Book Review: Paris in Love by Eloisa James

Title: Paris in Love  

Author: Eloisa James
Genre: Memoir  
Format: Kindle  
Year Published: 2012  
Source: I “borrowed” this Kindle book from through my local library

Paris is Love is Eloisa James’ account of the year that her family, including her husband and two children, spent in Paris. After she had a bout with cancer, James and her husband took sabbaticals from their American university jobs to live in Paris.

The book is really a collection of essays based on Facebook entries and tweets that James sent during her year abroad. Because of this, the entries are short, more like blog posts. They make perfect light reading at bedtime. I have been reading Gone Girl, but I don’t want to read that before trying to sleep!

Some readers have complained that the book is too much about the author’s reflections of her personal experiences in Paris, but isn’t that what a memoir is supposed to be? This is not a dry account of the family’s days in Paris, nor is it an academic attempt (James and her husband are professors) to understand the French way of life. They are only in Paris for a year, and they are not going to get to know people in any real depth.

It is more an account of the delights of Paris, although James is surprised by the amount of homeless people and how many bad restaurants Paris has to offer. The delightful museums and shops are thoroughly enjoyed by the entire family.

Her children are enrolled in an Italian school in Paris and their attempts to become fluent in both French and Italian, and also adjusting to much harder academic standards, are hilarious. The book is a mostly lighthearted account of an enviable time in their lives.

Book Review: The Complete Book of the Olympics: 2012 Edition by David Wallechinsky

Title: The Complete Book of the Olympics: 2012 Edition
Author: David Wallechinsky
Genre: Non-Fiction/Sports
Format: Paperback
Year Published: 2012/new edition published every 4 years
Source: I purchased this book.

Every four years when the summer Olympics are on, I become completely immersed in gymnastics, swimming, and running. I will find myself at 3 in the morning watching sailing – an event so boring to watch that it helps me fall asleep. I am an Olympics junkie!

This is why I have barely touched my blogs during the last few weeks. I am still in a state of delirious happiness because the U.S. women’s gymnastics team – MY gymnastics team — won the team gold medal! I am a huge fan and kept telling my husband that if only they would win the team gold medal, my Olympics would be complete. I’ll admit I cried when they won.

Since I still have the Olympics on my brain, I must confess that I have been absolutely ADDICTED to David Wallechinsky’s Olympic books for many years! They come out every four years. There are separate winter and summer Olympic editions. I admit that I prefer the summer Olympics to the winter Olympics (I am a big fan of summer in general), but I always buy the newest edition. The next winter edition will come out in early 2014, but the newest summer edition just came out this summer!

The 2012 edition covers all Summer Olympics events, including discontinued ones, up to the 2008 Beijing games. It is just as fascinating as his other editions. I can peruse this large book for hours.

The book doesn’t just tally up the medal winners. It shows the top 8 finishers in each event, and tells you many interesting little stories along the way. Some of the stories are happy and some are absolutely heartbreaking. You will be amazed when you find yourself reading incredible human interest stories about sports you may not even care about. But you will care about the athletes, no matter what country they are from or what sport they play.

I heartily recommend this book!

Book Review: Off Balance: A Memoir by Dominique Moceanu

Title: Off Balance
Author: Dominique Moceanu
Genre: Non-Fiction, Memoir
Year Published: 2012
Format: Kindle
Source: I purchased this book.

Dominique Moceanu won an Olympic gold medal along with her Magnificent 7 teammates at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. She was only 14 years old, tiny (4 feet 4 inches tall!), cute and charismatic. She has a new memoir called Off Balance: A Memoir, detailing her life as an elite gymnast.

Here is Dominique at the 1996 Olympics during the team competition:

Her life on and off the gym floor has been difficult. She had complicated relationships with her family and with Bela and Marta Karolyi, her official coaches during her champion years. Her parents were Romanian immigrants, although Dominique and her sister were born in the United States. While she loved her mother and sister, her relationship with her father was fraught with complications. He was domineering and abusive.

The book opens when Dominique is an adult, and receives the biggest surprise of her life. Her parents had kept a secret from her and her sister for many years.

Dominique is bitter about many things but she also gives praise where it is due. She actually adored her first coaches, but when it became apparent by the age of 10 that Dominique was exceptionally talented – Olympic material – her father whisked her away to the Karolyi ranch in Texas. She was not at all prepared for the transition. She was shy and was used to a positive environment in the gym, but in Texas she was hopelessly confused and upset with what went on. For example, her favorite coach at the gym simply disappeared (he was fired) and no one ever mentioned him again.

Much has been made of the fact that she was miserable with the Karolyis. Actually, in this book she seems to be more mystified by their actions. After the Olympics they seemed to want to have nothing to do with her. Even though she won a gold medal, she didn’t win any individual medals and apparently that was considered a failure. Even her parents were discouraged from praising her too much.

