Book Review: Capote’s Women by Laurence Leamer

Capote’s Women
Laurence Leamer

I’ve always enjoyed reading about how Truman Capote befriended New York’s high society women during the 1950s and 1960s, a group referred to as his swans because of their elegant style and beauty. Before I get into that and this book, here’s a brief back story about the American novelist, screenwriter and playwright. His most famous books are Breakfast at Tiffany’s and In Cold Blood and he died before he could finish what he referred to as his masterpiece, Answered Prayers. Its unfinished version was published posthumously in 1986.

Born in Louisiana, Truman’s parents divorced when he was a two and sent him to live extended periods in Monroeville, Alabama. That’s where he met Harper Lee and the two future writers became childhood friends. Truman’s mother remarried when he was eight and they moved to New York. Drawn to the lifestyles of the upper class, most of Capote’s friends were from wealthy, well-connected families and his fascination with high society continued throughout his life. But Capote betrayed his swans in “La Côte Basque,” a chapter from Answered Prayers, in which he revealed their darkest secrets.

Capote’s Women is a look at these seven swans, Babe Paley, Gloria Guinness, Slim Keith, Pamela Harriman, C.Z. Guest, Lee Radziwill and Marella Agnelli. In these brief biographies, Leamer focuses on their upbringings, multiple marriages, tremendous wealth and largely unhappy lives. Some were born into their wealth. Some had humble beginnings. But all were ambitious in their drives to marry rich. They married Hollywood producers, agents, directors, Broadway producers, business tycoons, princes and politicians. They weren’t always friends with each other, however, and especially disliked Pamela Harriman, whose notorious affairs with married men came a little too close to home. Pamela’s second husband, Leland Hayward, was Slim Hawks’ ex-husband and her affair with William Paley (Babe’s husband) is the subject of “La Côte Basque.”  Their connections are as complicated to read as they are to explain!

Truman Capote was also a complicated person, both a serious writer and notorious gossip. He hit a slump after In Cold Blood and spent most of his time schmoozing with his swans, and gathering material for Answered Prayers.

I thought this book was just okay. I’ve read a lot of other accounts of Truman Capote and his swans and much of this same information is available on Wikipedia. Leamer’s writing is loose with the facts, a little disjointed and the book reads like a 300-page People magazine. I much preferred Melanie Benjamin’s fictionalized account of Capote and his swans, The Swans of Fifth Avenue. I did enjoy thinking about the connections between these people, however, and imagining a period of time long gone.

Ultimately, I found it hard to feel sorry for any of the swans or of Truman Capote. I still think Capote’s writing is brilliant, however, and felt that Melanie Benjamin did a much better job portraying the swans as women caught in a time and mindset of perceived perfection.

If you want to go down the rabbit hole, you can read more about Truman Capote here!

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Two Nights by Kathy Reichs

Two Nights
Kathy Reichs


Sunnie Night has retreated to a solitary life. After a violent altercation, she has voluntarily stepped down from her military cop job. Nursing a damaged eye and a deeply scarred past, Sunnie lives on the isolated Goat Island off the coast of South Carolina. Her only companion is a pet squirrel named Bob.

But her foster father, Beau has been keeping an eye on Sunnie and he pays her a visit with information of an investigative job he’s sure will help her escape the past.

The case involves a bombing of a Jewish school in Chicago. Opaline Drucker’s daughter and grandson were killed in the bombing and her granddaughter, Stella, is missing. Chicago police investigated for a year, with no solid leads. With a fat stipend, Sunnie heads out to see what she can find.

With an attitude that cuts through steel, Sunnie is an ace investigator with an uncanny instinct and she knows how to handle the bad guys. But she’s not as good dealing with colleagues and superiors who don’t appreciate her sarcasm and attitude. While painful memories often get in the way of her decisions, her sharp instinct saves her from many dangerous encounters. Needing extra support, she calls on her twin brother, Gus to help solve the case. Gus knows what he’s doing and he may be the only person who completely understands Sunnie.

The investigation soon uncovers a religious cult, determined to exact revenge on anything related to Islam. Sunnie is sure they have kidnapped Stella. She won’t stop until she finds her and brings closure to her own similar history.

I enjoyed reading this fast story, but in the end I thought it was just okay, with unremarkable characters. I also found it hard to follow the clipped dialogue and felt that many of the scenes and clues were unrealistic. Maybe that’s the case with the first book of a likely series.

