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Tuesday, December 09, 2008

The Sensational Scotts: Captain Robert Scott and Kathleen Scott

Scott of the Antarctic by David Crane

This is a grim and very sad story of great courage and sacrifice told movingly and sympathetically by David Crane. Recent historians have given Scott's reputation a beating and Crane restores it very well in this excellent book. He argues that all of the qualities that made Scott so beloved by Edwardians - honour, loyalty, patriotism, sacrifice - are the very characteristics which have made him reviled today.

After reading this book I wonder that anyone dared to criticise Captain Scott. As Sir Ranulf Fiennes wrote: "No previous Scott biographer has manhauled a heavy sledgeload through the great crevasse fields of the Beardmore Glacier, explored icefields never seen by a man or walked a thousand miles on poisoned feet. To write about hell, it helps if you have been there."

Scott coped with enormous difficulties - the deaths of some of his men, the loss of dogs and ponies, crevasses, manhauling heavy loads, terrible winds. The list goes on and on. In the end it was really only the unusually cold weather that defeated his team, according to Crane.

Scott's leadership has been criticised and he did have flaws. He could easily get irritable and he didn't like any lowering of standards, but his men (except for Shackleton) said that they'd follow him to the ends of the earth. As indeed they did.

The sentence that summed up the character of this complicated naval officer, who was unhappily beaten to the South Pole by Amundsen, for me was: "In his journal Bowers noted that Scott gave himself a longer trace on his harness when they were pulling through the worst of the crevassed areas, so that if anyone went down it would be him."

Scott's Last Words

I defy anyone to read these without being moved to tears.

"Had we lived, I should have had a tale to tell of the hardihood, endurance and courage of my companions which would have stirred the heart of every Englishman. These rough notes and our dead bodies must tell the tale, but surely, surely, a great rich country like ours will see that those who are dependent on us are properly provided for."

A Great Task of Happiness

I can't find this and I hate losing things, especially books, so it's really upsetting me! I'll write a little bit about it from memory, but I like to have the book beside me when I review it. I'll write more when I find it.

This was the sort of book that I really like. Kathleen really had a more interesting life than her admirable husband! She lived life at a breakneck speed and Young, her grand-daughter writes in a breathless style which suits it.

A Bohemian young sculptor who 'gallivanted around Europe' and loved to sleep outside, Kathleen didn't meet Scott until she was 28 and he was over 40. Before this she studied art in Paris where she met Rodin and attracted flocks of men (as she seemed to all of her life), went to Macedonia to help war-victims and backpacked in Greece and Italy. She also met the famous dancer, Isadora Duncan, and stayed with her when she had her baby. Isadora was in love with a 'cad' and was still single. This was rather shocking in those days but Kathleen didn't care.

She became famous herself after she married Scott, gaining commissions from people such as Lloyd George and George Bernard Shaw. She associated with the aristocracy and artists.

Kathleen became rather an intimidating figure as she got older, apparently, although liked by many. Her daughter-in-law, the novelist, Elizabeth Jane Howard, married Kathleen's son, Peter, and found Kathleen difficut to cope with. Only 17 when they married, she felt that she couldn't live up to the success of this eminent family.

Kathleen's reputation has been blackened like her husband's. She's been accused of having an affair with the explorer, Nanssen, while Scott was suffering in the wilds of Antarctica; deserting Duncan when she took to drink; and various other things. Young restores her name in this book, correcting these misconceptions. This is very much worth reading if you are interested in the Edwardian age, the English aristocracy, or just a good biography.

How I Became Interested In Reading About Kathleen

Scott of the Antarctic by David Crane

I first went to beautiful Christchurch, NZ, four years ago and saw Kathleen Scott's sculpture of Captain Scott near the cathedral. When I came back I looked her up on the internet and found out more about her. I meant to read this book then but I didn't do it until I came back from NZ last year! She deserves to be famous once again so I hope that this blog will make more people aware of her.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Books Read in November

I haven't read many books this month because I haven't had time. My mother is quite old and frail - although not for her age - so I often go to her place and help her. This means that I have books in two places!

The Clocks by Agatha Christie

This was a clever mystery involving a blind lady, clocks, gossipy neighbours and a sweet romance. I didn't understand the ending, however, so maybe it was too clever!

Homeland by Clare Francis

I found this a rather dreary book with a miserable, but dramatic setting - the Somerset moors. It was about a Polish ex-soldier trying to make a new life for himself in England just after the war. I liked him so I did finish the book. It did bring home to me the plight of the Polish people, but I wouldn't recommend this novel.

There is one more book to add. I will write about that next week.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

A Tribute To Anne

This year all lovers of L.M.Montgomery's 'Anne' series celebrate the 100th anniversary of the publication of Anne of Green Gables. This article about Anne was originally published at Seeds of under my pen-name, Viola Ashford.


L.M. Montgomery's classic stories, especially her warm-hearted series about Anne of Green Gables had a strong influence on my girlhood, and that of many women of my generation. Still popular, the 'Anne' books are constantly reprinted, have been made into a high-rating TV series, and are the subject of a mailing list on the Internet. Sadly however, the series is not as widely read as it once was. Many of today's teenage novels are pessimistic, dealing with dark issues such as depression, drugs and teenage suicide, often awakening feelings of despair and hopelessness.

