Monthly Archives: June 2014

CD REVIEW: ‘Only An Angel’: Carrington MacDuffie Shines in EP CD


If you’re a fan of spoken word books, you’re probably familiar with the voice of Carrington MacDuffie, a native New Yorker who makes her home in Austin, TX. You might be surprised to discover that she has a wonderful voice, displayed elegantly in a six-song EP compact disc “Only An Angel” (Pointy Head Records, B00EI3XMO6, all songs by Carrington MacDuffie, $15.32 from, also available from CD Universe and other music vendors, including her own carrington macduffie cdwebsite store, see below for the link).

I’ve reviewed a number of books by Shelly Reuben and you’ll find MacDuffie reading “The Man With The Glass” from Blackstone Audio Books:

She also voiced “The Boys of Sabbath Street” by Reuben:…

From the product description on CD Universe:

Singer-songwriter Carrington MacDuffie brings together New York roots, West Coast ideals, and Texas soul in her most recent music. Throughout her childhood she was exposed to her father’s intense enjoyment of music, ranging from jazz of the ’40s and ’50s, to folk of the ’60s, to Scottish bagpipes, to Beethoven, to Herb Alpert. She was allowed very little television. She sang in choruses, played a couple of brass instruments, and then began writing songs at the age of 13, when she was listening to Neil Young, Cat Stevens, and the summer blare of AM radio.
Her first open mics were at Folk City in Greenwich Village, and then at various clubs in Boston, where she attended university. Singing, dancing and street performing with a vaudeville cabaret revue taught her the virtues of unselfconsciousness, as did a half-year spent vagabonding around Europe with her best friend and a harmonica, in the days when the only way to reach someone on the road was to send a letter to an American Express office and hope the traveler would stop there.
Music then took her to the West Coast, where in LA she formed a 4-piece rock band and wrote punky songs about anxious states of mind. Over time that morphed into an 8-piece arty World pop band for which she designed elaborate productions involving body paint, slide projection, tape-synched background vocals, two percussionists, costume changes, and a giant canvas for a painter to fervently fill with acrylics by the end of the set.

MacDuffie was then drawn into the possibilities of voice acting, spoken word performance and the outer limits of language and sound without song form. This led to the publication of a book of poetry, On the Dreaming Earth, a one-woman show by the same name, staged at numerous venues and festivals, and the release of her first album, Many Things Invisible, a collaborative work of found sound, music and poetry, composed and recorded in Seattle, and full of the mood of those dense skies and the power of those ubiquitous waters. The work was co-written by Bryan Nall, mixed by Portland’s Tucker Martine, and was nominated for 2 Audie Awards in 2009.

As a voice actor, MacDuffie has performed a tremendous amount of award-winning character and dialect work, including the part of an irate, Shamanic Scottish dwarf for “World of Warcraft”, the part of the dangerously sexy Honey West in a campy noir AudioComics production, and over 200 audiobooks for which she has voiced countless characters of every stripe. This work has informed her style as a vocalist, and she continues to expand into the possibilities voice acting offers.

With the release of “Only an Angel”, she immerses herself in the instrumentation of roots music for the first time. Listen for the elegant strains of Kim Deschamps, the subtle perfection of Chris Gage’s touch, a little of Bill Kirchen’s signature telecaster, and Ron Erwin’s solid grooves.

* * *

Or, to put it in MacDuffie’s own words: “I think there’s always going to be a part of us that just wants to sit on the porch swing and listen to music.”

Here are the songs on the CD:





Only an Angel

Carrington MacDuffie



View In iTunes



Fly Away

Carrington MacDuffie



View In iTunes



Hot Sun of the Summer

Carrington MacDuffie



View In iTunes



Red Eye

Carrington MacDuffie



View In iTunes



Stand Below Heaven

Carrington MacDuffie



View In iTunes



My Favorite Place in Texas

Carrington MacDuffie



View In iTunes
If I had to categorize Carrington MacDuffie, I’d say she’s “country cabaret.” I don’t like labels or categories, but she has the intimate sound of a cabaret singer. She would fit right in at the Cafe´Carlyle in New York City’s Hotel Carlyle, where Bobby Short performed for many years. Her songs are poetry set to music and if you like both poetry and music, you’ll like “Only An Angel.” For more information about Carrington MacDuffie, visit



BOOK REVIEW: ‘The Zhivago Affair’: Publication of Novel Banned in the U.S.S.R. Reads Like a Spy Story


This is “Doctor Zhivago”. May it make its way around the world. — Boris Pasternak, presenting the manuscript of “Doctor Zhivago” to an Italian publisher’s representative, Sergio D’Angelo, on May 20, 1956, at Pasternak’s dacha in Peredelkino, outside Moscow

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Zhivago jacketIf there’s one thing Russians take seriously, it is literature. In Czarist Russia, the Soviet Union, and even today under Putin, poetry, novels, and journalism was and is a life and death affair. Writers, especially poets, are treated like rock stars. Or, in the past, they were murdered or sent to Siberia.

