Category Archives: Book Reviews

Master of His Fate: Roosevelt’s Rise from Polio to the Presidency by James Tobin

The story of Franklin Roosevelt’s struggle with infantile paralysis is well-known, yet Master of His Fate manages to keep the story fresh by blending historical narrative, medical expertise and psychological analysis. Master of his Fate reads like a well-researched historical novel, and Mr. Tobin’s insightful comments and detailed explanations make this an interesting and easy read for young and old alike.

After he was struck by polio in 1921, thirty-nine-year-old Franklin Roosevelt was singularly focused on one thing: re-learning how to walk. Mr. Tobin effortlessly weaves together politics and disability history; if FDR ever wanted to run for office again, he would have to learn how to get around without scaring people. While FDR rarely talked about his disability, Master of His Fate does a wonderful job conveying the feelings he must have experienced as he tried to regain his health. While it will never be known how much polio truly affected him, there is no doubt FDR was a changed man after 1921, not only physically, but emotionally as well.

Whether you like him or not, there is no denying that FDR’s struggle to overcome polio and become president of the United States is one of inspiration, grit and perseverance. Even though his priorities changed when he re-entered politics in 1928, until the day he died, FDR still held out hope he would one day be able to throw away his cane and braces and walk unaided. If there is one thing we can learn from Franklin Roosevelt, it is to never give up hope, to take charge of your life, to become master of your own fate.

Despite reading The Man He Became, James Tobin’s first book on FDR’s battle with polio, I read Master of his Fate with equal pleasure and interest. One doesn’t have to be between the ages of 9 and 14 to enjoy Master of his Fate; I was actually unaware this was geared towards middle-graders when I began reading. The only give-aways were the shorter chapters and paragraphs, and the way the author addresses the reader. For those who think the material a little too dry for young adults, the book includes many photographs to bring FDR’s struggle to life.

Thanks to NetGalley for an advance copy in exchange for an honest review

Eleanor in the Village: Eleanor Roosevelt’s Search for Freedom and Identity in New York’s Greenwich Village by Jan Jarboe Russell

Every time I walk through Washington Square Park, I look up at the building on the corner of MacDougal Street and Waverly Place. Eleanor Roosevelt lived at 29 Washington Square from 1942 to 1949, one of several residences she occupied in New York’s Greenwich Village throughout her life. Having read many biographies on Eleanor Roosevelt, the time she spent in Greenwich Village always remained a bit of a mystery. The details of her relationship with Nancy Cook and Marion Dickerman in the twenties are well-known, as is her teaching job and several other details, but what was it that made Greenwich Village so appealing to Eleanor Roosevelt, how did it influence her, what was life like for her living there during the twenties? There were so many questions I hoped to find answered in Eleanor in the Village, but by the time I finished I realized I learned nothing more than I already knew.

Eleanor in the Village sounded like a great premise, but it woefully under-delivered. I was hoping to read an in-depth and focused story of Eleanor Roosevelt’s life in Greenwich Village, but instead I merely got a compelling digest of her life with some reference to the Village thrown in. Either not enough information is available on the subject to warrant a book on the topic, or this was a rush-job without adequate research, but Eleanor in the Village lacks depth and left me wanting more. Very little of the book deals with the Village, and Ms. Russell never actually manages to show how Eleanor Roosevelt searched for, and eventually found, “Freedom and Identity in New York’s Greenwich Village.

The history of Greenwich Village is compelling, but it runs alongside the history of Eleanor Roosevelt, instead of being integrated with it. The book merely skims the surface of how she acquired many of the progressive beliefs she became known for through the connections she made there. Some of those connections, and some of her activities, were controversial enough they caught the attention of J. Edgar Hoover, who compiled one of the biggest single files in the FBI on Eleanor Roosevelt. Quite some pages are spend on this dossier, but they add very little to the narrative that isn’t known already. In telling Eleanor Roosevelt’s life as a whole, instead of focusing on this particular period of her life, Eleanor in the Village does not live up to its full potential.

All in all, Eleanor in the Village is well-written, and I imagine a delightful read for those who don’t know much about Eleanor Roosevelt. For those who do, don’t let the book’s title mislead you into thinking it is something it isn’t.

Thanks to NetGalley for an advance copy in exchange for an honest review


The Daughters of Yalta: The Churchills, Roosevelts, and Harrimans: A Story of Love and War by Catherine Grace Katz

The Daughters of Yalta is the book on the Yalta conference you didn’t know you wanted to read. The story is interesting, offering an unexpected perspective on the Yalta conference between President Roosevelt, Prime Minister Churchill and Stalin. The daughters in question are Anna Roosevelt, Sarah Churchill and Katherine Harriman (daughter of Averell Harriman, US ambassador to the Soviet Union), all three of whom accompanied their fathers to the Yalta conference in February 1945. While each of them had their own reasons for going on this wild trip, in the end all they were looking for was the love and appreciation of their fathers.

