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Showing posts from 2015

Born to Rule by Paddy Manning

Paddy Manning certainly doesn't do our PM any favours in this book.  Apparently, Malcolm Turnbull is brilliant, but he can also be arrogant and bad-tempered and lack judgement.  There is also a lot of fuss about an ex-girlfriend's cat which was killed and left on her doorstep.  Known to be an animal-lover, Turnbull actually sued for defamation twice because he was accused of killing the cat in revenge for a broken heart.  I don't think that anyone who loves animals would kill a cat! However, there are still suspicions about the poor cat, apparently.

This is a rather dry book but Manning provides all the details about Turnbull's great success in the Spycatcher case, his intricate business dealings, his personal life, and his Republicanism.  He also discusses Turnbull's fraught relations with Tony Abbott. The most interesting part of the book, I thought, was Turnbull's rather complicated relationship with his academic mother who left his father when Malcolm was…

The Witch of Lime Street by David Jaher

Harry Houdini with his mother and his wife. (Wikipedia)

Beautiful, cultured and refined, Mina Crandon held séances that were the talk of Boston.  Her husband, a doctor, appeared to have complete faith in her powers.  She conjured up the spirit of her dead brother Walter who loved to have fun.  He whispered through a spirit trumpet and teased spectators.  Mysterious objects also appeared, such as tambourines illuminated by spirit lights and psychic dogs barking.  Nobody was able to discover whether her powers were real and she wasn’t corrupt – she didn’t take money for her popular séances.  Nicknamed the ‘Witch of Lime Street’, the only person that she was afraid of was the fantastic escape artist, Houdini.
Houdini hated ‘psychics’ and ‘outed’ several of them, including George Renner in Cleveland and Mrs Cook in Harlem. He wore a disguise of white whiskers and tousled hair, holding a hand raised to his ear whenever the mediums spoke.  Renner crawled around at his séances and smeared t…

Mary, Queen of Scots by John Hale

I thought that this was a biography. The writing seemed quite vivid, but I just don't want to read another novel about Mary at the moment. The ones by Reay Tannahill and Jean Plaidy were so good.

This was a free book from Net Galley in exchange for an honest review.

Avenue of Spies. A True Story of Terror, Espionage, and one American Family’s Heroic Resistance in Nazi-Occupied Paris by Alex Kershaw

The French Army Returns to France, Wikipedia.

When Toquette Jackson was asked to join the French Resistance she didn’t hesitate for one second even though she lived on the Avenue Foch, surrounded by buildings taken over by high-ranking Nazis, including the Gestapo. She knew that her American husband Sumner Jackson, the head of the American Hospital in Paris, was already in danger because he helped Allied prisoners escape. He even falsified records so that recovered prisoners were listed as deceased. He did all this in spite of the German headquarters being opposite the main entrance gate. Phillip, their son, was also anxious to help the Resistance and did as much as he could but he was a schoolboy so it was difficult for him. However, he also showed great bravery by  infiltrating a German submarine base at Saint-Nazaire to photograph U-boat pens and managing to give the photos to the Allies.
This true story about an amazingly courageous family who went beyond the call of duty to fight t…

Dandelions by Katrina McKelvey and Kirrili Lonergan

Petr Kratochvil, Dandelion, Public Domain Pictures

This charming book with its beautiful pictures would make a delightful present for a small child.  Sarah is upset when her father mows the dandelions because she likes blowing the puff-balls.  Can he find her more dandelions?

I love dandelions too, so I might buy this for my great-niece.  Oops, I almost wrote niece!

I found some notes to accompany the story.

This was a free ebook from Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review.

Treading Water by Angie Oakley

I found it difficult to put down this haunting novel with its memorable characters.I felt that the characters were so real that they seemed like friends! I wanted to read Treading Water all in one go because the story was just so intriguing, but I couldn’t do that, unfortunately.However, I wondered what was happening in the book while I did other things!
The book begins when Lucy sees someone jump from a Brisbane bridge and finds out that it is someone who she once met.She then starts thinking about her troubled adolescence.A privileged child, Lucy’s life changed completely when her father abandoned the family. Her intrepid mother Sandy then had to struggle to keep them on their feet.Lucy’s life begins to intersect with Paul’s family because she becomes friendly with his cousin Beth.
Lucy has to deal with several issues, including her father’s new life and bad treatment of her mother, her unhappiness at school and her sister, who is hard to like.She spends her life ‘treading water’ and …

Elizabeth 1 Renaissance Prince by Lisa Hilton

This book is a comprehensive study of the great Queen which analyses why she regarded herself as a 'prince,' her relationships with men, including Phillip 11 and Robert Dudley, her dealings with her rival Mary, Queen of Scots, and even her contribution to culture.also scrutinises her attitude to religion and the way most of Europe regarded her reign – they apparently thought of it as repressive and harsh. Although Elizabeth didn’t want to ‘make windows into people’s souls,’ she eventually felt forced to persecute the Catholics because of their threat to her kingdom by the fanatical members of that denomination. (This resonates today because of fanatical Islam). It is a bit heavy at times, but always interesting and well-written.
As I am a bit frivolous, I especially liked Lisa Hilton's vibrant descriptions of the festivals and pageants and the Queen’s makeup and scent.

I received this free ebook from Net Galley in return for an honest review.

