online colorNovember already! Time for our next-to-last reading challenge. This month it’s Other Lives – fictional biographies about famous people.

We all have seem to have a fascination with the lives of other people, whether they’re an important historical figure or the latest pop star. How did they achieve their success? How do they maintain it? What was their downfall, their fatal flaw? What is their lasting legacy? How did they live their daily lives and how did they react when life became difficult?

Despite the prevalence of social media and the current obsession with sharing, we don’t really know the how another person’s mind works. This is where fictional biographies step in – a writer steps into a person’s life and tries to imagine what they must have gone through and how they felt. Of course, fictional biographies are still fictional – no amount of research can bring back casual conversations and lost letters. A really good author, backed with lots of research and study can transport you, the reader, to another time and place, bringing insight and understanding that isn’t possible from the outside.

Here are some exceptional titles to get you started:

Loving Frank (Frank Lloyd Wright) by Nancy Horan.   In 1903 Mamah Borthwick Cheney and her husband, Edwin, commissioned the renowned architect Frank Lloyd Wright to design a new home for them. During the construction of the house a powerful attraction developed between Mamah and Frank, and in time the lovers, each married with children, embarked on a course that would shock Chicago society and forever change their lives.

The Paris Wife (Ernest Hemingway) by Paula McLain.  Meeting through mutual friends in Chicago, Mary Hadley is intrigued by brash “beautiful boy” Ernest Hemingway, and after a brief courtship and small wedding, they take off for Paris, where Hadley makes a convincing transformation from an overprotected child to a game and brave young woman who puts up with impoverished living conditions and shattering loneliness to prop up her husband’s career.

Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker (Mary Todd Lincoln) by Jennifer Chiaverini.  Elizabeth Hobbs Keckley was born a slave. She earned her freedom by the skill of her needle and won the friendship of First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln with her devotion. In her sweeping historical novel Chiaverini illuminates the extraordinary relationship the two women shared, beginning in the hallowed halls of the White House during the trials of the Civil War and enduring almost, but not quite, to the end of Mrs. Lincoln’s days.

The Girl with the Pearl Earring (Johannes Vermeer) by Tracy Chevalier. In seventeenth-century Delft, there’s a strict social order -rich and poor, Catholic and Protestant, master and servant -and all know their place. When Griet becomes a maid in the household of the painter Johannes Vermeer, she thinks she knows her role. What no one expects is that Griet’s quiet manner, quick perceptions, and fascination with her master’s paintings will draw her inexorably into his world.

Other titles to try include Memoirs of a Geisha (based partly on Japan’s most famous geisha) by Arthur Golden, The Other Boleyn Girl (Anne Boleyn’s sister) by Phillippa Gregory (indeed, almost everything by Phillippa Gregory can be categorized as fictional biography), Clara and Mr Tiffany (Louis Comfort Tiffany) by Susan Vreeland, Wolf Hall (Thomas Cromwell) by Hilary Mantel, and The Aviator’s Wife (Anne Morrow Lindbergh) by Melanie Benjamin.

My choice this month is The Lady and the Unicorn about perhaps one of the most famous of unknown historical figures. No one knows who the lady is in the famous Lady and the Unicorn tapestries, now hanging in the Cluny Museum in Paris. Created in the late 15th century, there has been much speculation but no definitive answer about the mystery. This book, by Tracy Chevalier attempts to answer those questions. I’m looking forward to hearing her version of this story!

What about you? See anything that interests you? What will you be reading in November?

 

 

Hello Fellow Book Lovers!

How was your October reading adventure – did you meet the challenge to try a Young Adult book? There are a lot of great ones – I hope you were able to find one you liked!

In October I read Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly. This book was recommended to me a long time ago and it kind of dropped off my radar. Now I wonder, why on earth didn’t I read it right away? It’s remarkable.

revolutionAndi is a depressed, modern-day teenager, mourning the breakup of her parents marriage and the death of her little brother. Her Father decides that accompanying him to Paris over winter break will be just the thing to help her break through her depression. Andi, of course, is less than thrilled but changes her mind when, poking through some antiques, she comes across a diary written by a girl who lived in Paris during the French Revolution. Alexandrine is feeling many of the same turbulent emotions as Andi as she struggles to survive the horrors of the war. As Andi delves further into the diary she begins to feel a kinship with Alexandrine that crosses culture and time and allows her to put her own suffering into perspective.