While they might not have been at the conference table, the support they offered before and after the conference door closed each and every day was vital to the three most powerful men in the world. The topic is so niche and the official responsibilities of the three women in question so small, the book probably only deals about 30% of the time with Sarah, Katherine and Sarah at Yalta. This is not a bad thing because it leaves room to discuss the women’s pasts, as well as a plethora of other occurrences at Yalta which are often overlooked in more academic discussions. While the complex issues discussed at Yalta can often be quite boring and long, the author added just enough information about what happened behind closed doors to make things interesting to both the seasoned and novice reader about the Yalta conference.

The author does a great job describing events, people and places and the story moves along at a good pace because it reads like a historical novel. That certainly doesn’t mean the book isn’t factual because the bibliography and endnotes are elaborate. While there were a few times while it felt like the book was veering off topic and the descriptions were too drawn out, the information was so interesting it didn’t really matter.

Thanks to NetGalley for an advance copy in exchange for an honest review


Brunch the Sunday Way by Alan Turner & Terence Williamson

I love Sunday brunch, not the boozy kind, although a cocktail never hurts, but the friendly kind where wholesome and beautiful dishes are served. Unable to go out for brunch because of the COVID-19 quarantine, Brunch the Sunday Way proved the perfect antidote to the Sunday blues.

When I first downloaded this cookbook, attracted by the cover which, when cleverly designed as this one is, does indeed sell, I had no idea Sunday refers to a London brunch hotspot. If you are not the brunch type, you can still enjoy this cookbook. I am a firm believer in breakfast/brunch for dinner, and many of the dishes covered here will taste just as fulfilling served for dinner.

Brunch the Sunday Way is divided into seven categories — eggs, toast, waffles, specialties, baking, jams and drinks — and offers something for all tastes. I solely base that on my own experiences; I have no dietary restrictions, so I could (but probably shouldn’t) eat every dish in this book. The recipes range from pure British, to Mexican to Mediterranean, and all are accompanied by gorgeous pictures.

I think the hallmark of many brunch hotspots is the instagrammable aspect of their food creations, and this feeling is certainly present in this book. Swamped with cookbooks I try not to buy any more, but if I saw Brunch the Sunday Way in my bookstore, I would not hesitate to take it home. I enjoy cooking: I am quite good at preparing food but horrible at presentation, so I appreciate it very much when food is presented in an appealing way. After all, we do eat with our eyes as well.

Yes, some recipes are very detailed and elaborate, but you can always substitute certain ingredients. If all else fails, you can at least look at the gorgeous pictures and use these recipes as inspiration to create your own. Seeing how even a seemingly simple dish such as waffles or eggs can be an elaborate process, it does make me appreciate even more the hard work people put in at restaurants. I’d be the first in line to try Sunday next time I am in London, but in the meantime I will take out my pan and get those eggs cracking.

Thanks to NetGalley for an advance copy in exchange for an honest review


Frida in America: The Creative Awakening of a Great Artist by Celia Stahr

It has been too long since there was a new book on Frida Kahlo, but Frida in America was certainly worth waiting for. The book focuses on the three years Frida spent in the United States in the thirties during the depth of the Great Depression. She followed her husband Diego Rivera across the country as he painted his murals, all the while discovering a country she had always been fascinated with and discovering herself as an artist.

Not only does the book describe Frida’s going-ons during those years with very insightful letters and diary entries from both Frida and her friends, but it also offers a perspective and background information on almost every aspect of American and Mexican life Frida came into contact with during that time. You almost get to know Frida and Diego intimately, offering a good balance between the private Frida and the public Frida, and her personality comes through in every page. The amount of research is amazing, and makes this book about much more than just Frida Kahlo.

Another major aspect of this book is the paintings Frida made during that time. Each painting is not only described, but also physiologically analyzed in detail. These parts of the book make for a slow read and bog down the otherwise swift story which sweeps one along. While it brought up certain aspects of Frida’s work I was not aware of, the focus on alchemy, no matter how important, got a little too much after a while.

I thought I knew quite a bit about Frida Kahlo, but this book offers a perspective which adds to the understanding of Frida the woman and Frida the artist. Frida in America is a great addition to any Kahlo fan’s library.

I received an advance copy from NetGalley in return for an honest review of this book.


Clementine Churchill: A Life in Pictures by Sonia Purnell

Having read Clementine (also by Sonia Purnell) years ago, Clementine Churchill: A Life in Pictures (obtained through #NetGalley) was like taking a nice refresher course. At a little over two hundred pages and filled with pictures, this is a faster read than Purnell’s first book, yet it gives an equally comprehensive view of Clementine Churchill’s life; call it the abridged and illustrated version.

