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Monday, December 30, 2013

Hobbit Lessons by Devin Brown Abingdon Press

This book has a lot of good sense in it about loyalty to friends, willingness to take risks and not placing too much value on possessions.  The author uses several examples from The Hobbit.  However, I am afraid that I found it to be a bit simplistic, and I would have preferred a book about Catholicism and The Hobbit. Brown seemed to leave religion completely out of this book, and I found this disappointing.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Walking Paris Streets with Eugene Atget Inspired Stories About the Ragpicker, Lampshade Vendor, and Other Characters and Places of Old France Greg Bogaerts Shanti Arts LLC

I found the history of these photographs by the famous Edwardian Parisian photographer, Eugene Atget, much more interesting than the stories.  The stories were extremely French, atmospheric and well-written, but I also found them rather contrived.  This was probably difficult to avoid, because of the nature of the book.

I didn't finish reading the stories, but I will continue reading the historical facts about the photos.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

From Scotland with Love by Katie Fforde

(Deep Snow near Dunachton Burn by Peter Bond )

Katie Fforde is one of my favourite romantic authors, and anyone who reads this enchanting story will see why I enjoy her books so much.

Daisy, the engaging heroine, travels to the wilds of Scotland to try to fix up her failure at her PR job.  Here she finds herself stuck with grumpy Rory, a famous and handsome author, in a snow-storm.  She also has to cope with cooking with few ingredients and a very pregnant dog, Griselda.

This was a fun read for Christmas and a sweet love story.  I also liked reading about beautiful snow-clad Scotland in the midst of the ghastly heat and humidity that we have to endure in Australia at Christmas time. Unfortunately, I can't even move to a cooler part of the country.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Mozart by Paul Johnson

Mozart was a dandy who loved to have his hair and wig done each day.  One day he thought of a new musical idea while his barber was attending to him, so he went to write it down, dragging his barber behind him attached to his ponytail!  This anecdote captures some of the hard-working Mozart's likeable, friendly and jovial character.

There are not many anecdotes about Mozart's personal life, here, although the esteemed historian, Paul Johnson does tell the story of his childhood, his autocratic father and his fight with the nasty archbishop of Salzburg, Colleredo.  He also dispels the myth that Constance was not a good wife to Mozart. This is really a biography for musicians.  However, Johnson adds enough to make the book more interesting, while covering Mozart's compositions and operas in a thorough and detailed way.  The story of the operas, including Don Giovanni and The Magic Flute is especially enjoyable.

I also found the fact that Mozart was a Mason and that he combined this with pious Catholicism interesting.  This is highly recommended for anyone who wants to read more about Mozart, although a detailed musical knowledge helps.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Solving Problems with Design Thinking by Jeanne Liedtka, Andrew King, Kevin Bennett

This is a useful book for managers which describes how they can apply design thinking to their work and inspire their employees.  It provides ten case studies of excellent design thinking. It isn't very helpful for self-employed people, although one can apply some of the principles.

I found this book extremely dry, so I didn't finish it.  However, I enjoyed the story of the Suncorp merger with CGI Insurance and I liked reading about some of the tools of design thinking, such as mind-mapping, posters and metaphors.

Cozy Classics Emma by Holman Wang and Jack Want

This was just gorgeous!  I am anxious to read more Cozy Classics.  However, it is very much a picture book filled with people in lovely Regency fashions.  If I were a child, I'd be a little puzzled about what the story is!

Monday, December 09, 2013

Elizabeth of York by Alison Weir

I sometimes find that Alison Weir's histories include a lot of speculation - I am unconvinced by her theory that John of Gaunt died of VD, for example.  However, her books bring the eras and the characters to life, and this one is no exception.

Elizabeth of York features all the colour and splendour of the age, but Weir also makes the brutality of the era clear to readers.  She also manages to make Elizabeth, the mother of Henry VIII, stand out, emphasizing that she overcame a tragic background with strength, courage and piety.

The only problem is that it's difficult to make the history clear because it's so complicated, however that isn't Weir's fault.  This is highly recommended, if you are interested in English history and royal history.

Sunday, December 08, 2013

1955 The Summer When... by Valerie Thornhill

This is the kind of book that I was looking for when I tried to read Breathless.  Valerie Thornhill was once a young nineteen-year old from England who travelled solo in Europe, an intrepid thing to do in that era. Ambitious to be a writer, she kept a journal, and in this book she recounts several exciting adventures.  These include staying in an expensive flat in Paris with fleas in the floorboards, having to escape dangerous men, and being horrified by a bullfight in Spain that her provocative German friend enjoys.  She cheers the bull, so she finds herself taken away by the guardias who hurl insults at her!  She was certainly lucky to survive some of her 'escapades' - at one stage she has to actually make a run for it when some evil men try to drag her away.

I thoroughly enjoyed this enchanting book about Thornhill's travels in France, Spain and Italy, and I certainly want to read more books by this wonderful author.

Friday, December 06, 2013

Darling Monster: The Letters of Lady Diana Cooper to her son John Julius Norwich 1939 -1952

Beautiful, fascinating and aristocratic, Lady Diana Cooper shocked her family when she married a penniless doctor whose descendants came from 'the wrong side of the bed'.  However, the marriage was extremely happy and her husband, Duff Cooper, had a splendid career in politics, diplomacy and writing.

Lady Diana had many talents and writing was certainly one of them.  She even makes milking cows interesting!  I usually find reading books of letters boring, but Lady Diana's descriptions of being encircled by fires and watching plane flights during the Blitz and life at the British Embassy in France would keep anyone riveted.  She even managed to dazzle her young son with them.

I also enjoyed Lady Diana's accounts of her travels to exotic places, and how her husband warned about the immanent fall of Singapore.  Disappointingly, she didn't think much of Australia or New Zealand! She wondered 'if one could bear to live in Australia'.  One hopes that she would prefer it now.

There's also lots of 'name-dropping', of course. The book is full of  dinners and events with famous people, such as Churchill and De Gaulle (who she nicknames 'Wormwood').

I did get a little tired of the letters that Lady Diana wrote after the war.  Otherwise, I'd highly recommend this book.

Clive James's description of Lady Diana's writing can't be bettered: 'As a writer she had energy, verbal invention, natural comic timing and a fastidious ear which would have ruled out the possibility of her ever using, as Mr Ziegler does, such a cloddish term as ‘life-style’ — something he must have learned at Oxford, or perhaps at Eton'. (The Wrong Lady Diana)

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Paul Hollywood's Pies and Puds

Pies and puds are part of the great heritage of warm and delicious foods that keep people well-fed and cosy in the long and dark winters.  My problem is that I obtained this book from at the wrong time.  It's blazing hot here, and we also suffer from the ghastly humidity of our absolutely rotten summer. (Unfortunately, I can't live anywhere else at the moment).

Paul Hollywood provides detailed instructions and pictures to help even beginners cook these delicious-looking pies and puddings.  He also lists all the implements that readers need.  I am going to buy the book and wait for cooler nights in the somewhat less humid winter to try them out.  Even the instructions for pastry look simple!

Bellman and Black by Diane Setterfield

(Public Domain image)

This is a moving and haunting book about death and how to live one's life.  I did find it difficult to get through, however, because there are so many deaths and it's really pretty morbid.

