Nothing but biography: Recent biographies

“Read no history: nothing but biography, for that is life without theory.” So wrote the esteemed Benjamin Disraeli. A little sweeping maybe, but we biography-lovers cannot but concur. There are some excellent examples of the craft on offer this month.

Syndetics book coverAlexander Hamilton / Ron Chernow.
“Alexander Hamilton was an illegitimate, largely self-taught orphan from the Caribbean who overcame all the odds to become George Washington’s aide-de-camp and the first Treasury Secretary of the United States.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverWhat she ate : six remarkable women and the food that tells their stories / Laura Shapiro.
“Each of the six women in this entertaining group portrait was famous in her time, and most are still famous in ours; but until now, nobody has told their lives from the point of view of the kitchen and the table.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverSargent’s women : four lives behind the canvas / Donna M. Lucey.
“In this seductive, multilayered biography, based on original letters and diaries, Donna M. Lucey illuminates four extraordinary women painted by the iconic high-society portraitist John Singer Sargent. With uncanny intuition, Sargent hinted at the mysteries and passions that unfolded in his subjects’ lives.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverA secret sisterhood : the literary friendships of Jane Austen, Charlotte Brontë, George Eliot and Virginia Woolf / Emily Midorikawa and Emma Claire Sweeney ; foreword by Margaret Atwood.
“Male literary friendships are the stuff of legend; think Byron and Shelley, Fitzgerald and Hemingway. But the world’s best-loved female authors are usually mythologized as solitary eccentrics or isolated geniuses.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverThe ocean fell into the drop / Terence Stamp.
The Ocean Fell into the Drop is a different kind of showbusiness memoir, one that traces Terence Stamp’s twin obsessions, acting and mysticism, and the relationship the two have to each other for him, through the trajectory of his life.” (Syndetics summary)
See also Stamp album by the same author.

Syndetics book coverThe gamekeeper / Portia Simpson.
“The H is for Hawk for lovers of the outdoors and wildlife. A fascinating memoir of Scotland’s first-ever qualified female gamekeeper. In this wonderful memoir, Portia tells the story of how she first broke into a traditionally conservative, male-dominated profession and the skills, training and dedication that helped to set her apart.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverThe secret history of Jane Eyre : how Charlotte Brontë wrote her masterpiece / John Pfordresher.
“In The Secret History of Jane Eyre, John Pfordresher tells the enthralling story of Bronte’s compulsion to write her masterpiece and why she then turned around and vehemently disavowed it.” (Syndetics summary)

One to look forward to:
Syndetics book coverAn Almost Perfect Christmas
“From perennially dry turkeys to Christmas pudding fires, from the round robin code of conduct to the risks and rewards of re-gifting, An Almost Perfect Christmas is an ode to the joy and insanity of the most wonderful time of the year.” (Syndetics summary)

A good one reissued:
Syndetics book coverMoab is my washpot / Stephen Fry.
“A number one bestseller in Britain, Stephen Fry’s astonishingly frank, funny, wise memoir is the book that his fans everywhere have been waiting for.” (Syndetics summary)

A good one you might have missed:
Syndetics book coverDadland : a journey into uncharted territory / Keggie Care.
“Keggie takes us on a spellbinding journey, in peace and war, into surprising and shady corners of history, her rackety English childhood, the poignant breakdown of her family, the corridors of dementia and beyond. As Keggie pieces Tom – and herself – back together again, she celebrates the technicolour life of an impossible, irresistible, unstoppable man.” (Syndetics summary)

One child, one teacher : New Biography books

“One child, one teacher, one book and one pen can change the world.”

These famous words spoken by education activist Malala Yousafzai in her address to the United Nations have echoed around the world. Their veracity is borne out in the stories of several of our subjects this month for whom education was the passport to a better life.

Syndetics book coverOf fortunes and war : Clare Hollingworth, first of the female war correspondents / Patrick Garrett.
“Legendary journalist Clare Hollingworth died in Hong Kong aged 105 in January 2017 after an illustrious career spanning the 20th century. Clare was famous for getting ‘the scoop of the century’: the outbreak of the Second World War.” (Syndetics summary).

Syndetics book coverAnts among elephants : an untouchable family and the making of modern India / Sujatha Gidla.
“Like one in six people in India, Sujatha Gidla was born an untouchable. While most untouchables are illiterate, her family was educated by Canadian missionaries in the 1930s. Several became teachers, one a famous poet and revolutionary” (Syndetics summary).

Syndetics book coverEdward VII : the Prince of Wales and the women he loved / Catharine Arnold.
“[Catharine Arnold’s] new biography focuses — deliciously — on the women who shared the scandalously plentiful sex life of Queen Victoria’s eldest son, the Prince of Wales, later Edward VII.” (Syndetics summary).

