Antiques treasure hunter Tess Delaney lives a high-octane existence and is on the cusp of the success she’s fought for, so now may not be the best time to question everything; but as events pile up and secrets are uncovered, forcing her to re-evaluate, she may find that a perfect life she never dreamed of is within her reach.
On the very day Tess expects a huge promotion in her highly prestigious antiques brokerage firm, banker Dominic Rossi turns up in her San Francisco office to inform her that she has a grandfather and a half sister she never knew about; that her grandfather is in a coma; and that she’s named in his will as half owner of an orchard that’s about to go under. Raised by a single mother who traveled extensively and an unmarried grandmother who owned an antiques shop, Tess has always been attracted to the idea of family but has had limited exposure to the reality. She is drawn to the honorable Dominic, her welcoming sister Isabel and life in Archangel, Calif., and she quickly becomes entwined in discovering the truth about the family she never knew, bringing her talent and experience as a researcher, historian and treasure hunter to the many secrets buried in the sands of time. Underneath it all, a mysterious missing heirloom may bring them all financial and emotional salvation, and in the process of discovery, Tess will begin to understand the true power of love, community, family and honor. Wiggs’ latest is a lovely, poignant story of a woman who thinks she has it all until she discovers she truly does, and none of it is what she expected.
With vignettes from Nazi-occupied Denmark and a spotlight on the noble actions of an engaged Danish citizenry that reportedly managed to save 99 percent of its Jewish population, Wiggs tells a layered, powerful story of love, loss, hope and redemption.
A wise, witty assessment of the contemporary dilemmas of middle-class mothers (in particular: to work or not to work), set in the competitive terrain of New York City parenting.
Using the comfortable format of friendship between four women, Wolitzer’s eighth novel (The Position, 2005, etc.) takes ironic stock of how far females have (and haven’t) come since feminism tried to rearrange the work/life balance between the sexes. Lawyer Amy Lamb has still not gone back to her job after the birth of her son ten years ago. Her good friend Jill, a one-time prizewinner who recently left Manhattan for the suburbs with her family, is finding it hard to fit in. Their circle also includes ex-artist Roberta who, like Amy, feels happier without the pressures of a job, yet senses dissatisfactions and uncertainty about her identity; and mathematician Karen, whose Chinese parents take great satisfaction in her not needing to work. The women meet for coffee or yoga and mutual support. Aside from Jill’s jealousy of Amy’s new friendship with glamorous museum director Penny, unaware that the relationship is driven by a shared secret (Penny’s extramarital affair), plot events are few. Instead, Wolitzer uses modern domesticity as a lens through which to scrutinize mixed feelings about ambition, marriage, aging, money and the peculiar results of the women’s individual choices. Further telling comparisons arise from glimpses of women of their mothers’ generation. Instead of conclusions, there are some gradual changes, sometimes for the better.
A perceptive, highly pleasurable novel that serves as Wolitzer’s up-to-date answer to the old question: “What do women want?”
Set free by her mistress, can a young slave find true freedom up North? Or will she discover that there is more than one way to be enslaved?
Leveen’s debut novel brings to life the true story of a young slave woman. Her abolitionist-leaning mistress, Bet Van Lew, sets Mary and her mother, Minnie, free. Yet Mary’s father and Minnie’s husband, Lewis, remains enslaved as a blacksmith to his master. So freedom proves more difficult than either woman had anticipated. Under Virginia law, Mary and her mother may stay in the Commonwealth only a year after being set free. After that mark, either could be resold into slavery. Unwilling to leave her husband, Minnie chooses a dangerous path of deception, pretending to still be a slave. Hoping for a better life for their daughter, Lewis and Minnie send her North to be educated in Philadelphia. Once north of the Mason-Dixon Line, Mary swiftly learns that racism persists, even among the freed slaves themselves. She gains a fine education and deep friendships. Yet Mary must also learn to negotiate the bewildering rules of living in a racist and classist society: being exiled to the Negro benches, enduring unwarranted insults and having to hide her own family’s secrets. After her mother dies, Mary realizes that time is wasting. She begins to see clearly that true freedom depends on everyone being free. After rejecting a flattering—yet essentially insulting—marriage proposal, Mary discovers the courage to return to Virginia for her father, to work with the Underground Railroad for other slaves and even to spy for the Union army. And along the way, she finds true love.
Deftly balancing history, romance and adventure, Leveen honors the life and historical importance of a brave, resourceful woman.
Angelou (Letters to My Daughter, 2008, etc.) has given us the opportunity to read much of her life, but here she unveils her relationship with her mother for the first time.