Bellman, a talented entrepreneur, lives a tragic life.  He eventually decides to build a mourning emporium, so he makes a bargain with a mysterious  man called Black.  Black keeps appearing at funerals, and Bellman must attempt to work out who he is and what he wants.

Rooks are a pervading theme of this eerie and riveting book.  With its lyrical writing and strange story, this book by Diane Setterfield well-worth reading.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Not for Turning: The Life of Margaret Thatcher by Robin Harris

Mrs Thatcher described her Cabinet as 'rock solid - afterwards' when the Falklands War was over.  This book by her speechwriter and close adviser profiles her single-minded determination and her rise from a 'housewife/ accountant' to a world statesman.  It is a detailed look at her rise to power and her controversial leadership.

Harris's accounts of the special relationship with America and the Prime Minister's relationship with European leaders are especially interesting.  I also found the description of the Falklands War interesting - Thatcher dealt with this in a particularly authoritative manner, and she was widely praised at the time for restoring Britain's power and prestige by winning the war.  Amazingly, she had to cope with it largely on her own, because most of her Cabinet were against her.  Harris also provides lots of details about Mrs Thatcher's fight with the trade unions.

I was surprised that he hardly writes anything about Thatcher and Ireland.  Also, the book got rather dry at the end, so I didn't finish it.  It's best to read a little of it at a time.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

J.F.K. Conservative by Ira Stoll

I love to read about the Kennedys, but many of the books about them are dull.  This isn't, and I highly recommend it.

Stoll argues persuasively and succinctly that many liberals have the wrong ideas about Kennedy.  This deeply religious Catholic President believed that individual rights come from God, and he went out of his way to practise his religion and to quote from the Bible.  He stressed the importance of America's Christian heritage constantly in his speeches.

Kennedy was also conservative in many other ways.  He increased military spending, entered the space race because of the importance of beating the Russians, and he regarded fighting the evils of Communism as one of the keystones of his Presidency.  He hated Castro and he regarded Kruschev as a 'gangster' and he realised that freedom requires constant vigilance.

He was also a fiscal conservative.  He wanted a sound dollar, low inflation, a growing economy and low government spending.  He introduced tax cuts in order to grow the economy.  He cared about the unemployed, the sick and the disabled, as well, but he realised that a growing economy was good for everyone.

Anyone interested in John F. Kennedy should read this book!

Monday, November 11, 2013

Upstairs at the White House by J.B. West and Mary Lynn Kotz

J. B. West served as Deputy Usher and Chief Usher under several presidents and organised countless functions and renovations.  He relates many amusing and entertaining anecdotes, such as the First Lady walking in on the Norwegian princess's gentleman-in-waiting when he was undressed and the problem of Molotov having a gun in his suitcase.  He also gives an insight into the characters of the First Ladies and their relationships with their husbands.  For example, he tells his readers about Mamie Eisenhower's imperious nature, generosity to her servants, love of the seasons and her great love for her husband.  She even lived with her husband in the hospital when he was sick.

This is light, easy to read, and an enjoyable book. I recommend it for lovers of American history.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Breathless: An American Girl in Paris by Nancy K. Miller

(Photo by Paolo Neo)

I was disappointed in this book, and I've only read the first chapters.  I felt that it was more about Nancy K. Miller's relationships with men, than how she learned to be a sophisticated, elegant Parisian.  However, perhaps I didn't give it enough time.  My advice is to read A Girl in Paris by Shasha Guppy instead.

Interview with Terence Jenkins, Author of Further Afield

Terence Jenkins, the author of the fascinating book, Further Afield, kindly agreed to do this interview recently.  It was wonderful to learn more about his book, and I also asked him his advice for writers.

1) I noticed that your other books are about London.  Why did you 
decide to go 'Further Afield'? 

1 I called my latest book ‘Further Afield’ because the previous three had been ‘Another Man’s London’, ‘London Lives’, and ‘London Tales’ so I thought it would make a change to widen my circle (even though there were two or three chapters about the Capital in it).

2) How did you choose your subjects? 

 Sometimes, the subjects chose me because I happened upon them when I was wandering about London. The French have a word for people like me, ’flaneur’,it means someone ‘who is a stroller, who ambles through cities without apparent purpose in covert search of adventure’. I usually strike lucky and meet someone who wants to chat or tell me their story, show me some place or something. I love just drifting around London and coming home with something I’d not known before.

3) Some of your subjects are extremely unusual, for example, the 
graveyard that has many musicians.  How did you come across them? 

The graveyard with all the musicians in, I came across on a country walk in Surrey, not far from where I live, about 40 minutes away. England (and Wales, where I’m from) is full of interesting corners so always something crops up which I can use.

4) How did you do your research? 
4 Research: libraries, visits, interviews and serendipity.

5) Could you tell us more about your self-publishing journey? 

I used to teach English Literature and Language in a boys’ grammar school but had a stroke and had to retire early (54).I thought, ‘What can I do with my life now?’I decided that when I was well enough I would take the City of London  Blue Badge Course. I did. Then I took friends and colleagues on walks. I also tried journalism which turned out to be interesting  and rewarding. From there I progressed to a book of short stories, ‘Return’, and decided that journalism wasn’t enough, I wanted something more involving and moved onto books which combined my main interests,Literature,History and Geography (an ideal combination).Since when, I’ve published five books in total and there is another (back to London theme) in the pipeline. Some of them have been quite successful, especially the eBooks. The main thing is that all this keeps my mind ‘going’. At 72 there’s a danger of just stultifying so I belong to walking groups and write.

6) Why did you choose Troubador Publishing? 

I saw Troubador recommended in ‘The Writers and Artists Year Book’ and heard good of them from others.

7) Would you like to write more books? 

Yes, I would like to write more books. In fact, apart from the one that is being proofread at the moment, I’ve started on another but I must try to get back to short stories which I like writing.

8) What is your advice for writers? 

JUST DO IT! Make time each day and get down to the task. You’ll regret not trying.


Tuesday, November 05, 2013

The League of Delphi by Chris Everheart

(Theatre at Delphi by Leonid Svetkov at Wikipedia)

When Zach returns to his small town in America from France, he discovers a series of questions.  Why does no one care when Sutton commits suicide?  Can he trust Ashley or should he trust her beautiful sister Kate? Why is the town's college so heavily fortified, and why is the library like a fortress?  Why is the town run by a Committee?

When he starts to dig deeper and discover the answers to these questions, it leads him to a dangerous conspiracy that goes right back to ancient Greece.  He must find out who his real friends are, and escape from his enemies. He must endure fearful chases through tunnels and dark streets, but the rewards are great, because he will finally learn the truth about his parents.

I enjoyed this exciting novel by Chris Everheart, and I cheered Zach and Ashley on as they try to find out the truth about the horrors that are happening in their small town.  This will keep you awake late into the night!

Saturday, November 02, 2013

First Victory by Mike Carlton

Mike Carlton tells an exciting story about the chase for the Emden, the small ship that wrought a wave of destruction on its way to the South Pacific, and Australia's fight against the Germans, who owned several colonies in the Pacific and threatened the country's trade with Britain.

There are lots of fascinating characters and enjoyable anecdotes in this book - certainly not a dry history!

