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Friday, June 29, 2012

Women, Popular Culture, and the Eighteenth Century



Lavinia Fenton


Women, Popular Culture, and the Eighteenth Century is a varied academic collection of essays about how popular culture influenced women and how women changed popular culture in the eighteenth century.  I found some of the essays enjoyable and extremely interesting but others were difficult to read.

Women apparently did a lot in the eighteenth century.  There were actresses, singers, fashion leaders, and women with their own businesses.  Many of the women who influenced popular culture were aristocratic, for example, Georgiana, the Duchess of Devonshire, but some were not.

I especially liked the essay about the actresses in the ballad operas.  These included Lavinia Fenton and Kitty Clive.  They had to perform in operas written by authors with misogynist views of women, but they managed to make the parts their own and become admired in their own right.  Lavinia Fenton even married into the aristocracy.  Actresses were almost regarded as being on a par with prostitutes early in the eighteenth century.These women and others helped to make acting a respected profession for women.

I also enjoyed the essays about fashion and the ways in which women wore political colours.  These were not only high-class women. Even some rebellious women, such as the Jacobites and the Irish, wore colours which stood for their political beliefs.  Some even wore them on their garters and threatened to show them to policemen if they got into trouble!

There are several essays about Jane Austen.  I found this a bit surprising because she is usually regarded as a Regency writer.  Some of the other essays also jumped into the nineteenth century which was a bit disconcerting.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Grammar Girl's 101 Troublesome Words You'll Master in No Time

Have you 'run the gantlet' lately?  Have you watched any 'fun' films? Do you know how to spell 'Hanukah'? Grammar Girl in her entertaining new book, Grammar Girl's 101 Troublesome Words You'll Master in No Time, will inform you about these phrases and words.  Mignon Fogarty is perhaps the only person who can make grammar so interesting!

Cleverly constructed, this book tells you the history of difficult words and phrases.  You are then informed about why the words and phrases are troublesome. Fogarty explains the difference between 'running the gauntlet' and 'running the gantlet', for example.

Fogarty then tells you how to use the word or phrase correctly and gives examples.  The examples are from many different sources including classic novels, current novels, columns and non-fiction books.  In some cases, I enjoyed the examples so much that I discovered books to check out!

Everyone should have a copy of this extremely useful and interesting book.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Tigers in Red Weather by Liza Klaussman

Tigers in Red Weather by Liza Klaussmann should be read while sipping a cool drink on a green lawn at Martha's Vineyard or Rhode Island.  It's unusual and absorbing.

An atmospheric story with a post-Second World War setting, it tells the tale of two cousins, Nick and Helena.  Pretty and rebellious Nick is married to steady, handsome Hughes.  Weak and fragile Helena isn't as lucky.  She marries money-hunting Avery.

The story also involves the children, Daisy and the strange Ed.  When a horrific murder occurs it affects all of their lives.

This is well-written and the vivid characters almost leap off the stage but the novel annoyed me somewhat.  I was just getting involved in the stories of Nick and Helena when the tale suddenly moved forward to ten years later and I found myself reading about Daisy.  Also there were a lot of flashbacks so it was easy to get lost.  I also thought that there were too many characters.  This novel just wasn't focused enough, I thought.

However, the characters and the settings are memorable and it's good for a first novel.  You may have a different opinion.

Friday, June 22, 2012

How to be Ballet Beautiful!

Ballet Beautiful is the best exercise book I've read!  I hate exercise and I love ballet so I had high hopes when I received this book and it didn't let me down.  It's an exercise program which is suitable for travelling - it can be done anywhere and you hardly need any equipment for it.  If you haven't got time to do an hour of exercises, Mary Helen Bower's fifteen-minute 'blasts' will help you to keep fit.

Mary Helen Bowers  promises a lot in the first part of the book.  She writes that this program will help you improve your flexibility, your posture, your 'abbs' and even your 'inner beauty'.  It will help you to get the long lines of a ballerina, become fit, and lose weight if you need to. The former New York City Ballet dancer did train Natalie Portman for her role in Black Swan, however, so I was prepared to give her the benefit of the doubt!

Still, I found all of this a bit difficult to believe.  However, I was pleasantly surprised!  My sore neck made it a bit hard for me to do many of the exercises but even doing some of them made me feel much better.  The fifteen-minute ones seem to be quite gentle and easy.  The very helpful photos give examples of correct positions and procedures.

