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Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Christmas Mysteries by Various (Open Road Media)

I am afraid that I just couldn't get involved in these stories at all.  It's probably because I like vintage mysteries, such as Dorothy L. Sayer and Agatha Christie.  Most of these were too modern for me!

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

The Leap Launching Your Full-Time Career in Our Part-Time Economy by Robert Dickie

You need flexibility and the right resources to launch a full-time career in this part-time economy in which unemployment is growing, and many jobs are being automated.  This helpful book by Robert Dickie will certainly give you a head-start.

Dickie covers almost everything, including how to obtain the right knowledge and the right degree, online courses,  and the importance of having a freedom fund.  He also has chapters on staying focused, building a strong personal brand and social media.

This is a great book for anyone anxious to improve their career or start a new one!  Some people may be annoyed by the biblical focus, but I quite liked it.

Elsa Schiaparelli by Meryle Secrest

This sweeping biography of the great designer Elsa Schiaparelli by Meryle Secrest reads like a novel. Schiaparelli certainly led a fascinating life in exciting times, and she also collaborated with such famous artists as Salvador Dali and Jean Cocteau. She was also responsible for such modern and practical innovations as the wraparound dress, reversible coats and the all-purpose dress.

Although Schiaparelli grew up in an Italian palace, her early life was a struggle.  She married a con-artist who was also poor, and they had a very sick daughter. When she first lived in Paris, her flat was infiltrated with mice and rats.  However, better times came.  She became a designer accidentally, but she had 'the right look, the right style [and] the right feeling', so she soon impressed society.  Even royalty wore her clothes. Invitations to her parties were also prized - she was a charming hostess, a good cook and she had a facility for languages.

This well-researched book covers every aspect of Schiaparelli's life, including her Surrealism, her relationship with her daughter, her romantic relationships with two brothers (!) and her mysterious actions during the Second World War.  One of her favourite employees was married to an important Vichy politician, so the designer was regarded suspiciously.  She also travelled to America and South America a lot during the war, and this aroused distrust.

I did find that this book skipped from one subject to another fairly often, but I enjoyed it immensely.

(I received this from Edelweiss.  My opinion is entirely my own).

Monday, December 29, 2014

My Battle Against Hitler by Dietrich von Hildebrand

The philosopher and devout Catholic theologian Dietrich von Hildebrand  told one of his students in 1924 that 'the Nazis are the most vicious animals'.  Brought up in a well-off family that loved beauty and art, he could see the danger of the growth of the Nazi movement at a young age.  He knew that its 'nationalism, militarism, collectivism, materialism, and anti-Semitism were unbridgeably antithetical to Christianity'.

Von Hildebrand's opposition to the Nazis caused huge problems for him, affecting his lecturing career adversely.  He had to escape to Vienna and then he spent time in hiding in France. Eventually,  he was lucky enough to get to the United States. It had caused him great sadness in Austria to watch many important people compromise with the Nazis, including Catholics and law lecturers.

The first part of this book consists of von Hildebrand's memoirs, and the second consists of some of his philosophical writings.  He was certainly a hero who had some hair-raising escapes from his Nazi enemies, but the problem is that his memoirs are rather dry and factual.  His essays are also heavy reading, unless you are extremely interested in philosophy. 

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Tara Revisited Women, War & the Plantation Legend Catherine Clinton

(Arlington in Natchez, Mississippi by Ralph Clynne)

Catherine Clinton delves behind the myths and legends of the antebellum South to attempt to find some historical truths in this interesting book.  She studies the facts about slavery, the women of the plantations and the cruelty of the Union forces to the people in the Confederacy.  She notes that the Lost Cause remains popular even today, and how some of these myths are still promoted.

In the great TV mini-series, "North and South", one of the men from a plantation-owning family travels to the North where he is shocked to see the conditions of the black workers in the factories.  He thinks that his family's slaves are better off, because they are fed and looked after.  According to Clinton, this was one of the myths promoted by books such as North and South and one of my all-time favourite books, Gone With The Wind.  Many of the slaves were abused, and thousands of them gladly joined the Union forces or hid Union soldiers and helped them to escape.  Almost ninety thousand black men from Confederate states joined the Union troops.  There were exceptions, however - I am sure that Gone With The Wind has some truth in it.

Union soldiers were not always cruel to the white women on the plantations.  For example, one Union soldier helped a lonely woman find a cow to help feed an ailing baby.  Another lady had to accompany a Union officer up the stairs during an inspection of her house.  She had hidden her good silver cutlery beneath her hoops, and the spoons and forks suddenly fell out! The soldier helped her retrieve them.  Many women had recollections of these sorts of kindnesses from Union forces.

This book was a bit dry, but I enjoyed reading about the real facts of the South.  However, I am afraid that my heart remains at Tara!

Mistress by Matthew Berns and Terry Smyth

 Billy Snedden
This is a rip-roaring tale about the mistresses of important Australians, including the lady loves of bushranger Captain Thunderbolt, Governor King, the leader of the Rum Rebellion, Jim Cairns and the rather handsome and suave Billy Snedden. Many mistresses of the officers of the convict era were abandoned with children, but Governor King actually treated his girlfriend well.  He told his wife about his illegitimate children, and his wife agreed to raise them with the mistress's consent.  She was obviously very understanding.

I especially enjoyed the story of the hell-raising Lilly.  Lilly arrived on Medan in Indonesia in 1958 looking for her lover who was working for an oil company.  Although Lilly was a beauty, she didn't behave like one - she was  hard-drinking and even a bit violent. She hit someone who annoyed her, leaving him with a cut lip.  She also kept irritating the Vice-Consul, lying down naked and drunk in the bedroom one night!  As he was a gentleman, he covered her up and attempted to help her when she woke up.

This is light entertainment, written in a slightly slangy manner that suits the subject.  It's great fun to read, and I liked the stories from Australia's early days.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Honeymoon in Paris by JoJo Moyes

This is a novella that should be read after the novel The Girl You Left Behind by the fantastic author JoJo Moyes. It combines the stories of Sophie and Liv, both of whom are newly married.  Their tales are set in different eras - the Edwardian and modern times.  Both women experience problems with their marriages, and both have lessons to learn.

Sophie, a beautiful shopgirl, soon captured the heart of Édouard Lefèvre, a famous artist, but she now feels insecure because of the women in his past.  One of them annoys her by insinuations and snide remarks.  She also discovers that Édouard is still friendly with some of his other former models.  How can she compete with these women?  How can Sophie overcome her jealousy, and is she right about her husband?

Liv, only 23, newly married to David, an ambitious architect, looked forward to a romantic honeymoon in the City of Light.  However, David leaves her to see the sights alone while he attends important business meetings with a view to his future career.  Even an older man with whom she enjoys a coffee is shocked by David's neglect of his lovely wife.  Liv starts wondering whether she should have married in a hurry at such a young age.  How will she solve the problem?

This novella is enjoyable, relaxing reading, recommended for holidays.

Published by Penguin Group Viking.

(This was free from Net Galley. My opinion is entirely my own).

Say What You Really Mean How Women Can Learn to Speak Up by Debra Johanyak

Debra Johanyak aims to promote clear, honest and direct communication in this helpful book.  As the wonderful Malala writes, women are often scared to speak up or they are too passive to assert their rights.  Many other women speak indirectly so that people don't understand them, or they do it in a manner that annoys people.  (I have been guilty of this lately). Many women are also reluctant to tell their men unpleasant things or ask them to do nasty tasks, like putting out the rubbish! Johanyak deals with all of these problems and more.

Her book includes chapters on how to communicate your message clearly, the silent treatment, breaking bad news, and using the Internet.  She has useful sections summarizing the points made in each chapter.  The problem is that it's hard to remember these suggestions in the heat of the moment.  I think that I may actually have to make notes!

I didn't find the chapter on the 'silent treatment' helpful for my situation.  It was mostly about why not to do it, but not how to handle it when it's directed at you.  It is terrifically irritating, and I would have liked tips on how to deal with it.  However, I recommend this book, and I'll definitely buy it.

(I received this book free from Net Galley, and my opinion of it is entirely my own).





