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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.