Syndetics book coverFirst confession : a sort of memoir / Chris Patten.
“Chris Patten’s career has taken him from the outer London suburbs to the House of Commons, a seat in the Cabinet, last Governor of Hong Kong, Chairman of the BBC and Chancellor of Oxford University. About all of these he is enlightening and entertaining.” (adapted from Wellington City catalogue note)

Syndetics book coverThe Kelloggs : the battling brothers of Battle Creek / Howard Markel.
“John and Will Kellogg were American empire builders. John was one of America’s most beloved physicians; a best-selling author, lecturer, and health-magazine publisher and founder of the Battle Creek Sanitarium. His youngest brother, Will, was the founder of the Battle Creek Toasted Corn Flake Company, which revolutionized the mass production of food and what we eat for breakfast” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverThe Durrells of Corfu / Michael Haag.
“The Durrell family are immortalised in Gerald Durrell’s My Family and Other Animals and its ITV adaptation, The Durrells. But what of the real life Durrells? Why did they go to Corfu in the first place – and what happened to them after they left? The real story of the Durrells is as surprising and fascinating as anything in Gerry’s books” (Catalogue note)

Syndetics book coverMorningstar : growing up with books / Ann Hood.
“In her admired works of fiction, including the recent The Book That Matters Most, Ann Hood explores the transformative power of literature. Now, with warmth and honesty, Hood reveals the personal story behind these beloved novels” (adapted from book jacket summary)

Syndetics book coverThis long pursuit : reflections of a romantic biographer / Richard Holmes
“From the award-winning author of The Age of Wonder and Falling Upwards, here is a luminous meditation on the art of biography that fuses the author’s own experiences with a history of the genre and explores the fascinating and surprising relationship between fact and fiction.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverDaring to drive : the young Saudi woman who stood up to a kingdom of men / Manal al-Sharif
“This is a memoir about living, loving, dreaming, daring, and driving while female — in a country where it’s dangerous to do all of the above. Manal al-Sharif grew up in Mecca the second daughter of a taxi driver, born the year strict fundamentalism took hold. […] Manal-al-Sharif has written a fiercely intimate memoir about the making of an accidental activist, a vivid story of a young Muslim woman who stood up to a kingdom of men — and won. Daring to Drive is a remarkable celebration of resilience in the face of tyranny, the extraordinary power of education and female solidarity, and the difficulties and joys of taking the driver’s seat of your own destiny” (Catalogue description).

Bad girls get good press – Recent Biography picks

This month’s top pick is a beautifully illustrated book which celebrates women who had the courage to challenge the status quo and forged the way for women who came after them. Robin Dalton, once a society figure and subsequent good-time girl, is not quite in the same league,but her story is an entertaining and inspiring one..
Good girls get good press too – activist Coretta King, widow of Martin Luther King, a nurse who devoted her life to sick children – and Queen Victoria, who was a famously good woman.

Syndetics book coverBad girls throughout history : 100 remarkable women who changed the world / Ann Shen.
“The 100 revolutionary women featured in this illustrated book were bad in the best sense of the word: they challenged the status quo and changed the rules for those who followed. From ancient times through present day, from pirates to artists, scientists to spies, these courageous women achieved unprecedented feats and left a permanent mark on human history.”–Back cover.

Syndetics book coverBreaking ranks / James McNeish.
“Three distinct stories about three distinct men, but with one thing in common – they all paid the price for standing up for what they believed. From a great writer, three great stories about conscience and consequence. This is the story of three men – a doctor, a soldier and a judge. They are men of rare achievement. The doctor has the gift of saving others but not himself. The soldier disobeys orders and abandons his command post in a bid to die with his men. The judge cares more to uphold a principle than save himself from ruin. All three defy convention.”(Wellington City Libraries catalogue note).

Syndetics book coverJuliet’s answer : one man’s search for love and the elusive cure for heartbreak / Glenn Dixon.Juliet’s Answer: One Man’s Search for Love and the Elusive Cure for Heartbreak
“Eat, Pray, Love meets The Rosie Project in this fresh, heartwarming memoir by a man who travels to Verona and volunteers to answer letters addressed to Shakespeare’s Juliet, all in an attempt to heal his own heartbreak. When Glenn Dixon is spurned by love, he packs his bags for Verona, Italy. Once there, he volunteers to answer the thousands of letters that arrive addressed to Juliet–letters sent from lovelorn people all over the world”.(Syndetics summary).

Syndetics book coverVictoria : the heart and mind of a young queen / foreword by Daisy Goodwin ; written by Helen Rappaport.
‘The official companion to ITV’s drama, ‘The Victoria letters” delves into the private writings of the young Queen Victoria, painting a vivid picture of the personal life of one of England’s greatest monarchs.”(Wellington City Libraries catalogue note).

Syndetics book coverAlways the children : a nurse’s story of home and war / Anne Watts.
“Anne Watts grew up in a small village in north Wales in the 1940s. She trained as a nurse and midwife, joined the Save the Children Fund, and was posted to Vietnam in 1967. Here, Anne was faced with a vision of hell that her training at Manchester’s Royal Infirmary could not have prepared her for.” (Syndetics summary).