Just how serious literature is to a people who love poetry and great writing — the Russians — is graphically illustrated In “The Zhivago Affair: The Kremlin, the CIA, and the Battle Over a Forbidden Book” (Pantheon Books, 368 pages, notes, bibliography, index, eight pages of photographs, $26.95) by Peter Finn and Petra Couvée.

The authors combine a biography of the famous writer (1890-1960) — best known before “Doctor Zhivago” as a poet and translator — with an account of how the “Terror” affected writers and other artists under Stalin, along with a literary thriller. The authors are the first to obtain CIA files that positively show the role of the Central Intelligence Agency in the publication of the book in Russian and, at the 1958 World’s Fair in Brussels, Belgium, find a way to get it distributed to Russian tourists.

That same year, 1958, Pasternak won the Nobel Prize in Literature. At first, he accepted the award, but he was forced by Soviet authorities to decline it. The authors write (Page 262) that Pasternak’s son, Yevgeny Pasternak, along with his wife, Yelena, traveled to Stockholm to accept the award, which was presented on Dec. 9, 1989 in a ceremony in the Swedish Academy.

If all this doesn’t sound like something out of John le Carré, I don’t know what does! In fact, the story of the publication of “Doctor Zhivago” has an eerie resemblance to le Carré’s “The Russia House”, published in 1989, which has a British publisher traveling to the same artist’s village of Peredelkino.

Americans aren’t immune to the power of literature, as the banning — and burning of a single copy — of John Steinbeck’s novel “The Grapes of Wrath” in California’s Kern County (Bakersfield) in 1939 proves. (For more about this, read my review of Rick Wartzman’s “Obscene in the Extreme” :

But what happened in Bakersfield is nothing compared with the killing of some 1,500 writers under Joseph Stalin, as the authors point out in “The Zhivago Affair”. Somehow — as his friends and neighbors went to their death in the basement of Lubyanka Prison or to the gulags — Boris Pasternak dodged their fate. Stalin, who never met Pasternak in person, would often telephone the writer and use him as a sounding board about literature in the Soviet Union, the authors write.

Stalin was well aware of the power of literature. Borrowing a phrase from Yury Olesha, Stalin called writers “engineers of human souls.” The dictator said in 1932: “The production of souls is more important than the production of tanks…. And therefore I raise my glass to you, writers, the engineers of the human soul.”

After the publication of “Doctor Zhivago” in an Italian translation by D’Angelo’s employer, Giangiacomo Feltrinelli, a wealthy left-wing capitalist in Milan, the CIA took an interest in a novel that had been refused publication in Russia. The “Company” had long been involved in getting its message to countries behind the Iron Curtain, but the publication of “Doctor Zhivago” was viewed inside the agency as its supreme black ops accomplishment. A copy of the novel is on display in the CIA museum in Langley, VA.

I wondered what “Zhivago” meant in Russian and discovered it means “the living” in Church Slavonic ( That’s an echo of another Russian Jewish writer, Ayn Rand (1905-1982, born Alisa Zinov’yevna Rosenbaum) who wrote an autobiographical novel on the forbidden topic of individualism in 1936 called “We The Living.”

I found no mention of the CIA’s involvement in the distribution of the novel in Tim Weiner’s “Legacy of Ashes,” a 2007 history of the CIA that I have in my personal library, so it’s obvious that the authors of “The Zhivago Affair” came up with proof of the spy shop’s involvement with the book. I won’t go into the details of the book’s distribution at the Brussels fair; it’s a weird spoiler and I want readers to enjoy it!

“Doctor Zhivago” — which I’m guessing most people know through the epic 1965 David Lean film starring Omar Sharif, Julie Christie, Alec Guinness, Rod Steiger and Tom Courtenay rather than the novel itself — is semi-autobiographical, drawing on incidents of Pasternak’s life. He grew up in an assimilated Russian Jewish family; His father, Leonid Pasternak, was a noted Post-impressionist painter and professor at the Moscow School of Painting, Sculpture, and Architecture. His mother, born Rosa Kaufman, was a concert pianist and the daughter of Odessa industrialist Isadore Kaufman. Intellectual were frequent visitors to the Pasternak apartment.

When Pasternak turned over the manuscript to the Italians, he understood the danger he was taking. Killing writers and sending them to gulags were not part of the post-Stalin Soviet Union in 1958 but he was expelled from the Union of Soviet Writers, effectively ending his income. He and his wife lived on their savings and translation work until his death from lung cancer in 1960.

Why was “Doctor Zhivago” refused publication in the Soviet Union? After all, it was a realistic portrayal of events from the 1905 revolution to World War II. That was a problem to Soviet authorities: “Doctor Zhivago” dealt with individualism, rather than the collective view that was the approved version.

Pasternak’s funeral in 1960 was attended by thousands of admirers who defied their government to bid him farewell, not to mention being marked by the all too typically Russian anti-semitism that was and is always close to the surface. One example: “He was a man of immense talent, but he’s a foreign body in our midst.” (Pages 156-7). The Nazis couldn’t have phrased it more succinctly! The example Pasternak set launched the great tradition of the writer-dissident in the Soviet Union.

“The Zhivago Affair” is a beautifully written, well-researched book that should reveal the plight of writers in a country where literature was vital to ordinary citizens. Events since Vladimir Putin took the reins of power show that not much has changed since the fall of the Soviet Union.

