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Sunday, December 19, 2010

Books Read in December


Love's Shadow by Ada Leverson

Love's Shadow is like an Oscar Wilde play in the form of a novel.  It is a social comedy and 'full of froth and bubble', but Leverson has very sharp insights into people's behaviour.

Like most social comedies this book involves many love triangles.  Hardly anyone is really happy.  Edith Ottley is married to the rather volatile and unlikeable Bruce - they form 'the little Ottleys'.  Edith's life becomes much more interesting when she starts watching what her friend, the beautiful Hyacinth, does.  Hyacinth loves Cecil Reeves, but he is fascinated by the bohemian Eugenia.  Sir Charles adores Hyacinth, but he is stuck with his formidable wife. The only one who has some semblance of happiness is the strange Ann, who also adores Hyacinth, but is willing to be friends with her.

I didn't think that any of the characters were especially interesting, but the novel is so light and charmingly written and so Edwardian in a rather modern way that it is really irresistable reading.  I also always wondered who 'the little Ottleys' were so I was quite pleased to find them in the library by accident!

I enjoyed Robert Wagner's autobiography, Pieces Of My Heart 
very much.  It was especially interesting to read about his great love, Natalie Wood.

Tuscan Rose by Belinda Alexander

Be warned! This is NOT holiday reading! I found this historical novel rather harrowing. Our heroine, Rosa, has to endure prison, rape, and trying to care for an illegitimate child.  And that's not all!  The book is set in the dreadful era of Mussolini's Italy but Rosa had to go through too many torments for my liking.

Alexander knows how to tell a good story although the writing is a bit amateur at times.  The setting is thoroughly researched and the characters are well-drawn.  Rosa is extremely strong and likeable.  

         

                          I thought that the final twist was completely unbelievable and not explained very well, unfortunately.  The book would have been better off without it.   Tuscan Rose is worth reading if you like historical novels and you don't mind a tortuous story full of suffering and sadness.


The Fast Life and Sudden Death of Michael McGurk by Richard Vereker with Mark Abernethy

The murder of property developer, McGurk, caused a sensation in Australia.  This was partly because he threatened to release secret tapes which he said could bring down the New South Wales Labor government.

After reading this book I wasn't surprised that McGurk was killed.  He annoyed so many people.  He was apparently involved in many get-rich quick schemes and scams.  He didn't hesitate to defraud people, according to this book. 

He was also addicted to drink and cocaine.  This made his delusions of grandeur and sceming much worse.  It also increased his money problems and made his life very difficult.

This wasn't the whole story about McGurk, however.  He loved his family dearly, went to church regularly, and tried to overcome his addictions.

This wasn't my usual type of book.  I wanted to learn a few secrets about shady deals in N.S.W. but I'd have to read a different book to find out about corruption in the state. Property developers and the government are certainly too close for my liking, however.  It was a very complicated story and some of McGurk's schemes were hard to understand, but the book does give the reader an insight into the close links between property developers and MP's.

I find it a bit difficult to see why Vereker wrote the book.  He keeps referring to himself as a 'friend' of McGurk's but I wouldn't want to be a friend of anyone who'd write such a story about me!  I can't help wondering whether the main motive here is money, unfortunately.

                                   

Monday, December 06, 2010

The Tsar's Ballerina



There is a new novel about Mathilde Kschessinska: The Memoirs of Little K. Her child certainly wasn't the Tsar's but I am interested in reading the novel which has had good reviews.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

All things Alcott Challenge



I read Eight Cousins for the All Things Alcott Challenge but I didn't finish it.

When the book begins Rose, a pale orphan, lives with her old aunts who over-protect her and give her lots of pills for her health. She's living rather a dull life. Things change when Uncle Alec turns up to save the day! Uncle Alec throws the pills out, makes Rose have plenty of light and air, and gives her wise advice. He encourages her to make friends with her seven boy cousins. I did think that the Uncle was a bit too enlightened when he gave Rose a medicine containing hemp!

Rose and the other characters are all very engaging. The problem was that I found this book just too moralistic. Uncle Alec gives Rose lectures and advice all of the time. He stops her from wearing corsets and high heels, for example, and shows her their dangers. I didn't finish because I got a bit tired of all this.

However, I may prefer Rose in Bloom and I'm certainly going to give it a try!

Friday, November 26, 2010

Books Read in November 2010

Sovereign Ladies by Maureen Waller

This was an enjoyable summary of the reigns of six queens of England. Written in a lively manner, it is full of anecdotes. Some are quite amusing such as this one. When Disraeli lay dying he was asked whether Queen Victoria should be sent for. He replied that: "She'd only want to send a message to Albert!"

I didn't discover anything new in this book but I found the sections on Queen Mary of Orange and her sister, Queen Anne, especially interesting. My knowledge of these two queens is somewhat lacking so this book was helpful.