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Before I Met You by Lisa Jewell

This novel by Lisa Jewell is an unusual mixture of the glamorous and the sordid. This is probably unsurprising, because Before I Met You is largely set in Soho, London.  Light holiday reading, it intertwines the stories of Arlette, who worked at Liberty in the early twentieth century, and Betty, who lives in Soho in the late twentieth century.

Betty is only fifteen when she meets Arlette, her mother's boyfriend's mother, in beautiful Guernsey.  She doesn't want to stay there at all but Arlette introduces her to another world of furs and bow-tipped shoes.  Betty loves Arlette so much that she cares for her after she has a stroke and develops Alzheimer's disease.

After her death, Betty decides to live in Soho and look for the mysterious Clara Pickle, a beneficiary of the will.  Here she stays in a fairly down-at-heel area, except for the large house of the famous pop-star nearby.

I enjoyed this book, but sometimes it was hard to decide whether to go on with it.  Be warned that it's not at all politically correct! There's a lot of swearing, which annoyed me a bit. Anti-smokers also might not like it.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

The Pure Gold Baby by Margaret Drabble

I always enjoy Margaret Drabble's books, and this was no exception.  Perceptive and intelligent, The Pure Gold Baby tells the tale of a young unmarried mother with a 'pure gold baby', i.e. a happy baby with special needs.  Set in the Fifties and Sixties, this book has an atmosphere of nostalgia and compares the more innocent times of this era with today.

Jess, an anthropologist who lives in Bloomsbury, has a particular interest in Africa and African children.  The book cleverly contrasts our ideas of African life with our ways, and it also discusses how Jess manages to combine her work with her raising of Anna. It's easy-to-read, but it's also full of challenging propositions that will make you think.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Lady Catherine, The Earl, and the Real Downton Abbey by the Countess of Carnavon

This is a captivating tale about the beautiful Lady Catherine, who seemed to 'float' up the stairs in her lovely silk lingerie when she hurried to see her children.  This book is also much easier to read than the one about Lady Catherine's mother-in-law Almina, because it is better-written.

Lady Catherine seemed to have a charmed life after she married the Earl - she became the chatelaine of Highclere after her husband's father suddenly died.  Even though the couple was forced to sell many possessions to pay heavy death duties, they had a wonderful social life and mixed with royalty.  (Prince George was a particular favourite).  They also kept lots of servants, so in some ways, this is like a story from the nineteenth century instead of the twentieth.

But Lady Catherine led a troubled life because the Earl was often away, and his philandering wore her down. She turned to alcohol and finally had a nervous collapse.  She managed to pick herself up, however, divorce the Earl and have a happier life.  This is probably the most interesting part of the book.

Anyone who loves "Downton Abbey" will certainly enjoy this book!

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Mastering the Art of French Eating by Ann Mah

I loved this book by Ann Mah, a food and travel writer. Over the moon when her husband was appointed a diplomat in Paris, Mah was forced to come down to earth when he went to a post in dangerous Iraq instead, and she had to live in France alone.  Inspired by Julia Child, she remembered how she'd looked at a map of France and thought of travelling to different regions of the country to discover the recipes of each province.

She decided to take the opportunity to do this, so she travelled to Brittany to taste the delicious buckwheat crepes, Lyon where she found the secrets of Salade Lyonnaise, and many other areas of the country.  Mah takes readers on a delightful tour of the history of several French recipes and combines this with the poignant tale of how she coped with being alone in France.  She also includes the recipes.  I'm not much of a cook, but most of the recipes don't look difficult.  I'll definitely try the steak one!

Nell Hill's Rooms We Love by Mary Carol Garrity

This beautiful book would look good on any coffee table, but it is not just decorative.  Anyone interested in furnishing and decorating their homes will find this book inspirational and full of useful insights and tips.  The rooms in this book are elegant, beautiful and functional and show how people can apply Mary Carol Garrity's principles of decorating, which include finding an unexpected delight in each room and bringing the outside inside.

Nell Hill's Rooms We Love shows how clever decorators use splashes of bright color, make their bedrooms into calm sanctuaries and hide ugly things such as cables in attractive ways.  I especially liked the tips about pillows and using trays to feature collections of books or silver and the suggestions for bathrooms.

I am thinking of buying this for my birthday, although I'll probably just look at the pictures and not apply it! If only we had this store in Australia!

Friday, October 25, 2013

The Novel Cure From Abandonment to Zestlessness: 751 Books to Cure What Ails You Ella Berthoud, Susan Elderkin

Read Anna Karenina to get over an affair and Great Expectations to learn the sorrows that result from ambition and snobbishness.  According to the authors of this book, there is a novel for every problem.

This was great fun to read, and I also liked the alphabetical order of the book.  It makes it easy to search for your trouble quickly, or you can just read the book from the beginning and 'mix and match'.  Easy to read, The Novel Cure is full of suggestions and describes why the chosen books suit the disorders or problems.

I recommend this, and I'll certainly be buying it!

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Mrs Ronnie. The Society Hostess with the Mostest

The afternoon teas of 'Mrs Ronnie' were justly famous for their delicious scones, muffins, creams and jams served on beautiful china.  Queen Mary loved them.  I wouldn't have wanted to be invited, however, because I think that I'd find Mrs Ronald Grenville too formidable and intimidating! One of her servants remarked that as soon as they saw her they all scuttled!

The illegitimate daughter of an incredibly wealthy beer brewer and politician, ambitious young Margaret said that she'd rather be a 'beeress than a peeress', but she married the handsome son of a baron. They owned a beautiful country house called Polesdon Lacey.

Witty and sociable, 'Mrs Ronnie' became a powerful society hostess  and philanthropist who was a friend of royalty and politicians.  Even after her husband died young, she held salons, associated with the future king, and did a spot of match-making on the side.

I really enjoyed this easy-to-read book about this fascinating woman.  Full of amusing anecdotes and tales, it this captivating biography set in the popular Edwardian era will take you into another world.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Further Afield by Terence Jenkins

I enjoyed these vignettes about British history immensely.  Jenkins covers all sorts of fascinating subjects, such as courageous people, yew trees, brave animals during wartime and amber.  He tells the stories of Lady Anne Clifford and John Evelyn, who was a bit of a 'greenie', for example.

I especially liked the short history of amber and the sad tale of pigeons, dogs and other animals who helped mankind during the war.  These animals included a pigeon who sent the first information about the Normandy landings in the Second World War, and a guide-dog who saved his owner's life when the planes hit the towers in New York by leading him to safety from the 78th floor. All of the stories in the book were interesting, however, and the book includes lots of photographs.

Jenkins certainly made me want to visit all of the places that he mentions!

The Code Bearers by John Westwood

This book by John Westwood  involves an interesting slice of naval history from the First World War, about a British naval attache in Russia finding a German code-book.  It also includes a charming romance.

I liked the main character, Bruce Stirling, and I found his love interest intriguing.  However, I found the writing too explanatory at times, and I also found the dialogue contrived.  I am used to the Ramage series and other naval books, and, unfortunately, the level of writing is often excellent in this genre.

I did wonder whether it would have been better to write this story as a non-fiction history.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

How To Be A Good Wife by Emma Chapman

I am giving this book four stars at Net Galley, because it was absolutely riveting.  Even though it wasn't my sort of book, my tea grew cold as I rushed to finish the intriguing story.

