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Sunday, January 15, 2017

The Hothouse by the East River by Muriel Spark

I found this rather weird and unsettling so I didn't finish it. However, I read some of Muriel Spark's other novels when I was younger.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Marie-Antoinette by Stefan Sweig

Ididn't finish this biography because I found it too wordy and old-fashioned, however, it is an important study of the French Queen. Swieg attributes much of the cause of the French Revolution to Louis XVI's early impotence and Marie-Antoinette's frustration. This led her to seek happiness in over-spending, gambling, parties and coquettish behavior with handsome young men. He appears to take an unsympathetic view and regards Marie-Antoinette as a rather silly and heedless young woman during her life who only faced her death with great dignity.

I felt that too much of this bbased on gossip and speculation and that Sweig attached too much importance to the poor Queen's behavior and not to her enemies and the American Revolution which was the real cause of the downfall of the economy.

I received this free ebook from Edelweiss in return for an honest review.

IN Pursuit of Privilege. Give Feedback In Pursuit of Privilege A History of New York City's Upper Class and the Making of a Metropolis by Clifton Hood

This was thoroughly-researched and useful for students studying the history of the upper classes of NYC. However, I found it a bit too academic and dull to read straight through. I may try again later.

I received this free ebook from Net Galley in return for an honest review.

Friday, January 06, 2017

The Kindness Challenge by Shaunti Feldhahn

This book got a bit repetitive but I certainly think that the idea is worth a try! According to Feldhahn, you can change your relationships simply by being kind. She suggests focusing on one difficult relationship for thirty days and practising the three area of kindness - saying nothing negative, practising praise and doing a small act of kindness - each day.  This will become a habit and soon you will be able to be kinder to everyone! She has an excellent chapter on how to overcome the difficulties of being kind, such as how to keep one's temper.

I am glad that she explained that being kind is not being 'nice'.  Kindness doesn't 'shy away from a challenge' and it doesn't avoid conflict.  It requires 'honesty and strength'.  The old saying that 'you have to be cruel to be kind' really does apply sometimes, for example, if your child needs treatment for alcohol addiction, it is kind to refuse to make excuses for him.  Feldhahn points out that Jesus was many things, but he wasn't kind.

I found this more useful than most self-help books and I recommend it.

I received this free ebook from Crown books through Blogging for Books.

Tuesday, January 03, 2017

Kick. The True Story of Kick Kennedy, JFK's Forgotten Sister and the Heir to Chatsworth by Paula Byrne

"Photograph in the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston. " -
'Kick" Kennedy was a likeable, vivacious, and intelligent young woman who was loved by almost everyone who met her.  This biography by Paula Byrne recounts her happy childhood in a large and boisterous family, her closeness to her beloved brother Jack, her love for England, her deep Catholicism and her anguished love affairs. The many tragedies which affected her life are handled well.Leaming's exposition of her struggle with her struggle with her Catholicism which conflicted with her desire to marry the Duke of Devonshire is especially good.

Kathleen Kennedy really came into her own when she went to England where her father was the American Ambassador during the 1930s. Although his anti-war views were highly annoying and embarrassing, she attracted a lot of suitors.  The young English men liked her 'openness and warmth and lack of pretension.' She was apparently amazed by the drabness of the English girls.

She could choose between many men, but she eventually chose the handsome future Duke of Devonshire who came from perhaps the most anti-Catholic family in England. Billy's parents loved Kathleen but she was put under a lot of pressure to convert to the Anglican church and bring up the children as Anglican, because it was not possible for Billy's future son to be a Catholic and a duke of Devonshire. The Devonshires also had at least forty livings in the Church of England.  Although Kathleen tried desperately to find a solution, there was really no answer to the conflict, because Billy wouldn't marry in the Catholic church and Anglican weddings were not recognised by the Catholic church.  I was a bit surprised that Kick chose to marry in a Registry Office instead, however.

After Billy's brave death, Kathleen chose to stay in England which was now home. As Nancy Astor had told her, once England got into her blood it would never let her go. Although, this marriage shocked the Kennedy's, they had become reconciled to it, and helped her to face Billy's tragic death. Even Rose, a rather fanatical Catholic, had remained close to Kathleen. However, the Kennedy's were in for an even greater crisis later in Kathleen's life...

This book is an excellent addition to any Kennedy collection, and this is an interesting and sympathetic biography of an amazing woman who would probably have achieved great success. However, I did find the writing fairly factual.

I received this free ebook from Edelweiss in return for an honest review.

Monday, January 02, 2017

A Portrait of Emily Price by Katherine Reay

When art restorer Emily goes to Atlanta, all of her dreams come true.  She falls quickly in love with a young and handsome Italian chef called Ben. Her work is praised, and even her sister Amy is able to pull herself together, and doesn't steal Ben's attention.  Emily has finally found true happiness with Ben.

However, things are not so easy when the loving couple go to Italy and live with Ben's big and complicated family.  Ben's father Lucio is dying and the sadness of this is worsened by the tensions and secrets within the home.  Although Lucio takes Emily under his wing, Ben's mother is cold to her, and Ben and Emily have their first fight when Emily tries to help his sister make a match with Alessandro...

