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Showing posts from July, 2012

The Second Empress by Michelle Moran

I enjoyed The Second Empress which tells the dramatic story of Napoleon's second wife, Marie Louise, in a colourful and vivid way.  Poor Marie had to cope not only with the tyrant, Napoleon.  She also had to put up with Napoleon's wild sisters, Pauline and Caroline.  They were both against the marriage and decided to dislike Marie from the start.  Caroline made Marie leave her dog behind in Austria.

Michelle Moran tells the tale of the Bonaparte's from several different points of view, including the promiscuous Pauline's and her black chamberlain, Paul Moreau.  This was confusing at first but she manages to define each character well and give their stories from a sympathetic angle.  I liked switching from one character to the other after I'd got used to this method of writing which is becoming increasingly popular.

Some of the scenes in the book seem pretty way out, such as Pauline fantasizing about marrying Napoleon, however Moran has an interesting Afterword in w…

Content is Currency by Jon Weubben

Revamp your website and your blog with this wonderfully useful book.  Content is Currency covers everything, including SEO, social media, and Press Releases.  Wuebben also has a small section on ebooks. 

I have been avoiding reviewing this book because it requires a lot of time and attention if you really want to absorb it.  It's interesting and written in a lively manner so it's not 'textbook-ish'.  However, I feel that I need to read it properly, write notes and analyse my website and blogs.

My main problem with the book is the ebook section.  This suggests topics and ways in which to use ebooks.  It wasn't any help with formatting or publishing them, however.

The Great American Foreclosure Story by Paul Kiel

The Great American Foreclosure Story by Paul Kiel of ProPublica tells the miserable story of Sheila Ramos.  She once lived in a three-bedroom home.  Now she lives in a tent.  Unfortunately, her tale is typical.

This is a horrifying story of fraud, errors, incompetence and deception. One cause of the problem is that mortgage servicers made more money by foreclosing on mortgages rather than modifying them.  Attempts to help people modify their mortgages appear to be doomed to failure.

Other causes include false documents, fake companies which forged signatures on mortgage documents and exaggerated incomes on mortgage documents.  The Appendix of cases in the back of the book is especially interesting in this regard.  These summarize the gist of the book and tell some devastating tales.

I found this book rather difficult to read.  It's short but it's fairly technical and a bit dull.  This is a pity because the book makes excellent points about the power of Wall Street and the ban…

A Daring Life, A Biography of Eudora Welty by Carolyn J. Brown

A Daring Life is an engaging biography of this famous short story and novel writer from the Deep South.  I must admit to not having read any of Welty's stories or novels but I will certainly be looking them up now!

Although the Pulitzer Prize-winning author lived a relatively quiet life, she also lived an interesting one which encompassed the civil rights era. She spent her time mainly writing and travelling - she met other writers on her travels.  Welty was also a talented photographer and held photography exhibitions in New York. Her paintings also look wonderful.  Amazingly, these were only discovered after she died.

The much-loved Southern author had a large circle of friends.  They enjoyed listening to jazz, playing literary games and discussing fascinating topics.  Welty went out with one of these friends for a long time - a handsome young man called John Robinson.  However, she never married.

The Eudora Welty House
The most interesting part of the book, I thought, described…

Overdressed by Elizabeth Cline

Most of us are dressed in rags.  This is what someone in the fashion industry told an astonished Elizabeth Cline, the author of Overdressed.  Even many of the clothes made by leading designers are relatively poor garments made in third-world countries.  Most garments of excellent quality cost thousands of dollars!

Overdressed documents the sad decline of the once-thriving U.S. garment industry, the rise of 'fast fashion'  and why we are buying clothes which are mostly made in countries such as China and Bangladesh.  Once clothes were made in America and of reasonable quality.  Now clothes are cheap and disposable. Even Michelle Obama was praised for wearing an inexpensive imported dress which was bought at Target.  I agree with Cline's recent blog post in which she writes that the American First Lady should focus more on buying less clothes. buying American-made clothes and making sure that they are well made.

Even the Olympic uniforms were made in China.   This caused a f…

Hollywood Unknowns by Anthony Slide

In 1928 hundreds of extras were ordered to strip, marshalled into line and sprayed brown for the movie, Noah's Ark.  This was not all that they suffered.  Many were badly injured when tons of water were unleashed over them for the flood scenes.

Bess Flowers, "Queen of the Extras"
This is just one example of the ill-treatment of extras.  Their tale is mostly a sad one of poverty, bad treatment and even scandals.  Thousands of hopefuls flocked to Hollywood looking for stardom and glamour.  Forty thousand extras were registered in Hollywood in the 1920's.  They were vying for four thousand jobs. If they were lucky enough to get a job, they usually ended up working twelve-hour days for low wages.  One small group even set up a shanty town near Universal City. Many extras slept in rooms of five or six people and shared their clothes when jobs came up.  However, extras who were working were provided with meals.

Anthony Slide's fascinating and thoroughly researched book,

J.R.R. Tolkien by Mark Horne

J.R.R. Tolkien by Mark Horne is a short introduction to Tolkien's life and work but it never fails to be interesting.  I enjoyed it and it made me want to read much more about this fascinating man.

