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Wednesday, September 28, 2016

The Six The Lives of the Mitford Sisters by Laura Thompson

Asthall Manor, the family home of the Mitford sisters. (Wikipedia)

I could never read enough books about the Mitford sisters. They are endlessly fascinating, especially the wonderful Nancy, who wrote the adorable Love in a Cold Climate. Another book about them is a welcome addition!

This book is a little bit academic and factual, but it is very analytical and Laura Thompson certainly explains Diana's and Unity's personalities and why they were drawn to Fascism, extremely well. She also describes Jessica's character and I was pleased that she has little sympathy for Jessica's attraction to Communism and makes it clear that Stalin was a tyrant and murderer, like Hitler. History has been kinder to Jessica and she did get involved in the civil rights movement. However, Communism is just as bad as Fascism and 'fellow-travelling' in either direction shouldn't be condoned.

This may become the definitive book about the sisters. It's all here  - the mistakes of the parents, the combative rivalries between the sisters, their love affairs, and the differences between their personalities.  If you are interested in the Mitford's, you should read it soon!

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



Sunday, September 25, 2016

Christmas at Designer's Homes Across America by Katharine Kaye McMillan & Patricia Hart McMillan Schiffer Publishing Ltd.

This is a gorgeous coffee-table book to inspire your Christmas decorations at this holy time of year.  It's full of beautiful photos with interesting descriptions as well as chapters on famous designers.  All of the designers have very different ideas about how to embellish their homes for Christmas.

The designers include Christopher Radko with his love of vintage ornaments, such as toy soldiers from The Nutcracker, and nostalgic Christmas trees, Shayla Coplas, who also likes a traditional Christmas.  She prefers a more glamorous style, however, with glittering reindeers, and gold and Tiffany blue decorations on the tree.  Another designer is Mary Helen McCoy. Her house is filled with fine French antiques and she likes gilded birds and peacocks.

Many of the designers fill their houses with roses because they are a symbol of Jesus.  I didn't know that, and I like that idea, as well as many of the others.

I received this book from Schiffer Publishing via Net Galley in return for an honest review.

Anna and the King of Siam by Margaret Landon

Anna Leonowens (Wikipedia)

I have always wanted to read this book since I saw the wonderful movie The King and I when I was very young, and I wasn't disappointed! It's a wonderfully exotic and vivid story about a clash of cultures and the strange tyrannical world of the old East, and a brave young woman's struggle to 'own' her place in it.  It's the kind of book that one could read many times without being bored.

When Anna, a young widow, arrived in Siam with her ten-year old son, she was given an ignominious welcome and had to insist to herself that she wouldn't get straight back on the ship! After this, she was not given her own house for months and she had to cope with a lack of privacy and the stifling quarters of the palace. When her poor servant walked into the harem accidentally, she had to stop him being whipped.

The King kept her waiting, and she had little to do.  When she finally met him, she found him rather terrifying, although she very engagingly felt a strong urge to leapfrog down the lines of squatting figures  in front of him. Anna finds it hard to cope with the irascible and unpredictable king, the cruelty and slavery in the nineteenth-century Kingdom, and the ghastly tropical heat and humidity.
However, she is a very strong, independent and stable woman and she copes admirably.

This is a beautifully-written book that is highly-recommended.

I received this from Open Road Integrated Media via Net Galley in return for an honest review.

Friday, September 16, 2016

River Run by Nicole Alexander

I loved the last book that I read by Nicole Alexander. However, I just found the writing too 'slangy' in this one, so I couldn't get into it.

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

The Gay Monarch by Edward VII

Coronation Portrait of Edward VII by Sir Luke Fildes (Wikipedia)

Please don't be confused by the title of this book. Edward VII most certainly wasn't gay in the modern meaning of the word! He loved women and had lots of mistresses.

This is an excellent introduction to the life of this interesting monarch, although Jane Ridley's book is far more detailed and more thoroughly researched.  However, this is written in a lively style and Virginia Cowles certainly discusses all the salient points of Edward VII's life, although she really doesn't go into depth about the episode with Nelly Clifton and Edward's parent's somewhat fanatical attitude to Edward's immorality, which I found somewhat surprising.  However, she describes King Edward's rigid schooling and lonely childhood, Queen Victoria's treating him as a child by not letting him see the all-important red boxes, and her general lack of faith in him.  

Cowles's writing is especially vivid when Edward becomes King and she explains how he charmed a hostile Paris and his fraught relationship with his difficult nephew, the Kaiser.  I enjoyed this part of the book the best. I want to read more books by Cowles, whose writing is not at all dry or dull.

