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Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Poems for the New Year

Here is some special poetry to see in the New Year! This is my personal favourite by Alfred, Lord Tennyson:
Ring Out, Wild Bells

Sunday, December 27, 2009

TBR Challenge

I am going to do MitzB's TBR 2010 Challenge .

My List of Twelve Books

A Castle in Tuscany: The Remarkable Life of Janet Ross by Sarah Benjamin

Wordsworth and Coleridge by Adam Sisman

Time Out: 1000 Books to Change Your Life

That Summer in Sicily by Marlena de Blasi

Katherine The Virgin Widow by Jean Plaidy

True Grace by Wendy Leigh

The Emperor and the Actress by Joan Haslip

The Golden Fleece by Bertita Harding

A Place in the World called Paris

I Remember St.Petersburg by E.M. Almedingen

Paris to the Moon by Adam Gopkik

The Party that Lasted 100 Days by Hilary and Mary Evans

I will put by Alternative List up soon!

I've made a mistake and the print has suddenly got much smaller. Help! I've read: Paris to the Moon, That Summer in Sicily, and Katherine: The Virgin Widow.

Monday, December 21, 2009

A Candle for St.Jude by Rumer Godden. Chapter One

(I used this picture because it's in the Common Domain. I am going to look for one that is more suitable.)

An old coach house covered with wisteria, with its own theatre with red plush chairs and chandeliers, and a ballet school. This is the setting for Rumer Godden's novel.
The coach house in Anna Pavlova's old haunt, Hampstead, is almost a character in this novel. The struggles to keep the ballet school and theatre going will be a central theme. As Godden writes, 'A theatre is blooded in triumphs and tears.'

Madame Anna, the main character, runs the ballet school and theatre. She is a typical Russian ballet diva - vain and dominating but good-hearted. She surrounds herself with relics of her great career in the ballet, such as a chocolate box from the Tsar and an opal from the people of Sydney. These relics are 'personal memorials to be held in reverence and an incentive to faith.'

There are also the characters of Lion and Caroline, the premier stars of her theatre. We are only told a little bit about them, but we are told that Caroline's feelings are 'not exceptional' and Lion is not musical.

Miss Ilse, who was married to Madame's brother, and Mr.Felix are some of the other characters. They devote their lives to Madame but they are also strong characters.

NB: Read about Carnaval.

Unfortunately, I probably won't have time to go on with this book until after mid-March.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

A Candle for St.Jude by Rumer Godden

I am going to start my Rumer Godden retrospective with this book. I know that This House of Brede is the favourite of most people but I've always loved A Candle for St.Jude the best for some reason. I'll start reading my battered old copy soon.

Does anyone want to join the discussion? Are there any Rumer Godden fans about? I'm hoping to discuss the first three chapters by next week.

Art History Reading Challenge

I didn't get very far with the last one but I'm going to try again! I'm joining : Heidenkind's. I will probably start with Renoir's biography of his father.

I'd love to hear from others doing this challenge!

My theme for this challenge is the French Impressionists. That is just the way that it has worked out.

With Violets by Elizabeth Robards

This is a beautifully written novel about the ambitious, young woman artist, Berthe Morisot, and her love affair with Edouard Manet. The prose does descend into the 'purple' sometimes, I feel, and the dialogue is a bit contrived at times, but I enjoyed it very much.

The characterization is very good. Berthe is a very likeable young woman, torn between trying to please her mother who wants her to marry well, and her love for a married man. She is also an excellent artist.

Edouard Manet is also well-imagined. He is handsome and charming, but has a certain ruthlessness. I also liked the character of Degas, who seems to be either understanding or annoying because of his sarcasm.

The struggles of the Impressionists are interesting. Morisot is very determined to have her art respected, and this is always difficult for a new style of painting. Robards writes well about the problems that the Impressionists faced.

Lydia Cassatt Reading the Morning Paper by Harriet Scott Chessman

This is a luminous novel about the relationship between sisters, and art. Mary, an Impressionist artist, loved to paint her sister, Lydia. Chessman paints in words how both sisters feel and their moving relationship. This is a book that one could read many times.

The main problem with the book was that it was a bit hard to understand the relationships between the other family members. Lydia remembers her past and examines her life and the loss of her lover and brother. I wasn't quite sure how many brothers she had.

The Unknown Matisse by Hilary Spurling

This is a brilliant analysis of Henri Matisse's stubborn Northern character, his rebellion against his father, his rebellion against conformism, and his struggle to transform modern art into a glittering world of light and colour.

This biography is well-written and interesting. However, it's very long and detailed.

I only read three books for this challenge, and I was supposed to read six. I haven't done very well! However, I will probably read three more books about the Impressionists and post short reviews here.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Books Read in December

I read quite a few books in October and November but I don't think that I can put them in order. I'm starting again now!