Marta struggles to obey her controlling mother-in-law and her husband and to be a good wife, although she secretly hates them both.  Depressed and mentally ill, she decides not to take her pills, but she doesn't tell her husband.  She also feels very alone because her only child is getting married.

When Marta starts seeing a blonde girl in her imagination, she goes on a journey to discover dark secrets...

This is a well-written, creepy story that will keep you reading late into the night!

Monday, October 14, 2013

Taking a Stand. My Life in the Law by Alan Dershowitz

This is a  interesting mixture of tales from Dershowitz's private life, complex arguments about law and anecdotes about his cases, including celebrity cases.  I enjoyed this book, but I didn't read some of it, because I felt that I just don't have time to concentrate properly at the moment.

I especially liked Dershowitz's arguments about freedom of speech.  He describes clearly and comprehensively how important this principle is, and how easily it can be eroded.  It is more important than ever now, and, strangely, people from the conservative side of politics are more likely to defend it.

The celebrity cases were also fascinating.  This book may give you a new perspective on Edward Kennedy. Dershowitz also discusses the Woody Allen and Mia Farrow case and some of his more important murder cases.

Anyone interested in law will enjoy this book.  It should also inspire law students.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Fairies and Elementals for Beginners by Alexandra Chauran

I thought that this book would be about the different fairies and spirits that people have believed in over the centuries.  It does describe different types of 'elementals', but it's really a book about becoming close to them.

I liked it, but it's quite ethereal, and I haven't actually tried any of the suggestions.  The one about absinthe is a bit dangerous, because it's such an addictive drink!

Saturday, October 05, 2013

The Widow by Nola Duncan and Libby Harkness

When Nola Duncan's husband died, she looked through his papers, and she found a Pandora's Box.  This contained love letters to a young married student who her husband was supervising, evidence of a long-standing affair.  The letters contained sickly, erotic missives, romantic poems, and analysis of the affair, which Michael called the 'Great Love'.  Duncan didn't have any idea about the affair, and she's put many of the letters into this book.

Although Duncan's husband is dead, she is certainly having her revenge by letting everyone know about these letters, and she found that the book was also cathartic.  I found it strange to read, because she analyses the history of the affair through the letters, and she practically studies every letter and poem.  Libby Harkness's writing is easier to read than her husband's weird letters, which compared the affair to Abelard's and Heloises's affair and were sometimes quite blasphemous and hypocritical.  He also complained about his wife in the letters.

The affair and the evidence of Michael's former womanising was even more of a shock to Duncan because Michael was extremely religious.  He was a Church counsellor and a good member of the parish.  However, he moralises about the affair in his letters, discussing how God would feel about it - apparently he'd be very approving!

He also took the risk of losing his job, of course, and Duncan discusses this in the book.  This was probably part of the attraction. Probably, the young student also found this gave Michael added charisma, because he took this risk for her.

It's an interesting book, because of its study of how a man can live two lives and manipulate and seduce younger women, but it's a disturbing and sad story.

Friday, October 04, 2013

Paul Robeson. A Watched Man by Jonathan Goodman

If  your politics are radical, or you are extremely concerned about Paul Robeson's alleged adverse treatment by governments, the press and the police, you might enjoy this book.  I found it clearly written, but heavy-going and extremely dull.  Buy an album or listen to the great singer on iTunes instead.

Thursday, October 03, 2013

First Spiritual Exercises by Michael Hansen, S.J.

When I have time, I find the exercises in this book extremely helpful and soothing.  The problem is that they require a lot of discipline and you really should do them properly and in the right order.  I never seem to be able to do it.  However, I'll keep trying!

Off the Cuff and Under the Collar by Bishop John McCarthy

Bishop McCarthy has written an honest, sensitive and caring set of essays about his opinions of the Catholic church and the reforms that he thinks are needed.  Some of his views are certainly very modern and many Catholics won't like them, for example, his views about homosexuality seem to be at odds with the Church.

I especially liked his views about marriage, although I didn't agree with his opinion of whirlwind romances.  Many have worked out, after all!

He takes a gentle, humorous tone to many topics which made the book light and pleasant to read, although I didn't agree with several of his views.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

The Home Office Handbook by Lorrie Marrero

I am finding this a bit strange and difficult to read. It probably needs a fair bit of time and study, so I'll definitely try again!

Sunset Ridge by Nicole Alexander

This was a beautifully written and detailed novel about Australian country life, family troubles, and the horrors of the First World War.  I found it a bit grim, but it certainly deals with grim subjects, and life in the country here is harsh.

When Madeleine has to organise an art exhibition of her grandfather's work, she travels to the family home in the country, where she looks into the dark past of three brothers who ran away to war.  The story flits back and forth between Maddy and the story of the brothers who include her sensitive grandfather.  Maddy is looking for healing because of the way in which her father died.  Will she find it when she opens up a can of worms by delving into old family secrets?

I am a big fan of Nicole Alexander, but her books are too full of troubles to take on holiday, so read them at home.

The Jade Widow by Deborah O'Brien

I was utterly charmed by this sweet romance set in country Australia.  Easy to read and relaxing, this is a well-written and interesting story by Deborah O'Brien.  I enjoyed every minute of it.

Set in the late nineteenth century, the plot concerns two sisters-in-law - the conservative widow Amy Chen and Eliza, an ambitious but self-sacrificing medical student who studied at the Sorbonne.  It follows the pattern of their lives as Amy struggles with the prejudice of the town towards her half-Chinese son and Eliza tries to fulfill her medical aspirations in the small country town.  Amy is also a business woman, and she is building a sumptuous hotel with its own ascending machine.

The inclusion of fascinating true characters such as suffragette Rose Scott and artist Charles Condor is one of the highlights of the book, I thought.  I didn't know much about Rose Scott, but I am going to find out more, and I hope to write about her on my Edwardian blog.

I also liked the descriptions of Australian wildlife, such as the platypus and the kookaburra.  The author's love of her Australian setting certainly showed.  I would highly recommend this book to anyone who likes historical novels, and I am sorry that I didn't read the first book in the series.

Friday, September 27, 2013

The Bookstore by Deborah Meyler

By Eric William Okeson (Own work) [CC BY 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Esme, a serious-minded English art history student in New York hates messes, so it is a shock when she finds herself in one.  She realises that she is pregnant to her sophisticated American boyfriend and doesn't know where to turn.  Esme finds refuge at The Owl, an old-fashioned bookstore in the city.  Here she meets George, the sweet owner, Luke, a taciturn colleague, and various eclectic people, including the homeless and strange customers. Here she finds a new 'home' and family . But when Mitchell comes back and finds her working 'in that drab little secondhand store', what will Esme do?

Esme provided me with good company on my holiday in New Zealand. Interesting, young, and a bit naive, Esme is easily manipulated and she has a lot to learn.  Deborah Meyler certainly takes her on a fascinating journey.

This is a very literary story filled with quotations and redolent with the atmosphere of New York.  You can almost smell the old books in this store! Esme is a charming and likeable heroine and tension is cleverly built into the story when Mitchell comes back and Esme grows ever closer to having her baby...

The Bookstore was well-written, atmospheric, and had well-drawn characters. I also liked the many touches of irony and dry humour.

I will certainly read more books by Deborah Meyler!

