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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 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.