The Lost Art of Gratitude by Alexander McCall Smith

I love reading about the charming and philosophical Isabel. The third one in the series, this book includes all of the usual characters - Jamie, Cat, little Charlie, and Grace. Isabel is asked by Minty to help solve a problem and has to apply her detective skills and decide whether the rather hard-headed Minty is trustworthy or not. She is also required to meet her niece Cat's new boyfriend, a trapeze-artist. (!)

Alexander McCall Smith's gentle, Scottish novels evoke the misty, romantic setting of Edinburgh very well. They are also very amusing, although the ones set in Africa are probably funnier. I am attracted to cold, green locations, and I like the philosophical questions in these books so I prefer this series. I've only read the first one in the other series so I'm not sure about this, but I also prefer Isabel to Precious so far.

Londongrad by Mark Hollingsworth and Stewart Langsley

This is a long and complicated tale about the large influx of wealthy Russians into London and their surprising amount of power. It involves mysterious deaths, drawn-out legal battles and power struggles with Putin.

The most interesting part of the book is the account of Litvinenko's poisoning and its repercussions. The lack of democracy in Russia and the crises after the end of the Cold War are explained very well here.

I have to admit to enjoying reading about the excessive wealth of the oligarchs. Their art collections, London houses and country mansions are likely to make any reader envious and the authors get quite carried away when they describe it all!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Rumer Godden Retrospective

I am going to read many of Rumer Godden's books again soon. She is one of my favourite writers and I want to read and discuss her books with interested readers.

Please join me!

Friday, October 23, 2009

Books Read During September

I've been on holidays so it's a bit hard to remember which books I read in September. I'll try to list them!

Love In The Age Of Drought by Fiona Higgins

This was a very Australian love story between a farmer and a city girl. Fiona has issues with her past and misconceptions about cotton farmers so the Sydney executive has a lot to cope with when she becomes attracted to Stuart. Stuart falls for her quickly. Fiona realises what a good man he is and goes to live on his farm in Queensland.

Here the city girl finds frogs in the loo, finds dangerous snakes in the grass, and tries to work in 40 degree heat without air-conditioning! She also has to compete with women who appear to be perfect housewives and cooks.

This book is a sensitive love story and very interesting about many issues which affect Australia.

The Sea Lady by Margaret Drabble

This book was so well-written that reading every word was a pleasure. It was also a very emotional love story and a good mystery.

Humphrey and Ailsa meet as teenagers in a seaside village in the windswept north of England. Later they meet again and quiet Humphrey falls in love with the wild Ailsa.
Their lives intertwine until they come to a final resolution.

The main problem is that this book is just too politically correct at times. Certain aspects of Ailsa's character were almost enough to turn me off her altogether.

An Uncommon Woman by Hannah Pakula

I found this difficult to get through although it is an interesting story. Pakula's writing is just too dense and the politics is extremely complicated. I liked the subject of the book because I am interested in royalty and Vicky was a strong, brave and admirable woman so I finished it. She certainly lived up to the title of the book.

It isn't the best royal biography that I've read.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Books Read During August

I started many books in August, as usual. I didn't actually finish many, though!

Chez Moi by Agnes DesartheI enjoyed this quintessentially French novel about charmingly disorganized Myriam who transforms her life by opening a restaurant in Paris. Myriam has led a tough life. Divorced from her cold husband and estranged from her beloved son, she concentrates entirely on her restaurant. She has no time to do anything but sleep and cook at first. Soon her wonderful food attracts customers and helpers. She eventually becomes part of the community but it is a hard journey...

Like most French novels, this is very philosophical and somewhat circular. It's worth reading, however, especially if you want to try out the recipes!

Friday, July 31, 2009

Between Wyomings: My God and an iPod on the Open Road by Ken Mansfield

This is a very moving account of a spiritual journey and an examination of a life. Most people will enjoy this tale about Ken Mansfield’s career and conversion to Christianity. It will appeal to anyone who grew up in the Sixties and Seventies because Mansfield tells many stories about the singers of these decades.

After Grammy-award winning record-producer, Ken Mansfield, is diagnosed with cancer, he and his wife decide to revisit old haunts and come to terms with his successes and failures. He also needs to get rid of ‘baggage’ and finally understand his relationship with God.

The tales of his glamorous musical career and his pilgrimage seem incongruous until the second half of the book when Mansfield compares the peace he has found in Christianity with the money-dominated world of the music industry. Here his writing flows more as he describes the towns and countryside that he visits. They all remind him of his past life.

I enjoyed his anecdotes about his record-producing days and the many famous people who he met during his career, especially those about the Beatles and the Australian group, the Seekers.

This is certainly well-worth reading.