Monday, December 22, 2014

The Rosary The Prayer That Saved My Life Immaculee Ilibagiza, Steve Erwin

(Photo by Daniel Tibi, Wikimedia Commons)

Immaculee huddled in a tiny bathroom with several other women listening to the screams of the victims of the Rwandan genocide outside. Terrified, she prayed the Rosary and read the Bible.  Her fear enabled her to pray with a new depth, and she also thought about the Mysteries and actually imagined herself walking in Mary's footsteps as she cared for her son.  Immaculee credits the Rosary with saving her life, and even giving her the spiritual strength to forgive the murderers, even though almost every member of her immediate family was killed, and many of her friends were also slaughtered.  Forgiveness does bring freedom, and the Rosary helped her to find this true freedom.  (I have trouble forgiving small hurts!)

This is a harrowing book to read, but Immaculee's story of courage and faith in terrible times is certainly inspirational.  It helps readers to see minor worries in a new light!

Immaculee's enthusiasm about the "most beautiful and richest of all prayers to [Mary]" is contagious, and she explains the rather complicated system of prayers simply and clearly.  She tells how she learned the prayers and Mysteries, and she includes the new Luminious Mysteries.  As Immaculee writes, this isn't just a book for Catholics.  Any Christian can learn the Rosary, and many have been helped by these lovely prayers.

This is recommended for anyone who wants to learn more about the Rosary.

Friday, December 19, 2014

The Reluctant Blogger by Ryan Rapier

I am afraid that I couldn't get into this book at all. It wasn't well-written and the story didn't interest me.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Clear the Clutter, Find Happiness One-Minute Tips for Decluttering and Refreshing Your Home and Your Life by Deborah Smallin

I've probably read just about every book on decluttering there is, but my clutter has to be seen to be believed, unfortunately! This book does provide excellent tips that can be completed in a short time, however, so it lives up to its title.  For example, Smallin suggests doing one thing each day that will make you feel better, such as making the bed.  This is a good start.  The book includes advice for getting rid of the clutter in each room in the house, and useful ways to lessen the ubiquitous paper.  Smallin even includes advice for cleaning.

This is a useful book for people who want to become more organised and get rid of some of their 'stuff'.  It's a book that you can dip into when you feel overwhelmed and find a helpful suggestion so that you feel more in charge.  I'll definitely buy it.  Unfortunately, buying it will add to my clutter!

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Fascinating Women. Kennedy Wives Triumph and Tragedy in America's Most Public Family Amber Hunt and David Batcher

(Joan Bennett Kennedy from Wikipedia)

Once upon a time, five beautiful and strong women married charismatic Kennedy men.  They were called Rose, Ethel, Jackie, Joan and Vickie.  Rose, the matriarch of the dynasty, had a steely inner-strength and toughness that helped her through her husband's infidelities, the loss of his reputation in the UK and terrible tragedy.  She has often been thought of as fanatically religious and rather cruel to her daughter Kathleen, who fell in love with two Protestant men.  However, she is more likeable and softer in this account. Ethel, raucous and a tomboy, also clung to her faith through much tragedy.  She was a supportive wife to Bobby, managed to raise 11 children, and devoted much of her time to charity work, but she also loved a good time, and she was famous for her parties.  She also held educational seminars.  Jackie restored the White House to its former glory, charmed crowds everywhere she went with her elegance and facility for languages and became a symbol of the nation's strength and fortitude when her husband died. Kind-hearted, gorgeous Joan fell victim to her husband's philandering and found it more difficult to cope with suffering than the other wives.  She became an alcoholic but she bravely attempted to overcome it.  Vickie, clever and wise, was exactly the wife that the aged Ted needed in his last years.

This is a fascinating and sympathetic account of these wonderful women by Amber Hunt and David Batcher, and an excellent analysis of their characters.  I didn't find anything new in it, but I didn't know much about Joan or Vickie, so I was extremely interested in the last part of the book.

This is a great book for anyone who loves to read about this great American family.

Saturday, December 06, 2014

Perfect Christmas Reading. A Christmas Feast by Katie Fforde

These romantic stories by the wonderful Katie Fforde will cheer up anyone who likes light holiday reading over Christmas. Amusing and warm-heated, the stories have sympathetic and likeable heroes and heroines. Travelling into Fforde's world certainly helped relieve my stress!

Her stories involve a family so shocked by the 'singleton' having a male guest that they all rush into the kitchen to see him, a woman who is rewarded for assisting the village 'witch' and a kind-hearted young lady who finds romance in a secret garden.

I prefer Katie Fforde's novels, but these short stories were a pleasure to read!

Friday, December 05, 2014

My Days with Princess Grace of Monaco by Joan Dale

Joan Dale and her successful diplomat husband Martin became good friends with Princess Grace and her family, and she can't praise the beautiful American royal highly enough. According to Dale, Princess Grace was a lovely, warm, hard-working woman who loved her family and sometimes longed to resume her career as an actress.  Dale tells lots of anecdotes about times spent with the royal family and meeting other important people, such as other Monaco royals and Onassis and Maria Callis  She describes spectacular events and galas.

The most interesting parts of the book concern Prince Rainier's fights with de Gaulle and Onassis over taxation and the economic growth of Monaco.  Dale's husband was in charge of the economic development of Monaco so he was directly involved in these battles.  There was also an argument with Prince Rainier's sister Antoinette over succession.

I enjoyed this book up to a point, but I grew a bit tired of the descriptions of all the events and galas.  This is probably because I live in a pretty boring place and it made me envious! It is worth buying just for the pictures, however!

Thursday, December 04, 2014

David Livingstone Presumes - To End Slavery In East Africa.


The Daring Heart of David Livingstone: Exile, African Slavery, and the Publicity Stunt That Saved Millions by Jay Millbrandt.

Most people think of David Livingstone as a great explorer, and indeed he was, but this well-written and thoroughly-researched book tells the true story of how he sacrificed everything to accomplish his ambition of abolishing slavery. This became the true purpose of his life, because he was so shocked by the brutality of the horrific slave trade run from Zanzibar, and the complicity of the British and the Portugese in allowing it to continue. Livingstone elevated this goal even above finding the source of the Nile. Eventually, he succeeded because of back-breakingly hard work and the publicity that he gained with the American journalist Stanley's help, and the slave market was closed forever.

The Daring Heart of David Livingstone: Exile, African Slavery, and the Publicity Stunt That Saved Millions by Jay Millbrandt.

This is a long and harrowing book, and  Jay Millbrandt certainly doesn't spare the reader from the details of Livingstone's sufferings.  The man who raised himself from working in the cotton mills of Glasgow to becoming a doctor, explorer, and scientist, experienced hunger, rheumatic fever and weakness in Africa.  His wife became an alcoholic, and he was separated from his children.

However, it is well-worth reading, and there are some lighter parts.  This book made me want to read more about Stanley, who became a great friend of Livingstone.  Livingstone was shocked at first by Stanley's luxurious travelling, however.  His entourage consisted of an array of porters with kettles, tents, tin baths, and a folding boat! When he sat down to breakfast with Livingstone, Stanley's servants  set out silver spoons, knives, forks and a silver teapot.  Livingstone and Stanley sat on a Persian carpet.

If you like history and reading about great explorers, this is recommended.


Tuesday, December 02, 2014

Scandals of Classic Hollywood by Anne Helen Petersen

(Mary Pickford, Wikipedia)

Anne Helen Petersen's book combines gossip and glamour with academic analysis of the star-system and the effect of the gossip-columnists and audience on the celebrities. She studies how scandalous rumours ruined Fatty Arbuckle, how Clara Bow tried to be a 'New Woman', and Judy Garland's self- destruction, which was exacerbated by the cruel treatment of her by MGM and her mother. She also examines famous Hollywood romances, such as Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. These were often 'reinvented' by Hollywood to avoid divorce and scandal becoming an issue.

This book is an enjoyable journey through Hollywood public relations and gossip. However, the writing is a bit slangy at times. It's worth reading if you like learning about the secrets behind Hollywood stories.


Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Writing Great Books for Young Adults Everything You Need to Know, from Crafting the Idea to Getting Published

This is a thorough and comprehensive guide to writing for young adults.  Brooks defines the audience, and helps the writer through every stage of the journey.  She covers the beginning of the novel, the plot, characterisation, setting, and every other aspect that the aspiring writer needs.  The writing exercises also assist. She includes helpful quotes from other editors.

It is a difficult book to just sit and read, but that is mostly because it is technical and useful.  I would suggest that readers write notes, and check their stories against the notes. 