About Peter Finn

Peter Finn is the National Security Editor for The Washington Post. Beginning in 1998, Finn spent 10 years overseas for the paper as the bureau chief in Warsaw, Berlin and then Moscow. His last overseas assignment was the Russia-Georgia war, and Finn returned to Washington in 2008.

About Petra Couvée

Petra Couvée is a writer and translator and teaches at Saint Petersburg State University. (Ayn Rand was a graduate of the same university, then called Petrograd State University. She was one of the first women to be admitted).


BOOK REVIEW: ‘The Investor’s Paradox: The Power of Simplicity in a World of Overwhelming Choice’: Avoiding Common Pitfalls in Picking a Fund Manager


Toward the end of “The Investor’s Paradox: The Power of Simplicity in a World of Overwhelming Choice” (Palgrave Macmillan, 256 pages, notes, index, foreword by Ted Seides, $27.00) beginning on page 183, author Brian Portnoy has a chapter entitled “Parsing Lake Woebegon.”

investorsparadox_cov-1It’s the place humorist Garrison Keillor describes so vividly in “A Prairie Home Companion” as a town where “all the women are strong, all the men are good looking and all the children are above average.”

What does this have to do in a book where an investment expert leverages insights from psychology, finance, and history to illuminate a path toward success in today’s daunting markets?

The “Lake Woebegon Effect” is very much in evidence in the world of fund management and investing generally, Portnoy says in a very readable book, adding that in a career devoted to picking winners, “I can’t think of a single instance where a portfolio manager I was interviewing didn’t tell me he was better than the rest.”

Portnoy reminds up — as if we needed reminding — that investors are in a jam. A troubled global economy, unpredictable markets, and a bewildering number of investment choices create a dangerous landscape for individual and institutional investors alike. To meet this challenge, most serious investors rely on a portfolio of fund managers.

“The Investor’s Paradox” describes a path toward simplicity in a world of dangerous markets and overwhelming choice. Written in accessible, jargon-free language, with a healthy skepticism of today’s money management industry, it offers not only practical tools for investment success but also a message of empowerment for investors drowning in possibility.

Portnoy delivers a powerful framework for choosing the right ones — and avoiding the losers. Portnoy writes that the right answers are found by confronting our own subconscious biases and behavioral quirks.

A paradox we all face is the natural desire for more choice in our lives, yet the more we have, the less satisfied we become — whether we’re at the grocery store, choosing doctors, or flipping through hundreds of TV channels. So, too, with investing, where there are literally tens of thousands of funds from which to choose. Hence “the investor’s paradox”: We crave abundant investment choices to conquer volatile markets, yet with greater flexibility, the more overwhelmed and less empowered we become.

Leveraging the fresh insights of behavioral economics, Portnoy demystifies the opaque world of elite hedge funds, addresses the limits of mass market mutual funds, and discards the false dichotomy between “traditional” and “alternative” investments. He also explores why hedge funds have recently become such a controversial and disruptive force.

It turns out it’s not the splashy headlines — spectacular trades, newly minted billionaires, aggressive tactics — but something much more fundamental. The stratospheric rise to prominence and availability of alternative strategies represents a further explosion in the size and complexity of the choice set in a market already saturated with products. It constitutes something we all both crave and detest.

If you’re a serious investor — or want to become one — “The Investor’s Paradox” is a must-read, and re-read, book.

About the Author

Brian Portnoy, Ph.D., CFA has been successfully researching, advising, and investing in hedge funds and mutual funds for the past fourteen years. He is currently the Head of Alternative Investments and Strategic Initiatives for Chicago Equity Partners, a $10 billion asset manager. Previously, Portnoy held senior roles at Mesirow Advanced Strategies and Morningstar, the world’s premier research shop on mutual funds. He has spoken at numerous investing conferences across the U.S., Europe, and Asia, and has appeared frequently in major media outlets such as CNBC and the Wall Street Journal. Prior to his investing career, Brian pursued his research and teaching interests in political economy and markets at the University of Chicago, where he earned his Ph.D. in 2000. Brian Portnoy is a CFA Charterholder and a member of the CFA Society of Chicago.


BOOK REVIEW: ‘Chu’s First Day of School’, ‘Chu’s Day’: Two Delightful New Books for Children by Neil Gaiman, Adam Rex


If one new children’s book by Neil Gaiman, illustrated beautifully by Adam Rex, is a delight, what does that make TWO new books? A double delight, at the very least!

Chu's first day of schoolFirst off, let’s take a look at “Chu’s First Day of School” (HarperCollins, 32 pages, ages 4-8, $17.99). If you can remember your first day of school, you can sympathize with Chu, the panda with the big sneeze. He’s heading off to school for the first time. He hopes the other boys and girls will be nice. Will they like him? What will happen at this strange new place called school? And will Chu do what he does best? It’s a perfect book to read aloud to kids in this age group. And it’s written by Newbery Medal-winning author Neil Gaiman and beautifully illustrated by acclaimed artist Adam Rex. The book supports the Common Core State Standards.

