RaveThe Wall Street Journal... beautiful ... reads like a novel, the story threaded with the author’s adventures as a gay man and an outsider, haunted by a childhood secret he reveals only toward the end. He is a poetic writer about food, whether he’s describing his first taste of an apricot soufflé or his boyhood enthusiasm for Chef Boyardee ... Writing in a light, self-deprecating tone, Mr. Lobrano brings each scene to life with sensual details ... He slips comprehensive gastronomical information into his book so deftly, it goes down without your being aware of it. His enthusiasm is infectious, although occasionally he gets a little turgid.
PositiveWall Street JournalOlivia Williams has unearthed a wealth of fascinating details about three generations of the eccentric, secretive D’Oyly Carte family, owners the hotel for nearly a century ... As for Richard D’Oyly Carte, Ms. Williams writes: \'His confections sit alongside Sherlock Holmes, gin and tonic, Wimbledon tennis, grand public spectacles of monarchy and Test Match cricket as rarefied features of Victorian Britain that have proved remarkably enduring.\' Her book is a lively testament to that.
PositiveWall Street JournalFood is at the front and center of Ms. French’s memoir and she writes lyrically about it. On their first visit to the diner, her grandfather handed her and her sister each a fried doughnut ... Ms. French tells a courageous story without sentimentality or self-pity. She has a sense of humor, an eye for detail and knows how to build tension. But what impresses me most about this book is her evocative writing about food. She describes it so well you can taste it.
RaveThe Wall Street Journal... gripping ... Mr. Vickers, with his sharp eye for detail, splendidly captures the drama of Gladys’s life and the amazing cast of characters she encountered.
PositiveThe Wall Street JournalAndrew Morton’s biography of the sisters Elizabeth and Margaret covers well-trodden ground but raises some interesting points along the way ... he does a diligent and well-researched job, examining the closeness of the sisters and their conflicted relationship in a seamless, readable way.
RaveThe Wall Street Journal... a unique, erudite history of the city’s sparkling cultural life from the late 19th century to its decline after the 1952 revolution ... Drawing on memoirs, magazines, newspaper reports and archives, Mr. Cormack has built a riveting, lively picture of Cairo’s nightlife ... Mr. Cormack’s evocative descriptions are packed with bizarre, quirky detail.
RaveThe Wall Street JournalIn this remarkable self-portrait, fashion curator Claire Wilcox has set out mementoes of her life like objects in an exhibition. Short chapters, some only half a page, are displayed like treasures in a cabinet of curiosities, following no chronological order ... Patch Work: A Life Amongst Clothes juxtaposes the author’s reflections on garments and precious fabrics with glimpses of family, illness, death, motherhood, hair, a lost child, the destruction wrought by moths (the curse of the Romans, who wore wool) and even a leaky roof. The result is magical ...Her spellbinding memoir is like a cherished book of poetry, one to be dipped into over and again.
Richard Thompson Ford
RaveThe Wall Street Journal[A] sharp and entertaining history of the rules of fashion ... In a jam-packed, fact-filled survey, Mr. Ford skillfully examines how fashion, far from being mere frivolity, has shaped people’s lives from the 14th century to the present ... An expert on civil rights and antidiscrimination law, Mr. Ford has plenty to say when it comes to workplace regulations on hairstyles, makeup, tattoos, fingernails and jewelry.
RaveThe Wall Street JournalThe Princess Spy is the kind of popular biography that quotes conversations verbatim and tells you what characters are thinking. Mr. Loftis recounts information from the countess’s books in instances where he feels the truth was borne out, and he’s scrupulously documented his findings in 63 pages of endnotes. He divides the story into short chapters that end with cliffhangers, like scenes from a film noir. The result is a fast-paced, edgy and highly engaging yarn ... Mr. Loftis sets a crackling pace and vividly evokes life and politics in supposedly neutral Spain ... As for [the subject\'s] trilogy of memoirs, historical fiction notwithstanding, I confess I found it entertaining. So is Mr. Loftis’s suspenseful fact-based account of this unflappable woman’s remarkable life.
