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Paris in Love by Eloisa James (2012)

Eloisa James wrote this memoir based on her blog and Twitter posts during a sabbatical in Paris. The entries are filled with wit, wisdom, and insights into motherhood and life in general. Tidbits on daily life in Paris abound. The patient reader is rewarded with a sense of character development in each of her family members over the year. The author even throws in a few recipes, reminiscent of Lunch in Paris by Elizabeth Bard, but it is a very different type of memoir.

After the last tear has been shed, the last laugh chuckled, and the family is safe and sound stateside, James adds "My Very Idiosyncratic Guide to a Few Places in Paris" for all of us who dream of visiting Paris someday. She recommends museums, galleries, boutiques, salons, eateries, chocolate shops, and the like that she frequented during her stay in the acclaimed city. Many include websites, just in case we can't wait for our next trip abroad.

Paris in Love is my first taste of the author's work and seems to be atypical. I may have to read one of Eloisa James's (also known as Mary Bly) essays on Shakespeare or romance novels to complete the picture.

Paris: A Love Story by Kati Marton (2012)

Kati Marton is an award-winning author, a successful news correspondent, and a woman with a past worth writing about.  In her memoir Paris: A Love Story, Paris symbolizes an environment of love, adventure, and finally of healing.

Married twice to men, prominent on the world stage, Kati writes candidly of her glamorous life, magically without offending anyone.  Now a widow, she looks over shoulder to a life, filled with passion, service, and possibly integrity.

The Queen of Versailles (2012) PG

At the beginning of The Queen of Versailles, a fascinating documentary, we meet the impossibly wealthy Seigel family: patriarch David is the founder of Westgate Resorts, a timeshare company; and the family is in the midst of the construction of their own version of Versailles, billed as the largest private home in the U.S. Before too long though, the economic crisis of 2008 leaves the company floundering, construction halted on Versailles, and the family making extreme cuts to their extravagant lifestyle.

David’s wife Jackie is the “Queen of Versailles” and she is the quirky, stoic, and often over-the-top heart of the movie. Jackie married into money and has enjoyed it to the fullest, but in the face of an uncertain future she is resiliently planning how to cope if her life takes yet another dramatic turn.

Bill Veeck: Baseball's Greatest Maverick by Paul Dickson (2012)

Bill Veeck was at different times the owner of the Cleveland Indians, the St. Louis Browns, and the Chicago White Sox (twice). Many people remember Bill Veeck as the baseball owner who brought Eddie Gaedel, a 3’7” tall man in as a pinch hitter in a baseball game between the St. Louis Browns and the Detroit Tigers in 1951, or as the White Sox owner responsible for Disco Demolition Night. Still others may remember him for the funny and outrageous but harmless promotions he conducted as owner of the Indians, Browns, and White Sox.

But he was much more than that.  He was a great humanitarian, an advocate of civil rights, a baseball fan's owner who cared about the fans, a player's owner who cared about his players, an employer who cared about his employees, an innovator who introduced many changes in the game, a patriot, a thinker, a listener, an avaricious reader and man who despite a severe physical handicap would never quit.

This is easily the best biography I have read in the last twenty years and maybe the best ever.  This book is especially for White Sox, Indians, and Browns fans. It's for Cub fans too, as Veeck and his father had a profound influence on the Cubs as well (the ivy on the walls, Harry Caray and the singing of  "Take out to the Ball Game" during the seventh inning stretch and others.)  But it is also for any baseball fan and for anyone who appreciates the story of man who lived a truly remarkable life. Read Bill Veeck: Baseball's Greatest Maverick by Paul Dickson.

It Worked for Me: In Life and Leadership by Colin Powell (2012)

This collection of hundreds of anecdotes illustrates the rules and values which helped Colin Powell rise to the highest ranks of military leadership. Not merely a primer on what it means to be a good leader, It Worked for Me, is an intimate walk through the life of a military man who also helped shape a great deal of foreign policy in recent history.

With reminiscences of encounters from Reagan to Princess Diana to foreign heads of state, the book delivers a treasure trove of interesting and unique experiences which are sure to whet the palate of any political reader.

King Peggy by Peggielene Bartels (2012)

This book is a true story of how a secretary in Washington, D.C. became a King in Ghana. It is a great example of how one person can make a difference! When she returns to her native village, she finds no running water, high school, or even a doctor. She also has to bury the former King, which she doesn't have the money for. During her first couple of years as King, she finds the strength to change all that.

I loved the balance of men and woman, Christianity and Paganism, modern comforts and simple living, United States and Africa.

Read King Peggy by Peggielene Bartels and get inspired.

Elizabeth the Queen by Sally Bedell Smith (2012)

The author, Sally Bedell Smith, presents an interesting look at both the private and public sides of Queen Elizabeth II in this biography. Through numerous interviews and never-before-revealed documents, she provides insight into how the second-longest reigning monarch in British history has coped with the challenges facing her country since she ascended to the throne sixty years ago. Very readable.

The queen’s diamond jubilee is being celebrated throughout 2012, with a culmination of special events in early June.

The Book of Samson by David Maine (2006)

The story of the Biblical figure Samson is told in a humanizing and darkly humorous way. Samson himself is a womanizing violent religious fanatic, but still manages to be a sympathetic character through his straightforward narration.

