October’s bumper crop – Recent Biography picks

Every now and then we receive a ”bumper crop” of good books – so many that you will be hard-pressed to choose between them. October has been such a month. Goodies which came through our doors include Queen Bees – a study of the new breed of society hostesses which emerged in Britain between the wars, a new study of novelist Elizabeth Jane Howard, and a fascinating look at Boris Pasternak’s tragic muse, Olga Ivinskaya who became Lara in his famous novel Dr Zhivago.

Syndetics book coverFirst women : the grace and power of America’s modern First Ladies / Kate Andersen Brower.
“Brower (The Residence) has written a sophisticated and intimate portrait of modern first ladies, from Jacqueline Kennedy through Michelle Obama in expertly balanced prose that is neither too impersonal nor too personal. Though Brower doesn’t whitewash the different personalities of the women, she manages to find positives in even some of the more reputedly prickly characters.” (Library Journal)

Syndetics book coverQueen bees : six brilliant and extraordinary society hostesses between the wars / Siân Evans.
Queen Bees looks at the lives of six remarkable women who made careers out of being society hostesses, including Lady Astor, who went on to become the first female MP, and Mrs Greville, who cultivated relationships with Edward VII, as well as Lady Londonderry, Lady Cunard, Laura Corrigan and Lady Colefax. Written with wit, verve and heart, Queen Bees is the story of a form of societal revolution, and the extraordinary women who helped it happen.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverThe pigeon tunnel : stories from my life / John Le Carré.
“When John le Carré was writing Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (1974), he made a mistake that would change his life. Working from an outdated guidebook, he described a pursuit by ferry across the straits between Kowloon and Hong Kong Island, not knowing that a tunnel had been built under the sea connecting the two points. Appalled, he swore that he would never again set a scene in a place he hadn’t visited. As a result of that vow, le Carré’s readers now have the opportunity to enjoy what is both a meditative look at the writing life and an exciting, anecdote-rich travel memoir.” (Booklist)

Syndetics book coverThe house on the hill / Susan Duncan.
“In The House on the Hill, Susan Duncan reaches an age where there’s no point in sweating long-term ramifications. There aren’t any. This new understanding delivers an unexpected bonus – the emotional freedom and moral clarity to admit to hidden and often fiendish facts of ageing and, ultimately, the find ways to embrace them. This, in turn, unleashes an overwhelming desire to confront her intractable 95-year-old mother with the dreadful secrets of the past before it is too late, no matter the onsequences.” (Library catalogue note).

Syndetics book coverThe match girl and the heiress / Seth Koven.
“Rutgers University historian Koven (Slumming) has fashioned a scholarly yet highly readable jewel that tackles the big issues of early-20th-century England in an intimate way. Through the lives of Muriel Lester and Nellie Dowell, he brilliantly illuminates the growth of global capitalism, a revolutionary “God is love” Christian theology, war and pacifism, feminism and sexuality, and class and gender relations.” (Publisher Weekly)

Syndetics book coverElizabeth Jane Howard : a dangerous innocence / Artemis Cooper.
“Elizabeth Jane Howard (1923-2014) wrote brilliant novels about what love can do to people, but in her own life the lasting relationship she sought so ardently always eluded her. She grew up yearning to be an actress; but when that ambition was thwarted by marriage and the war, she turned to fiction. Her first novel, The Beautiful Visit, won the John Llewellyn Rhys prize – she went on to write fourteen more, of which the best-loved were the five volumes of The Cazalet Chronicle.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverLara : the untold love story that inspired Doctor Zhivago / Anna Pasternak.
“The heartbreaking story of the love affair between Boris Pasternak, the author of Doctor Zhivago, and Olga Ivinskaya–the true tragedy behind the timeless classic. When Stalin came into power in 1924, the Communist government began persecuting dissident writers. Though Stalin spared the life of Boris Pasternak–whose novel-in-progress, Doctor Zhivago, was suspected of being anti-Soviet–he persecuted Boris’s mistress, typist, and literary muse.” (Publisher’s description)

A good one you might have missed:

Syndetics book coverDiplomatic baggage : the adventures of a trailing spouse / Brigid Keenan.
“Brigid Keenan has worked on Nova, edited sections of the Sunday Times and contributed a regular column to Punch and Sainsbury’s Magazine . The author of four previous books, she is married to the EU’s man in Kazakhstan.” (Syndetics summary)

And a good one in another part of the library:
Those who loved “Love Nina” will enjoy this autobiographical novel.

Syndetics book coverParadise Lodge : a novel / Nina Stibbe.
“A delightful story of growing up, getting old, and every step in between, from the acclaimed author of Man at the Helm and Love, Nina. After succeeding in her quest to help her unconventional mother find a new “man at the helm,” fifteen-year-old Lizzie Vogel simply wants to be a normal teenager. Just when it looks as if things have settled down, her mother goes and has another baby. On top of that, Lizzie’s best friend has deserted her for the punk craze, which Lizzie finds too exhausting to commit to herself.” (Syndetics summary)