Thursday, March 31, 2011

No Regrets : The Life Of Edith Piaf
by Carolyn Burke

Having lived in France back in the late 1970s and listened to Edith Piaf sing and saw how much she was revered, I was thrilled to see that a new biography was written about her. It was short-lived.
The author tried to cram as much information on Piaf as she could in the first chapter in such a way that it completely turned me off. Too many names became one confusing mess. I attempted to read the second chapter but by this time I had become disgusted and stopped altogether.
Of course, much of what has been written about Piaf is a myth either related by Piaf or by others smitten with her. There's also missing information, therefore speculation arises.
I have no regrets in not finishing this book.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Blood, Bones & Butter : The Inadvertent Education Of A Reluctant Chef
by Gabrielle Hamilton

No, this is NOT the best memoir by a chef, ever, as Anthony Bourdain writes on both the front and back covers of the book. It's actually one of the worst. I could barely get to the fifth chapter.
The first chapter was wonderful with Gabrielle Hamilton talking about growing up as one of five children (the youngest) in her bohemian family with a French mother and a father who was a set designer all living in Lambertville, Pennsylvania eating fresh, homemade food and not having a care in the world. When her parents split and then divorced, everything fell apart and Hamilton was pretty much left on her own. The book deteriorated from this point on. She became a drug addict and worked, underage, at a club in New York. Cooking was not even in the picture and wouldn't surface for a while.
It's very hard to read about someone who is so self-absorbed, sort of like Bourdain. (No wonder he LOVED this book). The two of them have similiar personalities.
Hamilton writes with endless run-on sentences and way too many metaphors. She has an MFA in fiction writing and that is what she should continue doing or just forget about writing and concentrate on her restaurant instead.
Not recommended.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

The Dangerous Otto Katz : The Many Lives Of A Soviet Spy
by Jonathan Miles

Uh oh, another spy book ending up on this blog. That wasn't planned originally. The book started out being terrific and was exciting. It came to a screeching stop after one hundred pages. Too many peripheral people were mentioned and what had been interesting just turned flat.
Otto Katz was an anti-Fascist and trained by the Soviets and was able to alert the world, early in the 1930s, on what the Nazis were doing. He was a lover of Marlene Dietrich and was very involved in Hollywood. Katz did a whole lot more but I never arrived at that point.
Enough of this genre for a while unless something worthwhile comes along.
Not recommended.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Stalin's Romeo Spy : The Remarkable Rise And Fall Of The KGB's Most Daring Operative
by Emil Draitser

Dmitri Bystrolyotov spied for Stalin during the 1920s and 1930s. He was England's equivalent to Sydney Reilly, their ace of spies. Fluent in scores of languages, dashing, handsome, Dmitri's way of gathering information was in the seduction of women.
For all he did for the Soviet Union, their thanks to him was having Bystrolyotov arrested and tortured and sent to the Gulag for twenty years.
I love reading great spy books. This book was not one of them. The author is Russian and although he has lived in the United States since 1974, everything he has written is Russian-based (he teaches the language at a New York college). Consequently, the writing is quite dry and pedantic. He does have command of the English language but perhaps if somebody else wrote about this subject, it would fare better.
Not recommended.
Late For Tea At The Deer Palace : The Lost Dreams of My Iraqi Family
by Tamara Chalabi

What could have been a really interesting book about Iraq was destroyed by the author's horrendous writing. Chalabi's family was prominent for four generations in Baghdad and in telling about their story, she relates the history of how the country came to be. Unfortunately, I felt as if I was reading a book geared for children not adults. I kept on with it until almost the end when I finally gave up (I had eighty-eight more pages to go). I thought the text would get better but the writing was just so bad that I could no longer stand it.
Not recommended.