Between Wyomings

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Search For The Latest Menswear At ShopWiki

ShopWiki is a revolutionary new search engine for shopping. It crawls the web for shopping websites and it also includes buying and gift guides. It doesn't only show stores that have paid for placement unlike traditional shopping sites so you can see all the suitable shopping sites.

At Shop Wiki you can seach for the latest menswear. ShopWiki provides you with guides to the latest styles, such as the Men's Fall Style Guide. This shows you where you can find the new menswear fashions for Fall, including the updated white shirt and the turtleneck cashmere jumper.

There is also a Men's Winter Style Guide at ShopWiki which shows men how to stay warm but still look well-dressed. The latest winter styles include pea coats and argyle sweaters.

The latest styles by menswear designers, such as Liz Claiborne and Pierre Cardin, can be found by searching
ShopWiki's men's clothing designers .

Stylish men's suits can also be found at ShopWiki .

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Books Read During July

.Maisie Dobbs by Jacqueline Winspear is an engaging character who works hard to join the middle class and becomes a detective. Her first case involves investigating the mysterious death of a badly injured soldier after World War One.

This was an enjoyable book with lots of interesting philosophy. I especially liked the line that 'coincidence is the messenger of truth'.

My main problem with the book is that I found the ending very unbelievable. Also much more time was devoted to history rather than the actual case. I am going to try the next book in the series soon, however.

Veuve Taylor by Henrietta Taylor

After her husband died Henrietta Taylor became a young widow with two little children. After a terrible time with grief, bouts of drinking, and a difficult court case, she decided to 'escape' to France with her children. She was a former teacher of French so she had no difficulties with the language.

She tells her story in a self-deprecating, charming way in this book. Her problems with drinking and men may shock some, but she's just so likeable that I'm sure that even the most straight-laced would enjoy her tale.

What struck me most was how much happier the children were in France than in Australia, even though they had to learn French. I got the impression that the French are much better at handling and educating children than we are here. I was surpised that they didn't have to do any homework at primary school, even though they had to work very hard at high-school. I agree that children should not have to do homework at primary school. It's very tiring for young children to spend hours at school and then be faced with even more study at home. Why can't they be taught whatever they need to learn during school hours? It obviously agreed with these two!

Gradually Henrietta and her children became healed by the helpful French people, the beauty of the countryside and the mild climate. She had to work pretty hard to achieve this, but the way that she did it is very interesting.

I've got the sequel out of the library and I can't wait to read it!

Diamonds in Disguise by Tessa Barclay

This is the third book in this series about the Royal detective, Gregory Crowne, and his girlfriend, Liz. They're all tightly-plotted, interesting and set in exotic locations.

Gregory Crowne comes from an exiled Royal family and works with musicians. He is also good at solving crimes. Helped by his girlfriend, Liz, he investigates the theft of a Russian icon in this novel set in Italy. This leads to a series of mysterious deaths. Greg and Liz are very engaging characters and it is easy to identify with them.

I will watch out for the next book in this excellent series!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

A Relaxing Holiday at Myrtle Beach

Enjoy a relaxing holiday at the beautiful Prince Resort at Myrtle Beach in South Carolina this year. The Myrtle Beach Resort, set on the ocean front provides comfortable and modern rooms in many different sizes. Many have excellent views. All of them have attractive furnishings and spacious bathrooms.

The Myrtle Beach Accommodations also have many other features, such as fine dining, hot tubs, and a quiet river nearby.

There are lots of attractions and activities available at the Myrtle Beach Resorts. These include the historic Cherry Grove Pier, golf and many shopping centres with interesting specialty shops.

Sunday, July 05, 2009

The Scandalous Idina Sackville: A Review of The Bolter by Frances Osborne

This is a little bit out of time because Idina was really a 'flapper', but she was born during the Edwardian age and she certainly shared some Edwardian traits! I greatly enjoyed this excellent biography. Here is my review: The Bolter

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Books Read During June

I can hardly believe that June is almost over. Time goes so quickly. I haven't finished many books yet. It's probably because I try to read too many at a time!

Up at the Villa by Somerset Maugham

Wealthy and beautiful, Mary is staying at a villa in Florence and thinking of marrying an older man about to be promoted to an excellent position in India. The only problem is that she doesn't love him. Feeling somewhat jaded, Mary longs for an adventure. When a poor young refugee falls in love with her she gets more than she bargained for...

Maugham often writes about rather shallow women who long for more purpose in life. Mary's character is sympathetically drawn and the book is unusually exciting for Maugham. It gives a very different perspective on life from The Purple Veil and it was more fun. However, The Purple Veil was much wiser and the main character was easier to identify with.

Act of Mercy by Peter Tremayne

This is part of a series about Sister Fidelma, an engaging advocate and religeuse in ancient Ireland. She investigates rather gruesome mysteries. These are well-written and the setting and details about ancient Irish law are fascinating. However, there are too many murders in this book and it's somewhat complicated. I do prefer 'cosy' mysteries.