The Bookstore by Deborah Meyler
Bloomsbury Publishing
Kindle    $3.46

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Francis of Assisi by Augustine Thompson, O.P.

This was written in a fairly dry way, I thought, but I still found it interesting.  It dispels many of the myths about St.Francis, who is sometimes regarded almost as a 'hippie saint' because of the film, Brother Sun, Sister Moon, or regarded as perfect.

Thompson tells the story of Francis's rebellion against his father, his struggle with leadership, his friendship with St. Claire, and his love for animals.  I especially liked the anecdotes about St. Francis's idea of the model of the nativity for Christmas, and his concern that the animals should also be fed at celebrations.  I also liked reading about St. Claire, and I hope that Thompson writes a book about her too.

The bibliography will be extremely useful, because I find St. Francis fascinating, and I certainly want to read more about him!

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Do-Ahead-Dinners by James Ramsden

Some of the recipes in this book seem to be quite complicated and it made me a bit tired to read them, so I don't know if it takes the pressure out of cooking!  Unfortunately, I am not in a position to try them out at the moment, so I can't really tell.

However, I would like to bake bread, and the instructions for baking bread look quite easy.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Cinderella and the Carpetbagger by Grace Robbins

This is a rather shocking and trashy tale, but I couldn't help liking its long-suffering and good-hearted author, Grace Robbins.  If you get past the weird beginning, the book is enjoyable to some extent until it reaches its tragic ending.

When Elizabeth Taylor look-alike, Grace, met the famous writer Harold Robbins, he swept her off her feet and showered her with diamonds and fur-coats.  They eventually had a daughter, married, and lived a glamorous life in California and the south of France.  They associated with movie-stars and the very wealthy and held lavish parties.  Grace raised money for charity.

After Harold Robbins demanded an open marriage and started taking drugs, everything went to hell...

This book if certainly not suitable for children, and I really felt that Grace gives the readers 'too much information' at times, and she also seems to delight in doing it.  This annoyed me a bit.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking

Anya van Bremzen   relates an interesting and unsettling tale of the history of Soviet and pre-Revolution cooking that ranges from stories of the extravagant Imperial meals to the meals enjoyed during dark rationing days.  The book is full of sagas about the bleak Soviet era with its progroms, famines, murders and tortures.

Van Bremzen also tells the stories of her family, including her strong grandmother Liza and her grandfather, who worked in Naval Intelligence.  She also shares her reminiscences about her Soviet childhood and her mother's memories of her childhood in the 1930s.

I liked this, but I'd advise you not to read it on holiday!  Choose a happier book.

Monday, September 09, 2013

How to Handle Rejection Well. Downside Up by Tracey Mitchell

When Tracey Mitchell first started in the media, she worked for a man who said extremely hurtful things to her, and told her that she would never make it.  She rehearsed his words for days, and they became even more powerful as she rehearsed them.  Eventually she decided to either accept them as final or she could turn his rejection into a positive.  She decided to do the latter and she didn't look back.

This great book will help you to do the same.  Most people find it difficult to deal with rejection, but handling rejection is an essential part of life.  Tracey Mitchell shows how to turn rejection into a 'golden opportunity', and she encourages people to use the power of religion and prayer to help them to achieve this.

She discusses the truths about rejection, the importance of handling rejection well in order to become successful and many other aspects of this subject.  I especially liked her chapters on self-esteem and handling other people's opinions, and how to handle manipulators.

Mitchell also discusses emotional relationships and the fear of living alone.  She suggests many ways in which to overcome this fear.  These are also quite helpful for everybody, such as writing down your personal strengths and spending time with those who recognise your worth.

I highly recommend this book for anyone who needs assistance with overcoming rejection.

Thursday, September 05, 2013

Among the Janeites by Deborah Yaffe

Only 'Janeites' understand the joy of studying Jane Austen, dressing up in Regency clothes, reading the many Jane Austen blogs or sequels on the Web and, perhaps actually studying her books seriously, and as Louis Armstrong said about jazz, 'If you have to ask, you just don't get it'.  Deborah Yaffe, the author of this book, has been a Janeite since she read Pride and Prejudice at the age of ten in 1976.  In those days, she regarded herself as a little unusual, because Jane Austen 'madness' only began almost twenty years later with the 1985 series in which Colin Firth as Mr Darcy famously appeared in his sexy white shirt.

This is an enjoyable journey through the world of the Janeites.  They range from serious academics to writers of fan-fiction and fans who've only watched the series and films.  There are even romances inspired by the study of Jane Austen.  I also loved reading about Sandy Lerner who saved Chawton House, the home that Jane Austen enjoyed the best.

Most Jane Austen fans will like this captivating book.

The Making of Markova by Tina Sutton

(Alicia Markova photographed by Carl Van Vechten)

After Anton Dolin took the great ballerina Alicia Markova out for an evening's entertainment, he expected to be asked in to have a nightcap. Markova was too proud to invite him, however, because she lived with her widowed mother and her three sisters in a tiny two-bedroom flat with a kitchen, and she didn't want him to see it.  Even though she was successful, she still had to do household chores, another reason for the lack of the invitation.

Markova thought that ballet was an enchanted fairy-tale world that helped people to forget their troubles, and like many others, she was inspired to join it by watching the wonderful Anna Pavlova.  However, Markova's actual life was quite tough, and she paid a high price for devoting her life to ballet, because she never married or had children.  She also had to cope with losing her father early, supporting her mother and sisters from a young age, and vicious anti-Semitism that affected her career.

Ballet-lovers will enjoy this biography of the hard-working and self-reliant, but ethereal ballerina.  My only complaint with this book is that Sutton seems to me to praise her to the skies, indicating that she perhaps fell in love with her subject.  I was a bit surprised by this, because I read an account of Markova's temperamental outbursts by one ballet impresario, and Tina Sutton doesn't write much about conflicting opinions of the lovely ballerina.

Sunday, September 01, 2013

Longbourn by Jo Baker

Luminous writing and great attention to detail make this book a delight to read.  Although the story concerns servants who have to scrub, wash and clean, Jo Baker manages to convey their world in writing that contains great beauty.  She also makes the reader realise the back-breaking work that Regency servants had to do.
The main character, Sarah, is a rather fey and dreamy girl who would probably be an artist or a writer if she had a proper chance.  Unfortunately, her world consists of washing clothes and dishes, scraping the mud off boots and similar tasks.  Young and innocent, she becomes intrigued by Ptolemy Bingley, the Bingleys' mulatto servant, but she also has a sneaky liking for James, the Longbourn footman, who has a dark secret.

Writing a novel about the servants at Longbourn was a brilliant idea, and Baker shows how the lives of the Bennet family affects them.  The reader will see another side to Pride & Prejudice.  For example, Elizabeth's decision to walk through the fields to see her sick sister was praised in the novel, but the maid had to scrape the mud off her shoes.  Jane Austen wouldn't have thought of that, because that was just the way that things were.

I don't usually like reading novels about servants, and I know that that appears snobbish.  However, I loved this story, and I can't wait to see the film!