Syndetics book coverSully : my search for what really matters / Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger ; with Jeffrey Zaslow.Proxy Error
“Airline pilot Captain “Sully” Sullenberger tells his life story, including his perspective on the emergency landing on the Hudson River that earned him the world’s admiration, and offers insight into the qualities that have been vital to his success”–Publisher.

Syndetics book coverThe long and winding road / Alan Johnson.
“When Tony Blair brought Alan Johnson into Parliament in 1997, it was something of a culture shock. Blair famously said to him ‘Oh, so you really are working class aren’t you’. In this memoir of politicking and skulduggery, he tells of his experiences in Westminster.”(Wellington City Libraries catalogue note).

Syndetics book coverOne leg over : having fun – mostly – in peace and war / Robin Dalton.At the age of ninety-five, Robin Dalton looks back on her life, particularly on her love life. Married at nineteen, disastrously, Robin has a lucky escape-her ‘Society Divorce’ makes the front page of Sydney newspapers, bumping the war to page three ‘One leg over” is a story of love and romance, of loss and great sadness. But above all it’s a celebration of a wonderful life..”(Wellington City Libraries catalogue note).

Syndetics book coverMy life, my love, my legacy / Coretta Scott King ; as told to the Rev. Dr. Barbara Reynolds.The Washington Post ‘s Books to Read in 2017
The New York Times Book Review Editors’ Choice
USA Today , “New and Noteworthy”
Read it Forward, Favorite Reads of January 2017″.The life story of Coretta Scott King–wife of Martin Luther King Jr., founder of the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change (The King Center), and singular twentieth-century American civil and human rights activist.” (provided by publisher)

A GOOD ONE YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED
Syndetics book coverMy history : a memoir of growing up / Antonia Fraser.‘Antonia Fraser’s memoir describes growing up in the 1930s and 1940s but its real concern is with her growing love of history. The fascination began as a child when her evacuation at the beginning of the war to an Elizabethan manor house became an inspiration for historical imaginings – and developed into an enduring passion; as she writes, ‘for me, the study of History has always been an essential part of the enjoyment of life’.(Amazon.co.uk summary)

AND A GOOD ONE IN ANOTHER PART OF THE LIBRARY
Syndetics book coverPrinces at war : the bitter battle inside Britain’s royal family in the darkest days of WWII / Deborah Cadbury.
‘British author Cadbury explores the many layers involved in the abdication crisis of 1936, which ceded the British crown to the seemingly least prepared of the four sons of George V, George VI, aka Bertie, who revealed himself in the subsequent crisis of war to be the most suitable and stalwart of all.”(Wellington City Libraries catalogue note).

Party animals – Biography picks for February

….but not the usual kind. These animals are political not social (although often there is a mixing of the two). Our top pick is a study of growing up as a committed communist in post-war Britain. Author Aaronovitch does more than recount the story of his own journey; he attempts to explain how twentieth century history shaped such fervent adherents and why in the face of damning evidence they were so reluctant to abandon their beliefs. This one of three prize-winning biographies featured this month. We also list a biography of Theresa May and three very worthwhile books of movies currently showing.

Syndetics book coverParty animals : my family and other communists / David Aaronovitch.
“In July 1961, just before David Aaronovitch’s seventh birthday, Yuri Gagarin came to London. The Russian cosmonaut was everything the Aaronovitch family wished for – a popular and handsome embodiment of modern communism.But who were they, these ever hopeful, defiant and historically doomed people?” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverSee also:
Stalin ate my homework / Alexei Sayle.

“Entertaining, poignant & surprising, this is a brilliantly written memoir of an unusual childhood by one of Britain’s most-loved comedians, Alexei Sayle.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverThe missing Matisse / Pierre H. Matisse.
“Nazi planes were bombing Paris the day a lifelong, more personal war began for Pierre. It was the day he lost his identity.Born into a famous family, Pierre Matisse grew up immersed in the art world of Paris and the French Riviera, spending time with some of the most famous artists of the twentieth century.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverBorn a crime : stories from a South African childhood / Trevor Noah.
“The compelling, inspiring, and comically sublime story of one man’s coming-of-age, set during the twilight of apartheid and the tumultuous days of freedom that followed.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverDiary of a wartime affair : the true story of a surprisingly modern romance / Doreen Bates.
“The true story of a surprisingly modern romance in war-stricken London London, 1934. Doreen Bates is working in the same office as E, an older married man. In the years just before the war, they develop an irresistible attraction to one another and strike up a passionate affair. Doreen records it all with startling candour in her diary.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverTheresa May : the Downing Street revolution / Virginia Blackburn.
“Only the second woman to hold office at 10 Downing Street, Theresa May inherits the most difficult political mandate of recent times: to negotiate Britain’s exit from the European Union and re-establish its place in the wider world. She is known as an uncompromising and fiercely moral political operator who has risen through the ranks through profound competence, instead of cronyism.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverOnce we were sisters : a memoir / Sheila Kohler.
“After learning that her sister Maxine was killed when her husband drove them off a deserted road in Johannesburg, Kohler flew back to the country where she was born, determined to reckon with the tragedy and her family’s history of choosing unsuitable men. She shows how the bond between sisters changes but never breaks, even after death.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverScenes and apparitions : diaries, 1988-2003 / Roy Strong.
Scenes and Apparitions begins where its predecessor, Splendours and Miseries, left off. It covers a period of Roy Strong’s life from 1988 to 2003. Shaking off the shackles of public life, Roy was free for the first time to reinvent himself, leaving behind the political and cultural machinations of the art world.” (Syndetics summary)

