Hostile Makeover Book & Lifetime Movie Review

Washington DC has its share of problems – corrupt politicians, astronomical living expenses, congested roadways to name a few. On top of all that, it’s the town fashion forgot. It’s a place where helmet-haired women in boxy power suits run rampant. Men in noose-tight neckties and high-water trousers roam the streets. Heck – the whole town is a What Not to Wear Fest!

Thankfully, Lacey Smithsonian, a crime reporter-turned fashion columnist, is on the beat. Okay now don’t roll your eyes just yet! This isn’t your typical trash-talking E Entertainment commentator. As a matter of fact, she’s not even into labels (ick!) and couture fashion. Heck, she doesn’t even want to write a fashion column, but it was the only reporting gig she could get after moving from Colorado to DC. With a nose for hard news, she manages to find her way on the front page. You see, the fashion industry is cutthroat – literally!

In the third  installment of Ellen Byerrum’s fun and frothy Crime of Fashion series, Lacey must solve the murder of Amanda Manville, a former “ugly duckling” turned supermodel beauty. Thanks to a highly disturbing makeover TV show, she got the full works in plastic surgery, hair extensions and cosmetic dentistry.

Now a stark-raving diva from hell (picture Shannon Doherty meets Janice Dickenson), she’s got more enemies than Naomi Campbell. Since she kicked her sweet, homely boyfriend to the curb and jumped in bed with her hotshot plastic surgeon, she’s been scratched off of a lot of Christmas card lists. Plus she’s taking credit for her sister’s Snazzy Jane fashion designs, so not cool! Soon enough, she starts receiving notes about her impending death from a crazed fan. Sure, death threats seem to come with the territory of celebrity stardom, but these foreboding notes seem to have a personal touch.

Aware of Lacey’s reputation for solving crimes with fashion clues, Amanda demands her to ferret out the murderous fiend before it’s too late. Lacey begrudgingly looks into the case and finds a slew of possible suspects. Could it be the jealous sister, who’s having some trouble adjusting to Amanda’s stardom and her own fading looks? Or is it the stalker who’s determined to defame the girl who broke his best friend’s heart? What the heck happened to the ex-boyfriend anyway? Was Amanda involved in his disappearance? You’ll have to read the book to find out! You could also watch the movie, but there’s way too many holes in the mystery, so I recommend reading the book first.

That’s not to say I don’t enjoy the Lifetime movie adaptations of the Crime of Fashion books. Yes, a lot of loose ends are left untied, and a bunch of quirky characters are left out of the mix. But I must say, Lifetime did a fine job with the cast. Here’s my little rundown of where Lifetime went right, and where they missed the mark.

The Cast

I don’t think they could’ve picked a better actress to play Lacey Smithsonian. Maggie Lawson fits the profile: Smart, sassy, guarded and ambitious.  She plays a believable investigative reporter, and her chemistry with Vic is great.

Speaking of Vic – wow! This actor really hit the mark. He’s the textbook definition of a tall, dark and handsome love interest. Plus he’s got some decent acting chops to boot!

The actress who plays Lacey’s mom is also a winner. She’s funny, sassy and little more stylish than her book counterpart. Despite its short length, the movie does a good job capturing her disapproval of Lacey’s DC lifestyle and fanatical obsession with feng shui. Her incessant nagging frustrates Lacey to no end, yet they still have some sweet mother-daughter moments.

As for the sister, I was picturing a blonde cheerleader type, not a gangly brunette. I’m not sure why they had to change up the sister in the series, but overall the actress does a good job portraying a sheltered ditz.

Tony Trujillo, Eye Street crime reporter and Lacey’s friendly rival, is way different in the TV series. I pictured more of an urban cowboy type, but Lifetime turned him into more of a metrosexual pretty boy. But you know what – I kind of like what they did with this smart ass character. He’s super cute and his quips are hilarious. Wouldn’t it be fun if his flirtations  with Lacey blossomed into something more?!?

Another TV character I really enjoy is Felicity Pickles, Eye Street Observer food editor, resident cookie baker, and copy-editing bitch from hell. In the book she’s a mousey, stringy haired frump. But in the series, she’s much more fashion forward with her Marilyn Monroe hairdo and red-hot stilettos. I wish they included her nerdy love interest, Harlan Weidmeyer. Known as the office jinx, he seems to be the cause of fluke accidents. It would have been fun to see how things developed between the accident-prone reporter and the office witch on the small screen.

The Besties

Here’s where the movie went right! I love how Lacey and her two best gal pals are one big happy family. In the books, however, Brooke (a pragmatic lawyer)  and Stella (a leather-clad hairstylist) aren’t fans of each other, so Lacey typically hangs out with them separately. But in the movies, I really enjoy their Ya Ya Sisterhood moments, like when they come to Lacey’s rescue after an attack, or when they just hang out and do silly girly girl stuff.