Kathy Reichs is best known for her Temperance Brennan series. Her heroine, Brennan, is also portrayed in the popular Fox TV show “Bones.” Reader comments and reviews say this series is excellent and very different from Two Nights.

Have you read any books by Kathy Reichs? Have you watched “Bones?”

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Book Club Mom’s May recap – books, birthdays and a graduation

I don’t know what happened to May, but here we are at the finish. It’s a big month for birthdays in my family and we squeezed in a college graduation too! It’s always nice to settle into a comfy chair during the down times and relax with a book, a show or a puzzle.

I’ve become a bit crazy with a word game I have on my ancient Kindle called Every Word: Crossings, and I have been playing it obsessively. I never look at that as a waste of time, though. Things like that always help me sort out my day.

And I went a little overboard with my Barbie doll posts (see below), but it’s been fun (for me, at least!) sharing something that I loved as a girl.

This month, I read and reviewed three regular books:


A Duty to the Dead by Charles Todd – if you like mystery series, this is the first of the Bess Crawford stories, set in England during World War I. I enjoyed both the characters and the historical setting. The author, Charles Todd, is actually a mother-son writing team.

More and more, it seems, fiction books are being co-authored and this month I wrote a post about this very thing!

Author teams and pen names – if the story’s good, does it matter? Not to me!

Lab Girl by Hope Jahren – in this memoir about becoming a female scientist, Jahren writes a compelling personal story about family, love, friendship, mental health and the difficulties of earning a living as a scientist. (Jahren made it big, after a long road, and has won many awards.)

The Beneficiary – Fortune, Misfortune, and the Story of my Father by Janny Scott – a biography of Robert Montgomery Scott, written by his daughter. A tale of four generations of a wealthy Main Line, Pennsylvania family and their 800-acre estate and the complicated relationships among family members.

As I mentioned above, I also started a series that celebrates books about the Barbie doll’s 60th birthday. Here are the first two posts, indulging my obsession. I’ll share my final Barbie post next week.

Dressing Barbie: A Celebration of the Clothes That Made America’s Favorite Doll and the Incredible Woman Behind Them – Carol Spencer

Look what Barbie’s wearing! Barbie Fashion 1959-1967 by Sarah Sink Eames

May was a busier indie author month. I introduced three hard-working writers:

Richard Doiron
Lucia N. Davis
Frank Prem

If you are an indie or self-published author and would like to be featured on Who’s That Indie Author, please email me at To shake things up, I’ve updated my interview with a new set of questions!

Next week, we’re starting a Summer Reading program at the library where I work, so I’ll be signing up for that. I plan to work these two books onto my list:

June book previews: Lot – Stories by Bryan Washington and Miracle Creek by Angie Kim

And last, I was sorry to see that American author Herman Wouk died on May 17, at age 103. I’ve enjoyed many of his books and think I will go back to some of them this summer. I had a fun time looking at these book covers – did you notice that the last two, The Winds of War and War and Remembrance, fit together to make a bigger picture?

Remembering American author Herman Wouk, 1915 – 2019

I hope you had a good month, out in the world and between the pages. I’m looking forward to a good summer!

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Remembering American author Herman Wouk, 1915 – 2019

American author Herman Wouk passed away on May 17, days before his 104th birthday.

Wouk (pronounced “woke”) was an award-winning American author of fiction, non-fiction and plays, and the author of my number one favorite book, Youngblood Hawke. He may be the most famous for The Caine Mutiny, which won the 1952 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, but many readers in my age group will also remember his popular historical novels, also about World War II, The Winds of War and War and Remembrance. The first book was made into the very popular 1983 television miniseries starring Robert Mitchum, Ali McGraw, Jan-Michael Vincent, John Houseman and Polly Bergen. Its sequel was released in 1988, with the return of Mitchum and Bergen and added others including Jane Seymour and Sharon Stone. You can check out the sequel’s full cast and crew here.

Another favorite, Marjorie Morningstar, was published in 1955. It’s the story of a nineteen-year-old Jewish girl from New York who dreams of becoming an actress. Warner Brothers made it into a movie in 1958, starring Natalie Wood and Gene Kelly.

Wouk had a long career. When he celebrated his 100th birthday in May 2015, he announced the January 2016 release of his autobiographical memoir, Sailor and Fiddler – Reflections of a 100-year-Old Author. He said it would be his last book, but his agent reported that he had been working on a new one at the time of his death.