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Chu's DayIf, like the reviewer, you haven’t seen a board book in decades, you’ll love  the new board book by author Neil Gaiman and illustrator Adam Rex, “Chu’s Day” (HarperCollins, 36 pages, ages 4-8, supports the Common Core State Standards, $7.99). “Chu’s Day” is a board book adaptation of a picture book.  And like the book about Chu’s first day of school, it’s an ideal read-aloud book. I stress this part: You can never have too much reading aloud or reading, for that matter! It’s not rocket science, it’s just common sense.
Chu is a little panda with a big sneeze. When Chu sneezes, bad things happen. But as Chu and his parents visit the library, the diner, and the circus, will anyone hear Chu when he starts to feel a familiar tickle in his nose?
Chu’s Day is a story that shows how even the smallest child can make big things happen.
Neil Gaiman photo by Kimberly Butler

Neil Gaiman
Photo by Kimberly Butler

About Neil Gaiman
Neil Gaiman is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of more than twenty books for readers of all ages, and the recipient of numerous literary awards, including the Shirley Jackson Award and the Locus Award for Best Novelette for his story “The Truth Is a Cave in the Black Mountains.” Originally from England, he now lives in America. His website:
Adam RexAdam Rex

About Adam Rex
Adam Rex is the author of many books, including Cold Cereal and Unlucky Charms, the first two books in the Cold Cereal Saga; the New York Times bestselling picture book Frankenstein Makes a Sandwich; the middle-grade novel The True Meaning of Smekday; and the teen novel Fat Vampire. He currently lives in Arizona with his wife. His website:

BOOK REVIEW: ‘Alive!’: Ordinary People Surviving Extraordinary Events


You expect heartwarming stories from Reader’s Digest magazine, and you won’t be disappointed with “Alive!: Extraordinary Stories of Ordinary People Who Survived Deadly Tornadoes, Avalanches, Shipwrecks and More!” by the Editors of Reader’s Digest (Reader’s Digest Association, 224 pages, $15.99).

Alive jacketThe stories collected in this book are from the archives of the popular magazine, dating back to the mid 1990s and as recently as 2012. In “Super Storm,” Rick Gregory, an off-duty patrolman watches an F3 tornado ravage his small Tennessee town where split-second decisions make the difference between life and death.

In “Avalanche!” Luke Edgar, a young father and backcountry snowboarder goes out with a buddy for a fun day on Mt. Rainier and gets buried alive in an avalanche.

“Swarm,” tells the story of the Walker family, out for a day trip in the Florida marsh when they get entangled in a yellow-jacket nest. The mother, Debbie, fighting anaphylactic shock must leave her injured husband and children in order to find help as time runs out.

Adventure writer Tim Cahill recounts how he barely survives the extreme heat of Death Valley despite his experience as an outdoorsman in “Across the Valley of Fire”; and in “Pacific Cyclone,”

Tony Farrington tells the harrowing story of the crews of three sailboats who run into an unimaginable storm in the normally calm South Pacific.

Whether out on a planned adventure or simply in the wrong place at the wrong time, the heroes of these stories are connected by their fierce desire to survive against all odds. Wildfires, blizzards, attacks by grizzlies, jet crashes in the jungle, are just some of the conditions people face in these stories of survival.

Readers will have an up close and personal view of events as they follow adventurers and laymen alike as they face down nature’s fury in the most extreme circumstances, and find strength they didn’t know they had, proving the depth and resilience of the human spirit.

As Tim Cahill so eloquently says: “Then I knew, really knew, that there is a way to get from one extreme to the other, the peaks and valleys. And there is a beauty so fierce only savage emotions like fear and triumph allow us to see it.”

As a resident of Southern California from 1976 to 1992, I was particularly impressed with “Trapped by a Killer Firestorm” by Mark Stuart Gill. Beginning on Page 38. Gill tells the story of how an elderly survivor of the Armenian holocaust, Hazel Bedrosian, was rescued by her 17-year-old grandson, Eddie Bedrosian, from the flames scorching a Malibu hillside. Eddie was wondering what to write about for a personal essay required for college admission. After his heroic rescue of Hazel, he didn’t have to worry about what to write!



UPDATE: Treasures of Eccentric Heiress Huguette Clark to Go on Auction Block

I just heard on NPR that the treasures of Huguette Clark, who died at age 104 in 2011, will go on the auction block Wednesday, June 18, 2014 at Christie’s in New York City.
clark-deb050_final_custom-7764791696399ebe5af1efaba39b718c38a8421d-s2-c85Who is Huguette Clark and why should anybody be interested in her?




Huguette Clark’s Debutante photograph
Courtesy of the Clark Estate (from the book “Empty Mansions”)

I reviewed a book in 2013, “Empty Mansions” about this eccentric wealthy beyond belief woman who, according to the NPR account,”had three apartments on New York’s Fifth Avenue, all filled with treasures worth millions, not to mention a mansion in Connecticut and a house in California. But the enigmatic heiress Huguette Clark lived her last 20 years in a plainly decorated hospital room — even though she wasn’t sick.”

