A Bookshop in Berlin by Françoise Frenkel

A Bookshop in Berlin by Françoise Frenkel

Published:  Dec. 3, 2019 – Atria Books

Book courtesy of Atria and NetGalley

Description: In 1921, Françoise Frenkel—a Jewish woman from Poland—fulfills a dream. She opens La Maison du Livre, Berlin’s first French bookshop, attracting artists and diplomats, celebrities and poets. The shop becomes a haven for intellectual exchange as Nazi ideology begins to poison the culturally rich city. In 1935, the scene continues to darken. First come the new bureaucratic hurdles, followed by frequent police visits and book confiscations.

Françoise’s dream finally shatters on Kristallnacht in November 1938, as hundreds of Jewish shops and businesses are destroyed. La Maison du Livre is miraculously spared, but fear of persecution eventually forces Françoise on a desperate, lonely flight to Paris. When the city is bombed, she seeks refuge across southern France, witnessing countless horrors: children torn from their parents, mothers throwing themselves under buses. Secreted away from one safe house to the next, Françoise survives at the heroic hands of strangers risking their lives to protect her.  (publisher)

My take:  A Bookshop in Berlin is the first hand account of Françoise Frenkel and her life leading up to and including the WWII years. With WWI behind them she and her husband left Paris and opened the first French bookshop in Berlin in 1921. He eventually went into exile in France (was later rounded up and died in Auschwitz-Birkenau, Poland) while she stayed behind to run the shop. After Kristallnacht she fled Berlin for France and was eventually rounded up while trying to enter Switzerland. Her experiences were difficult to read but, at the same time, riveting. Not all people had her strength and determination but many did. It’s an amazing story that I’m glad I had the chance to read. Recommended to fans of memoirs of this era. I appreciated the documents and photos included at the end of the book.


About the author:

Françoise Frenkel was born in Poland in 1889. Her memoir, originally published in 1945 as Rien où poser sa tête (No Place to Lay One’s Head), was rediscovered in an attic in southern France in 2010 and republished in the original French as well as in a dozen other languages. This is its first publication in the United States. Frenkel died in Nice in 1975.

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Spotlight/US Giveaway: Tiny Hot Dogs: A Memoir in Small Bites by Mary Giuliani

Tiny Hot Dogs: A Memoir In Small Bites by Mary Giuliani

April 2019 – Running Press

Description: Tiny Hot Dogs is a collection of hilarious essays detailing high-profile event planner Mary Giuliani’s winding path from awkward Italian-Catholic school girl in an all-Jewish enclave on Long Island, where she dreamed of being an actress (in addition to having a bat mitzvah like all her friends), to one of New York City’s most prominent food entrepreneurs, dubbed “Caterer to the Stars” by the press. Told in Mary’s easy, relatable voice, we hear of comical celebrity encounters alongside her not-so-easy journey to motherhood. And with the memorable stories come party foods worth celebrating, including the pigs in a blanket Mary loves so much, and the realization that even though her big break didn’t come on Broadway, it did come, because she’s been at the center of the party since!


About the author:

Mary Giuliani is an author, party and lifestyle expert, and founder and CEO of Mary Giuliani Catering and Events. Mary has appeared on The Barefoot Contessa, The Today Show, Good Morning America, and is a regularly featured guest on The Rachael Ray Show. Her first book, The Cocktail Party (Eat, Drink, Play, Recover) came out in 2015. A graduate of Georgetown University, Mary resides in New York City and Woodstock, NY. Connect with Mary on her websiteFacebookTwitter, and Instagram.


Praise for Tiny Hot Dogs:

“Giuliani’s entertaining memoir is packed with satisfying stories and recipes that readers will guiltily enjoy.”Publishers Weekly


“Giuliani has chutzpah to spare in these life-filled, rib-sticking (and-tickling) stories.” Booklist


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Spotlight: Tragedy Plus Time: A Tragi-Comic Memoir by Adam Cayton-Holland

 

TRAGEDY PLUS TIME: A Tragi-Comic Memoir

by Adam Cayton-Holland

Touchstone Hardcover

August 21, 2018

Description:

In the tradition of A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius and Truth & Beauty—from one of Variety’s “10 Comics to Watch,” a poignant tragicomic memoir about the author’s beautiful, funny, and heartbreaking relationship with his younger sister and the depression that took her life.

Adam Cayton-Holland went from a painfully sensitive kid growing up in Denver, Colorado, to a writer and performer with a burgeoning career in comedy. His father, a civil rights lawyer, and his mother, an investigative journalist, taught Adam and his two sisters to feel the pain of the world deeply and to combat it through any means necessary. Adam chose to meet life’s tough breaks and cruel realities with stand-up comedy; his older sister chose law; their youngest sister, Lydia, struggled with mental illness and ultimately took her own life.

This devastating tragedy strikes the Cayton-Holland household at the same moment Adam’s career is finally getting off the ground. Both a moving tribute to a lost sibling and an inspiring guide to navigating grief and pain, Tragedy Plus Time is a heartbreaking, honest, and darkly funny memoir about trying your hardest to choose life in the wake of a terrible loss.


About the author:

Photo credit: Ryan Brackin

Adam Cayton-Holland is a national touring comic who has appeared on Conan, @midnight, The Meltdown with Jonah and Kumail, Happy Endings, Deadbeat, Flophouse, Hidden America with Jonah Ray, and was named one of Esquire’s “25 Comics to Watch” and Variety’s “10 Comics to Watch.” Adam co-created, writes, and stars in truTV’s Those Who Can’t along with his fellow members of the comedy troupe, The Grawlix. His albums I Don’t Know If I Happy and Backyards are available on iTunes, and his writing has appeared in Village Voice, Spin, The A.V. Club, and The Atlantic. Adam has been described as “genial” and “with pretty decent teeth.” He is the author of Tragedy Plus Time.


 

Famous Father Girl by Jamie Bernstein

Review eGalley provided by Harper and Edelweiss

Description:  The oldest daughter of revered composer/conductor Leonard Bernstein offers a rare look at her father on the centennial of his birth in a deeply intimate and broadly evocative memoir.

An intoxicating tale, Famous Father Girl is an intimate meditation on a complex and sometimes troubled man, the family he raised, and the music he composed that became the soundtrack to their entwined lives. Deeply moving and often hilarious, Bernstein’s beautifully written memoir is a great American story about one of the greatest Americans of the modern age. (from the publisher’s description)

My take: One of my first memories of listening to music was when my mother played her beloved West Side Story soundtrack. I was mesmerized by it years before I saw the film version. Many decades later it remains one of my favorite musicals. For that reason I couldn’t wait to read Famous Father Girl. I wanted to learn what it was like to grow up the daughter of Leonard Bernstein. I wasn’t disappointed by this memoir. In college I earned a music degree and, along the way, I learned why I loved Bernstein’s music – the rhythm, orchestration, the emotions it evoked. Jamie Bernstein tells the story of her larger than life father and his effect on his family. I enjoyed the photos scattered throughout and was unsurprised by mentions of notable names of the era. Readers who grew up during the mid 20th century will recognize most if not all. As in any life well lived there are triumphs and disappointments. The Bernstein family experienced all. I think there could be a surprise or two for readers but I also think fans of the maestro and the memoir genre will be happy with Jamie’s efforts.


