I love getting lost in a book! Admittedly my reading comes in waves, I'll feverishly read for a stretch of time and then not pick anything up for a month or two. Such is life these days. Here are the books I've read recently (because I'm always looking for good reads). Make sure you check back in from time to time for updates!
Blog, Inc. by Jo Deangdeelert Cho - I did a post with my review
The Surprising Life of Constance Spry by Sue Shepard - A very comprehensive book about the life of floral designer Constance Spry. Famous for her unorthodox floral arrangements and a cook book that is still in print (and popular, especially in her native England). She was an extremely interesting person and I loved finding out more about her, though the book gets a little boring/dry in places. She was extraordinarily influential in floral design and the use of plants/flowers/foliage that were just not used at that time. She rose from a very humble childhood to doing the flowers for Queen Elizabeth's coronation. If you have any interest in floral design at all then pick up this informative read.
Grace: A Memoir by Grace Coddington - I breezed through this book in two nights, it's a beautifully done book with lots of photos and her fab illustrations. Now, I'm going to warn you that she tends to ramble and skip around a lot and if you aren't a fashion magazine a-holic then you might not get too much out of it. I've been a student of fashion magazines for as long as I can remember and I studied them to the point of obsession so I can remember most of the American Vogue editorials she refers to, as well as the models, photographers, etc. She really lived an extraordinary life and has met and worked with some of the most influential people in the fashion world. Needless to say I was glued to every page, I just loved it! I was also super pleased that she dedicated a chapter to my personal hero Liz Tilberis the late Editor-In-Chief of Harper's Bazaar. They were best friends from their years at British Vogue. I love Grace, but I worship Liz, so this was a treat for me (on a side note about Liz, I highly recommend her memoir No Time To Die written in 1998 before she passed away from ovarian cancer). Bottom line, if you are a fashion history buff, then dive in. If not, then you may not love it.
Sleeping with the Enemy: Coco Chanel's Secret War by Hal Vaughan - First of all I should say I have read a lot of Chanel biographies/books/etc. and what I already knew about Gabrielle "Coco" Chanel going into this book was that she loved to tell stories. And by "stories" I mean lies. Or maybe the nicer thing would be to say she embellished or omitted bits of her past to make it sound more mysterious or glamorous or whatever worked for who she was telling it to and what she could get from it. She wasn't a woman to admire as a person and this book solidified that for me tenfold. Meticulously researched with lots of pictures and about 50 pages of notes at the end, the evidence of Chanel's work as a Nazi spy during the war as well as her romantic involvement with a German officer and spy, not to mention her anti-Semitism (which unfortunately was rampant among the upper crust of Europe at the time) and homophobia is overwhelming. She really only escaped any post-war prosecution because of her long friendship with Winston Churchill. Now in my opinion this information doesn't diminish her work, let's remember she basically created the look of the modern woman, and besides her business was sold to the Wertheimer family in 1954 (they had previously been majority owners in the Chanel perfume business since 1924 - there was a petition by Chanel during the war to try and take back full ownership of the perfume business because the Wertheimers were Jewish and she used her position as an "Aryan" to gain full ownership, which the Wertheimers had anticipated. They had previously transferred legal ownership of the company to a Christian, French businessman until the war was over.) The Wertheimers still own the house of Chanel, they really took the house to the next level and made "Chanel" the "Chanel" brand of today. Bottom line the book was very interesting and disturbing. The writing was a bit confusing and dry at times, but if you are interested in Coco Chanel or World War II then it's worth your time. There was a quote in the book from Michel Deon, the author she commissioned to write her memoirs (which she ultimately ditched) that I think really sums Chanel up as a person: "Chanel had a childhood fear of abandoning the world of her dreams and confronting the realities of existence."
The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin - I've been wanting to read this book for quite and while. I've heard some good buzz and let's face it, who doesn't want to be happier (or at least read about someones journey towards more happiness)? Bottom line, it's totally worth your time. You may not have the same happiness journey (in fact she points out that you probably won't), but it will help you to think about your own keys to happiness and what you can do to help make yourself happier. I really liked how she didn't sugarcoat or shy away from being self aware enough to point out her flaws/weaknesses/what she wanted to work on. I could totally relate to the whole "being snappy, yelling and nagging" issue she had. I loved that the book made me stop and think a lot and I'm going to work on my own resolutions, mindfulness and happiness. Totally and completely recommend this book!
Wife 22 by Melanie Gideon - A story about a woman of a certain age who is looking to get out of her rut/midlife crisis/whatever and decides to participate in an online marriage survey. Interesting things ensue. I had high hopes for this book. It was pretty good, a well written, very relatable story. A little hokey and predictable in the end but not a waste of time.
Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn - Dude, prepare yourself for a story that is quite unexpected. I don't want to give too much away, but it's about a married couple and the wife disappears on the day of their 5th wedding anniversary. Was she kidnapped or something even more sinister? I won't say, but I will say that I always believe that the true monsters aren't the ones you usually suspect. A must read!
Dreams of Joy by Lisa See - The sequel to Shanghai Girls (review below). A sobering, heartbreaking, painful, yet hopeful and extremely interesting read. The sequel that follows idealistic Joy (and eventually Pearl) into late 1950's/early 1960's communist China (Chairman Mao's "Great Leap Forward"). It's not pretty. I had to stop reading at some points to just take a break from all that was going on, not much of it was easy. This book is worth reading if you want any understanding of this part of China's history. On a side note I was thinking that this book was basically set in the same time frame as the TV show Mad Men. When you read this, compare the two and you actually will shake your head at how completely insane that feels.
Shanghai Girls by Lisa See - First of all I want to let you know that this book has a sequel. I say this so that if you read it, you won't get to the end and be all like "Hey, wait. Lisa don't leave me hanging like this!" Because the end certainly sets things up nicely for a sequel. That being said this is a sweeping novel about two sisters and their lives beginning in 1937 Shanghai and following them through some harrowing, gut wrenching, challenging times as they eventually make their way and establish themselves in Los Angeles finishing in 1957. Not easy, breezy reading that's for sure, there's some deep stuff in here. That being said I finished the book in less than a week. I really enjoyed the historical perspective and I'm getting ready to dig into the sequel.
Once Upon a Secret by Mimi Alford - This is her account of her secret 18 month affair with President Kennedy when she was a 19 year old White House intern. She did a good job of telling her story without going into extreme details. I found it interesting that the "relationship" really haunted her relationships and her life in general. She really came off as extremely naive and I personally felt she was seriously victimized. I'll go so far as calling JFK a predator and disgusting. Look I've never been on board with the "Camelot" thing (it's not a fairy tale when your husband is banging every female that walks by) so I don't think this tarnished his image any more than it's already been tarnished. Mostly I felt bad for her 19 year old self and I really wanted her to just say "he was a jerk" but she never did.
Seating Arrangements by Maggie Shipstead - Well, I was really excited to read this book because of the strong reviews, but I hate to say I was supremely disappointed. I'll give the writing a B+ and the story/characters D. It's hard to get into a story where you hate every. single. character. It was not "hilarious" or "deeply moving"(as advertised) - not in the least. Maybe it's because I'm older and the older I get the less I suffer fools gladly. I found it souless and sad, pretty much like every character. I think the moral of the story (if there was one) was to appreciate what you have. I guess, I don't know. Mercifully, it was a fast read (3 nights for me). My point to this whole review is that I think and want Ms. Shipstead to do better, she's a good writer, but needs to dig deeper for a better, more meaningful story.
Eiffel's Tower by Jill Jonnes - A sweeping account of the building of the Eiffel Tower and the World's Fair that it was built for. A surprisingly easy and quick read considering the amount of information contained within. The book not only covered Gustave Eiffel (and his genius) but also Buffalo Bill, Annie Oakley, Thomas Edison, the van Gogh brothers, Paul Gauguin and James Whistler among others. Extremely fascinating and I honestly came away with a new respect for not only Eiffel but Annie Oakley (that was one strong and modern lady). Well worth your time!
Pretty in Plaid by Jen Lancaster - A collection of short stories about her life. She's so funny and relatable especially if you grew up in the 80's. It was a super fast read, perfect for Summer.
A Desirable Residence by Madeleine Wickham (aka Sophie Kinsella) - I bought this as a "bargain book" at Walmart so that should tell you something. I usually love her books but this was a weak one. Not awful, but it certainly felt like the first half was fully developed and then she rushed to just finish it up and move on to the next book. It was okay for a beach read and I wasn't heartbroken I spent $4 on it. But don't pay full price ;o)
Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson - A very interesting and insightful read about the life of Steve Jobs. I think everyone should read it even if you aren't an Apple "person". I don't identify myself as an operating system, I use both Apple and Microsoft products and am perfectly happy with both so I went into the book as a neutral. I came out of the book as a neutral. But I will say that I understand his thought process in regards to design and functionality. He pushed his people to do better and think differently and for that we all should be thankful for the products that resulted. And I should mention that Walter Isaacson is such a great writer that even though the book is huge, it was an easy read.
