Book Talk – Alone by Brett Archibald

Image: Pixabay

Welcome to a new and occasional feature on Book Club Mom called Book Talk, home to quick previews of new books that catch my eye.

Today’s book is Alone by Brett Archibald. Published in November 2017, it’s the author’s account of his incredible survival at sea. In 2013, Archibald, age 50, was on a surf charter boat in Indonesia when he became ill and fell overboard unnoticed, without a life jacket and 60 miles from shore. Eight hours later, when his friends discovered he was missing, they began a desperate search, hoping for a miracle. His wife and children in South Africa feared the worst. And for 28 hours, Archibald, battled raging seas, aggressive sharks, biting fish, stinging jellyfish and seagulls poking at his eyes. Through resolve and strength, Archibald defied the odds. He was rescued by an Australian surfing boat and, other than being exhausted, dehydrated and sunburned, he was otherwise okay.

It’s no surprise to me that after this experience, Archibald became a motivational speaker, sharing his story and teaching perseverance!

I’m not sure when I’m going to fit this in, but I checked it out at the library just to have a look! You can too. Click here to view on Amazon and here for Goodreads reviews.

Have you experienced a life-changing event? What is your story?

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Bunny Mellon – The Life of an American Style Legend by Meryl Gordon

Bunny Mellon – The Life of an American Style Legend
by
Meryl Gordon

Rating:

Rachel Lowe Lambert Lloyd Mellon was born into an affluent family (think Listerine and Gillette), married into an even richer family and lived a life of unimaginable wealth. Known to most as Bunny Mellon, she was friends with Jaqueline Kennedy Onassis and, because of her expertise in horticulture, was specially chosen by President Kennedy to redesign the White House’s Rose Garden. Bunny Mellon’s circle comprised the ultra-rich and well-connected. She and her second husband, Paul Mellon, son of Andrew Mellon, spent their married life acquiring artwork, purchasing, building and decorating homes in Virginia, New York, Cape Cod, Antigua and Paris. And while Paul indulged his love for horses, Bunny immersed herself in designing the perfect gardens to complement their impeccably decorated homes. They made sizeable artwork donations to the National Gallery of Art and Paul’s philanthropy extended to many other worthy causes.

In 2003, Bunny, at age 93, became fascinated with North Carolina Senator John Edwards. Edwards reminded her of President Kennedy and she was sure he was going to be the Democrats’ next rising star. She contributed millions of dollars to his campaign and to supporting organizations, and in 2007, sent secret money to Edwards’s personal account. He used that money to support his pregnant girlfriend, Rielle Hunter, while his wife battled Stage 4 breast cancer.

Throughout her life, Bunny had intense friendships with such notables as jewelry designer Johnny Schlumberger and fashion designers Cirstóbal Balenciaga and Hubert de Givenchy. Over many decades, Bunny cultivated and discarded many other friendships. Despite her wealth, Bunny endured much sorrow and heartache. The Lambert and Mellon families were loaded with sibling rivalries, feuds, affairs, divorce, estrangements and multiple plane crashes.

In this detailed biography, Meryl Gordon tells Bunny Mellon’s hundred plus year story. She begins with Bunny’s privileged childhood, elite education, and first marriage to Stacy Lloyd, Jr. and introduces Paul Mellon in a parallel build-up. Much of the book covers their married years, socializing with celebrities, dignitaries and royalty and, of course, buying things. Gordon also includes a great deal of the Kennedy story and American politics.

I enjoyed reading this biography, but I felt the book was too long and heavy with tedious details. I also tired of reading about Bunny’s talent for horticulture and love of nature and long descriptions of flowers and how they were arranged.

In addition to the length, I was frustrated by the author’s interpretation of thoughts and suggestions as to how Bunny, Paul and their friends may have felt in different situations. There were also times when the author’s opinions seemed to be mixed into the facts. Gordon’s thorough research and reporting would have been enough for most readers.

Nevertheless, Gordon does a great job depicting an extraordinary life. Bunny used her money to live extravagantly and foster friendships and she found beauty in nature, a theme that helped fill one of her many needs. Bunny died in 2014 at age 103.