I would recommend this to lovers of English history and biography, especially royal history.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

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Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Dark Beauty

This is a post from my blog Favourite Things and More which I am finishing.

I read Thomas More's Dark Night of the Soul about a year ago and I liked it, but I found it rather heavy, vague and unhelpful. I will try it again, however, because I am going through a difficult time facing my mother's and my aunt's age and frailty.

I am Fabulous's post about Dark Beauty is beautifully written and made what More was writing about much more understandable. Unfortunately, I can't find the link! I will keep trying.

Books Read in October 2010


The Rebel Princess

I loved Judith Koll Healey's first novel, The Canterbury Papers. Unfortunately, I didn't enjoy this as much, but I still liked it. I will look out for more of the author's books.

This was more of a historical adventure story than a mystery. It concerned Alais, the sister of King Phillippe, who discovers a plot by an evil monk to involve her brother in a war against the Provencal Cathars. The Cathars were an unusual Christian sect in medieval times. The plot endangers her son, Francis, and Alais must embark on an adventure in order to save him.


The Rebel Princess
is well-written and full of historical atmosphere and there is not too much 'textbook' history. The medieval detail is vivid - it is easy to imagine the splendour of the palace and the gold-filled chapels. The only flaw here is that the dialogue is a bit too modern at times, I think.

The characterization is the best part of this book. Alais is strong, charming and engaging. Her lover, William, is well-drawn and the villians are suitably evil!

Renoir, My Father by Jean Renoir




This is a lovely biography. This very loving and impressionistic biography of his father, the great artist, is regarded as a classic and it's not hard to understand why.

Jean Renoir was a famous film director and this is reflected in his writing which is very visual. Like his father, he paints scenes. He makes it easy to imagine the young Renoir dressed in his smock painting in the green fields near Paris or enjoying a night of cameraderie with his fellow Impressionists. Sadly, it is also easy to imagine Renoir in his wheelchair, bravely battling his terrible arthritis, but still enjoying his painting.

It is full of quotes from the famous artist and interesting anecdotes. I especially liked reading about how kind Renoir was. When a young lawyer turned up with a forgery that he wanted signed, for example, Renoir didn't tell him that it was fake.
He actually painted him another one and signed it!

This is not a chronological biography but that is part of its charm. I greatly enjoyed it and it's well-worth reading.

Jane Austen by Carol Shields

This was a well-written and concise biography of JA which was very easy to read. I did take issue with two statements that Shields made, however. She wrote that JA had a small soul which had been wounded. I don't agree that JA had a 'small soul', at all. Her books seem to indicate otherwise. This was rather a sweeping statement, I thought.

Shields also wrote that Emma is a somewhat nasty character. Perhaps she appears to be from a very modern point of view. Opinions of Emma are personal and many people do like her. She may be snobbish, bossy, and vain but I really think that calling her 'nasty' is taking it too far!

The Queen's Pawn by Christy English
You can read my review here:

The Jersey Lily

Lilly Langtry: Manners, Masks and Morals by Laura Beatty

After reading this book I felt like giving Lillie Langtry a prize for resilience! She overcame a maverick father, a drunken and violent husband, and virtual bankruptcy in order to become an actress and clever businesswoman. Langtry is often derided for being the mistress of Edward VII, but she was really much more than that. She was talented at art and writing, as well as apparently being a reasonably good actress.

When she was at her lowest ebb, Lantry could have got out of it by marrying a wealthy aristocrat. She didn't love him, however, so she decided to start again and become an actress. After a relatively easy and glamorous life as the mistress of Edward VII she had to work quite hard. I think that I would probably take the easy way out if I had a choice like that!

This is a well-written biography but Beatty tended to be a bit moralistic at times. The book was written in the seventies - biographers might take a different attitude today. There's no doubt that Langtry was immoral but I felt that Beatty occasionally lacked understanding. Surprisingly, the extracts from Langtry's autobiography sparkled in comparison with Beatty's. However, it was certainly easy to read and I was sorry to finish it.Lillie Langtry: Manners, Masks and Morals

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Lee's Life of Virtue. (Lee, A Life of Virtue by John Perry)

My knowledge of the battles of the Civil War came mostly from Gone With The Wind and movies like Shenandoah before I read this book, I'm sorry to say. I certainly didn't know much about Robert E. Lee! Lee by John Perry is an excellent summary of the great man's life.

Well-written and engaging, it is enjoyable but sad reading. Lee's reputation apparently suffered a lot during his lifetime and afterwards. He was accused of being a traitor to his own country and fighting in defence of slavery. Neither of these myths is true and Perry certainly manages to restore the heroic general's reputation.

Robert E. Lee came from a distinguished Virginian family that arrived 200 years before America was established. He had a hard childhood because his father, also a war hero, left when he was only young and his mother was ill. The young boy used to have to carry her to and from his carriage.