A good one in another part of the library:

Syndetics book coverLeap in : a woman, some waves and the will to swim / Alexandra Heminsley.
“Alexandra Heminsley thought she could swim. She really did. But, as she learned one day while flailing around in the sea, she really couldn’t.” (Syndetics summary)

Three books of films now showing:

Syndetics book coverColour bar : the triumph of Seretse Khama and his nation / Susan Williams.
“The true story of a love which defied family, Apartheid, and empire – the inspiration for the major new feature film A United Kingdom, starring David Oyelowo and Rosamund Pike London, 1947. He was the heir to an African kingdom. She was a white English insurance clerk. When they met and fell in love, it would change the world.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverHidden figures : the American dream and the untold story of the Black women mathematicians who helped win the space race / Margot Lee Shetterly.
“Before John Glenn orbited the earth, or Neil Armstrong walked on the moon, a group of dedicated female mathematicians known as “human computers” used pencils, slide rules and adding machines to calculate the numbers that would launch rockets, and astronauts, into space.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverLion / Saroo Brierley ; with Larry Buttrose.
“A true story of survival and triumph against incredible odds , now a major motion picture starring Dev Patel, Nicole Kidman and Rooney Mara. When Saroo Brierley used Google Earth to find his long-lost home town half a world away, he made global headlines.” (Syndetics summary)

Writers to the fore this festive season – Recent biography picks

It is fitting that we mark a New Zealand Christmas with the award-winning biography of an exceptional man who embodied the best of our two cultures. Read his story in this month’s top pick Te Oka – pākehā kaumātua.
However the focus of this selection is very much on writers. This year marks the bi-centenary of the death of Charlotte Bronte, and it has been marked by Penguin with release of a major scholarly biography. Other writers featured are Beryl Bainbridge, Angela Carter, Patrick Leigh Fermor and the wonderful Alan Bennett. Wherever you are these holidays dear biography-lovers, take time to read!

Syndetics book coverTe Oka – pākehā kaumātua : the life of Jock McEwen / Mary McEwen.
“Jock McEwen, administrator, historian, linguist, composer and master carver, was a well-known figure in the Ma-aori world and the wider Pacific for over half a century. Born in Cheltenham near Feilding in 1915 he was brought up with a strong Presbyterian work ethic, which he retained until his death in 2010. Jock came into early contact with the Ma-aori community at Aorangi, where he learned to speak fluent te reo and developed interests in whakapapa (including his own) and tikanga M-aaori.” (Syndetics summary).

Syndetics book coverI loved her in the movies : memories of Hollywood’s legendary actresses / Robert J. Wagner with Scott Eyman.
“Film and television actor and New York Times bestselling author Robert Wagner’s memoir of the great women movie stars he has known.In a career that has spanned more than sixty years Robert Wagner has witnessed the twilight of the Golden Age of Hollywood and the rise of television, becoming a beloved star in both media”.(Syndetics summary).

Syndetics book coverA room in Athens / Frances Karlen Santamaria.
“First published in 1970, A Room in Athens is the remarkable journal of a free-
spirited, young American woman abroad in Greece with her writer husband in 1964. Inspired by the sixties’ vogue for the exuberant land of Zorba and Lawrence Durrell, they seek an Aegean idyll-but their plans threaten to go awry when she learns she is pregnant.”Syndetics summary).

Syndetics book coverBeryl Bainbridge : love by all sorts of means : a biography / Brendan King.
“Dame Beryl Bainbridge was one of the most popular and recognisable English novelists of her generation. She was shortlisted for the Booker Prize five times, and her critically acclaimed novels The Dressmaker (1973), The Bottle Factory Outing (1974), An Awfully Big Adventure (1990), Every Man For Himself (1996) and Master Georgie (1998), confirmed her status as one of the major literary figures of the past fifty years.(Syndetics summary).

Syndetics book coverCharlotte Brontë : a life / Claire Harman.
‘There was no possibility of taking a walk that day…’ With these words Charlotte Bronté began Jane Eyre and changed English literature irrevocably. Now, on the 200th anniversary of Charlotte’s birth, Claire Harman’s landmark biography provides a bold new view of one of Britain’s best loved writers, revealing that her life possessed all the drama and tragedy of a Gothic tale.”Syndetics summary).

Syndetics book coverThe invention of Angela Carter / Edmund Gordon.
“Angela Carter is widely acknowledged as one of the most important and beguiling writers of the last century. Her work stands out for its bawdiness and linguistic zest, its hospitality to the fantastic and the absurd, and its extraordinary inventiveness and range. Her life was as modern and as unconventional as anything in her fiction.Born Angela Olive Stalker in Eastbourne in 1940, her story spans the latter half of the twentieth century”.(Syndetics summary).