It is probably advisable to buy the DVD as well as the book to keep motivated!  I am going to have a giveaway of this book soon so keep reading!




Thursday, June 21, 2012

How To Travel The World For Free


After reading the first chapter of How to Travel the World for Free I realised that travelling around the world for free isn’t for me. In this chapter, Wigge scales a high fence and gets food out of a restaurant bin in Berlin.  I’d rather stay in hotels and eat in cafes and restaurants!  

However, this is an extremely enjoyable and often hilarious account of Michael Wigge's journey from Europe all the way to Antarctica without money.  He works hard, meets lots of interesting people and has plenty of adventures.  He also manages to do a lot of sightseeing.

Wigge has to be very ingenious at thinking up ways to earn money along the way.  He becomes a human couch, earns money for pillow fights and endangers his health by carrying tourists’ luggage up high mountains in South America.  Wigge also tries to be a butler to the German Ambassador to Panama in a very funny scene in the book. He also begs restaurants and shops for food by telling his story.  

He mostly relies on couch surfing for his accommodation.  Sometimes, this enables him to live in luxury for a while but this is rare.  One man lets Wigge stay in his comfortable place for five days by himself, for example.  Wigge stays in many unusual places, including forest dwellings in Hawaii with Hawaiians who are proud that their ancestors killed Captain Cook!

Wigge meets girls who give him hash cookies in Montreal, a professional gambler in Las Vegas, and a large Columbian family who are kind enough to look after him for ages.  He learns all about the history of Hawaii and Hawaiian royalty and provides lots of fascinating information about the places that he visits.  He especially loves San Francisco with its scenic harbour, steep hills and seaside atmosphere.

He has lots of adventures and finds himself in many dire situations so I almost cheered when he finally made it to Antarctica.  The photos were good and helped me imagine his escapades. I enjoyed this book so much that I’m thinking about buying the DVD!

The Bridge by Karen Kingsbury


A moving love story, a romantic old bookshop, and charming and likeable characters.  What could be better?  After reading The Bridge, I could understand why Karen Kingsbury is a best-selling author. 
Molly Allen watches a video which she made with Ryan Kelly once a year – the only time she allows herself to indulge in her happy memories of their time together.  Even though she is pretty and successful, she remains single because she yearns for the handsome boy who she met years ago.

Ryan, an aspiring musician, has never married or forgotten Molly either.  He also longs for the days when he and Molly used to meet at The Bridge, a cosy bookshop in an old house.  Here they would discuss books such as Jane Eyre and enjoy talking to Charlie and Donna, the understanding and helpful couple who own the bookshop.  Their love of books unites them with Charlie and Donna and leads them to fall in love.

A terrible misunderstanding tears the young couple apart. Now, years later, Charlie and Donna may have to close their beloved bookshop because of money trouble and both Ryan and Molly are anxious to help them but can their love for each other be saved?

This is a well-written and emotional tribute to books and bookshops everywhere and how they can change people’s lives.  I especially liked the Jane Eyre motif which runs through The Bridge and what Jane Eyre means to Molly and Ryan.  It’s also a story about hope and the importance of faith and prayer, although non-religious romance lovers are likely to enjoy The Bridge as well.  

I read this on my Kindle, thanks to Net Galley, however it really is the kind of book which should be read in paperback or hardback, sitting beside the fireplace on a winter’s night or in the garden on a hot summer’s day.  I look forward to reading more novels by Karen Kingsbury soon!

 

Sunday, June 17, 2012

A Restorative Month of Italy



Chris Brady and his family are chased by sheep, ripped off in Rome, and get lost in Sienna.  They certainly have an adventurous time during their Month of Italy! This entertaining account of a family’s travels in Italy combines a travel diary, an introduction to Italy, and an argument for learning the art of vacation.

Brady writes in a chatty and intimate manner as though the reader is a close friend.  He describes the scenery and art of the most beautiful country in the world in a vivid, but simple way.  I especially enjoyed his tales of his explorations on his motorbike which leads him to unexpected hillside towns which have views over green valleys filled with olive groves and meetings with interesting people.

A Month of Italy is also very amusing at times.  For example, after explaining Italian art to his children and discussing visiting the Sistine Chapel, Brady asks them who painted the ceiling of the chapel.  One of the children answers, ‘Michael Jackson!  with all the sincerity in the world’.

This is an excellent introduction to Italy.  Brady loves learning about history and he explains the history of the places which he visits in a clear and straightforward way.  I especially liked the chapter on St. Francis in which he gives a short, but fast-paced biography of this likeable saint who turned his back on wealth.