Here’s another story about the auction, from NBC News: here’s my book review:

BOOK REVIEW: ‘Empty Mansions’ : Fascinating, Readable Account of Eccentric Heiress Who Lived More Than Two Decades in Hospital Rooms While Owning Five Empty Luxury Residences

Thursday, September 19, 2013 – 15:26
Pour vivre heureux, vivons caché. (To live happily, live hidden). — Saying from French fable poem “Le Grillon” (The Cricket) by Jean-Pierre Claris de Florian, late 1700s

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Empty Mansions jacketFrancophile American heiress Huguette Marcelle Clark (1906-2011) knew that poem by heart and practiced it in her long life, writes Bill Dedman in “Empty Mansions: The Mysterious Life of Huguette Clark and the Spending of a Great American Fortune” (Ballantine Books, 496 pages, more than 70 photographs, notes, index, $28.00) written with the collaboration of Huguette’s cousin Paul Clark Newell Jr.

If you are fascinated by the stories of Grey Gardens, filmed in 1975 as a documentary and remade as an HBO movie in 2009 about relatives of Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy living in a rundown mansion in the Hamptons (; the story of the famous New York City hoarders the Collyer Brothers, transformed into a novel “Homer &Langley” by E.L. Doctorow (my review:…) or the saga of miserly Hetty Green, you’ll love this enthralling account of Huguette, her mother, Anna, her older sister Andrée and her father, today an almost unknown copper king named William Andrew Clark Sr. (1839-1925).
In his prime Clark rivaled John D. Rockefeller and Andrew Carnegie for the size of his fortune, based on copper mining in Montana and Arizona. Clark was a controversial senator from Montana, built his own railroad from Los Angeles to Salt Lake City and founded Las Vegas, Nevada as a watering stop on the line. Clark County (Las Vegas) NV today is one of his few enduring monuments. His son from his first marriage, William A. Clark Jr. founded the Los Angeles Philharmonic orchestra.

Huguette Clark, heiress to a fortune of more than $300 million, was so secretive that no photograph of her had been seen in decades, at least since the time of her marriage to Bill Gower in 1928. The marriage was short-lived, but she stayed friends with Gower, who lived on the French Rivera, and through the years gave him substantial amounts of money. She gave more than $10 million to her nurse, Hadassah Peri , who served her full time while she lived in New York City hospital rooms, and also gave apartments and cars and money to her and Daniel Peri, Hadassah’s Orthodox Jewish husband.

Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Dedman became interested in the saga of the reclusive heiress when he noticed in 2009 that an estate in New Canaan, CT was on the market. It was a gigantic castle-like house called Le Beau Chateau (the beautiful castle) with more than 14,000 square feet and 22 rooms on 52 acres in one of the most expensive communities in the country. Neighbors include singer Harry Connick Jr. , NBC anchor Brian Williams and singer-songwriter Paul Simon of Simon & Garfunkel fame.

Built in 1938 by David Aiken Reed — the Republican Pennsylvania senator who sponsored the racist Immigration Act of 1924, designed to keep Jews, Asians and other “undesirables” out of the U.S. — Le Beau Chateau had never been occupied by Huguette. As with her luxury co-op apartments on Fifth Avenue in New York and the magnificent estate overlooking the Pacific Ocean on a mesa in Santa Barbara, CA, Bellosguardo, built by her mother Anna Clark and completed in 1936, the New Canaan estate was maintained in her absence by hired caretakers, well compensated and most of them also beneficiaries of Huguette’s largess.

Following “Sixty Minutes” producer Don Hewitt’s admonition: “Tell Me A Story”, Dedman chronicles the Gilded Age excesses of the 19th Century, combined with an ongoing battle over Huguette’s wills. The New York Observer recently wrote about the battle of the wills:…).

Dedman comes to the conclusion that while Huguette Clark may have been eccentric in the extreme, she was not mentally ill. The challenges by more than 20 Clark relatives are based on allegations that Huguette was swayed by Nurse Peri, her various lawyers and her accountant, a convicted felon and registered sex offender.

Dedman covers such issues as why did Huguette continue to live in hospital rooms following successful cancer surgery in the 1990s; why were her valuables being sold off by such allegedly reputable institutions as Citibank; was she being coerced by the hospital to donate her fortune to it; was it a conflict of interest for her lawyers and accountants to receive gifts from her, etc.

She grew up in the largest house in New York City, illustrated on the dust jacket, a remarkable dwelling with 121 rooms for a family of four. After W.A. Clark’s death in 1925, the house was demolished because nobody could possibly keep it up. Anna and Huguette moved south on Fifth Avenue to luxury co-op apartments.

She was a talented painter, using oils at a time when most amateurs — especially women — used pastels. Huguette owned paintings by Degas and Renoir, a world-renowned Stradivarius violin, a vast collection of antique dolls. She devoted her wealth to buying gifts for friends and strangers alike, to quietly pursuing her own work as an artist, and to guarding the privacy she valued above all else.

She could have been the butterfly in the fable “Le Grillon” but instead she followed the advice of the cricket, who escapes the fate of the beautiful butterfly: Pour vivre heureux, vivons caché. (To live happily, live hidden).

