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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.