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Tuesday, April 30, 2013

How Nasty Were The Borgias Really? The Borgias by G. J. Meyer

The name Borgia is practically synonymous with everything bad.  The family has been accused of several evil deeds, including murder, incest and orgies.  Lucretia is supposedly famous for all sorts of nasty wrongs.

I felt rather sorry for G. J. Meyer because he set out to restore the reputation of the Borgias in this book, and it obviously involved a hell of a lot of research and reading to find the truth.  It turns out that many of the allegations are a lot of rubbish.  Pope Alexander VI, for example, was a competent and intelligent pope who attempted to demolish the power of the Italian warlords and handle the French invaders with aplomb.  It seems that he didn't have illegitimate children either.  Lucretia was accused of incest and poison on practically no evidence whatsoever.

This book is hard to follow because of the complicated battles between the Papal States, the leading Italian families and invaders, such as the French.  However, G.J. Meyer writes in an interesting way, and includes chapters on the backgrounds of important topics.  For example, he includes a chapter about the history of Venice.  I haven't quite finished this book, but I'm enjoying learning the truth about this notorious family.






Saturday, April 20, 2013

A Faded Cottage by Diann Shaddox



This is an enjoyable and relaxing love story that will take you into another world.  When Quaid, a successful New York artist, develops tremors, he feels unable to paint and decides to return to the little beachside town in North Carolina where he met his true love.  He goes to live in a delightful 'faded cottage' overlooking the sea, and reflects on his life.  Now a widower, Quaid is feted by the women of the town who bring him delicious meals, but he wants to see Sandy again.

Sandy never forgot Quaid either, so when she learns that he is in town she decides to see him again, but she has a secret too...Can Quaid and Sandy resume their old love?

Diann Shaddox's A Faded Cottage is an extremely romantic novel, and tends to sentimental and emotional with flowery language.  However, the characters are likeable, the dialogue is surprisingly natural, and Shaddox describes Quaid's disease, Essential Tremors, and the effect that it has on him, well.  I also liked the descriptions of the Atlantic coast.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

A Moving and Sad Story. Lina and Serge by Simon Morrison

Lina and Serge is a sympathetic, moving and sensitive portrait of the great composer's  long-suffering wife.

It is an incredibly sad story,  A beautiful and ambitious opera singer who spoke five languages, Lina Prokofiev had a Spanish and Russian heritage, and she was brought up in Brooklyn.  While working for cultured Russians, she met the brilliant composer.  They had a troubled and distant relationship, and Serge, who was also a bit of a womaniser, didn't want to get married.  However, they married when Lina became pregant.  It was her biggest mistake.

While living in Paris, they were courted by important Russians from the new Soviet government, who promised them both spectacular careers.  Serge enjoyed great success, and they were even able to travel overseas.  Lina, a socialite used to wearing beautiful clothes, even hiring the best dressmaker.  However, as the purges began and Serge's music started to be banned, the couple found that they lived in a 'fog of fear'.

Their marriage began to unravel....I want you to read this book, so I won't tell the whole story.  However, Lina was arrested and spent eight years in the gulag, where she suffered torture and beatings.  Morrison doesn't shy away from describing the horrors of the gulags, and gives a graphic account of the criminal regime.  It most certainly was an 'evil regime' as Ronald Reagan said.

This is worth reading, and it's a good book about a brave, likeable and resilient woman.




Emily Post Still Has Important Lessons For Us. Emily Post's Manners in a Digital World




Do you know anyone who has broken up with someone by email or mobile phone (cell phone)?  Have you ever used your mobile in a public restroom to have a private conversation?  These are just two examples of the appalling bad manners that are common today.  The first one is cruel.  I didn't know about the second example until I read this book!

Emily Post's Manners in a Digital World by Emily Post's great-grandson, Daniel Post Senning, is a comprehensive and well-written book that covers manners in every area of technology.  It addresses email  using technology effectively and civilly in the workplace, social media, and even online dating.  It contains several useful tips for retaining good manners while using technology.  This can be difficult today because it is so easy to send a text or an email or a Tweet without thinking, as many people have learned to their cost.  People have even been fired for sending offensive Tweets!

I found the sections on using social media and community groups on the Internet especially useful, and I will read them again carefully.  Senning not only discusses good manners, but he also suggests the best ways in which to use social media. He even lists common symbols on Twitter, and other sites that make using Twitter easier.

Senning also provides excellent tips on how to stay safe while using digital technology and websites, such as Facebook.  Those who are online dating will find the tips especially useful.

I highly recommend this book.  Emily Post, who was always interested in using the latest technology herself, would be especially proud of her great-grandson's continuation of her legacy!



Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Always in Vogue. The Vogue Factor by Kirstie Clements



Imagine exchanging pleasantries with Prince Albert of Monaco on your way to the bathroom, meeting Richard Gere and sitting next to Paul McCartney at the bar.  Kirstie Clements, a long-time editor of Vogue Australia, takes readers into the heart of the glamorous world of fashion shows and perfume launches in this delightful biography.  She drops lots of names and gives us an insight into the high-class magazine world.

However, The Vogue Factor also tells the story of the hard slog involved in producing the magazine, and the ways in which fashion magazines have declined.  The latter is a sad story.  When Clements was a Beauty Editor, writers who discussed fashions influenced by the 1920s immersed themselves in the culture of that decade.  For example, they read books, such as The Great Gatsby and The Green Hat.  Now they might put syndicated writing from overseas in the magazine, or save time in other ways.

