‘The Riviera Set’ by Mary S. Lovell


 Genre: Non-fiction

This book was reviewed on the ABC radio program ‘Overnights with Rod Quinn’ as part of my Christmas special. The podcast of the review is available under the ‘Podcasts’ tab if you want to hear the full review (:

I have a devastating habit of not finishing non-fiction books and yes…this has been one of them. However! The point of difference with this book is that I’ve kept thinking about it and I’ve been meaning to go back to it. I think that counts for something when reviewing a book and shows that this is an interesting subject!

With the announcement of upcoming movies that portray the famous stories and lives of the Jazz Age (Scarlett Johansson to star in Scott. F. Fitzgerald’s ‘Beautiful and the Damned’ and Jenifer Lawerance to star in the biopic of Zelda Fitzgerald) I’ve particularly begun to notice many books being published depicting this era.

This book gives insight into the high society of the 20th century. It tells the story of an infamous hotel, the exquisite Chateau de l’Horizon in Cannes that was opened from 1930 to 1960.

The woman to open the hotel was Maxine Elliott, an American actress who made her way into the British aristocracy. The second half of the book details the hotel’s history when it was taken over by  Prince Aly Khan, an well-known ‘playboy’ prince of the Middle East, who continued to attract famous hotel guests such as Rita Hayworth.

This hotel was the epitome of stylish art deco and was the place to see and be seen and boasts famous guests such as the Coco Chanel, Windsors, Winston Churchill and Noel Coward.

The author, Mary S. Lovell is a expert in this time period and previously wrote the success book The Mitford Girls

Other books to look out for if you’re interested in the roaring twenties are (I haven’t personally read these myself yet but The Riviera Set has sparked my interest in this time period):
*The Queen Bees by Sian Evans that looks at the lives of sex women who made their careers out of being society hostesses
*Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald by Therese Anne Fowler a fictionalized take on the romance of the Fitzgeralds

I say this is a great book for fans of the movie, “Midnight In Paris” directed by Woody Allen and “A Good Women” starring Scarlett Johansson and Helen Hunt.

I’d love to hear others opinions of this one or other recommendations!


‘Insomniac City’ by Bill Hayes


Insomniac City is a story of New York told through the eyes of a newcomer. Bill Hayes moved to New York in 2009 at the age of 48. He moved from San Francisco after the tragic death of his partner. He bought a one-way ticket and had only had the vaguest idea of what he’d do there. The title of the book is derived from Hayes’ lifelong dealings with insomnia and in fact many of the stories from this book take place through late night strolls through the city. During his time in New York, Hayes unexpectedly fell in love with his neighbor, Oliver Sacks, the writer and neurologist popularly known for his books about his patients such as The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat. Hayes was 48 and Sacks was 76 when they met. This relationship adds a fascinating layer of insight into the book and gives aspects of the book a lovable, mundane quality.

Bill Hayes is an author many books such as ‘Sleep Demons’ and his works are frequently published in the New York Times and his photographs often featured in Vanity Fair. He was given a grant to write this book by the American Academy in Rome, so ironically wrote a book about New York, the place he still lives, in Rome.

This book is a memoir but also could be classified as travelling writing due to the author’s detail and obvious love of New York. The major themes in this book are change, awareness of yourself and awareness of others

Insomniac City has a very soft and gentle writing style, it can be likened to a memory- it has moments of passion, guilt, sadness or even just the mundane. It’s difficult to pin down the intended audience of this book because everyone gets something different out of it. Insomniacs can relate to Hayes’ musing about being envious of his partner’s sleep, wanting to climb through his sleeping eyelids himself, for me I found the passion for New York incredibly inspiring. Hayes’ is also a photographer and will walk the streets finding a myriad range of people from all walks of life in this one city. Having moved to New York at 48 he has a child-like wonder about how much there is to do and see

Parts of the book have great critical analysis about life. His partner, Oliver Sacks, was deeply profound in how he saw the world. Sacks often removed himself from the world and instead focused on himself and life. This stems from a distaste for popular culture and certain technologies and it allows for a greater sense the bare basics of what makes us human

The themes in this book aren’t specifically developed, instead they grow through experiences but may not change e.g. the encounters Hayes’ has when he takes people’s photos. Some are forthcoming and willing to tell their stories, others want their picture taken but still crave anonymity

This book has an interesting layout which is important due to its mixed genres, content and characters:

  • Notes from his journal (I loved this aspect because it highlights the mundane but makes the book feel real and lovable)
  • Photographs capture the gentle and the striking and sometimes have a related story but otherwise just show the diversity of people in New York
  • Chapter lengths vary due to the impact this event had on the author


This is the type of book I’m glad to have on my bookshelf. It’s something I’ll pick up at random points just to re-experience certain parts.

