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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.