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Sunday, June 30, 2013

Gloria Swanson by Tricia Welsch

Gloria Swanson was certainly an amazing woman, and this enjoyable study of her life doesn't let her down.  This great actress also produced her own films, set up an invention company, helped Jewish refugees to escape to the U.S. and became a dress designer.

Welsch analyses Swanson's film career and her conflicted relationships with directors, including the distinguished Cecil de Mille.  Unfortunately, some of her films are lost now, and others are never shown on TV.  The best-known is Sunset Boulevard, in which Swanson gave one of the best performances of her career.  This sympathetic look at the actress also goes into depth about her struggles to produce her own movies, and her money troubles.

Swanson, who had five husbands (!), was rarely treated well by men.  Welsch tells the tales of her betrayals by de Mille and Joseph Kennedy, and her fraught relationship with the love of her life, her third husband, a French Maquis.  The problem was that Swanson had a distant and alcoholic father, and she wanted a strong, father-figure who would also support her.  Surprisingly, this extremely modern woman was rather trusting where business was concerned.

This is well-written but very factual, so it is a bit dry at times.  I got a bit tired of it towards the end, but I'd like to read more about Swanson.  I'd especially like to read more about her dress-designing career.

Friday, June 28, 2013

A Delightful Romp in Africa. A Spear of Summer Grass by Deanna Raybourn

A Spear of Summer Grass by Deanna Raybourn enthralled me, and took me to the beautiful scenery of Kenya during a difficult time in my life.  Scandal-ridden Delilah Drummond decides to escape her troubles, and escape to Africa.  Used to luxury hotels, scented soaps and bubble baths, beautiful and sassy Delilah finds herself in a decrepit house surrounded by dangerous animals and strange characters.  She has to cope with lions, cheetahs and crocodiles.  She also has to cope with people of different tribes who come to the 'lady of the house' for their medical needs.  Luckily, Delilah grew up in the deep South, so she's extremely practical, and most of this seems to be nothing to her.

She's also had a few husbands, and she's never had any trouble being a femme fatale.  Ryder, however, a strong, poetry-quoting man who is afraid of nothing, including a few lions, is more than a match for her.  Delilah and Ryder will certainly keep most readers riveted until the last page.

I really enjoyed this, even though it's the kind of book that should really be read as a paperback or a hardback.  It doesn't suit an e-book.




Letters and Life: On Being a Writer, On Being a Christian by Brett Lott

I couldn't get into this, I'm afraid.  It's fairly deep and heavy, and I am still concerned about a health scare, so I can't concentrate on this book, unfortunately.

The Importance of a Good Plot. Monkeys with Typewriters by Scarlett Thomas

This is a series of lectures in which Scarlett Thomas studies the important features of good plots, shows the differences between tragedies and comedies, and uses examples from movies, such as Toy Story and How To Marry A Millionaire.  This is interesting and helpful for aspiring fiction writers, however, I could only read a little bit at a time.  I need to read it properly and make notes.



Thursday, June 27, 2013

Zen Under Fire: How I Found Peace In The Midst Of War by Marianne Elliot

Marianne Elliott's account of her time as a human rights lawyer in Afghanistan will horrify and move you by turns.  Her intimate and involving story begins with how she was left in charge of the office, and her boss told her that everything would be all right unless an important tribal leader was killed.  She then learns that he's been killed, and she has to cope with the situation and show leadership quickly.

Elliott's work involves attempting to reconcile tribes who are feuding with each other, helping Afghans affected by these feuds and the war, running workshops to teach Afghan lawyers, and many other interesting roles.  She hears dreadful stories, however, and she struggles to cope with the poverty and violence of Afghanistan.  Her tale shows how practising yoga and meditation and learning Buddhist principles helped her to cope with all this in a more peaceful way.

Elliott also tells the story of her emotional romance with a colleague, and how this affected her.  This made the book even more interesting, I thought.  Sometimes accounts of war-ridden countries  tend to be dry, but Elliott's book was the opposite. It was beautifully written, and fascinating. I was sorry to finish it!  I also like Marianne Elliott's blog.

Zen Under Fire also includes websites of organisations in Afghanistan that need help.



