Smart Blonde: Dolly Parton by Stephen Miller

Book cover for Smart BlondeWritten by Stephen Miller, who also penned biographical books about Johnny Cash and Kris Kristofferson, takes the reader through the steps taken by the “smart blonde” Dolly Parton as she climbed from her dirt poor “hillbilly” beginnings to become a music icon and idol of the gay community. Miller could not speak to the performer himself and found many doors closed when he attempted to speak to the “inner circle” of Dolly.

There were a few of Parton’s friends and colleagues who were happy to relate their experiences and at least two of Dolly’s sisters opened up about being the non-famous siblings of the musical performer. Stella, who painted the least flattering portrait of her iconic sister, does come across as one with “sour grape” syndrome but she insists that despite her less than flattering picture she loves her sister.

Regardless of the lack of participants in the writing of this biographical journey, published in 2007 with an updated, or appended final chapter, the story of Dolly’s beginnings and her determination to be the center of attention where ever she goes, is pretty inclusive. Her long and often tumultuous professional relationship with country legend Porter Wagoner, who gave her the start she needed at the beginning, and her “enigmatic” marriage to Carl are looked at in depth.

By the end of the book the reader has a pretty good idea of what makes Dolly tick. A combination of pure talent, vivaciousness, energy, generosity, and drive all give this performer the edge to stay on top of her game. Dolly also has an innate sense of what will or will not work. This combined with the ability to just be honest with herself and her fans has endeared the performer to many.

Miller gives as many sides of Dolly’s story as possible. From her Uncle Bill Owen, who used to sit her on his lap on the long trips at the beginning of her career as a captivating 11 year-old, to the bickering that went on behind the Trio I & II albums with Linda Ronstadt and Emmy Lou Harris.

It would be interesting to have a further update which compares Dolly with her young Goddaughter Miley Cyrus and to look at their relationship. Dolly supports the younger artist and has gone on record as stating that despite being shocked at some of the things Miley done, “it’s in a good way.”

It is easy to paint parallels between the two women, but it would be incorrect to do so. Dolly started out with all the odds against her. Pure talent and the need to be adored by everyone gave Ms. Parton her avenue of escape from grinding poverty. Cyrus was born into the business and while she seems to have molded some of her career path on the OTT Godmother’s journey, she does not have the finesse to walk that fine line.

Parton, as pointed out by the author, is a walking dichotomy in terms of her religious upbringing and her Christian beliefs. The singer/songwriter has fully supported gays and their right to marry, much to the chagrin of some family members and the church. While this could be seen as an attempt to appease her huge gay following, reading the book by Miller negates this possibility.

Stephen Miller has taken great pains to show many sides to Dolly Parton in Smart Blonde and by the end of the updated book it is hard to believe that the performer is anything but earnestly sincere in her ideas and life. Miller also includes a lot of information gleaned from Dolly’s many appearances on British television. Interviews with Michael Parkinson, Terry Wogan, Melvyn Bragg (She was the subject of The South Bank Show) and even BBC One’s The One Show are quoted quite a lot.

This is a real 4 out of 5 star read. The loss of one star is down to the fact that Dolly did not participate in the writing of the book.

27 May 2015

Michael Knox-Smith

Burning the Middle Ground by L Andrew Cooper A Battle for Control

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Written by L Andrew Cooper and published by Blackwyrm Publishing, Burning Middle Ground is a supernatural cum horror cum occult novel. Featuring a religious zealot that will make you think immediately of that Westboro bunch, the book disturbs as much as it scares.

The book’s prologue deals with the murder/suicide of and entire family sans one, Brian. After the events on this tragic and horrible day, Brian doesn’t speak for an entire year. When he is released out into the community and he decides to move into his old house, feelings are mixed in the tiny burg.

The story is about small town USA and it’s a town split by two very different Christian factors. Investigative internet reporter Ronald Glassner goes to the small town of Kenning, Georgia to cover Brian’s return and besides fall for one of the local sheriff’s deputies, he gets caught up in a battle of wills between two churches. One of which is practising a religion older than Christianity and it’s very powerful.

Once Ronald arrives in the small town, strange things begin to happen. Animals run wild, impossible events become common place and people are acting very weird.

