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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.

INTERVIEW WITH JACKIE TOWNSEND

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.


Friday, July 12, 2013

American Phoenix: John Quincy and Louisa Adams, the War of 1812, and the Exile that Saved American Independence

This inspiring and exciting book reads like a novel.  It concerns the Russian exile of John Quincy Adams, the American Ambassador to Russia, and his wife, Louisa.  The couple certainly had to endure a lot, but they both achieved success in the midst of their trials and tribulations.  L:yrical writing and judicious use of  John and Louisa's writings help to make Jane Cook's thoroughly-research book a joy to read from start to finish.

John Quincy Adams, the American Minister in Russia, found himself in desperate straits from the  very start of his term.  American ships were being sequestered by the Danish and the Russians because of French policies.  The British were also impressing American sailors, i.e. forcing them to join the British navy.  Adams had a struggle to deal with this situation.  The U.S.A. was still not respected as an independent nation by most of Europe, and this made it difficult for it to trade.  If Adams could help ensure that Russia, the largest European country,   respected the U.S., this would greatly assist the cause.

Louisa had even greater trials.  She left  two sons behind, endured miscarriages, and she also lost her only daughter during their stay in Russia.  She had a sickly constitution, and the Adams's couldn't afford the glamorous lifestyle of the other European diplomats, so she found social life difficult.  She also had to chaperone her younger sister, who caught the eye of the Tsar.

These were just some of their difficulties.  This is a riveting tale of how this couple helped to achieve respect and honour for their country.  It is a story of faith, resilience and persistence.

The part of the book that I liked the best was the story of Louisa's trip from Russia to Paris in 1815.  Alone, except for a few servants and her young son, Charles, Louisa got lost in the forest, and endured lots of other trials, such as one of her servants running away.  She even had to run the gauntlet of French soldiers when Napoleon escaped from Elba!

I loved this book., and I'll definitely buy my own copy.

  I received it free from BookSneeze, and this review is my own opinion.

Monday, July 08, 2013

Queen's Gambit by Elizabeth Fremantle

I am afraid that I couldn't continue reading this book after I finished the first chapter.  The heroine, Katherine Parr, helps her extremely sick husband to die.  I don't want to discuss euthanasia here, but I've read a lot about Katherine Parr, and this just didn't ring authentic to me.  She was too religious to consider it, and I doubt that anything like this occurred at the time.

If you are not as squeamish, the writing is vivid, and Katherine seemed likeable.

Sunday, July 07, 2013

Appreciating the Beauty of the Night Sky. The End of Night by Paul Bogard

The Starry Night Sky

Paul Bogard was astonished when a relative wanted to know what the 'white dots in the sky' were.  She didn't know that they were stars!

Luckily, this is unusual.  However, the rapid growth of artificial light means that most of us never see the real night sky.  Consequently, we have lost the poetry and the romance of the night.  In this fascinating and highly informative book, Bogard outlines what this means for us and for our fellow creatures.  He also delves into history, philosophy and culture.

Bogard's The End of Night has chapters comparing the cleverly designed and romantic lighting of Paris with the poor lighting of London, and the history of gas and electric light.  He also travels to the isolation of Thoreau's Walden Pond to study the night sky, and see how it has changed.

Bogard studies the effects of light pollution on our health, and talks to shift workers about how working at night affects them.  He writes about the links between artificial light and disease, and the rise of sleep disorders.  He laments the loss of the siesta, and wonders about the solutions to the problems of shift work and lack of sleep.


Much of this book is extremely worrying, for example, the effects of light pollution on animals, birds and insects.  It is all interesting, however, and Bogard is a wonderful advocate for solving these concerns.

Bogard's lyrical writing, interviews with varied people, and excellent knowledge of the night sky make this book a joy to read.  I especially liked the more philosophical chapters about the history of our feelings about the night, attitudes of people of other cultures towards the night and his suggestions about how we can discover the poetry and romance of the beautiful night sky.





Wednesday, July 03, 2013

The Book Publishers Toolkit 10 Practical Pointers for Independent and Self Publishers Vol. 1 IBPA Contributors

This is an excellent book for any author or aspiring author.  It has helpful tips on using Twitter, establishing a brand and marketing.  I am certainly going to look up the links.

I found the articles on Twitter and branding worth special study. I am also interested in writing e-books, and there are tips for writers of e-books here.  Read this book and take careful notes if you want assistance in establishing your writing business!

Tuesday, July 02, 2013

A Journey Through Tudor England by Suzannah Lipscomb

Hever Castle

This is the perfect companion for Tudor history-lovers when they visit England!  Suzannah Lipscomb tells the stories of characters, such as Henry VIII and his spoiled childhood and Lady Jane Grey, the tragic 'Nine Day Queen'.  She also provides tours of historic buildings, such as Westminster Abbey and Richmond Palace, so that the reader can see the details of the Tudor history in the architecture.  I also want to visit the National Portrait Gallery again with this book.

Lipscomb also studies many buildings that I haven't visited, including Charterhouse in London and Hever Castle, the haunt of the alluring Anne Boleyn.

 I received this book free from Net Galley, but I'll certainly buy it, so that I can tour these buildings with my beloved Tudors!

336 pages
$17.96 at Amazon

Suzannah Lipscomb Talks About Our Tudor Mania




Monday, July 01, 2013

A Delightful Story in an Exotic Setting. This Northern Sky by Julia Green

An image of the machair in the Hebrides of Scotland

Luminous writing, sympathetic characters and an exotic setting distinguish this haunting story by Julia Green.  Although it's a children's book and I am well over 30, I loved it, and I'm certainly interested in reading more books by this author.

The heroine, Kate, is upset when her parents take her to the isolated Hebrides for a holiday.  Headed for an emotional divorce, they want to attempt a reconciliation.  A distraught Kate hears them arguing, and notices her father ringing another woman.

She also longs for her ex-boyfriend, Sam.  Green cleverly keeps the reader guessing about the reasons for their breakup until well into the novel..

Her friendship with Finn, the handsome boy of the Manse, and his friends brightens her days and takes her mind off her troubles.  They collect cockles, have a party on another island and go swimming in the cold waters. 

Kate also learns to love the beautiful scenery of the Hebrides, and the whims of nature that affect it so severely.  She wanders through the flowers of the machair, watches the sea-birds and glories in the stunning Northern Lights. She even likes the solitude and the isolation

Her holiday in the Hebrides helps Kate to grow up, and come to terms with the reality of her life.

Most teenage girls and women will enjoy this lovely coming-of-age novel by Julia Green.