Estelle: Laura Lamont’s Life in Pictures by Emma Straub

Laura Lamont's Life in Pictures by Emma StraubLaura Lamont’s Life in Pictures by Emma Straub [ website | twitter ]
Publication Date: September 4, 2012
Publisher: Riverhead Books
Pages: 306
Target audience: Adult
Keywords: 1920s, Hollywood, family drama, theatre/films
Format read: ARC from Putnam. (Thanks!)

Summary:  Since she was little, Elsa has been enamored with the small playhouse her family runs. Her dad directs and acts, her sister dreams of being a star, and she loves to be around the stage. A heartbreaking event and the need to get out of her small town leads Elsa to Hollywood with her young husband, a fellow actor.  As Elsa’s dreams of stardom face ups and downs, Laura Lamont’s Life in Pictures spans over 50 years of love, family, roadblocks and success.

Like a certain little girl named Frances Gumm who had a humble beginning in Minnesota in a vaudeville group, Elsa Emerson, the youngest of three sisters, loved to watch the inner workings of her family’s playhouse every summer. The actors who came in and out, her dad’s energy as as director and actor, her beautiful and vivacious sister, Hildy, and the small opportunity to make an appearance on stage. In 1938, the same year Frances Gumm started filming a little movie called The Wizard of Oz under the name Judy Garland, Elsa Emerson was on her way to morphing into Laura Lamont, glamorous and famed newcomer to Hollywood.

After getting to know Elsa as a youngster, I was surprised she was the one to escape Wisconsin. It almost seemed out of character. She idolized her father, and loved the comfort and creativity that came out of her family’s little theater. But being the observer caused Elsa to understand a few things a bit too early and see a lot she didn’t want to see. When a tragic event occurs and disrupts her family circle, getting married young and jetting off to California seems like the best option.

Straub’s writing is filled with brilliant descriptions, and very little dialogue. The novel is a little dense and takes some patience to get through but the payoff is worth it. Through the fancy times and tougher moments, Straub skillfully keeps Laura amazingly down to earth. She does go through her share of disappointment, regret, and triumph (although maybe not for the reasons she originally thought). Through Laura’s path at times seems familiar (a la Judy Garland or Marilyn Monroe), Straub is able to instill a certain amount of hope between the lines.

Plus, the supporting characters — especially Ginger, Elsa’s best friend and a ringer for Lucille Ball; Irving, a man who changes her life; and later, her children, especially her son, Junior — brought much to the story and broke up the times when Laura wasn’t engaging in much action.

I’m a huge fan of classic movie stars so it was refreshing to read a fictional account. In the years that span Laura’s youth and the later years of her life, she continually battled between the small town girl who wanted fame and fortune, and the star with all the pressure, responsibility and joy that came along with it. Life, understandably, grew a bit confusing and overwhelming when one identity took over the other, and I enjoyed following as Laura regained a content balance.

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The Big Kids’ Table: 5 Adult Reads from Rather Be Reading (September 2012)

The Big Kids' Table, Rather Be Reading Blog's monthly break from young adult genre and introduction to some adult titles

The Big Kids’ Table is a monthly feature from Rather Be Reading Blog,
where we
take a tiny break from the young adult genre to shed some light on
five adult titles you may want to add to your reading list.


Can you believe it’s the second week in September already? I woke up this morning to 54-degree weather, had to blow dry my hair, and wear a jacket. This has not happened in forever! With fall close by, I’m so excited about curling up with a latte and a few billion books as the months get colder over here. As far as my adult fiction picks are concerned, I am mighty excited about these titles and I think that if you are a young adult reader who may be itching to try something new but remain unsure… one of these books might be a good place to start! (One of these authors is actually super well-known in the YA world too!)

Please be sure to let me know if you have any great adult recs in the comments! Until next time… e

Laura Lamont's Life in PicturesLaura Lamont’s Life in Pictures by Emma Straub (Goodreads)
Release Date: September 4, 2012
Description (from GR): In 1920, Elsa Emerson, the youngest and blondest of three sisters, is born in idyllic Door County, Wisconsin. Her family owns the Cherry County Playhouse, and more than anything, Elsa relishes appearing onstage, where she soaks up the approval of her father and the embrace of the audience. But when tragedy strikes her family, her acting becomes more than a child¹s game of pretend.