I received a copy of Bunny Mellon from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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What’s That Book? Seized by the Sun by James W. Ure

whats-that-book

TitleSeized by the Sun

Author:  James W. Ure

Genre: YA Nonfiction

Rating:  5 stars

What’s it about?  The life story of Gertrude Thompkins, a World War II pilot in the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) program. In 1944, Thompkins was flying a P-51D fighter plane when she disappeared during a short flight from Los Angeles to Palm Springs. Her plane has never been recovered and she is one of thirty-eight female pilots either confirmed or presumed dead.

Gertrude was raised in New Jersey and was the daughter of a wealthy business man. Her childhood was often unhappy and marked by a debilitating stutter. These years were consumed by her father’s endless efforts to cure her of the same affliction that plagued him and her mother’s depression. After high school, she earned a college degree in horticulture and traveled the world before she discovered a love for flying. It was her confidence in the air that finally cured her stuttering.

The book describes the rigorous WASP training and explains how the female pilots flew fighter planes to bases to be loaded with arsenals before enlisted male pilots flew into battle. The author includes many interesting details about the times and women during World War II. I enjoyed learning that the reason pilots wore silk scarves around their necks was to keep their necks from chafing as they constantly turned their heads to check their course.

How did you hear about it?  I saw it on our library’s online listing of new Young Adult books. I was attracted to the cover and immediately clicked on the book description.

Closing comments:  I knew a little bit about the WASP program, but didn’t completely understand what the female pilots did in the war effort. I had never heard about Gertrude Thompkins and was impressed with her fearless ambition.

Seized by the Sun is an excellent story for readers of all ages. The book includes many photographs and interesting sidebars and offers a great way to learn about history. It is part of the Women in Action Series of biographies.

Contributor:  Ginette


Have you read something good?  Want to talk about it?
Consider being a contributor to What’s That Book.

Email Book Club Mom at bvitelli2009@gmail.com for information.

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Do You Know What a Book Publicist Does? by Claire McKinney

Do You Know What a Book Publicist Does?
A Guide for Creating Your Own Campaigns
by
Claire McKinney

Rating:

Writing a book is a big job and getting it published is an even bigger one. But even then, there is more work ahead. Did you know that there were over 700,000 books published in 2015? If you are a self-published author, promoting your book is the only way to get people to read it. Many self-published authors are unsure about how to do that. Their craft is writing, not publicity and marketing is a daunting task.

That’s where Claire McKinney’s guide to creating a book publicity campaign comes in. Even if you have a publisher, you need to understand how campaigns work. McKinney knows that having a plan takes the anxiety out of the job. Her book outlines how to pitch a book, develop contacts, write press materials and create a timeline.

In traditional publishing houses, the plan is in place months before the release. For self-publishers, it should be no different. McKinney’s guide is a great place to start. She explains how book publicity works and what you can do to get in there. Specifically, she offers advice on how to prepare a press kit and a bio, how to pitch your “story” and where to pitch it. She details how to set up and manage a media contact list, how to ask for and get reviews and when to pay for them.

Social media plays a big role in book publicity and McKinney offers advice on reaching readers through Twitter, Facebook and Goodreads. You can download her free social media guide here. In addition, she explains advanced media strategies including how to work bookstore events, library programs and conferences. One strategy I think is the most interesting is how to insert your book and into a news story, thereby adding reader interest.

The book’s format is simple and readable and presented in a non-intimidating style. I highly recommend this guide and I will be sure to keep it handy as I help promote my father’s new book of short fiction.

I read Do You Know What a Book Publicist Does? as part of my Build a Better World Summer Reading Challenge to read a do-it-yourself book.

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What’s That Book? Gunslinger by Jeff Pearlman

whats-that-book

Title:  Gunslinger: The Remarkable, Improbable, Iconic Life of Brett Favre

Author: Jeff Pearlman

Genre: Biography

Rating:  5 stars

What’s it about?  This is a great, thorough biography on Brett Favre, the NFL great who played almost 20 seasons in the league, mostly for the Green Bay Packers. While the author doesn’t ever directly interview Favre for the book, you quickly forget that, as it’s clear that dozens of people were interviewed for this story. Play-by-play action is almost always boring in game stories, yet Pearlman has a way of making a game more than a decade old sound as exciting as if you were watching it on TV.

