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Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Edwardian Era | Suite101

Edwardian Era | Suite101

Hot Dogs and Hamburgers

When lawyer, Rob Shindler , discovers that his son, Oliver, has difficulty reading, he ignores the situation.  But soon he hears nasty remarks directed at his son, and he knows that Oliver is really quite bright.  Eventually, he decides to learn how to teach literacy to adults in Chicago.  This is the story of how he did it.

He met 'Aunt June Porter', Bible-toting Elvira, motivational speaker Charles, and bad-mouthed Michael along the way.  He grew to love his class and his students, and you probably will too!  This is the kind of book that you miss when you've finished it.  I felt that I'd made a lot of new friends, and I even got teary-eyed at the end.

It's a lovely, well-written book, and I hope that it encourages more people to teach literacy.

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Friday, December 21, 2012

How To Build Your Blog With Passion

Fresh Passion by Michael D. Brown

Building a brand requires determination, hard work, great ideas and passion.  Brown provides lots of tips for creating a brand effectively, such as doing something that will help you achieve your ambition everyday, and associating with people you admire.  He includes several anecdotes from his own life.

He also summarizes the main points of each chapter, and space for notes on the book.

I haven't finished this yet.  It's a lot of work, and I'm having a break. It's also a bit hard to apply the tips to freelancing.  However, I'll certainly have another look at it soon!


Thursday, December 20, 2012

Constance: The Scandalous and Tragic Life of Mrs Oscar Wilde by Franny Moyle



Oscar Wilde and his beautiful young wife, Constance, were very much in love, and feted in both London and Paris.  Constance, like Oscar, edited journals, wrote stories, and gave lectures.  Her writing was highly regarded, and she gave Oscar a huge amount of help with his stories. Both Oscar and Constance were highly concerned with the Women's Movement, and Oscar edited the journal, Women's World.

They mixed with high society, and great artists like the actress, Sarah Bernhardt. They invited these people to their 'House Beautiful' for fashionable parties.

Tall and slim, Constance played a large part in the Rational Dress Society.  This society promoted healthier clothing for women, wanting to get rid of dangerous and restrict corsets, for example.  Constance's exotic and colourful fashions were somewhat eccentric for her time, but many women admired them.

Constance and Oscar had two lovely little boys, and the couple's 'artistic marriage' seemed the epitome of success and happiness. Then Oscar met Bosie...

Franny Moyle's Constance rightly shows that Oscar Wilde's wife should'nt be regarded as just the famous playwright's wife, and needs to be studied in her own right.  She certainly succeeded in becoming the 'New Woman', widely admired in Victorian and Edwardian society.

Moyle also dispels several myths about Constance.  Many of these were the opinions and gossip of Oscar's friends.  Even today, they're powerful rumours. I don't want to write about them here, however, because it may spoil the ending of the book.

I wanted to read this for a long time, and it didn't disappoint me.  Moyle's account of Constance is well-written, and she certainly relates the heartbreaking story of Wilde's fall and the aftermath in such a moving way that it will drive many to tears.

Franny Moyle on Woman's Hour

Monday, December 17, 2012

Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power by Jon Meacham

Thomas Jefferson grew up in a distinguished, privileged family, with every advantage - money, an excellent education and a brilliant mind.  Even he had his share of troubles, however.  His father and his sister died when he was young.  The lanky and handsome young man also had a few rejections before he met his wife, surprisingly.  These included a rejection from one of his friend's wives! The great man chased her for two years, even going into her bedroom.  She was not pleased, to say the least!

These are just some of the stories in this book, which is a pleasure to read. They are amongst the more frivolous tales, of course. I haven't finished it yet, but Jon Meacham also studies Jefferson's personality and background acutely.  He has also thoroughly researched the tactics which made him so powerful and such an important part of American history.

 

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Birthplaces of the Presidents

Where the Presidents Were Born by Louis Picone





Nine presidents were born in log cabins, and some were, indeed, humble log cabins.  Thomas Jefferson's father bought 200 acres of  prime Virginia land from his first cousin by marriage for a bowl of Arrack punch, and Thomas was born in the house that he built there.