Lina Cavalieri by Paul Fryer and Olga Usova

Lina Cavalieri was an Edwardian opera singer who was once called the most beautiful woman in the world. She led a wonderfully interesting life, transforming herself from a cafe singer to an opera singer who received some good reviews. She sang in Russia and had an affair with a Russian prince. She also married Robert Chandler, a relative of the Astors, and wiped him clean!

This book, however, was rather dull. I didn't really want to know about every performance Cavalieri ever gave and what every critic wrote about her. I wanted to know about the scandals surrounding her and her rivalry with Mary Garden.

Site Of The Week: Julia's Blog

Julia's posts atLoscuadenosdeJulia are always interesting and insightful. Her subjects include Russian literature, social networking and blog posts that she likes. I'm very happy that I found this blog!

Sunday, June 14, 2009

The Art History Reading Challenge

This is another challenge which appeals to me. Joining involves reading at least six books about art history this year - fiction or non-fiction. You can make a list or read according to your whim - I think that I'll do the latter!

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Booking Through Thursday

Booking Through Thursday suggests making a list in fifteen minutes of 'fifteen of the books that have stayed with you'. Here they are:

1. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
2. Persuasion by Jane Austen
3. Anne of the Island by L.M. Montgomery
4. Gone With The Wind by Margaret Mitchell
5. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
6. Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
7. Lord of the Rings by Tolkein
8. A Tree Grows In Brooklyn by Betty Smith
9. Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
10.None Dare Call It Treason by Catherine Gavin
11.How Sleep the Brave by Catherine Gavin
12.The Free Frenchman by Piers Paul Read
13.A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
14.Sorrell and Son by Warwick Deeping
15.Little Women by Louisa Alcott

These are not in any particular order and I have many other favourite books!

Wednesday, May 27, 2009


I have been away recently and I am going to find it a bit difficult to write often because of travelling between two places. I will do the best that I can to make my posts as frequent as possible.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Passages to the Past's Book Giveaway

Amy at Passages to the Past has a great prize. This book is called 'Royal Blood' by Rona Sharon and it looks great. Here is the link: Book Giveaway

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Books Read During May

Learning by Heart by Elizabeth McGregor

I enjoyed this moving and tender story about a mother hiding dark family secrets and a daughter trying to cope with an unfaithful husband. The descriptions of Italy were especially evocative. The novel was very cliched in parts, which was a bit annoying.

I exchanged this for Rhett Butlet's People so I'm quite pleased!

An Antarctic Affair by Emma McEwin

When Douglas Mawson endured the horrors of his Far Eastern Sledging Journey in Antarctica his love for his beautiful fiancee spurred him on. Paquita, the daughter of the founder of BHP, was a well-educated, cultured young woman who impressed the great explorer. They fell in love but waited until Mawson returned from Antarctica to marry - this took much longer than they thought because Mawson had to wait an extra year.

This is a moving love story by Mawson's great grand-daughter and an excellent account of Mawson's explorations. Sir Douglas Mawson achieved a great deal for Australia. His scientific achievements alone would be enough, but it is due to him that Australia is recognised as having the greatest territorial claim to Antarctica. (All territorial claims are suspended, however, due to The Antarctic Treaty.) He had a terrible time in Antarctica - enduring Ninnis's and Mertz's deaths - and having to cope with blizzards, crevasses, dreadful winds, his dog's deaths and many other ordeals. He worried that by the time he came back Paquita would find him very different and end the engagement.

Paquita was much younger than Mawson. This book shows how she grew up during the time Mawson was away and how she coped with the trauma of the long-distance love-affair.


I didn't think that my interests in Anna Pavlova and Antarctic explorers would have anything in common. I was surprised to learn then that Anna Pavlova christened The Aurora and that the explorers named a huskie after her!

Black Diamonds by Catherine Bailey

A changeling child, family feuds, illegitimate children - the riveting story of the decline of the extremely wealthy Fitzwilliam family includes all these and more. Dark secrets abound in the history of this family. Many of the members were rather unlikeable. tells how the family disappeared from prominence and why the beautiful Wentworth House, which is twice as long as Buckingham Palace, is now owned by an ageing recluse.

The Fitzwilliam family made their money from coal-mining and the sad tales of the miner's poverty and degradation takes up much of the book. The family, to give them credit, was unusually good to them - at least compared with other mine-owners. This part of the book was interesting, but quite horrific so be prepared!

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Roxana Freed!

She is not really free, but she is out of jail and Iran. I am glad that Roxana Saberi, the Iranian-American journalist accused of spying on Iran has finally had her sentence reduced, and that she is able to go back to America. She recently ended her hunger-strike and is now very weak. There is some suggestion that her case has been used to appeal to the hard-liners who don't want to make any concessions or agreements with America. Many of the ordinary people of Iran are upset about the dire state of the economy so the extremists felt that jailing Saberi may help their cause. You can read more about her case at: Free Roxana.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Victorian Reading Challenge

I've finished the first book for this challenge!