Have you read any books by Herman Wouk? Click here for a full list. Do you have a favorite?

Want more Wouk? Check out these earlier posts on Book Club Mom:

Who’s That Author? Herman Wouk
Youngblood Hawke by Herman Wouk

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(Click here to read Herman Wouk’s obituary from the May 17 issue of the New York Times.)

And the winner of the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction is…no one!

There was no Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2012. Did you know that? I didn’t. There were three finalists, but the word is the eighteen judges couldn’t decide. They have a rule that a two-thirds majority must occur and it didn’t. So the books on the short list stayed there and no one got the award. That’s the first time in thirty-five years no award was given.

A jury of three fiction readers read over three hundred novels and short stories and came up with these finalists:


The Pale King by David Foster Wallace

Train Dreams by Denis Johnson

Swamplandia by Karen Russell

Why couldn’t they decide? Well it’s sort of like the “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas” rule. The board’s deliberations are sealed, so why they couldn’t agree on a winner, we’ll never know!

What do you think they should have done?

If you want to know more, especially about the process of picking the finalists, check out these articles.

From The Guardian, April 17, 2012: “Pulitzers 2012: prize for fiction withheld for first time in 35 years” by Alison Flood

From The New Yorker, July 8, 2012:  “Letter from the Pulitzer Fiction Jury: What Really Happened This Year” by Michael Cunningham

From The New Yorker, July 10, 2012: “Letter from the Pulitzer Fiction Jury, Part II: How To Define Greatness?” by Michael Cunningham

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Who’s That Author? Truman Capote

Which Truman Capote do you know? The author who wrote Breakfast at Tiffany’s and In Cold Blood? The life of the party and confidante of New York socialites? The host of the famous 1966 Black and White Ball in New York? The frequent guest on The Dick Cavett Show, The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, and The Mike Douglas Show? He was all of these.

Truman Capote (1924 – 1984) was an American author who wrote fiction, nonfiction and plays. Capote had a big personality and loved to mingle and gossip with high society. A flamboyant dresser with eccentric taste, Capote was open about his homosexuality. He was also a serious writer, dedicated to his craft.

Capote was born in New Orleans. His father was a con-man and his parents separated when he was a toddler. He spent his early years with relatives in Alabama, where he became childhood friends with Harper Lee. When Lee wrote To Kill a Mockingbird, she based the character, Dill, on Capote. Friends for life, Lee would later help him with his research for In Cold Blood.

Capote’s mother remarried in 1933, moved to New York, and Capote joined them. Even with his mother in New York, he felt lonely and abandoned and spent much of his time inventing stories, knowing for certain he would become a writer.

As an adult in New York, Capote worked for the New Yorker and wrote several stories for Harper’s Bazaar and Mademoiselle. His first novel, Other Voices, Other Rooms, was published in 1948 and is a semi-autobiographical account of coming to terms with his sexuality.

In Cold Blood, the story of a Kansas family murdered in 1959, won critical acclaim and marked the peak of Capote’s success. It was at this point when he began a life of excess, much of which is documented on his talk show appearances. Capote died at age fifty-nine, leaving behind a great collection of work for modern readers to study.

Selected other works by Truman Capote:
The Grass Harp (1951)
A Christmas Memory (1966)
House of Flowers (1968)
Answered Prayers: the Unfinished Novel (1987)

Check out these memorable talk show appearances!
Truman Capote on Dick Cavett in 1971, with Groucho Marx Part 1
Truman Capote on Dick Cavett in 1971, with Groucho Marx Part 2

Thanks to the following sources:
Encyclopedia of Alabama
Truman Capote on

The Swans of Fifth Avenue by Melanie Benjamin is an excellent fictionalized account of Capote and his famous socialite swans.

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Cover reveal for Encounters: Relationships in Conflict by Fred H. Rohn

Make room on your bookshelves and eReaders for Encounters: Relationships in Conflict by Fred H. Rohn, a collection of short fiction about the human relationship.

Social mores change from year to year, but one thing remains constant: conflict between people results from differing perceptions, often between men and women and between different generations. In each story, characters confront a variety of personal and professional problems and must either compromise or adjust to new circumstances. In “The Painting,” a young married woman’s deceit catches up to her. “Doc Brunner” tells the story of a pastor facing a series of interrelated problems during World War II. In “Harry,” music from long ago invokes powerful memories.