These are just some of the many interesting details to be learned from reading this book.  I liked it, but be prepared because it's a sad tale - so many of the president's birthplaces have been destroyed or disappeared. Some are privately owned, and can't be visited.  Picone managed to find out the history of each birthplace, and he includes many excellent photographs.  He includes Jefferson Davis, the President of the Confederate States.

The accounts of the preservation or lack of preservation of each birthplace are a bit dry.  However, Picone's tales of travelling to each birthplace with his young son are enjoyable.  He provides a lot of practical information on how to get to each one, and the opening hours.
The monument commemorating Jefferson Davis's birthplace.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Houses of the Presidents by Hugh Howard




I'd love to buy Houses of the Presidents by Hugh Howard.  This book was a pleasure to read with its lush photographs and interesting narrative about each president.  From Thomas Jefferson's classical Monticello to the more informal Edwardian holiday home of Theodore Roosevelt, the houses never failed to be worth studying even if they were the epitome of bad taste!

This book made me want to visit the houses, but they're a long way from here!  Unfortunately, I didn't finish the book, because it was difficult to read on the computer. 

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Little Women in India by Jane Nardin

Imagine being an English girl in India in the middle of the nineteenth century.  There is rebellion everywhere, and even though you are somewhat sympathetic with the Indians, you are also terrified.

This is the scenario of Jane Nardin's version of Little Women.  Exciting and exotic, this very different version features four girls, who all resemble Alcott's heroines, but they're cleverly re-imagined for today's readers.  They're more liberated - they hate being called 'Little Women' by their father - and they're much less sympathetic with each other, although they all love each other dearly.  For example, Elizabeth (Amy) thinks that Fanny (Beth) is soppy and too good to be true.  The girls are all likeable and share many of the characteristics of their classic counterparts, but they're also much more intrepid. 

Evocative and somewhat political, this novel contrasts the British way of life in India with the treatment of the Indians.  It is an indictment of the lack of understanding of Indian religion and culture by the British, and it also tells the sad story of a mixed-race woman deserted by her husband.  The girls in the novel certainly learn a lot about this, while coping with several dangers and emotions.

I did find this to be more like an adventure story than a version of Little Women, so I was a bit disappointed, although I enjoyed Little Women in India immensely.  I missed the romance of Little Women.

The only other flaw was that these little women sometimes used extremely modern expressions, such as 'I get it'.

My husband thought that I was reading a non-fiction book about tiny women in India!  He's extremely clever, but not literary.

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Jolt Your Life

Jolt: Get The Jump On A World That's Constantly Changing by Phil Cooke

Do you want to change your life?  In this book, Phil Cooke tells people how to discover their aims in life, set their priorities, be more creative and improve their thinking.  Well-written and enjoyable, the book has a lot of anecdotes and personal stories.  I especially liked the one about the magician who helped the generals in the Second World War.

Like many reviewers, I felt that this book wasn't very different from most self-help books.  It also seems to give people a lot of hard work to do.  (Can't someone write a self-help book that makes improving yourself fun?)  However,  I did find it helpful, and I found the chapters on creativity and thinking particularly useful.

I also agreed with Phil Cooke when he pointed out that science has failed to answer the important questions of life, for example, what is our purpose in life.  He's a Christian, but he doesn't seek to convert anyone in this book, although he writes about how important his faith is to him, and how faith helps him.

NB: I received this book free from Book Sneeze.  My opinions are entirely my own.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

What Matters In Jane Austen? by John Mullan



John Mullan sets out to 'catch Jane Austen in the act of greatness' in this book, and he achieves it.  Mullan studies the importance of details about age, weather, the seaside and various other subjects in Jane Austen's novels.  He shows how these affected people in Regency times, and how knowing more about these topics improves our understanding of the novels.

For example,  Mullan writes about how Mr Collins is usually depicted as in his forties in the movies and the TV series.  However, it helps for readers to know that he's really only in his twenties.  His comic pompeousness and snobbishness becomes much clearer for readers.

He also writes about the importance of knowing more about the heroine's ages in the novels. Elizabeth, for example, is an ideal age for a woman, but Anne is regarded as being certainly destined to be an old maid until she goes to the seaside and regains her bloom.