The 'Anne' series is set in the late 19th century on the beautiful Canadian province of Prince Edward Island, off the coast of Nova Scotia. When the story begins Anne is an 11 year-old, red-haired orphan mistakenly adopted by stern Marilla and her kindly brother Matthew, who were expecting a boy to help out on their farm Green Gables.

Sunny-natured, feisty Anne soon charms her way into their hearts and the hearts of those in the little village of Avonlea, even though she annoys Marilla by constantly getting into 'scrapes'. These misadventures include being nasty to Marilla's best friend when her red hair is criticized, accidentally making herself and her best friend Diana drunk on Marilla's homemade wine, and mistakenly dying her red hair green.

Anne has to cope with experiences common to many girls of her age, for example, being taunted at her new school, worry about her marks, and malicious friends. She also, at 16, has to bear the sorrow of her beloved Matthew's death. Heroic Anne survives all this with flying colors.

Clever, independent and ambitious, Anne, the daughter of schoolteachers, unlike most girls of her time, wants a career. She obtains a B.A, the first person from Avonlea to do so, and fulfills her ambition to become a high-school teacher.

The girls who read about Anne cried for her when Matthew died, worried about how she would get out of her scrapes, and cheered for her when she went to university and obtained her BA.

As a teenager Anne was one of my role models. She confronts her problems optimistically, with charm and grace. She is determined to achieve her ambitions and does this under difficult circumstances at a time when women were not encouraged to pursue careers. Many women all over the world owe their desire for an education and career to her example.

More importantly than that, however, Anne, with her courageousness and optimism, showed how life should be lived.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Back soon!

I am having a break at the moment. I'll be back next week!

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Books Read In October

I'm cheating because I started this in September!

Five Empresses by Anisimov

This was heavy at times, but the author has a very disarming and descriptive way of writing so it's worth persevering! He intertwines personal opinions or anecdotes in a very Russian way. He writes that Catherine the Great was a 'graphomaniac', for example, and how wonderful and exciting it is to feel that creative flow when one can't stop writing!

The stories of the empresses are interesting and I liked reading about the magnificence of life at court. I didn't realise that Peter the Great chose a simple peasant girl to become his empress. Her Cinderella life was even more of a fairy tale than our Princess Mary's!

Christmas Lessons by Janine Boissard

This was a delicately written book about the strength of a French family which has to deal with the consequences of a nasty incident on the Paris Metro and a young daughter's pregnancy and several other events. Pauline, the heroine, becomes more self-aware and self-possessed as she copes with unrequited love.

I didn't like this one as much as A Matter of Feeling, the first one in this series about the four daughters of a French family, which has been compared with Little Women. I did think that even though it was written in the seventies it was very modern because it dealt with issues such as disaffected youth and homelessness. I intend to read all of the novels in the series.

The Silent Pool by Patricia Wentworth

My husband thought that this began badly and that it wasn't well-written. He wouldn't even read it! It did have an odd beginning because the actress who came to request Miss Silver's help pretended to be someone else. I couldn't see much reason for this. However, it was light holiday reading with a detective a little bit like Miss Marple, a love story and a few complicated murders.

Bad Faith by Jane Smiley

This won awards but I found Smiley's style rather abrupt so I probably wouldn't have read it if I hadn't been on holidays. I liked the hero, Joey, a 'green' real estate agent who gets involved with a fast-talking developer and a married woman.

Gold speculation, selling off loans, and an excess of money are some of the subjects in this book which was set in the 1980's. That's right - THE 1980's. Some of us have been down this road before!

It was rather technical so I don't know if I'll read more of Smiley's books.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

A Charmer Who Likes To Be Centre-Stage: Lord Snowdon

Snowdon: The Biography by Anne de Courcy is an excellent analysis of a very complicated man, but livelier writing would have improved the book greatly. It's written in a sympathetic and straightforward way, but the excessive detail sometimes annoyed me. I didn't really want to know about almost every piece of furniture in each of Snowdon's houses, for example.

Anne de Courcy has been criticised for focusing on scandal, but I don't agree with that. Snowdon, himself, didn't make any fuss about the book's content. It does list all or most of his affairs but not in a malicious way.

Three aspects of Snowdon's life made a big impression on me. I felt that he was the one largely responsible for the break-up of his marriage. He started having affairs and he could be quite cruel at times to Princess Margaret. However, they seemed to be unsuited - they both wanted to be the centre of attention and she wanted to spend evenings partying while he liked to go to bed early so that he was ready for work in the morning.

His focus on work is admirable. He is very driven and talented, but on the other hand, he spent so much of his time working that he neglected Princess Margaret and she became lonely.

He was a real crusader for the disabled and achieved very much for them. (I'll add some examples later.) He should be very proud of these achievements and this obviously impressed the author very much.

This is well-worth reading for those who have time. I think that Anne de Courcy, at least, may get rid of the impression some have that Snowdon is just another charming and womanising aristocrat who didn't do anything important.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Site Of The Week: Jane Austen Jewellery

JA is my favourite author and I also like jewellery, like most women! I was pleased to find this site, Reader's Jewelry

Michelle decided to develop lines of jewelry inspired by some of her favourite authors and books, such as Katherine by Anya Seton and Outlanders by Diana Gabaldon. I am sure that both Jane Austen and Katherine Swynford would approve of these designs - they are elegant, charming and historical.