Representing a wide range of age groups and set in many different time periods, these stories show that, while times change and circumstances differ, conflict and resolution in human relationships is an ageless cycle.

Fred H. Rohn is the author of two business accounting books and a memoir, A Fortunate Life. He has been married for seventy years and has four children and nine grandchildren. The short stories in Encounters represent years of accumulated notes for story ideas. He lives with his wife, June, in New Jersey. Encounters is scheduled for release in July 2018.

     Click here to view Rohn’s January 2018 interview with the Madison Eagle.

Click here for more information about A Fortunate Life.

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The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin

The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin


Being mostly a fiction reader, I wasn’t sure I would enjoy reading the Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, but I was happily surprised to find Franklin’s memoir a remarkable and amusing record of time in America during the mid- to late 1700s. I also enjoyed refreshing my memory about the colonies before the American Revolution and the steps that led to independence.

But one of the most important things I learned was that Franklin was simply exploding with ideas to make life better in America. Both industrious and frugal, he knew how to succeed in many enterprises, including owning a printing shop, a newspaper, being a postmaster and establishing a library, a university, a hospital and a fire company. In addition, he had an excellent instinct for human behavior and was able to reconcile many tense discussions among both his fellow men and important leaders. He used this diplomatic skill throughout his life.

The Franklin Stove/Image:

Franklin was always thinking and had many inventions, including the Franklin Stove (still around), better street light fixtures, a system for keeping the streets clean and of course, proving the relationship between electricity and lightning with his famous kite and key experiment.

Franklin was daring and witty and was an incorrigible flirt in his later years. He wrote Poor Richard’s Almanac, a publication full of clever advice.

In addition to inventing things, Franklin loved to find ways to bring people together to support interests and causes. He formed Junto, a secret men’s discussion and debate club, he organized a volunteer defense and he helped raise money for buildings and churches.

I also learned these Franklin tidbits:

Baby Ben/Image:

  • Franklin was the youngest son of seventeen children.
  • He attended school for one year. He was a learner through and through and taught himself math and several languages. He loved to read.
  • As a young man, he had a hankering for the sea, but his father wanted to keep him on land.
  • He apprenticed with his older brother James, a printer, in Boston.

    Mrs. Ben Franklin/Image:
  • He ran away to Philadelphia at age 17 and met his future wife, Miss Read, on his first day in town.
  • He had a son out of wedlock.
  • Another son died of smallpox at age 4 and Franklin forever regretted not having him inoculated.
  • Although he did not consider himself a military man, he was commissioned to build a fort in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania to protect the American frontier.
  • He refused to obtain a patent for the Franklin Stove because said he only invented it to help people.

I enjoyed Franklin’s comments about the cost of a college education, a big worry for his father, “But my father, in the meantime, from a view of the expense of a college education, which having so large a family he could not well afford,” chose to establish his children in successful jobs.

Franklin also mentions a few regrets, which he calls “the great errata” of his life. One of them is, during a year-long trip to England, only writing once to Miss Read to inform her only that he’d be gone a long time. She didn’t wait and married another man. Read and Franklin finally got together later, after her husband deserted her. Another mistake was agreeing to collect money for a friend, then spending it.

Ben Franklin contributed generously to early American life. He had tremendous foresight and knew how to deal with people. I recommend this memoir to readers who are interested in history and the character behind important figures.

Want to know more? Check out these additional sources: (The Franklin Institute) Benjamin Franklin FAQ – The Electric Ben Franklin
Wikipedia – Benjamin Franklin

I read The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin as part of my Build a Better World Summer Reading Challenge to read a memoir, biography, or autobiography.

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A little about Anna Quindlen

Image: Goodreads

I’m looking for a new book to read to fit into my summer reading challenge and I think an Anna Quindlen book would be just right for several of the categories:

  • Read an award-winning book…
  • Read a memoir, biography or autobiography…
  • Read a book suggested by a friend…

See what I mean?

Anna Quindlen is an award-winning novelist and journalist. Here’s her bio from

ANNA QUINDLEN is a novelist and journalist whose work has appeared on fiction, nonfiction, and self-help bestseller lists. She is the author of eight novels: Object Lessons, One True Thing, Black and Blue, Blessings, Rise and Shine, Every Last One, Still Life with Bread Crumbs, and Miller’s Valley. Her memoir Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake, published in 2012, was a number one New York Times bestseller. Her book A Short Guide to a Happy Life has sold more than a million copies. While a columnist at The New York Times she won the Pulitzer Prize and published two collections, Living Out Loud and Thinking Out Loud. Her Newsweek columns were collected in Loud and Clear.

