Jackie’s Girl

Jackie’s Girl: My Life with the Kennedy Family by Kathy McKeon

In 1964, Kathy Smith leaves a miserable job to become Jackie Kennedy’s personal assistant and substitute nanny. Kathy grew up in a large family in a three room cottage in rural Ireland, sharing a coat with her sister Briege. While money was short and the children started doing chores on the farm quite young, there was also time for fun and weekend dances. Her uncle Pat’s family sent hand-me-downs and food from New York, and bought tickets for Kathy and Briege to come to America, where Irish girls could easily find work. Kathy’s interview with “Madam” was basically meeting little John and watching his dog do tricks. Generous and very kind, Jackie Kennedy was also a demanding employer, wanting Kathy to help fill the lonely evenings after young Caroline and John were asleep, and often coming up with just one more errand at the end of the day. Well trained by the previous assistant, Kathy took care of Jackie’s wardrobe, especially packing and unpacking for her many trips, and spent lots of time with the family on Cape Cod, New Jersey, and elsewhere. Still a teenager, Kathy became lifelong friends with John, and was clearly devoted to the Kennedy family, mourning along with them when Bobby died. Full of humorous anecdotes, a wonderfully readable memoir of life with the Kennedys in good times and bad.

Brenda

 


Indestructible

indestructible-jacketIndestructible: One Man’s Rescue Mission that Changed the Course of WWII by John Bruning

Paul Gunn, a 41-year-old pilot working in Manila when Pearl Harbor was attacked, will do whatever it takes to help win the air war in the Pacific and get back to Manila to rescue his family. “Pappy” Gunn works to the point of exhaustion, even in ill health, to modify and improve planes sent to the Pacific, train pilots, lead low altitude bombing runs, and even threaten quartermasters at gunpoint to get the supplies his crews need. Back in Manila, his wife Polly and their four children stay with friends until they are forced to move to the internment camp at Santo Tomas, a former university. Polly eventually toughens up and helps her family by deceiving the camp’s Japanese officers, and persistently demands that her children receive the medical care and housing they need, even if it’s not at Santo Tomas. The Gunn children help guard the family’s possessions, steal and smuggle food, spy, and keep secret a hidden radio. Set in the Philippines, New Guinea, and Australia, the remarkable Gunn family’s adventures will keep the reader in suspense to find out what happens. Indestructible is a readalike for Unbroken, by Laura Hillenbrand, Lost in Shangri-La, by Mitchell Zuckoff, and 81 Days Below Zero, by Brian Murphy.
Brenda


Hero of the Empire

hero empire jacketHero of the Empire: The Boer War, a Daring Escape, and the Making of Winston Churchill by Candice Millard

A welcome new book from the author of Destiny of the Republic. Ambitious young aristocrat Winston Churchill, 24, was an journalist covering the 2nd Boer War in South Africa. He would risk anything to get to the action, gave military advice as a civilian, and defended an armored train after an ambush. As a prisoner of war, he wrote letters demanding his release and helped plan a daring escape. Bright, brave, outspoken and reckless, he became a heroic figure, just as he’d hoped. I learned more about the Boer Wars than I wanted to, but Churchill and military history fans will find this to be a fascinating, thrilling, and often past-paced read.

Brenda

 


Georgia

georgia jacketGeorgia: A Novel of Georgia O’Keeffe, by Dawn Tripp

I enjoyed this compelling novel about artist Georgia O’Keeffe almost as much as I’ve enjoyed looking at her art. Georgia and her older husband, photographer and art promoter Alfred Stieglitz, exchanged so many letters that the author had plenty of source material to work with, along with biographies, Georgia’s memoirs, exhibition catalogs, critiques and much more. Fortunately, the author doesn’t let her research get in the way of telling a character-driven, moving, and engaging story about Georgia’s long and adventurous life. The various settings, New York City, the Stieglitz lake house in the Adirondacks, and New Mexico, are detailed and appealing. Georgia and her art change over time, as does her tempestuous relationship with Stieglitz. Recommended for fans of biographical fiction, and especially for readers of Susan Vreeland, Nancy Horan, and Paula McLain.