The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George

I am afraid that I have given this up at the moment.  The plot about a bookshop owner who goes on a journey to find out the truth about his lost love is based on a good idea, but it is just too kitsch and rambling for me.  I may try it again later.

The Light of Hidden Flowers by Jennifer Handford

Missy is stuck.  Clever and introverted, she still works for her father's financial firm at thirty-five and she has never travelled to Europe even though she learns Italian while she drives and loves cooking Italian food.  She is also single and often thinks of Joe, her first boyfriend.

When Missy's beloved father suffers memory loss in the middle of a seminar, he looks to her for help, but she doesn't speak.  However, she might be forced to 'step up'. When old boyfriend Joe contacts her on Facebook, she has a new dilemma...

I loved this well-written, luminous novel and found Missy and Joe delightful characters. I also found the description of Missy's work true-to-life and interesting.  Joe's help for veterans and Missy's father's disease are sensitively dealt with and add a rather sombre note to the story.

I must read Jennifer Handford's other novels!

Mrs Roosevelt's Confidante by Susan Ellia MacNeil

Intrepid Maggie works for Mrs Roosevelt in this series although she is travelling with Churchill on his visit to the US. When Maggie discovers that Blanche, Mrs Roosevelt's former secretary has been mudered, she attempts to solve it and finds herself in a lot of danger. Does the murder ha e anything to do with Mrs R's interest in a black man, Wendell, being sentenced to death?
Maggie's love life is also a dilemma. When she meets an old college friend, she starts thinking that her boyfriend is a bit dull, so she may have to make a choice...
I preferred the Maggie Hope books set in Europe, but this is written in Susan Ellia MacNeal's usual masterful style and she is such an engaging and lovely character that I am already looking forward to the next book!

The Bronte Plot by Katherine Reay

Lucy has a wonderful job in an antique store surrounded by sumptuous fabrics and furniture, and she especially loves looking after the books.  However, there is much unhappiness in her life because her father is a con-man and he even spent time in jail.  Although he sends her a different and meaningful book each year, she never sees him.
When Lucy meets James, she realises that she is acting like her father in some ways.  Now she has to worry about whether her dishonesty is catching up with her, and if she can escapee the family’s past.  Her only ally is James’s charming grandmother…
This is a booklover’s book with its literary allusions and references.  One character even has a degree in English Literature! There are even literary tours included.  But it’s the lovely characters, beautiful writing and clever plotting that really makes The Bronte Plot a delight to read, and even better than Katherine Reay’s first novel, Dear Mr Knightley.

On Stalin's Team The Years of Living Dangerously in Soviet Politics Sheila Fitzpatrick

Molotov when he was young (Wikipedia)

I liked Sheila Fitzpatrick's autobiography, but I didn't finish this book because I just found it a bit too confusing to follow all the purges, machinations and intrigues. It reminded me of why I much prefer Imperial Russian history!  However, it does emphasize what an important role Stalin's team played in the era, and it would be very useful for students of Russian history.

I received this free ebook from MUP via Net Galley in return for an honest review.

Modern Love The lives of John and Sunday Reed Lesley Harding and Kendrah Morgan

Portrait of Sunday Reed by Moya Dyring, Wikipedia

Imagine that you're a young artist and you've been invited to Heide. Imagine that you are charmed by Sunday, you enjoy one of her delicious lunches, and you discuss art with John and Sunday while you walk in the flower-filled gardens.  Imagine that they want you to stay and that they want to help you promote your art. What could be better?

Many artists thought that the art sanctuary that John and Sunday established at Heide was idyllic. One described it as 'heaven,' but another thought that it was too contrived.   John and Sunday patronised many Australian artists but their generosity was abused by several, notably Sydney Nolan.

This book provides a brilliant analysis of John and Sunday's strange but enduring Bohemian marriage ,their anguished relationship with Nolan and other great tragedies in their lives, such as the early deaths of many of their friends.  Lest some think that this book is too sad, however, John …

Amberwell by D.E. Stevenson

Nell's mother is not pleased with her.  Nell and Anne don't enjoy going to parties with her and they don't bring young people to the house.  They are not companionable.  Even worse, they are not attracting young men! This is an impossible situation for Mrs Ayrton.

Nell finds her mother intimidating, but when war comes to the beautiful Scottish house of Amberwell, she has to cope by herself and discover her own identity.  Her sister and her step-brothers have gone and her mother is now elderly.  The house is falling into disrepair and tragedy awaits...

Vintage charm, likeable characters, a wartime love story, and a grand old house.  What could be better?  I am a big fan of D.E. Stevenson's gentle, old-world novels that take one into a different era. This was a little rambling at first because it describes the children of the family, but once Nell grows up and the war arrives the novel becomes much more interesting.

My challenge is now to read all of D.E. Stevenson's…

Our Man in Charleston Britain's Secret Agent in the Civil War South by Christopher Dickey

The ruins of Mills House and nearby buildings. A shell-damaged carriage and the remains of a brick chimney are in the foreground, 1865 (Wikipedia)

Robert Bunch, the British Consul in Charleston, South Carolina had to walk a thin line.  He hated slavery and saw its terrible effects at first hand, but he often had to dissemble or charm the businessmen and plantation owners who strongly advocated it.  Many of them actually wanted to revive the slave trade from Africa.He needed a 'more delicate touch, more savoir faire,' and ''more social awareness' to achieve Her Majesty's ends in the excitable South than the more restrained North. It's a wonder that his story hasn't been told before, because he played such an important role in reporting events to the British government.

