still life with bread crumbsStill Life with Bread Crumbs begins with an imagined gunshot and ends with a new tin roof. Between the two is a wry and knowing portrait of Rebecca Winter, a photographer whose work made her an unlikely heroine for many women. Her career is now descendent, her bank balance shaky, and she has fled the city for the middle of nowhere. There she discovers, in a tree stand with a roofer named Jim Bates, that what she sees through a camera lens is not all there is to life.

Brilliantly written, powerfully observed, Still Life with Bread Crumbs is a deeply moving and often very funny story of unexpected love, and a stunningly crafted journey into the life of a woman, her heart, her mind, her days, as she discovers that life is a story with many levels, a story that is longer and more exciting than she ever imagined. (description from publisher)

eighty daysOn November 14, 1889, Nellie Bly, the crusading young female reporter for Joseph Pulitzer’s World newspaper, left New York City by steamship on a quest to break the record for the fastest trip around the world. Also departing from New York that day—and heading in the opposite direction by train—was a young journalist from The Cosmopolitan magazine, Elizabeth Bisland. Each woman was determined to outdo Jules Verne’s fictional hero Phileas Fogg and circle the globe in less than eighty days. The dramatic race that ensued would span twenty-eight thousand miles, captivate the nation, and change both competitors’ lives forever.

The two women were a study in contrasts. Nellie Bly was a scrappy, hard-driving, ambitious reporter from Pennsylvania coal country who sought out the most sensational news stories, often going undercover to expose social injustice. Genteel and elegant, Elizabeth Bisland had been born into an aristocratic Southern family, preferred novels and poetry to newspapers, and was widely referred to as the most beautiful woman in metropolitan journalism. Both women, though, were talented writers who had carved out successful careers in the hypercompetitive, male-dominated world of big-city newspapers. Eighty Days brings these trailblazing women to life as they race against time and each other, unaided and alone, ever aware that the slightest delay could mean the difference between victory and defeat.

A vivid real-life re-creation of the race and its aftermath, from its frenzied start to the nail-biting dash at its finish, Eighty Days is history with the heart of a great adventure novel. Here’s the journey that takes us behind the walls of Jules Verne’s Amiens estate, into the back alleys of Hong Kong, onto the grounds of a Ceylon tea plantation, through storm-tossed ocean crossings and mountains blocked by snowdrifts twenty feet deep, and to many more unexpected and exotic locales from London to Yokohama. Along the way, we are treated to fascinating glimpses of everyday life in the late nineteenth century—an era of unprecedented technological advances, newly remade in the image of the steamship, the railroad, and the telegraph. For Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Bisland—two women ahead of their time in every sense of the word—were not only racing around the world. They were also racing through the very heart of the Victorian age. (description from publisher)

Several recently published books focus on the wives of famous men – after all, who know the triumphs and failings of the great man better than the wife? Get an intimate, behind-the-scenes look of these historical men with these great titles.

aviator's wifeThe Aviator’s Wife by Melanie Benjamin – Despite her own major achievements – she becomes the first licensed female glider pilot in the United States – Anne Morrow Lindbergh is viewed merely as Charles Lindbergh’s wife. The fairy-tale life she once longed for will bring heartbreak and hardships, ultimately pushing her to reconcile her need for love and her desire for independence, and to embrace, at last, life’s infinite possibilities for change and happiness.

 

above all thingsAbove All Things by Tanis Rideout – Blending historical facts with imaginative fiction,  this title interweaves the story of George Mallory’s ill-fated 1924 attempt to be the first man to conquer Mount Everest and a single day in the life of his wife as she waits at home in England for news of his return.

 

 

 

paris wifeThe Paris Wife by Paula McLain – Meeting through mutual friends in Chicago, 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 lincolns dressmakerMrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker by Jennifer Chiaverini – A stunning account of the friendship that blossomed between Mary Todd Lincoln and her seamstress, Elizabeth “Lizzie” Keckley, a former slave who gained her professional reputation in Washington, D.C. by outfitting the city’s elite. Keckley made history by sewing for First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln within the White House, a trusted witness to many private moments between the President and his wife, two of the most compelling figures in American history.

 

z a novel of zeldaZ : a Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald by Therese Anne Fowler – When beautiful, reckless Southern belle Zelda Sayre meets F. Scott Fitzgerald at a country club dance in 1918, she is seventeen years old and he is a young army lieutenant stationed in Alabama. Before long Zelda has fallen for him despite his unsuitability: Scott isn’t wealthy or prominent or even a Southerner, insists that his writing will bring him both fortune and fame. Zelda optimistically marries him and take the rest as it comes. What comes, here at the dawn of the Jazz Age, is unimagined attention and success and celebrity that will make Scott and Zelda legends in their own time.

Fly Away Home by Jennifer Weiner tells a story that seems all too familiar right now:  a politician is caught cheating on his loyal wife of three decades.  Sylvie, the wronged and distraught wife, isn’t sure what to do with herself, since her life has been solely about helping her husband with his political career for their entire marriage.  This book tells the story of how she, along with her daughters Diana and Lizzie, cope with the senator’s indescretions.  Sylvie finds solace, and unexpected company, when she decides to cope at her family’s old summer house in Connecticut.  The story gets complicated, since Sylvie’s daughters are going through troubles of their own when the scandal breaks:  Lizzie has just gotten through with another stint in rehab, and Diana is stuck in a loveless marriage and has responded by carrying on her own extramarital affair.

What I love about Jennifer Weiner’s books is that the characters are real and relatable.  They are flawed, and they remind you of people you know.  This is the case with this book.  It feels like a scandal ripped from the headlines, but with enough personality and emotion that you feel like you know Sylvie and want nothing more than to comfort her and tell her to be strong.  But my favorite character had to be Lizzie.  Though she struggled through a lot, she worked hard to overcome her demons and make a good life for herself and anyone else who surprisingly came along….

If you haven’t read them yet, I highly recommend checking out some of Jennifer Weiner’s other books, including In Her Shoes, which was later adapted into a hit movie starring Toni Collette and Cameron Diaz as sisters Rose and Maggie.  But my personal favorite of Jennifer Weiner’s works (and the favorite of so many other women I know) is Good In Bed.  The book is about a plus-sized woman who finds out her boyfriend is writing about her and her size in his column (titled Good In Bed) in a Cosmo-like magazine.  The book is both witty and emotional, and I kind of wanted to be Cannie’s best friend by the end.  Pick up any one of Jennifer Weiner’s books, and I bet you won’t be disappointed.