Brenda


Euphoria

euphoria jacketEuphoria by Lily King

Inspired by Margaret Mead’s time in New Guinea, this novel is not strictly biographical. Three young anthropologists in the early 1930s are studying isolated tribes in New Guinea. Nell has published a controversial bestseller about her work in Samoa, and Fen is clearly jealous. Nell is recovering from a broken ankle, probably has malaria, and is missing her glasses when she first meets depressed British anthropologist Bankson, who is working along the Sepik River. Nell and Fen have just left the violent Mumbanyo tribe at Nell’s insistence, and Bankson helps them find a more welcoming settlement further down the Sepik River. Nell studies the women and children, making copious notes, while Fen seems to want to be one of the guys and observe daily life and rituals without making any notes or sharing his observations. Bankson is clearly attracted to and protective of Nell, but is dependent on Fen when he falls ill. This is a fast read, but a confusing one. I may need to read this book again to reach a conclusion about what I think happened before the trio meets, and what happens after they leave New Guinea. Most biographical novels I’ve read stay pretty true to the real life of the main character; this book was intriguing because the author didn’t and had more freedom to develop the plot and change the relationships.
Brenda


The Wright Brothers

wright brothers jacketThe Wright Brothers by David McCullough

The story of the Wright Brothers, as told by biographer and historian David McCullough, is so improbable that it seems like fiction. Their father was born in a log cabin and their mother died young. Wilbur and Orville grew up in Dayton, Ohio along with their older brothers and younger sister Katherine in a house with no running water. They had only high school educations. Yet, after spending less then one thousand dollars of their own money, the Wright brothers were the first men to really fly, and were later visited at flying demonstrations in Europe by three European kings. Katherine was the first woman to fly as a passenger three times; their father, a minister, was the first elderly passenger. I found McCullough’s thoroughly researched book to be fascinating, once I could tell Wilbur and Orville apart. Wilbur was brilliant, a fine writer and public speaker. Orville, the younger, was mechanically gifted and given to occasional moody spells. After much research and experimentation, including constructing a wind tunnel above the shop where they made, sold, and repaired bicycles, they were ready to fly. Picking the location for its constant winds and sandy terrain, they traveled to Kitty Hawk on the remote, unimproved Outer Banks to practice flying an unpowered glider in 1900. They returned each year, and in late 1903 made the first four powered flights in a single day, the last one, by Wilbur, lasted 59 seconds. The brothers credited a large family library with furthering their own education, and many others would mention their wide ranging interests and work ethic in their amazing success story. Thousands of family letters helped McCullough bring the brothers’ story to life. This book will be published May 5.
Brenda


Book of Ages

book of ages jacketBook of Ages: The Life and Opinions of Jane Franklin by Jill Lepore

Benjamin Franklin was one of the Founding Fathers of the United States, and is still famous today. He was a printer, an inventor, a diplomat, and signer of the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution. This book is about his little sister Jane, born in Boston in 1712. She is obscure, and would be unknown today except for her brother. Benny and Jenny were very close, and exchanged letters for over 60 years. They outlived their 15 brothers and sisters, and 11 of Jane’s 12 children. Many of Jane Franklin Mecom’s letters have been lost, but Jill LePore, Professor of American History at Harvard University, has used Benjamin’s letters to fill in the gaps and tell the story of Jane’s long, eventful life. The Franklin family was poor; their father made soap and candles. Benjamin was the only son sent to school for a while. He probably taught Jane to read and write, a little. She never learned to spell. No schools in Boston taught girls at that time. Marrying a saddler, Jane continued to make soap for her brother most of her life, and also made bonnets and caps. She also helped raise some of her grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Jane loved to read, anything she could, especially her brother’s writings. She loved news and gossip, religion and politics. Her letters show a woman with wide interests, frank and witty. In 1771, Benjamin Franklin sent Jane a box of 13 spectacles from England, with instructions on how to find a pair that worked for her. I think that must have been a wonderful present; she could keep reading and writing to her brother, and they stayed connected until his death. I found this book fascinating and a great way to learn more about  life in 18th century America.

Brenda