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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.