I found the chapter on servants the most interesting part of this book, although it's all engaging.  Mullan explains exactly how important servants are, and how important it is to hide things from them!  For example, Lizzie is pleased that her mother doesn't let the servants know about Lydia's running away with Wickham.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Mistress to the Crown

I enjoyed one of Martyn's previous books, and I usually like historical novels.  However, I didn't go on with this one.  I felt that the medieval style in which it was written didn't ring true, and I just didn't like the writing at times.  It's a pity, because the character of Jane Shore was sympathetic, and I did like Martyn's descriptions of the sumptuous fashions and textiles of the period.

Saturday, December 08, 2012

A True American Lady

This book is a fitting biography of Susan Mary Alsop, and has many of the qualities that she had herself.  It's charming, engaging and interesting.  Anyone interested in American history will find this a pleasure to read.





Alsop had a rather sad childhood, traumatised by the loss of her beloved sister and father.  She also endured a judgmental mother.  But the wealthy and privileged debutante, descended from one of America's first families, fell in love at a young age with Bill Patten, and life changed when she married Patten and lived in Paris after the Second World War.  Here she went a Sabrina-style transformation from a shy young woman to a popular and fashionable one, who was sought after for her opinions.  Dressed in Dior and other haute-couture designers, she associated with Paris high society.

The book tells the tale of Alsop's 'grand affair' with the British Ambassador to France, Duff Cooper, her two marriages, and how she became a formidable and influential woman in Washington politics and society.  At quite a late age, Alsop also collected her letters from Paris to Marietta Tree, and wrote popular history books while others in her class who were just as rich and privileged, in her words, 'didn't do anything'.

Many biographers fall in love with their subjects, and I felt that the author was too sympathetic to Alsop at times.  She caused her son a great deal of heartache, for example, and this wasn't really adequately dealt with in the book.

However, I would like a 'hard copy' of this book.  I hope that it has pictures - the Kindle version doesn't.

Friday, December 07, 2012

The Black Count by Tom Reiss




This tale about the swashbuckling general, General Alexandre Dumas (the novelist's father), reads like a novel and never fails to be exciting.  The mulatto general, the son of an aristocrat and his black wife, was lucky enough to receive an excellent education and rose to the top of his career in the army quickly.

This book relates his exploits as he led the Army of the Alps, sparred with Napoleon, and attempted to uphold the true principles of the French Revolution.  Sometimes it's a little bit too admiring, I feel.  However, anyone interested in French history will love this book.

I found the little-known story of the legal battles for the rights of mixed-race peoples and former slaves in France especially interesting. More than two hundred years before the Civil Rights movement in America, former slaves who landed on French soil were regarded as free (with several exceptions), and a society for the advancement of black people established a school for bright mixed-race and black boys.

The anecdotes about Reiss's research were also enjoyable.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Miss Buncle Married by D.E. Stevenson

How I wish that I knew someone like Miss Buncle! It's an absolute pleasure to read about this delightful character's new adventures now that she's married to a lovely man.  The new wife soon falls in love with a large, old-fashioned house in a new village and the couple move there, ready to begin a different life.

The trouble is that the former Miss Buncle has given up her beloved writing, and she understandably doesn't know what to do with herself.  She has certain mysteries to solve, however.  Why are the children nearby so 'wild' and fey, for example?  Why does their father appear to have a strange interest in her?  More importantly, how can she keep young Sam, her husband's nephew, away from his true love, Jo, until Jo's aunt dies?

I didn't enjoy this book as much as the first one in the series, but I still found it a joy to read.  I am very grateful to Net Galley for giving me this book to read.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

The Dickens Dictionary by John Sutherland

It is rare to find a non-fiction book that is written with a light touch and in a humorous manner.  John Sutherland has achieved this with his hugely enjoyable dictionary of Dickens.  This is my favourite book about Dickens!

Here you will learn about the origins of his characters, his travels, and the scandals that revolved around him.  You will also find out some things that you probably don't want to know, for example, that Dickens was deeply prejudiced against Catholicism.

Some parts of this book were a bit too gruesome to read, so be warned.  This includes Dickens's graphic description of witnessing an execution in Italy.

This is the perfect book for any Dickens fan.




Thursday, November 22, 2012

The Tale of A Cheltenham Lady by Elizabeth Gillard






This is a charming and relaxing read about a girl who struggled with relative poverty and a conflicted relationship with her mother and rose above both to become a 'Cheltenham Lady'.