Bunch warned that the situation between the North and the South was likely to lead to war and he had to tread even more carefully when many states seceded and wanted recognition from Great…

Footprints in the Desert by Maha Akhtar

I enjoyed this novel by beautiful Maha Akhtar, but it was a bit like a Boy's Own Adventure story and it had a lot of coincidences.  Also,  I found the abundance of characters a bit confusing and the constant description of their heights annoyed me.  However, the likable hero, exotic setting and interesting story made up for these faults to a big extent.

Salah, a reluctant spy for the Arab Revolution, gets into several dangerous situations, such as helping a prisoner to escape and evading his Turkish enemies by finding secret tunnels.  He meets the intriguing Thomas Lawrence who is assisting Prince Faisal during the course of his travels, and starts to wonder whether the rumours about the English are right.  He also has to deal with his feelings for his friend's widow.

I would like to read Maha Akhtar's other books, but they're not translated into English, unfortunately.

I received this ebook from Open Road Integrated Media via Net Galley in exchange of an honest review…

Who Was The Real Father Brown?

(This is an article rather than a blog post, for a change!)

Who Was The Real Father Brown?
Millions of viewers across the world like to watch the new BBC series, “Father Brown,” based on G.K. Chesterton’s novels.  The wise, unassuming clerical detective remains popular. People in Birmingham in the UK even complained that the series was not shown at prime time! Several viewers also purchased the fictional stories because of the series.
Although there have been several priest and nun detectives since Father Brown, Chesterton is credited as being the first to invent this type of character.  It is amazing that he was not even a Roman Catholic when he began the famous tales. How did he think of such an unusual idea?
Father John O’Connor, an Irish priest and a good friend of the philosophical and intellectual Chesterton inspired the character of Father Brown. Father O’Connor’s intelligence and knowledge of the dark side of life learned in the Confessional showed him that ‘innocent’ priests …

An Improbable Friendship by Anthony David

Ruth Dayan working for Maskit, an organisation that she founded to help poor Jewish and Arab women earn money by making beautiful garments.

Did you know that the former wife of the Israeli general Moshe Dayan and the mother-in-law of Yasser Arrafat, Raymonda Tawill are friends? No?  I didn't either, so this book was a surprise.

Although harrowing, this tale of a strange friendship between these two strong peace activists on opposite sides is hard to put down. Vivid and evocative, it tells the story of how Ruth, a girl brought up in a genteel manner, ended up married to a fierce general whose leadership won the Six-Day War, and Raymonda had to face terrible hardships caused by the loss of her homeland and the conflict, but managed to become friends with Israelis anyway. Even though the two women sometimes argue, their work for women and peace brought them together.

I especially liked the story of Yael, Dayan's rather Bohemian writer daughter, and how her books influenced Raymo…

The Huntress of Thornbeck Forest. A Medieval Fairy Tale by Melanie Dickerson

I was charmed by this fairy tale like novel set in medieval Germany with it's story of good versus evil and it's strong Christian basis. The atmosphere is exactly right and the love story is believable and sweet. Sometimes the language was too modern, however. I think that the term 'reaching out' was used at one stage!
The story concerns Odette who secretly poaches at night so that she can provide the poor children in the village with meat. When she falls in love with the gamekeeper for the Margrave, young Jorgen, she is in big trouble! Another problem is that her only relative, her uncle, wants her to marry a wealthy man. She owes much to her uncle who has acted as her guardian since the death of her parents, and Marriage to this man is also tempting,  because he is willing to help her look after the children. 
Although the tale involves good and evil, the characters are well-rounded and their motives are understandable. Even the main characters, although very appealing,…

My First Time In Hollywood Stories from the Pioneers, Dreamers and Misfits Who Made the Movies Edited and Annotated by Cari Beauchamp

(The intersection of Hollywood Boulevard and Highland in 1907)

Cecil DeMille shared his small wooden house with a wolf and young would-be stars lived in fear of dangerous rattlesnakes roaming over the primitive sets.  This book about the early days of Hollywood by the historian Cari Beauchamp makes it sound like the wild, wild West.  Full of exciting anecdotes, scandals and fascinating stories of  the stars, this is a must-read for avid movie fans.

I loved it! I also liked looking at the images. The only problem is that many of the books from which the extracts are taken are out-of-print, and several of them are extremely expensive.  It's a big problem because you will certainly want to read more about the history of Hollywood after reading this book.

Winston Churchill Reporting Adventures of a Young War Correspondent Simon Read

Simon Read thinks that Churchill's most formative years were those that he spent as a young war correspondent. His experience of the horrors of war prepared him for his career as a politician, especially when he was Prime Minister during the Second World War, and his mastery of the English language made his speeches inspirational  Read's stirring account shows how these years forged Churchill's character.  I am sure that the great man himself would be proud of this book!

Churchill was certainly a sucker for punishment.  He trudged through tropical jungle in Cuba, fought in terrific heat in the Sudan against a fanatical enemy and made a dramatic escape from his POW camp in the Boer War.  As well as this, he wrote acclaimed articles and books.  By the age of twenty-five, he had been in four military campaigns and published three best-selling works of non-fiction and a novel! He'd made his name so that he could begin his political career.

