.  I would also encourage fans of Little House on the Prairie to pick this book up.  Despite the relative brevity of the beloved show, it’s always worthwhile to read of the reality of what truly went on with the actors and actresses on the show.
Diary of a Stage Mother’s Daughter by Melissa Francis is available at major booksellers, including Amazon.  I am an Amazon affiliate.  If you make a purchase through my link, I will receive a small commission.

Review copy of this book provided by the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review.  In no way did the provision of this book affect the outcome of my review.   
With thanks to Georgina Levitt at WeinsteinBooks for making this review possible.     

January 22, 2013

New Release Tuesday


Happy Release Day!

The Inventor and the Tycoon: A Gilded Age Murder and the Birth of Moving PicturesThe Inventor and the Tycoon:  A Gilded Age Murder and the Birth of Motion Pictures by Edward Ball
Hardcover, Kindle (464 pages) and Audio
Published by Doubleday

From the National Book Award-winning author of Slaves in the Family, a riveting true life/true crime narrative of the partnership between the murderer who invented the movies and the robber baron who built the railroads.

One hundred and thirty years ago Eadweard Muybridge invented stop-motion photography, anticipating and making possible motion pictures. He was the first to capture time and play it back for an audience, giving birth to visual media and screen entertainments of all kinds. Yet the artist and inventor Muybridge was also a murderer who killed coolly and meticulously, and his trial is one of the early instances of a media sensation. His patron was railroad tycoon (and former California governor) Leland Stanford, whose particular obsession was whether four hooves of a running horse ever left the ground at once. Stanford hired Muybridge and his camera to answer that question. And between them, the murderer and the railroad mogul launched the age of visual media.

Set in California during its frontier decades, The Tycoon and the Inventor interweaves Muybridge's quest to unlock the secrets of motion through photography, an obsessive murder plot, and the peculiar partnership of an eccentric inventor and a driven entrepreneur. A tale from the great American West, this popular history unspools a story of passion, wealth, and sinister ingenuity. 

The Lost Art of MixingThe Lost Art of Mixing by Erica Bauermeister
Hardcover, Paperback, Kindle (288 pages), Audio
Published by Putnam Adult

National bestselling author Erica Bauermeister returns to the enchanting world of The School of Essential Ingredients in this luminous sequel.

Lillian and her restaurant have a way of drawing people together. There’s Al, the accountant who finds meaning in numbers and ritual; Chloe, a budding chef who hasn’t learned to trust after heartbreak; Finnegan, quiet and steady as a tree, who can disappear into the background despite his massive height; Louise, Al’s wife, whose anger simmers just below the boiling point; and Isabelle, whose memories are slowly slipping from her grasp. And there’s Lillian herself, whose life has taken a turn she didn’t expect. . . .

Their lives collide and mix with those around them, sometimes joining in effortless connections, at other times sifting together and separating again, creating a family that is chosen, not given. A beautifully imagined novel about the ties that bind—and links that break—The Lost Art of Mixing is a captivating meditation on the power of love, food, and companionship.

The Archived (The Archived, #1)The Archived by Victoria Schwab
Hardcover and Kindle, 336 pages
Published by Hyperion

Imagine a place where the dead rest on shelves like books.

Each body has a story to tell, a life seen in pictures that only Librarians can read. The dead are called Histories, and the vast realm in which they rest is the Archive.

Da first brought Mackenzie Bishop here four years ago, when she was twelve years old, frightened but determined to prove herself. Now Da is dead, and Mac has grown into what he once was, a ruthless Keeper, tasked with stopping often-violent Histories from waking up and getting out. Because of her job, she lies to the people she loves, and she knows fear for what it is: a useful tool for staying alive.

Being a Keeper isn't just dangerous-it's a constant reminder of those Mac has lost. Da's death was hard enough, but now her little brother is gone too. Mac starts to wonder about the boundary between living and dying, sleeping and waking. In the Archive, the dead must never be disturbed. And yet, someone is deliberately altering Histories, erasing essential chapters. Unless Mac can piece together what remains, the Archive itself might crumble and fall.

In this haunting, richly imagined novel, Victoria Schwab reveals the thin lines between past and present, love and pain, trust and deceit, unbearable loss and hard-won redemption.

One Thousand Nights at the MoviesOne Thousand Nights at the Movies: An Illustrated History of Motion Pictures 1895-1915 by Q. David Bowers and Kathryn Fuller-Seeley
Hardcover, 414 pages
Published by Whitman Publishing

A detailed history of the birth of motion pictures. This richly illustrated coffee-table book charts the tumultuous growth from early inventions and Edison's innovations through the creation of film studios, picture palaces, and the first movie stars. Uniquely, the book celebrates and explores the showmanship of mom-and-pop Main Street nickelodeon theaters across the United States through a wealth of spectacular, never-before-published photographs and rare archival evidence. The authors bring a lifetime of research to this fascinating story of how an upstart new entertainment medium struggled in the early 1900's to become America's greatest form of popular culture — how it went from Main Street to Wall Street and changed the world.