All the characters in Cooper’s book are likeable. I felt like I could identify with each and every one and they did a brilliant job of not just representing the denizens of the southern hemisphere of America, but they also had enough quirks and foibles to seem real.

Ronald has the acerbic wit and a sort of radar that helps him to sense when things are not right. He also tends to joke too much when he is stressed. As the third person narrator of the story he is charming, funny, scared and sensible.

The books main “bogey-man” Deacon Jake Warren is an outsider who has made Kenning his home and base of operation. He soon enlists the aid of Reverend Michael Cox a local “fire and brimstone, eye for an eye” man of the cloth. Soon Cox’s wife and the local sheriff are part of his plans for Kenning as well.

In the opposite camp you have Jeanne Harper who runs a church that practices a more peaceful and loving religion she counts, among her flock, Brian and his girl friend Melanie and a small handful of locals who don’t like what Rev Cox preaches. Especially as it was one of his sermons that appeared to have set off the stream of events at the beginning of the book.

With imagery that would not look out of place in a Stephen King or Peter Straub book, Cooper has created a world that, despite its nightmarish aspect, is very cinematic and easy to picture in your mind as you encounter it. I became quite attached to all the main characters and as they struggle to the conclusion of this story, I felt bad when bad things happened to them.

This is obviously the beginning of what promises to be a brilliant series and I cannot wait to see what Mr Cooper has in store for the survivors of Kenning.

LAndrewCooperTourBadge

Dead Room by Chris Mooney Marvellous McCormick

 

dead-room_175This CSI Darby McCormick’s third outing, the first two being The Missing and Secret Friend. I am thrilled to make her acquaintance as I think she is a marvellous protagonist and one of the best female role models I’ve met in fiction today.

Darby McCormick is tough, gritty, uncomplaining, extremely smart and very good at what she does. In her world it is a case of “like father, like daughter” as she followed her father’s footsteps to be an upholder of the law.

At the beginning of the book, she is the last woman left in SWAT training and her male colleagues have dwindled to just a handful. While she is finishing her last practical exam, a woman and her son are being tortured and killed. When Darby leaves the training ground, she gets the call to attend the crime scene.

Once at the crime scene, it turns out that the boy isn’t dead, it appears that someone shot their way into the house to save him. Now Darby has a wild card to wonder about as she tries to track down the killers.

This story will dredge up old skeletons for the Boston Police Department as well as the FBI and Darby’s favourite lab partner Cooper ‘Coop’ Jackson. Bad men thought long dead will come back to life and threaten everything that Darby cares about. It will bring her face to face with her father’s and Coop’s past and it won’t be pretty.

Besides loving this book from the very first sentence, I fell in love with the protagonists. Especially McCormick the Irish Colleen cop who is almost the Dirty Harriet of her world. When you meet this incredible cop, you’ll wish all police were this capable.

Mooney writes a mean story. It is crisp, succinct, fast paced and hard to put down. While I didn’t read this in a single sitting, I came damned close. As I read it on the ibook reader, I didn’t have the problem of not turning the pages quick enough, but it was close. This mystery/cop/thriller has introduced me to a new hero and a new writer; one which will be taking a spot in my new stable of ebook writers.

This was a real corker of a read and it earns a full 5 out of 5 stars for me, for having a fantastically twisting plot, high octane action and a backstory that will make you shudder at the way a man can “rule” a township.

An instant classic, this is available from booksellers and is on the Kindle and iBooks.

Author Chris Mooney
Author Chris Mooney

 

 

 

 

 

 

Three Bad Men John Ford, John Wayne, Ward Bond by Scott Allen Nollen

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Growing up all three of these men were an integral part of my childhood. Specifically John “Pappy” Ford in the cinemas and of course John Wayne ‘Duke’ and Ward Bond as well, but Mr Bond had the added distinction of being in my folks’ living rooms each week as Major Seth Adams, in Wagon Train.

Of course, I saw all the films and television shows long after they were initially made. The films, I saw on Saturday night at the movies (usually accompanied by a huge bowl of popcorn and a tall ice filled glass of Coca-Cola) and the Wagon Train episodes I watched were the newer ones with John McIntire with the occasional re-run with Ward Bond in. Come to think of it, the McIntire ones were probably re-runs as well.