I am not sure if I will write a young adult novel after reading this book, unless I attempt a historical one.  As Brooks writes, YA writers have to know what is going on in the world of teenagers.  My writing would probably be much too influenced by books like Anne of Green Gables and The Secret Garden!

However, Brooks's suggestions are useful for any writer, and I really like her breakdown of each topic into bite-sized pieces.

Seven Letters from Paris A Memoir by Samantha Verant

(Toulouse by En-Batou, Wikimedia Commons)

Samantha Verant met an attractive Frenchman in Paris when she was very young and on holiday with her friend.  They enjoyed a wild and memorable night, but Sam thought that it was better to try to forgot the 'holiday romance, even though Jean-Luc wrote her seven incredibly moving letters.

Several years later, Sam is in a bit of a mess.  She can't solve her marriage problems; she's in debt; her beloved dog is ill; and she has to go and live with her parents.  When she works as a dog-walker, the local women are incredibly snobbish, calling her only 'the dog-walker!'  Thoughts of Jean-Luc return to her, and she begins to wonder what has happened to him.  She comes up with the idea of finding him in an unusual way, and it works!

Luckily, she does find Jean-Luc, but can they find true happiness after so long? What about their cultural differences? Where will they live if they become a couple?

I just loved this well-written and magical fairy-tale like romance, and I am sure that I would really like this couple if I met them! Highly-recommended!

Samantha Verant You Tube

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Village of Secrets: Defying the Nazis in Vichy France by Caroline Moorehead

Church at Le Chambon-sur-Lignon by Havang, Wikimedia Commons
 
This interesting and harrowing book tells the story of brave men and women in a small village, Le Chambon-sur-Lignon, on the Plateau Vivarais-Lignon who managed to save hundreds of Jewish children from the Gestapo in Vichy France.  This area had a long history of Huguenot and Darbyist resistance to authority that helped them show great courage and hide the children in remote farmhouses, village attics and pensions. Many of the leaders were eventually caught by the Germans, and some paid the ultimate price.

This well-researched story tells how pacifist Protestant pastors, such as Theis and Trocme, showed great leadership, inspiring the villagers to show courage. They were helped by several people who organised refuge for the children, including Catholics.  But when the Germans finally took over the unoccupied zone, the French had to fight back. As Moorehead writes: "Almost unimaginable brutality -persecution, violence, murder - was now being carried out by the French against the French. Whenever they could, the Resistance fought back."

There are many fascinating characters in Village of Secrets, including the beautiful one-legged Virgina Hall who worked for the SOE and the OSS.  She sometimes hid important information in her tin leg!

I am almost always riveted by stories of the French Resistance, so I liked reading the book. Unfortunately, I did find Moorehead's writing rather factual and unexciting. However, she writes about interesting subjects, so I will read more of her books.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Dancing on the Head of a Pin: The Practice of a Writing Life by Robert Benson

According to Robert Benson, 'the blank pages are always the most terrifying ones'. This book helps budding writers overcome their fears, and provides useful suggestions and tips.  Lyrically written and full of anecdotes and lovely quotes, the book meanders through such important topics as the importance of solitude, listening for the muse and collecting stuff that moves you.  Benson also writes about imagining your audience.

Benson describes his writing process, and includes amusing anecdotes about how he avoided writing and how any writer worth his or her salt can think of numerous other things to do!  Helpfully, he states how he overcame this, and finally settled down to the discipline of writing a certain amount of words per day.  He also tells readers about his three hats - the hats that he wears in his mind for writing, editing and revising.  I liked this part of the book the best.

I also liked reading about the books that assisted Benson on his path to becoming a writer.  These include books by Annie Dillard and Doris Grumbach. I am not sure whether I agree that a writer shouldn't waste his time by reading 'rubbish'. Light holiday-reading certainly relieves stress, and it can be well-written.  However, Benson probably wouldn't approve of it!

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Madame Picasso by Anne Girard

(Montmarte in 1925 from Wikipedia Commons)
Eva, a struggling seamstress at the Moulin Rouge in the early 20th century, becomes attracted to the magnetic young artist Picasso. But he already has a mistress who calls herself his wife, and Eva is ambitious to further her own career. This isn't easy when she has to deal with bossy women, such as Misinguett. Things come to a head when Picasso is accused of stealing the Mona Lisa. Can Eva still resist his charms, or will she help him?

This is the perfect novel to read in France, especially in Paris, but it's a lovely book to read anywhere. Anne Girard captures the romantic setting beautifully, and the historical characters are well-rounded and ring true to life. Eva really was shy and innocent by all accounts, and Picasso was fought over by women. The descriptions of the Moulin Rouge and the artistic scene are interesting, and made me want to find out much more.

I look forward to Girard's next novel!

The Culinary Lives of John and Abigail Adams: A Cookbook by Rosana Y. Wan

It's interesting and fun to learn about history by reading about the food that important people from the past ate. John and Abigail Adams liked to garden, grow many vegetables, and eat fresh and fairly plain food. They ate such English foods as roast chicken, roast turkey, custard, mince pies and cherry pie, for example.

I like this sort of food too, so when I get back from my travels I hope to try some of the recipes and post pictures. Unfortunately, I can't grow the 'veggies', as we call them in Australia.

Rosana Wan has filled the book with fascinating information about the famous couple's meals and activities, and it is full of scrumptious pictures of the foods.

Salmon fillet



Monday, October 20, 2014

Jane and the Twelve Days of Christmas: being a Jane Austen Mystery by Stephanie Barron

Jane and the Twelve Days of Christmas by Stephanie Barron features a charming but feisty heroine, a mysterious Rochester-like hero, and a clever murder mystery. Jane and her family are portrayed in a realistic way, and Barron even manages to write in a 19th-century style without ruining it by using jarring modern expressions.

There are also interesting snippets of information about Jane and her family and times, such as information about the game of billiards. I didn't like this book as much as the first one that I read by this author, but I hope to read the whole series soon.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Tolkien How an Obscure Oxford Professor Wrote The Hobbit and Became the Most Beloved Author of the Century Devin Brown Abingdon Press

This is a good introductory biography to Tolkien by a respected English Professor. Devin Brown has written a warm and sympathetic biography in which he studies the main influences on the great writer's works, especially his star-crossed romance, his beloved Catholic faith, his parent's early deaths and the loss of many of his friends in The First World War.

I found the description of his long friendship with C.S. Lewis and how Lewis encouraged him especially interesting. This will make any fan of Tolkien want to read and learn more about him.

Monday, October 13, 2014

The Woman Who Would Be King. Hatshepsut's Rise To Power In Ancient Egypt by Kara Cooney

Kara Cooney is at her best when she describes Egyptian society and the rich and strange rituals if Egyptian life. I found her account of the powerful and ambitious Hatshepsut interesting, but the book was very 'text-bookish'.

There was a lot of speculation in this biography, so it was full of words like 'might' and 'probably'. I thought that this made it difficult to read and annoying, unfortunately.

Monday, October 06, 2014

Elements of Style by Erin Gates

Do you know how to choose a sofa, or renovate a kitchen? Do you know the essential items that you should have in each room? Erin Gates covers all this and more in her new book Elements of Style. Filled with gorgeous pictures and useful information, this is a great book for any would-be decorator.

Gates also writes amusingly about her decorating disasters, renovating her kitchen in the midst of a snowy New England winter, and walking down the aisle. This book will provide you with endless inspiration in an entertaining way.

Thursday, October 02, 2014

An Unsuitable Match by Sasha Cottman

Welcome to the glittering Regency world of splendid balls, bespoke gowns and spring garden parties.  Cottman takes readers into the heart of Georgette Heyer's ton in this captivating love story, and helps them to escape from the inelegant bustle of modern life for a few enjoyable hours. Any lover of light Regency  novels is sure to like this book.


The love story involves the rather sweet Clarice and dashing David. Even though the heroine Clarice lives in a luxurious way, she has lots of problems to overcome, including her demanding father and her new feelings for her old friend David.  Her father regards David as highly unsuitable, and he is determined to marry her off to an untrustworthy, but titled man.  Clarice also has to deal with the snide remarks of a 'friend', which doesn't help her lack of confidence in society circles.


When David discovers that he wants to win Clarice at all costs, he has to cope with his illegitimacy and money problems.  The women from his past don't impress Clarice.  Can he show her that he is worthy of her?


The likeable hero and heroine, developing love story and details of Regency life make this a good read.  I especially enjoyed the descriptions of the Regency gowns and dances.