RaveThe Wall Street JournalOne of Mr. Larman’s most interesting revelations concerns an attempt on Edward’s life. The would-be killer, working under the assumed name of George McMahon ... [a] sense of astonishment over such an improbable turn of events lends a familiar story excitement, and Mr. Larman brings his cast of characters vividly to life in a fast-paced, lively staging of the drama. It’s as much fun to read as a good political thriller.
MixedThe Wall Street JournalDo we really need yet another book on Prince Philip? What more is there to say about the man? Not a lot. But you can’t believe everything you see in Netflix’s The Crown. Ms. Seward’s biography is more than mere hagiography, although it is indeed reverential. And while she takes us painstakingly over well-trodden ground, she does produce some interesting information about Philip’s later years, in particular his relationships with Diana and Meghan Markle ... Ms. Seward has done a fine job of research, but her writing is flat and at times repetitious, as though some chapters had been previously serialized.
RaveThe Wall Street Journal... gripping ... Mr. Vickers, with his sharp eye for detail, splendidly captures the drama of Gladys’s life and the amazing cast of characters she encountered.
PositiveWall Street JournalThis disarming memoir, An Onion in My Pocket, is full of surprises. For a start, it’s not generally known that for almost 20 years [the author] was an ordained Buddhist in a monastic community. Or, that when she was a child, her parents refused to buy her Twinkies, so she stole them. She never had a TV dinner. She never had a TV ... Ms. Madison is not a die-hard vegetarian; she calls herself an omnivore. Above all, she doesn’t believe in imposing beliefs on others. \'I really prefer to be flexible enough to just say thank you for whatever appears on the plate.\' A lesson learned from the monastery, of course, and one of many in this insightful memoir.
RaveThe Wall Street Journal... riveting ... This quirky, irreverent book, written in the manner of Mr. Brown’s bestselling Ninety-Nine Glimpses of Princess Margaret (2017), is a kaleidoscope of essays, anecdotes, party lists and personal reminiscence. You might think there was nothing more to be said about the Beatles, but Mr. Brown, a perceptive writer and a gifted satirist, makes familiar stories fresh. Along the way he unearths many fascinating tidbits ... a fascinating study of the cultural and social upheaval created by the band ... Mr. Brown has a keen eye for absurdist detail ... After reading this book I was inspired to listen to them again. I felt just as I had the first time: sheer joy.
MixedThe Wall Street JournalMs. Amiel leaves no score unsettled in this waspish, often scandalous, gossipy, vengeful, intimate chronicle of her tumultuous life (there’s even a \'friends and enemies\' list at the end). It’s also disarmingly frank, funny and very well written ... When Ms. Amiel recounts how quickly her society friends and money melted away after her husband’s indictment, it’s hard not to feel some sympathy for her. Yet the second half of her book, which is devoted to a nonstop detailed account of the trials, betrayals and legal proceedings, is a slog.
Catherine Grace Katz
RaveThe Wall Street JournalSkillfully written and meticulously researched, it’s an extraordinary work that reveals the human side underlying the politics ... a thoroughly engrossing book, as acute about the contentious politics of the day as it is about the remarkable daughters who participated.
Robert J Mrazek
PositiveThe Wall Street Journal... Mrazek unfolds her audacious plan to help prisoners and underground freedom fighters. At the same time he provides a dramatic account of Engelhart’s ordeal as a prisoner of war. Mr. Mrazek weaves their stories into a series of short back-and-forth chapters, organized like scenes from a play. The writing is brisk and energetic; the saga unfolds with enormous suspense ... Mr. Mrazek’s description of victims she saw upon entering their headquarters is so harrowing I couldn’t finish reading it ... Mr. Mrazek, a novelist, historian and former congressman, has researched letters, diaries, memoirs and firsthand reminiscences for his detailed account. His most rewarding source is Carl’s prison journal, written in pencil in a small spiral notepad, a meticulous record of prison events and the names of the soldiers who died, along with his musings and even his dreams. Miraculously this little book (and its owner) survived the sinking of the ship taking him to hard labor in Japan ... Perhaps because of that journal, Carl comes across vividly as an outgoing, empathetic character. Florence, despite her heroism, remains somewhat opaque.
