Skip to main content


Showing posts from 2007

The Red Princess: A Revolutionary Life by Sofka Zinovieff

One of Sofka Zinovieff's ancestors was wheeled in to her trial at the hands of a revolutionary tribunal. She told them about her court positions and the contributions that she'd made to public life - orphanages, libraries, dowries, and other charitable works. Then she said: "And now let me tell you who you are. You are murderers and assassins, cut-throats and rebels, tyrants, robbers, scoundrels..."
Her cause of death was supposed to be a heart attack, but the story goes that she was shot immediately.

Sofka Dolgorouky was not that ancestor, but she was just as interesting. This grandmother of the authors was hated by many of Zinovieff's relations because of her scandalous life and her taking to Communism. This is perfectly understandable because of the suffering and tyranny the Russian aristocracy endured at the hands of the Communists, of course.

It is with some trepidation that Zinovieff sets out to uncover her story, especially when her uncle tells her that …

Some Other Books

Two books that I've also read lately are The Seven Ages of Paris by Alastair Horne and Turner's Paintbox by Lloyd Jones.

The Seven Ages of Paris was much more interesting than most history books and covers much Parisian culture as well as successive kings and queens and governments. Horne tends to be rather idiosyncratic and devoted many pages to eras that he liked while practically dismissing the French Revolution. I found this a bit odd but I'd like to read some of his other books.

Turner's Paintbox was a luminous book - a sensitive and moving love story. It charts the progress of a love affair and combines this with the story of the great painter, Turner. I actually cried at the end of this book - but I'm not going to say whether this was because the ending was sad or happy.

Like most Australians I am attracted to Turner's paintings (even after a very boring tour at the Tate) and this book made me more interested in his art and his life.

A Strong-Minded Empress: Imperial Highness by Evelyn Anthony

Evelyn Anthony's writing runs rings around most of the modern historical writers such as Philippa Gregory. She doesn't resort to tricks like including steamy scenes in the first few pages or using grating modern language. The quality of her writing speaks for itself.

This is about the young Catherine the Great of Russia. Dragged from her remote German principality almost in the middle of the night, Catherine has a clear idea of her destiny almost from the beginning. This novel portrays her as an extremely strong-minded girl who faces her many problems - a mad husband, a drunken Empress, and a dominating mother - with dignity and determination.

The character of Peter, Catherine's husband, would have been difficult to write but Anthony never shows it as laughable. The strange Empress, Elizabeth, is also written reasonably sympathetically.

Catherine's character shines in this book and her progress towards her final destiny becomes quite exciting as she fights her husband…

The Ten Books I'd Need On A Desert Island

I saw this meme somewhere and really liked it. They're not all classics and some of them are out of print, I'm afraid, but these are the books that I couldn't live without on my desert island and my reasons:

1. Pride and Prejudice (Jane Austen): I'd need to fantasize about Mr.Darcy and the usually perceptive Elizabeth's company!

2. Gone With The Wind (Margaret Mitchell): I'd need all of Scarlett's gumption and more to survive on and escape from being stranded on the island.

3. Crime and Punishment(Dostoevsky): This story of redemption is ultimately comforting, and I'd study the knife-like precision of the writing.

4. Anne of the Island (L.M. Montgomery): Anne's bright spirits would cheer me up, not to mention beloved Gilbert, and this is my favourite 'Anne' book.

5. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (Betty Smith): This rags-to-riches story is also one of my favourites.

6. How Sleep the Brave (Catherine Gavin): This is a story of heroism and courage dur…

Always Flowers: The Colour of Love by Preethi Nair

This is a ‘feel-good’ story about finding one’s identity, one’s place in the world and true love. Charming and memorable and full of gentle lessons about life, it struck me as quite profound at times.

When the book begins the heroine, Nina, is in a bad way. Traumatized by the death of her best friend and stuck in a job that she hates in order to please her ambitious Indian parents, she also has to face the possibility of an arranged marriage. Nina is a lawyer who really wants to be a painter. Visiting a Guru who abuses her and losing her job after a big fight makes things much worse.

She agrees to go out with the future husband her parents have found and pretends that she has kept her job. An endearing character, it is easy to feel sorry for Nina!