Even if you don’t plan to read every word in the book and just focus on the beautiful pictures, you’ll still learn a lot about Clementine through the highlighted quotes and photo descriptions. The pictures do a better job than words ever could in showing the importance of Clementine’s public side, a part of her life many people probably are not aware of. Clementine Churchill certainly personified the “woman behind the man.” Winston Churchill was not the easiest man to live with, but she had an equally strong personality, most of it shaped during her difficult childhood. It is argued in the book, probably rightly so, that Winston Churchill would not have reached the heights he did without the help of his wife.

Clementine Churchill strikes a good balance between the private and public side of its subject. While the text in this book is illuminating, albeit a little one sided in favor of the Churchills, the photographs are what make this a winner. Not only does it give a good view of Clementine’s life, but it also offers an insight into what life was like at the end of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth century. The picture which struck me most was of Clementine Churchill with Eleanor Roosevelt, a woman I have admired for a very long time. It is obvious that they were more alike than I ever expected, but Sonia Purnell has a distinct preference for the Churchills which felt quite annoying at times. It is easy for a biographer to fall in love with its subject, but a little more objectivity would have made this a five-star book in my account.


Let’s Get Tropical: Over 60 Cocktail Recipes from Caribbean Classics to Modern Tiki Drinks by Georgi Radev

Just like a tropical cocktail, this book was fun. Coming in at just 144 pages, “Let’s Get Tropical” is short and sweet but manages to give a nice introduction to the flavorful world of the tropical cocktail. Besides a very short introduction on how rum is made and what kind of tropical spirits are available, there are also about sixty recipes with mouthwatering pictures and easy graphics.

Most of the recipes are labeled as classics, such as the Piña Colada, the Daiquiri and the Mai Tai. If you have some knowledge about cocktails you will probably be familiar with all of those already, but I liked the addition of the modern twists and the alcohol-free versions.

The few new and modern cocktails are nothing spectacular and include more unusual ingredients, but it is nice to see what mixologists come up with these days when it comes to tropical drinks. I may not necessarily make them at home myself, but they give a nice idea on what to do if you want to create your own recipes. The most valuable part of the book was the base recipe to make your own punch, something which always puzzled me in the past when I tried to make a big batch for a party.

Even though I didn’t learn many new things, except for some short history behind the cocktails I have always loved, I like having a one-stop book for all my tropical cocktail needs, most of which can be made with ingredients you already have in your kitchen and liquor cabinet.


I received a digital galley of this book via NetGalley.

War and Peace: FDR’s Final Odyssey by Nigel Hamilton

War and Peace: FDR’s Final Odyssey is the third and final installment in Nigel Hamilton’s FDR at War trilogy. It is a fitting and poignant end to a series which highlights FDR as Commander in Chief during WWII. Its main aim was to show how FDR was as much a military commander as a politician, and Nigel Hamilton certainly accomplished this.

Unlike almost everyone else involved in WWII, President Roosevelt had not been able to write his own account of the war, and this is what Nigel Hamilton has been trying to do for him. Undoubtedly Roosevelt would have written his own story, just as Churchill and many of his contemporaries had done, but in his efforts to lead the war to its conclusion, Roosevelt inadvertently became one of its final casualties. Roosevelt died on April 12th 1945, just days before the war in Europe was over. It is a consolation to know that he was aware the war would be over soon, predicting the dates with remarkable accuracy to Canadian Prime Minister Mackenzie King at the end of March 1945.

War and Peace deals with the final two to three years of the President’s life, focusing on how he guided the Allies from the first attacks in North Africa, through D-Day and so to the conclusion of the war. A main point of focus is FDR‘s health, which steadily deteriorated from mid-1944 on. Having read many books on FDR over the years, it was never more apparent than from reading War and Peace how very aware Roosevelt was himself of his impending death. Hamilton does a great job telling FDR’s story by weaving together eyewitness accounts and diary entries of all the major players involved, from Mackenzie King, to Lord Moran and many of the president’s doctors and confidantes.

When it comes to military matters, the story focuses on Roosevelt’s insistence on a Second Front, having to fight his own staff and Winston Churchill, who insisted on attacking Germany’s ‘soft underbelly,’ in the process. The book gives a good idea of the decisions which had to be made, and the process FDR went through to reach those while at the same time getting others in line behind him. Certain aspects about the war are more talked about than others, such as FDR’s decision to make General Eisenhower Supreme Commander and the final meeting of the Big Three at Yalta in February 1945, but in general no stone is left unturned. The book comprises about ninety short chapters, each dealing with a specific moment in time, and chronologically organized.