I had a little trouble with this book at first – Andi is very angsty and very angry at the beginning of the story and I had to force myself to push through. But the historical details, the weaving of the love of music (by both Andi and Alexandrine) throughout the story and an ending that is intense and gripping add up to a book that is very hard to put down. Beautifully written, complex and with just a tiny bit of magical realism, this is a wonderful all-encompassing read.

Now it’s your turn – what did you read in October? Tell us how you did with the Young Adult theme!

the house girlThe House Girl by Tara Conklin follows the lives of two women: Lina Sparrow, a first-year associate in a Manhattan law firm, and Josephine Bell, a slave living on a plantation. Lina lives with her father, a famous artist, while she works at the law firm. Her mother died when she was younger and as a result, her father seldom talks about her. When Lina discovers that her father is planning to open up a new art show and that the subject matter is her mother, she finds herself wondering who her mother really is and what happened before her death.

While she digs into her personal history, Lina is picked to work on a reparations case at work for the millions of descendants of American slaves. This historic class-action lawsuit would lead to trillions of dollars in reparations for all of the descendants of the slaves. Lina is in charge of finding the perfect plaintiff, a person that will bring a compelling back story that will catch the public’s eye and help sway the courts. She stumbles upon the life and work of Miss Josephine Bell.

Josephine Bell worked as a house slave on a plantation. Her mistress, Lu Anne Bell, taught her to read, draw, and paint without her master knowing. Josephine’s life was easier than the lives of the slaves working in the fields, but that doesn’t mean that her life was all sunshine and happiness. Balancing between house and fields left her with a sense of discontent. Her master’s continued unwanted advances combined with her mistress’s multiple miscarriages over the years made the house a turbulent area. Her mistress’ health is also declining rapidly with no cure seemingly in sight. With her friends being sold off, Josephine herself has caught the bug to escape and runaway. Will she? What about the people she will leave behind?

Lina stumbled upon artwork that was attributed to Josephine’s mistress Lu Anne, but historical research has come to light refuting this claim and showing that Josephine may actually be the artist. If this is indeed true and if Lina can manage to track down one of Josephine’s heirs, Lina will have found her perfect plaintiff. Digging into historical records, wading through murky legal territory, and convincing people to come forward becomes a major part of her life while she is simultaneously digging into her own past and learning about her parents’ relationship and their separate lives. Tara Conklin has woven together an intriguing tale of love, life, and the familial and friendship bonds that bring us all together across the years. Highly recommended.


This book is also available in the following formats:

archieI grew up slipping Archie comics into my mom’s cart every time we went to the grocery store. I don’t know what it was about the characters, but I always wanted to learn more about Archie, Betty, Veronica, and Jughead. I was always guaranteed a funny story line and a few laughs. When it was announced that Mark Waid and Fiona Staples, two of my favorite comic book writers and artists, would be launching a modern reboot of Archie, I knew I would have to read it.

Archie, Volume 1: The New Riverdale is Waid and Staples’ modern reboot. The characters in this reboot face contemporary issues, while still retaining the classic Riverdale antics that original readers fell in love with. This modern Riverdale High is multiethnic and full of characters that readers of various ages, sexual orientations, genders, and economic statuses can relate to. In this first volume, Archie talks to readers about Riverdale and introduces his friends and family. Jughead rocks out in ripped jeans and readers see Veronica stroll onto the scene as a reality show star living with her uber-rich parents. Betty and Archie aren’t talking after the #lipstickincident and readers, as well as everyone else in the comic, are left wondering what happened to break up this couple that has been together since kindergarten. The world Waid and Staples have designed is true to the original, but allows for flexibility for all characters.

Waid and Staples have concocted a world full of new possibilities for Archie, Jughead, Betty, and Veronica to explore, while still keeping the foundational aspects of each character intact. If you’re like me, you may have been initially hesitant to open this comic for fear that your favorite character may have been completely changed. Never fear! Archie is still a complete buffoon, Jughead is still obsessed with getting food, Betty is still the girl-next-door tomboy, and Veronica still slightly scares me with her vain, spoiled, and conceited attitude. All your favorites are still here just waiting to be rediscovered!