Wednesday, June 26, 2013

The Lucky Culture by Nick Cater

Australian Prime Minister Paul Keating explained to the Queen that we are a mature country ready to be a republic, and that Australians would eventually 'progress' in that direction. The Queen listened, and offered Mr Keating a drink. The Australian people voted overwhelmingly against a republic in a Referendum on the question soon afterwards. 

The media, the ABC and intellectuals were horrified. Is there a class of intolerant, elitist intellectuals who are attempting to run Australia, a previously tolerant and egalitarian country? Does this class agree with the values and beliefs of the people? This is the question that Cater discusses in this well-written and mostly interesting book.

This class, Cater argues, shares a set of opinions, and they can't understand anybody who disagrees with them. These opinions include the opinion that Australia should be a republic, and agreement with the theory of global warming, gay marriage, and strong environmentalism. They are snobbish and elitist toward so-called 'Bogans', and anyone who argues with any of these beliefs. Most of them hate religion, especially Catholicism.

 Cater discusses how Australia is changing because of these people, and whether this is a good thing. He includes chapters about how these intellectuals have taken over the ABC and the media, and started a human rights industry. He also analyses Australian history and their attitudes towards it. Your opinion of this book is likely to depend on whether you agree with Cater or not. His argument is certainly controversial. Unfortunately, his writing becomes rather dry sometimes. It's certainly very much worth reading, however.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

May Cause Miracles by Gabrielle Bernstein

The affirmations and meditations in this book are helpful.  Bernstein concentrates on assisting people to overcome their fears and be more loving. 

The trouble is that I'm finding it difficult to find the time to do the programme of exercises properly.  However,  I am going to look at Gabrielle Bernstein's website, and try her guided meditations. 


Friday, June 21, 2013

Mission to Paris by Alan Furst

Alan Furst has been called 'the master of spy novels', and Mission to Paris is no exception.  This excellent novel dazzles with its evocative and suspenseful atmosphere, sympathetic characters, and story of courage and love in a Europe threatened by war.

Fredric Stahl, the main character, is a famous American actor, originally from Austria.  Sent to beautiful Paris to star in a Warner Brothers movie, Stahl finds himself caught in the midst of odd and threatening Germans.  Soon he is asked to become a secret agent by the American Ambassador, when he'd rather concentrate on his acting.  Stahl also has to work out whether the woman he is attracted to, Kiki, is really on his side.

I did find this novel a little slow-moving at first, but the pace soon quickens as Stahl becomes increasingly trapped in a dangerous world, because the Nazis are determined to use his acting skills for their own ends.  The book becomes more and more riveting, as the Nazis close in.

The atmosphere of luxury and suspence in Paris is beautifully described. Stahl stays at the expensive Claridge's and eats in lavish restaurants, but he also attends rather bohemian parties, and gets mixed up with an intriguing emigre.

This book also contained strange information, for example, that the perfumer Coty had a secret cache of arms and leaned toward Fascism.

My only complaint is the swearing.  I didn't really see any need for it.

My favourite is still The Spies of Warsaw, I think, because the central character is so heroic and religious.

Monday, June 17, 2013

The Secret Life of the Gold Coast by Brendan Shanahan

Anyone who reads this book will think that Queensland's Gold Coast is full of drug addicts, scam artists and crazy or stupid  people.  This is intended to be a journey into the coast's dark side, and Shanahan certainly succeeds in fulfilling this aim.  He stays with a single mother and a flamboyant young Norwegian in one of Surfers Paradise's well-known high-rise buildings, and constantly fears the rage of the mother's boyfriend.  He also endures the incredible noise and disruption of the ghastly annual car race, and he watches the antics of the Schoolies who go to the coast every year.  Several of the Schoolies do their best to trash the coast's reputation, but many also behave well.  Shanahan also goes to a weird swinger's party.

After reading about half of this book, I'd had enough.  I'm not mad about the coast either, but there are some lovely people there - even famous and ethical business people.  I also thought that it was a bit much to even criticise the beaches!  I: think that Shanahan is one of those travel who make money by describing the worst aspects of the places which they visit.  I will try his other books, however.