Brady discusses the gentle and laid-back way of life of the Italians.  He describes why eating is so important in Italy, the siesta, and the friendliness and kindness of the people.  He also gives tips on how to avoid getting ripped off in Rome, travelling with a family, and using a different currency.

Brady makes a strong argument for relearning the art of vacation.  He thinks that this has been lost recently because there is so much emphasis on hard work and achievement.  The Grand Tour was part of life for aristocrats in the eighteenth century and he thinks that we should learn from them about the importance of rest and restoration.

Brady realises that taking a month off in Italy is difficult for most people.  However, he includes useful appendices on how to save up for such a trip and how to prepare for it.

His trip gives him time for reflection, deep thought, and a good rest.  Brady sleeps well for the first time in years.  The most important part of his trip, however, is that he is able to spend lots of time simply enjoying spare time with his wife and family as well as showing the children the Italian countryside and way of life.    Brady learns about the significance of living in ‘the space between’.  What is this?  Read A Month of Italy and find out!



Thursday, June 14, 2012

An American Chick in Saudi Arabia by Jean Sasson




Jean Sasson, an intrepid Southern woman famous for writing Princess: A True Story of Life behind the Veil in Saudi Arabia provides a short but interesting memoir of her life in Saudi Arabia in this book.  Nothing fazed this young woman, not even the vicious military police.  She writes about her experiences as a white woman in a restrictive Muslim country and her romance with Peter Sasson.

Sasson arrives to work in a lavishly decorated hospital which King Faisal dreamed of making the finest medical hospital in the world.  She enjoys her job and she likes sharing an apartment with two other women.  Sasson, young and adventurous, is ready to experience life in a very different country.

She soon becomes shocked by the mistreatment and lack of freedom in Saudi Arabia.  Women are forbidden to drive or dance with men in public.  They often have arranged marriages at a very young age.  Saudi husbands can easily leave them or have more than one wife. Many wives are beaten.  Some men even sleep in the hospital beds of their sick wives while the wives sleep on the floor. Sasson becomes determined to meet as many women as she can and try to fight for more freedoms for Saudi women.

Sasson is surprised, however, when she pretends to be a Saudi woman and she meets Malaak.  Even though Malaak got married young and the marriage was arranged, she is happy with her life.

The romance in the book leavens this sad tale of restrictions and is quite sweet.  Sasson meets Peter, the head of an insurance company who speaks six languages.   Peter is impressed by this audacious and resolute woman.  Soon they are dating. He protects her when her adventures start taking her into dangerous territory – she is almost arrested at one stage by the military police, for example.

Sasson updates this memoir at the end by telling the readers that life for Saudi women has improved to some extent, however, they still suffer many restrictions.

I would like to read a longer version of this book.  I also liked the photos – these helped me envision the places which Sasson was writing about.

Jean Sasson provides a short but interesting memoir of her life in Saudi Arabia in this book.  Nothing fazed this young woman, not even the vicious military police.  She writes about her experiences as a white woman in a restrictive Muslim country and her romance with Peter Sasson.

Sasson arrives to work in a lavishly decorated hospital which King Faisal dreamed of making the finest medical hospital in the world.  She enjoys her job and she likes sharing an apartment with two other women.  Sasson, young and adventurous, is ready to experience life in a very different country. Her boss knows King Khalid and Crown Prince Fahd well and he introduces her to people in the higher echelons of Saudi society.

She soon becomes shocked by the mistreatment and lack of freedom in Saudi Arabia.  Women are forbidden to dance or drive.  They often have arranged marriages at a very young age.  Saudi husbands can easily leave them or have more than one wife. Many wives are beaten.  Some men even sleep in the hospital beds of their sick wives while the wives sleep on the floor. Sasson becomes determined to meet as many women as she can and try to fight for more freedoms for Saudi women.

Sasson is surprised, however, when she pretends to be a Saudi woman and she meets Malaak.  Even though Malaak got married young and the marriage was arranged, she is happy with her life.

The romance in the book leavens this sad tale of restrictions and is quite sweet.  Sasson meets Peter, the head of an insurance company who speaks six languages.    Peter is impressed by this audacious and resolute woman.  Soon they are dating. He protects her when her adventures start taking her into dangerous territory – she is almost arrested at one stage by the military police, for example.

Sasson updates this memoir at the end by telling the readers that life for Saudi women has improved to some extent, however, they still suffer many restrictions.