RaveThe Wall Street JournalYou can almost taste the food in Bill Buford’s Dirt, an engrossing, beautifully written memoir about his life as a cook in France ... Mr. Buford brings a novelistic approach to his story; he is both observer and participant. He’s an entertaining, often comical, raconteur ... His descriptions of his new city are vivid and evocative.
MixedThe Wall Street JournalNothing is left out in this madcap, convoluted novel, which parodies British aristocracy on one hand and the social-climbing world of new money on the other ... Ms. Rothschild is an intelligent writer and an elegant prose stylist. The first female chair of the National Gallery, she describes her characters’ physical characteristics with the eye of someone who’s spent a lifetime looking carefully at paintings. ... Her first novel, The Improbability of Love (2015), was a clever satire of the art world she knows well. It worked because a thread of suspense kept the story moving. That’s what’s missing from this unwieldy book. The characters are one-dimensional. One exception, the most vividly depicted and believable personality, is an elderly castle resident, Tuffy, sister of the earl ... Even given the meandering plot, with so many comings and goings it’s hard to keep track, Ms. Rothschild provides some good lines ... ne thing the British haven’t lost is their sense of humor, and Ms. Rothschild provides a large dose of it in this quirky satire.
D. J. Taylor
PositiveThe Wall Street JournalProponents of today’s #MeToo movement will shudder ... Mr. Taylor’s account of her wild sex life, worthy of a Feydeau farce, is eye-popping. Skelton wrote five books, including a couple of memoirs that are, \'for sustained, score-settling bitchiness, . . . in a class of their own.\' True, but fun to read ... [an] nsightful and empathetic group biography.
RaveThe Wall Street JournalSimon Parkin...has written a thoroughly absorbing book, drawing upon archives and oral histories. It reads like a thriller, with its accounts of nerve-wracking battles, extreme weather, icebergs, and ships sunk in a matter of minutes ... Mr. Parkin brings into focus the heroic lives of Wrens whose arduous work was not only overlooked but also kept an \'official secret\' for 50 years. The women who played the game might never have boarded a ship, but their work saved the lives of countless who did.
MixedThe Wall Street JournalThe book is a love letter to the monumental institution where [Coulson] worked for more than 25 years, starting as an intern in the European Paintings department in 1991 ... Ms. Coulson must have spent quite a bit of time dreamily wandering the Met’s galleries letting her imagination run wild. Ghosts appear; furniture and paintings come alive, express their opinions and tell their stories ... Unfortunately, while Ms. Coulson’s erudition is impressive, her writing often descends into sentimentality. Her stories are original and insightful, but the prose is cluttered. Characters don’t merely speak; they chime in, sputter, quip, snort, chomp, shrug, squeak, quiver, screech, bark or warble. Nevertheless, as I wandered through the museum the other day, past tourists frenetically snapping pictures on their cellphones, I thought how Ms. Coulson’s book, for all its flaws, captured the spirit of the place and brought it magically to life.
RaveThe Wall Street Journal... an engrossing book, beautifully produced and illustrated with color photographs of paintings. At times it made me think of Watermark, Joseph Brodsky’s elegy to Venice, and W.G. Sebald’s The Rings of Saturn. Written in elegant, concise prose, it is a remarkable meditation on life, loss, mourning, exile, friendship and the power of art.
PositiveThe Wall Street JournalFinn brings to light an unfamiliar side of the Nazi regime ... both a fascinating character-portrait and an intriguing footnote to events that led up to the collapse of Nazi Germany. His book is as well-paced and exciting to read as a good thriller.
RaveThe Wall Street Journal...[a] lively and entertaining portrait ... Ms. Satow’s book draws the reader in from the start. Its cast of characters includes bellboys, chefs, managers, hotel owners and lawyers. She goes into obsessive detail about the staff, which, when the Plaza first opened, numbered 1,500 workers, including two men who dusted the chandeliers and another whose job was to stamp the hallway ashtrays with the Plaza logo ... Ms. Satow has written a superb history of how a once-magnificent property became its own Potemkin village, a grand luxury hotel on the outside, a hollow shell within.