She needs help before she actually has the jewelry made so please vote in her polls!

I also looked at the home site and found some interesting pages about The Bronze Horseman by Paulina Simons. I haven't read this yet, but I like historical novels about Russia and I've enjoyed the books that I've read by this author.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

The Life of Elizabeth 1 by Alison Weir

I find Alison Weir's writing a bit heavy and dull so I'm not sure why she is so popular. However, she is very good at description and includes pertinent quotes from Elizabethans and Elizabeth herself, so I persevered and this great Queen did come to life for me to a big extent. (It helped to watch Elizabeth R. with Glenda Jackson at the same time!)

Queen Elizabeth 1 led a fascinating life. Her long love affair with Robert Dudley, rivalry with Queen Mary of Scots, and her great victory over the Spanish all make a wonderful story.

I have read many books about her and each one makes me admire her more and more. I know that the Irish don't like her but that's another story again.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Books Read in August

The Ghost by Robert Harris

A clever and intriguing mystery, this is difficult to put down. When his agent requests the 'ghost writer' to do the former British PM's autobiography he realises that this may be his big chance. He travels to Martha's Vineyard to stay and interview Adam Lang and his wife, only to find himself in a dire situation. The suspicious death of the former ghost writer and secrets of the very charming Lang keep him awake. When he discovers some of Lang's former associates he has to make difficult choices.

The wind-swept, cold and wintry atmosphere of Martha's Vineyard suits the story.
I did find this quite far-fetched and very political, but there is a lot to think about.

Monsoon Rains and Icicle Drops by Libby Southwell and Josephine Brouard
Libby becomes devastated after losing her lovely boyfriend in a climbing accident and the deaths of other close friends. Unable to deal with her grief, she leaves Australia and heads overseas. Here she has some amazing adventures, including healing by a Llama, catering for the wealthy and famous in Sri Lanka and riding wildly across the Mongolian plains.

Finally she goes back to Sri Lanka only to experience the full horror of the tsunami. Even though she nearly dies from an illness, she travels back home and starts a charity to help the Sri Lankan people.

This was an uplifting story by a truly inspiring woman.

During the last couple of weeks I've been in Cornwall with Nell and Cassandra of The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton.

Who is the Authoress? Why does Cassandra inherit a house in Cornwall? Why was Nell left abandoned in Australia? These are just some of the mysteries that Cassandra, the main character of the book, has to solve. Luminous writing, a romantic Edwardian atmosphere, and dark family secrets - all these will keep the reader turning the pages of this wonderful historical novel well into the night!

To be continued

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Books Read in July

I will start with my beloved 'Russians',i.e. books related to Russia:

The Madonnas of Leningrad

;">The Madonnas of Leningrad</span> by Debra Dean: A haunting, moving novel which tells the story of Marina, who is struggling to help save the paintings at the Hermitage in Peter the Great's 'city of silver and gold'. She is helped by her friend to memorise the paintings in each room. The book is set during the terrible siege of Leningrad when millions died and people suffered with dreadful hunger and poverty. Many years later Marina is suffering from Alzheimer's disease and her daughter faces the heart-rending task of helping her. This is an unforgettable debut novel.

Pasternak: A Biography by Ronald Hingley

"You have invited me to my own execution," the great Russian writer said when he handed Dr.Zhivago to the publisher, Feltrinelli. He was not executed, but the account of his abuse by the government of the Soviet Union and even his fellow writers because of his Nobel Prize, is very sobering. He even suffered an almost-fat fatal illness and the stress probably killed him in the end.

This is an interesting biography but I found the beginning rather complicated and obscure because of its focus on criticism of Pasternak's early poetry.

The account of Pasternaks' love affairs, later writings and philosophy was much more enjoyable, although I still didn't find Hingley's style especially easy to read. I liked some of his writing so I will look for more books by him.

It doesn't shy away from Pasternak's less likeable qualities. His poor mistress, Olga, who was sent to a gulag because of her association with him, was naturally very keen to see him when she came out. He wasn't so eager because he thought that her time in jail would have turned her into a 'hag'! Pasternak also wanted his wife to look after any child he had with his mistress! Apparently his first wife was really dropped because she focused on her career as an artist and he wanted one who would concentrate on the housework.

Hingley does manage to make the reader empathise with Pasternak, in spite of all this, so one has to hand it to him.

I am struggling through The Brothers Karamazov by Dostoevsky This has to be the most difficult book that I've ever read! It's not the writing that's hard; it is the volatility and complexity of the Russian characters. They're all quite mad, except for Alyosha, whose strength of character is very admirable! English literature was easy compared with these Russian novels!

The Art of Love by Elizabeth EdmondsonThis wasn't nearly as good as her last book, the very clever The Villa in Italy. Polly is a likeable heroine, however, and the book has an intriguing hero and an involving mystery. Coincidences seem to abound, unfortunately.

