Category Archives: Books

Save the date (June 19), remember the name of a hot new novel: Siobhan Adcock’s “The Completionist”

Every once in a while we come across a book that we simply love. The latest example: The Completionist (Simon & Schuster, $26), the thrilling new novel from acclaimed author Siobhan Adcock. Truly a novel of the times, and in the spirit of Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven and Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s TaleThe Completionist is an inventive, deeply human mystery set in a future that holds our own world in a black mirror.

Image result

This impossible-to-put down novel follows an ominous near-future society in which water no longer naturally exists, birth rates have plummeted, and technology is omnipresent, even inside human bodies. A troubled young Marine, Carter Quinn, returns home from a brutal war to discover one of his sisters has disappeared without a trace, and the other is naturally pregnant, a rare and rmiraculous event that puts her independence in jeopardy. As Carter sets off to find his sister Gardner, he discovers startling truths about his society, and the terrifying implications the fertility crisis has on women, including his own sister Fred. A system meant to keep the few pregnancies as safe as possible only puts women in dire situations to keep up with impossible standards.

Willing to do anything to protect his sisters, Carter’s efforts lead him to painful realizations about his family, his society, and himself, all culminating in a stunning conclusion you won’t see coming.

We promise you will be gripped. We promise this is a perfect beach book. We promise you will thank us once you read Adcock’s tome, officially published on June 19.

Gossip galore: Immerse yourself in “Jackie, Janet & Lee: The Secret Lives of Janet Auchincloss and Her Daughters, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and Princess Lee Radziwill”

I’ve seen Jackie Kennedy at a Broadway theater, explaining to her then-lover Maurice Tempelsman what a CD was. (That item ran in Liz Smith’s column.) I’ve seen Ethel Kennedy go nuts on Hyannis’ Main Street. Now I am getting closer to other Kennedy kin with Jackie, Janet & Lee: The Secret Lives of Janet Auchincloss and Her Daughters, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and Lee Radziwill (St. Martin’s Press, $29.99).

To truly understand Jackie, one of the most iconic women of the 20th century, is to understand the powerful bond she shared with her mother Janet Auchincloss, and younger sister, the enormously complex Lee Radziwill. The relationship between the three women and how it came to impact Jackie’s life as one of the most famous of America’s First Ladies has never before been revealed in its entirety, until now. J. Randy Taraborrelli breaks through the mystery surrounding the lives of these enigmatic women and takes readers into the big and small moments of their lives, weaving a captivating psychological portrait of two famous sisters and their ferociously protective and ambitious mother.

Jackie Kennedy, JFK, and Princess Lee Radziwill at the christening of Lee’s daughter, Anna Christina Radziwill, Crypt Chapel, Westminster Abbey, 1961.

Janet Lee Bouvier was a formidable woman from a wealthy family who, in 1928, married the dashing but unpredictable Jack “Black Jack” Bouvier.  Though she had two children with him—Jackie and Lee—Janet’s marriage was far from a happy one as she had to cope with her husband’s infidelity. She flouted convention by defying her powerful, religious father James T. Lee and chose divorce at a time when it was taboo. Janet would then make the ultimate sacrifice for her daughters when she wedded the well-heeled Hugh Auchincloss. Though he could guarantee financial stability, he also made it clear to Janet that he could never consummate the marriage. A woman stunningly ahead of her time, Janet bore a daughter—Jackie’s and Lee’s half-sister, Janet— using her own version of artificial insemination, a science practically unheard of in the 1940s.

The story continues with Jackie’s marriage to Senator Jack Kennedy, (who becomes President of the United States in 1960), and Lee’s royal union to the dashing Prince Stanislaw Radziwill.  But soon, the Greek shipping mogul Aristotle Onassis enters Lee’s life and begins an affair with her. Rather than allow Lee to bring scandal to the steps of the White House, Janet forces her to choose family over her love for Onassis.

The First Lady and her sister Lee Radziwill ride a camel in India. Jackie’s agent, Clint Hill, signaled to them to cross their legs, to avoid any embarrassing photos being taken.

