More about the Mitford sisters – Biography picks for January

We have a bumper crop of new life stories to cheer in the new year. Another book about the famous Mitford sisters throws interesting new light on the illustrious sextet. The acclaimed The fish ladder has just hit our shelves together with a new book by Oliver Sacks giving thanks for all the good things a long life has given him. The intriguing story of a hidden Kennedy and long-overdue examination of the life of Millicent Baxter help make up this month’s complement.

Syndetics book coverTake six girls : the lives of the Mitford sisters / Laura Thompson.
“The eldest was a razor-sharp novelist of upper-class manners; the second was loved by John Betjeman; the third was a fascist who married Oswald Mosley; the fourth idolized Hitler and shot herself in the head when Britain declared war on Germany; the fifth was a member of the American Communist Party; the sixth became Duchess of Devonshire. They were the Mitford sisters: Nancy, Pamela, Diana, Unity, Jessica and Deborah.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverThe fish ladder : a journey upstream / Katharine Norbury.
“Katharine Norbury was abandoned as a baby in a Liverpool convent. Raised by a loving adoptive family, she grew into a wanderer, drawn by the landscape of the British countryside. One summer, following the miscarriage of a much-longed-for child, Katharine sets out–accompanied by her nine-year-old daughter, Evie–with the idea of following a river from the sea to its source. The luminously observed landscape grounds the walkers, providing both a constant and a context to their expeditions. But what begins as a diversion from grief evolves into a journey to the source of life.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverThe Queen’s speech : an intimate portrait of the Queen in her own words / Ingrid Seward.
“On 9 September 2015, Queen Elizabeth II will become the longest-serving monarch in British history. During her 63 years on the throne, few have got to know her well, but there is one body of work that sheds new light on her thoughts, personality and the issues that really concern her: the Queen’s own speeches.[They] provide a revealing insight into the character of the woman who has reigned over us since the days when Churchill was prime minister.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverGratitude / Oliver Sacks.
My predominant feeling is one of gratitude. I have loved and been loved. I have been given much and I have given something in return. Above all, I have been a sentient being, a thinking animal, on this beautiful planet, and that in itself has been an enormous privilege and adventure.
During the last few months of his life, he wrote a set of essays in which he movingly explored his feelings about completing a life and coming to terms with his own death.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverOut of the shadows : the life of Millicent Baxter / Penny Griffith.
“Millicent Baxter was the pivot and driving force of her husband and sons lives. In some ways they lived in her shadow. Throughout her 96 years, Millicent was surrounded by fame, but virtually untouched by it. Her son James K. Baxter, was arguably the country’s most celebrated poet. Her husband Archie Baxter was New Zealand’s most renowned WW1 conscientious objector. Millicent declined an MA at the University of Cambridge and became a leading promoter of pacifism in New Zealand at a time when women just did not do such things.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverThe missing Kennedy : Rosemary Kennedy and the secret bonds of four women / Elizabeth Koehler-Pentacoff.
“Throughout her childhood, Elizabeth Koehler-Pentacoff frequently visited Rosemary Kennedy, President John F. Kennedy’s sister. Why? Koehler-Pentacoff’s aunt, Sister Paulus Koehler, a Franciscan nun, was Rosemary’s devoted caregiver at St. Coletta in Jefferson, Wisconsin for fifteen years and her driver and travel companion for over thirty.” (Syndetics summary)

A good one you might have missed:
Syndetics book coverKitchen Privileges : A Memoir
“Mother supported us by renting rooms, allowing our paying guests to have the privilege of preparing light meals in the kitchen. I supported my family by writing radio shows. Very early in the morning I put my typewriter on the kitchen table before I went to work in Manhattan and spent a few privileged and priceless hours working on my first novel. I have found that dreams do come true,even when the odds against achieving them seem great.” (Syndetics summary)

A good one reissued:
Syndetics book coverCome, tell me how you live / Agatha Christie Mallowan ; with an introduction by Jacquetta Hawkes.
“To the world she was Agatha Christie, author of numerous bestselling mysteries and whodunits, arguably the most popular writer in the English language. But in the 1930s she wore a different hat, traveling with her husband, renowned archaeologist Max Mallowan, as he investigated the buried ruins and ancient wonders of Syria and Iraq. [It was] described by the author as a “meandering chronicle of life on an archaeological dig.” (Syndetics summary)

And a good one in another part of the library:
Syndetics book coverStroppy old women : 52 Kiwi women, who’ve been around long enough to know, tell you what’s wrong with the world / compiled by Paul Little and Wendyl Nissen.
“They’re all irate about something, sounding off on topics from ageing to architecture, shop assistants to short skirts, tablecloths to technology, and many more, in the female follow-up to the popular Grumpy Old Men books. These strops are even more controversial, hard-hitting and funny than the male versions.” (Syndetics summary)