Governor Ramage, R.N. The Ramage novels are easier to read and understand than Patrick O'Brien's complicated series. This one involves an interesting court-martial, a suitably villianous enemy, and an exciting storm in the Caribbean. Ramage seems to be a bit of a womaniser but he has the charm to get away with it!<

Saturday, July 12, 2008

World Youth Day

A warm welcome to the Catholic pilgrims here for World Youth Day ! I hope that you have a great time.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Books Read in June

Pamela: In Her Own Right by Pamela Myer Warrender

Pamela was born into luxury and privilege at the tastefully furnished Heymount in Melbourne. In her younger days she modelled in Paris, mixed with the English aristocracy and worked for her family's famous department store, Myers. She married the son of an English lord.

Even though 'the rich are different', they also have their problems and Pamela's adult life was difficult. Her parents separated; the Myer childen had a fight against the fairness of their father's will; and her husband had problems with his businesses. She also suffered from a death in the family. It is interesting to see how resilient Pamela coped but the second half of the book is understandably miserable.

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
(Contains Spoilers)

Like all Russian classics this is full of themes and layers so it can be read again and again. The tragic story of the complicated Anna, who ruins her life by her adultery with a younger officer, is compared with her brother's and sister-in-law's marriages. Levin, who takes the 'middle path' is the true hero of this wonderful book.

Unfortunately, I always find the sections about Levin's life on the farm rather dull, but the lyricism of most of the book makes up for this.

The BBC series, starring Nicola Paget, is excellent and really brings the novel to life for me.

Tara's Fortune by Geraldine O'Neill

A romantic epic and an easy read. I found this quite soothing after struggling through Anna again. It tells the story of the elegant and charming Tara and her likeable friend Biddy's relationships with their husbands and families. The problem is that it is pretty long, and I got a bit tired of it at times.

However, I am going to look for the next book in the series.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

The Dark People: Witnesses of The Russian Revolution by Harvery Pitcher

"...Just across the hall outside was the office of
the Credentials Committee for the Congress of Soviets.
I stood there watching the new delegates come in -
burly, bearded soldiers,
workmen in black blouses, a few long-haired peasants.
The girl in charge...smiled contemptuously. "These are very
different people from the delegates to
the First Congress,' she remarked. 'See how rough and ignorant
they look!
The Dark People..." It was true; the depths of Russia had been stirred,
and it was the bottom which came uppermost now."

This was written by the American, John Reed, in 1917. A Communist, he thought that it was good that the 'Dark People' had taken over. Many others were not so sure...

This wonderfully interesting, but heavy book takes the reader right into the thick of the Revolution through the eyes of many witnesses. They include Sir George Buchanan, the British Ambassador, who begged the Tsar to consider establishing a constitutional monarchy; Meriel, his daughter, who watched in horror, but hated to leave Russia anyway; John Reed, who helped create myths to support the new regime; and Arthur Ransome, who also favoured the Bolsheviks and married Stalin's secretary.

Interspersed with excellent, explanatory commentary, the accounts of the witnesses mostly show the hope with which Kerensky's new regime was greeted, their sadness when it failed, and the truth behind the Bolshevik coup. Accounts of meetings with Kerensky, Levin and Stalin are also very interesting.

There was one section, however, in which I only partly agreed with the commentary. Harvey Pitcher writes that for the Russian and foreign bourgeoisie: '...a whole world was at stake: the comfortable world of capital, class and property, of servants to be given orders, of status and of privilege.' That is why they were so hostile to the November Revolution. This is true to a big extent, but perhaps they were also worried about being taken over by (largely uneducated) peasants and workers - the 'Dark People' - and they knew that the Bolsheviks, having gained power by a coup, were unlikely to establish a democracy.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

TBR Challenge

I am joining the TBR Challenge at: TBR
You list 12 books on your TBR list and hope to finish them by the end of the year. I am joining late so I doubt that I'll manage this one! If you wish you can list 12 alternates.

Here's my list:

Tara's Fortune by Geraldine O'Neill. (I'm reading this now.)
Governor Ramage by Dudley Pope
Christmas Lessons by Janine Boissard
A Time to Choose by Janine Boissard
A Place in the World Called Paris
Smiley's People by le Carre
The Naked Heart by Mark d'Arbanville
Earls and Girls by Madeleine Bingham
No One Cares What You Had for Lunch: 100 Ideas for Your Blog by Margaret Mason (I'm reading this now.)

The Burning Man by Phillip Margolin
Wild Reel by Paul Brandon
Victorian Outsider by Roy McMullen: I've tried to read this but I am just not that interested in Whistler, although I like his paintings!

Saturday, May 31, 2008

A Lesser Sacrifice: Edward VIII and Mrs.Simpson by Frances Donaldson

Donaldson analyses Edward VIII's complicated character very well in this old, but definitive biography. Remarkably even-handed, she shows the charm, the sense of honour and the selfishness and irresponsibility of the handsome prince. You have to be very interested in the story to read this book, however, because it is rather detailed and long-winded. It's not dull but it's a little bit heavy-going at times.

The young prince was actually very likeable, according to Donaldson. His desire to fight in the First World War and his anxiety to help the veterans afterwards show him in his best light. He started clubs and charities to help the veterans and the unemployed and his mistress, Freda Dudley did this as well. He also, famously, wanted to help the Welsh miners but he made promises to them which were unkept.