Taraborrelli breaks astonishing new ground by also telling the story of Jackie’s war with Bingham Morris, her mother’s third husband. After she realizes that Janet is the victim of shocking elder abuse, it becomes the greatest battle of Jackie’s life to vanquish Morris from her mother’s home. As the 1980s came to a close and Janet slips into Alzheimer’s disease, Jackie continues to care for her daily while Lee finds herself emotionally ill-equipped to do so, causing significant turmoil between the sisters. This stunning family story is based on never-before-published letters from Jackie, herself.\

Wow.

Let us steer you to Ryan Brutt’s “Muscle Car Barn Finds”

It’s no secret among car collectors and enthusiast that the pursuit of “lost” cars is what drives many gearheads. Finding an abandoned, restorable car is one of the most common dreams among collectors and a touchstone for the hobby. Top shows like the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance and Chicago’s Muscle Car and Corvette Nationals have added special classes devoted to original and barn find vehicles.

Muscle Car Barn FindsAuthor and photographer Ryan Brutt has the muscle. He is the “automotive archaeologist”, author of the CarsInBarns blog and a monthly columnist for Hot Rod magazine.

We switch gears and steer you to the fact that  Brutt has selected his best muscle car images for Muscle Car Barn Finds: Rusty Road Runners, Abandoned AMXs, Crusty Camaros and More! (Quarto Drives, $35). No searching the back roads required–just kick up your feet and begin your barn-finding adventure by turning the page.

 

William Howard Taft: He who never wanted to be president, had sleep apnea and would have hated Herr Adolph Frump . . . yes!

We loathe Herr Adolph Frump.Yet William Howard Taft, who never wanted to be president and yearned instead to serve as chief justice of the United States, would have despised him even more.  Taft was the anti-Frump. He approached every decision as president in constitutional terms and believed the president could only do what the constitution explicitly allowed. He criticized Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson for ruling by executive orders and circumventing Congress on issues
ranging from the environment to economic policy. He criticized Roosevelt and Wilson for endorsing populism, criticizing judges by name, and arguing that the people had the right to overturn judicial decisions. He is a model of a pro-free trade, anti-protectionist, pro-environment, pro-immigration Republican–the opposite of Frump.

William Howard Taft

God bless the man who Taft had sleep apnea; he weighed more 300 pounds as president and, unable to sleep through the night, he would fall asleep in public
throughout the day, prompting his wife to prod him awake with a kindly prod. But after he lost 75 pounds on his paleo diet, he was alert and productive for the rest
of his happy life.

In the provocative assessment William Howard Taft (Times Books, $26), Jeffrey Rosen reveals Taft’s crucial role in shaping how America balances populism against the rule of law. Taft approached each decision as president by asking whether it comported with the Constitution, seeking to put Roosevelt’s activist executive orders on firm legal grounds. But unlike Roosevelt, who thought the president could do anything the Constitution didn’t forbid, Taft insisted he could do only what the Constitution explicitly allowed. This led to a dramatic breach with Roosevelt in the historic election of 1912, which Taft viewed as a crusade to defend the Constitution against the demagogic populism of Roosevelt and Wilson.

President William Howard Taft throws out the first pitch to start the season for the Washington Senators in 1912. | AP Photo
President William Howard Taft throws out the first pitch to start the season for the Washington Senators in 1912.

Nine years later, Taft achieved his lifelong dream when President Warren Harding appointed him chief justice, and during his years on the Court he promoted consensus among the justices and transformed the judiciary into a modern, fully equal branch. Though he had chafed in the White House as a judicial president, he thrived as a presidential chief justice.

The book is filled with wonderful detail, a feast for those who loathe the Herr.

Harry Thaw, Evelyn Nesbit. Stanford White. This murder/rape case was the true crime of the century

When the weather thaws, I go off to Allegheny Cemetery, where I visit the graves of the (in)famous. My fave: Harry Kendall Thaw (February 12, 1871–February 22, 1947). I have been fascinated with Thaw for decades . . . not because he was the son of a Pittsburgh coal and railroad baron; not because he was heir to a multimillion-dollar mine and railroad fortune; not because he was plagued by mental illness since childhood;  not because he spent money lavishly to fund his obsessive partying, his drug addiction, his sexual appetite.

Image result for evelyn nesbit

I am fascinated by the wacko because of what gave him an historical legacy: On June 25, 1906, on the rooftop of Madison Square Garden, Thaw murdered renowned architect Stanford White, a partner of the firm McKim, Mead & White.