Wednesday, October 01, 2014

Confessions of a Qantas Flight Attendant: True Tales and Gossip from the Galley by Owen Beddall

If you think that the life of a flight attendant is glamorous, think again!  According to Beddall, flight attendants do meet celebrities, stay in five-star hotels and party with the jet-setters, but they also pay a high price for it.  Apparently, there's lots of drug-taking, illness and general bitchiness, and it's a terrifically demanding life. It also wreaks havoc on one's love-life.






Beddall shares lots of enjoyable anecdotes in this book, such as his meetings with Kylie Minogue and Katie Perry.  He even thanks Katie Perry in his Acknowledgements. Some of the stories that he shares are painful, such as the time that he met his long-standing boyfriend's wife! He also shines a light on the goings-on of the pilots and the 'Essex Girls' and other gold-digging staff.






This book is a real indictment of Beddall's treatment by Qantas, and his opinion about the decline of the airline is interesting.  It's quite hard to read. However, it probably won't affect my choice of airline.









How To Get There by Maggie MacKellar

This is a moving and emotional story about falling in love at an older age. After MacKellar's painful tale was revealed on the ABC, several men wrote to her, but she was wary of starting again after making a soothing life in the country with her children. However, a letter from a Tasmanian farmer intrigued her, and she fell in love with him quite quickly and she and the family moved to Tasmania to be with him.



This lovely book tells of the ups and downs of starting again, combining two families and how she and Jim overcame the obstacles that moving in together involved.


Interview with Maggie MacKellar

Monday, September 29, 2014

The American Catholic Almanac by Brian Burch and Emily Stimpson

This is an interesting and enjoyable series of vignettes about the important role that Catholics have played in American history. It includes the story of the great Buffalo Bill who converted on his deathbed, the gangster Al Capone who founded Chicago's first soup kitchens and the first immigrant on Ellis Island.

It is a bit difficult to read too much of this book at a time, but that's true of most collections of articles, I think. I recommend it if you are interested in reading uplifting true stories about American Catholics.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

John Marshall: The Chief Justice Who Saved The Nation by Harlow Giles Unger

Engraving by Alonzo Chappel
This is a fascinating biography of the famous American lawyer John Marshall, who was a Revolutionary war hero and an impassioned supporter of Federation.  This admiring and sympathetic biography relates how Marshall managed to cope with a sick wife and the deaths of many infant children, and help to preserve the Constitution and play a leading role in the foundation of the US justice system, ensuring justice and liberty.

Harlow Giles Unger evokes the struggles, territorial disputes and riots that beleaguered the young nation in an exciting, rather breathless style.  He captures the revolutionary atmosphere of the times, and shows what the ambitious and clever Marshall had to contend with when he made the Supreme Court the great institution that it is today.

I was surprised by Unger's study of Thomas Jefferson, who apparently sipped soothing wine on the verandah of his mansion instead of joining Marshall in battle against the British.  He also favoured the French Revolution, arguing that liberty required some violence when most people were horrified by the massacres in France. Unger is scathing about Jefferson.  I've mostly read sympathetic accounts of Jefferson, so I got a shock.

Anyone who likes biographies of great figures will enjoy this book.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Dirty Bertie by Stephen Clarke

King Edward relaxing at Balmoral, photographed by Queen Alexandra
 
This is a light-hearted and enjoyable tale of King Edward VII's love for France and the good life that is full of interesting anecdotes. Stephen Clarke includes a lot of information about his mistresses*, and the book is somewhat prurient at times. (It's not suitable for children. Unfortunately, many of them probably don't want to read about Edward VII, anyway!) However, although 'Bertie' loved music-halls, theatre, opera and 'good-time girls', he also learned the skills of diplomacy and charm in France. Clarke praises the King highly, and gives him great credit for the U.K.'s alliance with France in two world wars.

Queen Victoria took the young future King to stay with Napoleon III and his wife, the beautiful Eugenie, and this opened up a whole new world of sophistication and culture to him.  They took pity on the young boy, who remained in love with France, which annoyed his German-leaning mother excessively.  When he became Prince of Wales, he also dismayed Gladstone by being friendly with Napoleon and Eugenie in England, and his wife Princess Alexandra was also anti-German.

According to The Times, 'Bertie' would not be a good King, but the venerated newspaper was proved wrong. King Edward worked hard, acted as a peacemaker and even managed to calm down his war-mongering nephew, the Kaiser. Soon after his accession, The French were angry with the British because of Fashoda and various other matters, but the King soon won them over by praising a French actress, and his diplomacy and great joi de vive. Speaking fluent French helped.

King Edward VII told a friend that he didn't have long to live, and then my nephew will make war. Unfortunately, he was right. Clarke argues convincingly that he helped to prevent war for a long time.


I will read more books by Stephen Clarke, but I preferred Jane Ridley's biography, because it was more serious.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Underground Girls of Kabul by Jenny Nordberg

Welcome to a world of child brides, honour killings, girls pretending to be boys and burkas. This is an interesting but depressing book about the situation of women in Kabul. The women in the book are extremely admirable and brave - they try to do what they can to make a difference to a country full of harsh restrictions on women. I especially liked reading about the politician who is battling huge odds.

Unfortunately, I haven't finished this, because it is written in the present tense, so I found it a bit difficult to read.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

How To Be Parisian Wherever You Are, Love, Style, and Bad Habits by Anne Berest, Audrey Diwan, Caroline de Maigret, and Sophie Mas

Juliette Binoche
This is a bit silly and tongue-in-cheek.  It probably won't help you become Parisian, although there are many good tips that I liked, including tips about beauty, going on dates and holding dinner parties.  For example, the authors tell you not to dry your hair with a hair-dryer.  According to these sophisticated French women, you should dry it naturally with a towel. Also, don't wash it every day, and keep your natural colour. I also liked the suggestions for wardrobe classics, including white shirts and iconic trench coats. There are also lots of recipes which are not difficult.

This is great fun to read, and I also loved the charming drawings.  There are lots of useful sections in the book, such as Parisian aphorisms, tales of famous French women, and suggestions of French films and books.



Thursday, September 11, 2014

Thrive: The Third Metric to Redefining Success and Creating a Life of Well-Being, Wisdom, and Wonder.by Arianna Huffington

Arianna Huffington realised that her life was on the wrong track when she woke up in a pool of blood. She had collapsed from lack of sleep and exhaustion.  Her accident showed her that most of us define success in terms of money and power, so she decided to seek a more meaningful elucidation. This book explains the steps that we should take to help us find this new way of success.

Many people suffer from burnout, stress and depression in these difficult times. Huffington offers some answers by encouraging readers to search for well-being, wisdom, wonder and be more giving.  She offers several suggestions for taking care of our health, such as slowing down, getting more sleep and letting go of our reliance on technology.  She supports her tips with evidence from lots of studies.

Huffington stresses the importance of mindfulness, and seeking wisdom.  She writes that wisdom is about finding connection and love, so we need to drop our relentless pursuit of success as society defines it if we want to seek it.  We need to cultivate gratitude and try to live in a 'state of grace'.

I have read a lot of these suggestions before. (It's the application that's difficult!) However, Huffington writes  beautifully,  includes lessons from her Greek background and family, and she also provides lists of helpful websites and books.  I read the wonderful Arianna Huffington's first book when I was at school, and I've always been a big fan of her writing, so I was very happy to obtain this free copy from Blogging for Books. This is a book that I'll definitely turn to often!

My opinion of this book is entirely my own



Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Mr Mac and Me by Esther Freud

Esther Freud has written a masterpiece!  This evocative, atmospheric novel tells a haunting and meaningful story, and it is filled with brilliant characterizations and beautiful descriptions of Suffolk landscapes.  It will also appeal to fans of the wonderful Scottish artist, the great Charles Rennie Mackintosh.

Set in the dark days of the First World War, the plot involves a young boy with an artistic bent who is mentored by the Sherlock Holmes-like Mackintosh and his charming wife.  Thomas has a rather violent father who wants him to study instead of pursuing his art, but Mackintosh encourages him.  In this coming-of-age story, Thomas falls for Betty, one of the 'herring girls'.

Everything comes together in this beautifully-written historical novel.


Return to London by Terence Jenkins

 (The Black Prince)
Did you know that there were two palaces in Croydon, or that Queen Elizabeth 1 stayed there many times, and swore at Archbishop Parker's wife? (She didn't approve of married archbishops).  Do you know who the Black Prince is?  If you read this entertaining series of historical vignettes, you will!

