David Bowie sang “fame puts you there where things are hollow.” Two new books take a close look at superstar entertainers separated by decades, yet the perks and consequences of fame seem to remain the same. Queen of the Air: A True Story of Love and Tragedy at the Circus by Dean Jensen is the true story of circus aerialist phenom Leitzel Pelikan who rose to international stardom at the dawn of the 20th century. Author Michael Walker looks to the music scene in What You Want Is in the Limo: On the Road with Led Zeppelin, Alice Cooper and The Who in 1973, the Year the Sixties Died and the Modern Rock Star Was Born.
The Pelikan’s small family circus had fallen on hard times, and crippled patriarch Eduard was forced to “apprentice” his talented 12-year-old daughter Nellie to Willy Dosta’s traveling troupe in order to feed his family. Nellie, an accomplished acrobat and flyer herself, returned within a year and gave birth to baby Leitzel in 1891. Nellie left her baby in the care of her parents while she trained, traveled and eventually found renown under the tutelage of Edward Leamy. Petite Leitzel showed a gift for the trapeze and Roman rings and soon outshone her mother under the big top. So famous that she was known simply as Leitzel, she commanded a private car in the Ringling Brothers circus train, enjoyed legions of admirers and suitors, and was married several times including to her male trapeze counterpart, Alfredo Codona. Queen of the Air is not only a biography of a legendary aerialist, it is a behind the scenes view of the celebrity and circus life of an earlier time.
Walker’s title says it all; his premise is that 1973 marked a year of intense road tours for “every major act of the era” which ushered in the real ’70s, changing the hippieish peace and love culture of the ’60s to a harsher reality of big money, scads of friendly groupies and an unending assortment of illicit substances. Walker tracks the travels and travails of The Who, Led Zeppelin and Alice Cooper whose skyrocketing stars and bulging coffers are directly proportional to the indulgence of their dissolute behaviors. 1973 marked the year of outrageous contract demands, powerful and massive customized sound systems and no-holds-barred stage shows. What You Want Is in the Limo will be enjoyed by anyone who ever held a transistor radio to their ear.
Rosemary Cooke has just been taken to jail. She is a quiet college student, perhaps the last person you would expect to throw a tantrum in the university cafeteria, destroying property and endangering other students. She has no friends and very few acquaintances. Her parents are emotionally and physically distant. Her older brother left home when he turned 18 and she has not seen him for more than 10 years. The only one who might understand Rosemary is her twin sister Fern, who has enjoyed a good tantrum now and then herself. But Fern has gone away too—sold to a research facility when they were 5 years old. Rosemary’s sister is a chimpanzee. In We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, Karen Joy Fowler presents a unique family dynamic and explores the enduring strength of sibling love.
For the first five years of their lives, Rosemary and Fern slept, ate, played and learned side-by-side. They were one of a number of families that adopted a chimpanzee, promising to raise it as an equal member of the family. When Fern inexplicably disappears, it sends her brother into a rage, her parents into denial and Rosemary into a state of lost identity. She was forced to suppress her monkey nature and assimilate into “humans only” society. She never quite got the knack of it though, and the loss of the defining relationship in her life is something she is still trying to overcome. When her brother suddenly returns with information about Fern, Rosemary is forced to face her monkey-girl self once again. Readers who enjoy complex family dramas or animal/human stories such as Half Brother by Kenneth Oppel or Ape House by Sara Gruen will find Fowler’s latest a thought-provoking read.
When James and Bob first met, both were at low points in their lives. James, a London street musician and recovering drug addict, was living hand-to-mouth, barely making enough money to eat and keep a roof over his head. Bob, a flea-ridden, bedraggled orange tabby, was malnourished and injured. Recognizing a fellow kindred spirit in need, James began to nurse Bob back to health, forming a special bond between them. Their uplifting story is chronicled in James Bowen’s memoir A Street Cat Named Bob: And How He Saved My Life.
