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Tuesday, October 26, 2010

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

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