This is an enjoyable and informative set of articles about historical places and people with helpful photos.  Perfect for travellers, it serves as a background to many of the areas of London, such as Kennington Common.  The only problem is that there was sometimes too much information for me to absorb, but I am feeling stressed at the moment.   Perhaps, it could have done with a bit more editing.

Saturday, September 06, 2014

Deeper Water by Jessie Cole

This lyrically-written and exciting novel will keep you riveted to the very last page. It's lush description of the landscape, sympathetic characters and strange and evocative story impressed me greatly.

The tale involves Mema, a young and innocent girl and Hamish, who she saves from rising floods. Hamish is lost without his computer and phone and finds himself rather adrift in the remote and beautiful countryside near Byron Bay where Mema lives. Mema has difficulty coping with her growing feelings towards the older man in this coming-of-age novel.

Jessie Cole is certainly an Australian writer to watch.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

How To Ruin A Queen by Jonathan Beckman

Beckman tells a fascinating tale about the characters in Marie Antoinette's 'Necklace Affair' and it's ramifications for the monarchy in France. There is the Queen who is the victim of a scandalous plot, a poverty-stricken and vengeful girl with delusions of grandeur and the Cardinal who falls for the plot in a careless manner, even though he knows that the Queen hates him! The affair is complicated, but Beckman's narrative is clear, well-researched and written in a captivating way.

The setting- the lead-up to the Revolution is full of atmosphere and colour- and Beckman's describes the dog-eat-dog scenario in a grand style. This is not a dry history. It will capture your attension from beginning to end.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Red Dirt Duchess by Louise Reynolds (Penguin Destiny Romance)

(Outback by Gabrielle Delhey at Wikipedia)

Sparks fly when Charlie, the outgoing owner of an outback pub, and handsome aristocrat Jon meet. But are their differences too great?  Jon needs to marry a suitable aristocratic bride, for example, and have an heir - this is the role in life that he is running from. However, he soon finds himself attracted to Charlie's Australian honesty, good sense and bluntness. He also wants to discover why he feels a connection with Charlie's father's painting.

This is an emotional and surprisingly moving story with sympathetic characters and beautiful settings, ranging from the spectacular Australian outback landscape to a sumptuous English country house.  The love story involving two damaged young people who gain strength from each other is nicely developed with good dialogue.  The sub-plot of the mystery painting helps to keep the story intriguing.

There is a coincidence in the book that is a bit silly, but as it is well-written Louise Reynolds just manages to make it seem convincing.




Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Places: The Journey of My Days, My Lives by Thaao Penghlis

I've been a fan of handsome Australian actor Thaao Penghlis ever since I was quite young, so I couldn't resist the opportunity to read his autobiography at Net Galley, and I am so glad I did.  It's full of stories about famous people and his travels to places such as Egypt, and well-written.

Penglis begins with the account of how a former psychic predicted that he would travel to America and become an actor.  He didn't take much notice of this, but he jumped at the chance to go to the USA to the horror of his Greek parents, and the prediction was fulfilled, to his surprise.  Charming and suave,  Penglis began his career at a prestigious art gallery where he worked for a snobbish boss who treated him rather like a servant.  The boss was amazed when Jackie Kennedy insisted on dealing with Penglis!  While working for a fashion designer, Penglis met other famous people, such as Robert Redford and Paul Newman.

Soon he made it to Hollywood where he started his career in films and soapies, especially Days of Our Lives.  He tells tales about nasty directors, meeting Omar Sharif, and the dog-eat-dog world of the soapies. The worst part of starring in soapies seems to be having to die over and over again.

I enjoyed this part of the book more than the anecdotes about his travels.  Penglis is rather spiritual and 'New Agey', and some of this was a little bit over the top, I thought.  However, he's obviously a lovely man, and Australians can be proud of him.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Life at the Marmont The Inside Story of Hollywood's Legendary Hotel of the Stars -- CHATEAU MARMONT Raymond Sarlot and Fred E. Basten PENGUIN GROUP Penguin

I would love to stay at the Chateau Marmont, perhaps see the ghosts of some movie-stars, and experience the ultimate in luxury. Unfortunately, I won't be doing this in the near future, but reading about it was the next best thing!

This book gives you an inside look at the legendary history of the beautiful hotel, which was modelled on a French chateau.  It's filled with lots of interesting characters, such as the socialite who was a secret journalist and wrote gossip about the stars and the manager who didn't believe in doctors.  The authors tell several fascinating anecdotes about stars such as Jean Harlow, Clark Gable and Heddy Lamarr.  There's the story of Billy Wilder sleeping in the annexe next to a bathroom because he was so happy there, and lots of tales about secret affairs.

This is a must-read for anyone interested in Hollywood history!

Monday, August 04, 2014

Great War Literature

Today we commemorate the start of the Great War which began when Germany violated Belgium's neutrality, and Great Britain declared war. I would like to read more books about the war. Heavenali has an interesting list here: The Great War Theme Read for 2014. Edith's Miscellany also has a good post about Great War books: The Great War in Literature.

The Prime Minister's Secret Agent by Susan Elia MacNeal

The Maggie Hope series by Susan Elia MacNeal is getting better and better! The audacious heroine, exciting story, stunning scenery, thorough research and luminous writing makes The Prime Minister's Secret Agent a joy to read.  I also liked the touches of culture and the description of the language of flowers. MacNeal also has a bibliography for those interested in learning more about the historical background to her tale.

In this book, Maggie, now an instructor at the S.O.E. school at remote Arisaig in Scotland, suffers from the Black Dog and loneliness.  Even taking in a stray cat doesn't cure her.  When she becomes involved in a mystery involving her good friend whose life is in danger, however, she soon returns to her old self. Maggie has to work out why she saw sheep with strange markings on the island and why her friend is ill.

The second story in the book involves the lead-up to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour, whether Churchill knew and the failure of American intelligence.  This is just as well-written and interesting, although somewhat sympathetic to the Japanese.

If you are interested in riveting Second World War mysteries, this is a must-read.  I can't wait for the next one!

Sunday, August 03, 2014

Change Your Clothes, Change Your Life by George Brescia

George Brescia's book is wonderfully useful for anyone who feels fed up with their wardrobe and their life! He provides lots of helpful tips, such as buying lights for your wardrobe, and how to go through your cupboards and get rid of old clothes and shoes.  The trouble is that this takes time and effort, but he makes it as easy as possible.

I will just have to find some time to follow his guidelines step-by-step!


Friday, August 01, 2014

The Nesting Place by Myquillyn Smith

(Dressing table designed by Carl Bugatti for his own use in Paris in 1904)

This is the perfect book for people who want to decorate in an inexpensive and creative way.  It is also perfect for messy people, and those who feel that their lives are on hold, such as renters.  I really liked it, because it actually emphasizes the importance of being imperfect, and I constantly worry that my life is on hold.

Smith became very unhappy when she and her family had to move from a beautiful house to a small apartment.  She decided, as so many of us do, that she would decorate when she had a home that she liked. The sad story of Anna Nicole Smith changed her attitude, and she realized that she had a loving and happy family, and that her sons even liked fighting over where they'd sleep!  She started to see that 'every home has a silver lining' and make the best of it.

She includes lots of great decorating tips and pictures so that readers can gain ideas and follow her methods. (I especially liked the photo of the messy office!)  For example, Smith advises people to look for second-hand pieces that add beauty and have history.  She writes that even if she had all of the money in the world, she would still buy vintage or antique items. I absolutely agree.  I bought a small coffee table and an old dressing-table very cheaply at the markets, and I love them!

Her chapter on adding small touches that help a room look right is one of the best in the book.  She suggests concentrating on lamps, rugs and the natural light of the room.  Plants, candles and decorative pillows are some other thoughts.

I received this eBook from Book Look Bloggers, but I am definitely going to buy it and go through each room with it!

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Graven with Diamonds: the The Many Lives of Thomas Wyatt: Poet, Lover, Statesman, and Spy in the Court of Henry VIII

I love reading about the Tudors, but Thomas Wyatt's poetry is hard to understand and not all that good, anyway. Steerforth' s interpretation of it is speculative but well-researched. She has also thoroughly investigated Wyatt's relationship with Anne Boleyn, how he managed to survive King Henry's wrath and his career as a diplomat.