The Beach House by Mary Alice Monroe - Another one of those "Southern Fiction" books along the lines of those by Dorothea Benton Frank. Set on the Isle of Palms in South Carolina, it's a story about the mending of the relationship between mother and daughter throughout one Summer at the family's beach cottage. I love how the nesting and hatching of the loggerhead turtles is an important part of the story helping to bring everyone closer together and bridging the generations. A perfect beach read!
Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins - Book 3 of the Hunger Games series. The sort of rushed conclusion of the Hunger Games. Quick read for sure.
Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins - Book 2 of the Hunger Games series and my personal favorite of the bunch. Really easy, quick read.
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins - Well, I think everyone in the free world has already read this book. If you haven't read this series, do it. I will be honest though, this book was so hard to get into, it took me a good 3 weeks to even get midway through and then it flew by. Keep in mind it's a Young Adult novel so read it as such. Not a knock against it by any means.
The Land of Mango Sunsets by Dorothea Benton Frank - I love her books when I need a quick, fun read. This one is in my top 2 favorites from her, it was a really great story about mending relationships and transformation of self. I love that the main character is a woman of a certain age and I always love her description of the South Carolina lowcountry. Great beach read!
The Best of Me by Nicholas Sparks - Lord have mercy I hate Nicholas Sparks. There I got that out. I got this book as kind of a joke gift and ended up not hating it. It's a bit darker than his previous books and I really didn't like the characters. But if you like his books then this one is worth a read. Look, I didn't barf after I read it so that's like a four star review from me ;o)
Bringing Home The Birkin by Michael Tonello - If you have any interest at all in this whole Hermes Birkin craze, then run out at get this book. An fascinating insight into cracking the Hermes code. Spoiler alert - the waiting list is basically a myth. After reading this book obtaining a Birkin became a lot less desirable to me.
Loving Frank by Nancy Horan - It's a novel based on Frank Lloyd Wright's 7 year affair with Mamah Cheney, a married woman in Oak Park. The people and bones of the story are real, but it's a fictionalized account of their time together. It was a hard book to get into, but once it gets going it's totally worth it. It's one of those stories where you are empathetic to Frank and Mamah's situation, but not necessarily sympathetic. It's very complicated and moving - total emotional journey, not light reading, but I totally recommend it!
Style A to Zoe by Rachel Zoe - It was a good book, but I wanted more out of it - I wanted more tips and more of a step-by-step thing. The illustrations were a bit cheesy in my opinion. I love Rachel, but I honestly get more out of watching her show than I did this book. I'm glad I got it on sale.
The Style Strategy by Nina Garcia (with gorgeous illustrations by Ruben Toledo) - LOVED this book. She packs a lot of useful information in a relatively small book. This book has a heavy emphasis on "use what you have" which is a great message for right now.
Geek Love by Katherine Dunn - This is a novel about a family of carnival "freaks". It's disturbing, upsetting, at times repulsive and heartbreaking. Yet you absolutely can't put the book down because the characters are so vivid and amazing. My husband actually lent the book to me when we were dating, otherwise I might never have read it. Totally worth your time, it's hard to forget.
The Red Tent by Anita Diamant - A novel voiced by Jacob's daughter Dinah (from the Book of Genesis in the Bible). It's a fascinating glimpse of how life was for women in ancient times. Love this book!
Bombshell: The Life and Death of Jean Harlow by David Stenn - Pretty much the biography to read if you want to know all about the life and untimely death of Jean Harlow. It's fascinating. To think she died at 26 is mind boggling.
Any of Louise Rennison's Confessions of Georgia Nicolson series (there are 10 books in all). These are for young adults (aka - teen girls) but I enjoyed them immensely. Georgia is a 14 year old English girl who has a 3 year old sister, crazy cat and wacky parents. The books are written like a diary (sort of a teen Bridget Jones, but I think funnier). These books are a zip to read and laugh out loud funny between her antics and lingo. I have every one and each one is perfection.
Fast Women by Jennifer Crusie - As with every other Jennifer Crusie book, it's a breezy beach read. I really liked this book.
Momzillas by Jill Kargman - A funny take on the Moms of the Upper East Side of Manhattan, it was a fun read but can get annoying. The whole competitive mom thing grates on me, but we all have run across those types and can relate on some level to the mom-types she describes. The Glossary of terms in the front of the book is worth the read.
Confessions of a Sociopathic Social Climber by Adele Lang - A bitchier version of Bridget Jones Diary and not in the best way. I would skip this one.