It’s quickly apparent to James that Bob is far from a typical cat. Easygoing and fiercely affectionate, he prefers toileting outside every morning to using a litter box. And much like a dog, he follows James on his route to the bus, although he also enjoys riding draped across his shoulders. James allows Bob to accompany him to his usual busking spot in Covent Garden. Using a combination of a makeshift shoelace “leash” and the shoulder-carry method, he navigates the ginger feline though busy traffic. He takes out his acoustic guitar and soon Bob is contentedly curled up inside the case. James immediately discovers that his unusual cat draws a lot of favorable tourist attention, and together they take in as much money in an hour as James usually makes solo in a day.
There are some pitfalls along the way, but James and Bob continue to be more than just pet and owner. James is astonished to find out that they are famous abroad, thanks to videos posted by tourists on YouTube. Readers who enjoyed Dewey: The Small-Town Library Cat Who Touched the World or Homer’s Odyssey: A Fearless Feline Tale, or How I Learned about Love and Life with a Blind Wonder Cat will breeze through this heartwarming, inspirational book.
These two hot summer romances prove that sometimes going back to where you began is the only way to find out where you’re going. Susan Mallery brings two new characters home to Fool’s Gold, California in Three Little Words, the 12th novel in her long-running series set in the town. After having his heart broken, Ford Hendrix left his hometown and joined the Navy 14 years ago. The letters that he received from his ex-fiancé’s younger sister Isabel kept him sane when the world he worked in was a very scary place. Now, he’s returned to Fool’s Gold to work at his friend’s fledgling security consulting company. After her disastrous marriage ended with her husband leaving her for another man, Isabel is back in town to help her parents get the family business ready to sell. Ford asks Isabel to be his pretend girlfriend when his mother’s matchmaking schemes become too much, but it doesn’t take long for their pretend relationship to start to feel very real.
Kate Angell takes readers back to the beach town of Barefoot William, Florida, in No Strings Attached. Sophie Saunders is taking the summer to find herself. Her life so far has been sheltered and her long list of phobias and fears made it difficult to experience much of the world. She doesn’t expect that Dune Cates, who she has had a crush on since she was a child, would be part of the equation. Dune is back home in Barefoot William while he recovers from a wrist injury and tries to figure out what it will mean for his career as a professional beach volleyball player. He thinks Sophie is sweet and is just trying to look out for her. He doesn’t expect the undeniable attraction that soon develops between them. The quirky characters and cleverly named stores on the boardwalk will make you wish you could book a stay in Barefoot William for your next vacation. Both of these small town romances are the perfect summer treat for fans of Jennifer Crusie, Kristan Higgins and Jill Shalvis.
Loosely based on the Cthulhu mythos of legendary author H. P. Lovecraft, Charles Gilman’s new “Tales from Lovecraft Middle School” series begins with the story of Professor Gargoyle. Readers follow 12-year-old Robert Arthur’s first days in the new state-of-the-art Lovecraft Middle School. Sleek, environmentally friendly and boasting a library the size of a gymnasium, Lovecraft Middle is exactly where every student would want to be. Except Robert, that is.
Recently redistricted, Robert isn’t looking forward to being the new kid on the block at Lovecraft. It doesn’t help that the only other kid transferred from his old school is class bully, Glenn Torkells. From his first day, it’s obvious to Robert that something decidedly weird is going on. Dozens of rats leap out of the brand new lockers. His science teacher, Professor Goyle, is beyond bizarre. And apart from a mysterious girl named Karina, the closest friend he’s made at the new school is a polycephalus rat.
Even stranger events are on the horizon, though, and when gateways to another frightening dimension begin to open, Robert must ally with Glenn to unmask the true nature of Professor Goyle and save his new friends and classmates.
The series plot introduced in the first volume segues seamlessly from Professor Gargoyle’s tale to the second tale in the series, The Slither Sisters. After the mysterious disappearance – and sudden reappearance – of twins Sylvia and Sarah Price, Robert, Glenn and Karina begin to suspect that the monstrous forces of the Great Old Ones may be at work. When Sarah announces her candidacy for president of the student council, it’s up to the friends and some trusted teachers to thwart them.