Unfortunately, I am afraid that I didn't finish this book, however. I found it rather heavy-going and a bit of a struggle. I will probably return to it later.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Spanish Dreaming. Only in Spain by Nellie Bennett

(Maya Belen from Wikipedia)

This is a must-read for anyone who  longs to leave a tedious life behind, and achieve their true ambitions.

A long red flowing gypsy skirt that cost $700.00 changed Nellie Bennett's life.  It brought home to her the dullness of her job as a shopgirl at a prestigious Sydney department store, and took her to a flamenco studio where she dreamed of learning to dance in Spain.  She had to overcome a lot of obstacles to get to Spain, including refusing to buy a luxury item, but she finally got to Seville.  Here she lived an idyllic life amongst the festivals and orange blossoms, fell for her handsome dancing master, and made a good friend.  The scrumptious Spanish food even led her to leave her vegan diet behind!

Vivid descriptions of Seville's celebrations, moonlit nights and streets filled with the scent of incense and orange blossoms make this book a delight.  Bennett even manages to make the tale of her struggles with learning flamenco dancing and the Spanish language captivating.

I just loved this book.  Even though I obtained a free eBook from Net Galley, I will definitely buy one!

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

When Lions Roar: The Churchills and The Kennedys by Thomas Maier

Thomas Maier relates the long and fascinating relationship between the Churchills and the Kennedys which began in the 1930s and continued almost until the present day in this lively and engaging book.  It also includes many other interesting characters, such as Pamela Harriman and Kay Halle. Many books about the Kennedys are quite dull, but this one never becomes boring.

These powerful families first met in the 1930s and shared strange dealings in alcohol companies.  Clementine, Winston's wife, thought that Rose Kennedy was one of the most refined and best-dressed women she'd met. Joe and Winston also formed a friendship, and Churchill's handsome and talented son Randolph stayed with the Kennedys in America. However, when Joe became ambassador to the Court of St. James, the friendship soon turned to acrimony and bitterness, because of Joe's defeatism and loud-mouthed opposition to the U.S. entering the war.

The families remained intertwined, and Thomas Maier covers the friendships between the younger generation, and Churchill's influence on Jack and Robert. Randolph got on well with Jack and Jackie, and he was even invited to write a biography of Jack. Kathleen Kennedy knew Pamela Harriman well. Kay Halle knew both families, and sometimes brought them together.

Maier provides an excellent account of Churchill's influence on Jack, who agreed with his decision to stand up to Hitler and read all of his books.  Kennedy's policies, wit and repartee were heavily influenced by Churchill, and his charm also reminded many of the great man.

This is a must-read for any Kennedy or Churchill fan. Remember too that Kennedy books are collectible, so it's a good idea to buy a copy!

Sunday, July 13, 2014

My Secret Life in Hut Six One woman's experiences at Bletchley Park by Mair Russell Jones

Mair, a young Welsh girl from a small village, wondered what she had got herself into! She felt privileged to be chosen to do important and secret work for the war effort, but she had landlords from hell, and she didn't understand her 'Enigma' machine or the reams of codes with which she had to cope. She was also a long way from her widowed father, her sister and her boyfriend.

This is a fascinating book about Bletchley Park and the Second World War. The real-life heroine was a clever and engaging young woman who studied at Mt Harmon in London during the lead-up to the war and ministered to the people in the devastatingly poor East End of London.  Here she saw some of the aftermath of one of Oswald Mosley's terrible riots and she came to understand some of the sufferings of the Jewish people.

She then decided to study German and history at Cardiff University, and fell in love with a young pacifist with fierce convictions.  Here she experienced terrifying bombing raids and the death of her best friend.  This brought the war home to her, so when she was offered the chance to do secret work for the Foreign Office, she leapt at it.

The main problem with this interesting book is that the story takes a long time to actually get to Bletchley Park, and not that much of it is set in Bletchley Park.  However,  I enjoyed reading about an unsung war heroine, and life in Great Britain during the war.  The writing was a little bit dry at times, but this book is definitely a 'keeper' for history or biography lovers.


Saturday, July 12, 2014

Secret Lives of the Tsars: Three Centuries of Autocracy, Debauchery, Betrayal, Murder, and Madness from Romanov Russia by Michael Farquhar

I found the beginning of this book a bit gruesome for my tastes. Most of Russia's Tsars were either terrifying, mad, drunk or promiscuous.sometimes they were all three! For example, Ivan the Terrible killed people at the drop of a hat; Peter the Great beheaded one of his own mistresses; and Catherine the Great thought that sleeping with young men would keep her young.

This book is a somewhat frivolous look at the lives of the Tsars until the war with Napoleons when it becomes more serious. Farquhar also writes about the terrible end of the Romanov dynasty well, although he is extremely hard on Empress Alexandra, appearing to blame her for bringing the Russian Empire down. He does, however, include Kerensky's quotes about the royal couple. Kerensky found them both charming and serious, and he reversed his bad opinion of them.

This is a useful introduction, but it's unsuitable for students at university.

Monday, July 07, 2014

A Triple Knot by Emma Campion

This fast-paced novel about the 'Fair Maid of Kent' kept me riveted until the last minute. Joan of Kent has many enemies, including the evil and ambitious Isabella and the mistress of the man she loves. 
I especially liked the intricate descriptions of the medieval atmosphere - you could almost feel Joan's dresses - and the moving development of the romance. However, I found the writing a bit modern at times.

Saturday, July 05, 2014

Kate's Escape From The Billable Hour by Petula Parker

Kate's ambition is to be a caring lawyer working for the downtrodden, but she works for the law firm from hell where nouns and adjectives are frowned upon, money is everything, and she has to wear beige. She finally gets fed up, and takes off for beautiful Barcelona to find her teenage love Diego. But is she happy?
This book was even funnier than Bridget Jones! Kate has one hilarious adventure after another in Barcelona where she accidentally advertises foot fungus treatment, gets caught by Diego in an embarrassing situation, and mistakes rats for puppies. This is a great holiday read or a perfect read to lighten your mood. I hope to see more books by Petula Parker soon!

Thursday, July 03, 2014

Walking in Sylvia Plath's Footsteps. My Salinger year by Joanna Rakoff

Walking in the footsteps of Sylvia Plath,  Joanna Rakoff starts work at a storied New York literary agency in a dimly-lit office lined with books of great American writers. Here she has to cope with a troubled boss and a typewriter, but this only adds to the old-world atmosphere. Imagine her surprise when she is told to answer letters to Jerry Salinger and talk to him on the phone. Rakoff sometimes answers the fan letters herself, using counselling skills that she didn't know she had.

As Rakoff copes with a nasty socialist boyfriend and her interesting publishing work, she matures and learns about the links between her old-school publishing world and her modern New York life. She also searches her soul to see if she can become a writer and a poet herself.

I just loved this book. It was like reading about a modern version of 'Jo' from Little Women as her namesake is thrown into the deep-end of a new career and struggles to find the Time to achieve her writing ambitions.



Saturday, June 28, 2014

Why Cleaning Has Meaning: Bringing Wellbeing Into Your Home by Linda Thomas

I am afraid that I didn't finish this book, however I will try again. It is extremely esoteric and on philosophical, and a bit difficult to read.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Lenin Lives Next Door: Marriage, Martinis and Mayhem in Moscow by Jennifer Erimeeva

After I got over my disappointment that 'HRH' didn't mean His Royal Highness and the author didn't know Prince Charles (!), I really enjoyed this book. Erimeeva was once in love with the idea of imperial Russia, but she never dreamed that she'd end up actually living in Russia during the last days of the Soviet Union. She tells amusing tales of being culled from a book club, battles with the Red and White Queens and strange expat balls. This is a must-read for anyone interested in real life in Russia and Russian history.

Two things did upset me a bit - there was no need for so much swearing and Erimeeva seemed to have a patronising attitude to religion.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Digital Branding. A Complete Step-by-Step Guide to Strategy, Tactics and Measureme by Daniel Rowles

This extremely useful book is filled with wise advice about adding value and authenticity to your brand and how to use social media.  Rowles provides examples of what worked for his company Target Internet, and he also gives examples of successful campaigns and failed campaigns. He shows why Pepsi's charity advertising campaign was a great idea that didn't succeed, because it lacked authenticity.

If you take the time to read this book and apply the excellent suggestions to your brand, you will be sure to see the benefits soon!