He paints Favre’s character without holding back — this is by no means a book chronicling only the best moments of his football career. It goes through the personal struggles that Favre endured such as drug addiction and rampant infidelity, but just when you think he’s a terrible human being, you realize he has another side. Another side that proves humans are more intricate and complicated than they appear in a news article or a TV segment. Pearlman finds a way to force the reader to put their own values and morals to the test. Are some of the things Favre did unforgiveable? Is he just a fun-loving guy who gets carried away sometimes? Did the constant spotlight make some of his actions inevitable? Everyone will have their own opinion, but the argument is by no means one-sided. In an age where fans are forced to grapple with whether to cheer for a player who’s committed a crime or moral wrongdoing but still plays for their favorite team, this story shows this isn’t a new problem.

The author captured the unconditional love that the city of Green Bay had for Favre, which then turned on him temporarily when he signed with the rival Minnesota Vikings. There’s a reason he’s arguably the first name that comes to mind when you mention Packers’ greats. Not many players were truly idolized like Favre was by Packers’ fans.

It is hard to find fault in this book. The vocabulary is impressive without sounding like he’s trying to brag. The story is a good length without feeling like it lasted as long as Favre waffled over retirement. It is, above all things, fair. Obviously, it would’ve been great to hear directly from Favre, but there are enough interviews with other people to make up for that.

How did you hear about it?  I followed the author on Twitter and he had been talking about the book a lot when it was released in 2016, so I decided to give it a try.

Closing comments:  I am not usually much of a biography guy, but this might change my mind. It’s one of those stories where you don’t have to be a Packers fan to enjoy it. You don’t even have to be a football fan. You’re certain to go back and forth on whether you like the legend that is Brett Favre, and that’s what makes him such a fascinating character.

Contributor:   The author of this review is Austin Vitelli. He currently works as an assistant editor for Matrix Medical Communications, a medical publishing company. He is a recent journalism graduate from Lehigh University. He is a huge NFL fan, specifically the Philadelphia Eagles. You can view his website here or follow him on Twitter here.


Have you read something good?  Want to talk about it?
Consider being a contributor to What’s That Book.

Email Book Club Mom at bvitelli2009@gmail.com for information.

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The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin

The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin

Rating:

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: benjaminfranklinbio.com

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: benjaminfranklinbio.com
  • 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: benjaminfranklinbio.com
  • 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:

benjaminfranklinbio.com
fi.edu (The Franklin Institute) Benjamin Franklin FAQ
ushistory.org – 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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From the early archives: Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson

Celebrating four years of blogging – and sharing some early book reviews!

stevejobsSteve Jobs
by
Walter Isaacson

Rating:
4 book marks

This biography gives us the full picture of Steve Jobs, good and bad. It is a detailed history of Jobs, his life and his creations at Apple, NeXT, Pixar and Apple again. And it’s a look at the impatient frustrations of a perfectionist who, with the genius of vision and presentation, liked to distort reality, had poor people skills and thought no rules applied to him.

I don’t know what to think of Steve Jobs. He derived his happiness from creating and was driven to do so. Isaacson shows a man who manipulated people, berated them, and often ignored his wife and children. He regularly took credit for ideas that came from his creative team and rearranged facts to benefit his point, all with no regrets. But time and again he enabled people to achieve the impossible by refusing to believe that something could not be done.  The combination of persistence and genius made him a remarkable man.

AND…Steve Jobs gave us the Mac, fonts, graphics and desktop publishing. Then he gave us the iPhone, the iPod, iTunes and music. He allowed us to re-experience the feelings we used to have in record stores as we excitedly flipped through albums and heard new music on the store speakers. Then he gave us the iPad, movies and books all with a touchscreen. He knew what we wanted, just as he said, before we knew what we wanted.

This was a very interesting read. My only negative comment is that it was sometimes repetitive, particularly on the subjects of distorted reality and Jobs’ belief in closed-end product design. I also thought the author often portrayed Jobs as too much of a beloved hero in the second half of the book, once Jobs returned to Apple. But then again, that’s when we got all these great products. And I don’t think I could live without them!

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When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi

When Breath Becomes Air
by
Paul Kalanithi

Rating:

I have seen this book cover everywhere: on display at the library where I work, at the top of TBR lists, on Amazon, on Goodreads, and on book blogger posts. It’s a #1 New York Times Bestseller, written by Paul Kalanithi, who at the crest of a brilliant career as a neurosurgeon and scientist, was diagnosed with Stage IV lung cancer. During the short time he had left, he was determined to live a life with personal meaning, and clung to the words of Samuel Beckett, “I can’t go on. I’ll go on.” What he did during the time after his diagnosis was undergo treatment, return to performing surgery, father a baby girl and begin this book. He died before he could finish, but the pages he left are full of the deep thinking that led to his medical career and the imminent facts about his illness.