This reboot works as a way to introduce modern themes into the classic lives of all the Archie characters. Social media, fashion, romance, wealth, and other topics are all introduced into their lives and the struggles that each character goes through are all relatable to people reading. This first volume plugs Archie into the mainstream, reality-star culture by introducing characters through writing and artwork that is bright, popping, and fill of dramatic relatable topics. Check it out and let me know what you think!

yes pleaseYes Please by Amy Poehler is a hilarious biography full of anecdotes from Poehler’s time on “Parks and Recreation” and “Saturday Night Live”, as well as stories from her everyday life from both before she became a big star and after she gained fame. If you’ve seen Poehler in anything, then you know that her comedy comes fierce and fast, sometimes catching you off guard in regards to topic and delivery. This book is no different.

I chose to listen to this biography through OverDrive and was not disappointed. Poehler narrates this book, along with several other big name actors and, of course, her parents, popping in for cameos. (Looking for another funny woman biography narrated by the author? Check out Tina Fey’s Bossypants, available as a CD audiobook and an OverDrive eaudiobook.) Each person she has helping her narrate adds another level of humanity and unbridled hilarity to Poehler’s life growing up and her changing career in comedy as she worked to get to where she is today.

Poehler pulls no punches in this biography, talking about subjects ranging from growing up in the 70s, tips on how to deal with being nominated for an award, odes to different coworkers, sex, love, babies, divorce, family, parenthood, and her hilarious relationship with Tina Fey. This humorous book gives readers an all-access pass into Poehler’s life, allowing us to catch a glimpse into the crazy world of Saturday Night Live, letting us see how difficult it is to become a successful comedian, and just how crazy life is.

Poehler travels back to the 1990s, when she was in her 20s, working at ImprovOlympic in Chicago and then with the Upright Citizens Brigade in New York. She talks about her previous jobs and her struggle to make it. I highly recommend you listen to the audiobook because you get access to bonus material, as well as extra insight into her life from her many famous friends who make cameos. Choosing to do this book as an audiobook really lets Poehler’s creative talent shine as she weaves together both stories of success and failure to deliver her thoughts on anything and everything. Let us know what you think!


This book is also available in the following formats:

vinegar girlVinegar Girl by Anne Tyler is a modern retelling of the classic Shakespeare play, The Taming of the Shrew. Initially I picked this book to listen to through OverDrive for two reasons: the cover looked interesting and it was available for checkout. I’m glad I checked this out. This was very quick to listen to, the characters are all excellently developed, and the narrator hooked me in.

In this retelling, Kate Battista lives with her father, Dr. Louis Battista, and her younger teenage sister, Bunny. Kate works as a nursery school assistant, takes care of the family house, and has watched her younger sister ever since their mother’s early death. Dr. Battista, a research scientist studying autoimmune disorders, is eccentric to sat the least. His compulsiveness shines through in his work and the way he wants Kate to run the house. Everyone’s laundry is done on a different day of the week, Bunny has to follow her father’s behavior rules 100%, and meal prep is down to a specific science. Kate follows her father’s computer-generated grocery list and makes the family’s “meat mash” at the beginning of the week, a less-than-appetizing-sounding food concoction that contains all necessary nutrients that they then eat for the rest of the week.

Dr. Battista has gone through a number of different lab assistants, the current one, Pyotr Shcherbakov, being his favorite. Pyotr is apparently a star scientist from Russia that Dr. Battista, who is equally famous in Russia, was lucky to get. Unfortunately for everyone, Pyotr’s three-year work visa is about to expire, meaning he will be deported back to Russia unless he marries an American girl. Dr. Battista has the perfect girl in mind for Pyotr: his oldest daughter, Kate, who has never turned down any of his crazy schemes before. This retelling of Shakespeare’s classic veers from the powerful emotions in the original, but is a delightful and positive retelling that leaves readers wondering what will happen between Kate, Pyotr, and her father? Will his research be successful? Will Kate and Pyotr get married? Will the meat mash ever change? Tyler’s quirkiness adds a new level to this classic Shakespeare, something that will have readers clamoring for more.