The Fashions

Lacey loves all things vintage. She drives a classic Z, wears 1940s frocks and loves old movies. On TV, she seems to wear more of a mix of vintage and contemporary styles. I’m not sure why they didn’t go all out with World War II era ensembles, but she looked cute nonetheless. What’s really missing is Aunt Mimi’s trunk! It’s really a shame they didn’t include this integral piece of the story. Filled with sewing patterns, old dresses and memorabilia, the trunk gives Lacey a sense of peace and calm during times of crisis. I’m hoping that at some point, Aunt Mimi will join Lacey as a ghostly sidekick!

OK Lifetime fans, what do you think? Did the movies do the books justice? Post a comment and share your thoughts! For more about the author, who just so happens to be a fashionable DC journalist, check out her Q&A.

Giveaway, Review and Q&A: Death on Heels by Ellen Byerrum

In her eighth novel featuring the fearless Washington D.C. fashion columnist, Lacey Smithsonian, Ellen Byerrum successfully pulls off another rollicking mystery filled with an eclectic mix of colorful characters and more red herrings than you can shake a stick at!

As the novel opens, Lacey reluctantly returns to her dreary hometown of Sagebrush, Colorado to investigate the murders of three young women – all left for dead on the side of the road without their blinged-out cowgirl boots.

All fingers point to her ex-boyfriend, Cole Tucker, a sexy-as-hell cowboy rancher who still carries a torch for his old girlfriend. Despite the incriminating evidence, which seemed to be carefully placed on his land, she’s certain of her old beau’s innocence. Of course, her current boyfriend and private investigator, Vic Donovan, isn’t all too keen on her rushing to the aid of a suspected killer…who might also be her one true love.

Just as she feared, her heart  melts the second she sees the rugged cowboy in his brown jailbird jumpsuit. And things go from bad to worse when he breaks free of his cuffs, slings her over his shoulder and flees the courthouse in a blaze of glory.

On the run from the law, Cole whisks Lacey away into the rugged plains of Northern Colorado. Traveling deep into God’s country in “borrowed” cars and on horseback, the two ex-lovers shack up in a creepy abandoned cabin and stumble upon an essential fashion clue: a black cowboy bootheel wrapped in silver filigree.

As Lacey pieces together the clues, she encounters a slew of shady characters with ample motives for railroading her old flame. They’re all chomping at the bit for a piece of his land, aptly named  “The Tuckered Out Ranch,” which sits atop a goldmine of mineral resources.

With Vic and a posse of trigger-happy local yokels in hot pursuit, Lacey fears for Cole’s safety and struggles with her unresolved feelings. Could the man she left behind be the one? I’ve always been on team Vic, but this cowboy is H-O-T (think young Scott Glenn in Urban Cowboy), and the romantic tension intensifies every time they lock eyes. Boy is she in for a bumpy ride – and I’m not just talking about riding horseback along the badlands of rural Colorado.

If you’re new to the Crimes of Fashion mystery series, you’re in for a treat! The author  imbues her writing with an addictive sense of wit, and Lacey’s adventures are laugh-out-loud funny. Not only does Ellen deliver a wonderfully quirky yet completely believable cast of characters including Lacey’s spunky little sister, Cherise, who threatens to steal the whole show, but the book’s exceptionally entertaining plot strikes the perfect balance between high-stakes danger and smoldering romance. Oh and I should also mention the delightful “fashion bites” are an added bonus for fashionably-challenged wannabe cowgirls like myself! Here are a couple of my faves:

“So ladies, if the boot fits, wear it. Wear your boots with pants, shorts, skirts, and dresses. Wear them with a swagger and a glint in your eyes. Wear them with a purpose. Wear them with an attitude. Wear them walking toward your destiny. But never wear them with indifference.”

“When you don a Western look, you’re wearing an American classic, a little piece of the frontier, of the Wild West, and the wild imagination as well. Not a Halloween costume.

Now without any further ado, I’m proud to present a Q&A with the fabulous Ellen Byerrum!

Welcome Ellen! Why does Lacey love wearing vintage fashions? And what does this unique style say about her character?

Vintage clothing is attractive to Lacey for several reasons. Vintage gives her the opportunity to wear a suit or a dress that is unusual, if not one of a kind. The clothes from the late 1930s and 1940s, which Lacey prefers, were built for a woman’s figure, not a boyish one. The clothing that survives from 60 and 70 years ago tends to be the better clothes, the pieces that people saved, treasured and kept in good condition. Their “Sunday best,” if you will. The styles were flattering, and because of government regulations that restricted fabric, designers were a lot more creative in the details.  And finally, Lacey likes to think that some of the spirit of the original owner remains in those dresses and suits and coats, the spirit of strong women who kept the country running through World War II.

Will Lacey infuse some country flare into her vintage ensembles while she’s hunting down clues in her hometown of Sagebrush, Colorado?

More likely she takes her big city flair to the country and tries to blend her styles. But you’ll have to see for yourself.

How has Lacey evolved since the first installment of the Crimes of Fashions mystery series?

In the first book, Killer Hair, Lacey was reluctant to get involved in murder investigations, but as time goes by—eight books, but less than a year in book time—she’s more sure of herself and finding creative ways to use her fashion beat to write what she wants to write. Since the first book, Lacey has fallen in love, studied private investigation, and come to appreciate her mother and sister in ways she hadn’t before.