True to her style, the writing cuts to the chase with compression and simplicity, and there in the background is a calypso smoothness, flurries and showers of musicality between the moments of wickedness. And wickedness abounds, for Angelou had a knack for picking bad men. But the pivot of the book is her mother—first called lady, then mother and finally mom—who sent Angelou and her brother to live with their grandmother when Angelou was 3. By the time her older brother was capable of getting into serious trouble as an independent-minded black man in the American South, they were shipped back to their mother, who was as ready as she would ever be. She had been around, ran a few gambling houses and picked up plenty of worldly wisdom, which she dispensed to Angelou: “Power and determination…[w]ith those two things, you can go anywhere and everywhere”; “If you don’t protect yourself, you look like a fool asking somebody else to protect you.” Though readers may not sense that her mother was not the most reliable force in her life, Angelou knew enough to grab the most from what she had: “[S]he was there with me. She had my back, supported me. This is the role of the mother….She stands between the known and the unknown.” Strung through the narrative are intense episodes in Angelou’s personal progress, from those disappointing-to-terrifying boyfriends, a seriously ugly meeting with her father and stepmother, her days as a prostitute and her incandescent relationships with her brother and her son.
A tightly strung, finely tuned memoir about life with her mother.
Glock debuts with a lovely, blue memoir of her maternal grandmother, a vital square peg in the poor, round hole of a hard-baked West Virginia town.
Writing with the rhythmically punctuated cadence of one semi-lost in thought as she conjures images, the author tells the story of both Aneita Jean Blair and the town of Chester, West Virginia, during the first half of the 20th century. Despite its green hills, wildflowers, and pockets of loveliness, its clean clay that drove the pottery mills, Chester had its full share of sordidness, squabbles, potter's lung, lead poisoning, backstabbing, and the grind of just making do. In this working-poor company town, Blair knew she was made of choicer stuff. She was a sparkplug who “spent at least seventy of her eighty-two years cultivating stares and making damn sure she has warranted the attention.” Dancing mattered, beauty inspired (“a woman who didn't bother to make the most of what God gave her was displaying a lack of fortitude”), baking a cake was important, but so was telling a joke and knowing how to smoke a cigarette in a bus-stop ladies’ room: style made this woman. It’s not much of a surprise that “puberty hit my grandmother like a dropped piano,” or that at 13 she attracted men like iron filings to a magnet. Her stern Scotch father was apoplectic, her mother was gentle, her brother Petey was her rock. “While her girlfriends were frantically honing in on potential mates, Aneita Jean spun the revolving door off its hinges”; again, it’s no surprise when the author warns, “sooner or later, everyone is in for a world of hurt.” Petey died young, Blair married a man who would never leave town, and her beauty paled: “it made her nastier, and it made her funnier,” qualities that drew her granddaughter to her with the same ardor as those men so many years before.
A memoir as elemental as its subject: pulsing, fetching, leaving a strong afterglow. (20 photos)
A lively glimpse of the fashion industry and the characters behind it from American Vogue creative director Coddington.
The author begins with her childhood in Wales, but the memoir really comes to life when she describes her modeling days in London. Her big break came early, when a contest landed her in Vogue. Coddington expresses nostalgia for the carefree world of fashion in the 1960s, before the supermodels and celebrities arrived. During that time, there were no makeup artists, and models arrived with a suitcase of their own hair products and accessories. Coddington’s descriptions and illustrations bring that world to life. Even though her modeling career was interrupted with a disfiguring car accident, she dove back in once she healed. Her stylist career started with British Vogue, and she later moved to Calvin Klein in America and then to American Vogue when Anna Wintour became the editor-in-chief. The author provides intriguing portraits of Karl Lagerfeld and other big names, but she focuses mostly on Wintour’s public persona. Coddington’s personal life plays second fiddle to her role in the fashion industry. She mentions her boyfriends and her two husbands, but she glides through her relationships with them. Coddington’s tone is incredibly blunt. For example, she lets her envy of Carlyne Cerf de Dudzeele, another stylist at American Vogue who was also in favor with Wintour, seep through the narrative.
Great read for those interested in events in the fashion industry and the personalities who shape it.
Published to coincide with what would have been her 100th birthday, this biography of the iconic Julia Child (1912–2004) does full justice to its complex subject.
Spitz (The Saucier's Apprentice: One Long Strange Trip through the Great Cooking Schools of Europe, 2008, etc.) describes the “irrepressible reality” of Child, who became a TV superstar, effectively launching “public television into the spotlight, big-time.” In his view, the 1961 publication of her book, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, came at just the right time. Americans were tired of the preceding “era of dreary button-down conformity,” and they were ready for a gastronomic revolution. Frustrated housewives reading Betty Friedan's groundbreaking The Feminine Mystique welcomed the larger-than-life personality and showmanship of this tall, outspoken woman as she demonstrated the intricacies of French recipes with what appeared to be blithe disregard when things went wrong. Child reveled in her celebrity status, but this was only one aspect of her complex personality. Like most women of her generation born in traditional upper-middle-class homes, she was not expected to have an independent career. A wartime stint in the OSS was liberating. Not only did she hold a highly responsible job, but she met and married career diplomat Paul Child, moving with him to France. Popular accounts of her life, including the book and film Julie and Julia, describe her enchantment with French haute cuisine and her determination to master the skills of a top chef. Spitz captures another side of her complex personality: her fierce diligence in mastering the science as well as the art of cooking through detailed experimentation and her concern to translate the preparation of complex French recipes for readers in America—an attention to detail that carried over to her TV programs.