Churchill once wrote that: 'C…

The Storm Leopards by Holly Webb

Snow Leopard Conservancy/Jammu & Kashmir Wildlife Protection Department, Snow Leopard at Hemis National Park, India, Wikipedia.

Isabelle feels lonely at her new home and school, but the sight of a beautiful leopard with 'glowing green-gold eyes' at the zoo gives her a new interest.  She buys a little figure of a snow leopard at the shop and discovers that they are endangered creatures. The figure was made by a charity in Mongolia that raises money to protect the snow leopards from hunters.

Soon afterwards, Isabelle suddenly finds herself in a strange place. She is in a beautiful snowy mountainous area of Mongolia where she has to get used to living in a tent and eating different foods Here she makes friends with Odval and a snow leopard with cute cubs.  The problem is that these leopards are being hunted by Odval's brothers because they think that the animals have been eating the family's sheep.  Isabelle and Odval share many adventures as they try to protect the l…

Suddenly Mrs Darcy

Suddenly Mrs Darcy by Jenetta James
An enjoyable and interesting twist on PrideandPrejudice, SuddenlyMrsDarcy will keep you reading late into the night. Written in a charming nineteenth-century style, this new story is told from Elizabeth's point of view. Although it may seem a little unbelievable at first, Elizabeth's lively character and the excellent writing soon makes it convincing.
In this novel, Elizabeth is caught in what looks like a compromising position with Mr Darcy. She quickly finds herself married and thrown into the deep end as the new mistress of Pemberley. However, Dark secrets seem to abound. Who is the strange woman Darcy visits, for example? Why doesn't he like Wickham? His condescending attitude to her family also annoys Elizabeth.
The love stor between the characters is well-developed and involving. James doesn't change the essential characters of Lizzy and Darcy, which I liked.
Most Jane Austen fans will appreciate this take on PrideandPrejudice.

A Special Relationship by Anthony Slide

This book by Anthony Slide about Americans  involved in the film industry who went to England is rather academic and dull. It is mainly useful for film-buffs and those who want to look up information.
I did enjoy a few anecdotes. For example, Anna Lee, who hated the IRA and didn't like the Irish much, used to look after Daniel Day-Lewis when he was young. 'If he'd known what he become, I would have drowned him,' she said!
This book is full of beautiful photos, however. It is worth buying for those alone.

I received this free ebook from Net Galley in exchange for an honest review.

Memories of the Mansion The Story of Georgia's Governor's Mansion by Sandra D. Deal, Jennifer W. Dickey, and Catherine M. Lewis University of Georgia Press

I enjoyed reading about the history of this stunning mansion with its exquisite furniture and gardens, and looking at the beautiful pictures in the book. It's amazing to think that the original governor of the colony lived in a tent! I hope to visit one day!
I received this ebook from University of Georgia Press via Net Galley in exchange for an honest review.

Mayhem in Margeaux by Jean-Pierre Aleux and Noel Balen

Andrew McMillan, Vineyard Fields France,

In this charming wine mystery Benjamin investigates the death of a young chateaux manager and corruption in the wine industry. The setting moves from Bordeaux to the stunning French Riviera as Benjamin and his offside delve into the situation with the help of a rather terse police inspector. This is great fun with it's likeable, elegant characters and its descriptions of their luxurious way of life and the beautiful French countryside. The technical aspects of the types of wine and winemaking are also interesting.

If you like light, cozy mysteries, I highly recommend this one. I look forward to catching up on the rest of the series from the beginning.

I received this free ebook from Le French Book via Net Galley in exchange for an honest review.

The Race for Paris by Meg Waite Clayton

This is a poignant novel based on the lives of women reporters in the Second World War.  It concerns the lives of beautiful, upper-class Liv, a photojournalist, journalist Jane, and a male photographer Fletcher, as they race to report on the Allied liberation of Paris.  Fletcher helps Liv and Jane who have gone AWOL because this is the only way that they will be able to do their work.

It's slow-moving, but richly-textured with well-rounded and likeable characters and a moving love story.  However,  its the vivid descriptions of the war that really lift this book above the ordinary, such as the Scribe Hotel, the press headquarters, which was taken over by journalists - even the loos had been taken over for film developing.  Also, the account of the Dutch living in caves in a small town was quite chilling.

I am certainly interested in reading more novels by Meg Waite Clayton.

I received this free ebook from Edelweiss in return for an honest review.

Harem The World Behind the Veil by Alev Lytle Croutier

Croutier describes the sumptuous but languid life of captives in the harem in this book.  There are sections about the delicious food, the gorgeous clothes, and the grand interior decorations.  The rituals of weddings and other ceremonies are vividly detailed, as well.  Croutier brings the book to life with anecdotes from her own life and historical accounts and letters.

I liked the tales of the Western sultanas the best, including Roxelana and Aimee de Rivery.  These women captured the hearts of the sultans and managed to become extremely powerful.  Roxelana even managed to marry her sultan, which was highly unusual!

This book made me interested in Croutier's novels which also sound intriguing.

I received this free ebook from Abbeville Press via Net Galley in return for an honest review.

Prince Rupert by Charles Spencer

Cheryl Hingley, Rupert of the Rhine, Wikipedia

Charles Spencer has written an eloquent biography of this dashing and handsome prince that will go a long way towards restoring his reputation, maligned by his Puritan enemies.  This fast-paced account of Prince Rupert's life is an excellent analysis of his passionate and fiery character, and it also describes the era vividly and clearly.  I especially liked the many historical letters which were included in the book.

