You might remember actress Meredith Baxter from the movie BEN, and later, as the hippy-ish mother, Elyse Keaton, on the TV show, Family Ties, and a number of made for TV movies — just for starters. But Baxter’s own "family tied" were more complicated and interesting than any tv sitcom could ever be. However, in Untied by Meredith Baxter (Three Rivers Press, 2012) the actress mater-of-factly regales readers with details about her strange and dysfunctional relationships, emotional and physical abuse from her second husband David Birney, her substance abuse issues, her fight with breast cancer, and finally, a realization that she was gay and her commitment to support women’s rights. She handles her coming out as a lesbian in a straightforward, almost elegant, manner. This may be a true “tell all” book, but it’s not salacious. While a lot of unpleasant and downright bad things have happened to this woman, her story isn’t a sad one. The factual content about the author’s journey to date is attention grabbing enough to get you through from start to finish. If you ever believed that stars lead a charmed life, Untied will definitely dispel you of that notion. It’s well worth your time and attention, especially if you’re a fan.
Some of the most interesting stories are in the books that are self-published. One such book is Steps Of Courage: My Parents’ Journey From Nazi Germany To America by Bettina Hoerlin (Author House 2011). Hermann Hoerlin and Kate Tietz Schmid met in Germany in 1934. He was a world-record-holding Aryan and she was Jewish. Since Kate was a widow whose husband was murdered by the Nazis, it seems like an odd pairing, especially since at that time in Germany, Aryans and Jews were not allowed to marry. But with some help from sympathetic parties, Hermann and Kate not only wed in Germany, incredibly, but they were also smart and resourceful enough to move to the United States. Life still wasn’t smooth sailing once the couple arrived in the United States, with anti-German sentiment at an all time high. Eventually, Hoerlin ended up working at Los Almos, and the couple befriend cultural and scientific icons such as the philosopher Oswald Spengler, cellist Pablo Casals, conductor Wilhelm Furtwangeler, painter Georgia O’Keefe and Nobel prize-winning physicist Hans Bethe. Pretty impressive! While neither of the author’s parents talked about their former lives very much, their daughter, Bettina, through more than 500 letters that her mother and father wrote to each other in Germany between the years of 1934 and 1938, and through other sources, uncovered and shares her parent’s story of love, strength and survival that is more interesting than any fiction. Photos help to illustrate the various stages of the book. While the wriiting isn’t artful and the writing drags in spots, it’s a worthwhile, inspiring, read.
She was no saint. She had drug problems, she was bisexual, and while she had many love affairs with celebrated men, one of her lovers was actually a Nazi spy. Some suggest she was a spy, as well. This real life, rags to riches story shows a woman who worked her way up from poverty to become very wealthy. But while she had plenty of material riches, her love life was a different story. She was a mistress and a celebrity, but never, a wife. However, she created iconic style and a fragrance that is still the most coveted and beloved in the world today. Of course I’m talking about Coco Chanel, whose more exciting than fiction life is chronicled in the book Coco Chanel, an Intimate Life, by Lisa Chaney (Viking, 2011). I’ve held onto this book for a while because I really wanted to finish reading it, and got side-tracked by other obligations. But this well written, fast-paced book about Gabrielle Chanel is riveting. The author’s resources include love letter, journals, and the Chanel archives, but what’s so nice about the book is that the author does a good job of capturing something of the personality of Coco and not just facts and photos. It is a must-read for any fashionista, and will keep the attention of biography fans. The photos help illustrate the various phases of Coco Chanel’s life, and they alone are worth checking out. I really enjoyed this book. Although the author wasn’t an intimate friend of Coco Chanel, she writes with what appears to be a strong understanding of Coco’s character and that is what makes it personal. This book isn’t just a rehashing of history. Through the author’s words and analysis of her subject, you feel as though you get to know Coco Chanel, if just a little bit more than you did.
Many book clubs just order in take-out and the host brings out a few bottles of wine, but apparently, some book clubs consider their food and beverages as seriously as the books they choose. That’s the focus of The Book Club Cookbook Revised Edition: Recipes and Food for Thought from Your Book Club’s Favorite Books and Authors by Judy Gelman and Vicki Levy Krupp (Penguin, March 2012) . This book isn’t just a chunky collection of recipes — there is a lot of thought and care behind the recipes chosen to compliment some of the most popular “book club” classics and modern titles. Along with the recipes is narrative that explains the relevance of that food item or items in the book “Novel Thoughts” , and the reasons the book club being featured, chose that item (“More Food for Thought”). The organization makes sense, the narratives are relevant and clever. It did make me wonder what book club members have the luxury of enough time to read the monthly book selection and host a full dinner, but I guess there are exceptional people out there who can “do it all.” Book club hostess or not, the recipes are sure to inspire you, and luckily, they’re mostly easy to follow (in case you want to wow your own book club members, or just make them for your friends and family). It’s a fun and novel book that will be a welcome addition to your own collection, or a great gift for a book lover. If you haven’t read a lot of the book titles featured, this cookbook will give you a “reading list” that’s a great one to follow. Try the book, cook the recipes, have fun and learn something new!
When I think of France, I immediately think of wonderful food. Eat Smart in France: How to Decipher the Menu, Know the Market Foods & Embark on a Tasting Adventure, by Ronnie Hess (Ginkgo Press, 2010) is a slim volume that is supposed to acquaint tourists and food fans to all that is food-oriented in France. The most interesting part of the book is the section that breaks the country into areas, and directs the reader to those dishes or ingredients that are specific to that area. Alas, the rest of the book should be called ” French Food for Dummies.” The advice and information is so basic, only the truly clueless who have never eaten a French meal in their life, will learn something new from it. Some of the facts just seemed silly, such as French people tend to eat pastries on the weekends, or the French like dairy products. The helpful phrases can be found in any basic phrase pamphlet, although the “Menu Guide” and French food terms and ingredients in the “Food & Flavors” guide would help a tourist decipher items on a French menu. The bulk of the book just seems like filler, with a few photos added for a colorful touch. For the uninitiated tourist who wants to make good dining and tasting choices in France, it’s a good place to start, but it left me “hungry” for more.
If you visit my Advice Sisters web site often, you know that I’m a huge fan of fragrances. I’m also a fan of books about fragrance. Now there’s a new book called The Book of Lost Fragrances, by M.J. Rose (Atria Books; March 2012) that combines interesting facts about fragrance, with intrigue, history, and a love story. The hook is the mystical properties of an Ancient Egyptian perfume that is supposed to trigger past memories and past lives. Supposedly created for Cleopatra, the fragrance and its formula, has been lost for over 2,000 years until Robbie L’Etoile and his sister Jac L’Etoile become involved in it’s possession. Without giving away the plot, L’Etoile family, perfumers for generations, have some shards of pottery from Egypt impregnated with a mystical scent. Robbie wants to hand these shard over to the Dalai Lama, as he believes that the pottery has to do with reincarnation. Troubles both personal, and financial, weave their way into the sibling’s lives. While they don’t see eye to eye on many issues, love and forgiveness are themes throughout the book as both Robbie and Jac struggle to keep the family perfume business afloat and deal with the precious pottery. They definitely get more than they bargained for and you want things to work out for them. This is one of those rare books that you’ll be sad about when you finish because it was such a fun read and such a great story. M.J. Rose has done her homework and weaves the fragrance theme throughout the story from beginning to end. The book will keep your attention, from beginning to end, as well. I really loved The Book of Lost Fragrances. It’s one of those rare books that makes you feel sad that you’ve finished it, because it was such fun to read.
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