These are just a few of the books releasing today.  Do you plan on reading one of them?

January 21, 2013

Guest Post: 5 Helpful Techniques To Attract Readers If You're a Beginning Blogger by Shelly Moore

5 Helpful Techniques To Attract Readers If You're A Beginning Blogger

One of the hardest things to do as a blogger is to attract readers. A lot of bloggers write excellent content, full of great advice & clear language, but still fail to bring in followers. In fact, the difference between a popular blog and an un-popular blog may be exceedingly small. Luckily, there are quite a few techniques that any blogger can use to gain followers and fast. Here are five helpful techniques to attract readers to your blog, especially if you're new to all this!

Social Media
Whether your blog is a serious or fun, you need to use social media in order to gain followers. Anytime you create a new blog post, you should post a link on a Facebook, Tumblr and Twitter account. If you have a decent amount of followers on your social media accounts, you should gain readers to your blog quickly. Don't post too often though, as that's a huge turn off.

If you are passionate about your blog niche, you should post in forums. In doing so, you can answer people’s questions, and post a link back to your blog for more info. This will help your SEO efforts and bring you direct traffic. This can be a tremendous help, especially if you are an authority on a given subject, but if you venture into spammy territory, then you'll risk falling out of Google's good graces, and that's a big no no, so tread carefully.

Keep it Short
Your posts should be concise, direct & easy to read. In doing so, readers will get the information they need without becoming bored. A long blog post is usually filled with irrelevant text, and will cause most readers to leave your site. Before writing an article, frame it in Microsoft Word. This will help you avoid deviating from the main subject too much.

Most bloggers don't need to become SEO experts, but they should still learn how to optimize their posts. A properly optimized page will help any blogger will gain readers via search engines. To learn how to do so, find the relevant LSI keywords for a subject. LSI keywords are alternate keywords about your topic. For example, if you are writing about running shoes, you might include similar keywords in the text, such as jogging sneakers or running footwear. This will help you draw visitors who might search using more obscure terms.

Stay On Topic
When you pick a blog topic, make sure to stick with itc. Otherwise, you may lose readers who become disinterested. Furthermore, trying to cover too many topics looks spammy. The best way to solve this problem is to think ahead - simply make sure you choose a topic that you can write about in the future. This will make it easier to write good content that is easy to read for years to come.

Shelly Moore has an MBA and MA in journalism from the University of Iowa. She writes about blogging & her career in online marketing. Her most recent work evaluates the best value online mba rankings.

January 14, 2013

Guest Post: Qualities of a Good Writer You Must Be Aware Of by Aaron Henry

Qualities Of A Good Writer That You Must Be Aware Of

Becoming a good writer takes a great deal of time and effort. It is a profession where the scope of one's work may change everyday, and is awfully far from a job in front of a desk. Topics change regularly and it is up to each individual writer to make sure he/she is mentally prepared to address whatever topic they are writing on, and its most important aspects. Apart from constantly changing topics, there are many other obstacles that a writer must be prepared for, such as mental blocks, distractions, and different writing styles. If you're wondering if you have what it takes to make it as a writer, here are the qualities you should aim to develop over your career.

Passion beats skill. Passion drives an individual to learn and master something that interests him/her, which in this case is writing. A writer must be willing to learn every different writing style out there and research his/her topics to the ends of the earth, in order to construct the best possible article, blog, story or novel. Trying to write great text without passion is similar to breathing under water. It is simply impossible. Sure, you can generate a good enough text that gets accepted or read, but no one will write home about it. If you stick to that approach, your career as a writer may never improve.

Attention to Detail
A good writer is grammatically well-versed and will have a keen eye for detail. This means that editing and proofreading his/her article several times will come naturally, hopefully even enjoyably. It's never a good idea to just submit a first draft of anything, whether it's 5 sentences of 5 pages. If you can't handle meticulously reviewing every piece of work you produce, writing may not be for you.

Deadline Much?
If you are writing for money rather than hobby, you are likely writing for clients. And in most cases, clients implement deadlines on their ordered assignments. A good writer never misses his/her deadline. Deadlines have a purpose and failure to meet one can and will lead to more headaches for your editors and employers. In other words, tardiness and poor time management will affect a lot of people above and beyond you - a good writer will take this responsibility seriously.

Writers need to be open minded in order to work on topics that exceed their familiarity. Freelance writers are often exposed to different employers and topics throughout their careers. One day you may be writing about green energy and the next day you may be writing for escort services. You have to be open minded, creative and able to pick up new skills on a daily basis in order tp construct meaningful and valuable content for your clients.