Clements really had to work hard to turn Vogue around when she was appointed editor. The previous editor, who was English, didn't understand her audience, and most of the advertisors abandoned the magazine.  Clements had to build it up again from scratch and employ a whole new team.  She also had spectacular coups, such as getting Karl Lagerfield to be a guest editor.

This was a hugely enjoyable book, and it's also motivational and interesting for young women who want to write for magazines.


An Intellectual Heroine: Margaret Fuller

Margaret Fuller suffered much in her life, but she also wrote books, was the first female American foreign correspondent and fought for women's rights and the liberation of Italy.  Her story is fascinating, especially when she eventually arrives in Italy.  Megan Marshall   suits the tale of this anguished, plain intellectual lady who struggled to combine the feminine graces of the time with her immense intelligence.

Fuller knew some of the famous people of her time, such as Ralph Waldo Emerson and Bronson Alcott (Louisa's father).  This adds to the interest of the book.

However, it's best to read a little bit at a time.  Fuller had such a miserable time.  Even when she found some happiness in Italy, she suffered from the terrible battles for liberation and she had trouble making a living.  I enjoyed the book, but it's a sad story.


Saturday, April 06, 2013

Steampunk Fashions: Fun for the Young

Dramatic and vivid clothes, gorgeous photos in lush settings and lovely artwork make International Steampunk Fashions by Victoriana Lady Lisa great fun to look at.  Steampunk combines Edwardian and Victorian sciene-fiction styles with modern ones, so several of the fashions are quite weird and really only suitable for those under thirty!  They also don't seem to suit men very well, surprisingly.  However, the prettier ones that feature tiers, frills, lace and Edwardian boots are suitable for older women.  Hopefully, women can wear delicate Edwardian blouses at any age!  Most of the jewellery and accessories can also be worn at any age.

Victoriana Lady Lisa  explains the history of Steampunk, and includes biographies of Steampunk figures and designers.

(This is a steampunk pendant from Wikipedia.

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Thursday, April 04, 2013

A Biography Befitting A Great Christian Martyr: Tyndale by David Teems



Beautiful and pious, Anne Boleyn lent her copy of Tyndale’s The Obedience of a Christian Man to one of her ladies-in-waiting, Anne Gainford.  Anne Gainford’s boyfriend, George Zouche, noticed that his beloved was avidly reading the book and tore it out of her hands.  He wouldn’t give it to her back in spite of her protests and began to read it himself.

Eventually the book caught the attention of the King himself.  He said: ‘This is a book for me and all kings to read’.

This is just one of the several fascinating legends surrounding the great Christian martyr, William Tyndale.  David Teems relates these tales in an elegant and interesting style.  As I love to read about Anne Boleyn, this was the one that I enjoyed best.

But his biography also does the great man justice in several other ways.  The most important is that Teems emphasizes the beauty and eloquence of Tyndale’s translation of the Bible, and how much it meant to him.  Tyndale, born in Gloucestershire, combined the homespun Gloucestershire charm with its proverbs and sayings with the loveliness of the Welsh musical cadences to create his great English translation.  He suffered over his translation, attempting to make the words beautiful but simple enough so that the ordinary man could understand them.  Before Shakespeare, he wrote many phrases and words that have become part of our common English language – words and phrases that still cannot be surpassed.

Teems also shows us how Tyndale suffered to achieve his aims.  He endured exile, treachery from friends who turned into enemies, and he was hunted by Sir Thomas More, who wrote extremely nasty things about him.  Finally, he became too trusting, leading to his death. The account of his death was too graphic for me to read, and Teems made me so sympathetic towards him that I felt that I couldn’t bear to read it!

Teems also shows us that Tyndale was a true Christian man.  He lived a humble life, helped the poor, and he was kind and loyal to his friends.

I enjoyed this book immensely, in spite of its fairly heavy and sad subject, and my liking for Roman Catholicism.  I am interested in reading more of Teems’s books.

Monday, April 01, 2013

Out of Order: Stories from the History of the Supreme Court




Justice Stephen J. Field once presided over a trial concerning rights over a mining claim.  It was held in a local California saloon.  The jury decided for the plaintiff, so the lawyer for the defendants said that he would advise his clients to resist that verdict 'at the point of the knife'.  The jury foreman then threatened him with a pistol, but, according to legend, Field took a bowie knife from his pocket and put it in his teeth.  Then he held a pistol near the lawyer's head, and told him to eat his words, or he'd send him to hell.  The lawyer said that he'd eat!

Sandra Day O' Connor, the first female justice on the U.S. Supreme Court, tells many interesting anecdotes such as these in this book about the Supreme Court.  She provides a history of the court from its beginnings, tells tales about frontier justice, relates stories about the relationships between the judges and the presidents, and gives short biographies of distinguished judges.  This is not by any means a dry history, and I found it extremely enjoyable.

This book is enhanced by O'Connor's stories of her own time on the court, and her emphasis of how important the court is.  I also liked her history of the actual court building.

Take 2 by Leeza Gibbons

I found some useful tips in this book, which is all about being happier, achieving your goals, and overcoming your fears.  I especially liked Leeza Gibbon's metaphors about treating your life as a story and writing your own script.  However, it wasn't all that different from other self-help books.  I would have liked to learn more about how Gibbons coped with her mother's Alzheimer's disease - this might have distinguished it from other self-help books. She has excellent advice for caregivers in the video here.

Another problem is that reading this book can be defeatist if you start comparing yourself with the author.  A great beauty, she is also a successful journalist and TV presenter of 'America Now'.  She is also married to a younger man! She's a lovely person, but all of this could make you feel worse, not better, if you're not careful!