Fans of creepy-yet-funny stories set in middle school, such as the Scary School and “My Teacher Is an Alien” series, will be drawn to Gilman’s “Tales from Lovecraft Middle School” and may find they eagerly await the next monstrous adventure. Each of the first two volumes provide a tantalizing glimpse into the tale to follow. Recommended for middle grade readers, this absorbing, fast-paced series with finely detailed illustrations may hold particular appeal for boys. Readers already familiar with Lovecraft lore may also chuckle at some of the references to the realm that inspired Gilman.
They say that living well is the best revenge, and these hot new beach reads are stories of women who rebuild their lives after their marriages end. Ladies’ Night by Mary Kay Andrews is a rollicking story about a woman who starts over. When popular lifestyle blogger Grace Stanton catches her husband cheating, she retaliates by parking his Audi in the pool. That is the beginning of the end of Grace’s life as she knows it. She soon finds that she no longer has access to either her money or her blog, and she is forced to move in with her mother. While she begins to rebuild her life, Grace attends court-mandated therapy sessions until she and her therapy group ditch their “divorce coach” and begin meeting for their own "Ladies’ Night" at The Sandbox - Grace’s mother’s bar. Mary Kay Andrews is known for her laugh-out-loud funny stories, and Ladies’ Night is no exception.
Leslie Carter is a woman on a mission in Dorothea Benton Frank’s funny and relatable new novel The Last Original Wife. Among her husband Wesley’s circle of friends, Les is the last original wife. Over the years, all of Wes’s friends have traded in their first wives for newer models, leaving Les feeling lonely and adrift in their social set. Yes, Les and Wes have drifted apart over time, but they take pride in the fact that they are still married. Everything changes for Les when she falls into an open manhole and no one notices that she’s missing. Is this really the life that she is living? Les becomes fed up with her life and becomes determined to do whatever it takes to be the strong, vibrant woman she wants to be. Frank’s humor and warmth make The Last Original Wife a winner.
Protesting crayons? What do they have to complain about? Duncan finds out in The Day the Crayons Quit by Drew Daywalt. Duncan reaches for his crayons one day and gets a pack of protest letters instead (except from Green… Green’s pretty happy – just wants Orange and Yellow to stop fighting). Like most protestors, the colors are upset by their treatment – overuse, neglect (Where is Peach’s wrapper?), abuse and misuse. Each color details the unfairness of its life in a personal letter to Duncan. Blue doesn’t want to be the favorite, Grey is always used for the big animals, Red never gets a break and Orange and Yellow aren’t speaking!
Young readers will giggle at the silliness and enjoy learning colors. Older readers will recognize some common toddler traits in the behavior of the crayons. Readers of all ages will laugh out loud with this wonderful book about colors, creativity and compromise. Delightful, childlike illustrations by Oliver Jeffers enhance the story. How will Duncan get the crayons back to work? (And what color SHOULD the Sun be?) Find out in The Day the Crayons Quit.
As the 2008 presidential election neared, Washington Post reporter Wil Haygood wanted to write about the life of someone who had worked in the White House and lived through the civil rights movement. He wanted the story to reflect what this historic moment would mean to that person. His search for the perfect subject led him to Eugene Allen, a man who served as White House butler for 34 years. His time working in the White House spanned eight presidential administrations, from Truman to Reagan. Haygood’s article about Allen’s life, “A Butler Well Served by This Election,” was the inspiration for Lee Daniels’ The Butler, a movie coming to theaters in August. In honor of the movie’s release, Haygood’s article is expanded in a new book called The Butler: A Witness to History, which acts as a companion to the film. It brings audiences both the real story of Eugene Allen and a behind-the-scenes look at the making of the film.
Allen began working at the White House in 1952 as a pantry man, washing dishes and shining silver, but he was later promoted to butler. He witnessed many significant moments in our nation’s history while he was working in the background. He was there when Eisenhower was on the phone with the Arkansas governor during the Little Rock school desegregation crisis. He was at the White House on the day that President Kennedy was assassinated. Haygood brings readers Allen’s unique perspective on the presidents and the events that shaped the 20th century.
