28. October 2014 · Write a comment · Categories: Biographies, NonFiction, Paula

Natalie Wood: A Life by Lambert, Gavin, read by Paula, on 10/27/2014

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She spent her life in the movies. Her childhood is still there to see in Miracle on 34th Street.Her adolescence in Rebel Without a Cause.Her coming of age? Still playing in Splendor in the Grass and West Side Story and countless other hit movies. From the moment Natalie Wood made her debut in 1946, playing Claudette Colbert and Orson Welles’s ward inTomorrow Is Foreverat the age of seven, to her shocking, untimely death in 1981, the decades of her life are marked by movies that–for their moments–summed up America’s dreams. Now the acclaimed novelist, biographer, critic and screenwriter Gavin Lambert, whose twenty-year friendship with Natalie Wood began when she wanted to star in the movie adaptation of his novel Inside Daisy Clover,tells her extraordinary story. He writes about her parents, uncovering secrets that Natalie either didn’t know or kept hidden from those closest to her. Here is the young Natalie, from her years as a child actress at the mercy of a driven, controlling stage mother (“Make Mr. Pichel love you,” she whispered to the five-year-old Natalie before depositing her unexpectedly on the director’s lap), to her awkward adolescence when, suddenly too old for kiddie roles, she was shunted aside, just another freshman at Van Nuys High. Lambert shows us the glamorous movie star in her twenties—All the Fine Young Cannibals, Gypsy and Love with the Proper Stranger. He writes about her marriages, her divorces, her love affairs, her suicide attempt at twenty-six, the birth of her children, her friendships, her struggles as an actress and her tragic death by drowning (she was always terrified of water) at forty-three. For the first time, everyone who knew Natalie Wood speaks freely–including her husbands Robert Wagner and Richard Gregson, famously private people like Warren Beatty, intimate friends such as playwright Mart Crowley, directors Robert Mulligan and Paul Mazursky, and Leslie Caron, each of whom told the author stories about this remarkable woman who was both life-loving and filled with despair. What we couldn’t know–have never been told before–Lambert perceptively uncovers. His book provides the richest portrait we have had of Natalie Wood.

 

vampyreThis tremendous volume tells the full stories surrounding the night Lord Byron challenged his companions to write ghost stories during a foggy, stormy night in Geneva, Switzerland.  That now famous night led to the creation of Frankenstein by Mary Shelley and The Vampyre by John Polidori.  Reading much like a good novel, the book dives right in, explaining why Byron was exiling himself to Switzerland, how he came to hire Polidori as his physician, as well as why Claire Claremont, Mary Godwin (Shelley), and Percy Shelley were also travelling that way.  The book also details the aftermath of that night, ending with an epilogue that explains each of their deaths.  It is a long and very twisted story, the facts of which seem hard to believe at times.  However, the author has faithfully documented each of his facts, once again proving that the truth is stranger than fiction.  It is nice to see a nonfiction book turn out to be such a page turner.  It was difficult to put down.  I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in the Romantic period, poetry, or Gothic fiction.

07. October 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Biographies, NonFiction, Paula

Vivien Leigh: An Intimate Portrait by Kendra Bean, read by Paula, on 10/06/2014

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Vivien Leigh’s mystique was a combination of staggering beauty, glamour, romance, and genuine talent displayed in her Oscar-winning performances in Gone With the Wind and A Streetcar Named Desire. For more than thirty years, her name alone sold out theaters and cinemas the world over, and she inspired many of the greatest visionaries of her time: Laurence Olivier loved her; Winston Churchill praised her; Christian Dior dressed her.
Through both an in-depth narrative and a stunning array of photos, Vivien Leigh: An Intimate Portrait presents the personal story of one of the most celebrated women of the twentieth century, an engrossing tale of success, struggles, and triumphs. It chronicles Leigh’s journey from her birth in India to prominence in British film, winning the most-coveted role in Hollywood history, her celebrated love affair with Laurence Olivier, through to her untimely death at age fifty-three in 1967.
Author Kendra Bean is the first Vivien Leigh biographer to delve into the Laurence Olivier Archives, where an invaluable collection of personal letters and documents ranging from interview transcripts to film contracts to medical records shed new insight on Leigh’s story. Illustrated by hundreds of rare and never-before-published images, including those by Leigh’s #147;official” photographer, Angus McBean, Vivien Leigh: An Intimate Portrait is the first illustrated biography to closely examine the fascinating, troubled, and often misunderstood life of Vivien Leigh: the woman, the actress, the legend.