MixedThe Wall Street Journal\"[Reichl] provides entertaining glimpses into life at Condé Nast ... The restaurant columns Ms. Reichl wrote were clever and incisive, but in this memoir, rhapsodic food descriptions can get the better of her ... Sometimes Ms. Reichl’s prose slides into romance-novel mode ... When Ms. Reichl sticks to reality, her story moves along in a lively fashion. Her description of how she and her staff took food down to Ground Zero after the attack on the World Trade Center is heart-rending ... Save Me the Plums is a lively but rather breathy re-creation of a great decade of magazine food writing, a genre now replaced by apps such as Instagram, where you can find pictures of towering ice-cream sundaes, avocado toast and even lobsters—boiled.\
Maylis De Kerangal Trans. by Sam Taylor
PositiveThe Wall Street Journal\" ...beautifully translated ... By the end of The Cook, apart from his love of food, I knew little more about Mauro as a character than I did of the anonymous subjects of those pictures. But I did understand something else. Ms. de Kerangal is fascinated by the way man tries to put a stamp on the physical world. Each of the three books of hers I’ve read (she’s written nine) centers on a process, but they are less about the transformation of a character than the emotional transformation of the reader, who, by learning how things work, comes to better understand the world. The Cook achieves this admirably, though the meal ended too abruptly, and I was left hungry for more.\
PositiveThe Wall Street JournalIt is a dark, disturbing story of patriarchy, oppression and sickness, alternating with a meticulously researched feminist history of the Jell-O business and its marketing campaigns directed at women ... Ms. Rowbottom’s accounts of her illness are harrowing and hard to read.
RaveThe Wall Street JournalProust’s Duchess, a hefty 715 pages, is rich with intimate details of the extraordinary lives behind the carefully crafted public images of its three heroines. Celebrated names are dropped like confetti over the pages. Liberally illustrated with photographs, the book includes many new findings in the archives of the families; there are 100-plus pages of back matter, including scholarly end notes and two recently discovered articles by Proust ... With an accumulation of intimate and telling detail that would have impressed Proust himself, Ms. Weber has done a remarkable job bringing to life a trio of remarkable women, and a world of culture, glamour and privilege swept away by World War I.
PositiveThe Wall Street JournalRitz & Escoffier, Luke Barr’s entertaining narrative history, reads like a novel (complete with cliff hangers and descriptions of the characters’ private thoughts) ... Mr. Barr has an eye for comic detail ... Mr. Barr has done a fine job evoking fin-de-siècle London and the characters of the two odd men who played such a pivotal role in that exhilarating time.
Lidia Matticchio Bastianich
RaveThe Wall Street Journal\"My American Dream: A Life of Love, Family, and Food is a beguiling memoir about Lidia Matticchio Bastianich’s path from a bucolic European childhood, abruptly cut short, to her remarkable present-day success as an award-winning television chef, cookbook author and restaurateur ... Ms. Bastianich writes about those early days with a buoyant, optimistic tone ... Food has been the mainstay of Ms. Bastianich’s life.\
RaveThe Wall Street JournalMr. Spring does a superb job of painting detailed portraits of his six protagonists. He has packed an enormous amount of material into this book, which is erudite, gossipy, entertaining and eminently readable.
PositiveThe Wall Street JournalMr. Taylor writes bracingly of life in the early ’60s, a time at once light-hearted and filled with dread—of polio, race riots and Russian missiles ... An underlying nostalgia, indeed melancholia, pervades Hue and Cry. Trying to overcome Asperger’s in adolescence Mr. Taylor learned to make eye contact and modulate his voice. Later, in college, he studied the popular kids and built himself 'a Frankenstein monster from the parts I liked best about them—a persona very nearly the opposite of who I was when alone.' Mr. Taylor tries to come to grips with himself and his self-image, and to understand how to differentiate emotional realities from actual experience. Hue and Cry is an elegantly written book, erudite, perceptive and at times painfully candid.
