On the shelf: Words of summer

While your toes are tickled by sea air, tickle your mind with a good read. Here are a few picks for summer reading:

“The Secret Life of Siegfried and Roy: How the Tiger Kings Tamed Las Vegas” by Jimmy Lavery, Jim Mydlach and Louis Mydlach as told to Henrietta Tiefenthaler, offers a peek behind the curtain of the lives of Siegfried, master magician and Roy, expert animal handler. They both had similar childhoods with fathers who were often absent, and abusive when they were around. It was the war that did it to them, you see. Leaving Germany, the two performers met on a ship just as Siegfried needed an assistant for his act. What an act it became, landing them in Paris before they were signed, sealed and delivered to Las Vegas. They were a sensation and as their act grew, so did their homes, animals and entourage. The stories in this book were relayed by their former show consultant, the head of security and a personal assistant. Opening with Roy's tiger attack, it traces their early lives, swinging around full circle to their status today. One funny incident occurred when Siegfried came back from a visit to Germany during Oktoberfest. He ate and drank so much that he gained two sizes and was unable to fit into the compartment to conceal himself during a trick. He belatedly realized he was sticking out and the audience could see him. It definitely freaked him out — and pushed him onto a strict diet. Some things even master illusionists cannot hide with smoke and mirrors!

“The Last Lecture,” by Randy Pausch, is really his legacy to his three young children. You may have seen him in Parade Magazine or interviewed by Diane Sawyer. He was a professor who has had a remarkable professional life, achieving almost everything he set out to do, but he has met the ultimate brick wall: terminal cancer. With only months left to live, he gave his last lecture at Carnegie Mellon University and then he published it. This book is an instruction manual on truly living life — a gift to anyone who reads it, as well as a personal legacy to enable Pausch's children to connect to him in the years ahead. The last chapter is incredibly moving as his wife tries to get her mind around the reality of life without him.

“Blindsided: Lifting a Life Above Illness: a Reluctant Memoir,” by Richard M. Cohen, husband of Meredith Viera, is a very gritty look at living with a body that just will not cooperate and continually betrays its owner. Despite being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis at age 25, Richard forged ahead in his journalism career, winning numerous awards, while dealing with constant setbacks. With a family history of MS, there was perhaps no way to outrun his destiny. The story of how he and his family cope, and his blunt honesty in telling it makes this a must-read. As the MS progressed, leaving him weak and blinded, the grizzly bear of cancer attacked his colon, not once, but twice. How this family held it together, and how he tried to maintain his dignity despite the extreme affront to his pride, makes for a remarkable and inspiring tale.

“Royal Panoply, Brief Lives of the English Monarchs,” by Carolly Erickson, is a brief synopsis from William I 1066, to Elizabeth II 1952, to the royal ranks of present day. This is a handy, quick way to get acquainted with the British royalty throughout the ages. If you have been watching Showtime's The Tudors, you may have felt the need to delve into more information about the line of British succession, their personalities and peccadilloes. For example, Henry VIII was quite accomplished, good looking and brave in his early years, contrary to all the pictures shown from his latter years when he was quite obese and out of shape. Yet he had the nerve to reject another wife-to-be, Ann of Cleves, in his latter years as he said she was repulsive. Doesn't it make you wonder what oddities are hidden in the histories of all the other monarchs?

“Heart-Shaped Box,” by Joe Hill, is a nightmare tale of an aging rocker whose hobby deals with the macabre. He orders a dead man's suit online to add to his bizarre collection. Upon its arrival, havoc on a grand scale befalls all those who have the misfortune to come in contact with the recipient, as all must battle to destroy the malevolent ghost that accompanied the suit on its journey. No coincidence, Joe Hill is the son of Stephen King. Guess it must be in the genes!