You may be surprised to know that Kalanithi did not initially want to be a doctor, but he was intensely interested in the connection between the biology of human life and morality, literature and philosophy. He writes about this time,

There must be a way, I thought, that the language of life as experienced – of passion, of hunger, of love – bore some relationship, however convoluted, to the language of neurons, digestive tracts, and heartbeats.

He was an English and Biology major at Stanford, later earned a Master’s in English and MHil in history and philosophy in science and medicine from the University of Cambridge. After all that thinking, Kalanithi went to Yale School of Medicine and returned to Stanford for his residency. And a few years later, he got sick.

Although he was unable to finish his book, his desire to continue living despite being sick is clear and inspiring. And he didn’t do that by checking things off a bucket list. Instead he returned to his residency, performed surgeries, found joy in the simple moments with his family, his marriage and later with their baby daughter. And although he didn’t know what the finish would be like, when the time came, he was ready when he whispered to his wife, “This might be how it ends.”

Some people just think on a higher plane than the rest of the population and Kalanithi was one of them. I may not have gotten all his references and ideas, but I saw that he was earnest in everything he did and was driven by a need to know and understand. This memoir is more a book of philosophy the kind you can return to for inspiration.

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Food for thought – books with food references in their titles

Image: Pixabay

Whether it’s a direct reference or a more subtle metaphor, there is no shortage of book titles that have something to do with food.  It’s always fun to organize collections this way.  These classics, thrillers, children’s books and modern fiction all have this common food trait:


A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway

Ernest Hemingway’s memoir of his days in Paris, where he was part of the expatriate community of writers, artists and creative minds, known now as the “Lost Generation”


Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Truman Capote

Capote’s character sketch of Holly Golightly, a nineteen-year-old runaway in New York who tries to escape her sad past


Eating Bull by Carrie Rubin

Exciting medical thriller that tackles the subject of obesity and the food industry’s role in this serious health problem


In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan

In his guide to eating right, Pollan simplifies the dizzying task of figuring out what to eat:  Eat Food. Not Too Much. Mostly Plants.


One Hundred Hungry Ants by Elinor J. Pinczes

Entertaining children’s book that uses hungry ants to teach math and a life lesson


Pete’s a Pizza by William Steig

Pete’s mad because it’s raining and he can’t go outside, so his parents turn him into a pizza in this quietly warm children’s story.


Taste by Tracy Ewens

Sophisticated and a little bit spicy romance about young professionals in the restaurant business


The Dinner by Herman Koch

Twisted tale about a seriously messed up and unlikable family with a terrible secret


The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

One of the greatest American stories of endurance ever told.  When The Grapes of Wrath was published, Steinbeck said, “I’ve done my damndest to rip a reader’s nerves to rags.”


We the Eaters by Ellen Gustafson

An argument for ways “we the eaters” can change the world by fighting against big companies like Monsanto and Cargill and buying more organic and whole foods


What do your books in common?

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How one life fits into fabric of family – A Fortunate Life by Fred H. Rohn

Family memoir about growing up during the Depression shares how circumstances and personal decisions have led to A Fortunate Life.


image0-jpgAuthor Fred H. Rohn grew up on Hurden Street in Hillside, New Jersey, a place that played a pivotal role in his upbringing.

From bike rides and street games in Hillside, to marriage and children in the town of Madison, Rohn shares his experiences of growing up during the Depression, attending college, serving in the Navy, embarking on a business career, and marrying his best friend and high school sweetheart.

Offering an important historical perspective on growing up in the twentieth century, this memoir shares what Rohn considers to be the factors of a fortunate life. Interspersed with photographs from past and present, he shows how one small life fits, as a microcosm, into the fabric of family, friends, and an ever-changing world environment.


Hey indie authors!  Are you getting ready to publish your book?  We had a great experience with Archway Publishing.  They have a terrific team of coordinators, editors, layout and design professionals, marketing experts and customer service reps.  Their website offers many helpful online resources to help you through the process.  Knowing we were in competent hands from start to finish made a big difference!


Get your copy of A Fortunate Life here!


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