I do remember with perfect clarity that my family adored the John Wayne film Rio Bravo and we watched it every single time it came on the telly. The Searchers was another family favourite because it was a John Ford film with both Duke and Bond in it; not to mention Hank Worden as good ole Mose Harper. Another John Ford favourite was The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.

John "Pappy" Ford.
John “Pappy” Ford.

This book, lovingly crafted by Mr Nollen, tells the warts and all story of this triangular “bro-mance” long before that phrase came into vogue. These three remarkably talented men had a love affair with one another that abided until death. Not in a sexual sense, although rumours persisted that Pappy might just have an inclination “that way.” But in a father and two sons sense. Ford often spent more time with his two adopted sons than he did his own children.

Besides taking an in-depth look at all three men, Nollen gives one of the best breakdowns of Wardell Edwin Bond’s career than any other book I’ve read. I never realised that on top of the television shows he made, Bond had over 271 screen credits in films alone. Besides this all-encompassing career breakdown, we learn more of Ward himself, what made the man tick and why, perhaps, he did some of the more unpopular things that he did.

I have long been a fan of all three men and it was delightful to see such an honest telling of these men’s relationship with one another and the myths that they built and embellished over the years. It is disappointing to lose that childlike reverence for great artists, but it is more important to have an adult’s respect for what they accomplished on-screen and off; good and bad.

Wayne, for all his American for all seasons hero, personally stood for political things that hurt his personal image. These same political stances also hurt others in the same industry. Bond had similar feelings and he too practised a very biased type of politics that, like Wayne’s, could be vengeful. It was surprising, to me, to find that John Ford didn’t agree with either of his “two boys” in the area of politics, for I’d assumed (wrongly) that politically all three were peas in the same pod.

John Fords The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.
John Fords The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.

Nollen has given us a personal look at three legends of the silver screen, big and small, and talked to some of the people who worked right along side of them. For a fan of these three talented men, this is a gold mine of a book. I only wish I could have afforded the hardback version instead of having to buy the eBook version.

Not because the eBook is less readable, but for a book about such old Hollywood legends, it would be nice to have an old-fashioned book to hold and look at.

I cannot end this review without giving thanks to Colin over at Riding the High Country blog for making me aware of this book through his excellent review of it.

If you are into books about the entertainment business this will be a 5 out of 5 stars. Only the rules of math keep me from giving it a 6 out of 5.

Wardell Edwin Bond.
Wardell Edwin Bond.

Perfect Flaw Edited by Robin Blankenship

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This science fiction anthology has tales from 17 different authors and despite the stories all being unique and interesting; not to mention very entertaining, they have one thing in common.

They indicate a future that makes 1984 and “big brother” seem almost benevolent by comparison. Each offer a vision of an Apollonian society gone wrong, tweaked and perfected until it has gone into a Dionysian free fall.

Smilers by Carolyn M Chang reflects a society that practises positive thinking to the ultimate level.

Cracks in the Concrete by Frank Roger tells of a government that has become paranoid and expects its denizens to be the same.

First Head by H S Donnelly is a nightmarish look at self-preservation gone horribly wrong.

These are just three examples of the brilliant stories in this collection.

If you are a fan of science fiction you’ll love this book. Each author has given his or her take on the future and all the various problems and societal ills that it might contain. Each story takes existing topical problems and forecasts their conclusions in the future.

I have always been a fan of Harlan Ellison, Larry Niven, Ray Bradbury and Issac Asimov, just to name my absolute favourites. Perfect Flaw exhibits a great spectrum of authors who now fall into my list of “new and to be read” authors, whose existence was unknown to me before reading this book.

I have to give a “special mention” to author Michael O’Conner for his story The Choosing. This story took me by surprise by having an O Henry type twist in this tale that left me shaking my head. Although it is hard to pick a favourite out of this anthology, his was the one that stayed in my head long after I read it.

Perfect Flaw has been released by Seventh Star Publishing and is available on Amazon as well as other booksellers.

This is a real 5 out of 5 star book that entertained the hell out of me!

Editor Robin Blankenship
Editor Robin Blankenship