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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.