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Friday, August 30, 2013

Six Days in Leningrad by Paullina Simons

I have always dreamed of going to Russia and see the land of Pushkin and Tolstoy and at least some of the palaces of the Tsars.  Paullina Simons's account of her tour to Russia to research the background to her wonderful novels both inspired and disconcerted me.  She provides a vivid tale of deprivation and poverty.  Her childhood homes are dilapidated and in a terrible state.  Families once had to live in seven-square metre spaces, and things haven't improved - indeed, they might be worse.  Public lavatories are almost non-existent, and the ones that do exist are dreadful.

Still, many of Simons's memories of her childhood are happy in spite of all this, such as the memories of her days in Shepelevo, and she finds herself enjoying the smells of pine and sea air here.  She also experiences the famed white nights, the warmth and amazing generosity of her Russian friends and the delicious Russian food of her youth.

At first she has trouble finding the key to her story.  But as she learns about the terrible losses and fantastically courage of the Russians during the Second World War, she sees Tatiana and Alexander's struggles more vividly, and she knows that she has found the heart of her novel, which is named after Pushkin's great poem.

I really enjoyed this, although I haven't finished the first novel in the series.  I especially liked Simon's account of her relationship with her father, and their little tiffs and heartwarming love for each other.  I also liked her comparisons of the deprived life of most people in Russia with her luxurious lifestyle in America.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Forever Chic by Tish Jett

The French have a different attitude to women of a certain age, apparently.  They actually admire them! Tish Jett admires them too, and provides a comprehensive guide to their beauty secrets and why they are so confident and chic.

She covers everything - skin, hair, clothes and personality. I especially liked her lists of the essential clothes which you should have in your wardrobe.  Unfortunately, I didn't find the section on skin as useful. Ingredients such as cornflower water may be difficult to find in Australia.

Acting like a Frenchwoman seems to require a lot of work, but it's probably worth it! It's not a good idea to read this on the Kindle if you want to take notes.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Living a Life of Gratitude by Sara Wiseman

This book was a joy to read and full of helpful and heartwarming stories. Wiseman stresses the importance of gratitude, meditation and awareness.  She relates anecdotes from her fascinating life to illustrate her points.

I liked the sections about animals and plants the best. Apparently, the energy from plants is comforting and it can help unhappy people.  This is certainly worth trying.

I did find some of this book a bit glib - relaxing into your life when you're not happy is difficult, for example. Still, it's a good book to dip into when you need a quick way to feel better, and Wiseman's suggestions are also valuable for developing a more spiritual outlook on life.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Chasing Francis by Ian Morgan Kron

This story is an enjoyable combination of fiction and non-fiction with a little romance as well.

Chase, a disillusioned Evangelist pastor in a wealthy parish, has a spiritual crisis, so he visits his uncle, a Franciscan friar for advice.  His uncle invites him to visit Italy on pilgrimage and "chase" St Francis.

During his time in Italy, Chase learns what is important and what is not.  He develops a spiritual relationship with St Francis, and he discovers what is missing in his church. these things include helping the poor, beauty, and transcendence.  He has some fun as well, visiting a nightclub with the friars!

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Lovestruck by Lovestruck in London by Rachel Schurig

This engaging romance with its charismatic and lovely characters charmed me from the very first minute. Written in a slightly breathless but enjoyable way, this book by Rachel Schurig not only involves a romance between two people from different worlds; it also takes the reader on a whirlwind journey through London and Edinburgh from the point of view of a young American woman

Lizzie, a young college student in London, comes from a migrant background and close family in Detroit.  Her family expects her to become a teacher, but she secretly wants to write, and she's very much an Anglophile.  When she falls for the gorgeous Thomas, a minor movie star, she wonders if the romance can last, because of their different lifestyles and the snobbishness of the people in his world.  Her best friend supports her, but like Lizzie in Pride & Prejudice, this Lizzie  is going to have to overcome a lot to find out what she really wants.

I'd love to see this book made into a movie.  Any suggestions for the main roles?

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

C. S. Lewis: A Biography of Friendship by Colin Duriez

The great writer C. S. Lewis was a complicated man with a troubled childhood, and he also had some strange relationships with women, but he was also a wonderful friend to people, such as Tolkien.  This comprehensive biography discusses his sad childhood, his complex and bad-tempered father, and his liking for older women.  It mostly concentrates on Lewis's friendships, however, and how they influenced him.  I found the friendship with the very Catholic Tolkien and their discussions about religion especially interesting.

This is quite an academic biography, and although the writing can be dry, it is worth reading.  Duriez certainly goes into great detail about Lewis's search for meaning and longing for joy, his conversion, and his academic career and writing.  I would recommend this to any C.S. Lewis fan.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Building Great Sentences by Professor Brooks Landon

Professor Brooks Landon urges writers to create more elegant and stylish sentences in this book by adding free modifiers, and he provides several wonderful examples from great novelists, including F. Scott Fitzgerald, Virginia Woolf, and even Earnest Hemingway.  Professor Landon also discusses the use of literary techniques, such as simile, metaphor and alliteration.  He especially wants writers to improve their style, and he suggests many ways in which to do this.

He provides lots of helpful exercises. One exercise which I thought was fun was changing a sentence around to see which is the best construction.  I did this with my favourite quotation: 'There are always flowers for those who want to see them'. (Henri Matisse)  Matisse could have said: 'Those who want to see them will always see flowers', or 'Flowers will always be there for those who want to see them'.  As you can see, this wonderful artist definitely chose the best construction for this sentence!

The only issue which I had with this book was that Landon favours cumulative sentences, and I found some of the examples from writers really just too long.  Perhaps, this was because I am not a big fan of stream-of-consciousness writing, or Earnest Hemingway - even when he does write longer sentences.

I thought this was an excellent book for writers, and I highly recommend it if you want to improve your writing.

Friday, August 09, 2013

Among the Cloud Dwellers by Guiliana Sica

I couldn't get into this book, I'm afraid - I'm not really a lover of fantasy except for Tolkien and Lord Dunsany.  I will try again, however.

Five Days in Skye by Carla Laureano

Eileen-Donan Castle by
Rüdiger Schäfer

 This deftly written romance with its beautiful setting and engaging characters by Carla Loreano captivated me from the very first paragraph. This was a moving love story written from a Christian point of view with a surprising amount of depth.

When her boss tells sophisticated young businesswoman Andrea that she has to go to Skye to help a client instead of Tahiti, she is not pleased! She also puts her foot in it when she first meets her client, the famous chef Jamie MacDonald, who is building a hotel near his old family home.  Luckily, Jamie is used to women fawning all over him, so he finds this refreshing.

Jamie and Andrea have had troubled relationships in their past.  The question is whether they can put these behind them and find peace?

The only flaw that I found in this book was that Andrea started to get on my nerves at times, because she was just so good at everything.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

A Scandalous Plan by Donna Lea Simpson

This is a relaxing and enjoyable Regency with good dialogue and likeable characters.  The story involves bored Lady Theresa who hears gossip about her new neighbour's child, so she sets out to find the truth.  When she meets handsome James Martindale who is struggling to cope with his two children, she takes them 'under her wing'.

The problem is that Mr Martindale doesn't appreciate being managed, and becomes suspicious of her motives...

I like fun Regencies, so I'll certainly read more books by Donna Lea Simpson.

DERVISH by Frances Kazan

Set in the exotic, tension-filled atmosphere of post-World War One Turkey, this book by Frances Kazan tells the exciting tale of a young American woman who becomes involved in the nationalist struggle and falls in love.

