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Continued: Summer books: Paperbacks

  • Article by: CHUCK LEDDY , Special to the Star Tribune
  • Last update: June 4, 2012 - 9:56 AM

"Jackie, Ethel, Joan: Women of Camelot," by J. Randy Taraborrelli (Grand Central, $16.99)

Bestselling celebrity biographer J. Randy Taraborrelli has previously dished the dirt on Madonna, Frank Sinatra and Marilyn Monroe. Here, he serves up heaping helpings of gossip, family drama, tragedy and triumph by looking at the complicated lives of three legendary women who married into America's political royal family. Exhaustively researched and grippingly dramatized, "Women of Camelot" is the story of three women struggling to manage the impossible: being high-profile wives of three Kennedy men (John F., Bobby and Ted) who blended political idealism with philandering and personal tragedies. Colorful, engaging reading.

"Scribble, Scribble, Scribble: Essays," by Simon Schama (Ecco, $16.99)

Simon Schama is among our greatest living historians, a scholar who writes English prose the way a Dutch master works with paint. To read Schama is to virtually inhabit the vivid worlds he re-creates on the page. In this selection of witty, entertaining and eclectic pieces of Schama's journalism, we sample his wide-ranging tastes in 48 splendid essays. There's brilliant travel writing, as Schama visits Amsterdam, Brazil and Washington, D.C., using his incomparable knowledge of history to make fascinating connections. Schama also writes eloquently about art, books, food, politics and more.

"The Murder of the Century," by Paul Collins (Broadway Books, $16)

Murder, mystery and media blend to make this gripping entertainment. The year is 1897 and competing New York City media moguls Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst transform a sensational case of murder into a publicity circus. Armed reporters lurk in the streets of Gotham in pursuit of suspects, and an unlikely trio -- a hard-luck cop, a cub reporter and an eccentric professor -- race to solve the crime. "The Murder of the Century" is a roller-coaster ride, a rich evocation of Gilded Age America and a colorful re-creation of the tabloid wars that continue to this day.

"Stan Musial: An American Life," by George Vecsey (ESPN Books, $16)

We live in an era that loves its heroes deeply flawed, but as George Vecsey's definitive Musial bio shows, Stan the Man got ahead by old-fashioned hard work and humility. Musial's career numbers stagger belief; he was a model of consistency for two decades, but the St. Louis Cardinals superstar has never received his due. After his last game, during which he smacked two hits, a reporter asked Musial to compare it with his first game, when he also stroked two hits. In typically self-effacing style, the superstar shrugged and said, "I guess I haven't improved very much since then."

"No Biking in the House Without a Helmet: A Memoir," by Melissa Fay Greene (FSG, $15)

With four children already, Atlanta journalist Melissa Fay Greene and her husband, a criminal defense attorney, gradually adopted five more, one from Bulgaria and four from Ethiopia, to create a never-a-dull-moment family. Funny and self-effacing, Greene pokes fun at her own ignorance of the adoption process, which the couple began after Greene had a miscarriage in her mid-40s. Greene writes with brutal frankness about her own moments of "post-adoption panic" and doubts about attachment. In the end, this is a wondrous account of love overcoming differences to forge a unique, powerful family unit.

"How to Watch the Olympics: The Essential Guide," by David Goldblatt and Johnny Acton (Penguin, $15)

The authors clearly and engagingly explain the rules, competitors and strategies of all the sports you'll be watching during this summer's London Olympics. Whether it's archery or kayaking, synchronized swimming or the marathon, this book tells you everything you need to know to converse intelligently about the games. You'll be ready to see whether the Danish or the Koreans triumph at handball, just what the Italian fencers are up to and whether Greco-Roman wrestling really is like a game of chess (it is).

"This Life Is in Your Hands: One Dream, Sixty Acres, and a Family's Heartbreak," by Melissa Coleman. (Harper, $15.99)

Concerned about the lack of human connection to food production, Melissa Coleman's family began farming 60 acres in Maine. In this beautifully rendered memoir about growing up in a unique environment fueled by experimental back-to-the-land living, what starts in idealism ends in family tragedy. Coleman illuminates the beauty of growing up in a family culture that valued nature and freedom of expression, but also frankly exposes farming's negative impact on her family -- how it damaged her and led to the accidental death of her younger sister.

"Nothing Daunted: The Unexpected Education of Two Society Girls in the West," by Dorothy Wickenden (Scibner, $15)

A century ago, socialites Dorothy Woodruff and Rosamond Underwood, bored by their "safe," affluent lives in Auburn, N.Y., left home to teach school in the wilds of northwestern Colorado. They lived in the Elkhead Mountains and rode to their teaching jobs on horseback, often in blinding blizzards. Their students walked, in tattered clothes and shoes tied together with string. In short, the two women experienced an adventure of a lifetime. In reconstructing their journey with troves of family letters, Wickenden (who is the granddaughter of Dorothy Woodruff) has created an exhilarating saga about two intrepid women who helped "win" the West.

"Autobiographical Writings," by Mark Twain (Penguin, $16)

More than 500 pages of deliciously self-reflective writing from the greatest American humorist. Like everything Mark Twain wrote, the pieces are funny, politically sharp and highly self-deprecating. This is must reading for all lovers of Twain, offering insightful and entertaining glimpses into the writer's life, particularly his early years. "Autobiographical Writings" will help readers better appreciate why, even a century after his death, Twain remains vital and appealing.

"Sound: A Novel," by T.M. Wolf (Faber & Faber, $18)

Wolf's innovative and engaging debut novel is the story of Cincy, who leaves grad school to live on the Jersey Shore. In the bars and along the boardwalk, Cincy romantically pursues a woman and is himself pursued by police with a mysterious agenda. "Sound" intersperses song lyrics with conversations. Cincy reflects that "the songs I caught ... looped and repeated finite bars. Every few seconds brought you back to the same beginning before rocketing you out in a new, unexpected direction." Wolf's prose crackles with its own kind of improvised musical structure.

Chuck Leddy is a book critic in Boston.

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