While still in her teens, Elsa marries and flees to Los Angeles. There she is discovered by Irving Green, one of the most powerful executives in Hollywood, who refashions her as a serious, exotic brunette and renames her Laura Lamont. Irving becomes Laura’s great love; she becomes an Academy Award­-winning actress—and a genuine movie star. Laura experiences all the glamour and extravagance of the heady pinnacle of stardom in the studio-system era, but ultimately her story is a timeless one of a woman trying to balance career, family, and personal happiness, all while remaining true to herself. 

Finding Bluefield by Elan BarnehamaFinding Bluefield by Elan Barnehama (Goodreads)
Release Date: September 18, 2012
Description (from GR): Everything changes when Barbara enters Nicky’s diner and begins a journey that will last a lifetime as she falls in love against her better judgment and best-laid plans. The free-spirited Nicky later attends the 1963 March on Washington and impulsively and anonymously sleeps with a man in hopes of getting pregnant and starting a family with Barbara. When Nicky gives birth to Paul, her sister steps in to adopt Paul for his own “protection.”

Nicky, Barbara, and Paul escape Bluefield and make a life in upstate New York, only returning to Bluefield years later upon hearing of the death of Nicky’s sister. As their journey comes full circle, Barbara, Paul, and Nicky find their return to Bluefield is the catalyst for facing family secrets and forging family ties.

How I Came to Sparkle Again by Kate McLarenHow I Came to Sparkle Again by Kaya McLaren (Goodreads)
Release Date: October 2, 2012
Description (from GR):  Jill Anthony spent her young adulthood in the ski town of Sparkle, Colorado.  But more than a decade has passed since she left when, only weeks after a very late miscarriage, she finds her husband in bed with another woman, she flees Austin, Texas for the town she knows:  Sparkle.

Lisa Carlucci wakes up one morning after another night of meaningless sex, looks in the mirror and realizes that she no longer wants to treat her body like a Holiday Inn. She’s going to hold out for love.  The only problem is, love might come in the form of her ski bum best friend, who lives next door with his ski bum friends in a trailer known as “the Kennel.”

Cassie Jones, at age ten, has lost her mother to cancer and no longer believes in anything anymore.  She knows her father is desperately worried about her, and she constantly looks for messages from her deceased mother through the heart-shaped rocks they once collected in the streams and hills of Sparkle. 

Three people at the crossroads of heartbreak and healing. Three lives that will be changed one winter in Sparkle.  One tender, funny, tear-jerking novel you won’t soon forget.

Sad Desk Salad by Jessica GroseSad Desk Salad by Jessica Grose (Goodreads)
Release Date: October 2, 2012
Description (from GR): Alex Lyons gets paid to be a bitch. As writer for Chick Habit, a website for women and one of the most popular blogs on the Internet, she’s fulfilling her dream of being a professional writer. Maybe she’s not quite championing the women’s rights issues she used to write about in college-but Alex churns out several posts a day, beginning with hard news at 8 am (a meth-addicted former beauty queen, perfect); morning and evening gossip roundups; and especially juicy posts for blog primetime , when women in their offices all over both coasts eat their sad desk salads.

So what if it means burrowing into the couch while her boyfriend is at work, compulsively scouring the Web from 6 am until 6 pm to find the next big celebrity scandal, and only moving for five minutes to grab a sad couch salad of her own…but the last time she left her computer for more than 10 minutes, Farrah Fawcett died, and she missed the scoop. It’s a chick-eat-chick world; and since Chick Habit’s parent company has been cracking down about page views, Alex knows her job is at risk.

So when an anonymous tipster sends Alex the juiciest scoop of the year-a politico’s squeaky-clean Ivy League daughter caught in the act of some very R-rated activity-it’s a no-brainer. As she prepares to ignite the next Internet feeding frenzy, she hesitates: is she ready to ruin the girl’s life? What Alex doesn’t anticipate is how the big scoop will send her own life spiraling out of control.

The Elementals by Francesca Lia BlockThe Elementals by Francesca Lia Block (Goodreads)
Release Date: October 12, 2012
Description (from GR):  The Elementals  is on one level an intriguing coming-of-age novel about a young woman, Ariel Silverman, facing the challenges of her first years away at college in Berkeley, California, while her mother battles cancer at home in Los Angeles. But the book takes on deeper, stranger meanings when we realize that Ariel is haunted by the disappearance of her best friend, Jeni, who vanished without a trace a few years before, closing Ariel’s heart and changing her forever.  Ariel wonders if she will ever be fully alive, until she meets three mysterious, beautiful and seductive young people living in a strange old house in the Berkeley hills.  Through them Ariel will unravel the mystery of her best friend’s disappearance and face a chilling choice.