Rupert, an excellent and fearless soldier, led his men in several victories during the English Civil War, but his uncle, Charles 1 was easily persuaded by the Prince's enemies and his wife to disregard his opinions about the war, leading to bad strategic mistakes. The King was even led to believe that Rupert was guilty of treason at one stage! Nevertheless, they shared a special relationship, and I found Spencer's tale of the love between this uncle and nephew very moving.
Anyone who is interested in royal histo…

Maverick Mountaineer by Robert Wainwright

It's surprising to learn that steely-eyed actor Peter Finch's father (or step-father) was just as interesting as he was! Maverick Mountaineer by Robert Wainwright tells the fascinating story of George Ingle Finch, a scientist and mountaineer.  Even people who are not at all interested in climbing, are likely to enjoy this tale of adventure and heartbreak set in colonial Australia, civilised Europe and the then mysterious Himalayas.  (I even liked Wainwright's descriptions of mountaineering, and I get vertigo!)

Finch started his climbing career near Orange where his science-loving father owned a large property. However, the young boy eventually lived with his beautiful, society-loving mother in Europe and finished his education there, eventually studying science and becoming a lecturer.  He had several gifts, including being able to play the piano at concert level. The 'wild colonial boy' went climbing with his brother Max at a young age and soon made a name for hi…

My Badass Book of Saints Courageous Women Who Showed Me How to Live Maria Morera Johnson Ave Maria Press Pub Date: Nov 20 2015 |

This is an inspiring and enjoyable book to read if you are interested in learning about women saints, and women who were 'saintly' in a feisty way.  Maria Johnson includes saints, such as Sr. Blandina who was sent to the Wild West which was full of lynch mobs and St Teresa of Avila who founded seventeen convents and fifteen friaries over the age of fifty. Sr Blandina got rid of one of the lynch mobs by taking an accused man to the bedside of the dying man he had assaulted. The dying man forgave him, so he was tried in a court of law rather than a vigilante mov.

Maria Johnson also has sections on women, such as Nancy Wake and Audrey Hepburn. The Australasian Nancy Wake was known as the 'White Mouse' because of her work for the French Resistance during the war.  Hepburn also helped the resistance in her native Holland, but she is better-known for her acting and her charity work for children. I was glad to see Nancy Wake in the book, although I think that she might be sur…

Joy Poet, Seeker, and the Woman Who Captivated C. S. Lewis by Abigail Santamaria

The story of C. S. Lewis and Joy Davidman is one of the great love stories of all time, as Abigail Santamaria writes in her well-written and interesting biography.  However, I found this book difficult to read because Joy was so unlikeable compared with her rather jolly and fun-loving husband.  I thought that it was amazing that Lewis fell in love with this annoying woman!

However, Lewis had a strange history with women.  He lived with his friend's mother for many years, and some biographers think that this was a platonic relationship, but it is a mystery.  She was 25 years older, divorced, and demanding.  The young academic was, no doubt, looking for a mother-figure because his mother died when he was very young.

Like Mrs Moore, Joy was divorced and didn't have much money.  However, she was also a much younger intellectual and writer.  Many people found her abrasive and inclined to be shocking.  She also seemed to neglect her sons and hit them a lot.  I tend to agree with Lew…

C.S.Lewis and the Crisis of a Christian by Gregory Cootsona

Theo's Little Bot, C.S. Lewis aged 50, Wikipedia Commons.

I actually read this while my mother was dying only a few weeks ago, and it helped me a great deal.  Although I found reading about C.S. Lewis's crises of belief rather heavy-going, I found that reading about the crises that he faced in his life, especially the grief that he felt when his beloved wife passed away was easy to relate to, and I am not surprised that so many people have turned to the famous writer in times of trouble.

Some of Lewis's opinions about Christianity will seem out-dated to some readers.  For example, one of the reasons for his conversion was that human beings yearn for another world, and this convinced him that heaven does indeed exist. Lewis also thought that suffering is good for the soul, and this won't appeal to many people today, although I tend to agree with him.

If you would like an introduction to Cootsona's writing before reading this book, I highly recommend his wonderful p…

The Dress by Kate Kerrigan

A fast-paced and beautifully written saga, this book tells the story of two generations of women - Lily  and Honor, and moves between London, Ireland and New York. When Lily, a lover of vintage clothes, discovers a stunning dress designed by a relative, she decides to make a copy of the dress. But how will this affect her relationship with her best friend?

Honor, a young and ambitious Irish designer, creates the dress but it causes her a lot of trouble, because she falls in love with her client's husband. This leads to a huge fight with Joy, who doesn't want to let her husband go.

How will these stories be tied up at the end?

This kept me interested until the last page, but there were some modern expressions in Honor's story that I found jarring. These included 'hanging out' and 'reaching out'. They only originated a few years ago!

The Romanovs by Virginia Cowles

(Peter the Great)

Virginia Cowles writes that the Romanovs were 'savage and perverse'.  She certainly focuses on the sensational and gruesome aspects of their characters!  Most of them either liked murdering their enemies and anyone who rebelled against them.  Many of the women were almost as promiscuous and evil-tempered as the men. This is an interesting whirlwind tour of the history of the wild Russian rulers, and a good introduction.  However, I'd advise you to read this after meals.  Otherwise, all the killing may turn you off your food!