Lee was an excellent student at Westpoint and soon got promoted. However, as he was an engineer his work often involved hard labour such as fixing up forts. He distinguished himself in the war against Mexico. When the Civil War finally came, Lee joined the Virginian side because he didn't want to fight against men from his own state. (Unfortunately, half of the State joined the Union side to his great sorrow). He also believed that the abolition of slavery should be gradual.

The great general almost did the impossible in the Civil War even though the Confederacy was out-numbered and out-gunned by the Union side. They had more modern weapons and more money as well as more people. Unfortunately, Lee made the mistake of deferring to his commanders instead of trusting his own judgement. If he had trusted his own plans, the South may have won.

Perry's analysis of Lee's character is excellent and moving. He uses extracts from Lee's letters and diaries to good effect in the book. He also writes just as much about Lee's personal life - his marriage to a great-granddaughter of Washington - as he does about his heroism. Perry emphasizes the important role of faith in Lee's life and how this helped him in his many dark moments.

The only problem with Lee, A Life of Virtue is that it seems a little bit too admiring. However, there is certainly much to admire in the life of this great general of the Confederacy.

I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze.com book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Love Child by Allegra Huston



Love-children certainly run in Duff Cooper's family! A few weeks ago I wrote about My Three Fathers by Duff Cooper's love-child. Now I am including a review of by his son, John Julius Norwich's daughter, Allegra Huston.Love Child.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Duff Cooper's Love-Child



I found out that Duff Cooper had a second son when I looked up Lady Diana Cooper in the Archives of Time Magazine one day! There I discovered a review of William S. Patten's memoir, My Three Fathers. Here is my review.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Books Read in August 2010

Elizabeth and Leicester by Sarah GristwoodThis was an interesting analysis of the romance between Queen Elizabeth 1 and Leicester. It dispelled many myths, such as the legend of the meetings when they were both prisoners in the Tower.

It's not a romantic book but very much a textbook account of the couple. I found the information about Leicester especially interesting. He was apparently 'a man of many parts' who wanted to find out about almost everything - astronomy, science, and exploration, for example. I also didn't realise that he was such a Puritan.

It's a few months since I read this, unfortunately. I should have written my review at the time!

I must apologize for not keeping up to date with this blog - I'll try to catch up.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Site of the Week: Pack a Book

Pack a Book was a very clever idea for a web site. Many people don't want to read heavy non-fiction books on their holidays, but they like to immerse themselves in the culture of the country that they're visiting. Pack a Book makes it easier for people to do this. It provides lists of novels set in different countries. If you are going to Italy, for example, the web site has novels to choose from with a little bit of information about them.

This is also a good site if you just want to 'armchair travel'. You can choose a book to read set in the country that you want to 'visit'. You can also 'study' a book set in a particular country for a few weeks by subscribing to the newsletter and reading the suggested book.

There are also interesting blogs with reviews at the site.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Love Isn't Always The Answer

Love Songs and Lies by Libby Purves

I enjoy Libby Purves's novels and this one was no exception. They're all well-written with compelling stories. They're also very English and I like that.

I liked the heroine in this book most of the time, but most modern women would regard her as a bit of a wimp, probably. She even got on my nerves some of the time! I identified with her age group and feelings, however, although she's a little bit before my time.

Sally, like many other girls, has trouble separating her real life from her fantasy life. She studies English Lit at Oxford and gets lost in the world of Keats and Byron. She then falls into unrequited love with the handsome and cold Max. These days she'd probably just read: "He's Just Not That Into You", but this was the Seventies. Max is a bit of a lost cause, but his younger brother, Marty, is keen. The problem is that he's mixed up with the drugs crowd...

I liked Sally more as I kept reading. She goes through a lot and shows that she has a certain amount of inner strength.

Libby Purves writes a lot of interesting things about unrequited love, drug addiction, and society's changing attitudes to sex and life. This book is worth reading, but it's quite depressing. I certainly didn't agree with this part of the blurb: "Libby Purves's new novel perfectly captures what it means to be a woman in the last third of the twentieth century." It was much too dark for that, I thought.

Friendship for Grown-Ups by Lisa Whelchel



(Lisa Whelchel from Women of Faith.com)

Life is difficult for child stars and Lisa Whelchel was no exception. She went to Hollywood at the age of 12. Whelchel found it hard to make and keep close friends because she didn't have a normal school life. Eventually she struggled with her marriage which was breaking down and she suffered a nervous collapse. In this book, Whelchel tells the story of her journey towards making true friendships and how her faith helped her. She also provides excellent advice about how to make and keep friends.

Whelchel had many friends but she realized that she had been building defences around herself so she found it difficult to get close to people. Therapy and her strong belief in God and prayers helped her to understand that she needed to find a way to become closer to her old friends and make new friends.

The pretty star suffered rejections along the way. She wanted to be a 'best friend' to a woman called Heather, for example, but Heather rejected such a close friendship. In another case, a new friend told Whelchel secrets about her own life, and then asked her personal questions. The friend then told other people things that Whelchel wanted kept secret.