 

Lessons From The Prairie by Melissa Francis

Description:  Melissa Francis was eight years old when she won the role of a lifetime: playing Cassandra Cooper Ingalls on the world’s most famous prime-time soap opera, Little House on the Prairie. 

Now, in the trade paperback of her wildly popular LESSONS FROM THE PRAIRIE: The Surprising Secrets to Happiness, Success and (Sometimes Just) Survival I Learned on America’s Favorite Show (Hachette Books; paperback on-sale April 3rd, 2018), Melissa shares behind-the-scenes stories from the set, along with inspirational and practical life lessons learned throughout her career. With a refreshing take on being a busy mom, Melissa offers her own mantra on how to balance everything: “Don’t ‘Lean In.’ In fact, sit down and take a load off!”

“I’ve taken more than a few pies to the face,” says Melissa,now a Fox News anchor. “Along the way, I’ve come to realize that many of the tools I needed to clean myself up, I learned in those few precious years on the Prairie. Read along and you’ll get the benefit of the laughs and lessons, without the whipped cream.”

A hilariously candid and brilliantly effective self-help book, Melissa shares her five-step recipe for turning disaster into golden opportunity, the critical upside of staying positive (nice guys/gals finish first!), how she wrangles the demands of motherhood with a full-time career (figure out what you really want), the role of faith (miracles do happen!), and how she’s learned not to care what anyone else thinks (show them your cellulite!)—all while peeling back the curtains on the legendary Little House series.

Melissa keeps readers laughing as she details her less-than-glamorous road into television journalism, revealing her tricks to break into the industry and how she finally got her big break—only to blow it and get fired! That’s when she learned her most powerful lesson: how to turn disaster into a golden opportunity. She shares those brilliant but easy steps in these pages. Building on her own experiences and the life lessons she’s learned over the years, Francis offers readers advice on resiliency, reinvention, and most of all the ability to laugh heartily at your own flaws.

Whether you’re a fan of her television work past or present, you’ll roar at Melissa’s unique brand of self- deprecating humor and walk away from Lessons from the Prairie with the tools to lead a happier and more successful life.  (publisher)

My take: Melissa Francis shares her road to becoming a television journalist in her memoir Lessons From The Prairie – now out in paperback. I missed the Little House on the Prairie series because I was in college and then a young mom during those years. I’ve watched grown-up Melissa Francis on the business channel she currently works for and find her way of explaining economic information to clear and concise. I don’t read many celebrity memoirs but I found hers to be entertaining and informative and appreciated her candor. I thought her easy writing style made her relatable – especially early on when she sought her first post-graduation job. Lessons From The Prairie is a ‘how I did it’ memoir that I can recommend.


About the author:

Broadcast journalist Melissa Francis is the author of the acclaimed memoir, Diary of a Stage Mother’s Daughter. She is an anchor on Fox News Channel and Fox Business Network, and a regular contributor on financial, economic, and political issues on shows such as The Five, Outnumbered, Happening Now, and America’s Newsroom, among others. As an actress, she appeared in numerous motion pictures, television series, and more than a hundred television commercials; she is best known for her role as Michael Landon’s daughter, Cassandra Cooper Ingalls, on Little House on the Prairie. She earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in economics degree from Harvard University and lives in Manhattan with her husband and their three children.

LESSONS FROM THE PRAIRIE by Melissa Francis

Hachette Books | Paperback | April 3, 2018 | 272 pages ISBN-13: 978-1602863170


Praise for Lessons from the Prairie

“Melissa Francis’s Lessons from the Prairie is a busy mom’s manifesto—candid and commonsense, insightful, laugh-out-loud funny. A refreshing reality check for working moms who love their jobs as well as their families, and won’t compromise their happiness.” — Mika Brzezinski, bestselling author of Knowing Your Value and co-host of “Morning Joe”

“Touching and brave, heart breaking and inspirational…I simply loved it.” “Melissa Francis’ Lessons from the Prairie delivers one belly laugh after another as she tees up an easy to follow, step-by-step guide to tackling the toughest challenges that dog each of us. She charmingly turns personal disasters into hilarious anecdotes that will seem all too familiar to every reader, then follows with a clever take away to make your life happier. What a fun way to share the wisdom she gained growing up before our eyes on the Prairie.” — Megyn Kelly, NBC News anchor


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Spotlight/US Giveaway: I Hear She’s a Real Bitch by Jen Agg

All materials in this Spotlight post were provided by the publisher

From Jen Agg, one of Canada’s most influential restauranteurs and a trailblazer in the culinary industry for her takedown of chef “bro” culture, comes the sharp and candid memoir, I HEAR SHE’S A REAL BITCH(Penguin Books Original; September 12, 2017; $17; 9780143132646). Studded with Agg’s frank and often hilarious observations on an industry in which sexism has been normalized, her memoir is more than a story about starting a restaurant: it is a rallying cry for a feminist revolution in the culinary world.

As the title suggests, I HEAR SHE’S A REAL BITCH is a bold, uninhibited memoir of Agg’s growth as a restaurateur, battle to establish herself and her businesses, and the particular difficulties she’s faced as a woman in the industry, including vivid stories about:

  • Agg’s twenty-plus years in the restaurant industry from server to bartender to Toronto restauranteur.
  • The creation of The Black Hoof, which started Canada’s culinary revival and is beloved by star chefs Anthony Bourdain, Gordon Ramsey, and Daniel Boulud.
  • Agg’s commitment to creating an equitable work environment, leading to her creation of the Kitchen Bitches conference, which featured chef Hugh Acheson, Suzanne Barr of Saturday Dinette, Jessica Koslow of L.A.’s SQIRL, Amanda Cohen of New York’s Dirt Candy, and many more.

Years of hard work—and plenty of opportunities to learn from her mistakes—taught Agg how to run a great restaurant that also functions as a business. That hard work pays off here with a memoir equally as distinctive as Agg’s restaurants. Already famous in Canada, this book puts the rest of the world on notice: if you haven’t heard about Jen Agg yet, you soon will.

