What’s Ashley Reading?: The Only Woman in the Room

The Only Woman in the Room by Marie Benedict

First line: My lids fluttered open, but the floodlights blinded me for a moment.

Summary: Hedy Kiesler was a young actress in Austria in 1933 when she meets Fritz Mandl, a munitions manufacturer. Her parents urge her to marry him in order to keep her safe with the threat of Nazi Germany looming over much of Europe. However, married life is not what she imagined. After fleeing her husband and the coming war, she travels to Hollywood and becomes the famously beautiful, Hedy Lamarr. As the path to war progresses, Hedy is determined to help save as many people as she can, even with very unconventional ways.

Highlights: Going into this novel I knew next to nothing about Hedy Lamarr. The one interaction with her was on the show, Timeless. I think this is one reason that I devoured this book. I did not know what to expect. Many authors have been taking readers back to the golden days of Hollywood but this is by far my favorite! Marie Benedict does a fantastic job of blending truth and fiction.

Hedy is not the normal Hollywood actress. She had other interests and was very intelligent. Her work on the guidance systems for torpedoes was leagues ahead of anyone else. It took months of work but she was not taken seriously by the men of the time. The technology is still used today in cell phones! Even though she has been called the most beautiful woman in the movies she wanted to be defined by more than that.

“Let me understand.  You are turning down our invention—which would have made your fleet unsurpassed in ocean warfare—because I’m a woman?  A famous one that you’d rather have shilling war bonds than helping build effective systems?  I can do both, you know—sell bonds and assist with your torpedoes, if that’s what it takes.”

After finishing her story I picked up the documentary, Bombshell, which goes past Benedict’s narrative but is a great companion to it. As with all the other Hollywood stories, I had to interlibrary loan several of Hedy’s movies. I cannot wait to watch them!

Lowlights: At first I was irritated that we spent such a long time in Austria and centering around her life with her husband as I read though the pacing made more sense. When Hedy arrives in the United States, she feels the guilt of leaving behind her loved ones. In addition, the knowledge she gains from her time with her husband help inform her for her inventions. I was sad that it ended so soon when there was still so much of her life to live but I think that now I have had time to reflect that the author made a good choice of ending it where she did.

FYI: If you enjoyed this than try books by Susan Meissner and Melanie Benjamin.

**Release date: January 8, 2019**

Book Review: The Girls in the Picture

The Girls in the Picture by Melanie Benjamin

First line: Lately, the line between real life and the movies has begun to blur.

Summary: Hollywood was not always the glamorous place it is today. At the dawn of the motion pictures were Frances Marion and Mary Pickford. Their friendship and collaboration created many of the earliest movies. Each took their careers in hand and made a name for themselves. Marion as a screenwriter and Mary as “America’s Sweetheart”. Through a duel narration, we see the changes of the movies, their lives and the nation.

Mary Pickford and Frances Marion

Highlights: Melanie Benjamin is becoming one of my favorite authors. She writes amazing stories of strong women. I am completely enamored with Mary Pickford and Frances Marion after reading this novel.  I really liked both characters. Each woman is independent but they have a strong friendship that they rely on as well. The history behind the beginning of the motion picture was fascinating to see through the eyes of women who actually experienced it when women were barely working outside the home.

I have inter-library loaned several of their movies as I read in order to watch the movies discussed in the story. Having never watched a silent film, it will be a fun experience. My first one will be Sparrows starring Mary Pickford.

Sparrows starring Mary Pickford

Lowlights: The middle of the plot was a little slow. Especially when Frances was in Europe during the First World War. It is an important point in her life but when the rest of the story is centered around Hollywood and the movies it was not as interesting.

FYI: If you like The Chaperone by Laura Moriarty then read this!

Release date: January 16, 2018

Book Review: The Hollywood Daughter

The Hollywood Daughter by Kate Alcott

First Line: Dropped something.

Summary: Jesse is the daughter of a Hollywood publicist in the 1940s. She attends a prestigious school where she gets to see the biggest star of the time, Ingrid Bergman. As she watches the stunning young actress in real life and on screen she comes to idolize her. After her mother believes that Jesse is becoming too involved with the Hollywood lifestyle her parents decide to send her to a Catholic school. She believes that her life has come to an end but it really is only the beginning. She learns more about herself and the world around her.

Highlights: Ingrid! The description of her is beautiful. I immediately had to place her movies on hold to see more of her work. The author does a wonderful job of making you feel the injustice that was thrown at Ingrid after her scandalous affair that ostracized her from her American fans. I was so mad at the public, the media and the Catholic Church but at the time it was normal.

Lowlights: There were little pieces in the story that seemed to be thrown in as fillers but didn’t seem to have much relevance to the overall story. Her friend seemed like a side story. She seemed like she should be more important but it was more in the background.

FYI: Place The Bells of St. Mary’s on hold! Bing Crosby and Ingrid Bergman are stunning.

Ingrid Bergman

Have you ever read a book about a historical figure and then had to jump on Wikipedia to learn more about the person? I have. All the time. My most recent historical obsession is Ingrid Bergman.   

I have been reading the newest book by Kate Alcott, The Hollywood Daughter, which is about a young girl who lives in L.A. and idolizes Ingrid.  She meets the famous actress and follows her career through its ups and downs.

The movie, Anastasia, with Ingrid Bergman and Yul Brynner was my first introduction to this iconic actress.  She was beautiful and talented.  As I am reading the main character talks about the movies that Ingrid has starred in and I immediately started adding them to my library hold list.

This week I have delved into The Bells of St. Mary’s and Notorious.  Both were great but I was particularly taken with the chemistry between Bing Crosby and Ingrid in the Bells of St. Mary’s.  I searched IMDb.com for trivia on the movie Notorious and found that Cary Grant and Alfred Hitchcock became lifelong friends with Ingrid after filming ended.

I still have For Whom the Bell Tolls and Murder on the Orient Express to watch and I am greatly looking forward to them. This enchanting Swedish actress that took America by storm in the 1940s has put me under her spell.

Check back soon for my review of The Hollywood Daughter by Kate Alcott.