Saturday, June 15, 2013

Scent of Triumph by Jan Moran



This action-packed epic novel features the charming perfumer Danielle who has to try to rescue her family from war-ravaged Poland, and choose between two men.  The novel includes atmospheric settings in Paris, London and Los Angeles and exciting scenes and a moving love story.


Jan Moran is a perfumer herself, so the descriptions of the scents which Danielle makes are authentic and interesting.  I especially enjoyed reading about them.

My only criticisms of the novel are that it involves too much action - it even begins with a shipwreck - and it is a bit lacrymose in one section.  However, I thought that it was an excellent first novel, and I'd like to read more of Jan Moran's fiction.



Sunday, June 09, 2013

Queen of the Air: A True Story of Love and Tragedy at the Circus by Dean N. Jensen

Circus performers at the Valencia music-hall in Copenhagen in 1931 were astonished to see a small figure dressed in white who smiled at them.  Her eyes were sad, but her smile was like warm sunshine.  They were astonished because the figure was Lillian Lietzel, and she was dead.

I loved this book, the true story of the amazing life of the petite Lillian Lietzel, who was acclaimed as the 'Queen of the Air'.  She was a huge star of the biggest circus ever, the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus.  The book also relates her strange love story with the handsome Alfredo Codona, famous for his death-defying stunts.  There is also an Australian mentioned in the book, the pretty Vera Bruce.

This lyrically written book is a riveting and surprisingly haunting true story.

Saturday, June 08, 2013

Change Your World in 71 Days by Tom Connellan

This book has a few good tips, such as how to find the basic cause of your problem and how to improve by 1% at a time.

However, it is written in the form of a collection of stories about fictional characters, and it's also a 'book within a book'. This annoyed me, because I really wanted the usual type of self-help book, and I felt that I had to read a lot to find the useful suggestions.  I will consider trying Connellan's other books, because they might be more helpful.

Sunday, June 02, 2013

English Fairy Tales and Legends by Rosalind Kerven

Most children will love this book.  They can learn about the princess who turned into a dragon, the farm lad who slayed giants and the real Robin Hood.  These fairy tales have an eerie, mystical feeling about them, and I found them magical.  This was a very English collection of tales, and a pleasure to read!



The Underground's Underworld. The London Underground's Strangest Tales by Iain Spragg

Have you ever been squashed in the London Tube, and felt that you might faint or suffocate?  It's awful, but travelling on the Tube was far worse in the 19th century.  One poor American wrote that he nearly died of 'asphyxiation and heat', because of the sulphur, coal dust and fumes from the oil lamp above.  The Tube was far more dangerous then, because of the constant threat of fire and the noxious fumes.

This book is  full of fascinating information about the London Underground.  Read about the wailing Egyptian princess who haunts the line to the British Museum, Mark Twain's journey on the Tube, and Tony Blair's being snubbed by a young female commuter!  It's certainly the perfect book to read on the way to work, or on a long ride on the Tube.

And by the way, which line has the sexiest commuters?  You will have to read The London Underground's Strangest Tales to find out!



The London Underground's Strangest Tales by Iain Spragg
Anova Books
Ebook: 3.99

Saturday, June 01, 2013

Life below Stairs by Sian Evans

I'd love to have lived in a large country house in England in Edwardian times - but only as the mistress or one of the daughters of the family.  Life below stairs would be much too much hard work! The job of a lady's maid, however, wasn't too bad.  They also had well-appointed rooms, earned good salaries, and were sought after by young men.  Some even married the owners of the houses!

Life below Stairs is a comprehensive, thoroughly-researched, and extremely factual look at the world of the servants in the large manors of England.  It lists each occupation and the duties of the occupation, so it is an especially useful guide for historians and writers.  However, there are also lots of interesting anecdotes, such as the story of the pastry chef at Petworth, Signor Michel Milone.  He created wonderful concoctions in his pastry kitchen, but he dressed like a 'City Gent' in a black suit with a bowler hat and an umbrella.  He hid delicious food in his pockets for his children, such as Charlotte Russe.  Another butler ate all the lamb's tongues from the family's plates, and served them plates with gravy and no meat!

Anyone interested in large Victorian and Edwardian houses and the real-life world of 'Downton Abbey' will enjoy this book.