Cowles, Virginia  The Romanovs
Endeavour Press
Kindle $3.50

I received this ebook from Net Galley in exchangee for an honest review.

The Beast's Garden by Kate Forsyth

This is an evocative and fast-paced novel about a beautiful and bravve music student who finds herself falling in love with a handsome Nazi in Berlin before the war.  Ava doesn't understand how Leo can like the poetry of Rilke, seem to be such an honourable person and work for the cruel and bullying Nazis.  She hates everything that they stand for, including arresting her Jewish friend.

However, is he really one of them?  Perhaps, he is hiding a secret.

I liked the sympathetic characters in this tale by the Australian author Kate Forsyth and the atmospheric descriptions of Berlin.  You could almost feel the snow crunching under your feet! I gave the book four stars at Net Galley because of this, but I did think that the story was a bit far-fetched.  However, as Hamlet said: 'There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy'.

I received this ebook from Net Galley in exchange for an honest review.
Forsyth, Kate.  The Beast's Garden Ra…

Edith Cavell Faith before the Firing Squad by Catherine Butcher

Vividadica, Edith Cavell, Wikimedia Commons.

I noticed several streets in France named after this famous nurse who was executed by the Germans, but I am ashamed to admit that I didn't know much about her so I was anxious to read this book, and it is well-worth reading.  My mother's view of her had been affected by German propaganda after the First World War, I think, so I wanted to know the true story.

Catherine Butcher tells Edith Cavell's story from a religious point of view.  Cavell had a strong but restrained Anglican faith which helped her through the dark days of The First World War and assisted her to die courageously when she was faced with the firing squad in occupied Belgium.  Cavell was brave but not saintly, and Butcher hasn't made this book too admiring, thankfully.

Cavell had a happy and normal Norfolk childhood but she had a strict father who sent her away to school when she was a bit 'naughty' and he caught her smoking.  She did well at school b…

The Eagle in Splendor: Inside the Court of Napoleons by Phillip Mansel

Lord Roseberry once wrote that: 'No Bourbons or Hapsburgs were so imbued with their royal prerogatives as these princes of an hour'. This fascinating book tells the story of Napoleon's grand and aloof court and the strange characters who inhabited it. Napoleon wanted an aristocratic court to rival the other European monarchies and that's what he attempted to create. It is easy to read and full of interesting anecdotes. I especially enjoyed the tale of how Empress Josephine found her husband in bed with a lady-in-waiting and got so angry that she sent her away. Napoleon had the cheek to lose his temper and smashed up some of the furniture! Poor Josephine was apparently usually lovely and charming but Napoleon's was mostly nasty and rude. This is a must-read for anyone interested in Napoleon's and the eccentric Bonaparte family.I received this ebook from Net Galley in exchange for an honest review.

Only Yesterday by Frederick Lewis Allen

This is probably the definitive book about America in the 1920s. Allen begins by describing the rather sedate and dull life of a typical couple in 1919. Then he provides a vivid account of the explosive changes of the 1920s, such as the obsession with sex, the rise of Communism, the corruption of President Harding's administration and the wild rise of the stock market. He ends the book with the mortgage crisis in Florida that led to the Great Depression. I disagreed with some of Allen's views, but this is a classic of journalism and extremely well-written.
This should be required reading in schools, I think! Perhaps we could have avoided the GFC if more people had read this brilliant book.

Called for Life by Kent and Amber Brantly with David Thomas

Ij 'Simon Davis/DFID, Donna Wood, British Volunteer Nurse, Wikipedia.

Kent Brantly, a medical missionary in Liberia, was in charge of an Ebola unit when he caught the disease himself. He was taken back to the United States and treated there, a controversial decision.

This is a factual and fairly graphic ccount of Kent and Amber's experiences. Kent treated many people with Ebola and only one survived - a young male teenager. He describes the symptoms of the disease and its dehumanising effects on the poor patients graphically. He also describes the effects of Ebola on life in Liberia and how it affected local customs and even funerals.

The book is also written from Amber's point of view. She tells about how terrible she felt when she heard the news about Kent and how she handled it. In the midst of all this, she had to deal with a

hungry media and even change her Facebook settings.

This is an inspirational but harrowing story. Both Kent and Amber have great faith and courage…

Living a Life That Matters – A Memoir of the Marquis de Lafayette by David M. Weitzman

This is a detailed and factual biographical account of Lafayette.  Although well-written in a sensitive and suitably old-fashioned way, I am not sure about this new combination of biography and novel.  I would rather have read a straight biography of the handsome hero who famously rebelled against his own kind and country and risked his life as a volunteer for the American cause.  However, I realise that many people will disagree and it could be argued that this format helps to bring the main characters to life.

Weitzman certainly describes the horrors and the terrible defeats of the battles of the American Revolution vividly, and the characters of Lafayette and George Washington are well-rrounded and sympathetic - as they should be!

I enjoyed this book but I would prefer to read a biography.

Living a Life That Matters – A Memoir of the Marquis de Lafayette by David M. Weitzman

Smith Publicity

Kindle: $6.03

I received this free ebook from Net Galley in exchange for an honest review.