Elizabeth Gillard grew up in a small, stuffy flat overlooking a square in Cheltenham with two rather odd parents.  She was lucky enough to have a wealthy relative who sent her to Cheltenham Ladies' College.  She enjoyed attending, although she felt inferior compared with the richer girls.

She then studied nursing in the 'swinging London' of the 1960s.  I liked this part of the book which describes the joy of living in London and the poverty of the East End.  Her writing is at its best here when she evokes the creepiness of the East End only seventy years after Jack the Ripper.

Elizabeth Gillard completed her nursing qualification and goes on to write about her marriages, children, and travelling adventures.  She's very likeable and you feel like cheering her on as she endlessly tries to resolve her odd relationship with her class-obsessed mother.

I enjoyed this gentle and very English autobiography.

Still Point by Regis Martin



Regis Martin originally wanted to call his book, 'Desperate Desire'.  This is because his book concerns the desperate desire we all have to be reconciled with God.  But Still Point also describes the search for God, the yearning we all experience to meet our dead friends and relatives again and the joy that finding God brings.

Still Point is not an easy read - it is really for people who like philosophy and theology. I liked studying Natural Law so I am happy to read well-written books such as this one. Part of Still Point is a deep philosophical argument that our search for God is the proof that he exists.  C. S. Lewis expressed this succinctly in a famous quote that I will have to find and write here.

It's a powerful book filled with anecdotes from Martin's life and beautiful quotations from poets such as T.S. Eliot.  I will certainly keep this and return to it often.


Monday, November 19, 2012

An Interesting and Fair Biography of a Much-Loved Author



I approached Georgette Heyer by Jennifer Kloester with some trepidation after reading reviews accusing the author of being unduly critical of the much-loved writer.  I am a big fan of Heyer so I didn't want to be too disillusioned about her real character!


Jennifer Kloester does criticise Heyer's Conservative politics, snobbishness, and some aspects of her character.  However, I thought that her criticism was mostly fair and I thought that she was sympathetic to Heyer , although I thought she should have been more objective about Heyer's politics.

Heyer inspired and gave hope to many - she was especially proud of providing much-needed escapism and hope for a group of Romanian women prisoners.  Kloester writes about Heyer's inspirations and meticulous research, how her relationship with her husband resembled the love affairs in her books, and many other details of Heyer's life.  These include the influence of her father on her writing, her sometimes acrimonious relationships with editors and publishers, her struggles with her health and her financial troubles.

The best-selling author of clever Regency romances led a fairly quiet life except for her travels.  She travelled to Africa (where she wrote lavish romances in a grass hut), for example.  However, the author manages to make this biography interesting - I especially enjoyed reading about Heyer's yearning for to be taken seriously as a writer.

NB: I was pleased to learn that Australians were always amongst her biggest fans.


Sunday, November 18, 2012

Where The Heart Lies by Michelle Garren Flye



Where The Heart Lies by Michelle Garren Flye is a lovely story about guilt, redemption, and the power of love.  This easy read has a likeable hero and heroine and some interesting plot twists.

After Alicia's young husband is killed in the war in Afghanistan, she finds it difficult to overcome her loss and her grief and coping with two children alone.  Her parents-in-law invite her to take over their bookshop in the small town where she met her husband, and she soon finds the work healing.  However, she soon becomes attracted to Liam, an attractive science professor.

Alicia soon struggles with a new set of problems, including guilt about being attracted to a new man, small-town gossip, and envious women.  She also learns that Liam has a lot of secrets.

This was a well-written romantic novel with an unusual amount of depth.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Tuesday Teaser!

I know that this is rather late but I really can't resist.

"I'm sure I'll like studying history after this," said Emily, "except Canadian history.   I'll never like it --- it's so dull. Not just at the first, when we belonged to France and there was plenty of fighting, but after that it's nothing but politics".
    "The happiest countries, like the happiest women, have no history," said Dean.
    "I hope I'll have a history," cried Emily.  "I want a thrilling career."

(Emily of New Moon by L. M. Montgomery)

Monday, November 12, 2012

The Girl You Left Behind by JoJo Moyes

A lost painting, an involved court case, and a moving love story which crosses the generations. What could be better?  I am a big fan of JoJo Moyes and she hasn't let readers down with this large novel.