*  *  *

“A terrific, beautifully written, frank, and funny memoir, and a compelling argument for pulling down the long outdated system of ‘bro’ culture that has dominated the industry since what feels like the beginning of time.” —Anthony Bourdain


About the author:

Jen Agg is the owner of The Black Hoof, which sparked Toronto’s culinary renaissance, Rhum Corner, and the Hoof Cocktail Bar. She is the co-owner of Agrikol (along with Arcade Fire’s Win Butler and Régine Chassagne) and the newly opened Grey Gardens (with Mitch Bates of Momofuku Ko).


I HEAR SHE’S A REAL BITCH

by Jen Agg

Penguin Original ▪ $17.00 ▪ On-sale: September 12, 2017 ▪ 9780143132646

ALSO AVAILABLE AS AN EBOOK

You can follow Jen Agg on Twitter at @TheBlackHoof

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Cork Dork by Bianca Bosker

  • Title:  CORK DORK: A Wine-Fueled Adventure Among the Obsessive Sommeliers, Big Bottle Hunters, and Rogue Scientists Who Taught Me to Live for Taste
  • Author:  Bianca Bosker
  • Genre:  Memoir; Food & Drink
  • Pages:  346
  • Published:  March 2017 – Penguin Books
  • Source:  Publisher

Description:  Like many of us, amateur drinker and professional tech reporter Bianca Bosker saw wine as a way to unwind at the end of a long day, or a nice thing to have with dinner—and that was about it. Until she stumbled on an alternate universe where taste reigned supreme, a world in which people could, after a single sip, identify the grape a bottle was made from, in what year, and where it was produced—within acres. Where she tasted “wine,” these master sommeliers detected not only complex flavor profiles, but entire histories and geographies. Astounded by their fanatical dedication and seemingly superhuman sensory powers, Bosker abandoned her screen-centric life and set out to discover what drove their obsession, and whether she, too, could become a “cork dork.” 

Thus begins a year and a half long adventure that takes the reader inside elite tasting groups, exclusive New York City restaurants, a California mass market wine “factory,” and even a neuroscientist’s fMRI machine as Bosker attempts to answer the most nagging question of all: what’s the big deal about wine? Counterintuitive, compulsively readable, and hilarious, Cork Dork illuminates how tasting better can help us live better—and will change the way you drink wine forever.  (publisher)

My take  I occasionally enjoy a glass or two of wine and have a couple of favorites. I prefer it over other alcoholic beverages. That’s the extent of my relationship with wine – I know when something tastes good to me and that’s it. Reading Cork Dork was a revelation. Sure I’d always heard of sommeliers who know everything one should know about wines but until I read this book I didn’t fully appreciate everything that informs a sommelier. It’s astounding and impressive and I wouldn’t want to be one for all the wine in France. I would liken it a bit to a religious calling.

Bianca Bosker’s extensive research is apparent. She places the reader among the wine makers and the drinkers, the buyers, the purists and the high rollers. Once or twice she got a little too far into the weeds for me but I learned – so that’s a plus. I think most wine-lovers would find this memoir fascinating. It certainly has given me things to think about the next time I buy a bottle of wine. I also have a new respect for sommeliers and the invaluable service they contribute to a diner’s experience. Recommended to fans of foodie/beverage memoirs and, of course, wine.


About the author:  Bianca Bosker is an award-winning journalist who has written about food, wine, architecture, and technology for The New Yorker online, The Atlantic, T: The New York Times Style Magazine, Food & Wine, The Wall Street Journal, The Guardian, and The New Republic. The former executive tech editor of The Huffington Post, she is the author of the critically acclaimed book Original Copies: Architectural Mimicry in Contemporary China (University of Hawaii Press, 2013). She lives in New York City.

CORK DORK:
A Wine-Fueled Adventure Among the Obsessive Sommeliers,
Big Bottle Hunters, and Rogue Scientists Who Taught Me to Live for Taste
Bianca Bosker ▪ Penguin Original ▪ $17.00

On-sale: March 28, 2017 ▪ ISBN: 9780143128090

ALSO AVAILABLE AS AN EBOOK


Spotlight/US Giveaway: Cork Dork by Bianca Bosker

More Americans are drinking wine than ever before, yet the rituals, customs, and language around it are as rarefied and opaque as ever, leaving many of us wondering what all the fuss is about. What makes the bottle I bought for last week’s dinner party “bad”? Are sommeliers just pretentious, glorified salespeople, or can they actually taste things like pyrazine and honeysuckle in wine? And why do so many people devote their lives (or life savings) to experiencing minute differences in flavor that most of us can’t even perceive, let alone appreciate? These were some of the questions obsessing Bianca Bosker when she decided to give up her job as executive tech editor at the Huffington Post in favor of tasting wines at 8 a.m., lifting and sorting heavy bottles as a “cellar rat” in one of Manhattan’s top restaurants, and foregoing coffee, spicy foods, and sometimes even toothpaste in order to taste better.

The account of her year-and-a-half journey, CORK DORK: A Wine-Fueled Adventure Among the Obsessive Sommeliers, Big Bottle Hunters, and Rogue Scientists Who Taught Me to Live for Taste(Penguin Books Original; ISBN: 9780143128090; On-sale: March 28, 2017; $17.00) takes the reader inside an elite tasting group, a Burgundy bacchanal, a Michelin-starred restaurant, an fMRI machine, and more as Bosker strives to make sense, once and for all, of our complicated relationship with fermented grape juice.

Compulsively readable, fascinating, and a hilarious exploration of the wine world, CORK DORK includes:

  • Bosker’s training for and entry into the country’s oldest sommelier competition, with hilariously disastrous results (though she does eventually become certified)
  • Behind-the-scenes looks at two elite Manhattan restaurants, where she trailed sommeliers and watched the complicated dance of service and hospitality unfold
  • The science behind how we can improve our senses of taste and smell, and thereby live more richly

Full of amazing stories, incredible facts, and scientific research, CORK DORK is a charming, informative memoir that digs deep into how improving our senses can help create a more colorful life.

About the Author:
Bianca Bosker is an award-winning journalist who has written about food, wine, architecture, and technology for The New Yorker online, The Atlantic, T: The New York Times Style Magazine, Food & Wine, The Wall Street Journal, The Guardian, and The New Republic. The former executive tech editor of The Huffington Post, she is the author of the critically acclaimed book Original Copies: Architectural Mimicry in Contemporary China (University of Hawaii Press, 2013). She lives in New York City.