01. October 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Biographies, History, Lisa, NonFiction

The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown, read by Lisa, on 09/30/2014

For readers of Laura Hillenbrand’s Seabiscuit and Unbroken, the dramatic story of the American rowing team that stunned the world at Hitler’s 1936 Berlin Olympics

Daniel James Brown’s robust book tells the story of the University of Washington’s 1936 eight-oar crew and their epic quest for an Olympic gold medal, a team that transformed the sport and grabbed the attention of millions of Americans. The sons of loggers, shipyard workers, and farmers, the boys defeated elite rivals first from eastern and British universities and finally the German crew rowing for Adolf Hitler in the Olympic games in Berlin, 1936.

The emotional heart of the story lies with one rower, Joe Rantz, a teenager without family or prospects, who rows not for glory, but to regain his shattered self-regard and to find a place he can call home. The crew is assembled  by an enigmatic coach and mentored by a visionary, eccentric British boat builder, but it is their trust in each other that makes them a victorious team. They remind the country of what can be done when everyone quite literally pulls together—a perfect melding of commitment, determination, and optimism.

Drawing on the boys’ own diaries and journals, their photos and memories of a once-in-a-lifetime shared dream, The Boys in the Boat is an irresistible story about beating the odds and finding hope in the most desperate of times—the improbable, intimate story of nine working-class boys from the American west who, in the depths of the Great Depression, showed the world what true grit really meant. It will appeal to readers of Erik Larson, Timothy Egan, James Bradley, and David Halberstam’s The Amateurs.

17. September 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Biographies, NonFiction, Paula

James Dean, The Mutant King: A biography by Dalton, David, read by Paula , on 09/17/2014

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This is the book that restarted the James Dean cult by celebrating him as the cool, defiant visionary of pop culture who made adolescence seem heroic instead of awkward and who defined the style of rock ’n’ roll’s politics of delinquency. The only book to fully show how deliberately and carefully Dean crafted his own image and performances, and the product of still unequaled research, vivid writing, intimate photographs, and profound meditation, James Dean: The Mutant King has become almost as legendary as its subject.
Second biography of James Dean that I have read.  Added another dimension to the man and the myth.
12. September 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Biographies, Children's Books, Children's Books, Kira, NonFiction · Tags:

From Slave to World-Class Horseman: Tom Bass by J. L. Wilkerson., read by Kira, on 09/10/2014

downloadimages (12 Bassahs7  This is a short biography of a African American born into slavery, then emancipated with his family, who loved working with horses, and ended up owning his own stables and showed horses at major events.  Bass was able to overcome a number of racial barriers because of his great skill with horses, and because other people, whites, stood up for him.  He was a quiet, gentle man, and one wonders if an African American with a different temperament would have succeeded in his place.

I liked the fact that so much of the story took place here in Mid-Missouri, in Columbia, Boonville, etc.  download (1) download (2) images