This book is also available in the following formats:

There are many other clever adaptations of The Taming of the Shrew, some of them you may not realize. Check out this list of my favorite adaptations (and call the library for more suggestions!).
mclintockkiss me kate10 things i hate about you

 

 

 

 

 

 

2014-05-28-treesTen years ago, they arrived. Silently they landed – enormous, tall cylinders settling all over the Earth. No communication, no signs of life. Just standing there, like trees, unaware of humanity, it seemed. Or, perhaps they simply didn’t care.

Their appearance causes global chaos. The Trees landed in oceans, on top of glaciers and the middle of crowded urban centers.  Governments collapsed and then slowly recovered. With no communication or interaction after ten years, the Trees have become almost normal, and humanity has adapted to their existence.

In China, a special cultural zone has been established around a Tree, called Shu, where none of the usual cultural and economic restrictions are enforced. Tian Chenglei, a young artist from the country to study art. He joins an artists commune and shyly makes friends with a transgender woman, eventually falling in love with her. But the freedoms the Tree’s arrival brought cannot last forever.

In the northern-most reaches of Norway’s Spitsbergen island, a scientific team assigned to study the Tree there struggles to maintain order and their sanity. One determined scientist discovers black poppies growing in the shadows around the Tree, areas where nothing should grow. He eventually discovers that the flowers are composed of metal filaments arranged in a mirror image of the Tree’s external symbols, and that they transmit faint RF signals. He reasons that the flowers are a method of communication and once there is enough of them, the Tree will “speak.”

In Somalia, a technocratic dictator deals with the economic and political impact of one of the smallest Trees landing in the autonomous state of Puntland within Somalia. The Tree’s arrivals resulted in a vast influx of wealth and economic growth into Puntland, while the rest of the country only grew poorer. Convinced that the Tree does not care about the land and people around it, Rahim is determined to take control of the Tree and Puntland, by any means necessary.

The Trees changed the world when they arrived. The uncertainly of their intent and the implication of another intelligent species irreparably changed civilization – it was, in fact, the end of the world as we knew it. The story is less about the Trees (although the forthcoming volumes promise more) than how humanity reacts to them.  Ellis (Transmetropolitan, Planetary) has a lot of ground to cover initially, but by end of the first volume, the action and dread intensifies to a cliffhanger of an ending. Trees is a great choice for sci-fi fans and for those who wonder what might happen when we learn we’re not alone in the universe.

griffinandsabineGriffin and Sabine: An Extraordinary Correspondence is the first in a captivating series of books by Nick Bantock.

When I try to describe this book series to friends, the best way I can think to do so is by saying they are like pop-up books for grown-ups. Inside there are beautifully drawn postcards, with enchanting full-color art on one side of the page and what looks like handwritten correspondence on the verso. A real treat presents itself when you get to the pages with the envelopes, out of which you can pull actual letters.

As the aptly-subtitled extraordinary correspondence begins, you learn that Griffin Moss, a London artist, and Sabine, an artist and midwife’s assistant from an island in the South Pacific, have not met in person. Yet somehow, they share a mysterious connection. This part-romance, part-fantasy fiction, part-mystery series grew such a following that Bantock responded by creating the equally gorgeous Morning Star Trilogy , which is also comprised of The Gryphon and Alexandria and features the same Griffin and Sabine as well as some new characters.

It seems like it would be a nightmare for public libraries to keep track of the loose pieces, and part of me is reluctant to tell anyone else about them for fear of tempting fate…but I feel it wouldn’t be fair to keep something so enjoyable under wraps. I am grateful and pleased to report to you that not once in my history of repeatedly checking out these books from multiple libraries do I recall ever encountering a missing or ill-treated piece. This is a great credit to Bantock’s readers and I would like to take this opportunity to thank each and every one of them for taking such good care of these treasures!

In 2016, on the 25th anniversary of the first publication of Griffin and Sabine, Bantock released The Pharos Gate: Griffin and Sabine’s Lost Correspondence.  I eagerly got my hands on it. It was like catching up with a dear old friend.