Whelchel joined a group called Women of Faith and tells how this helped her. Here she found empathetic, new friends who encouraged each other. She got valuable advice from some of these women which she shares in this book.

This is a helpful, honest account of Whelchel's story. She writes about the elements of friendship, what true friendship means, and how to tell whether a new friend is untrustworthy. There is a list of practical steps for making and keeping friends and a list of conversation pointers at the end of the book. The book is simply written and easy to understand. It is recommended for anyone interested in making more friends.

(I received this book free from Book Sneeze.)

Monday, August 16, 2010

Dancing Into The Unknown by Tamara Tchinarova Finch



My drawing of a ballerina.

A gypsy told the ballerina, Tamara Tchinarova Finch, that she would travel, learn other languages, and people of different nationalities would applaud her work. Finch was only very young at the time, but she remembered the gypsy's words all of her life. They came true.

Finch was a 'Baby Ballerina' with the Ballets Russes, toured Europe, America, and Australia, and eventually married the great actor, Peter Finch. Her lively personality matches her joyful dancing, and she tells a riveting tale in this book which reads like a novel.

Life was difficult for Finch and her mother, a poor Romanian living in Paris. Her mother was very strong - she left Finch's father and refused to go back to Communist Russia with him. It was a very prescient decision but she had to make ballet shoes so that her talented daughter could have ballet lessons. Life was tough.

Soon Finch toured with the Ballets Russes - her mother went with her as chaperone. This is probably the most interesting part of the book because the ballerina came into contact with such interesting people. They included Nijinska, Danilova, and Chaliapin.

She lived in Australia during the war and met Peter Finch there. Finch doesn't give Australians a good write-up. She found them mostly hard-drinking, blunt and crude. I think that if she'd associated with different people, she might have had a different picture of us.

She and her husband, Peter Finch, went back to England to further his career. When he got the chance to go to Hollywood to make movies, his drinking and Vivien Leigh helped to ruin the marriage. The book has a lot of information about Vivien Leigh and Laurence Olivier and it gives a strange picture of Olivier.

Some ballet books are very dry, but this one certainly isn't. I was sorry to finish it!

Friday, July 16, 2010

Books Read in July 2010

What Happened To Anna K. by Irina Reyn

This is a brilliant transposition of the story of Anna Karenina from Imperial Russia to modern Jewish New York. Reyn has kept the essence of the characters and the spirit of the story alive. She manages to make the characters sympathetic and easy to understand for modern readers. The actual writing is so exquisite that I didn't want to finish this book!

Clever and beautiful with her curves and dark, wavy hair, Anna K. envisions a brilliant future for herself even though she comes from a poor Russian immigrant family. She dreams of an exciting career in publishing and a lover like Darcy or Heathcliff. She wants a future that features 'searing political essays, powerful lovers and a work of art shaped by the most idiosyncratic emigre mind since Nabokov'.

When the book begins, Anna is 36 and disillusioned with life and love. When she meets the older, wealthy Alexander, she decides that it is time to give up the struggle and accepts his proposal. They have a son, Serge, and her parents are overjoyed.

When she meets her cousin's boyfriend, David, a younger writer who has similar dreams and actually likes Russian novels, Anna falls hopelessly in love. Her feelings lead her into a reckless journey of self-destruction.

Lev, in this novel, is a Bukharian Jew, who falls in love with Anna's heartbroken cousin, Katia. But will their love last the distance when Anna casts her spell over him as well? He discovers in Anna someone who shares his interest in classic novels and French movies.

This novel, like the original, contrasts ideal love with the reality, and a fantasy-world with the 'real world. Anna, Lev, and David are all in danger of wanting the kind of life that they've read about in books. The author writes that: "When I neared thirty, I realized I was in danger of leading a wholly fictional (read: delusional) life and it was time to take myself in hand." This is something that Anna, unfortunately, never does.

The Concert Ticket

Olga Grushin's The Concert Ticket is a beautifully written, almost mystical story that shows how people can find meaning in their lives even in the grimmest of conditions.

As a family waits in a long line in Soviet Russia for concert tickets, they start to become discontented with their lives, and look for answers elsewhere. Gradually, they cannot help discovering secrets about each other that they never knew. Will the line bring them closer together or tear them apart?

I especially liked Grushin's comparison between the beauty and colour of life before Revolution and the surreal meaninglessness of life afterwards. Her story of the grandmother, who was a ballerina in the Ballets Russes, stands out. I also liked her philosophical writing about the meaning of time.

This is highly recommended!

Love and Louis XIV by Antonia Fraser


This is a charmingly written book which discusses the influence of women on Louis XIV
and dispels many myths about the King who gave us the grand palace of Versailles.

The Church had to engage in a fight for Louis's soul against his liking for mistresses, according to Fraser. Louis was caught between dominating Bishops who gave damning sermons against him, his own rather pious nature, and beautiful women like Athenais. Athenais, a luscious blonde, was his mistress for many years.