Herman Koch, Translated by Sam Garrett
PositiveThe Wall Street JournalIt's fast-paced and riveting. Written in cool, detached prose (deftly translated from the Dutch by Sam Garrett), The Dinner is as theatrical and dramatic as a well-crafted play. It's also nasty. It starts off as social satire but shifts gears, and you find yourself in the middle of a horror story ... Paul, the narrator, is a former high-school history teacher who, we are told, has been placed on 'non-active' status ... Gradually we realize that Paul, with his mounting bile and smoldering resentments, is not a reliable narrator. He has a history of violent outbursts and takes medication to control them ... Issues of morality, responsibility and punishment are raised along the way, and a Pinteresque menace lurks under the surface ... In the end, the book sits on the digestion less like an over-indulgent 'fine dining' experience than Chinese food, which, as we all know, leaves you feeling hungry a couple of hours later.
RaveThe Wall Street JournalThe truth is that Elena is no less trapped by her life than Lila is, but she is loath to admit it. Elena's husband is a pedantic bore and a terrible lover. But when Elena's first child is born after an atrocious labor, she lies to Lila, telling her that it was a wonderful experience … While Ms. Ferrante sees her characters through class war, student revolution, and clashes between communists and neo-fascists, her focus is on their interior lives. Her novels present an intimate, often startlingly frank portrait of a friendship between two women who are struggling in the face of rapidly changing sexual politics to break from the old ways and reinvent themselves on their own terms.
RaveThe Wall Street Journal... a marvelous, clear-eyed memoir about his eccentric family but especially about his glamorous but dangerously possessive Aunt Hank ... The Mighty Franks develops an almost thriller-like pace as Michael begins to draw away from his increasingly desperate aunt ... [a] beautifully written book.
PanThe Wall Street JournalWas Monroe’s time in New York really a 'year of joy,' as the book’s subtitle has it? Therapy five times a week as required by Strasberg doesn’t sound like a barrel of laughs ... Throughout her biography Ms. Winder stresses that Monroe was an intense reader. Why, even at the beach, she was improving her mind. 'She’d throw down her towel and sink into Ulysses.' The rest of us huddle under our umbrellas with books like this one and cringe.
PositiveThe Wall Street JournalWe tend to think of the 1950s as a puritanical era. For Patricia Bosworth—a one-time actress and the biographer of Montgomery Clift, Diane Arbus and Marlon Brando—they were anything but. Her life was a dramatic saga of ambition, sex, love, affairs, heartbreak and abortion. She courageously reveals it all in The Men in My Life ... The sexual revolution and feminism would come along and change everything. But before they did, women like Patricia Bosworth refused to conform.
Roald Dahl, Ed. by Donald Sturrock
PositiveThe Wall Street JournalFrom early on, the letters show the darkly comic, subversive writing that would make Dahl famous ... Missing from Dahl’s letters is virtually any discussion of sex, which is odd given his openness about everything else ... Without her as his correspondent, he might never have become a writer. Alas, we never get to hear from Sofie.
RaveThe Wall Street Journal...[a] captivating memoir ... Ms. Tynan has written a moving, candid and often hilarious account of her tumultuous childhood in England and New York in the 1950s and ’60s ... Clothes are the warp and weave of “Wear and Tear.” Each chapter is cleverly organized around an item of dress.
PositiveThe Wall Street Journal...[a] riviting book ... [Faludi] does a remarkable job tracking down the truth about her father, a person of multiple and contradictory identities. The book’s title, In the Darkroom, has a double meaning. It refers to the job her father held altering images in a Manhattan photo lab and to the dark, mysterious side of her father’s volatile personality ... Ms. Faludi unfolds her father’s story like the plot of a detective novel. 'I had cast myself as a posse of one, tracking my father’s many selves to their secret recesses,' she writes. She interviews her father’s transgender friends in Hungary, wades through stacks of files and photograph albums in her house, and visits family relatives in Israel where she discovers more long-hidden information.
MixedThe Wall Street JournalMr. Bryson wears his learning lightly. He has published over a dozen books on a wide range of topics, from Shakespeare to a history of science. But in his new book he’s a bit of a curmudgeon, citing a wide range of irritants from bad grammar to moronic salespeople and litter.