Syndetics book coverDashing for the post : the letters of Patrick Leigh Fermor / selected and edited by Adam Sisman.
“<“”A revelatory collection of letters written by the author of The Broken Road. Handsome, spirited and erudite, Patrick Leigh Fermor was a war hero and one of the greatest travel writers of his generation. He was also a spectacularly gifted friend”. (Syndetics summary).

Syndetics book coverDown the dirt roads : a memoir of love, loss and the land / Rachael Treasure.
‘For me, being in a paddock means anything is possible…’ Country girl and bestselling novelist Rachael Treasure had worked hard to build a long-dreamed-of lifestyle on her own patch of dirt in Tasmania’s rugged and beautiful wilderness. But through the breakdown of her marriage, Rachael lost her family farm and, in her words, lost her way in life. Discovering an all-new compass to live by, she took her two kids and her dogs and left the beaten path.” (Syndetics summary).

A good one you might have missed:

Syndetics book coverSkating to Antarctica / Jenny Diski.Skating to Antarctica
“This strange and brilliant book recounts Jenny Diski’s journey to Antarctica last year, intercut with another journey into her own heart and soul…a book of dazzling variety, which weaves disquisitions on indolence, truth, inconsistency, ambiguousness, the elephant seal, Shackleton, boredom and over and over again memory, into a sparse narrative, caustic observation and vivid description of the natural world. While Diski’s writing is laconic, her images are haunting.’
Elspeth Barker, Independent on Sunday” (Syndetics summary).

A good one in another part of the library:

Syndetics book coverKeeping on keeping on / Alan Bennett.
“‘I seem to have banged on this year rather more than usual. I make no apology for that, nor am I nervous that it will it make a jot of difference. I shall still be thought to be kindly, cosy and essentially harmless. I am in the pigeon-hole marked ‘no threat’ and did I stab Judi Dench with a pitchfork I should still be a teddy bear.” (Syndetics summary).

James McNeish, the celebrated New Zealand novelist, playwright, and biographer, died in November aged 85.

Syndetics book coverTouchstones : memories of people and place / James McNeish.
“A young man leaves home as a deckhand on a Norwegian freighter, to travel the world. He returns to New Zealand changed almost beyond recognition. Along the way he meets nine people who influence his life and help make him the writer he becomes.” (Publisher information)

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)

Notable women – Recent Biography Picks

Those who became hooked on Simon Garfield’s edited editions of the Mass Observation diaries (We are at war, Private battles) may have been especially fascinated by one of the protaganists, Maggie Joy Blunt. Now, permission has been given for publication — under her real name — of excerpts from the diaries she kept throughout her long life. Other notable women featured this month include Bridget Keenan, Audrey Hepburn, The Queen and Helen Gurley Brown. Something for every taste!

Syndetics book coverA notable woman : the romantic journals of Jean Lucey Pratt / edited by Simon Garfield.
“In April, 1925, at the age of 15, Jean Lucey Pratt started a journal that she kept until just a few days before her death in 1986, producing more than a million words in 45 exercise books. What emerges is a portrait of a truly unique, spirited woman and writer. Never before has an account so fully, so honestly, and so vividly captured a single woman’s journey through the 20th century.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverThe ambassador’s wife’s tale / Julia Miles.
“Who really looks after British interests abroad? Behind the pomp of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, another powerful force is busily but discreetly propping up the image of UK Plc. For 28 years, Julia was a ‘diplomatic spouse’, juggling a growing family while supporting the demands of one of the great Offices of State. Sometimes hilarious, sometimes terrifying, she reveals the truth of the realities of life as a Ambassador’s wife, ranging from food shortages to terrorist incidents, to rubbing shoulders with the Queen, Mrs Thatcher and George Best.” (Publisher’s description)

Syndetics book coverFull marks for trying : an unlikely journey from the Raj to the rag trade / Brigid Keenan.
“Brigid Keenan was never destined to lead a normal life. From her early beginnings–a colorful childhood in India brought to an abrupt end by Independence and Partition, then a return to dreary postwar England and on to a finishing school in Paris with daughters of presidents and princes–ordinary just wasn’t for her. When, as a ten-year-old, she overheard her mother describe her as “desperately plain,” she decided then and there that she had to rely on something different: glamour, eccentricity, character, a career–anything, so as not to end up at the bottom of the pile.” (Syndetics summary)

Two good ones you might have missed:

Syndetics book coverNancy Mitford : a biography / Selina Hastings.
“It’s hard to believe this is the first full biography of Nancy Mitford, that slightly tarnished “Bright Young Thing” who, with dear Gertie and Noel, Linda and Cole, Wallie and David, has racketed through so many reminiscences of the 20’s, 30’s and 40’s. By this time, her exploits are as familiar as the strains of “I’ll See You Again.” Considering the quality of the material, Mitford has been fortunate in her biographer.” (Kirkus review)

