Trenton Reads

Our literary adventures …

Archive for June, 2008

Summer Reading List, #5

The Los Angeles Times published its summer reading list earlier this month. 

If I had to choose one book from this list that I know I will read, it would be What Happened to Anna K. by Irena Reyn.  It made an appearance on NPR’s summer reading list, too.

 

Review: Franklin and Lucy: President Roosevelt, Mrs. Rutherford, and the Other Remarkable Women in His Life

In his biography Franklin and Lucy: President Roosevelt, Mrs. Rutherford, and the Other Remarkable Women in His Life, Joseph E. Persico looks at the life of Franklin D. Roosevelt from a unique perspective. The reader sees the women who influenced this great historical figure as he led the country out of a severe economic depression and through a devastating world war.

Persico examines Roosevelt’s relationship with his mother, wife, and a handful of other women who were close to the nation’s 32nd president. His mother, Sara, was a grande dame of New York society, obsessively involved in her son’s life up to the day she died. President Roosevelt relied heavily on her, to the point that early in his political career, when asked to run for certain office, he hesitated, saying he would first need to discuss it with his mother.

FDR’s relationship with his wife, arguably the most influential First Lady in history, has been the subject of much speculation throughout the years. As a great fan of Eleanor Roosevelt I was pleased to find that this was as much a biography of her as it was of her husband. Having read two thick tomes by Blanche Wiesen Cook covering Mrs. Roosevelt’s first 54 years, not a lot of this information was new but it was interesting nonetheless. Both the President and the First Lady appeared to have had extramarital relationships throughout his political career that, depending on who is speculating, ranged from intimate friendships to barely concealed love affairs.

The Mrs. Rutherford of the title is Lucy Mercer Rutherford, who entered the Roosevelt’s life as Eleanor’s personal secretary, and eventually became romantically involved with Franklin, although the extent of this involvement is again a matter of speculation. Persico relied heavily on documents recently discovered by Mrs. Rutherford’s descendents to recreate the trajectory of the relationship between Franklin and Lucy.

History buffs and political junkies will certainly appreciate this biography as it examines historical events such as the Great Depression, World War II, and creation of the New Deal in light of Roosevelt’s personal life. However, I think the appeal is broader than that. Persico has combined eloquent writing with detailed research to spin a gripping tale that reinforces the old adage that truth is often stranger than fiction.

Related Reviews:
A Bookworm’s Dinner
Chicago Tribune
Internet Review of Books
New York Times

Review: Save Me from Myself: How I Found God, Quit Korn, Kicked Drugs and Lived to Tell My Story

 

Save Me From Myself is a memoir best described by its subtitle: How I Found God, Quit Korn, Kicked Drugs and Lived to Tell My Story. Brian “Head” Welch, former lead guitarist of the heavy metal band Korn, recounts his past with a vulnerable honesty and easy-going sense of humor that makes for a very readable book.

I will admit that when a friend lent me this book, I was hesitant. The cover alone was a little off-putting and I’ve never heard a song by Korn in my life. Heavy metal has never held much appeal for me, other than a few Metallica songs that were so main stream they got playing time on pop stations.

Welch’s writing style is very down to earth. It feels like you’re having a conversation with him. His story is peppered with phrases particular to his generation and past lifestyle that lend an authenticity to his memoir. For example, he repeatedly refers to being high on methamphetamines as being “geeked out”.

Ultimately I’m glad I read Save Me from Myself. After reading the book, even my feelings about the cover photo changed; it is fitting to Welch’s past and his present. (Interestingly, most of those tattoos were received after he converted to Christianity and each has a special meaning to him.)

This memoir is truly a story of redemption, and a testament to the reality that the life behind the outward façade of celebrity is rarely what it seems to those of us looking in.

Related Reviews:
Entertainment Weekly
Screwtape Chronicles

Summer Reading List, #4

Lisa at Books on the Brain (my favorite book blog) has posted a list of 7 New Books to Throw into your Beach Bag this Summer

I see one I’ve been wanting to read – Love and Biology at the Center of the Universe by Jennie Shortridge – and several others that will now be making their way to my To Read list.

Review: Portrait of an Unknown Woman

 

Portrait of an Unknown Woman, Vanora Bennett’s debut novel, is set in England, 1527, in the heat of the Catholic-Protestant struggle. The story is told from the vantage point of Sir Thomas More’s family, specifically his adopted daughter, Meg Gibbs. At first, I thought I was going to have trouble liking her character, but by midway through the book she felt like a friend and by the end, I was sad to say good-bye.

During Meg’s childhood and young adult years, More is a favorite of the English court, as well as a respected intellectualist. Their home is constantly filled with the prominent intellectual and political figures of the day, and clever Meg embraces the urbane, humanist thinking that surrounds her. Meg is sharply intelligent, passionate in her opinions, warm and loving to both her family and friends and the disadvantaged citizens of London.

After her marriage to her childhood tutor and lifelong love, who is now a respected doctor, Meg works as a female healer in the streets of London. She is torn between loyalty to her father who, somewhat uncharacteristically, is fanatically persecuting Protestant “heretics”, and her own more tolerant religious views. Eventually she can remain silent no longer and dares to oppose the torture and killing that her father has sanctioned.

Historical fiction fans will appreciate the glimpse into the infamous reign of King Henry VIII from the perspective of Sir Thomas More, from More’s glory years as Lord Chancellor of England to his downfall as an ardent Catholic when Henry increasingly embraced Protestantism. As a reader, I felt invested in the lives of this cast of characters and held my breath as England became a hotbed of religious fanaticism, wondering how it would affect Meg and her family.

Related Reviews:
The Literate Housewife
So Many Book Reviews

Reading Group Guide

Little Pink Pig

In this whimsical tale by Pat Hutchins, Little Pink Pig needs to go to bed, but he keeps wandering into trouble and out of his mother’s sight. His mother enlists the help of several barnyard animals – the horse, cow, sheep and roosters – to find her wayward piglet.

Like most kids, my daughter loves books about animals, so this was a hit with her. The text is very simple and repetitive which lends a predictability to the story that little ones enjoy.

Attention Historical Fiction Fans

If you are a fan of historical fiction, check out this website.  It claims to list over 3,000 historical novels by time and place. 

I will be delving into some of the novels listed in the sections on Medieval Europe and The Renaissance.  Pillars of the Earth (Ken Follett) and The Other Boleyn Girl (Philippa Gregory) sparked my interest in these time periods.