Reading these books is like being a fly (who can open mail) on the wall of a talented stranger’s mailbox. I cannot overemphasize how fun it is feeling like a secret observer to this mystical correspondence. The artwork and fonts are so intriguing they are beyond my description – you really just have to check them out to see for yourself!

Sabine's NotebookThe Golden Mean

The Gryphon

alexandria

furiously happyFuriously Happy: A Funny Book about Horrible Things by Jenny Lawson is the story of one woman’s journey through mental illness and the many places she finds herself. Jenny has been battling mental illness her entire life, so she considers herself to be an expert at how she handles her crippling depression and anxiety. She’s an expert at terrible ideas and writing a funny book about horrible things may be her best terrible idea yet.

Jenny believes in living her life furiously happy. Her depression, anxiety, and other myriad mental illnesses may run her life at certain moments, but she has decided that in the moments when she is not hiding in her bedroom, she’s going to live furiously happy. She’s going to do anything that pops into her head, anything stupid or irresponsible like having a raccoon rodeo with your cats or trying to convince your husband that having kangaroos would be a good idea. This book is packed full of stories of Jenny turning moments when things are just fine into amazing moments for herself, her daughter, and her husband. Because she doesn’t know exactly when her next down swing may happen, Jenny chooses to LIVE her life and not just survive it.

Jenny has written this book as a way to show the rest of the people in the world that the best way to live our lives is to embrace our weirdness 100%. She wants to show that by building up furiously happy moments in our okay moments, we are arming our brain with positive moments when those same brains decide to fight against us and try to kill us. Her moments of hilarity are paired with moments of such brutal honesty that you’ll find yourself on one page in the kitchen with Jenny as she plays with her taxidermied raccoons and then a few pages later sitting in the bathroom with her as she cries and pulls out her hair until she bleeds. The dichotomy between those beautiful, loving moments of happiness and the flawed, immensely overflowing, just trying to survive moments is where Jenny thrives. She encourages you to embrace yourself no matter what label you’re given and to find ways to find joy and happiness no matter what.


This book is also available in the following formats:

Wildflower-450Actress Drew Barrymore is anything but conventional.  So it comes to no surprise that her book is unconventional as well. Instead of writing a memoir, Drew wrote a book of stories of her life; stories that she wanted to revisit and share with the world.  And her stories are not placed in chronological order.  One story will be about being a mother, the next one she talks about her time on the set of E.T.  As Ms. Barrymore writes herself in the preface, “This is a book you can dip into and read when you want”.  And it truly is.  You could put Wildflower down and not read it for awhile, but come across it again and be delighted with the stories.  Or, you could binge read Wildflower and learn more about Drew Barrymore.  The choice is really up to you.  Either way, this biography truly is a book of stories that are very fun to read.

I chose to listen to Wildflower on a recent roadtrip.  Drew narrates the book herself and I loved listening to her read.  My favorite part may have been when she was describing her childhood after filming E.T.  Her mother decided to move to “the Valley” and Drew blames her mother for giving her the “Valley Girl” voice that she cannot seem to get rid of.  This happens early in the book, so for the rest of the duration of the audiobook, I would catch myself laughing at her “Valley Girl” voice when she said certain phrases.  I thoroughly enjoyed listening to Drew Barrymore read (and sometimes scream and sometimes laugh) her own book.

Drew Barrymore has certainly led an interesting life.  She started acting when she was a toddler and describes going on auditions as a child and meeting Steven Spielberg.  Drew talks about legally separating herself from her mother when she was a teenager.  She discusses being a Barrymore and her relationship with her father.  She talks about travelling as a teenager.  Drew discusses producing and starring in movies.  And she discusses being a mother. Perhaps the sweetest story in the book is towards the end.  Drew discusses meeting her husband’s parents, Arie and Coco and how she hit the “In-Law Jackpot”.  She has such a good relationship with her in-laws that she asked Arie to walk her down the aisle and for Coco to walk in with her husband. It is quite clear that the theme of the book Wildflower is Drew Barrymore’s relationships with other people; her family, her friends, her co-stars, and the people that have touched her life.