Friday, June 20, 2014

Irene: A Designer from the Golden Age of Hollywood: The MGM Years 1942-1949 by Frank Billecci & Lauranne B. Fisher

Extremely talented, Irene Lentz designed costumes for several Hollywood movies, including the all-white costumes of Lana Turner in The Postman Always Rings Twice, Judy Garland's exquisite dresses in Easter Parade and beautiful Greer Garson's costumes in Mrs Parkington. She won the prestigious Nieman Marcus award and she opened her own business.  Irene also played the piano well, was good to her staff, and made lots of friends in Hollywood.

Unfortunately, her first husband died when he was quite young, and Irene never got over it.  She started drinking.  Her second husband's affairs didn't help. Working for MGM was stressful, and they treated her very badly in the end.

This book is worth buying for the magnificent costume sketches alone.  However, I found the writing a bit dull.  There are interesting anecdotes about Katherine Hepburn's bitchiness, Ava Gardner's refusal to wear 19th century underclothes and several other stars.  Lucille Ball and Judy Garland are described lovingly.

An interesting website about Irene.  Here is my article about Irene. Greg LaVoi has launched a line inspired by Irene:

Saturday, June 14, 2014

The Playboy's Dark Secret by Madeline Ash

Rafi is tired of her strenuous life of ballet and her pushy mother. A struggling young mother herself, she escapes to a beautiful vineyard to pick grapes, taking her baby with her.  Here she meets Dean, a world-weary footballer, who came back to his farm because he was sick of his shallow world of money and women. Rafi is attracted to Dean in spite of his cynicism, but should she tell him about the baby? She also worries about the age difference.

I enjoyed this romance, but I found the staccato style of Madeline Ash a bit annoying at times. However, she wrote lyrically about the Australian landscape, and the main characters were likeable. It was easy to identify with their feelings.

The Playboy's Dark Secret by Madeline Ash.
Penguin Destiny Romance e-book  AUD 3.99

Friday, June 13, 2014

Ever Higher. How High Will You Climb by John C. Maxwell

A successful life and career all depends on a person's attitude, according to John C. Maxwell. In this inspiring and interesting book, he provides suggestions and lessons about how to cultivate the right attitude, how to keep spirits up when the going gets tough and the importance of faith and prayer.  This is a very religious book that reminded me of The Power of Positive Thinking, but I found it much more useful.

Maxwell provides plenty of examples of people who had the right attitude, including St Paul.  St Paul had a terrible background to overcome but he looked forward instead of back, and he even managed to be happy in prison! He wrote that he had taught himself to be content in any circumstances whether they were humble or prosperous. Maxwell also cites people such as Raleigh who wrote a book during his long time in prison and Beethoven who was almost totally deaf and 'burdened with sorrow when he produced his greatest works'.

This book also has advice about the usual setbacks that prevent people from reaching their potential or their goals.  These include the fear of failure, discouragement and giving up easily.  It's a great book to dip into when you encounter these problems.

I will buy a paperback soon, so that I can really study this book and learn from it.  It's one of the best self-help books that I've read!

This was a free e-book from BookLook Bloggers. My opinion of the book is entirely my own.

The Mad Herringtons by Jane Myers Perrine

The antics of Aphrodite's passionate parents embarrass her, and she unfortunately finds the rest of her family almost as bad.  Young sister Athena is always kissing men; Terpsichore runs a literary salon and is highly unconventional; and her brother has got into a scrape at Cambridge.  Aphrodite wants to marry a dull, sensible man to escape all this, and she also wants to escape the surprising attentions of the attractive Lord Warwick.

However, in spite of becoming engaged to Mr Horne, she finds that escape is not so easy.  When she travels to his country house to meet his ghastly mother, she discovers that Lord Warwick and her sisters are there too!  Her brother is pretending to be an Italian aristocrat!

This was a highly amusing Regency romp by Jane Myers Perrine with delightful main characters.  The only trouble was some of the modern language.  I doubt that a Regency heroine would have called a man 'gorgeous'!

Thursday, June 12, 2014

London's Strangest Tales: The Royal Palaces by Iain Spragg

(Hampton Court, Wikimedia Commons)

This is an enjoyable, light-hearted and witty collection of stories about the royal palaces. Read about Cardinal Wolsey's fear of spiders at Hampton Court, King Charles I's betrayal by his dog and the first escapee from the Tower of London.  This is a great book to while away the time, especially for royalty lovers!

I recommend this if you want to learn more about English history and royalty in an easy way, or as a book to read on your travels in 'the Old Country'.

Sunday, June 08, 2014

Northern Lights Trilogy by Lisa Bergren


A flirtatious runaway, an ambitious woman who wants to travel with her sea-captain husband, and a pirate disguised as an English gentleman. These are just some of the interesting characters in this enjoyable and adventure-filled trilogy about Norwegians who migrate to America in the Victorian era.  It is easy to feel that you are becoming friends with most of the people in these books as you follow their journeys towards love and faith. Religion plays an important part in the novels which may annoy people who just want to read a historical novel, but I didn’t think that this was overdone, and it added to my enjoyment of the book.

Lisa T. Bergren's books certainly involve a wide sweep of characters and settings.  There are exotic settings, such as Hawaii and Japan, and pioneering tales about the difficult life in the Wild West. Some real historical characters such as the Emperor of Japan are mentioned, and I also liked this. Bergen is especially good at creating atmosphere.

Her novels do have a few flaws, however.  The characters sometimes used extremely modern expressions that clashed with the historic setting.  I also found her writing a bit amateurish and much too wordy, on occasion.

However, it was a relaxing trilogy to read, and I recommend it if you like Christian historical novels.


Friday, June 06, 2014

City of Jasmine by Deanna Raybourn

(Midan, Damascus, 1929)
This is another fast-paced romp from the wonderful Deanna Raybourn filled with adventure, romance and excitement.  The story involves brave and sassy Evie, an aviator, who sets off on a journey to Syria when she discovers that her husband may still be alive. Here, she joins an archaeological dig, but nothing is as it seems. Evie has to escape the clutches of kidnappers, help her husband on his quest, and learn how to be a better judge of people.  But can she deal with her own heart? That will be the most difficult part of Evie's journey.

It was hard to put this book down, because I wanted to see how Evie would get out of her many incredible situations, and I was interested in the development of the romance. Cleverly written and engaging from beginning to end, this is well-worth reading if you like historical romances and adventures.  I especially enjoyed the historical detail about Raymond of Toulouse, ancient relics, and Syria.

An interview with Deanna Raybourn

Monday, June 02, 2014

Why be Catholic. Ten Answers to a Very Important Question by Patrick Madrid

This is a convincing, interesting and well-written book that will inspire Catholics, gain converts and bring back some who have left the flock. Madrid compares the Catholic church to a hospital, and explains how God's grace conveyed by the Sacraments and living by the rules of the church heals the soul.  He also explains why Christ built his church on the Papacy, the Communion of Saints, and the Doctrine of Transubstantiation.

I still feel in-between Catholic and Anglican, so I found the Papal infallibility a bit difficult to deal with. However, I actually like the Catholic reverence for Mary - the usual problem for those who want to convert or convert.  I enjoyed his chapter on this.  I also especially liked his chapter on the saints and how many saints were great sinners.  He mentioned some saints who I certainly want to research, for example, Pelagia, who was once a promiscuous actress!

This is recommended for Catholics and anyone interested in becoming Catholic.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

A Place of Her Own by Deborah O'Brien

This is another captivating story from this acclaimed author, and I found it relaxing to read after a gruesome crime thriller, although there is an unexpected and worrying scene. The tale, set in delightful Millbrooke, involves Angie, a 50-something widow, who has found a new life. She isn't looking for romance at all, so why does she suddenly start having feelings for good friend, Richard? Who is the woman who arrives in the town to look for him?
There are a lot of twists and turns and misunderstandings in this novel.

I was pleased to see the ghosts of old characters from O'Brien's historical novels still have some life in this novel. For example, Amy and her husband's love story is used in a skilful way. The stor of their son is also told here.

If you are looking for a well-written Australian romance set in the country, I highly recommend this book.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

St Kilda Blues by Geoffrey McGeachin

(St Kilda Stardust Lounge and Palais de Dance on fire in 1968)

When troubled cop Charlie Berlin investigates serial murders of young girls in St Kilda, Melbourne, he enters a world of seedy discos and photo labs.  He also has to deal with corrupt police, a brash young sidekick and a rebellious son.  He is also plagued by memories of flying Lancaster bombers during the Second World War and his time as a POW. Unfortunately, his investigation makes these memories worse, because one of the girl's father is a German who seems familiar.

