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Monday, December 30, 2013

Hobbit Lessons by Devin Brown Abingdon Press

This book has a lot of good sense in it about loyalty to friends, willingness to take risks and not placing too much value on possessions.  The author uses several examples from The Hobbit.  However, I am afraid that I found it to be a bit simplistic, and I would have preferred a book about Catholicism and The Hobbit. Brown seemed to leave religion completely out of this book, and I found this disappointing.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Walking Paris Streets with Eugene Atget Inspired Stories About the Ragpicker, Lampshade Vendor, and Other Characters and Places of Old France Greg Bogaerts Shanti Arts LLC

I found the history of these photographs by the famous Edwardian Parisian photographer, Eugene Atget, much more interesting than the stories.  The stories were extremely French, atmospheric and well-written, but I also found them rather contrived.  This was probably difficult to avoid, because of the nature of the book.

I didn't finish reading the stories, but I will continue reading the historical facts about the photos.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

From Scotland with Love by Katie Fforde


(Deep Snow near Dunachton Burn by Peter Bond )

Katie Fforde is one of my favourite romantic authors, and anyone who reads this enchanting story will see why I enjoy her books so much.

Daisy, the engaging heroine, travels to the wilds of Scotland to try to fix up her failure at her PR job.  Here she finds herself stuck with grumpy Rory, a famous and handsome author, in a snow-storm.  She also has to cope with cooking with few ingredients and a very pregnant dog, Griselda.

This was a fun read for Christmas and a sweet love story.  I also liked reading about beautiful snow-clad Scotland in the midst of the ghastly heat and humidity that we have to endure in Australia at Christmas time. Unfortunately, I can't even move to a cooler part of the country.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Mozart by Paul Johnson

Mozart was a dandy who loved to have his hair and wig done each day.  One day he thought of a new musical idea while his barber was attending to him, so he went to write it down, dragging his barber behind him attached to his ponytail!  This anecdote captures some of the hard-working Mozart's likeable, friendly and jovial character.

There are not many anecdotes about Mozart's personal life, here, although the esteemed historian, Paul Johnson does tell the story of his childhood, his autocratic father and his fight with the nasty archbishop of Salzburg, Colleredo.  He also dispels the myth that Constance was not a good wife to Mozart. This is really a biography for musicians.  However, Johnson adds enough to make the book more interesting, while covering Mozart's compositions and operas in a thorough and detailed way.  The story of the operas, including Don Giovanni and The Magic Flute is especially enjoyable.

I also found the fact that Mozart was a Mason and that he combined this with pious Catholicism interesting.  This is highly recommended for anyone who wants to read more about Mozart, although a detailed musical knowledge helps.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Solving Problems with Design Thinking by Jeanne Liedtka, Andrew King, Kevin Bennett

This is a useful book for managers which describes how they can apply design thinking to their work and inspire their employees.  It provides ten case studies of excellent design thinking. It isn't very helpful for self-employed people, although one can apply some of the principles.

I found this book extremely dry, so I didn't finish it.  However, I enjoyed the story of the Suncorp merger with CGI Insurance and I liked reading about some of the tools of design thinking, such as mind-mapping, posters and metaphors.

Cozy Classics Emma by Holman Wang and Jack Want

This was just gorgeous!  I am anxious to read more Cozy Classics.  However, it is very much a picture book filled with people in lovely Regency fashions.  If I were a child, I'd be a little puzzled about what the story is!

Monday, December 09, 2013

Elizabeth of York by Alison Weir

I sometimes find that Alison Weir's histories include a lot of speculation - I am unconvinced by her theory that John of Gaunt died of VD, for example.  However, her books bring the eras and the characters to life, and this one is no exception.

Elizabeth of York features all the colour and splendour of the age, but Weir also makes the brutality of the era clear to readers.  She also manages to make Elizabeth, the mother of Henry VIII, stand out, emphasizing that she overcame a tragic background with strength, courage and piety.

The only problem is that it's difficult to make the history clear because it's so complicated, however that isn't Weir's fault.  This is highly recommended, if you are interested in English history and royal history.

Sunday, December 08, 2013

1955 The Summer When... by Valerie Thornhill

This is the kind of book that I was looking for when I tried to read Breathless.  Valerie Thornhill was once a young nineteen-year old from England who travelled solo in Europe, an intrepid thing to do in that era. Ambitious to be a writer, she kept a journal, and in this book she recounts several exciting adventures.  These include staying in an expensive flat in Paris with fleas in the floorboards, having to escape dangerous men, and being horrified by a bullfight in Spain that her provocative German friend enjoys.  She cheers the bull, so she finds herself taken away by the guardias who hurl insults at her!  She was certainly lucky to survive some of her 'escapades' - at one stage she has to actually make a run for it when some evil men try to drag her away.

I thoroughly enjoyed this enchanting book about Thornhill's travels in France, Spain and Italy, and I certainly want to read more books by this wonderful author.

Friday, December 06, 2013

Darling Monster: The Letters of Lady Diana Cooper to her son John Julius Norwich 1939 -1952

Beautiful, fascinating and aristocratic, Lady Diana Cooper shocked her family when she married a penniless doctor whose descendants came from 'the wrong side of the bed'.  However, the marriage was extremely happy and her husband, Duff Cooper, had a splendid career in politics, diplomacy and writing.

Lady Diana had many talents and writing was certainly one of them.  She even makes milking cows interesting!  I usually find reading books of letters boring, but Lady Diana's descriptions of being encircled by fires and watching plane flights during the Blitz and life at the British Embassy in France would keep anyone riveted.  She even managed to dazzle her young son with them.

I also enjoyed Lady Diana's accounts of her travels to exotic places, and how her husband warned about the immanent fall of Singapore.  Disappointingly, she didn't think much of Australia or New Zealand! She wondered 'if one could bear to live in Australia'.  One hopes that she would prefer it now.

There's also lots of 'name-dropping', of course. The book is full of  dinners and events with famous people, such as Churchill and De Gaulle (who she nicknames 'Wormwood').

I did get a little tired of the letters that Lady Diana wrote after the war.  Otherwise, I'd highly recommend this book.

Clive James's description of Lady Diana's writing can't be bettered: 'As a writer she had energy, verbal invention, natural comic timing and a fastidious ear which would have ruled out the possibility of her ever using, as Mr Ziegler does, such a cloddish term as ‘life-style’ — something he must have learned at Oxford, or perhaps at Eton'. (The Wrong Lady Diana)