I would like to read a longer version of this book.  I also liked the photos – these helped me envision the places which Sasson was writing about.

New York Times interview with Jean Sasson

Monday, June 04, 2012

Paris in Love by Eloisa James


Paris in Love transported me back to that wonderful city! I went to incense-laden Masses, wandered the aisles of Galleries Lafayette, looked at chocolate shoes in shop windows, and saw the sights all over again.  This is a book which all lovers of Paris should read.

After romance writer and academic, Eloisa James, received treatment for cancer, she decided to move to Paris with her Italian husband and young family.  Here she wrote her observations and musings on Facebook and Twitter.  This charming book is based on these.

This lovely series of vignettes evokes the atmosphere of Paris.  James writes about many experiences, including a snowy Christmas and the children’s schooldays.  She writes about delicious food and Parisian fashion, of course, but this is not another ‘foodie and fashion’ travel book.  This is a different look at Paris – James sees it through the eyes of an American mother and her children’s eyes.

Her vignettes are often serious, for example, she tells the story of a homeless man.  However, they’re often very amusing as well.  James is surprised by couriers in her pyjamas and she knows that this sartorial disaster will soon reach the ears of all of the neighbours! Another amusing incident occurs when her little girl, Anna, gets upset because she thinks that her teacher is racist.  The teacher was criticising aliens in Star Wars!

The snippets are so enjoyable because James’s descriptions are so colourful and precise.  She paints pictures of Paris that can be visualised in an instant.  For example, she writes that an eighteenth-century candy shop is a “feast for the eyes” with its “delicate crystallized violets, pastel sugar eggs, and darling marzipan apples, sized for a doll’s tea party”.

If you love Paris or you’ve always longed to see Paris, rush out and buy a copy of this delightful book!

Saturday, June 02, 2012

The Dangers of Oprah's Influence

Review of Where Has Oprah Taken Us? by Stephen Mansfield



Oprah grew angry when she listened to her Baptist preacher give a sermon about a ‘jealous God’.  She didn’t understand why God should be ‘jealous of anything that she had to say’.  This marked a turning point in Oprah’s attitude to Christianity and started her interest in ‘New Age’ philosophies. Stephen Mansfield discusses why Oprah did this and the dangers of her incredible influence in promoting this kind of spirituality.

He analyses Oprah’s rather sordid background to see why she quickly misinterpreted the pastor.  He meant that God was jealous of other gods and a loving God.  Oprah overcame relative poverty, a mother who had troubles with men, and racism to begin her road to success.  A clever and ambitious young girl, she always knew that she’d be famous and she had a sense of destiny from an early age.  This made her lacking in humility and impetuous.  She immediately jumped to the wrong conclusion when she heard the pastor speak.

Unfortunately, Oprah’s real success came from covering the sleaziest subjects imaginable.  This is how she beat Phil Donahue, according to Mansfield.  (I remember this and it has to be said that Donahue started covering seamy subjects too).  Then she saw the light (in her eyes) and decided to bring the New Age ‘gurus’ who had helped her to the world.

Mansfield does an excellent job of deconstructing these ‘gurus’ and why Oprah was attracted to them.  Unlike Christianity, Mansfield writes that ‘New Age’ philosophy is self-centred, instead of concentrating on helping other people.  The gurus mostly preach that the lives of people is governed by their thoughts and their intentions.  This can lead to ridiculous ideas, for example, that people are disabled because of their actions in past lives.

He also writes that much of this ‘New Age’ philosophy is inverted Hinduism.  For example, reincarnation is really a process of being entrapped in Hinduism but it’s a way of improvement, according to Oprah’s teachers.  Also, the concept of Karma is misinterpreted.  I didn’t realise this so I found Mansfield’s explanations extremely useful.

Mansfield does study Oprah’s belief system from the point of view of a Christian.  However, he writes in an objective way and includes his personal views in sections at the end of each chapter.

Where Has Oprah Taken Us? is well-written and interesting.  I’m interested in reading more of   books.  However, I thought that it does have two flaws.  Mansfield’s biography of Oprah is heavily based on Kitty Kelly’s and I wasn’t sure whether to trust that.  Also, Oprah’s belief system has obviously worked for her.  Mansfield is, no doubt, right when he writes that it probably won’t help her to deal with ‘problems like God’s just governance of the world and the problem of good and evil’.

NB: I received this book from Book Sneeze.  My opinion of it is entirely my own.