News Blog > biography

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)
.

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)

 

Alexei Sayle does it again – April Biography picks

Those who loved Alexei Sayle’s wonderful Stalin Ate My Homework and longed for him to divulge what happened next need wait no longer. His equally esoteric adult life is revealed in the sequel received this month. Also on offer are important new studies of Clementine Churchill, Peggy Guggenheim and Ted Hughes. A gracious note is provided by an attractive picture book of Audrey Hepburn’s life at home.

Syndetics book coverThatcher stole my trousers / Alexei Sayle.
What I brought to comedy was an authentic working-class voice plus a threat of genuine violence – nobody in Monty Python looked like a hard case who’d kick your head in.
In 1971 comedians on the working men’s club circuit imagined that they would be free to go on telling their tired, racist, misogynistic gags forever but their nemesis, a 19 year old Marxist art student with a bizarre concern for the health of British manufacturing was slowly coming to meet them.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverAudrey at home : memories of my mother’s kitchen with recipes, photographs, and personal stories / Luca Dotti with Luigi Spinola.
“Enter Audrey Hepburn’s private world in this unique New York Times bestselling biography compiled by her son that combines recollections, anecdotes, excerpts from her personal correspondence, drawings, and recipes for her favorite dishes written in her own hand, and more than 250 previously unpublished personal family photographs.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverThe silver moon : reflections on life, death and writing / Bryce Courtenay.
“Each of us has a place to return to in our minds, a place of clarity and peace, a place to think, to create, to dream. For Bryce Courtenay this place was a waterhole in Africa where he used to escape to as a boy, in search of solitude. One evening, while lingering there, he witnessed the tallest of the great beasts drinking from the waterhole in the moonlight, and was spellbound. Ever since, he drew inspiration from this moment.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverEdward VII : the cosmopolitan king / Richard Davenport-Hines.
“Like his mother Queen Victoria, Edward VII gave his name to an era. Both reflected the personalities of their central figures: hers insular and stiff; his attuned to the need for royal performances in public, European-minded, pleasure-loving, money-conscious and worldly. This highly entertaining book by celebrated biographer and social historian Richard Davenport-Hines conveys Edward’s distinct personality and significant influences throughout his life.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverFirst Lady : the life and wars of Clementine Churchill / Sonia Purnell.
“Without Churchill’s inspiring leadership Britain could not have survived its darkest hour and repelled the Nazi menace. Without his wife Clementine, however, he might never have become Prime Minister. By his own admission, the Second World War would have been ‘impossible without her’. Clementine was Winston’s emotional rock and his most trusted confidante.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverOff the beaten track : three centuries of women travellers / Dea Birkett ; foreword by Jan Morris.
“The author records the experiences of women travellers and reveals where they travelled, what they looked like, how they described new landscapes and cultures in both words and images. She also raises important issues of identity and representation, as well as attitudes to gender roles.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverPeggy Guggenheim : the shock of the modern / Francine Prose.
“One of twentieth-century America’s most influential patrons of the arts, Peggy Guggenheim (1898-1979) brought to wide public attention the work of such modern masters as Jackson Pollock and Man Ray. In her time, there was no stronger advocate for the groundbreaking and the avant-garde. Her midtown gallery was the acknowledged center of the postwar New York art scene, and her museum on the Grand Canal in Venice remains one of the world’s great collections of modern art.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverGreat lives : a century in obituaries / edited by Anna Temkin.
“The Times obituaries have given readers throughout the world an instant picture of a life for over 150 years. This book brings together 124 of these pieces, with obituary updated and reproduced in their entirety. The Times register provides a rich store of information and opinion on the most influential characters of the 20th and early 21st century.The Times Great Lives is a must for anyone with an interest in the history and people of the 20th century.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverTed Hughes : the unauthorised life / Jonathan Bate.
“Ted Hughes, Poet Laureate, was one of the greatest writers of the twentieth century. He was one of Britain’s most important poets, his work infused with myth; a love of nature, conservation, and ecology; of fishing and beasts in brooding landscapes. With an equal gift for poetry and prose, and with a soul as capacious as any poet in history, he was also a prolific children’s writer and has been hailed as the greatest English letter-writer since John Keats. His magnetic personality and insatiable appetite for friendship, love, and life also attracted more scandal than any poet since Lord Byron.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverFamily life : birth, death and the whole damn thing / Elisabeth Luard.
“Not everyone keeps an eagle owl in the spare bedroom cupboard, plays chess for the French Foreign Legion, or goes to school on an obstinate donkey. But this was all just a day in the life of the four Luard children. For the Luards, growing up as their family travelled across Europe, life was a series of adventures. Yet no family is immune to tragedy, and in Francesca, the eldest of three daughters, we find a true heroine.” (Syndetics summary)

From Russia with love – Biography picks for March

Many readers loved Elena Gorokhova’s A Mountain of crumbs – her account of growing up in pre-Perestroika Russia. Now they can read of her new, longed-for life in the United States, and her reunion with her remarkable mother. This is a story which is both funny and touching.
Also received this month were new books by Diana Athill, Joan Bakewell and Marian Keyes. You are spoiled for choice!