But things begin to turn around when she goes to her favourite artist, Matisse’s exhibition at the Tate, and she meets a fellow artist, a friendly and genuine Australian girl, Gina. Gina’s friendship with Nina doesn’t begin well even after …

Book of the Year (so far!): The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield

This is a very clever and moving literary mystery which those who enjoy books such as Jane Eyre will love. I admit to thinking that it was contrived to appeal to a certain type of reader at first but the writing was so good and I became so involved in the mystery that I continued reading and I was glad that I did!

The heroine, Margaret Lea, a solitary biographer haunted by the loss of her twin sister, receives a letter from a famous writer, Vida Winter, asking her to write her biography. Margaret agrees on condition that Ms Winter, who has continually made up stories about her past, finally tells the truth.

When she arrives at Ms Winter's, Margaret becomes involved in the mystery of her past. The tale includes haunted houses, feral twins, mad adults and other odd characters. It is almost, but not quite, too over the top, because Setterfield keeps a tight control over it.

In the great tradition of all gothic mysteries, our heroine has to solve it. In doing so she also comes to terms…

The Immortal Chanel: Coco The Life and Times of Gabrielle Chanel by Frances Kennett

It was Christmas Eve in Paris. The French novelist, Michael Deon, was dressing to go to dinner with his girlfriend one night when the famous dress-designer, Chanel, telephoned him and invited him to dine at the Hotel Ritz. The dining room was full so Chanel and Deon had supper in her room. Deon despaired of being able to join his girlfriend and stayed until past midnight when he returned alone to his hotel 'not in the least put out'. This was a few nights before Chanel died. Until her death she still retained great enchantment and charm.

Deon '..believes that none of her biographers have done justice to her extraordinary magnetism, her magical fairy-tale like quality, that literally held people captive.' Ms Kennett may be an exception. This is a very charming book which relates Chanel's story in a sympathetic, interesting and unusually philosophical way which suits the great designer's life. The lovely paintings and illustrations by Natacha Ledwidge add to the …

The Ballerina's Ballerina: Margot Fonteyn by Meredith Daneman

Meridith Daneman writes like the ballerina she was - radiantly and luminously but thoroughly and in a well-disciplined way. Her wonderful book about this greatest of all English ballerinas never fails to fascinate.

Keith Money described Margot Fonteyn's dancing as 'the still heart at the centre of the universe.'* She certainly had all the attributes of a prima ballerina: grace, simplicity, beauty and fantastic dedication to her art. Like most great artists Fonteyn didn't have an easy life. In fact, hers was more difficult than most. Daneman describes a journey from one opposite to another. Fonteyn left school at fourteen yet became Vice-Chancellor of Durham University in later life. She enjoyed a bohemian life with many love affairs when she was young and single yet she became such a devoted wife that she combined ballet with caring for her husband who was in a wheelchair and retired with him to a remote and primitive farm in Panama. The one thing that was constan…

Get Paid to Blog

In my other life I write freelance articles so getting paid to blog always interests me. One way to do this is to register with
Blogsvertise. Advertisers join Blogsvertise in order to generate publicity and exposure through blogs. Bloggers with the company mention these products and get paid through Paypal.

The first step is to register your blog with
Blogsvertise. If your blog is approved topics are assigned to you. You then write about the website in your blog - you don't have to compliment it. You can write about it in any way that you please but it is a requirement to provide at least three links to the website in your blog post.

If you don't have a blog but you'd like to join
Blogsvertise, the way to do this is to set up a blog using one of the free blogging services recommended by blogsvertise and make some entries. After this you can register with the company.

Advertisers also join the company by registering. They make requests for mentions in blogs.

Chekhov: Scenes from a Life by Rosamund Bartlett

I found the writing in this biography fairly dull and academic in spite of the excellent reviews it received. It's only worth reading if you are extremely interested in Chekhov or in Russian history. This book does does fulfill the author's intentions, i.e. it shows how landscapes affected Chekhov's writing and it provides an excellent background to his plays and short stories. However, I almost gave it up a couple of times. The eloquent and luminous extracts from Chekhov's own writing were, of course, wonderful but it would be unfair to compare those with an academic biography.

