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Friday, February 17, 2017

The Birthday Boys by Beryl Bainbridge

By Markus Koljonen (Own work) [GFDL (, CC-BY-SA-3.0 ( or CC BY-SA 2.5-2.0-1.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Beryl Bainbridge reimagines Captain Scott's expedition to Antarctica on the Terra Nova in this novel, through the eyes of most of the men.  Her ability to put herself into the minds of such different characters as Birdie and Captain Scott is brilliant, and her descriptions of Antarctica are irradiant. However, this is an extremely harrowing story and difficult to read. I also thought that she was quite hard on Captain Scott - she takes a dim view of his capricious character, his tendency towards depression and his blaming his mistakes onto others.  She also criticises the team's inexpertise on skis and Scott's mistrust of dogs.

I especially liked her descriptions of the wive's characters and the rivalry between them, especially the rather intimidating Kathleen Scott, whose fame as a sculptress has sadly been eclipsed by her husband's ill-fated journey.  Ever since I saw her sculpture of Captain Scott at Christchurch (and I was lucky enough to see that gorgeous city before the earthquake), I have been interested in reading more about her.

If you are interested in the expedition, this is an excellent novel about it.

Lara : The Untold Love Story and the Inspiration for Doctor Zhivago Anna Pasternak

Olga Ivinskaya by Kozovoi (Own work) [GFDL ( or CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Boris Pasternak, the author of the classic Dr Zhivago, 'characterised his life as a fight with a reigning and triumphant triteness for a freely playing human talent'.  He suffered a great deal and he was persecuted by the authorities, but, according to legend, Stalin said: 'Leave him in peace, he's a cloud dweller' and protected him from arrest. Instead, the love of his life, Olga Ivinskaya, his mistress for forty years, on whom he based his wonderful Lara, was punished by the totalitarian regime.

Incredibly brave, she was sent to the gulag and interrogated while pregnant with Pasternak's child, but she came out of her questioning 'victorious'. Olga spent many years in the gulag twice under horrendous conditions (she had to work in fields all day in baking heat or bitter heat and eat gruel) and never betrayed Boris Pasternak. She was constantly persecuted because of Boris, but she had wonderful inner strength, which shines through in this book.

This is a harrowing but well-written and moving book by Boris Pasternak's great-niece, but it is also the tale of an incredible writer, Pasternak'sfascinating love story with the real 'Lara' which is very similar to the one in the book and his struggles wth the regime. Anna Pasternak certainly describes the evils of the Soviet Union in great detail.  Sometimes, it is hard to face the story but this is a must-read for anyone who loves Dr Zhivago.

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

Interview with Anna Pavlova

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Fashion In The Time Of Queen Elizabeth 1 (1558 - 1603) by Melinda Camber Porter

This was written by a young schoolgirl who eventually went to Oxford and became a journalist. It's extremely useful for anyone studying the fashions of the time and it has detailed illustrations.  However, it's really a book for researchers.

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

Caught in the Revolution by Helen Rappaport

By Deror_avi - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

I read in Witnesses to the Revolution about a young student who complained that the 1917 revolution had begun with good intentions but unfortunately, it had been taken over by 'the dark people'. Rappaport's thoroughly researched and fascinating book provides evidence of this, but it mainly concerns the British and French in Russia who literally found themselves trapped in the revolution. She describes the British colony in Russia, the ambassadors and the journalists who watched as the country dramatically disintegrated.

It's quite a gruesome book - be warned.  It is a myth that the February revolution was comparatively peaceful with little violence. Although it came 'like a thief in the night', chaos soon descended and the world became one of 'dilapidation, of demoralization and decay'.  There were many reasons why Kerensky, who believed in orthodox socialism, ultimately lost control but in the end it was simply because the Bolsheviks were better organised with a 'definite political programme' and the government was not strong enough to put them down with force, as Sir George Buchanan, the British Ambassador had presciently warned.

My favourite characters in this book include Sit George Buchanan and his family. Sir George was a favourite of the Russians and he had even warned the Tsar that there would be trouble if he continued with his authoritarian government. Sir George stood like a rock amidst all the turmoil but he had to leave when Russia turned to anarchy after the Communists took over and he became one of the hated symbols of the hated capitalists.  Rappaport writes vividly that they escaped during the darkness of another power cut, sneaking downstairs by flickering candlelight past portraits of British royalty while their Russian maids sobbed.

This is a must-read for anyone interested in Russian history.

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

The Last Marlin: A Family at Sea by Fred Waitzkin

This was well-written but I couldn't get into it.  I am not interested in reading about fishing.

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

Friday, February 10, 2017

In Wartime: Stories from Ukraine by Tim Judah

In Wartime by Tim JudahWhen the new American Embassy in Kiev asked Natalie to set up the economics section in 1992, she was very excited. She thought that Ukraine had a bright future because it was 'close to the rest of Europe, rich in various resources, had an educated population, ports, and so on'. She didn't think that you could ask for anything more. Now, as the Minister for Finance she wants to help solve the country's deep problems.  The war with Russia is ruining a country already burdened with terrible debt and corruption.

Tim Judah travels through different parts of the country, the second-largest in Europe, to explain the origins of the war and how it is affecting people by means of interviews and descriptions of different districts and the info-wars. This war is based on maps and history, for example, most of the east, south and Crimea speak Russian and many of the people in these areas are sympathetic with the Russians. Many of them even wonder how they ended up Ukranian. Apparently, Russia is taking advantage of the fascist elements in Ukraine's past to accuse all of those fighting against them of being reincarnated Nazis, according to Judah. Many of the rebels also believe that Stalin was great and that everything 'has gone to hell in a handcart since the end of the Soviet Union'.

This is an extremely depressing book, but it did help me to have a clearer understanding of the origins of the war and the problems in Ukraine.

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

Sunday, January 29, 2017

City of Friends by Joanna Trollope

I usually like Joanna Trollope's novels but I didn't finish this one.  There are a lot of characters and I found some of the connections confusing. Also, I like the way that Trollope writes about modern trends so I thought that I would be interested to read about a character with a mother who has Alzheimer's, however, I found it extremely depressing.

I may give it another try later, but it didn't grab me and life is short!

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

The Essential Guide to Mindful Dressing Jules Standish

File:Blue dress - Ch9 Today Show, Bourke Street Mall - Flickr - avlxyz

This is a great book for anyone who wants to improve their way of life by using colours! Standish explains how to tell what 'season' you are and how to dress appropriately. She also gives excellent advice about choosing the right colours to wear for different occasions or just to improve your mood. For example, blue is soothing and red can give one energy. She also tells readers how to match colours.

I think that I will buy this one!

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

The Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps in France, 1917 – 1921 Women Urgently Wanted by Samantha Philo-Gill

This is a useful textbook by Samantha Philo-Gill for research purposes but I found it too dry for bedtime reading!

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

The Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps in France, 1917 – 1921 Women Urgently Wanted by Samantha Philo-Gill published by Pen & Sword Publishing

256 pages

Kindle $10.34

Monday, January 23, 2017

The Trials of The King of Hampshire Madness, Secrecy and Betrayal in Georgian England by Elizabeth Foyster

This is an unsettling story about the 3rd Earl of Portsmouth who was brought before a commission by his family because his sanity was in question. He was a rather unsavory character with extremely odd interests, but was he mad?

He was treated in a very inhumane way by his second wife and her family and several people either took advantage of him or tried to take advantage of him so it's a sorry tale. This is a well-researched study of a very dark side of Regency society. I didn't finish it because I didn't want to worry about it now and I didn't find it all that interesting.

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

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.