Dedman writes: “Like her attention-grabbing father and her music-loving mother, both strong-willed in their own ways, Huguette was a formidable personality who lived her life as she wanted, always on her own terms. Far from being controlled by her money men, she drove them to frustration. Though she was firm, she was always kind. It would have been easy for anyone born into her cosseted circumstances to have abused her power. Yet in all the testimony by fifty witnesses in the battle for her fortune, there is not a single indication that Huguette ever used her wealth to hurt anyone. That wasn’t her way.”

Anyone would be delighted to have an obituary/eulogy like that!

My assessment of “Empty Mansions”: a marvelous, entertaining, moving, educational and very readable account of an era and a woman who did it her way.

About the Authors

Bill Dedman introduced the public to heiress Huguette Clark and her empty mansions through his compelling series of narratives for NBC, which became the most popular feature in the history of the news website, topping 110 million page views. He received the 1989 Pulitzer Prize in investigative reporting while writing for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and has written for The New York Times, The Washington Post,and The Boston Globe.

Paul Clark Newell, Jr., a cousin of Huguette Clark, has researched the Clark family history for twenty years, sharing many conversations with Huguette about her life and family. He once received a rare private tour of Bellosguardo, her mysterious estate overlooking the Pacific Ocean in Santa Barbara, CA.



BOOK REVIEW: ‘Around the World in Seventy-Two Days and Other Writings’: First Edited Volume of Journalism by the Legendary Nelly Bly


nelly blyIn honor of the 150th anniversary of the birth of “stunt” journalist Nelly Bly (Born Elizabeth Jane Cochrane 1864-1922) Penguin Classics has published the first edited edition of journalism by the legendary newspaper reporter (Penguin Classics, trade paperback reprint edition, comprehensive notes, 368 pages, $17.50, also available in a Kindle eBook for $7.99). Edited with an introduction by Jean Marie Lutes, with a foreword by Maureen Corrigan. The editing is outstanding, providing the backstory for this important but all too often neglected figure in American journalism.

This work is important because Bly’s writing is still as fresh today as when it was published. I speak from experience on five daily newspapers, beginning in 1966 with The Hammond (IN) Times and including almost ten years with The Milwaukee Sentinel and more than 14 years with the Los Angeles Times.

The story of how this woman from the greater Pittsburgh area became a reporter is almost as fascinating as her brilliant writing. In 1884, when The Pittsburg Dispatch published a mocking column on “What Girls Are Good For”, Cochrane wrote an anonymous response saying they could do anything men could do. The editor was so impressed by this feisty response that he sought her out, thus beginning a truly remarkable career.

From those beginnings in Pennsylvania, Bly gained fame for being the first “girl stunt reporter,” writing stories that no one at the time thought a woman could or should write, including an exposé of patient treatment at an insane asylum and a travelogue from her record-breaking race around the world without a chaperone.

This volume, the only printed and edited collection of Bly’s writings, includes her best known works—Ten Days in a Mad-House, which was written for Joseph Pulitzer’s The New York World in 1887; Six Months in Mexico, about her experiences in Mexico, written for The Pittsburg Dispatch in 1886; and Around the World in Seventy-Two Days, written in 1890 for The New York World —as well as many lesser known pieces that capture the breadth of her career from her fierce opinion pieces to her remarkable World War I reporting for The New York Evening Journal.

Nelly Bly was so popular that a board game — similar to Where in the World Is Carmen San Diego of the recent past — was created and became a bestseller. Everybody loved Nelly Bly!

She ended her career in journalism as an advice columnist for The New York Evening Journal, from 1919 to her death in January 1922 — well before “Dear Abby” and “Ann Landers”. Several samples of her advice column writing appear, beginning on Page 304.


About the Author (and the editors)

Nellie Bly was the pen name of Elizabeth Jane Cochrane (1864–1922), an American journalist best known for her record-breaking trip around the world and her controversial undercover investigation of Bellevue Hospital’s insane asylum.

Jean M. Lutes is an associate professor of English and director of academics for Gender and Women’s Studies at Villanova University.

Maureen Corrigan is the book critic for NPR’s Fresh Air, a lecturer at Georgetown University, and the author of the literary memoir, Leave Me Alone, I’m Reading! She lives in Washington, D.C.


BOOK REVIEW: ‘The Mill River Recluse’: eBook Thriller Hit Now in Trade Paperback That’s An Excellent Book Club Choice


I dreamt that I dwelt in marble halls,

With vassals and serfs at my side,

And of all who assembled within those walls,

That I was the hope and the pride. — The Gipsy Girl’s Dream From “The Bohemian Girl”, an opera composed by Ireland’s Michael Balfe; libretto by Alfred Bunn

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To paraphrase Gilbert & Sullivan, a reviewer’s lot is not an happy one these days, as talented writers produce novels loaded with spoilers.

mill river recluse coverA good example is “The Mill River Recluse” (Ballantine Trade Paperback Original, 416 pages, $15.00, with an online Random House Reader’s Circle book club guide) by Darcie Chan. The author sought in vain for a publisher and ended up producing her own eBook. After it sold more than 700,000 copies, Chan found a publisher for a print edition, which will be released for sale on Tuesday, June 17.