Although the film is largely fictionalized, director Lee Daniels writes that it does also include some real moments from Allen’s extraordinary life. The movie’s A-list cast includes Forest Whitaker, Oprah Winfrey, Robin Williams, John Cusack, Cuba Gooding Jr. and Terrence Howard. Lee Daniels’ The Butler premieres in theaters on August 16, but you can get a sneak peak here.
“Still, I would be loath to suggest that life intrinsically has themes, because it does not. In this book I narrate a life in overlapping panels of memory and experience.” So begins Howard Norman’s intimate memoir I Hate to Leave This Beautiful Place. For the first time, Norman, author of Devotion; The Bird Artist; and What Is Left the Daughter, invites his reader into five distinct and thematically linked points in his journeyed past.
In 1964 Grand Rapids, Michigan, we find young Norman longing for his absentee father. His mother claims that he’s in California but Norman often spots his father in the café from the window of the bookmobile where he shelves books — his first summer job. Here, he discovers the catharsis of writing by secretly penning long letters of heartbreaking criticism to the fathers of everyone he knows.
“Kingfisher Days” takes us along on his extraordinary travels to the Arctic where he’s assigned to transcribe Inuit life histories and folktales. One moment we hear elder Lucille Amorak’s stoic recitation of her poetry; the next we’re beside the young lead singer of a Beatles cover band as he mournfully sings out into the cold, snowy darkness the night news hit that John Lennon had been shot.
Although some moments are heavy with sadness, the angakok, an Inuit shaman, brings both ominous foreboding as well as humor. This roving angakok is convinced that Norman’s presence is a blight against the community, which brings about an odd series of encounters which Norman finds inexplicably bizarre, yet humbling.
In its closing and perhaps most revealing section, we gain access to Norman’s dark yet delicate ruminations on the murder-suicide of poet Reetika Vazirani who violently killed her 2-year-old son and herself while staying in the Norman’s D.C. home. Despite this horrific crime’s descent onto his family’s life, Norman’s private revelations are filled with clarity and, ultimately, grace.
Each one of these engrossing sections is populated by one or more species of birds, from kingfishers to the western oystercatchers. These birds poignantly embody various stages in Norman’s own human migration through life’s pain and beauty.
Philipp Meyer’s new novel spanning nearly 200 years of the American West, The Son, opens with the transcription of a 1934 New Deal WPA recording of 100-year-old Eli McCullough’s reminiscences. Eli, also known as the Colonel, discusses his imminent death: in one breath, comparing himself to Alexander the Great and, in the next, dismissing women and marriage. From vests fashioned of scalps, Aztecs as “mincing choirboys,” and vaqueros to Texas rangers, ranchers and oil wells, the Colonel has seen it all and is not shy about sharing his opinions.
Meyer alternates narrators and timeframes by chapter, giving voice to Eli as well as to his son Peter and Peter’s granddaughter, Jeanne. Born in 1834, the same year in which Texas gained its independence from Mexico, Eli’s story is the backbone of the book. As a boy, he witnesses the brutal slaughter of his mother, brother and sister by a band of Comanche who take Eli captive and eventually incorporate him as a member of their tribe. Eli’s later choices reflect his determination to survive despite the torturous customs of his captors. His conduct also mirrors the rapacious actions of a government and its people relentlessly expanding westward into territory already occupied. The Colonel has a contentious relationship with his son Peter, whose chapters play the role of a conscience, ruminating on injustice and cruelty. As the only descendent of the Colonel interested in taking over the family legacies of ranching and oil, great-granddaughter Jeanne reflects on her struggles as a woman managing a vast business in a Texas-style man’s world.
Jeanne muses, “the blood that ran through history would fill every river and ocean…” The Son dispassionately recounts the barbarous atrocities committed by settlers and natives alike. Like the western novels of Larry McMurtry or Cormac McCarthy, Meyer’s writing is notable for its lack of romanticism about its subject. Meyer, who grew up in Baltimore’s Hampden neighborhood, has written a family saga packed with adventure and drama in which the sins of all the fathers have consequences reverberating down through generations.