Syndetics book coverRussian tattoo : a memoir / Elena Gorokhova.
“From the bestselling author of A Mountain of Crumbs, a “brilliant and illuminating” (BookPage) portrait of mothers and daughters that reaches from Cold War Russia to modern-day New Jersey to show how the ties that hold you back can also teach you how to start over.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverMaking it up as I go along / Marian Keyes.
“‘Fabulous shoes, my badly made stews, an Antarctic cruise and ten pounds to lose. Having to schmooze when I’d far rather snooze. Skin care and bad hair and what should I wear? All kinds of views, which I hope will amuse…’ Welcome to the magnificent Making It Up as I Go Along – aka the World According to Marian Keyes. A bold, brilliant book bursting with Marian’s hilarious and heartfelt observations on modern life, love and much, much else besides.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverIn other words / Jhumpa Lahiri ; translated from the Italian by Ann Goldstein.
In Other Words is a revelation. It is at heart a love story: that of a writer for another language. For Jhumpa Lahiri, that love was for Italian, which first captivated and capsized her during a trip to Florence after college. Although Lahiri studied Italian for many years afterward, true mastery always eluded her. Seeking full immersion, she decides to move to Rome with her family. There, she begins to read and write solely in Italian. In Other Words investigates the process of learning to express oneself in another language, and describes the journey of a writer seeking a new voice. Presented in a dual-language format, this is a wholly original book about exile, linguistic and otherwise, written with intensity and clarity.” (Adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverAbout women : conversations between a writer and a painter / Lisa Alther and Françoise Gilot.
“Lisa Alther and Françoise Gilot have been friends for more than twenty-five years. Although from different backgrounds (Gilot from cosmopolitan Paris, Alther from small-town Tennessee) and different generations, they found they have a great deal in common as women who managed to support themselves with careers in the arts, while simultaneously balancing the obligations of work and parenthood.” (Provided by publisher)

Syndetics book coverAmelia Earhart : beyond the grave / W.C. Jameson.
“This well-researched book is a biography of the life–and disappearance–of Amelia Earhart, the pioneering aviator who was the first woman to fly solo over the Atlantic in 1928. But did Amelia’s plane really crash and sink in 1937, or was her fate entirely different?” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverAlive, alive oh! and other things that matter / Diana Athill.
“What will you remember if you live to be 100? Diana Athill charmed readers with her prize-winning memoir Somewhere Towards the End, which transformed her into an unexpected literary star. Now, on the eve of her ninety-eighth birthday, Athill has written a sequel every bit as unsentimental, candid, and beguiling as her most beloved work.”(Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverStop the clocks : thoughts on what I leave behind / Joan Bakewell.
“Joan Bakewell has led a varied, sometimes breathless life. In Stop the Clocks, she muses on all she has lived through, how the world has changed and considers the things and values she will be leaving behind. Stop the Clocks is a book of musings, a look back at what she was given by her family, at the times in which she grew up. She talks of the present, of her family, of friends and literature – and talks too of what she will leave behind.” (Syndetics summary)

A good one in another part of the library:
Syndetics book coverM train / Patti Smith.
“Following Smith’s bestselling and critically acclaimed book Just Kids, this essay collection creates a map of the singer-songwriter’s peripatetic journeys to cafes, cemeteries, hotels, and train stations around the world. She is the perfect guide, revealing the mysteries in the shadows, the little bits of life people often take for granted-such as a good cup of coffee, a familiar coat, or the “transformation of the heart”.” (Syndetics summary)

Margaret Forster (1938–2016), noted novelist and biographer
It is with great sadness that we recently learned of the death of this well-loved author, of cancer at the age of 77. Although best known for her novel Georgy girl, Margaret Forster was the author of 14 biographies, among them the prize-winners Elizabeth Barrett Browning: a Biography and Daphne du Maurier: The Secret Life of the Renowned Storyteller. A feminist who recognised that the pioneering women who went before her had paved the way for her own success, she wrote Significant sisters: the grassroots of active feminism 1839-1939 in 1984.

Her last work of non-fiction, an autobiography entitled My life in houses, was published in 2014.

Syndetics book coverMy life in houses / Margaret Forster.
“Margaret Forster takes us on a journey through the houses she’s lived in: from the council house in Carlisle where she was born in 1938, to her beloved London house of today – via the Lake District, Oxford, Hampstead, and a spell in the Mediterranean. This is not a book about bricks and mortar, but a book about what houses are to us, and the effect they have on the way we live our lives. It is also a very personal inquiry into the meaning of home.” (Adapted from Syndetics summary)

Rest in peace Margaret. You have brought much reading pleasure to many people.

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)


  • Archives

  • Categories