Edward annoyed his strict and rather cold parents by drinking at nightclubs and associating with married women. He could fulfill his royal duties with great charm, and he was very much loved by the people, but when they bored him he tended to be petulant and show his disinterest.

He met his match in Mrs.Simpson, the twice-divorced American woman, with whom he quickly became obsessed. According to this book, he thought that he could stay King and marry her as well, which is very surprising. The Dominions and the government, let alone the church, could not accept this. Even a morganatic marriage would cause a constitutional crisis and wasn't acceptable. In his autobiography, the Duke of Windsor, blames Baldwin for being against the idea, but he apparently took a long time to make up his mind and the PM gave him every chance to change it. Mrs.Simpson was willing to give him up, to her credit perhaps, when he found that he couldn't have a morganatic marriage, but he insisted on abdicating. Even his mother's reminding him of the veterans and asking him to make 'a lesser sacrifice' for his country didn't move him.

It was just as well that he wasn't King, because he was rather pro-Nazi and wanted to set himself up as a mini-dictator, according to Donaldson. He doesn't come out well in the last half of the book. He associated with Nazi's and made the Nazi salute; demanded a lot of money from his brother; wouldn't let black people inside the front door when he was Governor of Bermuda; and generally blamed the royal family for his problems and acted in a spoiled and petulant manner.

The story of Edward and Mrs.Simpson is often regarded as a great love story now, but anyone who reads this book will probably disagree. I am usually a romantic but not in this case.

The Queen Mother was often regarded as vindictive towards them, but it is rumoured that the Duchess was nasty about her and Edward disregarded his brother and his wife when he left the throne, leaving them to deal with it the best way that they could. A cartoon at the time of the Adbication summed it up well - it showed a labourer downing his tools and saying that he couldn't go on without the woman he loved!

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Books Read In May

Tree of Angels by Penny Sumner. I've just reviewed this.

Dancers in Mourning by Margery Allingham: This was a rather dark mystery featuring Allingham's appealingly deep detective, Albert Campion. He becomes involved with a bohemian group of actors on a large estate. When one of them is murdered he attempts to solve it. Falling in love with the owner's wife, who is really Campion's true soulmate, doesn't help his investigations! I enjoyed this but I prefer Dorothy L.'s writing.

I am also reading King, Kaiser, Tsar by Catherine Clay and Anna Karenina again.

Well-Written Epic by Brisbane Author: Tree of Angels by Penny Sumnor

This is a well-written epic which sweeps from Russia to England and even Brisbane, Australia. It's a charming story and very good.

Nina is the main character for most of the book. When the novel begins, she is living an idyllic life on her family's large estate in Russia before the First World War. Her life quickly changes, however, when her mother dies and her father, who cannot overcome his grief, decides to run a hospital on the estate. He insists that Nina become a nurse and his personality begins to change. Nina has to find a way to escape...

I liked Nina, a very sympathetic character, so I was disappointed that the book wasn't entirely about her.

The only other faults that I can find with the book are that the Russian part didn't seem authentic enough to me - it was well-researched but I didn't feel that it was real for some reason. The Queensland part of the book certainly did, by contrast.

I also found the story somewhat sordid in parts but probably most people wouldn't mind that.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Eclectic Tastes

Some readers may be slightly shocked that I enjoy historical novels, mysteries, and even chick-let as well as classics and literary fiction. What can I say? I love to read many different types of books and this is reflected here.

My favourite author is Jane Austen, but I also like many other classic English writers. I'm also very interested in Russian literature and one of my all-time favourite books is the wonderful Dr.Zhivago.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Boycott Philippa Gregory's Books

Philippa Gregory has single-handedly practically ruined Anne Boleyn's reputation and is now accusing her of murder! Here is the article: Philippa Gregory's Article in the Age She writes that Anne Boleyn didn't 'shy away from murder in the past." Who did she murder? There is no evidence that she committed any murders! Most historians agree that she was innocent of the charges Henry VIII laid against her as well.

Philippa Gregory's book, The Other Boleyn Girl, has Anne going to bed with her brother in a desperate attempt to have a male heir to please Henry. The heroine is Anne's sister Mary who was certainly not the sweet and innocent girl that she is in the novel.

The author, Robyn Maxwell has defended Anne Boleyn in a recent article:

what excuse have author Philippa Gregory in The Other Boleyn Girl and screenwriter Michael Hirst in TV's The Tudors for perpetuating the scurrilous rumors and trumped-up charges that insured one of history's most remarkable women end her life on the wrong end of a sword?

Maybe the answer is that every good story needs a villain. And who better to target for that role than a beautiful, too-big-for-her-britches woman that ends up with her head on the chopping block? As far as I'm concerned, Anne Boleyn was the first feminist. The first woman with the strength and convictions to face-down the London Boys Club and have her own way. At least for a while.

Despite her untimely demise, this young lady's indomitable spirit and her not insubstantial accomplishments have been an inspiration in my art, as well as my life. So I say to her detractors, "Take your swiftboats, sail back into history and find someone else to pillory."