Must You Go? by Antonia Fraser

Several years ago my mother gave me a newspaper article to read and stated that my heroine had feet of clay.  That heroine was Lady Antonia Fraser.  According to the article, Harold Pinter's wife had been driven to drink and despair because of his affair with Lady Antonia.  It even inferred that she may have committed suicide as a result.  The scandal involving the couple certainly shocked England, partly because Lady Antonia was married as well with six children! They eventually married and the relationship lasted thirty years until Pinter's death in his seventies. Some reviewers have criticised their eventual marriage in the Catholic church as bending the rules, but as both of their spouses were dead, I couldn't see anything wrong with it.

The love story between this couple was wonderfully romantic and they were destined to be together, however, I did get the feeling that Lady Antonia regarded Vivian (Pinter's wife) as rather a nuisance and she didn't see her si…

A Decade of French Fashion, 1929-1938 From the Depression to the Brink of War Mary Carolyn Waldrep

( Infrogmation of New Orleans, Grandma was stylish and up-to-the-minute back in 1935, Wikimedia Commons)

Kashamoussa, cashmere, georgette, velvet, taffeta.  The very names of the materials of these materials evoke a decade of glamour and luxury, even though it was the Depression era! These beautiful gowns and dresses accompanied by excellent descriptions will appeal to everyone interested in the history of fashion.  It's also likely to inspire fashion illustrators and designers.

This is certainly a must-buy!

I received this free ebook from Net Galley in return for an honest review.

The Catholic Advantage by Bill Donahue

I also gave this book up fairly quickly? This is because it is filled with surveys showing why Catholics and most Christians are happier and more likely to be successful people with more friends, etc. Surveys have shown that people who go to church are more likely to be happier and live longer lives than others. There is also evidence that prayer is powerful. However, I couldn't help feeling that Donahue chose the surveys which supported his thesis!

Reading about all these studies was rather tedious. However, I recommend dipping into this book whenever you need to feel better about being Catholic!

After Perfect: A Daughter's Memoir by Christina McDowell

"Waldorf Louis XIV bedroom" by George Boldt - The Waldorf-Astoria, New York. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons -

Christina McDowell  grew up in the lap of luxury as Christina Prousalis. Her family owned a private jet, stayed in the Presidential Suite at the Waldorf Astoria in New York and associated with famous people.  She had a happy childhood with her family, and her parents appeared to have the perfect marriage.  Then it all suddenly went wrong...

After her lawyer father was arrested for fraud, Christina's life descends into a life of near poverty, drinking and drugs.  She doesn't know whether she can trust her father, who still has big ideas and gives her expensive presents even though he is in jail.  Her mother gets a new boyfriend who Christina doesn't like.  She has to work in seedy nightclubs to earn money, and even her mother…

Enchantress of Paris by Marci Jefferson

(The very beautiful Marie Mancini)

This fast-paced novel about the engaging Marie Mancini kept me captivated until the end. Well-researched with interesting characters, this was an excellent historical novel. Marci Jefferson also evokes the splendour and glamour of the era, while contrasting the competitive and ruthless nature of the court.

Marie has to contend with her controlling and manipulative uncle who throws her at the Sun King and her determined sister Olympia who wants him all to herself. This makes Marie tougher and more devious, but she is in love with the enigmatic Louis, and sometimes love makes the heart rule the mind...

The main flaws in this book were the suggestion that the Cardinal could be Louis XIIII's father, and Marie's rather calculating nature, I thought. I read Antonia Fraser's wonderful biography a long time ago so I could be wrong, but Louis's mother seemed too pious to sleep with Cardinal Mazarin and Marie was rather an innocent character i…

Invitation to the Waltz by Rosamond Lehmann

Luminous writing, a sensitive and charming heroine and an evocative coming-of-age story! What could be better?  I loved this novel about young and clever Olivia who longs to escape from her dull village and who is sometimes envious of her pretty sister Kate.  Olivia gains a new lease of life when she is invited to her first dance.  Told that she can 'carry off something out of the usual' by her dressmaker, she starts to see her attractiveness and grows more confident.

However, will the dance really be as exciting as Olivia imagines? Will she be able to cope with the rather intimidating upper-class family holding the dance?  Will she be a success or  a 'wallflower'? All of these thoughts run through Olivia's mind as she prepares for her big night. During the course of the long night, Olivia learns many difficult lessons.

I must read all of Rosamond Lehmans's novels after reading this!

I received this free ebook from Net Galley in exchange for an honest review.


Arriving at Amen: Seven Catholic Prayers That Even I Can Offer Leah Libresco Ave Maria Press

Edmund Herger Ulmer Munster, Painting of a ChurchMary's Rosaries

A  relative once wrote: "Why can't we all just be good, kind and caring people?" I think that she meant that we could do this without being religious. I don't think so....This is one of the struggles that famous Catholic convert Leah Libresco discusses in this book. Did we learn moral law naturally or did we need religion?  What is the point of being good without believing in God? She also writes intelligently and lucidly about the sacraments, the Rosary and praying to the saints.

I found the first part of this book rather heavy and philosophical, and wondered whether to go on with it.  However, I liked reading about Libresco's prayers to the saints, and I also liked her literary and cultural references.

This is highly-recommended for anyone interested in the Catholic Church.

I received this ebook from Net Galley in return for an honest review.