The first part of the story involves Sophie, a desperate young French woman trying to survive in the First World War.  Before he left for the war, Sophie's artist husband painted a beautiful portrait of her.  Unfortunately, the German Kommandant of the tiny village falls in love with Sopie and Sophie determines to risk everything to save her husband.



Years later, Liv, a pretty young widow is also in trouble.  Her husband gave her the painting but when she falls in love with Paul, she learns about the bitter history of the art.  The painting comes between the lovers and Liv decides to do anything to find out Sophie's true story.

Sensitively written and intricate, the involved and suspense-filled story will keep most readers up late.  I loved the characters and the interesting historical background.  I do have to admit to almost giving this book up, however.  The beginning is extremely harrowing so be warned.  My advice is to keep reading if you want to enjoy a great story.

Another problem is that I read this on my computer which I found difficult.  It's the kind of book which should be enjoyed while lying in a hammock in the garden in spring or before a crackling fire in the winter.  However, I got this free from Net Galley so I am extremely thankful.

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

When America Foreclosed. The Foreclosure of America by Adam Michaelson



Adam Michaelson, a marketing executive at Countrywide, was intrigued when he was invited to a meeting at the Vault - a nuclear bunker deep underground.  He listened in amazement to a presentation advocating mortgages that actually increased the amounts which people owed on their houses.  This was based on the premise that house prices would keep rising.

Michaelson immediately imagined a scenario in which house prices began to decrease and the forthcoming disaster.  "Are you nuts?" he asked the presenter..  He loved working for Countrywide and he developed the "Realize Your Dreams" campaign.  Michaelson really felt that this huge company was helping people do just that because it loaned people money to help them buy houses and apartments.  Even the image of the campaign - a nice house with white picket fence -  was the embodiment of the Great American Dream.

Disillusionment set in, however, when he realised what was going to happen and he watched the company go into free fall.

Some of these business tomes are boring, but this is a fast-paced, exciting book which puts the reader right into the heart of the bubble. Michaelson describes the rise of Countrywide and how it all went wrong.  He still defends capitalism, however, arguing that too much market control and watching over people is the beginning of totalitarianism.  I agree!

He has helpful suggestions to stop this disaster happening again.  Unfortunately, I don't think that any of them are being put into practice.

 Michaelson's outline of his career is also useful for anyone interested in marketing, especially his handling of job interviews.

Monday, October 08, 2012

Every American Should Read This Book!



John Quincy Adams by Harlow Giles Unger is a gripping biography and highly recommended.  Every American should read this enlightening and exciting book about the great diplomat, lawyer and president who suffered great tragedy in his life and overcame it with aplomb and resilience. (I am Australian but I like American history). You will fall in love with this learned crusader who was a pioneering advocate of free speech and abolition.  The biography is never boring and reads like a novel.

Adams's wife, Louisa, was also a strong and clever person.  I am interested in reading more about her.

I had to read this on my Kindle but I'm very grateful to Net Galley for giving me a free copy.





Saturday, October 06, 2012

Women Will Save The World by Caroline A. Shearer

(Saint Teresa of Avila)

This is a wonderfully interesting and inspiring book.  A mixture of historical profiles about powerful women such as Saint Teresa and Nellie Bly and autobiographical essays by modern women, this is a great book that you will want to read a few times.

I got a free copy from Net Galley on my Kindle but I will probably buy it in paperback as well.

                                 (Nelly Bly)

Backwards in High Heels by Thomas Carty





This is a fairly dry and factual biography of Faith Whittlesey, a formidable woman who was Reagan's Ambassador to Switzerland twice and a prominent member of his Senior Staff.  It covers her rise to fame and her somewhat tragic personal life well.  I also found the details of her time in Switzerland interesting.

When Whittlesey arrived in Switzerland the first time, Reagan's policies were extremely unpopular and there were large protests in the usually quiet country.  Whittlesey did a lot to win over the Swiss with her charm, her social events, and her enjoyment of Swiss sports.  She travelled through the country explaining Reagan's policies and she also went out of her way to make friends with important Swiss businessmen, who are apparently the 'rock star's of Swiss society.

Whittlesey's  influence helped to negotiate an acrimonious settlement between Swiss banks and American law enforcers over insider trading.  This was extremely difficult.  This part of the book was a bit dull, I thought.