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


Thursday, September 08, 2016

Kennedy and Roosevelt: The Uneasy Alliance by Michael Beschloss

(President Roosevelt, Wikipedia)

When Roosevelt's son told his father, the President, that Joseph Kennedy wanted to go to the Court of Saint James, he saw him almost topple from his wheelchair from laughing! However, Kennedy got his way, as he usually did.

This book is an excellent study of the strange relationship between these two powerful men who had different and opposing ideas of leadership and public service. Kennedy was ultimately conservative and practical, disliking too much taxation and extension of government powers, while Roosevelt was the opposite. Their contradictions came to a head when Kennedy became the Ambassador to Britain, started asserting his ideas about appeasement and undermining the President on the side in a misguided campaign to run for power himself. Before this, Kennedy and Roosevelt shared a strange friendship and got on well. Roosevelt even put the former speculator and bootlegger in charge of policing Wall Street, which Louis Howe stated was 'like setting a cat to guard the pigeons'.

It's an interesting book by historian Michael Beschloss but very serious. I must admit to preferring The Gatekeeper, about Roosevelt's private secretary, which was easier reading.

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

Monday, September 05, 2016

Fashion Rebels by Carlyn Cerniglia Beccia

Carl Van Vechten photograph of Anna Mae Wong

This is a fun-to-read book for girls of all ages! Beccia has included historical 'rebels', such as Elizabeth 1 who had portraits painted with ermines because they represented purity and courageous Dolley Madison with her exotic turbans. I especially enjoyed reading about Anna Mae Wong who started off lifting eight-pound irons in her Chinese father's laundry and became a famous actress. She said: 'I want to become mentally and spiritually all that is possible for me to be'. It also contains articles about some of today's fashion rebels. I am more interested in the historical ones.

Beautiful fashion illustrations by Beccia accompany the text and there are also quizzes.

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

Sunday, September 04, 2016

Magnificent Missy. The Gatekeeper. Missy LeHand, FDR, and the Untold Story of the Partnership That Defined a Presidency by Kathryn Smith

An admirer of Missy (Mar LeHand, President Roosevelt's private secretary, once said that 'she got the Oval Office working with the precision of a Swiss watch'.  This 'Queen' of the White House staff wielded much power and influence in the president's administration and she acted as the gatekeeper to the president and advised him on 'policy and appointments, speeches and actions'.  For example, Missy told a college student from Somerville who worked for FDR's election to call her at the White House if he ever came to Washington.  Thomas P. O'Neill did just that, and Missy took him to meet the president. The famous 'Tip' O'Neill always credited Missy with giving him his start.

Missy came from humble beginnings and suffered from rheumatic fever when she was 15 which weakened her heart, but she didn't let these problems stop her from having a prestigious career. Raymond Moley, a professor and a member of a group of advisers called the 'Brain Trust' wrote that: 'She had every virtue and every talent needed by the super-confidential secretary of a man in high office.' Although Missy often suffered from illness, she manged to work late into the night, and she was a huge help to Roosevelt's charitable activities, as well as being a glamorous hostess.  Sam Rosenman thought that she was a better hostess than Eleanor, Roosevelt's wife, because Eleanor could be argumentative and aggressive, whereas Missy could lead conversations and charm guests with her 'gracious manner'.

Roosevelt even seemed to get on much better with Missy than with Eleanor, enjoying gossiping and sharing jokes with him. It has often been suggested that Missy was Roosevelt's mistress, and she was seen sitting on his lap in a white nightgown by his son and their bedrooms were nearby.  However, Missy was a strong Catholic and the love of her life was William Bullitt, Ambassador to France.  Also, Eleanor liked her and they were good friends, so Eleanor either trusted her or she didn't care!

Missy at her desk, Wikipedia

The end of this biography is harrowing and Roosevelt let Missy down, considering all the work she did for him.  Missy led a short life but she seemed to enjoy every minute and she certainly led a 'life well-lived'.

I really enjoyed this fascinating and thoroughly-researched biography which vindicates Missy, whose role has been downgraded in films such as Hyde Park on Hudson which showed Missy as one of Roosevelt's mistress, and countless books, including some that I have read. There are extensive notes and a large bibliography.  I also found the account of why Kathryn Smith wrote the book very inspiring. I will be buying this one!

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


Friday, September 02, 2016

The Life of Louis XVI by John Hardman

I had trouble reading this even though I am very interested in the subject. It was an excellent study of Louis's character and the turbulent times, but I found the writing a bit dry and complicated, I am afraid. Hardman certainly proved that Louis was not stupid, so I am pleased about that! Vincent Cronin's old history of Louis was more enjoyable. However, I need to read the printed book so I will read that and study it closely when I have more time!

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