I have to admit, I watched the Lifetime movies before reading your novels. I was quite surprised by how different the books were from the movies. In your opinion, how did they get it right – and where did they miss the mark?

My first reaction when I saw the movies was that I could tell every line that wasn’t mine! Nevertheless, it was a great thrill to have movies based on my books, though not quite a complete retelling. I thought that some of the characters were great. Maggie Lawson made a charming Lacey, Victor Webster was a terrific Vic Donovan, and together they created great chemistry. Stella was nothing like the character in the book, but the actress was endearing, and I loved Brooke as well. One of the best surprises was the actress playing Felicity Pickles. Though she was a blonde and not a brunette like the character in the books, she was wonderful in a very small role. And the killer was really good. In addition, I have to say it was a kick doing a walk-on in the movie in front of the White House! People who know me can spot my big moment on camera.

KILLER HAIR was pretty faithful to the book and I thought the climax was well done, well directed, and suspenseful. HOSTILE MAKEOVER followed the set up of the book and then. . . deviated. All I can say is that there is a point to HM about how beautiful people can harbor monsters inside, but the film didn’t get that point. At all. Let’s just say I was surprised at the big finish in the second movie.

As far as what they missed?  I heard from a lot of readers who were outraged that Aunt Mimi’s trunk was not in the movies. I agree, it was a puzzling omission. After all, Lacey often finds her inspirations in the trunk and runs to it whenever she’s stressed or baffled. She has found many of her outfits in the trunk, with its bottomless treasure trove of patterns and materials. About the vintage clothing in the film: While Maggie Lawson’s costumes were some sort of vintage, including dresses looked like they dated from the 1970s and 1980s, there were only a couple of pieces from Lacey’s favorite period, the 1940s. The Lifetime movies were filmed in Canada with many Canadian actors, which is probably why Stella did not have a New Jersey accent. Another key character in HOSTILE MAKEOVER was from West Virginia, but there was no southern accent. It would have been nice to hear the various accents, which provide back story in a character.

(NOTE: The Lifetime Movie Network films were first aired in summer 2009. They’re available from iTunes. There are links on my Web site on the Buy My Books page.)

Lacey’s two best friends, Stella and Brooke, are by far my most favorite chick lit gal pals. They’re smart, they’re sassy, and they always have Lacey’s back.  Why is it important to support the leading lady with a strong cast of friends?

I’m so glad you like them. I enjoy Brooke and Stella too, especially because they both provide counterpoints to Lacey, in their personalities and their style. They have a lot of heart and loyalty. In practical terms, they have strong stories, love interests, and back stories, which gives me a lot more to play with in terms of plot and subplot.

What’s the most important piece of advice you could give aspiring authors?

1). Keep writing! Stop listening to all the negative voices you might hear, including your own, that can stop you in your tracks. Ignore all questions like, What makes you think you could be a writer? 2) Finish your project! Whether it’s a short story or a book, you have to move beyond polishing those first three pages or chapters. You’ll never be published if you don’t finish.  3) Listen to constructive criticism. You don’t have to do everything your critics say, but many times others have the distance to see how you could make your work better. 4) Rewrite. First drafts are never perfect, no matter how brilliant they might seem to us.

Do you plan out your novels with outlines and detailed synopses, or do you take a more freestyle approach to writing?

Outlines are required by my publisher, so I have to turn one in as part of the contract. A synopsis can be useful in figuring out where the story goes, but for me there is a danger that it can drain the energy from my writing, because writing the synopsis can make me feel like I’ve already been there and done that. I always have an idea of where I’m going, but it’s the surprises that occur while writing, whether it is a turn of phrase or a new character that pops up, that keeps me going.

What are you working on now?

I’m working on the ninth book in the series, titled VEILED REVENGE. It should be out in February 2013. That is, if everything goes according to plan. And I’m working on a psychological thriller, THE DOLLHOUSE IN THE CRAWL SPACE, which I really hope to finish this year. So wish me good luck! And thank you so much for inviting me here today.

About the author:

Ellen Byerrum writes the popular Crime of Fashion mysteries, set in bustling Washington, D.C., The City That Fashion Forgot. Featuring style sleuth Lacey Smithsonian, who solves crimes with fashion clues, the eighth book, Death on Heels, takes Lacey out of her comfort zone and into the Wild West where she confronts her past and an old boyfriend who is accused of murder.While researching fashion, Byerrum has collected her own assortment of 1940s vintage dresses and suits, and the occasional accessory, but laments her lack of closet space. She has been a D.C. news reporter in Washington, a playwright, and holds a Virginia P.I. registration. Although she currently resides in Denver, fashion reporter Lacey Smithsonian will continue to be based in Washington, D.C.



The publisher is sponsoring a giveaway for one copy of Death on Heels. To enter, post a comment under this review/Q&A and answer this question:  Which of your fashion staples (footwear, accessories and jewelry included) gives you confidence? The winner’s name will be selected at random.

 The deadline to enter is Friday, March 30. U.S. addresses only.