Mary, a very modern widow from New York follows her sister to Istanbul to try to find a new life.  When she sees a young man cruelly shot by Allied soldiers and meets Halide, she starts to help with the nationalist cause. She discovers that this is a very different world from New York, and when she falls in love with the leader, Mustafa Kemal, she wonders whether she can cope.

Beautiful and loving descriptions of Istanbul, an exciting, mystey-filled story and sympathetic characters make this a wonderful read set in an unusual time and place.

 Suleymaniye mosque from Wikipedia.

Diana's Baby by Angela Levin

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge on the balcony from Wikipedia).

This is an interesting analysis of Prince William's struggle to mature into a normal and grounded young man and to commit to the love of his life, the beautiful Kate.  Levin relates the stories of Prince Charles's and Princess Diana's troubled childhoods and distant relationships with their parents.  Princess Diana's upbringing was certainly worse than Prince Charles's - her parents were disappointed that she wasn't a son, and her father abused her mother.  Her own grandmother didn't help her mother when she obtained a divorce.  Princess Diana suffered from bulimia and had temper tantrums, probably because of her troubled upbringing.  Charles's nasty treatment of her didn't help, to put it mildly.

The fact that Prince William is so normal is largely because of his parents, however.  Princess Diana insisted on taking her new baby on tour to Australia, and she also made him see 'how the other half' live by visiting her charities with him.  Prince Charles also made sure that he had as happy a childhood as possible.  However, the fairytale marriage ended in disaster, and the publicity about his parents' respective affairs must have caused young William deep anguish.  Princess Diana also told him her troubles when he was much too young to cope with them.

Levin describes this history well, and her analysis of the Prince's struggle to commit is good.  Luckily, he found a sensible and warm young woman with a loving and stable family, and this was exactly what he needed.  The book also has lovely pictures of the popular royal couple.

Monday, July 29, 2013

The Life List by Lori Nelson Spielman

This lovely story by Lori Nelson Spielman is about the importance of realising your dreams and being true to yourself.

When Brett's mother dies, she expects to become the CEO of the family cosmetics company.  She discovers that her mother has other plans, and wants her to fulfill the life list Brett made when she was a teenager before she claims her inheritance!  Not only has Brett got to deal with her grief, but she has to face a lot of other obstacles, including attempting to be a stand-up comic and teaching troubled children.  She certainly has a lot to endure!

Brett's troubles cost her her boyfriend, the cold Andrew, but what will happen with the attraction that she feels for her lawyer?  Did her mother have a secret plan?

I loved this book, although I found it a bit too politically correct and miserable at times.  Highly recommended!

Saturday, July 27, 2013

The Norman Conquest by Marc Morris

When William the Conqueror was only 19, he fought off a threat to his life and began to win great victories.  He may have been a great leader and fighter, but it is lucky that Prince William isn't anything like his namesake, because he was apparently rather cruel and inhumane.  The Normans wrought a wave of destruction throughout England, according to this book, even carrying out a 'scorched earth' policy that caused a terrible famine in the north and killed thousands of people.  They disinherited the English, displaced them from their lands by building castles, and raped the women.

However, William also stopped the slave trade, and introduced a revolution in law, church reform and church architecture.  His greatest contribution, however, was the Domesday Book, the great survey  of the ownership of land in the Kingdom.  He also regarded his wife with great respect, and she often acted as his Regent.

This book by Marc Morris was well-researched and the history was interesting. Morris discusses everything in great detail, and covers all of the historians' arguments.  However, I could only read a little bit at a time, because there are so many characters involved in this history that it's rather tortuous, and the writing is dry at times.  However, I'm off to read about the great Queen Matilda now!

When the Snow Gums Dance by Anne McCullagh Rennie

(Photo showing how the snow gum adapts to the weight of the snow by bending its branches. Photo by John Heyman from Wikipedia)

When I started this novel, I thought that it was relaxing holiday reading.  However, the story took an extremely miserable turn, and it was a little grim after that.  However, Rennie shines with her characterization and her descriptions of the beautiful settings in the book, including Australia's snow country, Whistler in Canada and San Francisco.  Kylie is a likeable, exuberant heroine and the hero is also lovely, although I didn't like his name. I also found the description of doing aid work interesting.

I will read more books by Rennie, but I hope that they're happier!

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Creative You by Otto Kroeger and David Goldstein

I found parts of this book by Goldstein and Kroeger very helpful, for example, I liked the section on introverts.  However, I found the classifications which are based on the Myer-Briggs system rather rigid, and much of the advice a bit too vague.

However, it is a book that requires study, so I will read it again when I have more time.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

The Coat Route:

When Meg Lukens Noonan reads about a bespoke coat costing $50,000.00 being made by the Australian taylor John H. Cutler, she decides to learn more about it.  This takes her on a fascinating journey behind the coat's rare and expensive materials.  She travels to South America to find out about the costliest material in the world, vicuña, and she goes to the wild moors of Yorkshire to learn about wool.  She also learns about gold engraving and silk. 

This fascinating book also relates the history of the Australian wool trade and technology's destructive effect on the English 'rag trade'. I especially enjoyed the information about dress in the young Australian colony.

Anyone interested in fashion, luxury and history will enjoy this book.  In these days of cheap and disposable clothing largely made by people suffering in dreadful conditions, it is good to read about luxurious materials and garments being made with loving care.  I was also pleased that the famous and prestigious taylor who made the coat is an Australian, but saddened to read that his company is in some trouble. I am not sure about the Australian who wears bespoke cashmere underwear, however - that is really a bit much.

Friday, July 19, 2013

This and That:Random Thoughts and Recollections by Bel Kaufmann

This is an atmospheric book of essays by the author of Up the Down Staircase, a novel about an idealistic young teacher that made headlines in the 1950s.  Here Kaufman writes about her exotic Russian childhood, the Russian Revolution, motherhood and the importance of education. Although she came from a family with some money, life was difficult for many.  Some of these people ate bread made from the shells of peas, because there was no flour.

She also includes essays about her wonderful grandfather, Shalom Aleichem, who wrote the stories on which Fiddler on the Roof is based. The essay that I found the most moving was about how delighted Kaufman was to become a mother, and the difference between the mothers of her day and many mothers today.

She laments the changes in morals and manners through the generations, and she has well-considered advice about how to bring civility back.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Rendezvous with Destiny by Michael Fullilove

Harry Hopkins

Every eye in the room in the small Scottish town filled with tears when Harry Hopkins said: 'Whither thou goest, I shall go...'  The charming Harry Hopkins was one of the five envoys who President Roosevelt sent to Europe in the lead-up to the Second World War.  This enthralling book by the Australian author, Michael Fullilove tells their stories.

There was the endearing Harry Hopkins, who had to be dressed properly by the valet at the prestigious Savoy Hotel, 'wild' Bill Donovan, patrician Sumner Welles, aristocratic Averill Harimman and generous and big-hearted Republican Wendell Wilkie.  They all played their different parts, reporting to the President about the state of British and European defences and advocating for Lend-Lease. 