Better and Faster by Jeremy Gutsche

This highly competitive 'dog-eat-dog' world bankrupts any company or entrepreneur who fails to keep up with the times.  For example, Kodak didn't see a future for digital cameras and left the field open to competitiors.  Encyclopedia Brittanica thought that the home computer market was very small, so they didn't want to hurt their traditional method of selling.

In this book,  Jeremy Gutsche, the founder of Trend Hunter, discusses the three 'hunter instincts' - insatiability, curiosity, and willingness to destroy - and how you can use them to your advantage in business.  He lists all sorts of ways in which managers or budding entrepreneurs can do this, such as associating a product with something greater, discovering a narrowly defined niche, or having a pattern-obsessed mindset. He includes examples of companies and entrepreneurs who used these skills successfully.  One of the most interesting is the redirection of De Beers.  In the early twentieth century, dem…

Strolling through Rome by Mario Erasmo

X Posid, Saying,Public Domain Pictures

This is a great companion for any trip to Rome with its well-researched history, varied walks and excellent directions. Artists, princes, queens and other interesting characters populate these pages, and who could fail to want to read about them while touring Rome's gorgeous piazzas, churches and fountains? There is a lot of information to absorb here, so it is probably best not to do too many walks in too short a time!

I will definitely be using this guide on my next trip to this radiant city.

In The Front Row. How Australian Fashion Made The World Stage by Simon P. Lock

When Simon Lock told important Australian fashion designer Peter Morrissey about his idea for an Australian Fashion Week, Morrissey said that he didn't know who Lock was or how he would pull it off, but he loved his vision and his passion.  Simon P. Lock needed every inch of that vision and passion to fulfill his dream.  He encountered several obstacles along the way, including huge debt, negative press and even betrayals by designers.  He tells the story in imitable style here, and enlivens the book with his anecdotes about many famous people. Anita Keating gave him a lot of help with afternoon teas at The Lodge and Cate Blanchett was also a big fan.

The beautiful Australian designer Carla Zampatti

When Lock began his career in fashion, Australian fashion designers were little-known.  Australia was regarded as a cultural desert, and a land of 'ockers'.  It didn't help when a French journalist who was sent here to cover fashion shows criticised Australian designers for…

Talent for Humanity Stories of Creativity, Compassion and Courage to Inspire You on Your Journey Patrick Gaffney Smith

These fascinating stories show that suffering and hardship can develop into passion and a desire to change the world. Most of the people featured in this book knew times of darkness and despair but they didn't become bitter.  Instead, they decided to grow from their experiences and use them to help others.  Patrick Gaffney's organization, Talent for Humanity, gave them Human Spirit Awards because they embody positive human values and inspire others.

The people in this book include Reza, a famous photojournalist who has founded many humanitarian projects across the world, Deeyah Khan, an award-winning documentary maker, and Sherry and Bob Jason, two attorneys who brought the arts to poor school children in Los Angeles. They explain why they decided to start their organizations and how they began them.  At the end of each chapter there are letters from these people to the readers.

This is well-worth reading, especially if you are interested in starting even a small humanitarian …

The Romanov Sisters by Helen Rappaport

St Martin's Press has a new paperback edition of The Romanov Sisters by Helen Rappaport!  As you can see, I loved this book, so I will definitely be buying the new edition. Watch a short video to learn more about the book here: Romanov Sisters video.

Each Romanov sister had their own special personality and everyone has their favourite.  It is fun to do the quiz and see which sister you resemble the most! I did a short quiz about this and got this result: Olga!

Refilling Your Inkwell by Kellie Sheridan

This is the perfect book for writers with 'writer's block'! Kellie Sheridan suggests all sorts of ways for writers to jumpstart their writing, such as keeping a writing journal, writing in 200-word sprints, and writing for five minutes. She also gives helpful tips for finding ways to do this with other writers, for example, joining writing sprints on Twitter or joining National Writing Month. Sharing writing experiences on a blog is another idea.

Sheridan also includes sections on setting specific goals, finding different ways to put the joy back into writing, joining writer's communities, and writing apps.  It's a great book to read for writers who haven't written for a long time, or for  those who are having difficulty completing a novel or a non-fiction book.

I probably found the information about apps and websites the most useful part.  I will definitely be trying Todoist and Asana.

I will certainly be buying this book!

Kellie Sheridan has an excellent seri…

French Toast, Waffles and Pancakes for Breakfast. Comfort Food for Leisurely Mornings by Donna Leahy

Jonathunder, French Toast toast served at Mac's Restaurant in Rochester, Minnesota. Wikimedia Commons
Do you want to start your weekend or holiday with a delicious cooked breakfast?  These scrumptious recipes will ensure that you have a happy start to the day! The recipes have easy-to-follow instructions and the beautifully photographed pictures will send you running to the shops for the ingredients.  
The recipes have wonderful names, such as Baked French Toast with Peaches and Blueberries, and Buttermilk Pancakes with Walnuts and Apple Rings.  I love French Toast, so I'll certainly start trying these concoctions by Donna Leahy soon!

London from My Windows by Mary Carter

(Duncan, London from Primrose Hill, Wikimedia Commons)

I am afraid that I couldn't get into this book although I was attracted by the title and the interesting cover image.  The problem was that I had a relative nicknamed Queenie, and there is a drag queen in the book called Queenie.  I also didn't like the characters very much.

I  will try Mary Carter's other books.