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CORK DORK:
A Wine-Fueled Adventure Among the Obsessive Sommeliers,
Big Bottle Hunters, and Rogue Scientists Who Taught Me to Live for Taste
Bianca Bosker ▪ Penguin Original ▪ $17.00

On-sale: March 28, 2017 ▪ ISBN: 9780143128090

ALSO AVAILABLE AS AN EBOOK


Advance Praise for CORK DORK:

 “A page-turning and fascinating memoir…. Bosker’s mix of science, food writing, and memoir will be enjoyed by many.”  Publishers Weekly

 

“Always perceptive, curious, and entertaining, [Bianca] describes her experiences with precision and a wry sense of humor, locating the exact words to evoke even the most insubstantial sensations. Readers will certainly come away from the book knowing more about wine and likely eager to explore it further, but even those less inclined to imbibe will be intrigued by Bosker’s insights into the nature of smell and taste and the ways training and attention can increase one’s pleasure in them.”  Kirkus, Starred Review

 

“I loved this book. It’s not just about wine. It’s about learning how to listen to your senses, to more deeply experience and appreciate the world around you, and everyone could use another glass of that.” —Mary Roach, author of Gulp


Pound For Pound by Shannon Kopp

  • pound for pound by Shannon KoppTitle:  Pound for Pound – A Story of One Woman’s Recovery and the Shelter Dogs who Loved Her Back to Life
  • Author:  Shannon Kopp
  • Genre:  Memoir
  • Pages:  288
  • Published:  October 2015 – William Morrow
  • Source:  Publisher via FSB Associates

Description:  “The dogs don’t judge me or give me a motivational speech. They don’t rush me to heal or grow. They sit in my lap and lick my face and make me feel chosen. And sometimes, it hits me hard that I’m doing the exact thing I say I cannot do. Changing.”

Pound for Pound is an inspirational tale about one woman’s journey back to herself, and a heartfelt homage to the four-legged heroes who unexpectedly saved her life.

For seven years, Shannon Kopp battled the silent, horrific, and all-too-common disease of bulimia. Then, at twenty-four, she got a job working at the San Diego Humane Society and SPCA, where in caring for shelter dogs, she found the inspiration to heal and the courage to forgive herself. With the help of some extraordinary homeless animals, Shannon realized that her suffering was the birthplace of something beautiful. Compassion.

Shannon’s poignant memoir is a story of hope, resilience, and the spiritual healing animals bring to our lives. Pound for Pound vividly reminds us that animals are more than just friends and companions—they can teach us how to savor the present moment and reclaim our joy. Rich with emotion and inspiration it is essential reading for animal lovers and everyone who has struggled to change.  (publisher)

My take:  Pound for Pound is a deeply personal look at bulimia, the disease that dominated author Shannon Kopp’s life for several years. As hard as it was to read the details I found it difficult to put the book down as she explained how she went into the downward spiral of the disease and ultimately began to climb out of it.

If you’re an animal lover you’ll understand why it was her connection to volunteering at dog shelters that started her on the road to self-discovery and wellness. She also had people in her life who stood by her during the toughest days. Also important was learning when to ask for help. I’m impressed by the inner-strength she found to keep going.

I applaud Kopp’s willingness to share such private details in order to possibly help someone else on the same journey. If you have someone in your life who struggles with an eating disorder or you just want to learn more about it I highly recommend this memoir.


Author Bio
Shannon Kopp, author of Pound for Pound, is a writer, eating disorder survivor, and animal welfare advocate. She has worked and volunteered at various animal shelters throughout San Diego and Los Angeles, where shelter dogs helped her to discover a healthier, more joyful way of living. Her mission is to help every shelter dog find a loving home, and to raise awareness about eating disorders and animal welfare issues.

For more information visit her website www.shannonkopp.com and follow her on Facebook and Twitter.


Reviews
“Anyone who has ever loved an animal, battled depression, or struggled with an addiction of any kind will not be able to put down Pound for Pound . . . brave account of the healing power of shelter dogs is not only a page-turner, but a true inspiration.” — Laura Maloney, former Chief Operating Officer of the Humane Society of the United States, current COO of Panthera

“Every now and again a book comes along that can help millions of people deal with all sorts of difficult and challenging times and guide them to change their ways for a better and healthier life. Pound for Pound is one of those inspirational gems. Shannon Kopp’s personal story — the incredibly hard work she had to do and her opening her heart to the dogs with whom she worked — is a must read. She shows how compassion, trust, and love can open the door for people and dogs in need to heal and to grow together” — Marc Bekoff, author of Rewilding our Hearts: Building Pathways of Compassion and Coexistence

“Don’t miss Pound for Pound — a uniquely touching memoir about a woman bravely struggling with bulimia and self-judgment, ultimately healed by the miraculous power of the rescue dogs she devotes herself to.  It’s a story you’ll always remember, a testament to the healing energy of our canine companions, who ask only for love and then give it back in spades.” — Glenn Plaskin, Author of Katie Up and Down the Hall, The True Story of How One Dog Turned Five Neighbors Into a Family

Pound for Pound is an emotional reminder of the strength of the human spirit and how dogs are more than our best friend; they can also be guides, inspiring us to be compassionate, share joy, and live life in the moment.” — Booklist

A Thousand Miles to Freedom by Eunsun Kim with Sébastien Falletti

  • a thousand miles to freedomTitle:  A Thousand Miles to Freedom: My Escape From North Korea
  • Author:  Eunsun Kim with Sébastien Falletti
  • Translated by:  David Tian
  • Pages:  228
  • Genre:  Memoir
  • Published:  July 2015 – St. Martin’s Press
  • Source:  Publisher

Description:  Eunsun Kim was born in North Korea, one of the most secretive and oppressive countries in the modern world. As a child Eunsun loved her country…despite her school field trips to public executions, daily self-criticism sessions, and the increasing gnaw of hunger as the country-wide famine escalated.

By the time she was eleven years old, Eunsun’s father and grandparents had died of starvation, and Eunsun too was in danger of starving. Finally, her mother decided to escape North Korea with Eunsun and her sister, not knowing that they were embarking on a journey that would take them nine long years to complete. Before finally reaching South Korea and freedom, Eunsun and her family would live homeless, fall into the hands of Chinese human traffickers, survive a North Korean labor camp, and cross the deserts of Mongolia on foot.

Now, in A Thousand Miles to Freedom, Eunsun is sharing her remarkable story to give voice to the tens of millions of North Koreans still suffering in silence. Told with grace and courage, her memoir is a riveting exposé of North Korea’s totalitarian regime and, ultimately, a testament to the strength and resilience of the human spirit. (publisher)

My take:  A Thousand Miles to Freedom is the memoir by Eunsun Kim. She is now 29 years old but was a young girl when she and her mother and sister first fled North Korea to find a better life. Their escape took much longer than expected.

The description from the publisher reveals quite a bit about the journey to South Korea. What impressed me most was Eunsun’s optimism in the face of frightening circumstances – for anyone, much less a young girl. The challenges she and her family faced were daunting but they were determined to get to South Korea. And once there they faced different challenges. I found her observations of life in South Korea interesting. It had to be very difficult to fit in with contemporaries who had no idea of the life you’d left behind.