At 500 pages the book is a wonderful and fast read, even though it has a tendency to fall into repetition at certain times. It is evident from the very beginning that Mr. Hamilton is no fan of Winston Churchill, and sometimes this gives the feeling that the book is a little one-sided. Churchill might not have been the best military strategist, but if one were to base one’s opinion of Churchill solely on this book, he would barely get a passing grade! However, as a history of Roosevelt’s military leadership during WWII, War and Peace does a superb job. Having read both The Mantle of Command and Commander in Chief, this was a fitting end and a real tribute to the courage and visionary leadership of President Roosevelt.


I received a digital galley of this book via NetGalley.

Dutch Girl: Audrey Hepburn and WWII by Robert Matzen

When I saw Dutch Girl on NetGalley, a book about Audrey Hepburn’s years in Holland/the Netherlands during WWII, I was intrigued by the idea of a different perspective on the war, and on Audrey Hepburn. Having read one or two biographies on her before, I knew the war years are generally skimmed over: born in Belgium, moved to Holland, danced ballet, lived in Velp during the war…The reason for that is there just isn’t that much information available, especially since Hepburn herself hardly ever talked about the war. I had hoped Robert Matzen had been able to find new sources of information, especially since he had gotten the blessing of Hepburn’s sons, but that was not the case.

I was looking to get a new perspective on Audrey Hepburn; if the first years of a person are formative, then an experience of having grown up during WWII in the middle of the fighting must have molded Audrey Hepburn in the person she was. The war certainly formed her, and while Dutch Girl certainly makes a valiant effort, this book does not nearly enough to show us how and why.

I enjoyed reading this book, but not as a biography on Audrey Hepburn, but as a history of what life was like during WWII in occupied Holland. The book starts of well, detailing the life of her mother and father and their dealings with the Nazis during the thirties, but as the story moves along it seems details and information becomes less and less available and the author has to rely on, not so much Audrey Hepburn’s story, as the lives of the people around her and the events happening in the war.

There just isn’t that much information available on this subject, as the author says himself, and some of the embellishments make the book come across as creative nonfiction in certain parts (also acknowledged in the notes by the author that certain thoughts and actions ascribed to Hepburn in the book are what he assumes to be the case based on his research). Hepburn never wrote a diary like Anne Frank did, another major character in the book and an indirect influence on Hepburn’s life.

There is quite a bit of repetition and pointless filler, with a few crumbs of Audrey Hepburn thrown in which does make the book worthwhile. The story of her uncle drives home the ruthlessness of the Nazis, while the small acts of kindness such as Hepburn helping out at the hospital or teaching ballet to the local children, show the resilient spirit of the Dutch.

Parts of the story come across as contrived, and the beginning of each new chapter starts with a description of Hepburn’s later life and how it seems the war influenced her at that point. This doesn’t really work for me, as there is never any real, hard evidence that was how Hepburn really felt. She hardly ever talked about the war, and she was an intensely private person. One other thing which consistently interrupted the flow of the story: the use of Dutch words where it was totally unnecessary. I understand Dutch and it bothered me, so I can only imagine not knowing the language, how annoying it must be to read sentences such as: “the assembled gijzelaars, or hostages,” and “there was a hint of autumn – herfst as the Dutch called it.”

All in all a good read, as long as you start reading with the knowledge that you won’t learn as much about Audrey Hepburn as the title makes you think you will.


Winter War by Eric Rauchway

FDR’s first inauguration was the last presidential inauguration to be held in March, almost four months after the elections in November. He was elected by an overwhelming majority, defeating incumbent President Hoover. Winter War describes those four months in detail, highlighting how the fight between the progressive FDR and the conservative Hoover led to the establishment of the Democratic and Republican parties as we know them today.

Hoover was convinced he would win re-election against NY Governor Franklin Delano Roosevelt, so when he ended up losing he decided to do everything possible to work against FDR, even if it meant worsening the plight of the American people as the Depression got worse. In eight chapters, Rauchway highlights the differences between Hoover and FDR in dealing with the issues of the day: foreign policy, the plight of the farmer, Communism, African Americans and social justice, the threat of Nazism and the bank failures which reached a peak just days before the inauguration.

Winter War was a good read which is relevant to today’s political world. While in certain places it came across as a little scholarly, it incorporated lots of new information not often found in other books on the Roosevelt presidency. The ride FDR and Hoover took together on their way to the Capitol for the inauguration was marked by an icy silence which came about through the events of the previous four months (and longer if you add in the campaign). While the focus is on politics, many anecdotes are included which make both presidents human.

Having read many books on FDR, this provides a focus on his four months as President-Elect not often found in other books. On the other hand, if you are interested in how the Republican Party became what it is today, then Winter War should be on top of your reading list.


Winter War will be released on November 13th, 2018. I read the galley through NetGalley.