10. September 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Biographies, NonFiction, Paula

James Dean The Biography by Val Holley, read by Paula, on 09/10/2014

On September 30, 1955, en route to a car race in Salinas, James Dean, in a Porche Spyder, crashed head-on with a Ford and died instantly; he was 24 years old. This year he will have been dead 40 years; Holley’s biography is the most definitive biography yet written, and it is quite interesting without being sensational. Holley does take off into flights of verbosity at times, but his general style is so forthcoming that his work gains in credibility, albeit slowly, as the very first chapter, “A James Dean Primer,” is too breathless, dazzling readers with his subject’s legendary achievements and controversies. But then the pace slows, and Holley begins building his portrait with fine use of the 100 or so interviews with people who have never before spoken on record. His presentation of Dean’s career in New York onstage is surprising in that for most people his image is filmic. But, like Brando, he worked well on the stage, gained notoriety, and became a member of the Actors Studio. Holley reveals that Dean’s television work was extensive and continued after he became a Hollywood star. It seemed before that James Dean came from nowhere, a total myth, who in the last 18 months of his life acted in three films–East of Eden, Rebel without a Cause, and Giant, and only East of Eden had been released when he crashed. Now it’s different; an icon has human dimensions. Bonnie Smothers

From Booklist, Copyright © American Library Association. Used with permission.

This year he will have been dead 59 years.  From reading this book I learned so much about the “real” James Dean, not the Hollywood version of the man.  His mother died at the age of 9 and he was sent to live with his Aunt and Uncle in Indiana.  Feelings of abandonment followed him his whole life.  There is much controversy about his sexuality, which I never knew.  From various accounts of people, he was an enigma. He changed his persona to fit the person he was with.  Giving them the version of himself he thought they wanted to see.  Extremely interesting and intriguing man.  I recommend anyone who has ever watched his films to read this book.  You will see him in a whole new light.

 

30. August 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Biographies, NonFiction, Pamela

Kiefer Sutherland: Living Dangerously by Christopher Heard, read by Pamela, on 08/30/2014

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This book chronicles Kiefer Sutherland’s rise to Jack Bauer fame, professionally and personally.  He did not ride into show business on his daddy’s, Donald Sutherland, coat tails as some may think.  He did it his way.

We get a glimpse of his early life, his struggles early in his film career, as well as intermittently throughout, and his incredible work ethic.  He’s never late for work and is the consummate professional.  Sutherland works hard and plays hard.  He pays the price and reaps the reward for both.  Much of what is recanted in this book you’ve probably heard some rendition of through the Hollywood grape vine, but it’s fun to read it anyway.

From movies, to voice overs, to personal relationships, to his interest in helping young music talent breaking into the business, this book covers it all.

27. August 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Biographies, Lisa, NonFiction

Papa: An Intimate Biography of Mark Twain by Susy Clemens, read by Lisa, on 08/08/2014

Olivia Susan Clemens, known as Susy Clemens was the eldest daughter and second child of Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain) and his wife Olivia Langdon Clemens. Susie is said to have inspired some of the character traits for Joan of Arc, in her father’s historical novel: Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc. 

At the age of thirteen, Susy Clemens began work on a biography of her famous father, Samuel Clemens who wrote under the pen name, Mark Twain. Susie’s brief biography of Twain was eventually published as Papa: An Intimate Biography of Mark Twain in 1988. The book includes a brief recollection of young Susie meeting a dying Ulysses S. Grant as the former Civil War General and United States President worked on his personal memoirs for Twain’s publishing house. Twain included some passages from his daughter’s biographical sketch of him into his own autobiography. 

12. August 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Biographies, Graphic Book, History, NonFiction

The Complete Maus by Art Spiegelman, read by Angie, on 08/11/2014

Maus tells the story of Vladek Spiegelman and his experiences during World War II. His son Art listens to the story in order to create this book. Along the way we learn not only what happened to Vladek before the war and how he met his with Anja, but also during the war and after they came to America. Vladek’s story is not dissimilar to other Holocaust survivors in that he survived and most of those he knew did not. He was very good at working the system and always finding the best possible way to survive. His story of survival is at times hard to read but not as hard has his present life. Vladek as an old man has lost the confidence and gusto he had as a youth. He hoards things and doesn’t get along with his second wife Mala who he believes is after his money (we don’t really learn if she was or not). He and his son Art love each other but have a hard time being with each other. You get the sense that Vladek wants nothing more than to be with his son and Art wants nothing more than to not be there because his father drives him crazy. He would drive me crazy as well, but I also felt very sorry for him. I was moved by how personal this story ended up being. I thought it was going to be just an Holocaust survivor’s tale, but it ended up being so much more. It is really about the relationship between a father and son both racked with survivor’s guilt. Vladek because he survived when so many others didn’t and Art because he never suffered. It is a deeply moving story and well worth the read. 