Growing up on a Michigan farm and a small town in Illinois myself, I identified immediately with Chan’s fictional Mill River, Vermont, not far from Rutland. The little town is populated with memorable people who have secrets a plenty, making the reviewer’s task difficult in the extreme.

Widow Mary McAllister tops the list of people with secrets. Living alone in a hilltop marble mansion that was the wedding present when she married Patrick McAllister in 1940, she’s the recluse in the title. Her only friend is the town’s Roman Catholic priest, Father Michael O’Brien, a man with secrets of his own. I’ll only say they involve spoons, the kind you use for eating ice cream. Father O’Brien, not much older than Mary, officiated at her wedding and has remained a friend ever since.

Elementary school teacher Claudia Simon moved to Mill River to start a life as a new slim woman. She was an overweight teacher in upstate New York and re-invents herself. She’s the teacher of Rowen Hansen, the daughter of Mill River police officer Ryan Hansen, who left Boston after his wife’s death to find a quiet life for himself and his daughter. He soon gets more than he bargained for in Mill River.

“The Mill River Recluse” grabbed my attention from the beginning and didn’t let go until I learned the final secret Mary McAllister was keeping to herself. Not even Father O’Brien knew what it was.

This debut novel is a genre-breaking thriller with romantic overtones that should appeal to both men and women. Since it involves profanity, I’d keep it away from young children, but teens, especially those who love horses, will enjoy it. Mary was a dedicated horse person, and met Patrick when he visited her father’s farm to buy a horse.

When Father O’Brien reveals some of Mary’s secrets at the Mill River annual town meeting, everybody in the town changes their view of the reclusive old lady.

But wait, there’s more: In August Darcie Chan returns with a brand-new novel “The Mill River Redemption” that continues the story of the town, skillfully weaving together themes of family, self-discovery and forgiveness. A sneak-peek look at the book appears at the end of “The New River Recluse.” I look forward to reading and reviewing it, but I promise not to give away any of Mill River’s new secrets! Discover them for yourself in an author you’ll find to be a new talent on the publishing scene.

Darcie Chan
Darcie Chan




About the author

Darcie Chan is the bestselling author of the eBook sensation “The Mill River Recluse” and the upcoming novel “The Mill River Redemption”. She has been featured in The New York Times, USA Today, and The Wall Street Journal. For fourteen years, Chan worked as an attorney drafting environmental and natural resource legislation for the U.S. Senate. She now writes fiction full-time and lives north of New York City with her husband and son. Her website:


BOOK REVIEW: ‘The Smoke at Dawn’ Jeff Shaara Continues Saga of Civil War in West With Battle for Chattanooga, Lookout Mountain, Missionary Ridge


Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning. — Prime Minister Winston Churchill, in a Nov. 10, 1942 speech in the House of Commons, after the British defeat of the German Afrika Corps under Field Marshal Rommel at El Alamein, Egypt.

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the smoke at dawn jacketCivil War history buffs will argue endlessly about which campaigns represent the “beginning of the end”, in Churchill’s phrase, but I’ll go with Jeff Schaara’s unstated position so beautifully presented in his third new Civil War historical novel, “The Smoke at Dawn: A Novel of the Civil War” (Ballantine Books, 528 pages, $28.00).

This is the latest novel in the series that started with “A Blaze of Glory” in 2012 and continued with “A Chain of Thunder” in 2013. (For my review of Shaara’s “A Blaze of Glory,” about Shiloh: For my review of “A Chain of Thunder” about the siege of Vicksburg:

The defeat of the Confederates under Gen. Braxton Bragg in the greater Chattanooga, Tenn. area in November 1863 I think represents the beginning of the end for the Confederates, because it paved the way for the battle of Atlanta in 1864 and Gen. William T. Sherman’s March to the Sea, which definitely signaled the virtual end of a war that killed or wounded more people than all the other wars fought by Americans.

There were many battles after Sherman captured Savannah, GA at the end of 1864, but nobody was under any illusions about the fate of the Confederates, after they were defeated at the battles of Missionary Ridge and Lookout Mountain near Chattanooga in November 1863.

Nobody I’ve encountered captures the reality of the war better than Jeff Shaara. who returns to the Civil War terrain he knows so well, with the novel covering the last great push of the Army of the Cumberland. This campaign — perhaps even more than the defeat of the Confederates under Gen. John Bell Hood at Franklin Tenn. at the end of November 1864 — sealed the fate of the Confederate forces. (For more about Hood, see my review of a new book about him:

The Federal triumph at Vicksburg, in the summer of 1863, described so movingly in “A Chain of Thunder”, on the same day as the victory by Gen. George Meade over Gen. Robert E. Lee at Gettysburg, has secured complete control of the Mississippi River from the Confederacy, cementing the reputation of Ulysses S. Grant. Farther east, the Federal army under the command of William Rosecrans captures the crucial rail hub at Chattanooga.

But “Rosy” is careless, and while pursuing the Confederates, the Federal forces are routed in north Georgia at Chickamauga Creek, a tributary of the Tennessee River which winds through Chattanooga. Only the stand of forces commanded by Gen. George H. Thomas — “The Rock of Chicamauga” — prevents a complete rout of the Federals.