Whittlesey, a staunch Conservative, had a fraught time in Washington because of leaks and accusations of corruption that were false.  She annoyed feminists and some 'moderate' Republicans because of her anti-abortion views.

I didn't finish the book but Whittlesey certainly had an interesting career and achieved great success.  She pointed out that: "Ginger Rogers did everything Fred Astaire did, except backwards and in high heels."  Whittlesey showed that this is possible, even in politics.


Tuesday, October 02, 2012

How Lucky You Are by Kristyn Kusek Lewis

I started this book but I didn't like any of the characters very much.  They seemed to be gossipy women who were too interested in other people's business.  The writing wasn't bad, but it was a bit wordy.  
It's a pity because it has got such good reviews.

Miss Dreamsville and the Collier County Women's Literary Society by Amy Hill Hearth



I haven't finished this delightful book by Amy Hill Hearth yet, but I'm enjoying it more than any book club that I've joined! Set in the turbulent times of the 60's in a small town in Florida, it involves a diverse set of interesting characters, including literary housewife Jackie, divorcee Doreen, and a murderess.  Their lives are turned upside down by joining the book club founded by Jackie, a newcomer to the town who also secretly becomes 'Miss Dreamsville'.  As 'Miss Dreamsville' she stars on a night-time radio programme and plays music to fit her mood.  This 'wakes up' everyone in town - they all wonder who she is.

Women were expected to get married and become housewives in small-town Florida in the 60's so the formation of the book club upsets a lot of people and the members start getting into trouble.  The one who runs the most risk is Priscilla, an African-American maid, who has big ambitions...

Written in a charming and gentle way with touches of irony that would please Jane Austen, Miss Dreamsville is well-worth reading.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Kate Morton Will Wow Her Fans Again. The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton

Kate Morton's legion of fans will love this book! Suspense-filled and lyrically written, The Secret Keeper was 'unputdownable'.

The book begins with sixteen-year old Laurel, the eldest sister of a large family, who is sitting in the tree-house of the family home in peaceful Suffolk.  It is the 1960's and Laurel dreams of her latest 'crush' and leaving home.  Everything changes when she witnesses her mother killing a strange man.

Many years later, Laurel's mother, Dorothy, is dying in hospital and Laurel, now a famous actress, wants to discover the truth about the past.  The story expertly switches between Laurel's search and a young Dorothy in the war years.  Dorothy works as a companion to a wealthy elderly lady in London and is engaged to Jimmy, an ambitious photographer.  When Dorothy, desperate and in need of money, meets beautiful and wealthy Vivien, trouble starts.

The plot has almost too many twists and turns but Kate Morton keeps us involved and we really care about the main protagonists of the story.  There are few clues about Dorothy's uncharacteristic action and Kate Morton really does keep readers guessing until the very last minute. 

The terrible atmosphere of war-torn London - the bombings and the fear - is vivid and detailed. It contrasts with the lovingly described beauty of the Suffolk countryside and a peaceful, modern London.

I also liked the nods to Pride and Prejudice but I couldn't work out their connections with the story - I am going to write and ask Kate Morton about this soon!

I still like this author's first book, The House at Riverton, the best but The Secret Keeper is second on my list.




Thursday, September 27, 2012

Whatever is Lovely: Design for an Elegant Spirit by Marsha Maurer

(Silk Scarves) Public Domain Picture 

Designed to help women achieve elegance, harmony, and grace, Whatever is Lovely is well-written and filled with memorable quotations, including Christian ones, and helpful advice about every aspect of life. These include decoration, being a good hostess, and taking care of one's soul. Maurer also shares anecdotes from her own life as examples. I especially liked the rituals which she shares with her husband on Michael Mass Day and the stories about her travels.

It's all quite difficult to live up to, but it's very inspiring. The picture of Maurer is also inspiring because she looks exactly like the kind of person who lives the life which she describes. I read this on my Kindle but I'd like the actual book. I'm also interested in reading more books by this author


 

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Molly Fox's Birthday by Deirdre Madden

Molly Fox, an enigmatic actress, lends her lovely, book-filled house in Dublin to her friend, a playwright struggling with writer's block.  Molly is away in New York acting in a play.  While she stays there, Molly's friend muses about the nature of friendship, her feelings for their close friend, Andrew, the Irish Troubles and many other things.  As she comes to terms with her life and feelings, she discovers herself.