I’ve read three of her books – check them out:


Black and Blue – a hard look at the complicated dynamics in abusive relationships

Good Dog Stay 3

Good Dog. Stay. – sentimental reflections about the relationships between dogs and their human families

Stll Life with Bread Crumbs

Still Life with Bread Crumbs – can a sixty-year old photographer with a waning career find love?

Visit these links for more info:

Quindlen’s website:
Facebook page: @annaquinlen
Wikipedia – Anna Quindlen

What is your favorite Anna Quindlen book?

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Ayn Rand, The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged


Ayn Rand (1905-1982) was a Russian/American writer and philosopher. You may have heard of John Galt and her most famous novels, The Fountainhead (1943) and Atlas Shrugged (1957), and maybe you’ve heard of her personal, and often criticized, philosophy called objectivism. She incorporated her beliefs into two terrific books and created characters who stand for these principles.

But what is objectivism and who the heck is John Galt?

  • Rand’s philosophy of objectivism is a bit selfish, but there’s more to it than that. The Ayn Rand website ( describes it this way:

Follow reason, not whims or faith.
Work hard to achieve a life of purpose and productiveness.
Earn genuine self-esteem.
Pursue your own happiness as your highest moral aim.
Prosper by treating others as individuals, trading value for value.

  • John Galt is a character in Atlas Shrugged. The reader doesn’t get to meet him until late in the book, but there are many references to Galt and to shrugging, building the mystery as the plot develops.

So what is The Fountainhead about?

The Fountainhead is a great story about a young architect in New York named Howard Roark who refuses to conform and collaborate on design projects because he believes that his artistic talents would be compromised. Rand’s themes focus on socialism, capitalism and the conflict between conformity and independence, with characters on both sides and some caught in the middle. Rand introduces the idea of independent thinkers and “second handers,” people who believe that the opinions of others are superior and therefore conform to those beliefs. It’s not all dry stuff, though. Get ready for intense romance, friendship and betrayal.

I think this book is terrific on every level. The characters are unique and interesting and what they stand for ties them into Rand’s personal philosophy of objectivism. And although I think Rand’s beliefs are extreme, I admire Roark’s unwillingness to compromise his designs. Rand’s ability to develop these characters, weave them into a complex and interesting story and keep the reader going through more than seven hundred pages is a genius accomplishment that stands the test of time.

And what about Atlas Shrugged?

Atlas Shrugged is about a dystopian United States and is Rand’s lesson book about objectivism. The story revolves around Dagny Taggart who runs the Taggart Transcontinental railroad, Hank Rearden, of Rearden Steel, who has developed a metal alloy that is better and stronger than anything else, and Dagny’s childhood friend, Francisco d’Anconia who comes from a wealthy copper family. One by one, the most prominent business leaders disappear and their industries fall apart. The economy tanks and the government exerts more control on the businesses that are left. It’s heavy reading, but Rand also includes a romantic triangle and interesting sub-themes, such as duty and honor. Its mystery element keeps the plot moving, despite nearly twelve hundred pages. In the end, she explains why the business leaders have disappeared, and John Galt’s identity.

It took me two months to read this book and I enjoyed every word. If you want to fully understand what everyone who mentions Atlas Shrugged is talking about, it is well worth the effort. You don’t have to agree with everything Rand says and her philosophy of objectivism to appreciate her skill in storytelling and the value of having ideals and standards.

I kept a long list of characters and companies and organizations as they were mentioned in the story and this list helped me keep track of the hundreds of references that appear. What I found most impressive about Rand was that, despite the length of the book, there are no unnecessary references. If you meet a character or read about something on page 100, you can be sure it is important and you will see the reference again, even if it is five hundred pages later.

Over the years, political figures have aligned with and distanced themselves from Rand. A quick internet search will give you everything you need to explore that angle.

And if you enjoyed The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged, you may be amused to see Ayn Rand as a character in Old School by Tobias Wolf.


For more information about Ayn Rand:
Ayn Rand Lexicon
Wikipedia Ayn Rand
Wikipedia Atlas Shrugged
Wikipedia The Fountainhead

Rand’s interviews are both strange and interesting – check them out here:
Mike Wallace interview 1959
Tom Snyder interview 1979
Phil Donohue interview 1979

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