The Battle of Missionary Ridge
Retreating in a panic back to Chattanooga, Rosecrans is pursued by the Confederate forces under General Braxton Bragg. Penned up, with their supply lines severed, the Federal army seems doomed to the same kind of defeat that plagued the Confederates at Vicksburg.

The tide turns when President Abraham Lincoln has seen enough of Rosecrans, replacing him with Gen. Ulysses Grant to command of the entire theater of the war (he would assume command of the entire Federal army the next year), and immediately replaces Rosecrans with George Thomas, a Virginian who stayed loyal to the oath he gave when he joined the army.

Grant gathers an enormous force, including armies commanded by Joseph Hooker and Grant’s friend, William T.”Cump” Sherman. Grant’s mission is clear: Break the Confederate siege and destroy Bragg’s army. Meanwhile, Bragg wages war as much with his own subordinates as he does with the Federals, creating dissension and disharmony in the Southern ranks, erasing the Confederate army’s superiority at exactly the wrong time. In many ways, Bragg was his own worst enemy.

Blending historical detail with vivid depictions of battle, Jeff Shaara immerses readers in the world of commanders and common soldiers, civilians and statesmen. From the Union side come the voices of Generals Grant, William Tecumseh Sherman, and George Thomas—the vaunted “Rock of Chickamauga”—as well as that of young private Fritz “Dutchie” Bauer, from Milwaukee, along with his friend “Sammie” Willis, newly promoted to lieutenant.

Leading the Confederates are Generals Bragg, Patrick Cleburne, and James Longstreet, as well as the legendary cavalry commander, Nathan Bedford Forrest. “The Smoke at Dawn” vividly recreates the climactic months of the war in the West, when the fate of a divided nation truly hangs in the balance.
Jeff ShaaraAbout the Author

Jeff Shaara is the New York Times bestselling author of “A Chain of Thunder”, “A Blaze of Glory”, “The Final Storm”, “No Less Than Victory”, “The Steel Wave”, “The Rising Tide”, “To the Last Man”, “The Glorious Cause”, “Rise to Rebellion”, and “Gone for Soldiers”, as well as “Gods and Generals” and “The Last Full Measure”—two novels that complete the Civil War trilogy that began with his father’s Pulitzer Prize–winning classic, “The Killer Angels”. Shaara was born into a family of Italian immigrants in New Brunswick, New Jersey. He grew up in Tallahassee, Florida, and graduated from Florida State University. He lives in Gettysburg, PA.


BOOK REVIEW: ‘Mom in the Movies: The Iconic Screen Mothers You Love (and a Few You Love to Hate)’: Filmmakers Love Their Mothers…and So Do Moviegoers


mom-in-the-movies-9781476738260This past Mother’s Day weekend Turner Classic Movies screened a wide variety of films featuring moms of all kinds, from the ones you remember with fondness like Irene Dunne in I Remember Mama to the ones who scared the dickens out of you, like Mommie Dearest with Faye Dunaway as Joan Crawford.

TCM also heavily promoted a lavishly illustrated book by TCM and film critic and historian Richard Corliss: ‘Mom in the Movies: The Iconic Screen Mothers You Love (and a Few You Love to Hate)’ (Simon & Schuster, 256 pages, $35.00).

Both of the movies mentioned above are in the book, along with dozens of others in a variety of genres. You’ll find Jimmy Cagner’s Cody Jarrett’s gangland mom from the classic 1949 flick White Heat — “Top of the world, mom” — and Bette Davis’s horrible mom in Now, Voyager (1942).

With a foreword written by Debbie Reynolds and her daughter Carrie Fisher, and sidebar essays by Eva Marie Saint, Illeana Douglas, Jane Powell, Sam Robards, and Tippi Hedren, this book is packed with an incredible collection of photographs and film stills.

Here you will meet the Criminal Moms, like Shelley Winters in Bloody Mama, and the eccentric Showbiz Moms, including those from Gypsy and Postcards from the Edge. You’ll also find Great American Moms, in movies such as I Remember Mama and Places in the Heart, along with Surrogate Moms, like Ginger Rogers in Bachelor Mother, Rosalind Russell in Auntie Mame, Dianne Wiest in Edward Scissorhands and Sandra Bullock in The Blind Side.

There are plenty of the baddest moms of all, including one of the worst, Angela Lansbury in The Manchurian Candidate. It’s interesting to note that Lansbury was 36 when she made the 1962 movie, only a few years older than 33-year-old Laurence Harvey, who played her P.O.W. brainwashed son.

I looked in vain for the actress who played Cary Grant’s mom in Alfred Hitchcock’s 1959 thriller North by Northwest, the woman who advised her son to “pay the $2” fine for driving while intoxicated on Long Island. That’s Chicago native Jessie Royce Landis (1896-1972). She was only seven years older than Grant!

I know Father’s Day is coming up this weekend (is there hope for a book about movie fathers?) but there’s still time to get order the book as a gift for your mother. My mother has been gone 30 years now, but I’m sure she’d love to read about the amazing variety of mothers that have fascinated, frightened or delighted us down through the years.