This was short-listed for the Orange Prize of 2009 and it's a memorable and haunting novel which is beautifully written.  It is somewhat wordy but every word counts and it's worth a second reading. 

I think that anyone who wants to read this book should really see or read The Duchess of Malta first.  It's an important part of the story and I haven't read the play.

Interview with Deirdre Madden


One Good Deed by Erin McHugh

Princess Mary with a Girl Guide

Girl Guides are supposed to do one good deed each day.  I thought that McHugh may have got this idea from them but she doesn't mention the Girl Guides.  I try to do this too - when I remember.

I was pleasantly surprised by One Good Deed, McHugh's diary about trying to do a good deed every day.  It could have been dull or preachy, but McHugh's journal entries never failed to be interesting and likable.  We cheer along with her as she gives away free ice cream to teenage girls, makes a donation at a free concert and carries a customer's heavy books up an escalator and to a taxi.  We also sympathise when she fails to find a good deed to do and she struggles to be nice even when she feels like snapping or groaning.

One Good Deed also contrasts life in McHugh's home town of New Bedford, a pretty whaling town, with life in busy New York where people find it difficult to trust each other but they're often kind and helpful anyway.

This is highly recommended and I hope to follow McHugh's example.  She may be interested to know that I did just that today - I was going to buy a 'Sizzler'  but I didn't want to wait so I donated the money to the charity instead.







Tuesday, September 18, 2012

An American Diplomat in Franco Spain by Michael Aaron Rockland

When Michael Aaron Rockland was offered a job as a diplomat in the 1960's in Franco's Spain his friends implored him not to go.  They couldn't understand how someone with left-wing politics would work in Spain.

Rockland did find Spain like another world compared with the U.S. but he enjoyed his time there.  This book is full of fascinating anecdotes, such as his disappointment that Martin Luther King could be ordinary, his being asked whether he had 'horns' by a drunken Spaniard and his experiences of the making of Dr. Zhivago.

He also shares lots of insights about the differences between Spanish and American culture, although I did find some of this a bit dull.



Monday, September 17, 2012

Places, Please! by Daniel Sullivan

I found this story of Daniel Sullivan's experience of rehearsing for and starring in Jersey Boys in Toronto OK, but a bit hard to read.  It's extremely detailed and sets out every aspect of the process chronologically.  I feel that it could do with more editing and tightening. Some of the anecdotes were enjoyable, such as Sullivan's meeting the real Tommy DeVito.

I'm afraid that I didn't finish this one.



Friday, September 14, 2012

From Sacred Heart to Willow Creek by Chris Haw

From Willow 
Creek to Sacred HeartFrom Willow Creek to Sacred Heart by Chris Haw

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


When we visited the cathedral in Sienna, the man behind us annoyed me by groaning and saying how the money spent on the cathedral should have been spent on the poor.  I should have told him that the Catholic church helps more of the poor than any other institution.

Chris Haw discusses this issue and many others in this well-written and inspiring account of why he left a Protestant evangelical church for a somewhat traditional Catholic one.  Although attracted to the heady atmosphere and showmanship of the evangelical church as a teenager, an older and university-educated Haw surprised himself by returning to Catholicism and finding a deeper meaning and spirituality there. 

He goes through many of the old arguments, such as religion versus spiirituality, faith and works, transubstantiation, and the worship of Mary.  Haw eventually agrees with Chesterton, a famous convert, about many of these topics and comes down on the side of Catholicism. He wants to reform the church from within and he writes that the true rebels were those who also wanted to do that, like St. Francis and Thomas Aquinas.

The theology is a bit difficult at times and it sometimes requires re-reading.  However, I enjoyed reading the arguments and it did strike me that Haw should have been a lawyer because he was so good at answering the criticisms of the Church! 

He is an amazingly inspiring young man who chose to live in a poor and violent neighbourhood and help the people there.  If only there were more like him.  Here he also writes about the work of the Church in this area.



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Thursday, September 13, 2012

A Daughter’s Tale by Mary Soames



This is the loveliest book! I will definitely buy it so I can keep my own copy forever.  It was such a treat to read these reminiscences by Lady Soames, the daughter of the great Winston Churchill.