He describes the current mood of the city as “exhilarating – there is a feeling of bonding and resistance to Trump that reminds me of the early days of AIDS when the government was doing nothing and activism started to happen everywhere…. We changed opinion and policy. So yeah, I’m feeling guardedly optimistic.”

One of the best books I’ve read so far in 2017!
Highly recommended!

Love, Vanessa

PODCAST UPDATE! Up all night with love and tears

Have a listen to Vanessa’s full review of ‘The Life of I’ by  Anne Manne and ‘When Breath Becomes Air’ by Dr Paul Kalanithi on ABC Radio’s ‘Overnights’ featuring presenter Rod Quinn.

Two engrossing stories- one non-fiction, the other a memoir that both will have a profound effect on any reader!

‘The Flaneur: A Stroll through the Paradoxes of Paris’ by Edmund White

Genre: Memoir/Travel Writing
This is my first experience with Edmund White, who has been described as ‘an eccentric, yet brilliant poet’ and is known for his gay-love literature. Therefore, when I was given this book I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect from this ‘must-read’ author.
Part autobiographical, part historical and part travel guide White delves into reasons why Paris is such an iconic city and why the only reason to experience all that it has to offer is through walking the streets.
Each chapter of this book touches on different aspects of the city such as the politics, what makes a city and homosexuality. Therefore each chapter is written is entirely different, growing more opinated and subjective the more you read. In one chapter he gives intimate and fascinating insights into famous Parisians such Sidonie Gabrielle Colette, simply known as Collette. An intensely sensual woman who would not let trivial things like husbands, lovers or children stop her from living a life the way she wanted to. In another, he criticises France’s response to the AIDS crisis of the 1980s and the effect this had on the homosexual community of Paris. In the same chapter he also gives personal accounts of the best place to meet men in Paris. This wasn’t the easiest book to read. White covers a lot of ground within a short space of time but his notes on Paris are insightful, interesting and personal. A great read for anyone who loves Paris!
There are numerous editions to this book but I highly recommend the Bloomsbury Publishing series called The Writer and the City, it’s a stunning edition that is a perfect gift (:



‘When Breath Becomes Air’ by Paul Kalanithi


Genre: Biography


My review of this book on ABC’s radio program ‘Overnight’ was published on 24/4/16 for anyone interested in the full review shoot me an email 🙂

‘Even if I’m dying, until I actually die, I’m still living.’ -Paul Kalanithi

Is it possible for a book to be uplifting and deflating all at once? I think so. That’s because that’s the only way I can describe this memoir. Published in January 2016, it tells the story of Dr Paul Kalanithi, a neurosurgeon who at 36 was diagnosed with inoperable metastatic lung cancer. He started this book post being diagnosed and was concluded by his wife 16 months later, after his death.
Part one looks back on Kalanithi’s life on his childhood, his English degree completed at Stanford university which then led into his pursuit of medicine. This part of the memoir gives you an insight into his philosophical side, his passion for words and his desire to write. However this is juxtaposed by his desire to understand the human body in full and the progress of his medical degree. It’s an incredibly intimate memoir.
Throughout the entirety of this book, Kalanithi constantly strives for acceptance of this unfair disease though you feel his strength in making the most of the time he has left. A great read for anyone interested in neurology, philosophy or who just wants to hear about an admirable individual.

This book asks some profound questions about the purposes and paths we choose to take in life. You get the impression that Kalanathi is one of those people constantly striving for more. Not in terms of wealth but personal satisfaction and meaning. It’s eerie knowing how this story ends and it’s written with Paul knowing that his death will be sooner rather than later, particularly with how quickly Paul went from being a doctor, to patient, to father with this aggressive cancer.

It also provides an interesting insight into the medical profession, as he gives intimate stories that make you question the ethics related to doctors who we trust so emphatically.

In a section of the memoir he’s discussing the early years of medical school and dealing with cadavers (corpses) and he makes note that doctors almost never donates their bodies with an anatomy professor saying, “you wouldn’t tell a patient the gory details of a surgery if that would make them not want to consent.

A wonderful look at life but definitely will make you cry so be ready!