I prefer to read authors of historical novels who get their research right like Jean Plaidy, Anya Seton and Norah Lofts, rather than Philippa Gregory.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Books Read in April

Dr.Zhivago by Boris Pasternak

A wonderful life-affirming love story set in revolutionary Russia. The movie is much more romantic but the book, although fairly difficult and heavy reading at times, is much more rewarding. Lizok, who teaches and translates Russian, has a very interesting section about this novel at her blog: Dr.Zhivago

We've been discussing this at my Russian Literature group and it's been very enjoyable!

I just watched the series again. This was much closer to the book than the film and I actually preferred it in some ways, although the film is so stunningly beautiful. It's a good idea to watch them both after reading the book. The series tells more of Lara's and Dr.Zhivago's stories so that the viewer has a better understanding of the characters.

Keira Knightly is not as luminous as Julie Christie but considering the fact that she was only sixteen when this was shot, her acting is quite amazing. Hans Matthiesen is a poetic and sensitive Dr.Zhivago. The best actor in this is Sam Neill. He really thrives on the part of Komarovsky!

The Flirt by Kathleen Tessaro

A fun romp through the lives of various people living in 'Cool Brittania' who need to learn some hard life-lessons about love. I really liked the main character, Hughie, who reminded me somewhat of Hugh Grant! Tessaro's other books were deeper, however.

Rose Cottage by Mary Stewart

A sweet and simple love story with a slight mystery. Good holiday reading.

Clutch of Constables by Ngaio Marsh

A clever mystery and full of eccentric characters, this was a good book but rather old-fashioned in many ways now.

Journal of Solitude by May Sarton

This is a tale of a woman's struggles with solitude and depression. Her descriptions of nature are quite beautiful. At times I found this book soothing and my reading group loved it. However, I did find some of it depressing and I wasn't all that keen on it.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Jane and the Barque of Frailty

I know that I said that I'd review this sooner but I haven't been able to write because my mother was sick so I've been staying with her for a while and just haven't had time.

This JA 'amusement' was a pleasant surprise. I approached it with some trepidation, especially when I discovered that JA was the fictional narrator! However, Barron did an excellent job of portraying a very likeable and realistic Jane as well as writing a good story. The historical setting was well-researched and the Russian connection exotic.

In this novel Jane attempts to solve the reason for the death of the Russian Princess Cholikova, who has connections to the Tsar himself. Helped by her rather flighty cousin, Eliza, she has many adventures as she tries to answer the many questions involved. Did the Princess really commit suicide? Was she the victim of a nasty love triangle? Were political intrigues involved?

Jane also meets an interesting courtesan, Julia, who may have the solution. Her ill-treatment by men and attempt to remain independent by being the 'pet' of wealthy men provide a good contrast with Jane's easier and more sheltered, but less exciting, life.

As JA is my favourite author, I am going to read this series from the beginning!

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Books Read in March

Sweet Poison by David Roberts This was the first in a mystery series featuring Lord Edward and Verity Browne, set in the England of the thirties. When aristocratic Edward meets Communist Verity, he finds her politics hard to understand. However, they are at a dinner party together at Edward's brother's place (he's a Duke) when a First World War general suddenly dies of poisoning. Verity and Edward make a good team - the difference in their politics actually enhances their attraction to each other - and decide to investigate the murder. Along the way they have to contend with politics, intrigues and drugs. Roberts evokes the tense and seedy, but also glamorous, atmosphere of the thirties very well.

In the Shadow of the Winter Palace by Edward Crankshaw: This was a fascinating look at the run-up to the Russian Revolution, although the wars and military strategy of the nineteenth century can be confusing and heavy reading. Crankshaw writes in a lyrical, Edwardian style (he wouldn't like this because he regards this era as 'nasty') with very long sentences. Many people don't like this but I do. He has an excellent turn of phrase at times.

Jane and the Barque of Frailty by Stephanie Barron: I am going to review this tomorrow.

The 4:50 from Paddington by Agatha Christie: A clever, but rather light mystery featuring the sharp-witted Miss Marple.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Supreme Grace: Grace by Robert Lacey

To Catch A Prince
Beautiful Grace

Grace Kelly's excellent acting surprised Bing Crosby in The Country Girl. She won a well-deserved Oscar for the movie which surprised everybody else!

Determined and single-minded, Grace focused on an acting career from an early age. Inspired by her refined uncle, an actor and writer, she started to study acting in New York at 18 and continued to study throughout her career. It took her a year to practise her rather aristocratic accent. It could be argued (and Lacey does this) that becoming a princess was a natural progression from being a movie-star.

This book gives a good account of Grace's acting career but the story of her personal life is based on details given by family, friends and ex-boyfriends. I found it gossipy and took it with a grain of salt. Lacey was apparently given short shrift by people in Monaco.

It is hard to believe, for example, that Grace had affairs with practically every one of her co-stars, although they were pretty handsome! She wasn't a good Catholic in her personal life, according to Lacey. He's rather judgemental about Grace's affairs, accusing her of having no moral centre at one stage! She had romances with married men, according to Lacey, but they were mostly unhappily married and there is slim evidence that she was unfaithful to Prince Rainier so I thought that this was going a bit far. Her strong Catholic parents apparently treated many of her boyfriends very badly - even kicking them out of the house at times (!) - and Grace didn't stand up to them.