In the end, the religious Madame Maintenon became his morganatic wife and returned Louis to the Church. She has often been viewed as rather sly, ambitious, and a prudish woman who always dressed in black. Fraser writes that she was really very sweet-natured and loved fashion when she was young.

Fraser also dispels the myth that Louis was a lascivious layabout. He was really very hard-working and a perfectionist. He was also an excellent diplomat.

This is simply and clearly written. It is well-worth reading, but I did get a bit confused by all of the different people in the book.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

New Post

I've been very busy this week, but I hope to write new posts next week!

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The King's Secret Matter by Jean Plaidy

This is a sympathetic portrayal of Catherine of Aragon who suffered so much at the hands of Henry VIII. Plaidy paints a vivid picture of the splendour of Henry's court and the life that Catherine is forced to endure after her downfall.

Catherine is depicted as proud and determined to fight for her daughter's legitimacy. She is a very loving wife and mother, and remains very fond of Henry even when he subjects her to great trials. She is, perhaps, shown as a little bit too saintly, but Plaidy does an excellent job of making the reader feel very sorry for her.

Plaidy's character analysis of Henry is also excellent. He could be kind and loving, but quickly change to being nasty. His mercurial nature must have been extremely frightening! Henry was capable of turning against people very quickly, and the fear of death became ever-present for those close to him.

Plaidy also wrote well about Wolsey, but I got a bit tired of reading about him. He wasn't a very likeable character, and I wasn't especially interested in reading about his thoughts. Plaidy probably thought that this made the story clearer, but I am not sure that it was necessary.

I enjoyed this book and thought that it was one of Plaidy's better novels. The story is depressing and the reader knows that at the start. This probably made the novel even harder to write because many readers like happy endings. This book is worth reading if you like historical novels set in Tudor times.

Six Wives by David Starkey

This is a clearly written and interesting book in which Starkey attempts to get rid of many misconceptions about Henry VIII's wives. These misconceptions have existed for centuries. Catherine of Aragon has always been regarded as saintly, for example. Although Starkey agrees that she was very religious, he does think that she probably lied about her first marriage. She did spend a long time with Henry's brother, Arthur, who was quite healthy. It is unlikely that the marriage wasn't consummated.

He also writes sympathetically about Katherine Howard. She is usually regarded as a rather stupid tecenager, but Starkey's book shows that she really wasn't stupid. She also had a mind of her own and spoke up for some people whose lives were in danger.

I did think that Starkey got carried away by speculation at times. He writes that Anne Boleyn, for example, had her bed hung with richly embroidered crimson velvet of the 'Bed of Alancon'. He thinks that Anne may have wanted this because she got the Duke of Alancon mixed up with the French duke, Longueville, captured by the English during Henry's war with the French. Catherine had written that she would exchange the coat of the dead King of Scots, killed in the great battle of Flodden, for the Duke. Starkey thinks that Anne may have regarded the relic as a symbol of Catherine's finest hour, and appropriated it for herself. This seemed to me to be rather a stretch. Perhaps Anne just liked the beautiful fabric?

One reviewer wrote that Anne was Starkey's favourite, but I didn't think so. He annoyed me by attributing ulterior motives to her at almost every turn. The passage about the bed was just one example.

He also appeared to dislike Jane Seymour, who didn't seem to have too many qualms about Anne's death. His view of her was more understandable, I thought.

This was not a riveting book. The beginning was a bit dull but Starkey got into his stride when he started writing about Anne Boleyn and the book became more interesting. Most people who like to read about Henry's fascinating wives will enjoy it.

Life Cycles by Neil Killion

This was an interesting and helpful book, but I do find the theory a bit complicated and mathematical! Here is my review: Dividing Your Life Into Life Cycles.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Library Loot

Like many book readers, I haunt my local library. I should read the books that I have at home, but I have to supply Mum with books too. She devours them so I really don't have enough books for her as well, unless I get them from the library. I often find books that I want, though!

Here's what I got today:

An Education by Lynn Barber;

The Lost Mona Lisa by R.A.Scott; and

How To Be Free by Tom Hodgkinson.

They all look good, especially An Education.

SPOILER

I just saw the movie and greatly enjoyed it. Falling in love with a wealthy thief has its advantages, apparently! Still, I'd like to see a film about a female student at Oxford.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Tuesday Teaser!

I haven't done this for ages. If I remember correctly, I write two sentences from the book that I'm reading and then tell you what it is! I hope that's right. I think that they're supposed to be some of the best sentences from the book. Here they are:

"To the young Louisine, the strange, almost abstract image of stage-flats, dancers and specks of light resembled nothing she had ever seen before on canvas. 'I scarcely knew how to appreciate it, or whether I liked it or not, for I believe it takes special brain cells to appreciate Degas."