Eunsun’s determination to get a good education was impressive. I have no doubt she will make her mark on the world. She’s started to make a difference with this memoir. It’s simply written and took just a few hours to read. Recommended to anyone who wants to read a first-hand account of a young person who escaped life in North Korea. I’m glad I had the chance to read it.

Spotlight/US Giveaway: A Thousand Miles to Freedom by Eunsun Kim

a thousand miles to freedom cover

About the book:

Eunsun Kim was born in North Korea, one of the most secretive and oppressive countries in the modern world. As a child Eunsun loved her country…despite her school field trips to public executions, daily self-criticism sessions, and the increasing gnaw of hunger as the country-wide famine escalated.

By the time she was eleven years old, Eunsun’s father and grandparents had died of starvation, and Eunsun was in danger of the same. Finally, her mother decided to escape North Korea with Eunsun and her sister, not knowing that they were embarking on a journey that would take them nine long years to complete. Before finally reaching South Korea and freedom, Eunsun and her family would live homeless, fall into the hands of Chinese human traffickers, survive a North Korean labor camp, and cross the deserts of Mongolia on foot.

Now, Eunsun is sharing her remarkable story to give voice to the tens of millions of North Koreans still suffering in silence. Told with grace and courage, her memoir is a riveting exposé of North Korea’s totalitarian regime and, ultimately, a testament to the strength and resilience of the human spirit.


Eunsun Kim author photo master credit Jeong YiAbout the author:

EUNSUN KIM grew up in North Korea, the most secretive country in the modern world. At the age of eleven, she fled the country with her mother and sister, and they began the harrowing nine-year journey that would ultimately lead them to South Korea and to freedom. Today, Eunsun works at an NGO promoting human rights in North Korea. She lives in Seoul, South Korea.


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a thousand miles to freedom cover


The Year My Mother Came Back by Alice Eve Cohen

  • the year my mother came back (Algonquin)Title: The Year My Mother Came Back: A Memoir
  • Author:  Alice Eve Cohen
  • Genre:  Memoir
  • Published:  March 2015 – Algonquin Books
  • Source:  Publisher

My take:  In one year Alice is diagnosed with breast cancer, her 8-year-old daughter undergoes surgery to lengthen her leg and her 18-year-old daughter decides she wants to find her birth mother. One of those scenarios would be enough to cause anxiety in a mother but all three have Alice wishing her mother Louise was around. But she’s been dead for thirty years.

When Alice begins radiation her mother appears in the room and talks to Alice while she lies perfectly still for the duration. Once she gets over the shock of these visits Alice starts to appreciate the perspective she gains of and from her mother.  Their relationship underwent significant change following Louise’s own breast cancer experience. She became depressed while, at the same time, Alice was a blossoming adolescent who didn’t understand what happened to the woman who’d always shown her unconditional love.

The Year My Mother Came Back is a memoir that many readers (particularly women) will find relatable. It’s a loving homage from a daughter to her mother that I found meaningful and genuine.

Spotlight/US Giveaway: Going Gypsy – Q&A with authors David & Veronica James

Going Gypsy
About the Book:
Almost every couple faces a “now what?” moment as their last kid moves out of the house. There’s a big empty nest looming over this new and uncertain stage in their lives.David and Veronica James chose to look at this next phase of life as a beginning instead of an ending. Rather than staying put and facing the constant reminders of empty bedrooms and backseats, a plan began to develop to sell the nest and hit the highway. But could a homebody helicopter mom learn to let go of her heartstrings and house keys all at once?Filled with a sense of adventure and humor, GOING GYPSY is the story of a life after raising kids that is a celebration of new experiences. Pulling the rip cord on the daily grind, David and Veronica throw caution to the wind, quit their jobs, sell their house, put on their vagabond shoes, and go gypsy in a beat-up old RV found on eBay.On a journey of over ten thousand miles along the back roads of America (and a hysterical, error-infused side trip into Italy), they conquer old fears, see new sights, reestablish bonds with family and friends, and transform their relationships with their three grown children from parent-child to adult-to-adult. Most importantly, they rediscover in themselves the fun-loving youngsters who fell in love three decades prior.
About the Authors, by the authors:
David James was born in Wichita, Kansas, and grew up on the prairie and in the mountains of Colorado. He made his way in the music business as a performer, recording artist, songwriter, and radio personality in Nashville, Tennessee, and St. Croix, US Virgin Islands. After parenting and sending three kids out into the big wide world, he currently lives with his bride of thirty years, Veronica, in a state of perpetual motion. The couple writes about their travels since becoming empty nesters on their popular website, GypsyNester.com.Veronica James was born and raised in Southern California and was like, totally, a Valley Girl. Against any sane person’s better judgment, she ran off with a musician at age eighteen.Afterprocreating, she became Earth Mama, then Helicopter Mom, hovering over every detail of her children’s lives. Veronica has held approximately thirty-three different jobs including writer. She is never bored.


Q&A with David & Veronica James

Authors of GOING GYPSY: One Couple’s Adventure from Empty Nest to No Nest at All.

GypsyNesterAuthors

Most people become empty nesters when their kids leave home, but you left home too. How did that come about?

David: We were living in the Virgin Islands and were a bit separated from all of our family and friends in the US. Once our youngest went off to college in the states, like his sisters before him, there was nothing keeping us in the Caribbean. So we decided to sell the house and take what we called a “victory lap,” celebrating a job well done—getting our kids raised and successfully out on their own.

Veronica: One of the reasons I had to resort to drastic measures was that I worked at the kids’ school. I was the quintessential “helicopter mom,” hovering over everything my kids did. The idea of going back to the school without the kids there was heartbreaking. So we whittled our belongings down to sixteen boxes and took off in a beat-up old RV we bought on eBay.

What was the process like from when you decided to take off to when you started your adventure?

David: That’s what Going Gypsy is all about. We cover the year when our son left for college and we hit the road. We did not have this big plan in our heads at the start to live a gypsy lifestyle. It organically grew as we went along. Initially, we got the motor home as a way to take some time to visit with family and friends and see the country without going broke. Once we were out on the road a while, we realized how much we liked it and wanted to figure out how we could keep going. It’s been over six years now.

Veronica: A big thing that jolted us into thinking about a new approach to our lives was when we Googled “empty nest” and a big ad for an Alzheimer’s patch popped up. We thought, “holy cr-moley!” We have a good third of our lives left and that’s too long a time to be sitting around doing nothing. We see our book as a kick in the butt to get folks going and hopefully think outside the box.

How did you dispense with a lifetime’s worth of belongings?

Veronica: The stress of a big move is huge no matter what the circumstances. We gave away or sold a lot of stuff, keeping only the things we knew we couldn’t live without (like photo albums and family heirlooms). Those we managed to fit into sixteen boxes that we put in storage. Now I find I’m more organized the less I have with me. If I have too many things and too much space to spread out in, I get really scattered and disorganized.

How did you adjust to having “no nest at all?”