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. For many years, the Queen’s Christmas address was the most-watched programme on television on Christmas Day, and millions still tune in to hear what she has to say.” (Syndetics summary)

From other parts of the library:

Syndetics book coverEnter Helen : the invention of Helen Gurley Brown and the rise of the modern single woman / Brooke Hauser.
“[This book] chronicles the rise of a cultural icon who redefined what it means to be an American woman. In 1965, Helen Gurley Brown, author of the groundbreaking bestseller Sex and the Single Girl, took over an ailing Cosmopolitan and soon revamped it into one of the most bankable–and revolutionary–brands on the planet.” (Adapted from dust jacket)

Syndetics book coverAudrey and Givenchy : a fashion love affair / Cindy De La Hoz.
“The words “Audrey style” conjure images of ballet flats, little black dresses, bateau necklines, capri pants, and countless stunning fashions.Audrey Hepburn, the fashion icon, got her start in the early 1950s, just as a young French designer, Hubert de Givenchy, was beginning his legendary career. Together Audrey and Givenchy were a brilliant meeting of minds.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverThe lonely city : adventures in the art of being alone / Olivia Laing.
“Writer and critic Laing searches for answers to the puzzles of her life in the experiences and creative endeavors of others. In The Trip to Echo Spring (2014), she explores the impact alcoholism has had on various American writers. In her newest imaginative and poignant quest she looks to visual art for illumination of the true nature of loneliness.” (Booklist)

Syndetics book coverLes Parisiennes : how the women of Paris lived, loved, and died under Nazi occupation in the 1940’s / Anne Sebba.
“Sebba (That Woman), a former Reuters foreign correspondent, burrows into the lives of women in the City of Light during WWII to reveal their captivating and complicated stories. Rather than simply presenting the women as collaborators or resisters, Sebba shows the impossible choices they faced, which hardly seemed like choices at all. This is the book’s heart, and it pulsates from start to finish.”(Publisher Weekly)

More on Waugh – Biography picks for August

There have been several seminal biographies of Evelyn Waugh but Philip Eade may have fresh insights to offer. Those who enjoyed Florence Foster Jenkins and The man who knew infinity will now be able to enjoy the books of the films. The name Helen Gurley Brown will resonate with female baby-boomers who well remember the fuss caused by Sex and the single girl. Here are a few nice books to snuggle down with now that winter has started to bite.

Syndetics book coverEvelyn Waugh : a life revisited / Philip Eade.
“Evelyn Waugh was described by Graham Greene as ‘the greatest novelist of my generation’, yet reckoned by Hilaire Belloc to have been possessed by the devil. Waugh’s literary reputation has continued to rise since Greene’s assessment in 1966. Fifty years on from his death, Philip Eade takes a fresh look at this famously complex character and tells the full story of his dramatic, colourful and frequently bizarre life.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverFlorence Foster Jenkins : the remarkable story of America’s best-known and least-talented soprano / biography by Jasper Rees ; screenplay by Nicholas Martin.
‘People may say that I couldn’t sing. But no one can say that I didn’t sing.’ Despite lacking pitch, rhythm or tone, Florence Foster Jenkins became one of America’s best-known sopranos, celebrated for her unique recordings and her sell-out concert at Carnegie Hall.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverMy father and Atticus Finch : a lawyer’s fight for justice in 1930s Alabama / Joseph Madison Beck.
“As a child, Joseph Beck heard the stories–when other lawyers came up with excuses, his father courageously defended a black man charged with raping a white woman. Now a lawyer himself, Beck reconstructs his father’s role in State of Alabama vs. Charles White, Alias, a trial that was much publicized when Harper Lee was twelve years old.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverNot pretty enough : the unlikely triumph of Helen Gurley Brown / Gerri Hirshey.
“When Helen Gurley Brown published Sex and the Single Girl in 1962, it sold more than two million copies in just three weeks, presaging the self-help boom and helping to usher in the unapologetic self-affirmation of second wave feminism.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverThe good shufu : finding love, self, and home on the far side of the world / Tracy Slater.
“The brave, wry, irresistible journey of a fiercely independent American woman who finds everything she ever wanted in the most unexpected place.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverDavid Astor : a life in print / Jeremy Lewis.
“Few newspaper editors are remembered beyond their lifetimes, but David Astor of the Observer is a great exception to the rule. He converted a staid, Conservative-supporting Sunday paper into essential reading, admired and envied for the quality of its writers and for its trenchant but fair-minded views.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverMy journey with Maya / Tavis Smiley, with David Ritz.
“Maya Angelou gave Tavis Smiley the glorious gift of friendship. They met when he was twenty-one and she was fifty-eight, and for the next twenty-eight years they talked often, of art and beauty, politics and history, music, religion, and race. Smiley stumbled into this relationship that shaped his future and affected the man he became.” (Syndetics summary)

And two good ones in other parts of the library:

Syndetics book coverThe man who knew infinity : a life of the genius Ramanujan / Robert Kanigel.
“A biography of the Indian mathematician Srinivasa Ramanujan. The book gives a detailed account of his upbringing in India, his mathematical achievements, and his mathematical collaboration with English mathematician G. H. Hardy. The book also reviews the life of Hardy and the academic culture of Cambridge University during the early twentieth century.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverBarbara Pym : a passionate force / Ann Allestree.
Barbara Pym – A Passionate Force is a fine portrait of such an intriguing woman. In this book Ann Allestree delves into Barbara Pym’s life and her works with zeal. From the acknowledged early classic Excellent Women to the universally rejected (and later resurrected) An Unsuitable Attachment, so out of kilter with the gritty social realism of the 1960s, all are held up to affectionate scrutiny.” (Book Guild Publishing review)

A winter cornucopia – Recent Biography picks

Well the shortest day has just passed and we are now heading back towards the sun, but there are still plenty of dark and wild days and nights to get through on the way. Luckily we have a bumper crop of great books this month to help you on the journey!

Syndetics book coverA house full of daughters / Juliet Nicolson.
“All families have their myths and legends. For many years Juliet Nicolson accepted hers: the dangerous beauty of her flamenco dancing great-great-grandmother Pepita, the flirty manipulation of her great-grandmother Victoria, the infamous eccentricity of her grandmother Vita, her mother’s Tory-conventional background. But then Juliet, a renowned historian, started to ask questions.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverServants’ stories : life below stairs in their own words 1800-1950 / Michelle Higgs.
“Step into the world of domestic service and discover what life was really like for these unsung heroines (and heroes) of society. Between 1800 and 1950, the role of servants changed dramatically but they remained the people without whom the upper and middle classes could not function. Through oral histories, diaries, newspaper reports and never before seen testimonies, domestic servants tell their stories, warts and all.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverDinner with Edward : the story of a remarkable friendship / Isabel Vincent.
“When Isabel meets Edward, both are at a crossroads: he wants to follow his late wife to the grave, and she is ready to give up on love. Thinking she is merely helping Edward’s daughter–who lives far away and has asked her to check in on her nonagenarian dad in New York–Isabel has no idea that the man in the kitchen baking the sublime roast chicken and light-as-air apricot soufflé will end up changing her life.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverCall of the outback : the remarkable story of Ernestine Hill, nomad, adventurer and trailblazer / Marianne van Velzen.
“Long before Robyn Davidson wrote Tracks, the extraordinary Ernestine Hill was renowned for her intrepid travels across Australia’s vast outback. After the birth of her illegitimate son, Ernestine Hill abandoned her comfortable urban life as a journalist for a nomadic one, writing about this country’s vast interior and bringing the outback into the popular imagination of Australians.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverIn gratitude / Jenny Diski.
“From the acclaimed author of Skating to Antarctica comes a breathtakingly honest and original memoir about living with terminal cancer and her relationship with Doris Lessing, the Nobel Prize-winning author who adopted her as a teenager.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverA very private diary : a nurse in wartime / Mary Morris ; edited by Carol Acton.
“The newly discovered diary of a wartime nurse – a fascinating, dramatic and unique insight into the experiences of a young nurse in the Second World War.
‘I always seem to be saying good-bye to men whom I might have loved had there been enough time…’
1939: 18-year-old trainee nurse Mary Mulry arrives in London from Ireland, hoping for adventure. Little did she know what the next seven years would bring.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverKick : the true story of Kick Kennedy, JFK’s forgotten sister and the heir to Chatsworth / Paula Byrne.
“The remarkable life of the vivacious, clever – and forgotten – Kennedy sister, who charmed the English aristocracy and was almost erased from her family history. Kick was Joe Kennedy’s favourite child and Jack’s favourite sister. Spirited, vivacious and quick-witted, her charm was legendary and with her jokes, effervescence and ease of manner she became a star amongst friends, family and the press.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverLove from boy : Roald Dahl’s letters to his mother / edited by Donald Sturrock.
“On the 100th anniversary of his birth comes a revelatory collection of letters from the nation’s favourite storyteller.” (Amazon.co.uk)

Syndetics book coverYou never know : an autobiography / Claire Lorrimer.
You Never Know is former WAAF officer and bestselling novelist Claire Lorrimer’s autobiography, containing a graphic description of the six years she spent doing vitally secret work as a WAAF in the Fighter Command Filter Rooms in World War Two. It is the fascinating story of a life overflowing with adventure, humour, tragedy, love, joy and disasters.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverHigh Street to homestead / Angela Williams with Deborah Coddington.
“From her Grey Lynn apartment to one of New Zealand’s most historic homesteads and horse studs, this is an inspirational journey from a corporate life working with Louis Vuitton back to the golden hills of the Wairarapa.” (Publisher information)

And a good one you might have missed:

Syndetics book coverMy life as a wife : life, liquor and what to do about the other women / Elisabeth Luard.
“Triumph and tragedy, happiness and despair, joy and sorrow – through love and death and life lived to the full with a man who loved both alcohol and other women – for food-writer Elisabeth Luard, marriage to writer and sometime king of satire Nicholas Luard was never going to be easy.” (Syndetics summary)
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Humanity in print – May Biography picks

Books are humanity in print“. So says the celebrated American historian Barbara Tuchman. Of course she means books of all stripes, but we biography-lovers feel that our chosen genre has  a  special place in the lexicon — perhaps with a passing nod to fiction. In this month’s parade of people we feature Hunter Davies’ account of growing up in the north of England after the war, a  Guardian journalist’s much lauded account of a terrible personal tragedy, a new book about the English countryside by Laurie Lee and a celebration of the Queen at 90.

