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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.