Tolkien had a sad childhood.  His parents died young.  Most of Tolkien's family cut his mother off when she converted to Catholicism. Left with little money, she was poor and worn-out because of her loyalty to the faith and ensuring that her two boys were brought up Catholic.

Luckily, she left Tolkien in good hands.  Father Morgan helped the clever young man get into Oxford.  Even after that, Tolkien had a struggle getting his career and his writing off the ground.

Probably, the saddest part of the book is that Tolkien lost all of his friends except one in the First World War.

Horne discusses all of the major influences on Tolkien's life and work - his Catholicism, his love for the beautiful English countryside, his aptitude for languages, and his friendship with the great C. S.…

By Invitation Only: How We Built The Gilt Groupe And Changed The Way Millions Shop by Alexis Maybank and Alexandra Wilkis Wilson

Alexandra was speechless.  She put down the phone excited but stunned.  Giovanni Cafiso, the executive in charge of ready-to-wear sales at Valentino, had just rung her.  He told her that he had a large volume of Valentino inventory - about two hundred and fifty thousand dollars worth - that he was willing to offer her company, the Gilt Groupe.  The condition was that Gilt had to provide a cash commitment instead of the usual arrangement of paying for what members bought and returning the other items.  He only gave her one hour to make the decision.  Her partner, Alexis, was away and she had no way of contacting her.

This is the kind of tough decision that you may have to make if you run a business.  By Invitation Only, the story of Gilt, gives advice on making these decisions and the other aspects of organising a start-up business.  These include finding partners, developing a leadership style, hiring employees, and marketing and branding.

The authors, Alexis Maybank and Alexandra Wi…

Shakespeare's Common Prayers: The Book of Common Prayer and the Elizabethan Age

I found this book quite heavy reading.  I didn't read it properly - I should have read some of the plays discussed again. It's really more suitable for university students studying English Literature.

However, it was interesting reading.  I agreed with the argument that Shakespeare was heavily influenced by the Bible and the Prayer Book in some of his plays. I also agreed that there hasn't been enough discussion about this. Romeo and Juliet, for example, relies on the rites of marriage outlined in the Prayer Book.

I thought that it was difficult to relate the rite of Communion to Macbeth and I found the chapters on Macbeth so difficult to follow that I gave up. I really thought that Swift made too much of a leap here, although I could see the connections with the book of Job.  (Reading the Bible again helps as well!)  Daniel Swift does warn readers that these chapters require close and slow reading.  I may read them again when I have time.

I liked Swift's writing, espe…

We End In Joy by Angela Fordice Jordan

We End in Joy by Angela Fordice Jordan is a beautifully written and poignant collection of family memories.  It's a story of childhood, grief, healing, and finally joy.  This is a lovely book which is well-worth reading.

Angela Fordice Jordan is the daughter of Kirk Fordice, the first Republican governor of Mississippi since Reconstruction.  She writes about her rather conflicted relationship with this complicated man.  He was a strange mixture.  He loved nature but he also liked hunting.  He also scared the children by playing with rattlesnakes and other dangerous snakes in the yard.  However, he passed on to Angela his love of nature and animals, even though she couldn't understand the hunting.

He also took some pleasure in Kennedy's assassination, according to the book.  Jordan found this difficult to forgive, understandably.

I did think that she was a bit nasty about her father at times but the book also describes the many qualities which she loved in him.  I felt that…

The Grace Effect by Larry Taunton

"The Devil Is A Bureaucrat" is the title of one chapter in this depressing but heart-warming book.  Ukrainian diplomats are certainly devils, according to The Grace Effect.  When Taunton and his family go to Ukraine to adopt a little girl, Sasha, they encounter obstruction and corruption at every step of the way.  Government officials all want bribes.  The family experiences constant delays.

This is not the only problem.  In fact, Taunton paints a horrifying picture of a country in which atheism has won. There is little Christianity or humanity in post-Communist Ukraine.  Children are treated as commodities.  Life in the orphanages is grim.  The only improvements are made by Christian missionaries from overseas.  Many of the children don't even have toilet paper.  Sasha only has a shower once a week.  The food is meagre. The physically disabled are put in the orphanages with the mentally disabled.  As Taunton writes, "a society contaminated by the virus of unbelief…

The Fine Colour of Rust

The Fine Colour of Rust by P.A.O'Reilly  is a real charmer! I loved this extremely Australian novel.

Loretta, the laconic heroine, fantasizes about putting her two children into an orphanage and going on glamorous dates.  A single mother, she has come to the small country town of Gunapan to get away from her nasty ex and her nagging mother.  She relies on her close friendships with Norm and Helen and her ironic sense of humour to keep her spirits up.  Here, the country sounds of kookaburras and possums disturb her instead of the rumble of traffic. Norm, a handyman, is an engaging grandfatherly figure who owns a scrapyard which is regarded as 'dirty' by some of  the richer families of the town.

Loretta has many problems when her ex turns up with his 'child bride', the school is threatened with closure and she finds out about a mysterious development.  Loretta turns her energies to saving the school and finding out about the development.

She does derive some happines…