That's from page 150 of The Private Lives of the Impressionists by Sue Roe.

Huge Readathon!



Kristen of Bookworming in the 21st Century is holding a huge readathon until this Sunday. You can obtain points if you join. (I haven't worked it all out yet, but I'm going to join).

Here are some books that I hope to finish:

The Private Lives of the Impressionists by Sue Roe;

Six Wives by David Starkey;

I am Madame X by Gloria Dilberto;

and

The King's Secret Matter by Jean Plaidy.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Books Read in June

Meltdown: The End of the Age of Greed by Paul Mason

This was written just after the GFC hit so it has the value of immediacy, but it's out-dated now in some ways. Paul Mason describes the fall of Lehman brothers, the bank bailouts, and the sub-prime mortgage crisis clearly and reasonably simply. However, I still found the book a bit difficult to read.

He attributes the crisis to the failure of neoliberalism, deregulation, a share market that was allowed to run wild, and various other factors. His analysis of the causes of the crisis is probably the most interesting part of the book.

Mason writes about the crisis from a left-wing point of view. Whether you agree with his conclusions or not will probably depend on your politics to some extent. Right-wing commentators have often argued that the GFC had completely different causes.

Mason does draw conclusions and suggests that the answer is a completely new form of hyper-regulated capitalism. I couldn't be bothered reading this part of the book, however, because it was just too ideological and dull.

Friday, June 04, 2010

Young Bess by Margaret Irwin

Young Bess by Margaret Irwin

By the time that this book begins, young Princess Elizabeth has had a lot to cope with, including her mother's brutal death, different stepmothers, and her father's changing moods. She has, understandably, become guarded and somewhat distrustful. Now she finds herself dealing with her father's death and her feelings for Thomas Seymour.

Ebullient, handsome Thomas Seymour, played brilliantly by Stewart Granger in the movie, is the real star of this book. Mercurial and ambitious, he has his eye on the Crown and he falls in love with the young Princess. This naturally upsets his sweet wife, the late King's widow. Elizabeth struggles with her feelings, torn between her love for Thomas and her love for his wife, Katherine. Thomas Seymour, has 'wit, but little judgment' and his love for Elizabeth places him in great danger. It also places him in grave danger, from his equally ambitious brother, the Lord Protector.

The rivalry between the two brothers and their different characters is described with great analytical skill. The Lord Protector is cold and jealous, but he is also idealistic and he does a lot to help the common people. Which aspect of his character will win?

Elizabeth comes into her own when her love for Thomas means that she has to fight for her very life. Her courage and brilliance shine in the last section of the book.

Margaret Irwin's book describes the Tudor period in vivid detail and it's sure to please most lovers of historical novels. However, some may find the novel too full of historical detail and the style rather breathless and old-fashioned. She descends into purple prose at times, but some of the writing is luminous and some of the scenes are memorable. These include the scene in which Cranmer walks in the garden and thinks about his late friend and master, his beloved King.

Sunday, May 02, 2010

Tudor Challenge

Tudor Mania Button

The Tudor Mania Challenge run by the wonderful Marie Burton. I am going to enter this. I have started too late, however, so I'm very unlikely to win the prize!

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Books Read in April




A Dangerous Liason by Carole Seymour

Two myths surround Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir. One is that they were loyal workers for the Resistance. The other is that they had had a wonderful romance. Seymour puts paid to both in this rather plodding biography.

This couple actually had rather a good time in the war - they even held parties and drank wine with Picasso. They were also not averse to working for the Germans. Sartre did write plays promoting the cause of freedom, but neither Sartre nor de Beauvoir did much for the Resistance according to this book. De Beauvoir could even be anti-Semitic at times.

They may have had a very long romance but it was very anguished. According to this book they liked to torment each other by having affairs with each other's lovers. De Beauvoir even had affairs with her young women students and passed them on to Sartre. Then she wanted to know the details of his affairs with them. They apparently constantly used and abused people and were really a nasty pair.

Sartre and de Beauvoir were also 'fellow travellers' and regarded as 'useful idiots' by the Soviets. Sartre was even carried away by a female Soviet agent. Neither of them saw the evils of Communism. De Beauvour made the remark that the notorious labour camps were really for 'rehabilitation.'

Seymour does write about their good points. They could both be generous and they also did much to promote their causes. Sartre invented Existentialism and constantly protested about the evils of French colonialism, for example. De Beauvour was one of the first feminists.

De Beauvour cared for her mother when she was dying which made me like her a bit better.

I wouldn't have bothered continuing with this book if I hadn't been so interested in the subject. It was difficult to read and written in a fairly dull way, I thought. This was odd when it is such a fascinating story.

Love Letters by Katie Fforde

This book kept me company during long and lonely hours at airports in Paris and Bangkok, and on long plane trips. It's very light chick-lit but it was extremely enjoyable and I will certainly read more novels by Katie Fforde. I found her writing quite soothing!