David: We replaced our nest with one on wheels. The RV became our new home. It’s remarkable how homey it became and how quickly. It’s obviously very condensed, and we do travel light, but when you think about what you really need, we have the basics—a bed, a bathroom, a kitchen, and a table to sit at to eat and write.

Veronica: And the view out the window is different every day, which is fantastic!

How did your kids react to you leaving home?

Veronica: Our son was horrified at first. I remember him saying, “you’re going to live in your car?!” But I think they’re happy for us. My guess is that they are also happy that Mom has things to do besides constantly bugging them about who they are dating or when they might make us grandparents.

David: I imagine what they’re thinking is a mixture of relief and what the heck are they doing? But a big plus in this process has been developing a new relationship with our children as adults. We wanted to make an adult-to-adult connection and not be helicopter parents any longer.

Don’t you miss seeing your kids regularly?

David: We see the kids more than we would have if we’d stayed in St. Croix because we can route ourselves through wherever they are on our way from one adventure to the next.

Veronica: Our daughters live in Manhattan so they are easy to see often. Our son is in Alaska but he is a pilot and has the flying privileges that come with that, so it is usually easier for him to meet up with us.

How do you handle holidays?

David: Our oldest daughter took over the hostess role fairly quickly, as soon as we didn’t have the house any longer. She’s not one to miss out on the holiday treats and I guess she knew that it’s nearly impossible to shove a turkey into a motor home oven!

Veronica: She has done a remarkable job. New York City is an amazing place to spend the holidays. It’s very festive. So everyone is happy.

Was making this leap more exciting or scary?

David: I am a musician so I always traveled a lot and I love it. It was natural for me to explore. For Veronica it was more of a drastic change.

Veronica: The hardest part was the initial decision to make the leap. I was a homebody—I didn’t think I’d be able to do it. But I’m proactive, and a planner, so it was good for me to be able to throw myself into the planning phase. I did have to do quite a bit of fear conquering. I guess I just transferred the fear—now I’m more scared to stop moving than I was to start in the first place!

How many places have you visited?

David: We started in the RV by exploring the US, and then branched out to Mexico and Canada, following the weather like geese. As time went on, we broadened our horizons and added some traveling by air and sea. Now I think we’ve been to over 40 countries on five continents. Later this year we’re heading to Africa, making six out of seven, then our final continent will be Antarctica. We’ll get there!

Veronica: David has also been to all 50 states but I’ve only been to 48, so I need to cover my last two—Alaska and Hawaii. We’re very competitive so I can’t stand him being ahead of me.

What have been the highlights so far?

Veronica: There are so many amazing high points. But I think the Galapagos Islands were up there at the top. I love animals; I’m like a little kid around them. The islands have so many unique species, and they are completely unafraid of humans, so if you love animals put the Galapagos at the top of your bucket list.

David: I answer this question different each time it’s asked because I have so many favorites. Walking along the top of the Great Wall of China was a real highlight. But I could easily name dozens more.

What have been the low points?

Veronica: Yikes. Well, I locked myself inside a hotel room in Italy once. But a big one came when we had a blowout over our traveling styles. We had discussed the empty nest and all that it entailed, but forgot to discuss how we liked to travel. It ended up coming to a head in one of the most beautiful places in the world, Yellowstone National Park, in the middle of a herd of buffalo.

David: I have a go-go-go mindset. I always want to be moving forward. Veronica likes to really get a feel for a place and connect to it. In the end, I learned to adapt more to her style because it is a better way to see the world.

Veronica: I call him a wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am traveler.

Have you inspired others to travel?

Veronica: I hope so. My favorite part of this journey so far has been hearing from folks who chose places because we said how much we loved them. But there are so many wonderful things people in our life phase can do if they aren’t interested in travel, you don’t have to be as crazy as we are to start going gypsy. Do that thing that inspires you, something that you’ve always wanted to explore. Write that book, volunteer in your community, go back to school. And don’t forget to reconnect with your partner, do new things together, and find that pre-kid couple who fell in love all those years ago. We are not self-help writers. We haven’t written a how-to guide. We just aspire to be the same kind of kick in the butt for our readers that we found when we first saw that ad for the Alzheimer’s patch.

David: We try to seek out the unexpected, and discover overlooked gems in our travels. Sometimes they are found in famous, bucket-list type destinations; often they are hiding well off the beaten path. Either way we enjoy relaying stories from out of the ordinary. Hopefully that inspires some people to venture down the road less traveled too.

How have you pushed yourselves?

Veronica: I made a decision to fear-conquer my butt off. As a mom I developed so many fears and it turned into a vicious cycle. I purposefully inserted myself into situations to overcome these fears. Just to name a few, I’ve paraglided off of the seacliffs in Lima, Peru, shot the rapids in Montana, and ziplined over a 300-foot waterfall in Newfoundland—I even went to roller derby camp; it took three days in bed to recover from that little escapade!

David: Veronica was all gung-ho about jumping out of an airplane in Australia. I see no need to abandon a functioning aircraft unless it is on fire. But once she threw down the gauntlet I accepted the challenge. Halfway up our attitudes had done a complete 180—she was looking pretty puny, scared to death, and I was excited at the prospect of freefalling from ten thousand feet.

Have you eaten any strange foods? 

David: Tons. We write about that a lot on our blog. I’m not sure if they were the strangest, but the worst by far was silkworms in China. For one thing, the smell made it nearly impossible to eat them. Oh, and the fact that they are bugs.

Veronica: A little clarification here, I ate silkworms, David spit his out. I won that one.

David: Let me just go on the record here: while I admit to spitting out the vile worm, I did eat a bug in Mexico, a cricket to be exact, and it was about a million times better than the silkworms.

Veronica: Yes, he did finally lose his bug virginity.

What’s next for the Gypsy Nesters?

Veronica: The more we travel the more we want to see; we’ve turned into very greedy travelers! We’d love to get to New Zealand. And we haven’t been to Scotland—we both have roots there—so we feel a huge pull to visit. I could name several dozen more… but you really don’t want me to pull out the whole list, do you?

David: When we started out we had a saying: the plan is no plans. We like to leave life open to reveal itself to us so we usually don’t know where we will be too far in advance. We have a river cruise coming up through Holland and Belgium, and we are going to Africa this summer, but beyond that we will see where the wind takes us. In the meantime, we are working on a second book that will cover our adventures after that first year of taking our initial leap into the life of Going Gypsy.


I think Going Gypsy sounds like a great memoir!