Moceanu’s body changed rapidly after Atlanta but she still kept pursuing gymnastics – because she loved it.

She had made quite a lot of money from touring in gymnastics shows after the Olympics, which her father had put into building a huge gymnasium. Moceanu famously ran away from home as a teenager and tried to get her legal emancipation from her family. What happened after that is riveting reading.

Quite frankly, I was surprised by this book. If you read enough gymnastics message boards as I do, you would think that Dominique Moceanu was the devil, or is at the very least lying in the gutter with a needle in her arm. Many people find her hopelessly bitter because she has voiced her unhappiness in how she was treated many times. Perhaps because she was so cute and spunky while performing, some gym fans just refuse to accept how difficult her life really was?

Even before her book was released it was being compared to Jen Sey’s notorious gymnastics memoir, Chalked Up, about that author’s bitter experiences in gymnastics. But Moceanu’s book is well-written by her “co-authors” Paul and Teri Williams. The book was far more detailed than I expected, although it does slide over some of the things that happened in her career after 1996, spending more time on the events that happened in Moceanu’s personal life.

Moceanu is currently happy and productive, married to a gymnast-turned-physician, and they have two young children. Her children are involved with gymnastics, since she always loved the sport, but not the outside pressures involved with elite gymnastics.

Book Review: Autobiography of a Face by Lucy Grealy

Title: Autobiography of a Face
Author: Lucy Grealy
Published: 1994
Genre: Memoir
Format: Paperback
Source: I purchased this book. 

Autobiography of a Face by Lucy Grealy is like no other book I’ve ever read.

When Lucy was nine years old, she was diagnosed with a form of cancer called Ewing’s Sarcoma. Her likelihood of survival was slim. After her surgery to remove part of her jaw, Lucy was permanently disfigured. She had to endure the cruel taunts of her classmates. She also came from a highly dysfunctional family.

Many more surgeries followed to “correct” the disfigurement but they were ultimately unsuccessful, and came at a terrible emotional cost to Grealy.

Since I knew the eventual outcome of Lucy’s story I expected to be depressed while reading it. But Lucy was so self-deprecating and had such a sly sense of humor that I enjoyed it tremendously. She wrote several other books but this book is her most lasting legacy.

This book was a huge success for Lucy, giving her the attention that she craved. Alas, it was not to last.

I highly recommend Autobiography of a Face. It is a book that you will not soon forget.

You can read more about Lucy here.

Book Review: Journal of a Solitude by May Sarton

Title: Journal of a Solitude
Author: May Sarton
Year Published: 1973
Genre: Memoir, Journal
Format: Paperback
Source: I purchased this book

Journal of a Solitude is an account of a year in the life of May Sarton in the early 1970’s. It is an interesting journey into the mind and soul of a writer and poet.

Sarton was a difficult person, and subjects to bouts of intense anger and dark depression. She still managed to be amazingly prolific, however.

Sarton describes country living in New Hampshire, her attitude toward her career, and her interactions with the people around her.

It is ostensibly a very personal journal, but it is obvious that Sarton seemed to view anything she wrote as eventually publishable. If you are interested in writing or reading about the life of a creative person, you may be interested in this book.

Book Review: Something Inside of Me by Chitoka Webb

Title: Something Inside of Me
Author: Chitoka Webb
Year Published: 2011
Genre: Memoir
Format: Paperback
Source: I picked up a copy of this book at BookExpoAmerica.

Chitoka Webb’s memoir tells the incredible story of how she rose from poverty to become a powerful businesswoman. She grew up in the projects of Nashville and faced hurdles by being African-American and a woman. Early on, Chitoka knew she was different. She learned to have a certain belief in herself – something inside of her — that has been good for her through the years.

She became a master barber and also opened up two barbershops and three health-care agencies, all before the age of thirty. She was doing exceptionally well when a devastating illness threatened everything – her work, her sight, and even her life.

How did Chitoka Webb, who almost didn’t graduate from high school, find the courage to fight poverty, drug addiction, racism, sexism, a somewhat obsessive-compulsive nature, and the agonizingly painful illness that left her blind and threatened her life? She says:

Choices are a form of power when you are faced with a situation that offers you no options. You don’t always have control of your options, but you always have control of your choices. 

 I think this book and Chitoka are truly inspirational! It is a short book, but very empowering. Chitoka believes in doing everything with “excellence.” This book should be required reading for everyone — especially all young people.

You can read about Chitoka at her website.