White had previously sexually assaulted Thaw’s wife, model/chorus girl Evelyn Nesbit, when she was 16.  During the opening-night performance of Mam’zelle Champagne, audience members noticed Thaw repeatedly glaring at White. Thaw eventually got up, crossed over to White’s seat and shot him point-blank while the show onstage was in the midst of a number titled “I Could Love a Million Girls”.

Keep in mind: Nesbit was considered the most beautiful and notorious woman of her day; she was one of artist Charles Dana Gibson’s “Gibson Girls”; fans showered her with $50 bills wrapped around stems of roses tossed at her feet. White kept a Fifth Avenue love nest, where he pushed her in a red velvet swing as she wore nothing but the jewels he gave her.

The trial of Thaw and its aftermath mesmerized the nation. Americans overwhelmingly supported Thaw–he had avenged his wife’s honor; what else mattered? But the district attorney, Travers Jerome, ferocious, brilliant, and unflappable, was determined to send Thaw to the electric chair.

Nesbit’s scandalous testimony, that White had drugged and raped her, caused a sensation. The president of the United States,  Theodore Roosevelt, wanted to prevent distribution of her verbatim
account by the newspapers; and Thaw’s appeal eventually went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. The murder of White cast a long shadow: Harry Thaw twice attempted suicide and Nesbit battled a cocaine addiction during her acting career in Hollywood in the ’20s.

This riveting story–the first scandal of the century–broke Victorian taboos, heralded a new understanding of sex and sexuality, and ushered in the modern era. Simon Baatz has dome a magnificent job chronicling, detailing and dishing out the sensational story in The Girl on the Red Velvet Swing: Sex, Murder, and Madness at the Dawn of the Twentieth Century (Mulholland Books, $29).

Image result for evelyn nesbitNow, for the first time, comes an authoritative account of the brutal rape of Nesbit by famed architect White, whose attack of Evelyn Nesbit should have been called rape. The penalty for rape in 1901 was severe, more severe than in 2017, a prison sentence of 20 years under brutal conditions in the state penitentiary with no possibility of parole. Public opinion in 1906 (after the murder of White) overwhelmingly condemned White as a pedophile and rapist. But over the years, to burnish White’s
reputation as an architect, the rape was whitewashed as a
“seduction.”

Baatz’s book is a fascinating true-crime story, a thrilling account based on exhaustive research in the newspapers of the day. In 1901, Evelyn Nesbit, 16, an artist’s model and aspiring actress, dined alone with Stanford White, 47, at White’s Manhattan townhouse. That evening they drank champagne and Evelyn lost consciousness. She awoke, naked in bed, White lying next to her, tell-tale spots of blood on the bedsheets.

Picture of
White’s grave

Four years later Evelyn married Harry Thaw, playboy millionaire. One evening, at a performance of the musical comedy Mam’zelle Champagne, Thaw shot and killed White before hundreds of theatregoers. The trial of Thaw and its aftermath mesmerized the nation. Americans overwhelmingly supported Thaw–he had avenged his wife’s honor; what else mattered? But the district attorney, Travers Jerome, ferocious, brilliant, and unflappable, was determined to send Thaw to the electric chair.

 

No more Ambien! Try “Sleep: The Myth of 8 Hours, the Power of Naps, and the New Plan to Recharge Your Body and Mind”

Xanax. Sominex. Ambien. Belsomra. Zzzquil. Belsomra. Halcion. Warm milk. Lunesta. I’ve tried them all. Even the movies of Pia Zadora. The bottom line: I have trouble falling alseep. And staying asleep.

Now Nick Littlehales is reinventing sleep—transforming the way both elite athletes and everyday people get their rest. Though eight consecutive hours of sleep has long been heralded as the ideal amount and schedule, Littlehales proposes a new, personalized program dubbed the R90 Sleep Recovery Program. This program takes into account the stages of sleep, the sleeping environment, and individual needs and situations, all with the aim of optimizing sleep health and happiness.