Thick Skin
You have to understand right here and now that you will always have haters.There is no way everyone will love your work. Clients will turn you down, critique your work, perhaps even fire you. That's ok - you have to bounce back, and improve. If this sounds unbearable, then you're likely not a true writer.

Becoming a good writer is not an overnight or month-long process. It will take months and even years to accomplish the stature similar to that of great writers. Despite the hardships and obstacles you'll face along the way, it will be rewarded greatly with more work opportunities and better per-word pay.

Aaron Henry writes about his career as a blogger, writer & teacher. His most recent work helps his readers find the best degrees for creative people.

January 12, 2013

DASH & LILY'S BOOK OF DARES by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan

Dash & Lily's Book of DaresDash & Lily's Book of Dares by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan
Hardcover, Paperback, Kindle & Audio
272 pages
Published October 11, 2011 by Ember
ISBN-10:  0375859551
ISBN-13:  978-0375859557
“I’ve left some clues for you.
If you want them, turn the page.
If you don’t, put the book back on the shelf, please.”

So begins the latest whirlwind romance from the New York Times bestselling authors of Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist. Lily has left a red notebook full of challenges on a favorite bookstore shelf, waiting for just the right guy to come along and accept its dares. But is Dash that right guy? Or are Dash and Lily only destined to trade dares, dreams, and desires in the notebook they pass back and forth at locations across New York? Could their in-person selves possibly connect as well as their notebook versions? Or will they be a comic mismatch of disastrous proportions?

Co-written by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan, co-author of WILL GRAYSON, WILL GRAYSON with John Green (LET IT SNOW, THE FAULT IN OUR STARS), DASH & LILY'S BOOK OF DARES is a love story that will have readers perusing bookstore shelves, looking and longing for a love (and a red notebook) of their own.

 My Thoughts on Dash & Lily’s Book of Dares
Dash & Lily’s Book of Dares is the perfect book for the anti-romantic, the anti-Christmas lover - - it takes a cynical view of love at first sight and holiday glee and yet leaves the reader in love with this book and its characters and feeling loads of holiday charm.  It may be classified as a Young Adult novel but this over-40 wife and mother thoroughly enjoyed each page. 

Authors Rachel Cohn and David Levithan take turns in narrating the story; Levithan writes the chapters on Dash, the bookish loner who is spending his Christmas vacation alone and Grinch-like and Cohn writes the chapters on Lily, the quirky teen with a fervent adoration of Christmas, who believes in the red notebook full of challenges that lead her and Dash all over Manhattan over the next few weeks. 
I picked up this book because I connected with the cover.  It’s very winter in New York, with the lamppost, the street sign and snow flurries.  I was happy with the idea of the concept once I read the description and the book came through, surpassing my expectations.  It’s not a typical romance; much like the film Sleepless in Seattle, the love interests spend our story apart until the end and we have the pleasure of enjoying every moment of their whimsical journey to find each other.    It starts with a red notebook on the shelf at the Strand Bookshop that Dash picks up and, intrigued, he follows the clues that will begin a correspondence with Lily, who is none too sure this slight take on You’ve Got Mail, with a dash (no pun intended) of a scavenger hunt, is going to work.  The backdrop of the two weeks or so surrounding Christmas, with both teens being abandoned by their parents during the holidays, gives Dash & Lily’s Book of Dares a somewhat mystical quality.  Having the two teens running around New York City at Christmas really does New York City justice.  It’s easy to mentally picture the two of them on their covert missions and, really, no other city could have worked with this story.  Well, I suppose another city could have but New York adds a certain charm that just goes with this story.

One of the things I really liked with the story was that Dash and Lily didn’t necessarily talk and act at all times like teenagers.  Dash seems a bit pretentious at first (but you will grow to like, if not love, him) and Lily, while kooky, is that girl in high school that everyone would like if they give her the chance.  While this was a bonus for me, it may score a tick in the negative column for actual teens reading this book.  In short, though, Lily is a strong and courageous character who is a positive female role model. 
If there are any negatives, it may be the sideline plot of Boris and the baby.  It was a little weird and took me out of the story briefly.  But it’s relatively minor. 

Despite the plot centering on two teenagers who are for the most part left unsupervised, there is a very small amount of drinking and no sex.  For any parents concerned about their child reading this tale, the after effect of the drinking is explored and is none too pretty.  There may be a few slang or curse words here and there (it is a book about teens, after all) but the book is a joyful and fun read and not offensive in the slightest.
I would recommend Dash & Lily’s Book of Dares to young and older readers alike.  It’s a festive holiday read and a warm and thoughtful read for any time of year. 

Dash & Lily’s Book of Dares is available for purchase at major booksellers, including Amazon.  I am an Amazon affiliate.  I will receive a small commission if you make a purchase through my link. 
FTC Disclosure:  This book came from my own personal collection.  I was neither compensated nor paid in any way for this review.