Whether she had these affairs or not Grace shone as a person. She worked extremely hard for charities and her adopted country, virtually making it into a popular Hollywood destination on her own. She was also a great patron of the arts.

Lacey claims that the marriage was unhappy and that Grace and Rainier were separated and both turned to others. Rainier was apparently very bad-tempered and Grace found living with him like 'walking on egg-shells'. (Probably we all have family members like this!) She was a strong Catholic and she mostly enjoyed being a princess so divorce wasn't in the picture, according to Lacey. They both made sure that they were discreet and scandal didn't arise. The children were apparently very spoiled and lacked their parent's wisdom and discretion so Grace had a difficult time as they got older.

I enjoyed this book very much but it's hard to tell how much of it is true. Lacey does show that Grace was a very likeable, conscientious person. I thought that that the most endearing part of the book and the image that remains with me is when Grace visited her dying father. She took a deep breath, waited a few minutes, and then put on a huge smile. Her father needed cheering up.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Books Read in February

Leninsky Prospekt by Katherine Bucknell is a little bit long-winded at times. It is a very
interesting psychological study set in the early sixties in Russia
when the Cold War is at its height. The heroine, Nina, is the
daughter of an American who actually defected to Russia. When he
died she had a hard time escaping back to America with her

Now she is back in Russia because she is married to an American
diplomat. The contrasts between the Russian and American
character is well-delineated, I think, although I have not had
that much to do with Russians!

The Masterpiece by Emile Zola is an enjoyable classic based on Zola's friendship
with the Impressionists. His descriptions of Paris are wonderful
and his main character, Claude, is sympathetic with his youthful
enthusiasm and ambition. However, as he becomes more passionate
about his art and his pursuit of the 'great work' at all costs, he
becomes more irritating but a truthful embodiment of obsession.

Autobiography of My Mother by Meg Stewart

A lovely Australian story about a famous artist. I especially enjoyed her tales
of Bohemian life and liked learning that the region around Circular Quay was full of artists like King's Cross.

The Mystery of the Yellow Room by Gaston Leroux

I found this very complicated and got tired of it. I liked The Phantom of the Opera much more.

Grace by Robert Lacey: This is reviewed here.

Hunting and Gathering by Anna Gavalda. (SPOILERS)

Gavalda enchants with this fairy-tale version of Camille. Here Phillibert saves Camille, depressed and anorexic. She meets Franck, his flatmate, and his grandmother, Paulette, who also feels depressed in her nursing-home. Together they enjoy a somewhat bohemian life and find romantic love and the love of a family. This was incredibly moving, but sometimes a little bit self-consciously 'cool'.

I will be reading Gavalda's other books and watching the film.

Friday, February 15, 2008


Sometimes I will post about interesting websites here. Music Nation is a great new way for new bands to be discovered or to discover new bands. If you belong to a band, why not upload your videos here. You can redirect your fans to your website or Myspace. Best of all, bands whose videos are popular have a chance at being signed by the partner of Music Nation: EPIC RECORDS.

Music Nationis also a great place to share your favorite band’s videos. Just paste the YouTube URL into the system and it’s there for others to enjoy. You can listen to any type of music here and show anything that you like to your friends.

Music Nation also runs cool competitions. Bands can compete and win coverage in Spin Magazine, gigs at SXSW, trips to Sundance and even recording contracts.

So try Music Nation now!

Soon I will write about some good books on music.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

A Much Maligned Princess: Princess Margaret: A Life Unravelled by Tim Heald

HRH Princess Margaret The Countess of Snowdon The Polimore TiaraTim Heald doesn't unravel Princess Margaret's life at all in this book, which was very disappointing. He fails to analyse the important relationships in her life - with her husband and family - except, perhaps, for the tragic one with Peter Townsend. He doesn't really give a good account of why her marriage failed. He focuses on her royal duties and seems to become somewhat bored with his subject. Perhaps this was because he tried to avoid writing about scandal. This was good, but makes the book less interesting!

The Princess was very close to her sister, but once Elizabeth became Queen she had to live in her shadow. She found this difficult and she was often given royal duties that no one else wanted. Later the next generation took over and she had to live in their shadow as well, although she might not have minded this because royal duties sound fairly dull most of the time.

I thought that it was no wonder that Townsend and Margaret had a relationship because he was often her escort. Heald makes the point that Townsend was an older, married man with children while the Princess was really a teenager. He 'took advantage' to a large extent. In spite of this, he was favoured by the Press. Heald thinks that the relationship failed because 'they just didn't love each other enough' but I got the impression that Townsend was really the one who was more opposed to the marriage, once he knew that he would lose his job and Margaret would have to give up her royal privileges. The Princess was unlucky because of what happened with her uncle - some had taken his part and got 'burnt', like Churchill. Churchill wasn't sympathetic this time. It wasn't the Queen's fault.

According to one good friend, it was a tragedy and they vowed not to marry anyone else. The Princess felt terribly betrayed when Major Townsend married. He married a French woman who looked remarkably like the Margaret. This friend thought that the marriage to Snowdon was on the 'rebound'.