Book Review: Life Itself by Roger Ebert

Title: Life Itself
Author: Roger Ebert
Year Published: 2011
Genre: Memoir, Non Fiction
Format: Hardcover
Source: I purchased this book

Roger Ebert is a top film critic whose career and life were shattered by cancer. The various cancer treatments have left him unable to speak except through a computer. He finally started a blog to write his thoughts down, and the blog posts have eventually morphed into this book. Ebert tells the story of his life, starting with his childhood in Urbana, Illinois and his education at The University of Illinois.

He fell in love with journalism, and started writing for newspapers. He was a long-time film buff, but fell into film criticism by accident when he was assigned film reviewing by an editor.

This book is interesting when he tells about his family and his complicated relationship with Gene Siskel, his follow critic on several television shows. It is also interesting when he chats about some famous film stars and directors. Ebert also goes into detail about some of his personal friends. I’m sure that these are nice, interesting, quirky people if you know them personally, but frankly, they aren’t too interesting to read about. Sometimes “colorful” characters fall flat on the printed page, especially if you don’t know them.

I wish that there had been more stories of the famous people Roger has known, and fewer stories of his personal friends. I also wish that he had discussed his favorite films in more detail and how they affected him, but I suppose his numerous books of film criticism fill the need for that.

Ebert also talks about his alcoholism, and his many years of attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, and devotion to the AA cause. He mentions that one day he just stopped drinking. He didn’t know it was his last drink at the time. I was wondering, however, when he KNEW he was an alcoholic and when he knew he had hit rock-bottom. Perhaps he didn’t have a rock-bottom. He doesn’t discuss the drinking bouts in any detail. Perhaps the drinking was part of that whole hard-drinking reporter crowd, where Ebert and his friends hung out in bars after work. His mother also developed a drinking problem later in her life.

Ebert does discuss his great love for his wife, Chaz, and he was lucky to have her when numerous cancer operations and treatments when awry. Fortunately, he had her and her extended family to give him comfort. If you are interested in films and a fan of Roger Ebert, you may well like this book. But if you aren’t, you probably won’t find it that interesting.

Book Review: Homer’s Odyssey by Gwen Cooper

Title: Homer’s Odyssey
Author: Gwen Cooper
Year Published: 2009
Genre: Non Fiction, Cats
Format: Paperback
Source: I purchased this book

Homer, the Greek poet who wrote the great epic poems the Iliad and the Odyssey, was blind. The Odyssey concerns the hero’s return home after the fall of Troy.

Homer, the star of Gwen Cooper’s memoir Homer’s Odyssey: A Fearless Feline Tale, or How I Learned About Love and Life with a Blind Wonder Cat, is a blind kitten. He is brought to the vet with a very bad eye infection. The vet removes his eyes, and sets about finding Homer a forever home.

Enter Gwen Cooper, who already has taken in two stray cats. Gwen is smitten with Homer, not so much because he is blind but because he has such a courageous spirit. He comes into her life at just the right time, after a breakup with her long-time boyfriend. As Cooper says:

I adopted him because when you think you see something so fundamentally worthwhile in someone else, you don’t look for the reasons – like bad timing or a negative bank balance – that might keep it out of your life. You commit to being strong enough to build your life around it, no matter what. In doing so, you begin to become the thing you admire.

Homer is full of spunk and character. He defends Gwen against an intruder who breaks into her home. Along with her other two cats, they survive for several days after the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, after Cooper is unable to return to her apartment near the World Trade center.

Homer is utterly lovable. He leaps tall bookcases, hangs from curtains, and shoves tuna cans out of the kitchen cabinet. He loves life with a joyous innocence. It is very easy to fall in love with him! Everything he does takes a leap of faith.

Gwen Cooper is a very talented writer. The book is cleverly put together, with quotes from The Odyssey heading each chapter. Cooper writes about how Homer gave her the courage to move to New York when she was almost 30 years old, and how Homer’s influence changed how she viewed her relationships with men.

Even if you aren’t as crazy about cats as I am, you will love Homer.
You can read more about Homer on his blog: Homer’s Odyssey.

Book Review: Fifth Avenue, 5 A.M. by Sam Wasson

Title: Fifth Avenue, 5 A.M.
Author: Sam Wasson
Genre: Non Fiction, Film
Year Published: 2010
Format: Paperback
Source: I purchased this book.

Fifth Avenue, 5 A.M.: Audrey Hepburn, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, and the Dawn of the Modern Woman is Sam Wasson‘s examination of the iconic film Breakfast At Tiffany’s, and why that was a key film in the changing of women’s roles in modern society.

Breakfast at Tiffany’s was originally a novella written by the talented Truman Capote. In Holly Golightly, Capote created a new woman and one of the most original characters in modern fiction. She was free-spirited and made no apologies for being a sexually active woman.

Capote envisioned Marilyn Monroe in the lead role of the film adaptation. But the producers didn’t see it that way. They knew the character would need to be toned down a bit for the film, and they wanted someone more . . . refined.