Becoming Queen
by Kate Williams was a very enjoyable, fast-paced read about the wild Princess Charlotte Augusta and the young Princess Victoria. Williams keeps this story interesting and is especially good when describing Victoria's struggles with her mother and John Conroy. I was sorry to finish this book and I'm looking forward to reading William's other books.

Queen Victoria Was Amused by Alan Hardy

I didn't quite finish this. This collection of amusing anecdotes shows that Queen Victoria had a good sense of humour, loved to dance and was quite broad-minded. She even danced Scottish reels at 72! This book became a bit repetitive, however.

I am reading American Jennie by Anne Seba at the moment.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Alumni Book Fair Acquisitions

The Alumni Book Fair of my university is a great place to find books. Even rare and signed books are available there. Boxes of books are available on the last day for only $12.00. It's held every two years - it used to be held every year. I've still got at least one book that I bought there at least twenty years ago! The one that I can find is Unquiet Souls by Angela Lambert. Just wonderful, although I am not sure that I agree with her about the pointlessness of the First World War.

These are mostly about royalty and history:

Elizabeth and Alexandra by Anthony Lambton. This is about the two Hesse sisters. One became the last Tsarina and the other married a Russian Duke. Both died tragic deaths. This will suit my Romanov obsession!

Victoria and Disraeli: The Making of a Romantic Partnership by Theo Aronson: I like Aronson's style and this will fit nicely into the Victorian Reading Challenge.

The Prince and I by Rosemarie Buschow
: Buschow was a nanny for a Saudi prince. Her story ended in tragedy when a royal princess was executed for adultery.

With Love by Theodora Fitzgibbon: Fitzgibbon lived a bohemian life in Paris just before the Second World War.

Nelson: The Hero and the Lover
by Harry Edgington: I am interested in any book about Lord Nelson.

Violets for the Emperor
by de Caraman-Chimay: This is a biography of Louise de Mercy-Argenteau in the Paris of the Second Empire.

A Kingdom by the Sea
by Nancy Phelan: I've read this before and found this story of a Sydney childhood enchanting.

The British Monarchy at Home by James Frere: An expose of the monarchy!

The Russian Revolution by Alan Moorehead
: An Australian historian's classic book about the Revolution.

Queen Victoria Was Amused
by Alan Hardy: Supposed to be very funny.

The Kemble Era by Linda Kelly: This is about great actors of the eighteenth century.

The Sweet and Twenties by Beverly Nichols: A book about the Roaring Twenties.

Discovering London
: Four books about finding historical London. They're quite small.

I bought a box so there are more, but I'm getting tired. I'll leave them for the next post!

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Books Read in April

The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle

This wasn't especially well-written, except in patches but I thought that it was reasonably helpful. After all, it's not a good idea to brood about the past all the time or constantly think about a better future. How often have you regretted not enjoying good times in the past as much as you should have? How quickly it goes! (I'm over 30.) This book shows a way of finding peace of mind by living entirely in the present.

Cherry: A Life of Apsley Cherry-Garrard

This Antarctic hero famously almost lost his life searching for the eggs of the Emperor Penguin hoping that they'd help solve a Darwinian problem.

A son of an aristocratic family who eventually inherited two English estates, Cherry-Garrard could have become a country gentleman and squire. He didn't need to work, but he was looking for more meaning in his life. He met Edward Wilson who became his mentor and helped him win a place on Scott's last expedition. 'Cherry' wrote his great classic, The Worst Journey in the World, about his harrowing time in Antarctica.

This biography describes Cherry's great expedition and experiences at the Antarctic, deals in depth with his terrible struggles with depression and his mistreatment by the Press and the British Museum, and his happy marriage at the end of his life. Wheeler also made an expedition to the Antarctic and her anecdotes make this part of the book very interesting.

The problem is that the book fell away a bit after the account of the Antarctic journey, because this was the most fascinating part of Cherry's life. It also became quite harrowing because Cherry was haunted by wondering whether he could have saved Scott and this affected his life badly.

However, it's well-worth reading if you like to read about Antarctic heroes.

The Queen's Favourites by Jean Plaidy

Plaidy is at her best in this book about the rivalries between the Churchills and the Mashams for the Queen's attention. The characters are finely drawn - Sarah is intimidating and dominating and Abigail is suitably sly, but the reader still likes both characters! (At least, I did.) John is lovely, of course. Queen Anne is treated sympathetically and receives her due.

It is historically accurate, like all Plaidy's books, captures the attention, and moved me to tears at one stage. I was sorry to finish it!