If you’d like to win a copy there’s a US Giveaway

Please click here and fill out the form

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Going Gypsy

Singing to a Bulldog by Anson Williams

  • Singing to a Bulldog (Nov11)Title:  Singing to a Bulldog: From “Happy Days” to Hollywood Director, and the Unlikely Mentor Who Got Me There
  • Author:  Anson Williams
  • Genre:  Memoir
  • Published:  November 2014 – Reader’s Digest
  • Source:  Publicist

My take:  Singing to a Bulldog is a slim memoir that packs a lot of inspiration within the 150+ pages. I remembered Anson Williams from the 70s sitcom Happy Days but hadn’t heard anything about him in recent decades. I don’t watch a lot of tv so I missed all the shows he directed. He’s been a busy guy who realizes how blessed his life has been.

He didn’t start out that way. He had a criticizing father who blamed Anson for all of his own failures. That had to be tough for a kid to live with! What ended up saving Anson was a janitorial job at a California store when he was in his mid-teens. His department boss, Willie Turner, taught him life lessons through brief adages he’d learned in his own life. Willie was an older, alcoholic man who was able to keep his job despite his issues.

In his own way, Willie provided the nurturing that had been missing in Anson’s life. Without realizing it he became Anson’s mentor and Anson listened and used those lessons. What he found out was that Willie knew what he was talking about.

I thought Singing to a Bulldog had a folksy feel to it. It’s chapters are very short (rarely going over five pages). That made it easy to pick up and set down. Each begins and ends with one of Willie’s lessons. The lessons may seem a bit simplistic to some readers but it’s Williams’ memoir and, given he had no parent willing to teach him, the effect of the lessons on his life was huge. It’s not a typical Hollywood memoir although Williams does share a few stories about other stars that all readers will recognize. One thing I found lacking in the book are photos. I would have loved to see a few.

Recommended to fans of the memoir genre, Hollywood memoirs, life advice books.


Click here for a video of the author on Access Hollywood

Author Bio
Best known for his Golden Globe nominated role as Warren “Potsie” Weber on the series Happy Days, Anson Williams is also an award-winning television director and writer as well as a singer and producer. He has directed more than 300 hours of television for a variety of series, including Beverly Hills, 90210, Sabrina the Teenage Witch, and The Secret Life of the American Teenager. He won the prized Humanitas Award for his writing, has been honored by the United States Patent and Trademark Office, and served on the board of the USO. Together with business partner JoAnna Connell, he founded StarMaker Products, an international product company. He lives with his wife and five daughters in Los Angeles, California.

Reviews
Singing To A Bulldog is such a meaningful, fun, and uplifting book. I have such sweet memories of Anson . . . like millions of others, I loved him on “Happy Days.” I am proud to be a little part of this wonderfully written, revealing, informative, and entertaining book. Praise and congratulations to Anson.”
— Dolly Parton

“I’ve always known Anson to be a great storyteller as well as a true and generous friend. Now he’s written the most important story of his life — about Willie Turner, the head janitor at one of Anson’s first jobs, whose words of wisdom guided him through a turbulent time in his life and gave him the confidence to move forward to a successful career as an actor, television director, and entrepreneur. Even better, he’s made it into a truly inspirational book of life lessons for the rest of us.”
— Ron Howard

Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? by Roz Chast

  • can't we talk about something more pleasant?Title:  Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant?:  A Memoir
  • Author:  Roz Chast
  • Genre:  Memoir; Graphic
  • Published:  May 2014 – Bloomsbury USA
  • Source:  Library

Synopsis:  #1 New York Times Bestseller; 2014 NATIONAL BOOK AWARD LONGLIST FOR NONFICTION

In her first memoir, Roz Chast brings her signature wit to the topic of aging parents. Spanning the last several years of their lives and told through four-color cartoons, family photos, and documents, and a narrative as rife with laughs as it is with tears, Chast’s memoir is both comfort and comic relief for anyone experiencing the life-altering loss of elderly parents.

When it came to her elderly mother and father, Roz held to the practices of denial, avoidance, and distraction. But when Elizabeth Chast climbed a ladder to locate an old souvenir from the “crazy closet”—with predictable results—the tools that had served Roz well through her parents’ seventies, eighties, and into their early nineties could no longer be deployed.

While the particulars are Chast-ian in their idiosyncrasies—an anxious father who had relied heavily on his wife for stability as he slipped into dementia and a former assistant principal mother whose overbearing personality had sidelined Roz for decades—the themes are universal: adult children accepting a parental role; aging and unstable parents leaving a family home for an institution; dealing with uncomfortable physical intimacies; managing logistics; and hiring strangers to provide the most personal care.

An amazing portrait of two lives at their end and an only child coping as best she can, Can’t We Talk about Something More Pleasant will show the full range of Roz Chast’s talent as cartoonist and storyteller.  (publisher)

My take:  Roz Chast’s memoir is a candid look into her life, her relationship with her parents, and their final days. An only child, the enormous lifelong responsibility was all hers. You may be familiar with Chast’s New Yorker cartoons which I’ve always found notable for portraying the human condition. Her illustrations in this memoir are equally remarkable.

At times uncomfortable, at times relatable I found Can’t We talk about Something More Pleasant? a compelling read and recommend it to fans of graphic memoirs, the author, and anyone who finds themselves in the position of caretaker of an elderly parent.

The Elephant Whisperer (audiobook) by Lawrence Anthony, Graham Spence

the elephant whisperer

  • Title:  The Elephant Whisperer
  • Authors:  Lawrence Anthony, Graham Spence
  • Genre:  Memoir
  • Narrator:  Simon Vance
  • Published:  December 2012 – Tantor Media (originally published 2009)
  • Source:  Purchased

Synopsis:  When South African conservationist Lawrence Anthony was asked to accept a herd of “rogue” wild elephants on his Thula Thula game reserve in Zululand, his common sense told him to refuse. But he was the herd’s last chance of survival: they would be killed if he wouldn’t take them. In order to save their lives, Anthony took them in. In the years that followed he became a part of their family. And as he battled to create a bond with the elephants, he came to realize that they had a great deal to teach him about life, loyalty, and freedom. (from Audible.com)

My brief take:  A friend recommended The Elephant Whisperer at a time when I was looking to read something a bit different from the genres I usually read. I’m so glad I did. It’s a remarkable memoir that left me grateful for people who can and will step up to be caretakers and protectors of wildlife around the world. Mr. Anthony agreed to take care of the “rogue” herd of elephants on his game reserve in South Africa and then wrote about his experiences. It’s a compelling story that had me wishing for a film version so more people would learn about the amazing elephants and other creatures on Thula Thula and elsewhere.

Simon Vance’s performance was wonderful. In my mind, he was Lawrence Anthony. I highly recommend the audiobook! The Elephant Whisperer was an Audie Award Winner, Biography/Memoir, 2014.

How About Never – Is Never Good For You? By Bob Mankoff

how about never - is never good for you?