The quiet and shy heroine of this book, Laura, is feeling down at the beginning because the bookshop where she works is closing. She feels better when she gets the chance to organise a book fair but she impulsively suggests that she should make her literary hero, Dermot, the star of the show. This is difficult because she has never met him!

The novel becomes a delightful chase as Laura visits Ireland to find the elusive Dermot and gets into all sorts of scrapes! The attractive Dermot turns out to be rather lascivious. Can Laura avoid becoming just another notch on his belt?

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.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Obstacles Welcome by Ralph de la Vega



Ralph de la Vega outlines his journey from the poverty of Cuba and hardship as a migrant in America to becoming the president of AT & T Mobility. He arrived in America as a scared boy of only ten who had to leave his parents behind. In this book he gives suggestions on how to overcome adversity and turn tough situations to your advantage.

De la Vega includes many useful tips in this book and he gives examples of how he overcame hard times himself to rise to the peak of his career. He writes about how Hurricane Andrew showed him that ‘he had to take care of his own people first’, for example. When Hurricane Katrina hit de la Vega knew exactly where all his employees were and set up a tent city for them. After the employees knew that they were cared for they could focus on their work.

This book is especially useful for rising managers and CEO’s. De la Vega writes about ethics, communication, having a vision, and other self-help topics. It is not very helpful for the self-employed.

The book was interesting but I found the writing very disjointed. I would have preferred a chronological account.

I review for BookSneeze

I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishers as part of their BookSneeze.com book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Books Read During March

Since we last met I've walked around the Golden Mount in Bangkok, been lost in beautiful San Gimignano, lamented being snowed in in Venice, and had a sleepless night on a train from Venice to Paris. I apologise for being away for so long but I had a lovely holiday.

That Summer in Sicily by Marlena de Blasi


This book has everything - a moving love story, exciting history, and a villianous enemy. It concerns a romance between a poor but strong woman who falls in love with a prince in the Italy of the 1930's. Unfortunately, the Mafia plans revenge on the prince because of his reforms which help the peasants.

I enjoyed this book and I liked reading it in Italy. However, I preferred Marlena de Blasi's autobiographies.

Paris to the Moon by Adam Gopnik

This was about an American man who moved with his wife and young son to Paris. It has great detail about the minuitae of family life in Paris and gives a child's view of this enchanting city. Gopnik has interesting insights about the contrasts between Americans and the French. I found the chapter on a war crimes trial the most interesting, however.

This book did annoy me somewhat. I felt that Gopnik was very keen on himself and he included a lot of information on baseball. I really couldn't care less about baseball so I skipped these parts of the book. (Apologies to Americans who love baseball!)

Katherine the Virgin Widow by Jean Plaidy

Jean Plaidy brings Katherine of Aragon to life in this easy-to-read novel. She analyses her character brilliantly and shows how young and shy Katherine, who is ordered about by Henry VII and her duenna, Elvira, when she first leaves Spain, gains strength of character.

The book also involves other interesting characters, including Elizabeth of York and Katherine's ladies-in-waiting.

Casanova's Women

I didn't like this book much at all and left it on the train between Venice and Milan after I finished it. It was rather prurient and sickly. Perhaps I'm just prudish.

However, Casanova's women were a very interesting lot. They included a runaway aristocrat, a woman pretending to be a castrati, and a women who ran a business in London organizing balls. The writing wasn't bad so I'm willing to try more of this author's books.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Royal Mistress Challenge

I am going to enter this challenge located at The Royal Mistress Challenge . I'm quite excited about this one but I will have to write more about it later.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Online Casinos Planet

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Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Books Read in February

Serendipity by Louise Shaffer

I was so lost in the world of old Broadway that this book describes that I almost missed my bus!

This is by a former actress so she knows this world and evokes it very well. The book concerns three generations of women - Carrie, Rose, and Lu - who all have conflicted relationships with their mothers and grandmothers. Carrie, the heroine, is struggling with her mother's death when the book begins. She wants to solve the mystery surrounding Rose. Why did Rose, a beautiful and wealthy socialite, who married a famous writer of musicals and lived a glamorous life donate most of her money to the poor when he died? Why did she bring Carrie up in a small, stuffy apartment in a working-class neighbourhood? Why did she never speak to Lu, her famous actress grandmother?

As Carrie discovers more about Rose's reasons, we also read Rose's and Lu's stories.
All of these women are very strong, American women, but their characters are very different so they are all very easy to read about. Even though the book deals with all of these varied characters, it is not confusing. The transitions are done very smoothly.

Carrie is a very easy heroine to identify with. She is a little bit of a muddler at the start but she gradually gains confidence.

I did like reading about Rose and Lu the best, however. I went to New York thirty years ago and may not go again so it was interesting to imagine the streets and cafes of old Broadway and read about the difficulties of acting and writing musicals.
The writing is vivid so I really felt that I was actually there!