My favourite was Harry Hopkins, with his battered Hamburg hat.  He managed to charm both Churchill and the terrifying Stalin, and acted as their go-between with the President.  Sickly and frail, Hopkins died in his 50s.  His nurse was surprised when his family received messages of sympathy from Churchill, Stalin and the U.S. President!  I have a sneaking idea that he is also the author's favourite, and I'd love to read more about him.  Perhaps Fullilove could write a biography of him now?

Rendezvous with Destiny is thoroughly-researched, but it is also full of moving anecdotes and interesting characters, such as Pamela Harriman.  I also liked Fullilove's inclusion of anecdotes about Australians.  For example, Harriman said that he had an Australian crew when he was flying back to England from the Middle East '...and they're not afraid of anything!'

Monday, July 15, 2013

Letters from Skye by Jessica Brockmole

 I was utterly charmed by this wonderfully romantic novel by
Jessica Brockmole.  Set in the beautiful Scottish island of Skye, it involves a young poet who falls in love with a younger American fan who writes her letters.  Unfortunately, she is married, and their love causes a scandal.  Many years later, her daughter also falls in love during wartime, and decides to attempt to find the truth of her mother's love story.

Epistolary novels are difficult to write, and they're often boring, but these letters range from light-hearted banter to wonderfully romantic.  Some of them describe the horrors of war.  Both love stories in this lovely novel are beautifully developed, and I was sorry to finish it.  I also liked the mystery of the first love story.

Skye is like another character in this novel.  Letters from Skye evokes the atmosphere of Skye with its descriptions of the sea-swept cliffs, thatch-covered crofts, stern Scottish characters and Scottish and Gaelic words.

I look forward to the next novel by this author.

I couldn't resist including a video of the 'Skye Boat Song'!

Sunday, July 14, 2013

BLOG TOUR. A Love Story Across A Clash of Cultures. Imperfect Pairings by Jackie Townsend

I was so pleased to be asked to participate in a blog tour for IMPERFECT PAIRINGS by Jackie Townsend. Please read my review, and my interview with Jackie Townsend!

Set in beautiful San Francisco and Italy, this moving and emotionally-charged love story involves a clash between cultures.  Luminous writing and memorable characters make this novel by Jackie Townsend a lovely novel to read, although I found it heart-rending at times.

Jamie, a career-woman comes from a torn family, and she is anxious to get ahead in her company.  Marriage is certainly not on her agenda, and her background makes her scared of it.  Her lack of a religious background means that she is not used to a strong faith.  She's also somewhat forthright at times. For example, when Jack's relation brings a girl home in San Francisco, she asks him whether he has 'protection'. He doesn't like this.

Jackie Townsend

She is surprised when her Italian boyfriend, Jack, suddenly becomes much more Italian, and he takes her to visit his family in Italy.  They are completely different from Jamie's family.  Jamie finds the strong ties of the Italian family intimidating, especially 'La Mamma' who hardly speaks any English, and wants her to be more domesticated.  She also finds the emphasis on religion and big weddings hard to come to terms with.  The Italians' seeming lack of ambition also seems to get on her nerves.  Jack has become 'Giovanni'; he wants her to go on a steep learning curve, and become more Italian.

Can she do this, and can Jamie give her somewhat closed heart to him? Can a love between cultures ever work?  This is the central question of this enjoyable book.

Surprisingly, I found the Italians easier to understand than the Americans! Perhaps, this is something to do with being an Australian.  Jamie got on my nerves at times, and I found Giovanni much more likeable.  However, this didn't detract from my enjoyment of the book.


You wrote in your Q&A about your own story, and how you wanted to make your novel 'a real and true' account of how an American and an Italian fall in love. You also said that you took longer to 'open up' to your Italian family. Is Jamie's story very similar to yours?

Yes, I was somewhat blindsided by my husband’s Italian family. I guess, like many Americans, I saw the ideal. I wanted the ideal, and when the reality turned out to be different, I had a hard time adapting. To adapt you have to give all of yourself. And that’s scary. They wanted too much of me, so I kept them at arms length, which was easy to do given the body of water between us. But over time, like erosion, naturally the borders break down. Time really can be a gift.

Is her character similar to yours?

Yes, I was that independent, brash, career woman that many have come to dislike in the novel. Hearing people’s reaction to Jamie has been interesting, as you can imagine. I unconsciously tend to be more aggressive with my characters; Jamie is more cut and dry than I am. Harsher. Plus, the style of my dialogue is minimalistic. I like people to read between the lines, their interpretations are their own. With respect to Jamie, in many cases those interpretations have been different than mine. So it goes, once you write it, it’s no longer yours.

In spite of the beauty and warmth of Italy, Jamie often got homesick and yearned for America. You captured the yearning for the 'homeland' very well on both sides. Was that difficult to write from both Jamie's and Giovanni's points of view?

I’m around a lot of transplants, both to America and to other countries. My father-in-law has lived in Thailand for thirty years, for instance, and I have spent much time there among ex-pats. There’s this tremendous sense of displacement, of loss. They are at once free and held captive. A variety of sensations come to mind, and this definitely helped me write about Giovanni’s yearning for home.

Also, I have done a lot of traveling on my own, for my previous job and simply just to explore. There is an underlying sense of derision foreigners have towards America. It’s a weird feeling, like you’ve been fooled. Brainwashed. We are the best and everyone loves us. Sometimes, living with foreigners, you lose sight of that fact that you love your country, that you’re proud to be an American. I am very proud to be an American.

What do you think are the good points about the American and the Italian ways of life?

Italians live simply. They really enjoy each other. Every day. Families live near each other. Help each other. Grandparents have deep relations with their grandchildren. In America it’s not uncommon for families to disburse around the country, to move and get ahead. There’s this great sense of freedom in America. Like you can do anything you want.

What do you think are the bad aspects?

Italians often don’t think beyond their small worlds, beyond their communities, beyond Italy. Americans lose sight of what’s important. Family. Friends. Simple things, like sharing a meal. We put our elderly in homes as opposed to living with them. What I wouldn’t give to live near one of my siblings presently, or my mother, who lives on the opposite side of the country.

You seemed very scathing about Jill's way of life at times. Do you think that Americans and Australians can be too cowardly about getting off 'the treadmill'? (NB: I should have included the British here).

I think we don’t know any better. It’s how we are raised. It’s in our culture to thrive and succeed. A lot of what drives people is fear—fear of failure, of getting your heart broken, of pain. You almost need to fall off the treadmill in order to get off it. Something must happen beyond your control to throw you off, and suddenly you’re viewing life from a different perspective. It’s what happens to Jamie.

Do you think that some people find it harder than others to learn about the important things in life?

It’s so hard to say. Some people go on and on and are happy. Their psyche is wired so that they believe whatever they are doing makes them happy. Others struggle and struggle. What’s important to one person might not be important to another. I often envy the people who can simply be happy. Don’t agonize. Sometimes I feel like they are the lucky ones.

This is getting a bit long, I'm sorry, but I'd love to learn your advice to aspiring fiction writers?

Four words: Sit. Down. And. Write.

Write and write and write even if you have to throw most of it away. There will be something left. And it will be beautiful. Inspiring. What you write next might even be better. It’s a lot of hard work. But it can be done. It’s not beyond your reach. It’s up to you.

Yesterday I sat for two hours trying to figure out what my character would do next. I barely wrote a few sentences. But I liked those sentences. And today’s a new day.