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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.