  • Title:  How About Never – Is Never Good For You? My Life in Cartoons
  • Author:  Bob Mankoff
  • Genre:  Memoir
  • Published:  March 2014 – Henry Holt and Co.
  • Dimensions:  10.3 x 8.3 x 1.2 inches
  • Source:  Publisher

My take:  If you read The New Yorker then you’re familiar with the cartoons in each issue. They are subtle reflections of daily life that are mostly relatable to the majority of readers (I would guess). I’m a fan.

Bob Mankoff is the “longtime cartoon editor” of The New Yorker. How About Never is his story of turning a love of drawing into becoming a contributor to the magazine and finally its cartoon editor. Sprinkled with anecdotes and more than 250 cartoons, How About Never is an enjoyable memoir that also includes tips on how to get your cartoon accepted for the magazine and how to win the cartoon caption contest – neither are easy to do.

Mankoff has a playful, self-deprecating style that had me chuckling as I turned the pages. If you enjoy cartoons (especially those in The New Yorker) and amusing stories about the cartoon biz you’ll want to read this memoir.

Recommended. It’s on my gift list this year. My thanks to the publisher for sending a review copy.

 

Survival Lessons by Alice Hoffman

survival lessons

  • Title:  Survival Lessons
  • Author:  Alice Hoffman
  • Genre:  Memoir; Inspirational
  • Published:  October 2013 – Algonquin Books
  • Source:  Purchased

Book flap synopsis:  Survival Lessons provides a road map of how to reclaim your life from this day forward, with ways to reenvision everything – from relationships with friends and family to the way you see yourself. 

As Alice Hoffman says,

In many ways I wrote Survival Lessons to remind myself of the beauty of life, something that’s all too easy to overlook during the crisis of illness or loss. I forgot that our lives are made up of equal parts of sorrow and joy, and that it is impossible to have one without the other. I wrote to remind myself that despite everything that was happening to me, there were still choices I could make.

Wise, gentle, and wry, Alice Hoffman teaches all of us how to choose what matters most.

My take:  For someone in good health who doesn’t have a loved one dealing with a catastrophic illness this slim book could be read in an hour or less. The chapters are short and to-the-point, filled with kernels of wisdom, common sense and advice from one who has survived cancer. I imagine a reader living with cancer would appreciate and take comfort from Alice Hoffman’s experience. Her style is honest and heart-felt. Hoffman included a couple of recipes as well as the directions for knitting a hat. She made the point to enjoy eating when you can and even learn something new – like knitting. I’m glad I read Survival Lessons and I know I will read it again at some point. It’s one I’d give to a friend. It would be a good book for a reader whose loved one has cancer.

Highs in the Low Fifties: How I Stumbled through the Joys of Single Living by Marion Winik

highs in the low fifties

  • Title: Highs in the Low Fifties: How I Stumbled through the Joys of Single Living
  • Author:  Marion Winik
  • Genre:  Memoir
  • Published:  June 2013 – skirt!
  • Source:  Etch Communications

Synopsis:  A cross between Nora Ephron and David Sedaris, longtime NPR commentator Marion Winik has a uniquely hilarious and relatable way of looking at life. Her stories of being single in middle age, marked by stylish writing and stunning candor, may be her funniest – and bravest – yet.

Highs in the Low Fifties follows Winik’s attempt to rebuild her world as a once-widowed, once-divorced single mom. With her signature optimism, resilience, and poor judgement, Winik dives into a series of ill-starred romantic experiences. some are pathetic, some are sweet, and some are downright incredible. she gets propositioned (for money) by a sexy Salvadoran doing construction work on her basement, meets an emotionally unavailable dreamboat on Craigslist, and makes out with a former student. Her clarity about her mistakes and ability to find humor in the darkest moments – in love, and in all parts of life – has won her a growing crowd of devoted followers… and a few voyeurs.  (book flap)

My take:  I especially enjoy memoirs when the writer is in my age group. That was the case with Marion Winik. As I read I realized we couldn’t be more different from each other. Where she has taken huge bites out of life and gobbled them down I’m a small bite girl who chews carefully.

Reading about Winik’s attempts at dating in midlife was like driving past a recent car wreck on the freeway – it’s hard not to look. I couldn’t stop reading even though a few times I was uncomfortable with what she experienced. That says more about me than the author, I think.

I don’t think I did that much coke, really, and even my sister, who tends to have a sharper take on such matters, agrees with me. Nonetheless, the wages of sin and narcissism just keep rolling in. As a greeting card I tacked on my bulletin board years ago says, “If you can’t be a good example, you’ll just have to serve as a horrible warning.”  (page 209)

Winik’s writing is sharp and engaging. If you’re a fan of the author and memoirs of this type I think you’ll probably enjoy Highs in the Low Fifties.

 

Provence, 1970 by Luke Barr

provence, 1970

  • Title:  Provence, 1970  MFK Fisher, Julia Child, James Beard, and the Reinvention of American Taste
  • Author:  Luke Barr
  • Genre:  Biography; Memoir
  • Published:  October 2013 – Clarkson Potter
  • Source:  Publisher

Synopsis:  Provence, 1970 is about a singular historic moment. In the winter of that year, more or less coincidentally, the iconic culinary figures James Beard, M.F.K. Fisher, Julia Child, Richard Olney, Simone Beck, and Judith Jones found themselves together in the South of France. They cooked and ate, talked and argued, about the future of food in America, the meaning of taste, and the limits of snobbery. Without quite realizing it, they were shaping today’s tastes and culture, the way we eat now. The conversations among this group were chronicled by M.F.K. Fisher in journals and letters—some of which were later discovered by Luke Barr, her great-nephew. In Provence, 1970, he captures this seminal season, set against a stunning backdrop in cinematic scope—complete with gossip, drama, and contemporary relevance.  (publisher)

My take:  Luke Barr’s affection for his great-aunt Mary Frances Kennedy (MFK) Fisher is apparent in Provence, 1970. His narrative and anecdotes (culled from MF’s diaries and letters) of the last months of 1970 as well as the years before and after make for an interesting reading experience. The principal players have strong opinions where food and eating are concerned. I found myself in the camp of Beard, Fisher and Child. Cooking should not be intimidating or come with a purist attitude when presenting recipes for the masses. Rather, stress the importance of quality ingredients. Simplicity can be its own form of beauty. At least, that’s how I took the message.

Adding to the story were cooking purists who seemed to enjoy looking down their collective nose at American chefs. Their catty remarks about Fisher, Beard and Child seemed to be steeped in jealousy and self-loathing. Who knew? Not this foodie neophyte, that’s for sure.

At any rate, the late 1960s and the 1970s were times of great cultural change in the US and the world. The same could be said of the food world. Child and Beard were at the helm in showing regular people how to cook good food. And MFK Fisher wrote about eating good food. I enjoyed Provence, 1970 and think fans of cooking or any of the chefs listed, culinary students, and fans of books about eating will want to read it.