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Showing posts from 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 go…

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.

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 beautifu…

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, bec…

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 ea…

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.

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.

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 so…

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 wr…

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, …

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 Georg…

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!

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, …

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 mos…

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.

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 …

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…

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 solutio…

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 (h…

Supreme Grace: Grace by Robert Lacey

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&…

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 Moth…


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.

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

Tim 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 …

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.

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 exce…

Preferred Genre?

Which genre do you like reading best?general non-fictionliterary fictionhistorical novelswomen's free polls

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 t…