Chekhov led a very interesting life even though he sadly contracted TB at the young age of 24. He came from a relatively wealthy merchant family in the southern town of Taganrog, but the family fell on hard times when he was quite young. This didn't deter the clever young man from winning a scholarship to study medicine in Moscow and writing in his spare time to help finance his studie…

One of the Best Historical Novels: Katherine by Anya Seton

In spite of my fiance calling them 'hysterical novels' I love to read good historical novels. I read that Alison Weir, the historian, was actually inspired by this one when she was young which justified my liking for them!

Anya Seton used to be one of my favourite authors and I read all of her books a long time ago. Katherine is one of her best and I still enjoyed it very much when I re-read it recently. Set in medieval times, it is a moving love story based on the true story of Katherine Swynford and John of Gaunt. It is thoroughly researched and well-written and although I am not a medieval history expert I couldn't find any glaring historical mistakes. The descriptions of the settings and clothes are incredibly detailed and Anya Seton's writing really does take the reader into the world of medieval England. The fact that Chaucer is one of the main characters makes the book more interesting. There are also no jarring modern expressions. (I read a historical novel…

The Excellent Wife: Sonya: The Life of Countess Tolstoy

NB: I haven't been giving this blog much attention recently and must apologise. My mother's ill so it's difficult at the moment.


This is a warm and sympathetic biography of Tolstoy's wife and it is also wonderfully interesting. Those who love Russian history will especially enjoy it.
It is certainly an indictment of Tolstoy himself, however. I doubt that I would have read the great classics: War and Peace and Anna Karenina if I'd read this first!
He was an extremely unlikeable character, according to this book.

When the book begins Tolstoy is reasonably charming and Sonya falls in love with him when she is only 12. He courts her sister, Lisa, at first, but finds her cold and stiff, whereas the much younger Sonya is warm, emotional and passionate. Impressed by this beautiful young woman, Tolstoy changes his mind and proposes to Sonya. Needless to say, Lisa is pretty upset!

The marriage doesn't start off well b…

Anastasia by Colin Falconer

When American journalist, Michael Sheridan, rescues a beautiful White Russian woman from a sleazy Shanghai nightclub, he cannot help falling in love with her. She has been hardened by her bad experiences, however, and returns his interest with coldness. Shocked to discover that she bears a resemblance to the Russian duchess, Anastasia Romanov, and unable to pay his debts, he lets her go to Germany with a Russian who says that he wants to help her. This is his big mistake.

This begins a chase through Berlin, London and Shanghai, as Michael and Anastasia attempt to avoid their underlying love for each other. Anastasia has to choose between her soul and her ambition and desire to discover whether she really is Anastasia Romanov.

This is an enjoyable and moving love story with more than enough realism to keep it from becoming sentimental. The beginning of the book which describes the captivity of the last Tsar and his family, their gruesome murders, and the fictional Anastasia's esca…

Inside Marbled Halls by Anthony Masters

This is an excellent book for those who want to find out what working 'downstairs' in one of London's grand hotels was like in the early twentieth century.

Mary Schiffer lived a life of incredible poverty in Dublin. A child from a large family she had to endure a crowded, and fairly miserable existence with a drunken father who didn't hesitate to use force and a compliant mother who put up with this. Her sister died of the Spanish Flu when Mary was very young.

Although she loved her family, Mary hated The Liberties (the tenements where they lived), and decided to leave. When she somehow got the money she took the ferry to England in the middle of the First World War. Almost captured by a white slaver, a Salvation Army lady took Mary in hand and arranged a job for her at the splendid Hyde Park Hotel.

Here Mary worked in the still-room - a sort of butler's pantry where she had to prepare tea or coffee and toast for the celebrated guests. She had to work very long …

Much Maligned Queen - Marie-Antoinette: The Journey

Marie-Antoinette is a charming, interesting and well-researched book by the 'Queen of Historians', Antonia Fraser. It shows how this admittedly rather frivolous, young girl, who was not very well-educated and not at all interested in politics, became a serious and religious woman forced to try and deal with forces that were too much for her. This is an excellent defence of this poor Queen, who is still regarded by many people as being almost solely responsible for the French Revolution. Marie-Antoinette was almost doomed right from the start because of her being Austrian - Austria and France were enemies when she married Louis XVI. At only fifteen she had to deal with an indecisive husband who didn't give her a child for ages; the constant nagging of her dominating mother who demanded that she advocate Austria's interests; the devious intrigues of the French court; and the criticism of the people who were demanding an heir. Kind-hearted and sweet, Marie-Antoinette trie…