30. July 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Biographies, Children's Books, History, NonFiction

How They Choked: Failures, Flops, and Flaws of the Awfully Famous by Georgia Bragg, read by Angie, on 07/29/2014

How They Choked explores the failures of fourteen historical figures. Obvious failures like Anne Boleyn and Benedict Arnold and George Custer are compared to some less obvious failures like Susan B. Anthony and Isaac Newton and Thomas Edison. I am not sure you can compare the failure of Montezuma to realize Cortez wasn’t a god which led to the death of his people to the fact that Susan B. Anthony failed to get women the vote in her lifetime. Some of the facts were really interesting however. I knew Amelia Earhart hadn’t learned how to read her instruments correctly, but I had no idea she wasn’t really that great of a pilot and had crashed a lot. I don’t think I even realized that Magellan hadn’t actually made it all the way around the world but had died in the Philippines. I think fans of gruesome history will enjoy this one as well as those who like to learn obscure trivia about people. Definitely not as interesting as How They Croaked, but a fun read nonetheless. 

07. July 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Biographies, Graphic Book, NonFiction, Tracy

The Fifth Beatle by Vivek Tiwary, Philip Simon (Editor), Andrew C. Robinson (Illustrations), Kyle Baker (Illustrations), read by Tracy, on 06/14/2014

The Fifth Beatle is the untold true story of Brian Epstein, the visionary manager who discovered and guided The Beatles from their gigs in a tiny cellar in Liverpool to unprecedented international stardom. Yet more than merely the story of “The Man Who Made The Beatles,” The Fifth Beatle is an uplifting, tragic, and ultimately inspirational human story about the struggle to overcome seemingly insurmountable odds. Brian himself died painfully lonely at the young age of thirty-two, having helped The Beatles prove through “Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” that pop music could be an inspirational art form. He was homosexual when it was a felony to be so in the United Kingdom, Jewish at a time of anti-Semitism, and from Liverpool when it was considered just a dingy port town.

Anne Hutchinson, a forty-six- year-old midwife who was pregnant with her sixteenth child, stood before forty male judges of the Massachusetts General Court, charged with heresy and sedition. In a time when women could not vote, hold public office, or teach outside the home, the charismatic Hutchinson wielded remarkable political power. Her unconventional ideas had attracted a following of prominent citizens eager for social reform. Hutchinson defended herself brilliantly, but the judges, faced with a perceived threat to public order, banished her for behaving in a manner “not comely for [her] sex.”

Until now, Hutchinson has been a polarizing figure in American history and letters, attracting either disdain or exaltation. Nathaniel Hawthorne, who was haunted by the “sainted” Hutchinson, used her as a model for Hester Prynne in The Scarlet Letter. Much of the praise for her, however, is muted by a wish to domesticate the heroine: the bronze statue of Hutchinson at the Massachusetts State House depicts a prayerful mother — eyes raised to heaven, a child at her side — rather than a woman of power standing alone before humanity and God. Her detractors, starting with her neighbor John Winthrop, first governor of Massachusetts, referred to her as “the instrument of Satan,” the new Eve, the “disturber of Israel,” a witch, “more bold than a man,” and Jezebel — the ancient Israeli queen who, on account of her tremendous political power, was “the most evil woman” in the Bible.

Written by one of Hutchinson’s direct descendants, American Jezebelbrings both balance and perspective to Hutchinson’s story. It captures this American heroine’s life in all its complexity, presenting her not as a religious fanatic, a cardboard feminist, or a raging crank — as some have portrayed her — but as a flesh-and-blood wife, mother, theologian, and political leader.

