February 2020 Book Marks
February is a short month. And in the spirit of brevity (and with many good books below) I’ll keep this one short. In fact, not to get all philosophical, but in the scheme of things, life is short. Basketball great Kobe Bryant’s death was a reminder that none of us has our hands on the script. At a place in time where it feels like hate and words like “other” are the coin of the realm, this very public loss reminds me what’s important.
Tell the people you love that you love them before you walk out the door. Don’t leave a nagging personal issue undone, let the grudge go, follow your radical honesty with a bear hug. Forgive. You don’t even have to forget. Even on the crappiest days, it’s still a random miracle that we get to kick around on this planet for a short time.
Love hard and from the bottom of your toes.
That’s all I got.
The Queen’s Fortune by Allison Pataki
Pataki has built an impressive literary reputation bringing to life a series of formidable women in history who have been marginalized or overlooked. Her latest novel transports us back to the rise of Napoleon, reimagined through the eyes of Desiree Clary, a young woman who meets the Bonaparte brothers while saving her wealthy family from the post-Revolutionary guillotine. Engaged to Napoleon before he heads to Paris, she is jilted by the future Emperor for the alluring socialite Josephine. With dialogue that fixes you in the scene, the action-packed story moves from the ravaged streets of revolutionary France to the coronation and beyond. As Desiree morphs from young innocent to the wife of Napoleon’s star general, she will ultimately be forced to choose between her husband and the love of her nation and its leader. Pataki has written a genuinely absorbing and educational book about an ordinary woman who captivated two of the great men of her day and became the mother of a dynasty.
If you like to imagine spies in trench coats, peering over the top of a newspaper, this memoir will upend your cliched cold war perceptions of the espionage business. Tracy Walder was a blonde, Delta Gamma sorority girl from USC who burned with a desire to work for her country after graduation. This sense of duty led her to the Middle East and the front lines of terrorism, including black sites worldwide. The narrative moves from the search for mass weapons of destruction to chemical attack plots and thwarted terrorist attacks. After the CIA, Walder joins the FBI, helping to take down some of world’s most notorious foreign spies operating on our soil.
In vetting the manuscript with the government, Walder chose to keep the redacted parts, which provides a visual reminder of the overall sense of urgency and secrecy embedded in so much of her life throughout this time. This book is a nice reminder that far beneath today’s news headlines, there is a quiet cadre of ethical, hard-working and dedicated patriots working to keep us safe.
Daisy Jones & The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid
As a child whose musical sense was forged in the hot and happening fire of 70’s rock, this read made me long for the days of bellbottoms and tube tops. Told through interview snippets with band members from “Daisy Jones and the Six,” as well as others connected to the story, the result is a snappy 360 degree portrait of a rock band, with all the combustible elements of denim, leather, lace, sex, drugs and so much more. A composite of some of the famous bands of the day, (think Fleetwood Mac mashed with the Mammas and the Pappas) we see an inside view of the egos and power struggles, groupies, jealousy, infidelity, boozing, broken contracts and more sex and drugs. Daisy Jones is a blonde, LA waif-hippie, whose gorgeous and aloof singer-songwriter persona has every girl wanting to be her. A self-destructive wild child, she has never sought fame. It simply follows her. Addicted to pills and booze, she joins the rising rock band where the lead singer and songwriter Billy is very married and recently sober. But can he resist the pull of Daisy and preserve his marriage and family? This is a fun, easy breezy read and it feels I’m the last one to the party in reading it!
Perfect Little Children by Sophie Hannah
Something is terribly wrong. A best friendship between Beth and Flora ended more than twelve years ago, for reasons they have both kept quiet. One day, on the way to a kid’s soccer game, curiosity gets the best of Beth and she drives by her old friend’s house. She is shocked to see Flora’s children exiting a car…but they have not aged at all. Why haven’t they grown? The answer to that question lies coiled inside this tautly written and slowly unwinding story as Beth puts herself and her family in grave danger to solve the mystery. The journey, and the answer, kept me reading to the very hairy end.
Uncanny Valley by Anna Weiner
Anyone thirsty for the inner workings of Silicon Valley and the start-up culture, at least from the perspective of a 20-something woman, will find this memoir engrossing. Anna leaves the New York publishing industry as part of the gold rush west to seek fortune and equity amidst the idealistic world of disruption in San Francisco. Written with an unsparing gimlet eye and a dash of millennial angst and self-loathing, this smart and introspective memoir is a front seat to the massive cultural shift that has turned hoodie wearing millennials into overnight millionaires. Weiner, who now writes about Silicon Valley for “The New Yorker,” has penned a coming of age story from the heart that takes us inside the age of high flying start-ups, ambition, extravagance, success, unregulated surveillance and data sharing and personal ambition, ambivalence and disillusionment – oh, and the fact that it’s still a bro’s world.
Even a century ago, the topic of friendship was not one deemed worthy of serious study by social scientists. Love, parenting, other aspects of human behavior were higher on the priority list in terms of research. But the bonds of friendship, which also exist in the animal kingdom, are essential to our mental and physical health. Denworth’s book combines storytelling with a romp through the scientific studies and evidence that uncover the biological, psychological and evolutionary roots of friendship back the African Savannah. Carefully researched and curated, she takes us from a monkey sanctuary in Puerto Rico to a cutting edge neuroscience lab to see changes in the brain. This book is a fascinating look at how nurturing friendships helps us thrive in every aspect of our lives, from parenting and relationships to how we prioritize our time and plan for the future.
So many people today are keen on turning their passion into a profit… and why not love what you do? From her “Entrepreneurs 101” class at college to her first life-changing trip to the Mexican jungle, Tamara Jacobi eventually opened “The Tailwind Jungle Lodge,” hosting adventurers from around the world. Travel, adventure and personal stories are woven throughout the book along with practical information on starting your own business. Interactive exercises provide a workbook way to frame ideas and get fired up.
*These are books I genuinely love and am thrilled to recommend to my friends. These are Amazon affiliate links, meaning, at no additional cost to you, I get a small commission if you click through and make a purchase. Alternately, if you prefer to rent books at your local library or buy from your local bookstore, I very much support that!
Lee Woodruff Speaker-Author-Executive Media Trainer