Since the 1950s and especially since the advent of the Internet, people have been getting less sleep, which correlates to decreased physical and mental performance and even more serious conditions like heart disease and anxiety. Sleep: The Myth of 8 Hours, the Power of Naps, and the New Plan to Recharge Your Body and Mind (Da Capo Lifelong Books, $15.99) not only highlights the importance of sleep but teaches the best way for each of us to get back on track and recover from our poor sleeping habits. A “sleep coach” for many professional teams, such as the  team—and even personal work with David Beckham—Littlehales provides schedules and examples from professional athletes’ sleep journeys, emphasizing alternative sleep options that fit the needs of the individual. Topics include:

  • The importance of naps
  • Coping with a newborn
  • Weaning off sleeping pills
  • Having the correct mattress
  • Sleeping in the right temperature
  • Creating a sleep sanctuaryImage result for photos of sleeping

From the ideal sleeping situation with a partner to why we need to wake up at the same time every day, Sleep takes a fresh look at our dreaming hours and overhauls them.

Another bio on Prince Harry shares royal secrets and insights into his life, loss and loves

Katie Nicholl, “with her authoritative research and access to royal confidantes”, promises to bring readers closer to Prince Harry “than ever before.” (Another bio by another royal expert: theentertainmentreport.org/prince-harry-gets-his-inside-story-told-twice-in-one-good-book-and-one-nasty-tabloid-ouch.)

From his earliest public appearances as a mischievous redheaded
toddler, Prince Harry has captured the hearts of royal enthusiasts
around the world. Now, with his marriage to actress Meghan Markle set for May 19, comes a new biography that offers rare insight into Harry’s personal life and how he fell in love with his future bride. In Harry: Life, Loss and Love (Hachette Books, $27), Nicholl offers an unprecedented look at everyone’s favorite prince. She sheds new light on growing up royal, Harry’s relationship with his mother, and his troubled youth and early adulthood. She also traces Harry’s transformation from a wayward royal rebel into the beloved people’s prince. With insights from her unrivaled sources, Nicholl delivers the inside scoop on the relationships, romances, and personal experiences that shaped him as a young man.

From the devastating loss of his mother, Princess Diana, at the age of 12, to Harry’s mental health struggles and his military service in Afghanistan, which ultimately inspired him to create his legacy, The
Invictus Games, Nicholl speaks to Harry’s friends, colleagues, and former flames to paint a compelling portrait of his life. The book also features fascinating insights into Harry’s romance with Markle, including stories of their secretive early meetings and how they kept their relationship hidden from the world. She brings the romance right up to date, covering their engagement day, their forthcoming wedding and their plans for the future.

The book includes a series of compelling full-color photos of Harry from boyhood until present day, Harry: Lee, Loss, and Love is an unprecedented, exclusive look at a prince who has captured the hearts of the world.

“Diving for Starfish” is a 14-karat mystery, wrapped among the rich and famous and 71 cabochon rubies and 241 amethysts

It’s a fascinating read, a sparkling mystery wrapped in the world of the super-rich and priceless jewels. Literally. In Diving for Starfish: The Jeweler, the Actress, the Heiress, and One of the World’s Most Alluring Pieces of Jewelry (St. Martin’s Press, 26.99), Cherie Burns takes readers on a search for a dazzling, elusive starfish pin—one of the most coveted pieces of jewelry in the world. 

Created in the early 1930’s by a young designer in the workroom of the famous Parisian jeweler Boivin, the starfish pin was distinctive because its five rays were articulated, meaning that they could curl and conform to the bustline or shoulder of the women who wore it. The House of Boivin crafted only three of these gold starfish, each one encrusted with 71 cabochon rubies and 241 small amethysts. The women who were able to capture the rare starfish were as fabulous as the pin itself.

Millicent Rogers, socialite and fashion icon, and Claudette Colbert, Hollywood leading lady, were two of the women adorned by one of the three pins that exist today. Obsessed with the pin after she saw it in the private showroom of a Manhattan jewelry merchant, Burns set off on a journey to find out all she could about the elusive pins and the women who owned them. Her search took her around the world to Paris, London, New York and Hollywood.

Image result for starfish pin colbert
Millicent Rogers wearing her starfish brooch.

Both a history of fine jewelry coming out of Paris in the Golden Age and a tour through the secretive world of high-end, privately-sold jewelry, Diving for Starfish is a stylish detective story with a glittering piece of jewelry and the equally dazzling women who loved them.

