"Dreaming in French: The Paris Years of Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy, Susan Sontag, and Angela Davis" by Alice Kaplan
In "Dreaming in French," historian Alice Kaplan traces the impact of French culture and language on the lives of three famously influential women of the 20th century. Each one of Kaplan's subjects spent one year in France, soaking up sophistication and intensely wishing to find something more than what America had to offer. "Gossip is one of the key pleasures—but far from the only one—to be found in Alice Kaplan’s absorbing new book," writes Maria Bustillos of Slate. But Frederic Raphael at The Wall Street Journal cries "sacre bleu!" at Kaplan's oversight concerning the self-regard in which two of the three ladies hold themselves. In part conflating his dislike for the pretense of the subjects with the prose of the author, Frederic writes: "Ms. Kaplan—a professor of French at Yale—does not persist throughout with...sycophantic gush," but "banalities and imprecisions abound..." Without many primary sources to work with (since none of the ladies documented their year abroad), Dwight Garner of The New York Times notes the challenges and pitfalls in Kaplan's work: "The obstacle that Ms. Kaplan confronts...is that these women did not leave a great deal behind in terms of written accounts of their Paris years. What little there is can seem larval." Ultimately, "Dreaming in French" amounted to "a half bang, like a wet firework that flickers colorfully but never rises from the ground."
"The Astaires: Fred and Adele" by Kathleen Riley
Before Astaire lit the marquees and overtook Hollywood with grace and gallantry, Fred was - unsurprisingly - still dancing. More surprising, however, is whom he was dancing with: his sister Adele. But Adele married an Englishman in 1932, vanishing from potential stardom and leaving her brother to pursue the spotlight. Jonathan Yardley of The Washington Post notes how "it is good to have Riley’s [book], a labor of love by an Australian scholar of the theater who is far too young to have seen or heard Fred and Adele when they were a team but for whom they are 'a pair of performers who have held a powerful fascination over my imagination from childhood.'" In the "first full-length study of a fantastically charismatic figure," writes Arlene Croce of The New York Review of Books, "Riley enters some new facts in the biographical record and quietly corrects others." Ethan Mordden of The Wall Street Journal calls Riley's work a "welcome rehabilitation" of the Astaire's lesser-known but still formative years. Perhaps most importantly, Riley "gives us an unusual subject: showbiz without tears. There's no temperamental hazing of underlings, sexual curiosa or ruthless scheming to rule the world. Adele adores her brother; Fred protects his sister."