Opening in a colonial courtroom, American Jezebel moves back in time to Hutchinson’s childhood in Elizabethan England, exploring intimate details of her marriage and family life. The book narrates her dramatic expulsion from Massachusetts, after which her judges, still threatened by her challenges, promptly built Harvard College to enforce religious and social orthodoxies — making her midwife to the nation’s first college. In exile, she settled Rhode Island (which later merged with Roger Williams’s Providence Plantation), becoming the only woman ever to co-found an American colony.

The seeds of the American struggle for women’s and human rights can be found in the story of this one woman’s courageous life. American Jezebelilluminates the origins of our modern concepts of religious freedom, equal rights, and free speech, and showcases an extraordinary woman whose achievements are astonishing by the standards of any era.

21. May 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Biographies, History, Informational Book, Marsha, NonFiction, Science · Tags: ,

The Lives They Left Behind: Suitcases from a State Hospital Attic by Darby Penney and Peter Stastny, read by Marsha, on 05/19/2014

livesThis most excellent book is both sad and fascinating at the same time.  I could hardly put it down.  In fact, I have started writing stories about each of the people featured in the book, using fiction to fill in the gaps that nonfiction couldn’t find answers for.  The authors do a wonderful job of painting ten portraits of people who spent decades of their lives in a state hospital for the mentally ill.  Using the items found in their long abandoned suitcases along with interviews from a few staff members and medical records, the authors try to piece together the life of each person before and during their stay at Willard State Hospital in New York.  Along with the chapters on the individuals, the authors provide interesting factual information about what it took to admit someone to such a place, how they were treated during their stay, and what the diagnoses were at the time.  The book focuses on the early part of the 20th century, before deinstitutionalization became a way of doing business.  The ease with which an individual could be locked away for decades of his or her life is staggering.  I hope that by writing more about these individuals I can do some justice to their lives, which would have been forgotten had it not been for Penney and Stastny.

02. April 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Biographies, Madeline, NonFiction

Julia's Cats: Julia Child's Life in the Company of Cats by Patricia Barey, Therese Burson, read by Madeline, on 03/22/2014

The world knows Julia Child as the charismatic woman who brought French cuisine to America and became a TV sensation, but there’s one aspect of her life that’s not so familiar. Soon after the Childs arrived in Paris in 1948, a French cat appeared on their doorstep, and Julia recalled, “Our domestic circle was completed.” Minette captured Julia’s heart, igniting a lifelong passion for cats equaled only by her love of food and her husband, Paul. All the cherished feline companions who shared Julia’s life—in Paris, Provence, and finally California—reminded her of that magical time in Paris when her life changed forever.
From Julia’s and Paul’s letters and original interviews with those who knew her best, Patricia Barey and Therese Burson have gathered fresh stories and images that offer a delightfully intimate view of a beloved icon.

15. February 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Biographies, Courtney, NonFiction, Teen Books

My Friend Dahmer by Derf Backderf, read by Courtney, on 07/19/2013

When it comes to serial killers, few are as well-known as Jeffrey Dahmer. To the author, “Jeff”, was much more than a face on the news. Backderf grew up in the same town and went to the same school as Dahmer. Long before the name “Dahmer” entered public consciousness, he was an awkward and troubled kid. Through the eyes of a friendly acquaintance (Backderf never genuinely appears to consider Dahmer a true “friend”, but more of kid on the periphery of his social circle), we meet a boy who was certainly unusual and somewhat anti-social. Readers will follow Dahmer from childhood to his teen years and, while it paints a slightly more sympathetic version of Dahmer, it never explains or excuses the actions he eventually takes. In hindsight, the signs were there, but it was clear that, at the time, Dahmer was simply regarded as the resident odd-ball and few thought little else about him.
What makes this graphic novel particularly interesting is the inclusion of both photos and documents from Backderf and Dahmer’s school years, as well as the detailed, page-by-page annotations provided by Backderf. This graphic novel is morbidly fascinating. Readers with any interest whatsoever on the topic will find themselves sucked in with no chance of escape until the end of the book. I was intrigued, horrified and even occasionally amused by Backderf’s story.