This was also a gentle, soothing book to read. I'll certainly be reading more of Louise Shaffer's books!

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

TeaserTuesday

I found this at the Reading Adventures blog. It's great fun! It's a reading meme that consists of opening the book that you're reading at a random page and selecting two sentences that show the quality of the writing and give readers an idea of whether they'd like the book or not.

Here goes:

The last thing Rose needed in her life was another self-centered, workaholic egomaniac in her life. But the right girl can change a man.

This is from Serendipity by Louise Shaffer.

Friday, January 22, 2010

'Anne of Windy Poplars' (1940)

As I am a big fan of the 'Anne' series by L.M.Montgomery I couldn't resist taping Anne of Windy Poplars the other night. It was on very late and the timer on my video machine doesn't work so I had to stay up more than half of the night!

I can see why many 'Anne' fans have written bad reviews of this film. It is incredibly old-fashioned and corny. It is also extremely melodramatic.

In the book Anne, who has recently graduated from university, goes to a small town to teach. Unfortunately, this town is dominated by Pringles who dislike Anne from the start. She finds Jen Pringle, a girl in her class, especially difficult. She also finds a fellow teacher, Katherine, very cold and unfriendly.

The film sticks to the spirit of the book but the story is changed in a few ways. There are several new characters who are rather quaint and irritating, such as the man who stokes the stove at the school, and an old sailor. There is also a rather handsome Pringle, Tony, who becomes keen on Anne. I didn't mind him.

I haven't read the book for a long time and it's somewhat confused in my mind with the 1980's series so I may be wrong. However, the old lady who dominates the Pringles is much nastier in the film I think. This annoyed me. Her role is acted extremely well.

It is obvious that the movie was shot in a studio which was a pity. The series was shot on location and the scenery was beautiful. The sweeping photography showed the vistas of Prince Edward Island to perfection.

In spite of these issues I enjoyed the movie and wish that I could have watched it as a teenager. (I liked corny films much more then!) Anne Shirley, who changed her name because of the character, makes a lovely Anne. She is sweet and brave. Patric Knowles who played Gilbert was a bit stiff. The actress who played Katherine was also excellent.

Now I have to try and get this converted to DVD!

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Books Read in January

The Conjurer's Bird by Martin Davies


This was an enchanting mixture of history and romance although I thought
that the story's ending was a let-down. A young naturalist sets out to find
out the truth about a famous bird discovered by Joseph Banks in the South Seas.

The book was based on historical fact and certainly made me more interested in
Banks. His life was apparently fairly mysterious in some aspects.

Here is my review of : Very Valentine by Adriana Trigiani.

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.

The Women in Black by Madeleine St.John


This was a charming book about women who worked in a
department store in the sixties in Sydney.
It contrasts the innocent Aussies with the more sophisticated European
migrants very well and St.John's characters are
very realistic.

The central character is young Leslie who changes her name to Lisa in order
to seem more grown-up and confident.
(You can see why I liked it! lol) Magda, a Hungarian migrant, takes her
under her wing, and helps to transform her into
a young woman with poise and grace, who knows where she is going.

This novel is based on the famous Sydney department store of David Jones and
reminded me of shopping there when I was young.
It used to have a Food Hall and a piano player (sometimes) and always seemed
very glamorous.

Saturday, January 09, 2010

TV Channels For Around $1.00 A Day

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Satellite Directv is a great way to see new and exciting TV channels. At My TV Options you can choose from Sports channels, Movies, Local, and Global channels. The movie selections include Encore movies, Showtime movies, Flix, and many more.

It's a great idea to buy Direct Satellite TV. What are you waiting for? Choose a package today!

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Buy The Best Ticket Deals At A Cheap Seat

Would you like to buy the best deals on tickets at sporting and music events at American and Canadian venues? A Cheap Seat.com is an online ticket broker that can provide you with the hottest deals on events such as hockey, football, tennis, and even Broadway shows. A Cheap Seat.com can also help and advise you on ordering your seats.

Tickets for the Chicago Blackhawks are also available at A Cheap Seat.com. This hockey team has not won the Stanley Cup since 1961 but they were restructured under a new General Manager in 2004-5 and they may do better in the future. There are many excellent events featuring the Chicago Blackhawks this year at the United Center in Chicago.

You can buy tickets to watch events at the Mellon Arena through A Cheap Seat.com. The Mellon Arena in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania is the home of the Pittsburgh Penguins of the National Hockey League and many ice hockey games are held here. Interestingly, the Mellon Arena used to host the Pittsburgh Civic Light Opera, and it still holds large musical events. The great guitarist, Eric Clapton, will play at the Mellon Arena in February.



You can also watch another great hockey team, the Calgary Flames by buying tickets at A Cheap Seat.com. The Calgary Flames were in the Stanley Cup Finals in 2004, the first Canadian team in a decade to advance to this level. There are many Calgary Flames events to choose from.