Check the catalog for The Book of Samson or for other books by David Maine.

Spotlight: Social History of the Edwardian Age

With the popularity of the series Downton Abbey, you may enjoy books telling the stories life during the Edwardian Age. First, explore these tales of servant life: Below Stairs: The Classic Kitchen Maid's Memoir That Inspired "Upstairs, Downstairs" and "Downton Abbey" by Margaret Powell (1968) and The Real Downton Abbey: An Unofficial Guide to the Period which Inspired the Hit TV Show by Jacky Hyams (2011)

Then catch a glimpse into the world of the aristocracy with these titles. The World of Downton Abbey by Jessica Fellowes (2011) and Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey: The Lost Legacy of Highclere Castle by Fiona, Countess of Carnarvon (2011)

These books examine the social history of two ways of life during the Edwardian age in England. They examine the difficulties, the behaviors, advantages, of both classes. In the 1800s, large families were the norm. Many children of the lower class were sent into service to earn money to help their struggling families. The labor supply was cheap and plentiful.

With the advent of World War I and the slaughter of millions of men both lower class and aristocracy, more higher paying jobs opened for both men and women. The servant class numbers began to shrink and a way of life unique to the times started on its way to extinction.

Jacqueline Kennedy: Historic Conversations on Life with John F. Kennedy (2011)

In this impressive work, there is one book and 8 CDs, so you can read and listen; I did both. Mostly I read, and then listened to catch a vocal impression of Jacqueline Kennedy.

These first of a kind conversations with Arthur Schlesinger were recorded within a year of President’s Kennedy’s death. Jacqueline Kennedy, with her strong sense of history, documented and preserved her first hand recollections of her husband’s political colleagues, friends, and events as she remembered them. They were sealed and put in the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library per her wishes.

Now in conjunction with the fiftieth anniversary of JFK’s inauguration, the Kennedy family has released these insightful and revealing tapes. So much has been written and conjectured about this family; it is refreshing to hear the very human memories of Jacqueline.

Reversely, the life of Jacqueline and her perspective are also illuminated. She reveals so much about herself as she expresses her views of her husband. It’s fascinating.

There so many people that the average reader will often refer to the footnotes. I would also add that these are the thoughts of a young woman, steeped in shock and grief, who bravely tried to preserve her husband’s legacy.

Check here to see if the book is available now.

Message from an Unknown Chinese Mother by Xinran

Message from an Unknown Chinese Mother: Stories of Loss and Love by Xinran (2011)
This is a powerful book that brings together the stories of several different women, all who gave up their daughter for adoption in China in the 1980s and 90s. The author, Xinran, deals with a terribly difficult subject with profound compassion and realism. Her love for these adopted girls and her understanding of the difficult circumstances of each mother is palpable throughout the book. I would highly recommend it.

Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson

Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson (2011)
Biography fans will devour this in-depth look at the life of a man whose ideas transformed the modern world’s computers, music, phones, digital publishing, and even animated movies by Pixar. Jobs chose Isaacson to be his biographer since he did such impressive work writing bios of other famous men. Jobs gave more than 40 interviews to his approved author and insisted that he would neither read the book nor tell Isaacson to leave anything out. Photos of Steve Jobs’ life help to make the story come alive.

For further reading, see the author’s other biographies of Albert Einstein, Benjamin Franklin, and Henry Kissinger.

You Better Not Cry by Augusten Burroughs

You Better Not Cry by Augusten Burroughs (2009)
The holidays have you frazzled and frustrated? Then you can’t miss this Christmas memoir. Burroughs’ witty writing style will have you laughing all the way to 2012!

Looking for more books that will make you laugh out loud here is our list of humorous stories.

The Pacific

The Pacific (2010) TV-MA
This ten part HBO miniseries offers a realistic and horrifying view of World War II in the Pacific. The series is based on the memoirs of two marines who were there, Robert Leckie and Eugene Sledge, and the story of Congressional Medal of Honor winner Sgt. John Basilone. Some episodes are devoted almost entirely to specific battles: Guadalcanal, Peleliu, and Iwo Jima. Others show the marines on R&R in Australia, on medical leave, or in basic training.

The producers (who include Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg) purposely used relatively unknown actors so that the viewer wouldn't be distracted by recognizing well-known stars showing up in cameos ala The Longest Day (1962).

Check out the books that served as inspiration:
Did you know? The 70th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor and America's entry into WWII is Wednesday, December 7.

Cleopatra: A Life by Stacy Schiff

Cleopatra: A Life by Stacy Schiff (2010)
Perhaps this book should be called “The Truth about Cleopatra, Last Queen of Egypt.” In reality, her life, filled with intrigue, danger, political upheaval, reads like an unbelievable adventure film. She lived by her wits with constant loyalty to Egypt.

Pulitzer Prize winning author Stacy Schiff showcases her authentic research  in this remarkable work. The historical truth of Cleopatra’s life demands that she be taken seriously. You don’t have to be a history buff to appreciate the way Schiff presents myth versus truth.

The way she saved her skin and her kingdom from Julius Caesar is one story; the way she tried to preserve that same kingdom from another Roman soldier, Mark Antony, is another. The ability to present the truth is Schiff’s strength. She was more than a steamy seductress; she was a power unto herself.

To find about more about the book check out this Q&A with the author.