Luckily, Berlin has a beautiful and helpful wife who is a great comfort to him.  She also assists him with witnesses, because they think that she is 'groovy'.

McGeachin builds the tension skilfully, so that the identity of the murderer is a shock.  He also paints the atmosphere of 1960s St Kilda with its hippies, milk bars and dilapidated old houses so that it rings true.  His writing is easy to read.

However, I'm afraid that this was just too gruesome for me, and I prefer 'cosy' mysteries.  I prefer Penguin's swish Phryne Fisher series, also set in Melbourne.

Penguin Books

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

A Spy in the Archives by Sheila Fitzpatrick

Danilov Monastery, Moscow (Public Domain Pictures)

I love to read exciting spy novels, so I was hoping that this would be a real-life account of adventures in the Soviet Union.  Some of this autobiography was very interesting, but some of it got quite dull, unfortunately.Fitzpatrick hated Oxford, surprisingly, and she wanted to be one of the first to study Soviet history, so she jumped at the chance to go to Moscow and do research.

She didn't like Moscow at first.  However, she grew to like wandering around and seeing beautiful unexpected sights, such as tiny Russian Orthodox churches, in spite of the discomforts.  She also made friends with members of the Lunarcharsky family who related gossip and fascinating tales.  Fending off seductions by spies added to the excitement.

However, Fitzpatrick does write about her battles with the archives and the bureaucracy a lot.  This was dull, so it's best to skim it.  Anyone interested in Soviet history will probably enjoy this book.

Angels and Saints: A Biblical Guide to Friendship with God's Holy Ones by Scott Hahn

Meet St Augustine who turned to heresy, took a mistress and made her pregnant and rebelled for years before becoming a true Christian.  Meet St Thomas Aquinas who developed the theory of natural law, and St Jerome who also led an interesting life.  These are just some of the saints whose stories are told in this deeply spiritual and helpful book.  One of the most important people who you will meet is the Lady Mary, Jesus's mother, who is the mother of us all.

Scott Hahn shows us what 'the communion of saints' really means, and how we can be inspired by the saints and angels and ask them to help us in our prayers.  I did find the beginning of this book a bit dull, but I will definitely buy it and read it when I need inspiration and strength.  (Unfortunately, that is pretty often!)

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Ballerina by Edward Stewart

(Public Domain Pictures)

Most ballet lovers will enjoy this gritty and very American story about young girls struggling to become successful in a fierce and cutthroat world.  The tale involves Anna, a pushy ballet mother, Stephanie, her daughter, and Chrissy, Steph's friend. Anna ruined her own career, so she is determined to help Steph get ahead and to protect her interests, no matter what it costs.  Steph is supremely talented, but she has lots of setbacks on her path.  Chris lacks confidence and hasn't got Stephanie's talent. Her tendency to depression doesn't help her. There's also the ubiquitous handsome Russian who all the girls fancy.

This book reminded me of the film Turning Point with its edgy and fast-moving plot.  It's very different from Rumer Godden's much gentler ballet novels.  They are better written, but I'm interested in reading more novels by Stewart.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

7 Secrets of Happiness. A Reluctant Optimist's Journey by Gyles Brandreth

  Gyles Brandreth argues that this is the only book on happiness that you will ever need, and I think that he's probably right! This is a great book, and I am certainly going to buy it and have another look at the seven secrets when I feel depressed.  This book has been criticised as being simplistic and full of platitudes. However, they may seem simple, but I can assure you that they're difficult to apply!

He includes lots of interesting anecdotes and tips from royals and celebrities.  I am going to find Prince Phillip's tip especially useful, because of my tendency to be self-absorbed.  He said that: "No one's interested in you!" Queen Margrethe's advice about concentrating entirely on the moment is also helpful.

I do wish that 7 Secrets was longer, because I was just so impressed by the quality of Brandreth's writing.  I want to read his books about royalty and politics now!

Wednesday, May 07, 2014

Dark Moon by Leisl Leighton

I usually like Penguin Destiny Romances, but I don't read much science-fiction or fantasy, so I found it difficult to get into this one.  It involved Wiccan charms and magic, and the story was confusing and complicated.

The Angry Years: The Rise and Fall of the Angry Young Men by Colin Wilson

I went through a phrase in my teenage years in which I read all of the novels of John Braine, so I was interested in reading this book.  However, I didn't finish it, because it became a bit too dull and academic.  If you are very interested in this group of writers, you might enjoy it.

Saturday, May 03, 2014

A Spy Among Friends: Kim Philby and the Great Betrayal by Ben Macintyre

Kim Philby

This riveting account of skullduggery, spying and patriotism is a must-read.  Ben Macintyre's book includes a brilliant analysis of Philby's treacherous character, his attraction to the inner ring, and his incredible English charm and urbanity.  Philby had all of the famous qualities of an English gentleman and came from the right sort of background for admission to the prestigious world of the British intelligence service.  This enabled him to fool everyone, including all of his colleagues and his last two wives.  Even the patriotic and admirable Nicholas Elliott was deceived by Philby's magic spell, to the extent of believing his story when he was practically proven to be 'the third man'.

It's an amazing tale because there were so many signs that Philby was a traitor.  These include his attraction to Communism at Cambridge, his friendships with Communists, and his radical first wife.  These were never extensively investigated, enabling Philby to be responsible for the deaths of hundreds of people, including most of the anti-Nazi Catholic underground of Germany and Albanian anti-Communists.  He was even the head of the anti-Soviet division of the Secret Service at one stage!

Macintyre also studies Elliott's character brilliantly, and exactly why he let himself be taken in by Philby. Elliott was almost Philby's mirror-image - they both had privileged backgrounds and they were both privately educated.  They were good friends and socialised with the same people.  Elliott was reluctant to believe the truth about Philby because of his friendship with him and Philby's background.  However, he was also reluctant to believe it because he didn't think that the case against Philby had been proven.

Macintyre also investigates the effect that these traitors had on the relationship between the British and the American intelligence services.  The American intelligence service was understandably reluctant to trust British spies after Philby was practically proved to be guilty, but the British didn't act on the evidence.

I am pleased that Macintyre  tells the unpalatable truth about Philby and his circle.  I thought that the film Another Country and the BBC series about these spies both tended to glorify them.  In fact, the series was almost blatant, and this made me extremely angry.

I also think that the lecture by C.S. Lewis should be compulsory reading for school children.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Falling into Place by Hattie Kauffman

Hattie Kauffman has just won a well-deserved award from the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association for best new author for this inspiring and interesting book.  It is a tale of overcoming great adversity to become the first Native American to file a report on a national news network.  Falling into Place also describes her journey towards becoming a Christian.

Kauffman combines the stories of a traumatic divorce and a deprived childhood masterfully in the book.  She had an even worse time than Misty Copeland.  Kauffman was forced to endure poverty, drunken parents and lack of education.  Luckily, she had some good times along the way - the children loved going to their grandparent's country camp, and Kauffman was also helped by her beloved Aunt Teddy, a Christian missionary.

Her grandparents and her aunt introduced her to Christianity, but she never really turned to it until the divorce led her to question her beliefs and her inner strength.  I especially liked this part of the book, because the story of her childhood is extremely harrowing.

This is highly-recommended, and it may be very helpful if you're going through difficult times.

Fans of Hattie Kauffman

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Irresistible Enemy by Mary Costello

You can almost feel the green grass under your feet and breathe the fresh country air when you read this captivating romance about a wildlife lover and a smooth developer.  This is my favourite Penguin Destiny romance so far!

Cassie, the adorable heroine, sells beautiful Polish pottery and runs a wildlife sanctuary, but she finds life a struggle because she lacks money.  She also has trouble getting over being jilted at the altar.  However, she becomes attracted to a handsome and rather swish man after a chance meeting.  She is horrified to learn that Hart Huntingdon is in charge of a new development that will make her pleasant country village into a suburban corridor of Melbourne. How can she overcome her fascination with this man who is out to ruin her way of life?

The characters are well-rounded in this book and the love story is surprisingly moving.  I thought that Hart was a silly name for a hero, but I think that the author had her reasons for it.  I was sorry to finish Irresistible Enemy.