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Victorian Reading Challenge

I've joined the Victorian Challenge is being hosted by Alex from Le Canape

When you join you choose one of these levels:

* A drink at Whitechapel: 3 books
* A walk in Hyde Park: 4 books
* A tour of the British Museum: 5 books
* A visit to Buckingham Palace: 6 books

I've joined a bit late because the challenge has to be finished by 30 June 2009. Your books must have either been written during the time of Queen Victoria's reign, or be set during this time!

I read North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell at the beginning of the year so I'm going to include that. I'm reading Crime and Punishment now.

I hope to make the visit to Buckingham Palace and read 6 books!

Bingo Hideout

I love to have a game of bingo occasionally. Now there is a cool way to play bingo online! Bingo is a social networking site which enables you to find out where to play free bingo online and chat about bingo.

Bingo features a directory of bingo sites, the latest news about bingo, articles about bingo and a blog. The news includes helpful articles, such as ten tips to make the most from your bingo site. The site is attractively laid out and very easy to use.

If you join Bingo you can obtain 200 pounds towards playing no deposit bingo.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Where Will Books Take You?

Strumpet recently posed these questions: "Is there a place that you have always dreamed of visiting specifically because of a book you read? It can be any kind of book: fiction, non-fiction, travelogue, you name it. If you have been to the place, did it live up to your expectations? If you haven't been, do you think you'll ever make it there?" (It was really last month's question but I couldn't resist!)

Dreaming of Russia

At first it was ballet books with their gorgeous photos of the Bolshoi Ballet. Then I read the incredibly sad story of the last Tsar and the Imperial Russian Family so I wanted to visit the palaces and The Golden Ring Soon afterwards I read War and Peace (not properly) and admired Natasha, a rather frivolous girl whose character became forged by the hardship of war. Will I ever see the splendour of the Hermitage and Tsarskoe Selo, let alone feel the haunting presence of Tsar Nicholas, Alexai and his four daughters in the isolated Golden Ring? Fate will tell.

Anne's Beloved Island

My grandmother gave me Anne of the Island when I was 11. After reading about Anne's adventures at university I couldn't wait to buy the whole series. Unbelievably, the books were hard to find in Australia then. We travelled to Canada soon afterwards and saw the spectacular scenery of the Rockies. Lake Louise is probably the most beautiful place that I've ever visited. My parents weren't very happy with me, however, because I spent too much time in bookshops looking for the 'Anne' series.

One day I hope to see Green Gables, The Lake of Shining Waters, and all of Anne's favourite places.


I have been reading about the fascinating Empress Elizabeth of Austria/lately so I'd love to go to Vienna and imagine myself in the age of Imperial Splendour!

State rooms at the Schoenbrunn Palace

Thursday, March 05, 2009

March Reads

Anna Pavlova: Her Art and Life by Victor Dandre.

This reminded me of the saying that: "There's gold in them there hills if you're willing to look for it." This book by the great ballerina's husband was written in an excessively old-fashioned and rather dull way but he does include lots of interesting details about her tours, the people that Anna Pavlova met, and the work involved in running a ballet company. Pavlova liked Australia - even Brisbane's ghastly heat and humidity was preferable for her dancing than the cold, apparently. She took home bulbs of a purple bell-like flower to grow in her greenhouse.

This isn't a chronological biography. It is composed of chapters about different aspects of Anna Pavlova's life.

Luckily I got this through Inter-Library Loan because it is very expensive! If you are a big fan of the wonderful Anna, however, it is worth buying if only for the beautiful photos. (For a bit more on Anna see my Edwardian Promenade blog

Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates

This book is all the rage and it's certainly wonderfully written. I almost didn't go on with it, however, because I didn't have much time for the main characters. I didn't think that they had much to complain about and they both really annoyed me. It's a depressing tale of self-destruction and surrendering to the worst parts of life. I am not sure whether I want to read any more books by this author, but I will see the movie.

Romanoff Gold by William Clarke

Clarke describes Imperial Russia vividly and delves into the money trail meticulously.

The first part of this book is the most interesting. Certain images stayed in my mind: beautiful Meriel Buchanan 's Russian admirer visiting her in a panic after the Revolution, the Tsar's daughters enjoying their first dances and balls, and the final terrible journey and end of the Royal family. (NB)

Reading how Clarke traced the money of the Romanovs is like reading a detective story, but it becomes a little dry and complicated at times. He does dispel long-held myths about Queen Mary and money and jewels spirited away during the First World War.

This is a book well-worth reading if you enjoy reading about the Romanovs.

NB: Meriel Buchanan was the British Ambassador's daughter.

Katherine Swynford by Alison Weir

Alison Weir isn't my favourite biographer but this is a sympathetic account of this beautiful, well-educated woman who famously became mistress of the powerful John of Gaunt, had four children to him, and finally married him. Weir describes the sumptuous riches of John and medieval life well but, unfortunately, she ruins some of the book by too much speculation. She provides little evidence for her belief that John died of syphilis, for example.