This was a sensitive and moving book and a good description of a clash between cultures and a growing romance.  It was easy to imagine that one was in a warm Italian household and easy to empathise with Emily's difficulties.  I was a bit surprised that there was not much mention of the family's attitude towards Emily's being obviously Protestant and the differences between the denominations, however. Research was a bit lacking by Katherine Reay here. However, this didn't affect my enjoyment of the story. I also especially liked the literary allusions.

I received this free ebook from Net Galley in return for an honest review.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Lord of the World by Robert Hugh Benson

Monsignor R. H. Benson, Oct., 1912, age 40. Photograph by G. Jerrard

‘'Ministers of euthanasia’ on the scene quickly after a volor (high-speed plane) crash and there are Euthanasia centers for the disabled and anguished. Catholicism is regarded as the enemy and many of the faithful have gone to Rome, the last holdout. The others keep a low profile. England eagerly awaits the coming of Julian Felsenburgh, the new President of Europe who hAs united East and West. There are no wars in this Communist secular ‘utopia’.welcome to the dystopia world imagined by Robert Hugh Benson.

Oliver Brand is an official in the secular, ‘humanitarian’ government and determined to get rid of ‘ superstition and ignorance’,’ and his beautiful wife Mabel is heavily influenced by his views. Although Oliver is supposed to be enlightened, he really has a condescending attitude to Mabel who, he thinks, is inclined to be emotional because she is a woman. Imagine their horror when they find out that Mabel’s mother wants to see a priest and return to her religion! This priest, Fr Percy Franklin, is a calm and strong leader, who doesn’t fear Felsenburgh. 

In this new world, the government decides that people actually need ceremonies to replace the old ones and makes attendance compulsory. Now the Abbey is used for the veneration of Maternity,  Life, Sustenance and Paternity. These ceremonies remind one of some of the New Agey celebrations and, indeed, the new types of church services which are popular today.

Eventually, the battle between these two opposing views, will lead to a huge disaster…

This creepy, remarkably prescient novel by a Catholic convert with its similarities to today’s West with its desire to relegate Christianity
to the sidelines and its tendency to regard man as the enemy, but also worship mankind, had a big influence on the new Pope who has criticized ‘ideological colonisation’. This has created a big interest in the novel.

It is certainly a memorable book but rather wordy. I especially liked Benson’s explanation of Catholic belief.

I received this free ebook from Net Galley in return for an honest review.

Ave Maria Press

Friday, December 23, 2016

Erte's Theatrical Costumes in Full Color by Erte

This book is an absolute delight for any fan of costume design history, and it is sure to inspire budding theatrical designers. Brilliant and colourful, these costumes include designs for the ballet, the opera and famous actresses, such as Gaby Deslys. My favourites include the monster with three heads for the ballet Sheherazade, the pink and purple flowing octopus  and the fantastic clock with the 18th century lady and the cloaked man.

I received this free ebook from Net Galley in return for an honest review.

Lucie Aubrac. The French Resistance Heroine Who Defied The Gestapo by Sian Rees

LHochiminh and Bebet
By Paul Durand, photojournalist of Humanity daily (Humanity daily 16/9/1946) [Public domain or CC BY 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Lucie Aubrac, a heroine of the French Resistance, was certainly an amazing woman and this well-researched and interesting biography by Sian Rees   does her great credit and restores her reputation.  When Klaus Barbie claimed that Lucie and her husband Raymond became informers and betrayed their comrades, the news caused a sensation in France and they had a big struggle to prove that this was not true.  Even some of their former friends accused them, and they suffered for years from this betrayal.

Lucie began her life in Montparnesse in Paris which has become known as a 'poverty-stricken haunt of artists and intellectuals.' It was really an area of slums where Jean Cocteau said that poverty was a luxury. Lucie's mother had to support a sick husband and do laundry work even when she was pregnant. Life became a bit better after the couple moved to the country where Lucie's father grew flowers and vegetables and her mother sold them at the market.  She was surrounded by an extended family - her grandparents helped.  The young girl was always clever and rebellious. For example, she refused to kiss a statue of the Virgin Mary when asked to by her grandmother.

When she was nineteen, Lucie won a place at teaching college after her third try and her parents were delighted. Imagine their astonishment, when she refused to take her place.  She wanted to attend the Sorbonne and get a degree that would give her a much better status and salary.  Lucie had a great struggle to finally get her degree - living in poverty and even teaching herself Latin from scratch. She found friends among Communists and Quakers and work in primary schools but it took her a long time to pass Latin.

Raymond and Lucie shared a great love story even though they came from vastly different backgrounds. Raymond was a member of an atheist Jewish merchant family with money whereas she came from a family of Catholic peasants. However, Raymond's family were pleased with Lucie, who was a cultured university graduate and they were kind and hospitable. Lucie and Raymond could have looked forward to an easy and comfortable life but clouds were on the horizon...

Lucie and Raymond both played huge parts in the French Resistance. They founded one of the most important resistance movements, ran an underground newspaper and served as 'couriers, arms carriers and saboteurs'. Lucie  helped Raymond escape from the very Gestapo and even managed to fool the 'Butcher of Lyon,' Klaus Barbie with stunning sang froid.

Sian Rees describes the horrors of war, the cruelty of the Gestapo, the amazing feats of Raymond and Lucie and their shining characters in a fascinating way.  I also liked reading about Jean Moulin, another hero of the Resistance. This biography is certainly well-worth reading, especially for those who love to read any good book about the French Resistance.

I received this free ebook from Edelweiss in return for an honest review.

Chicago Review Press
256 pages