The road to all things Broadway can be found in architect Fran Leadon’s “Broadway: A History of New York City in Thirteen Miles”

They say the neon light are bright on Broadway. But Manhattan’s “Broadway” is much more than flashing marquees and glitzy shops. It is a 13-mile street stretch that runs from State Street at Bowling Green through the borough of Manhattan. (There’s 2 miles through the Bronx, exiting north from the city to run an additional 18 miles through the municipalities of Yonkers, Hastings-On-Hudson, Dobbs Ferry, Irvington and Tarrytown, and terminating north of Sleepy Hollow in Westchester County.
Broadway is the oldest north–south main thoroughfare in New York City, dating to the first New Amsterdam settlement, although most of it did not bear its current name until the late 19th century. The name Broadway is the English language literal translation of the Dutch name, Brede weg.

The road to all things Broadway can be found in architect Fran Leadon’s Broadway: A History of New York City in Thirteen Miles (W.W. Norton, $35).

Broadway takes us on a mile-by-mile journey that traces the gradual evolution of the 17th-century’s Brede Weg, a muddy cow path in a backwater Dutch settlement, to the 20th-century’s Great White Way. We learn why one side of the street was once considered more fashionable than the other. We witness construction of the Ansonia Apartments, Trinity Church, and the Flatiron Building and the burning of P.T. Barnum’s American Museum. We discover that Columbia University was built on the site of an insane asylum.
Library of Congress
Our fave Broadway site: the Flatiron Building, way back when
Along the way we meet Alexander Hamilton; Edgar Allen Poe; John James Audubon; Emma Goldman; “Bill the Butcher” Poole; “Texas” Guinan, and the assorted real estate speculators, impresarios, and politicians who helped turn Broadway into a living paradigm of American progress, at its best and worst. With maps and more than 75 black-and-white photos throughout, Broadway tells the vivid story of what is arguably the world most famous thoroughfare.

Historian William Hitchcock’s “The Age of Eisenhower” is an absorbing, serious biography at its best

Historian William Hitchcock shoots straight. Direct. And his news is factual truth. Witness an expert from his USA Today op-ed, published February 12.

“The last Army general to occupy the White House, Dwight D. Eisenhower, would be spinning in his grave if he knew that President Trump, a man who used a medical deferment to avoid combat service in Vietnam, was planning a giant military parade in Washington.”

The op-ed was a well-written reminder that The Age of Eisenhower: America and the World in the 1950s (Simon & Schuster, $35) was being released; Hitchcock’s massive tome is not only an absorbing, serious biography at its best, but it could (if needed) serve as a murder weapon.

Since I grew up long after the I LIKE IKE movement was around, I never had a chance to understand what the fuss was about. Now I do.

In a 2017 survey, presidential historians ranked Dwight D. Eisenhower fifth on the list of great presidents, behind the perennial top four: Lincoln, Washington, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Teddy Roosevelt. Hitchcock shows that this high ranking is justified. Eisenhower’s accomplishments were enormous and loom ever larger from the vantage point of our own tumultuous times. A former general, Ike kept the peace: He ended the Korean War, avoided a war in Vietnam, adroitly managed a potential confrontation with China, and soothed relations with the Soviet Union after Stalin’s death.

He guided the Republican Party to embrace central aspects of the New Deal like Social Security. He thwarted the demagoguery of McCarthy, and he advanced the agenda of civil rights for African Americans. As part of his strategy to wage and win the Cold War, Eisenhower expanded American military power, built a fearsome nuclear arsenal and launched the space race.

In his famous Farewell Address, he acknowledged that Americans needed such weapons in order to keep global peace, but he also admonished his citizens to remain alert to the potentially harmful influence of the “military-industrial complex”.

From 1953 to 1961, no one dominated the world stage as did President Dwight D. Eisenhower. The Age of Eisenhower is the definitive account of this presidency, drawing extensively on declassified material from the Eisenhower Library, the CIA, and the Defense Department and troves of unpublished documents. In his masterful account, Hitchcock shows how Ike shaped modern America, and he astutely assesses Eisenhower’s close confidants, from Attorney General Brownell to Secretary of State Dulles.

The result is an eye-opening reevaluation that explains why this “do-nothing” president is rightly regarded as one of the best leaders our country has ever had.