The Spies of Warsaw by Alan Furst

This beautifully written spy novel is surprisingly gentle and slow-moving. Colonel Mercier, a French agent trying to obtain details of German plans, faces conflict when he falls in love with a beautiful young lawyer. I fell for the rather sensitive and religious aristocratic hero! I'm a fan of spy novels and I liked Furst's writing so I'm going to look for more of his books.

The Painted Veil by Somerset Maugham (Spoilers)

This was a very wise, precisely written book about a woman's journey towards peace of mind. Kitty marries a man she doesn't love because of the pressure of her parents. When she commits adultery her husband punishes her by taking her to a cholera epidemic in China. Kitty learns many lessons here and finally becomes a much better person.

This was set in the 1930's and Maugham evokes the mysterious, ancient civilisation of China and its effect on Kitty well.

Louis and Antoinette by Vincent Cronin

Vincent Cronin inherited his writing talent from his father, A.J.Cronin. This is an eloquent defence of Louis and Antoinette which dispels the myths that Louis was a terrible King and that Marie Antoinette was a spendthrift who didn't care about the people. I am looking forward to reading more of Cronin's histories.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The Author of The Interrogator Interrogated!

JJ Cooper's novel, The Interrogator, will be published in 2009. This exciting thriller about a military interrogator who knows too much was, amazingly, JJ's first novel. He very kindly agreed to this interview:

1. Could you tell us a bit about your book, The Interrogator, please?

I like to think of it as an ‘Aussie fast-paced thriller’. I’ve converted my experiences as an interrogator into a work of fiction.

Here’s the short synopsis – THE INTERROGATOR is a story of betrayal and nightmarish conspiracy firmly rooted in the highest levels of government across international alliances. Jay Ryan is an interrogator with a dark past and a tortured soul; he’s also the keeper of secrets Israeli spies will kill to get their hands upon. Renowned for his skills, he is used to commanding a certain level of respect amongst his peers. Then one day Jay is drugged, tortured, tattooed and accused of rape. He is forced to reveal information that could further destabilise fragile Middle East relations and plunge the entire region into war. The story rockets toward a shattering finale that will leave the survivors changed forever.

2. Did you write with a particular audience in mind or mainly to please yourself?

I started out with the goal of just writing a novel. After seventeen adrenaline-filled years with the military, I needed a creative outlet and I found it in my writing. So, it started out for me and what I enjoyed reading – thrillers. It certainly ended up an ideal read for thriller and/or crime fiction readers.

3. What is your writing process?

I have a full-time job, so my writing time is limited to evenings. Maybe a couple of hours of a night. Generally, I write ten chapters (around 15,000 words) then edit. This process helps me to identify areas to strengthen the plot and look at sub-plot elements as I go. It allows me to check the flow and ensure the right characters are doing the right things. Mostly, it helps me to review and strengthen the writing early.

I don’t outline. I stick to a linear type of story that I find allows me create a realistic plot following a logical sequence of events as seen through the eyes of my main character. So, there’s no author intrusion and readers discover the twists and turns as my main character does. My writing is third person point of view in past tense. These are the stories I like to read and I enjoy writing in this method.

4. What are you doing to market your book?

Thankfully, my publisher, Random House Australia, have plenty of experience in the marketing and publicity area. I also believe authors should be active in promoting their books. All of my marketing at the moment has been online. I’m active on local and international writing-related forums, have a blog (website coming soon), am a debut author of International Thriller Writers, have a group page and own page on Facebook and am active on several other sites. It’s a tough balance because I have limited time for writing and maintaining an active presence on all of these sites. But, I see it as necessary and at the moment I’m maintaining a balance.

As I move closer to publication, I’ll be working with the Random House marketing and publicity department in planning on whatever is needed of me to promote my novel.

5. Do you find that internet marketing is helpful? I noticed that you've joined Facebook and International Crime Writers?

Certainly. It’s exposure to an audience that you may not reach through other means – a global audience. Because of the internet and online promotional activities, I’ve met writers, readers, agents and editors throughout the world who all share a passion for writing. Even if it doesn’t convert to sales, it still allows for a wonderful exchange of information with other like-minded individuals.

6. Finally, what tips do you have for aspiring writers?

Stay determined. Start with goals that lead to your dreams and believe that you can do it. If you believe you will never be published – you won’t. Beliefs drive thinking, actions and results. Accept constructive criticism and use it to improve.

(I couldn't resist that title - sorry!