Snowdon was looked down on because of his occupation and wasn't interested in sharing royal duties. He was also regarded as a nuisance by the staff - one brought in the Princess's breakfast, but not his! He wasn't suited to being bossed around and liked women. Soon they both started having affairs but they remained friends after the marriage was over.

Princess Margaret was infamously contrary. She could be charming, but she could also be rude. She often demanded to be treated like a Princess, but she could also 'muck in'. In one case, an important man was so nervous when he met her that he spilled drinks twice. She helped him clean up but told him she'd get her own the third time!

Heald avoids scandal and seems to call her boyfriends 'walkers' which I found odd. Enjoying parties, having a few boyfriends, including a younger one, and going on the occasional holiday to Mustique doesn't seem to me anything to make a big fuss about. The Press is notoriously hard on the Royal family, however.

He emphasizes that the Princess was surprisingly religious. According to another book, she thought about turning Catholic. This could have been another reason why she didn't marry Townsend.

I felt that I learned a little bit more about the Princess after reading this, but not that much. She remains enigmatic.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

My Enemy, The Queen by Jean Plaidy

Lettice Knollys, beautiful, determined and strong, sets her sights on Robert Dudley from her first look at him. Nothing will stand in her way. Her dull husband and her children don't worry her and not even the formidable Queen can stop her. Extraordinary, ambitious and handsome, Dudley finds Lettice attractive and becomes tired of playing 'ducks and drakes' with his indecisive Queen Elizabeth, but Lettice is second choice.

Jean Plaidy may be sneered at in some quarters (usually by men) and some of this book comes close to a 'bodice-ripper'. However, her characterization of everyone in this novel is excellent - especially the intimidating and calculating, but sentimental Queen. Lettice could easily be unlikeable in her single-mindedness but she isn't.

Her historical research cannot be faulted and the background is well-written and clear.

This was a moving novel and I thought that it was one of Plaidy's best.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Books Read In December 07/ January 08

Object of Virtue by Nicholas B.A.Nicholson 9/10 (Reviewed here)

The Red Princess by Sofka Zinovieff 9/10 (Reviewed here)

Desiree by Annemarie Selinko 8/10

This was a very enjoyable, romantic novel about Napoleon's first love who became Queen of Sweden. Selinko did an excellent job of transforming an innocent, enthusiastic teenager into a mature woman. She also wrote very clearly about the historical background which is fascinating.

Catherine the Great: Love, Sex and Power 8/10

This was not too academic and very readable. It provided an intimate look at Catherine, who became almost an endearing character with her love for her dogs and her grandchildren, even though she was very formidable!

The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club 7/10
by Dorothy L.Sayers

Dorothy L. really cannot be beaten as far as mysteries are concerned, but I prefer the books with Harriet Vane.

In the Frame: A Life in Words and Pictures by Helen Mirren 9/10

Helen Mirren is an excellent actress and seems to be surprisingly likeable. (I thought that she might be intimidating - she may well be in real life!) I liked her tales of Bohemian life and found her story of her Russian ancestry very sad and interesting.

Angel Face by Sheila Connelly Danziger 7/10

This was a rather harrowing rags-to-riches tale of an extremely poor young girl in Ireland with a drunken father and many siblings who became a model in America.

The Little Man of Archangel by Georges Simenon 7/10


The atmosphere of a provincial French town was wonderfully evoked here, but the story was very disappointing because it went nowhere.

Comments are welcome! Have you read any of these books? Do you agree or disagree? WHAT DID YOU THINK?

Monday, January 07, 2008

Preferred Genre?

Which genre do you like reading best?
general non-fiction
literary fiction
historical novels
women's novels
fantasy free polls

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Object of Virtue by Nicholas B.A. Nicholson

Object of Virtue is an enchanting book about a young antiques dealer who has a moral dilemma. Sasha, a Russian prince who is now an American and lives in New York, works for a famous firm of auctioneers. When he is given the chance to sell a Faberge figurine of Sneroguchka (the Snow Maiden)he undertakes the task with alacrity because he needs an object to beat Christie's. They are selling a necklace once owned by Empress Alexandra. He is pleased to find an object of virtue, i.e. an article in which every separate piece is as near perfect as possible.

Sasha soon finds, however, that members of his family which once owned the figurine, oppose his selling it. His firm soon turns against him and he has to face a choice between wealth and an easy life or finding out the truth.

Nicholas B.A. Nicholson intertwines the story of Sasha's Russian family with his modern life in New York very well, providing an interesting account of an aristocratic family affected by the Revolution and the Second World War. Sasha's trip to Russia is especially fascinating.

Sasha and his cousin, Victoria, are extremely likeable characters. Victoria, with her anti-PC attitudes is great fun, although I wasn't keen on her wearing fur myself!
(Maybe it was vintage?) Sasha is fairly serious so Victoria provided a lighter touch.

I enjoyed this book partly because I liked reading about the wealthy in New York. These people have Sevres dinner services and wear Dior and Givenchy at the drop of a hat! They attend the Nobility Ball and generally live the 'life of Riley'.

It would be interesting to see if people who are annoyed by books about the rich still like the characters?

I give this one five stars!