An engrossing biography of a woman worthy of iconic status.
Most schoolchildren can tell you that Aaron Burr killed Alexander Hamilton in a duel. Brands (History/Univ. of Texas; The Murder of Jim Fisk for the Love of Josie Mansfield, 2012, etc.) chronicles the story of the downward trajectory his fortunes endured thereafter.
Burr’s relationship and devotion to his only child, Theodosia, produced a wealth of correspondence that allows us to see his tortured, often-desperate persona. His break with Thomas Jefferson over political issues and the outrage after Hamilton’s death finished Burr’s political life. More importantly, the press of creditors suggested it was a good time to get out of town. He left New York and headed west to investigate the possibilities of land speculation. While traveling he became convinced of an impending war with Spain, either in Mexico or Florida. He raised a great deal of capital to buy a tract of land in the Louisiana Territory and to outfit an expeditionary force. Burr never actually stated the purpose for the 15 boats, 500 men, firearms and provisions, but his intentions made many nervous. It was to be his ultimate undoing. Jefferson didn’t trust him, and many others saw his moves as an attempt to split the United States in two. Despite charges of treason, no indictment could be reached after two hearings, but Jefferson rejected the findings and called for his arrest. Burr attempted to evade capture but was eventually taken and transported to Richmond to stand trial. The second in the author’s series entitled American Portraits, this is one of the increasingly popular “small stories” that give so much insight into the men, women and events of history.
A short but thrilling page-turner. Brands burrows into Burr’s psyche and exposes his failings as he details the outstanding talents that were so sadly wasted.
A passionate, potent chronicle of the author’s last months with her son.
In January 2010, Rapp (Creative Writing and Literature/Santa Fe Univ. of Art and Design; Poster Child: A Memoir, 2007) learned that her firstborn, 9-month-old son, Ronan suffered from Tay-Sachs, a fatal degenerative disease, and would likely die by age 3. The Rapps had been concerned that Ronan's development was retarded; although he was an alert, happy child, he neither walked nor spoke. The author describes her moving struggle to make each day spent with her son memorable and to savor her ability to mother during the time remaining. She also considers her son's disability in light of her own congenital deformity that led to the amputation of her left leg. Though her disability goaded her to overcome all obstacles, such a path did not exist for her son. Her love for Ronan was unconditional and profound and otherworldly. In contrast to the expectations of ordinary parents, she and her son inhabited “a magical world…where there were no goals, no prizes to win, no outcomes to monitor.” Despite her tragic loss, Rapp is fierce in her defense of the unique worth of her son's short life. He was “in his own way, perfect,” and the author poses the rhetorical question: “We are not what we become, how we look, what we do—are we?” Searching for spiritual solace, Rapp and her husband attended a Buddhist retreat and cherished the words of one of the teachers: “Remember there's a whole person behind whatever physical affect presents itself.”
A beautiful, searing exploration of the landscape of grief and a profound meditation on the meaning of life.
The dread pirate Richards, scourge of straight society and rock icon, bares all—including a fang or two.
The Rolling Stones rhythm guitarist—and, we learn, principal songwriter—Richards has already set tongues wagging, giant red ones or otherwise, with leaked bits and pieces of his memoir, most notably the extensive, extremely bitchy complaints about Mick Jagger. “I used to love to hang with Mick,” he writes, “but I haven’t gone to his dressing room in, I don’t think, twenty years. Sometimes I miss my friend. Where the hell did he go?” His fellow Glimmer Twin may not miss him so much upon learning Richards’s assessment of his soul (and genitalia). He also tears down another Mick, this one Mick Taylor, former Stones guitarist, who left the band without Keith’s permission: “You can leave in a coffin or with dispensations for long service, but otherwise you can’t.” Others receive gentler treatment, among them Gram Parsons, Rolling Stones heart and soul Ian Stewart and keyboard wizard Billy Preston (who, we learn, “was gay at a time when nobody could be openly gay”). Surveying the living and the dead, Richards admits the improbability of his own survival, though, he notes, most of his excessive behavior is now many decades past. He is much calmer now, particularly after having undergone brain surgery a few years ago. Which does not mean he’s surrendering—part of the joy of this altogether enjoyable, if sometimes mean-spirited, book is the damn-the-torpedoes take on things. Indeed, when he’s not slagging or praising, Richards provides useful life pointers, from how to keep several packs of dogs in different places to the virtues of open guitar tunings. He even turns in a creditable recipe for bangers and mash, complete with a pointed tale that speaks to why you would not want to make off with his spring onions while he’s in the middle of cooking.
“A jury of my peers would be Jimmy Page, a conglomeration of musicians, guys that have been on the road and know what’s what,” Richards growls. Let no mere mortal judge him, then, but merely admire both his well-written pages and his stamina.