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Books Read in February

The Moving Finger by Agatha Christie

Miss Christie never lets one down and this is no exception! In this enchanting novel, Jerry, who is suffering from a bad case of ennui after the First World War, and his smart and fashionable sister go to the country so that Jerry can recover from a car accident. They expect the country to be very boring so they're amazed to discover the small village awash with talk of poison-pen letters. They join the investigation when they receive some themselves. The situation becomes even more dangerous when murders suddenly start happening...

Eccentric characters and a fairy-tale romance make this book one of the most enjoyable of Christie's novels.

The Road to San Michele by Bengt Jangfeldt

The Story of San Michele was such an unusual book - so lyrical and magical that it's hard to beat. It remains one of my favourites.

This is the true story of Axel Munthe, the famous doctor who owned a villa on Capri, Italy, and saved birds from cruel methods of hunting. Apparently he had a long affair with Queen Victoria of Sweden and associated with other royals and the aristocracy. He played with the truth in his wonderful book so it was very interesting to know his real story. The writing is fairly straight forward and prosaic (perhaps it loses something in translation) so be sure to read The Story of San Michele as well.

East Side Story by Louis Auchincloss

Auchincloss captures the character of old New York well, following in the footsteps of Edith Wharton. I used to like his books but this one lacked 'bite' and was rather disappointing.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Bushfire Appeal

Please think of, and pray for our friends in the South so sadly affected by the terrible bushfires and those in the North afflicted by the floods.

Give generously to Australian Red Cross Bushfire Appeal

Saturday, January 03, 2009

Books Read During January

North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell

Gaskell's writing lacks the precision of Jane Austen and the passion of the Brontes. However, it is very lucid and descriptive, if rather long-winded. I find her quite soothing even though this book deals with class-wars during England's Industrial Revolution.

The story involves Margaret, who is forced to move from her beloved country village when her father decides to leave the Church. They decide to live in the polluted, but thriving town of Milton. Here she has to cope with her invalid mother, her growing feelings for mill-owner, Mr.Thornton, and her escapee brother. Margaret has great integrity but she is also very human and it is easy to identify with her. Gaskell's characters are very well-drawn, generally.

She also writes very perceptively about the conflicts between the employers and employees - these are still very relevant today.


This sentence made me think: "Plus ca change...."

"Hitherto there had been no failures in Milton; but, from the immense speculations that had come to light in making a bad end in America, and yet nearer home, it was known that some Milton houses of business must suffer so severely that every day men's faces asked, if their tongues did not, 'What news? Who is gone? How will it affect me?"

The Humble Grand Duchess: The Last Grand Duchess by Ian Vorres

Ian Vorres's kind neighbour, a rather charming, little old lady, often invited him in to have a cup of tea. Soon he found out that she was Grand Duchess Olga, the sister of the last Russian Tsar. It was destiny... Vorres, a writer, persuaded her to let him write her biography.

Grand Duchess Olga's life was so dramatic that it remains interesting even though Vorres's writing is rather straightforward and prosaic. The interview format doesn't help. He doesn't often let his imagination run away with him! However, it doesn't matter because Olga's words capture the splendour of the Russian court and the horrors of the Revolution.

Grand Duchess Olga wanted to correct the untruths directed at her family - the Rasputin scandal, accusations of tyranny and criticisms of the Tsarina Alexandra. She does this to a big extent, although her argument that monarchy is a divine right is not very convincing. She explains that Tsar Nicholas was really not brought up to be Tsar - her father's main mistake.

The Grand Duchess is surprisingly honest, blaming the rest of the Romanovs (not the immediate Royal Family) for their downfall. She thought that their involvement in scandals lessened the people's respect for them.

She is also very humble and disliked the balls, parties, etc. that she had to attend almost every night at one stage. When she found a new life in Canada she was quite happy gardening, staying at home, and wearing shabby clothes.

This is a very sad book, of course, but well worth reading because it gives a personal insight into the lives of the last Russian royals.

The Amazing Mrs.Snow: A Dash of Daring by Penelope Rowlands

This enchanting book tells the story of Carmel Snow, the renowned editor of Harper's Bazaar during much of the twentieth century. She made many innovations to magazine publishing, including introducing the layout which all fashion magazines still use. She made Harper's Bazaar into the greatest fashion magazine of all, even beating Vogue, by finding the best talent available. This included photographer, Richard Avedon, and the writer, Truman Capote. She discovered Balenciaga.

The book also gives an account of Snow's famous rivalry with Edna Chase, the editor of Vogue.

The Shivering Sands by Victoria Holt

This fairly creepy gothic romance was good holiday reading. The heroine, a piano-teacher and widow, trying to investigate her sister's mysterious death, is engaging.
The hero is suitably sardonic and appealing. It's worth reading if you like this sort of story occasionally.

She May Not Leave by Fay Weldon

This very amusing little fable about an au-pair who weaves her way into a modern woman's family is very well-written, but it gets silly at the end and a bit too hard to believe.