She begins with an account of her idyllic life at Chartwell in the beautiful countryside.  Here she enjoyed life with a menagerie of animals, watching the antics of her siblings, and riding and even bricklaying with her father.  She felt somewhat isolated from her siblings because she was the youngest and they were several years older so she describes herself as a bit ‘odd’.  However, glamour touched on her life even then.  Important politicians and artists, such as the painter, John Lavery, visited and young Mary had a hand in helping her sister, Sarah, elope!

Life soon became a splendid whirl of dances, balls, and several romances for the young and pretty debutante.  Queen Charlotte’s Ball certainly seems like a fairytale event. Her teenage years were touched by sadness, however.  A broken engagement made her feel guilty and lessened her confidence somewhat.  

Mary Churchill had to grow up impossibly fast when the dark days of the war came.  She describes these eventful years and the impact it had on her father, who became Prime Minister, especially vividly.  Overhearing her father say that women would have to do the work of men now, Mary impetuously decided to join the war effort.  She entered the mixed batteries and eventually became a Junior Commander in charge of over 200 young women.  Although London was under fire and being devastated by terrible bombings, she still managed to have a good time on occasion – there were still visits to nightclubs, romances and enjoyable family occasions.

Some of the most interesting events in the book occur when Mary travels with her father to important conferences in Canada and Berlin.  She is in a position to describe MacKenzie  King, the Prime Minister of Canada, as a ‘cosy old thing’ and Roosevelt as a ‘cute, cunning old bird’!  Her joy at being able to help her father on these occasions shines through the book.

Her agony at watching her father suffer when important battles are lost during the course of the war makes the reader feel for her. Many dreadful events are brought home to the reader in this book, such as the fall of France and the defeat at Tobruk. At one stage Mary even fell to her knees to pray because she was so unhappy about her country’s situation.  

I am not going to write about the ending but most readers will find that it’s one of their favourite parts of this wonderful book.



Lady Mary Soames Talking About Her Mother, Clementine



Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Rooted in Love by Donna-Marie Cooper O'Boyle

This was a lovely 'feel-better' book which is suitable for all Christian women, not just Catholic ones.  However, it will especially help Catholic women.

I found it a little bit scattered at first.  However, the author soon won me when she described how her strong faith has helped her through many sorrows and dreadful times and how it can assist all of us.  She has chapters on the power of prayer, the importance of the saints, the Mass and understanding our vocation.

Rooted in Love is filled with inspiring quotations and anecdotes about the author's time with Mother Teresa and other incidents in her life. 

I will read more books by Donna-Marie Cooper O'Boyle.

Princess Elizabeth's Spy by Susan Elia MacNeal

Princess Elizabeth (Public Domain Images Wordpress)

This charming mystery grabbed me from the start when feisty Maggie Hope is struggling with the physical requirements of becoming a spy.  Unfortunately, she doesn't have any luck but she feels somewhat better when she is chosen to protect young Princess Elizabeth from a death threat.  Her job is to pretend to be a Maths tutor to the teenage princess at Windsor Castle.

Here she has to stay with a fairly nasty pair of girls (one even has a pet snake), a drunken ex-soldier and various other strange characters.  Although the setting is luxurious, Maggie is certainly within 'a nest of vipers', except for a few exceptions, such as the princesses.  Princess Elizabeth is portrayed as a sweet and bright girl who comes into her own when she has to deal with a terrible situation.

Maggie, a clever American woman, is a likeable and brave heroine.  The other characters are also well-rounded.  I especially liked Hugh, a fellow spy, and Maggie's mysterious father.

Susan Elia MacNeal  captures the era well.  The fear which envelops London, the terrible bombings and even the fog make the reader feel that they're in wartime London.

The luxurious settings are described vividly and I also liked the descriptions of the fashions.  I have been to Windsor and Susan Elia MacNeal made me feel that I was back there when I read her account of it.

I do have a few problems with Princess Elizabeth's Spy, however.  There are lots of plots here and I wonder whether there are too many and the story could have been a bit tighter.

Another minor flaw was some of the language. An English person said that someone had 'passed', meaning he or she had died.  This is an American expression and I found it's use here grating.  It's coming into fashion here, unfortunately, but I always add 'away'.

I am sorry that  I haven't read the first book in this series.  I'll certainly read the next one!