Audrey Hepburn is a modern icon, but how did she get that way? She made several very successful movies in the 1950s, including Roman Holiday, Sabrina, and Funny Face. In all these films she is charming but always a lady.

Hepburn found her fashion muse in Hubert de Givenchy, who created the wardrobes for several of her films, including her iconic “little black dress” in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. The opening credits set the scene for the film (and for the cover of the book). It is early morning and Holly Golightly is wearing a long black dress. She has obviously been out all night. This dress came to be seen by young women as liberating. This dress wasn’t girlish or sweet – it was sexy.

Hepburn was nervous about making the film, because she was uneasy about Holly Golightly’s character – amoral, essentially a hooker. Hepburn was intensely aware of her stature of classy refinement – she first made a splash playing a European princess in Roman Holiday.

Henry Mancini had written scores for television, but was determined to write a score for this film. He was turned down but eventually wrote the film’s theme song (with lyrics by Johnny Mercer), “Moon River.”

George Axelrod had written the play and film The Seven Year Itch, but was determined to write Tiffany’s. The play was considered smutty, and no one considered Axelrod the right writer to pen such a classy film. He eventually did write the script for the film.

All of these factors came together into the making of Breakfast at Tiffany’s, which in retrospect is a landmark film. You can’t imagine the movie without Hepburn, “Moon River”, or the little black dress.

This film was made at a time when filmmaking was still a labor of love – it wasn’t just about making the latest blockbuster or having the most special effects.

The movie was made in 1960 – the same year the birth control pill was approved for use in the United States – and released in 1961. The beginning of the sexual revolution had begun.

Wasson’s theory is that this film had a profound impact on young women at that time. Even if young women watching the film didn’t want Holly’s “profession” – they wanted a real career – they admired her liberated spirit. This new generation of young women wanted to have a fun, glamorous, slightly hedonistic existence of which they were in charge– and not have to apologize for it.

Wasson brings all of these disparate threads together to tell a fascinating story of how the movie came to be made and how everything eventually came seamlessly together. The film has become essential viewing, especially by young women. This is the film for which Audrey Hepburn is best remembered.

I loved this book because I love the film and Audrey Hepburn and was interested in how the movie came to be and why it has become such ah important film that even the young women of today love Audrey Hepburn and know this film. Wasson has done a fine job of research, talking to some of the participants involved and is obviously devoted to the subject. He has written a previous biography of Breakfast At Tiffany’s director, Blake Edwards.

I recommend this book if you love movies, Truman Capote, Audrey Hepburn, and Breakfast at Tiffany’s.

Every week Parajunkee and Alison Can Read host Follow My Book Blog Friday!

This week’s question: Letter to Santa: Tell Santa what books you want for Christmas!


Dear My Favorite Santa:

The last time we were in Barnes & Noble I waved a certain book at you and told you clearly that this is what I want for Christmas. I wanted to make it obvious about what I wanted since some of your previous gifts have clearly told me that like most men you are clueless about buying gifts for me (a rolling clothing rack — really?)

Thank you Santa Baby.


The Literary Lioness

Book Review: Summer at Tiffany by Marjorie Hart

Title: Summer at Tiffany
Author: Marjorie Hart
Genre: Memoir, Non Fiction
Year Published: 2007
Format: Paperback
Source: I purchased this book.

Do you remember the best summer of your life?

Summer at Tiffany is Marjorie Hart‘s charming tale of working at Tiffany’s during the summer of 1945. Marjorie and her best friend Marty, naive sorority girls from the University of Iowa, are determined to spend the summer working in New York.

They somehow land jobs at Tiffany’s, the exclusive jewelry store, even though there had never been any women working on the floor. Marjorie and Marty work as pages, and spend a memorable summer as celebrities enter the store, the girls find romance, and try to survive on incredibly little money.

The summer of 1945 was a memorable one in New York, as an small airplane crashed into the Empire State Building, and World War II ended, sparking off wild celebrations in the streets of New York. New York was an innocent world of dances, Schrafft’s, and eating at the Automat.

This book is a lovely remembrance of a time long past but worth remembering.

Every week Parajunkee’s View and Alison Can Read host Follow My Book Blog Friday.

This week’s question:

In light of 11.11.11 and Veteran’s Day tell us about your favorite soldier and how he or she is saving the world. Fictional or real life.I don’t really know any soldiers personally, and since I’m a first-generation American, none of my relatives served in the American military. They may have served in either the Swedish or Danish military, though!

I’m wracking my brain to see if I can remember any soldiers from any books that I’ve read but I can’t! I tend to avoid war movies, although I do remember Saving Private Ryan! That’s it! Tom Hanks in Saving Private Ryan (WWII) and as Forrest Gump (Vietnam). Bubba Shrimp, anyone?