11. February 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Biographies, Helen, Memoirs, NonFiction

Most Talkative by Andy Cohen, read by Helen, on 09/30/2012

The man behind the Real Housewives writes about his lifelong love affair with pop culture that brought him from the suburbs of St. Louis to his own television show

From a young age, Andy Cohen knew one thing: He loved television. Not in the way that most kids do, but in an irrepressible, all-consuming, I-want-to-climb-inside-the-tube kind of way. And climb inside he did. Now presiding over Bravo’s reality TV empire, he started out as an overly talkative pop culture obsessive, devoted to Charlie’s Angels and All My Children and to his mother, who received daily letters from Andy at summer camp, usually reminding her to tape the soaps. In retrospect, it’s hard to believe that everyone didn’t know that Andy was gay; still, he remained in the closet until college. Finally out, he embarked on making a career out of his passion for television.

The journey begins with Andy interviewing his all-time idol Susan Lucci for his college newspaper and ends with him in a job where he has a hand in creating today’s celebrity icons. In the witty, no-holds-barred style of his show Watch What Happens Live, Andy tells tales of absurd mishaps during his ten years at CBS News, hilarious encounters with the heroes and heroines of his youth, and the real stories behind The Real Housewives. Dishy, funny, and full of heart, Most Talkative provides a one-of-a-kind glimpse into the world of television, from a fan who grew up watching the screen and is now inside it, both making shows and hosting his own.

11. February 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Biographies, Helen, History, NonFiction

Ghosty Men by Franz Lidz, read by Helen, on 05/30/2012

A true tale of changing New York by Franz Lidz, whose Unstrung Heroesis a classic of hoarder lore.

Homer and Langley Collyer moved into their handsome brownstone in white, upper-class Harlem in 1909. By 1947, however, when the fire department had to carry Homer’s body out of the house he hadn’t left in twenty years, the neighborhood had degentrified, and their house was a fortress of junk: in an attempt to preserve the past, Homer and Langley held on to everything they touched.

The scandal of Homer’s discovery, the story of his life, and the search for Langley, who was missing at the time, rocked the city; the story was on the front page of every newspaper for weeks. A quintessential New York story of quintessential New York characters.

11. February 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Biographies, Children's Books, Graphic Book, NonFiction

Smile by Raina Telgemeier, read by Angie, on 11/14/2012

Smile is the true story of Raina Telgemeier’s journey through orthodontia. It was not a pleasant or a short journey. It began with an overbite and a fall resulting in the loss of her two front teeth. The journey consisted of false teeth, braces, surgeries, headgear, and four years worth of visits to various dental professionals…all during junior and high school. Poor Raina! Throughout it all Raina is also dealing with boys, pimples, friends, mean girls, and all the other trials and tribulations of high school. She comes through it stronger and happier, but it is not an easy journey.

As someone who has had braces and retainers (thankfully not four years worth) I completely sympathized with Raina. They are an invented torture to make our teeth look perfect. They work but are definitely not pleasant. I winced with her when her braces were being tightened and when all she could eat was mashed potatoes. I think Raina definitely remembers this time of her life perfectly and she really captured it on the pages of Smile. The story and illustrations embody the torture of braces and the agony of middle and high school. I would recommend this to just about anyone.

11. February 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Biographies, Brian, History, NonFiction · Tags: ,

Isaac's Storm: A Man, a Time, and the Deadliest Hurricane in History by Erik Larson, read by Brian, on 02/07/2014

stormI am a weather freak and I love to read Erik Larson, it’s almost like a perfect storm.  The book talks about oddities in weather but more importantly Isaac Cline and is ill fated hurricane prediction that destroyed Galveston, Texas.  This was one of the worst natural disasters in America’s history.  Nature beats arrogance every time.