Syndetics book coverThe Co-op’s got bananas! : a memoir of growing up in the post-war North / Hunter Davies.
“Despite the struggle to make ends meet during the tough years of warfare in the 1940s and rationing persisting until the early 1950s, life could still be sweet. Especially if you were a young boy, playing football with your pals, saving up to go to the movies at the weekend, and being captivated by the latest escapade of Dick Barton on the radio.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverAll at sea / Decca Aitkenhead.
“On a hot still morning on a beautiful beach in Jamaica, Decca Aitkenhead’s life changed for ever. Her four-year-old boy was paddling peacefully at the water’s edge when a wave pulled him out to sea. Her partner, Tony, swam out and saved their son’s life – then drowned before her eyes. When Decca and Tony first met a decade earlier, they became the most improbable couple in London.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverRoyal album : the queen at 90 / Sam Wilkinson.
“On April 21, 2016, Queen Elizabeth II will turn 90 years old. She will be the only British monarch to have ever lived to 90, and the UK is preparing to celebrate the occasion in style. Royal Album: The Queen at 90 is the latest edition in Wilkinson Publishing’s popular Royal Album series. Take a look back at Queen Elizabeth II’s life, from her early years, to her marriage, her coronation, the birth of her children, and all the other highs and lows of a remarkable life. The Queen at 90 also looks at what the Queen and the Royal family have been up to in 2014 and 2015.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverLove, loss, and what we ate / Padma Lakshmi.
“A vivid memoir of food and family, survival and triumph, Love, Loss, and What We Ate traces the arc of Padma Lakshmi’s unlikely path from an immigrant childhood to a complicated life in front of the camera–a tantalizing blend of Ruth Reichl’s Tender at the Bone and Nora Ephron’s Heartburn. Long before Padma Lakshmi ever stepped onto a television set, she learned that how we eat is an extension of how we love, how we comfort, how we forge a sense of home–and how we taste the world as we navigate our way through it.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverDimestore / Lee Smith.
“For the inimitable Lee Smith, place is paramount. For forty-five years, her fiction has lived and breathed with the rhythms and people of the Appalachian South. But never before has she written her own story. Set deep in the mountains of Virginia, the Grundy of Lee Smith’s youth was a place of coal miners, tent revivals, mountain music, drive-in theaters, and her daddy’s dimestore. It was in that dimestore–listening to customers and inventing adventures for the store’s dolls–that she became a storyteller.”  (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverHeart of glass : a memoir / Wendy Lawless.
“In this edgy and romantic follow-up to her New York Times bestselling debut memoir, Chanel Bonfire, Wendy Lawless chronicles her misguided twenties–a darkly funny story of a girl without a roadmap for life who flees her disastrous past to find herself in the gritty heart of 1980s New York City.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverThe face : a time code / Ruth Ozeki.
“A revelatory short memoir from the bestselling author of A Tale for the Time Being. Zen Buddhist priest Ruth Ozeki writes about how her face has shaped and been shaped by her life.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverVillage Christmas : and other notes on the English year / Laurie Lee.
“From the author of Cider With Rosie, Village Christmas is a moving, lyrical portrait of England through the changing years and seasons. Laurie Lee left his childhood home in the Cotswolds when he was nineteen, but it remained with him throughout his life until, many years later, he returned for good. This collection brings to life the sights, sounds, landscapes and traditions of his home.” (Syndetics summary)

And two good ones in other parts of the library:

Syndetics book coverMigrant journeys : New Zealand taxi drivers tell their stories / Adrienne Jansen and Liz Grant ; portraits by Michael Hall.
Migrant Journeys is about driving taxis in New Zealand cities – and it is about much more than that. Here fourteen migrant taxi drivers talk about their lives – where they came from and why they came here, what it was like to settle in New Zealand, how they got into the taxi business, and how they see this country and its people.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverLove + hate : stories and essays / Hanif Kureishi.
“Hate skews reality even more than love. In the story of a Pakistani woman who has begun a new life in Paris, an essay about the writing of Kureishi’s acclaimed film Le Week-End, and an account of Kafka’s relationship with his father, readers will find Kureishi also exploring the topics that he continues to make new, and make his own: growing up and growing old; betrayal and loyalty; imagination and repression; marriage and fatherhood. The collection ends with a bravura piece of very personal reportage about the conman who stole Kureishi’s life savings – a man who provoked both admiration and disgust, obsession and revulsion, love and hate.” (Syndetics summary)