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Showing posts from 2010

Books Read in December

Love's Shadow by Ada Leverson
Love's Shadow is like an Oscar Wilde play in the form of a novel.  It is a social comedy and 'full of froth and bubble', but Leverson has very sharp insights into people's behaviour.

Like most social comedies this book involves many love triangles.  Hardly anyone is really happy.  Edith Ottley is married to the rather volatile and unlikeable Bruce - they form 'the little Ottleys'.  Edith's life becomes much more interesting when she starts watching what her friend, the beautiful Hyacinth, does.  Hyacinth loves Cecil Reeves, but he is fascinated by the bohemian Eugenia.  Sir Charles adores Hyacinth, but he is stuck with his formidable wife. The only one who has some semblance of happiness is the strange Ann, who also adores Hyacinth, but is willing to be friends with her.

I didn't think that any of the characters were especially interesting, but the novel is so light and charmingly written and so Edwardian in a rather mod…

The Tsar's Ballerina

There is a new novel about Mathilde Kschessinska: The Memoirs of Little K. Her child certainly wasn't the Tsar's but I am interested in reading the novel which has had good reviews.

All things Alcott Challenge

I read Eight Cousins for the All Things Alcott Challenge but I didn't finish it.

When the book begins Rose, a pale orphan, lives with her old aunts who over-protect her and give her lots of pills for her health. She's living rather a dull life. Things change when Uncle Alec turns up to save the day! Uncle Alec throws the pills out, makes Rose have plenty of light and air, and gives her wise advice. He encourages her to make friends with her seven boy cousins. I did think that the Uncle was a bit too enlightened when he gave Rose a medicine containing hemp!

Rose and the other characters are all very engaging. The problem was that I found this book just too moralistic. Uncle Alec gives Rose lectures and advice all of the time. He stops her from wearing corsets and high heels, for example, and shows her their dangers. I didn't finish because I got a bit tired of all this.

However, I may prefer Rose in Bloom and I'm certainly going to give it a try!

Books Read in November 2010

Sovereign Ladies by Maureen Waller

This was an enjoyable summary of the reigns of six queens of England. Written in a lively manner, it is full of anecdotes. Some are quite amusing such as this one. When Disraeli lay dying he was asked whether Queen Victoria should be sent for. He replied that: "She'd only want to send a message to Albert!"

I didn't discover anything new in this book but I found the sections on Queen Mary of Orange and her sister, Queen Anne, especially interesting. My knowledge of these two queens is somewhat lacking so this book was helpful.

I would recommend this to lovers of English history and biography, especially royal history.

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Dark Beauty

This is a post from my blog Favourite Things and More which I am finishing.

I read Thomas More's Dark Night of the Soul about a year ago and I liked it, but I found it rather heavy, vague and unhelpful. I will try it again, however, because I am going through a difficult time facing my mother's and my aunt's age and frailty.

I am Fabulous's post about Dark Beauty is beautifully written and made what More was writing about much more understandable. Unfortunately, I can't find the link! I will keep trying.

Books Read in October 2010

The Rebel Princess

I loved Judith Koll Healey's first novel, The Canterbury Papers. Unfortunately, I didn't enjoy this as much, but I still liked it. I will look out for more of the author's books.

This was more of a historical adventure story than a mystery. It concerned Alais, the sister of King Phillippe, who discovers a plot by an evil monk to involve her brother in a war against the Provencal Cathars. The Cathars were an unusual Christian sect in medieval times. The plot endangers her son, Francis, and Alais must embark on an adventure in order to save him.

The Rebel Princess
is well-written and full of historical atmosphere and there is not too much 'textbook' history. The medieval detail is vivid - it is easy to imagine the splendour of the palace and the gold-filled chapels. The only flaw here is that the dialogue is a bit too modern at times, I think.

The characterization is the best part of this book. Alais is strong, charming and engaging. Her lo…

Lee's Life of Virtue. (Lee, A Life of Virtue by John Perry)

My knowledge of the battles of the Civil War came mostly from Gone With The Wind and movies like Shenandoah before I read this book, I'm sorry to say. I certainly didn't know much about Robert E. Lee! Lee by John Perry is an excellent summary of the great man's life.

Well-written and engaging, it is enjoyable but sad reading. Lee's reputation apparently suffered a lot during his lifetime and afterwards. He was accused of being a traitor to his own country and fighting in defence of slavery. Neither of these myths is true and Perry certainly manages to restore the heroic general's reputation.

Robert E. Lee came from a distinguished Virginian family that arrived 200 years before America was established. He had a hard childhood because his father, also a war hero, left when he was only young and his mother was ill. The young boy used to have to carry her to and from his carriage.

Lee was an excellent student at Westpoint and soon got promoted. However, as he was a…

Love Child by Allegra Huston

Love-children certainly run in Duff Cooper's family! A few weeks ago I wrote about My Three Fathers by Duff Cooper's love-child. Now I am including a review of by his son, John Julius Norwich's daughter, Allegra Huston.Love Child.

Duff Cooper's Love-Child

I found out that Duff Cooper had a second son when I looked up Lady Diana Cooper in the Archives of Time Magazine one day! There I discovered a review of William S. Patten's memoir, My Three Fathers. Here is my review.

Books Read in August 2010

Elizabeth and Leicester by Sarah GristwoodThis was an interesting analysis of the romance between Queen Elizabeth 1 and Leicester. It dispelled many myths, such as the legend of the meetings when they were both prisoners in the Tower.

It's not a romantic book but very much a textbook account of the couple. I found the information about Leicester especially interesting. He was apparently 'a man of many parts' who wanted to find out about almost everything - astronomy, science, and exploration, for example. I also didn't realise that he was such a Puritan.

It's a few months since I read this, unfortunately. I should have written my review at the time!

I must apologize for not keeping up to date with this blog - I'll try to catch up.

Site of the Week: Pack a Book

Pack a Book was a very clever idea for a web site. Many people don't want to read heavy non-fiction books on their holidays, but they like to immerse themselves in the culture of the country that they're visiting. Pack a Book makes it easier for people to do this. It provides lists of novels set in different countries. If you are going to Italy, for example, the web site has novels to choose from with a little bit of information about them.

This is also a good site if you just want to 'armchair travel'. You can choose a book to read set in the country that you want to 'visit'. You can also 'study' a book set in a particular country for a few weeks by subscribing to the newsletter and reading the suggested book.

There are also interesting blogs with reviews at the site.

Love Isn't Always The Answer

Love Songs and Lies by Libby Purves

I enjoy Libby Purves's novels and this one was no exception. They're all well-written with compelling stories. They're also very English and I like that.

I liked the heroine in this book most of the time, but most modern women would regard her as a bit of a wimp, probably. She even got on my nerves some of the time! I identified with her age group and feelings, however, although she's a little bit before my time.

Sally, like many other girls, has trouble separating her real life from her fantasy life. She studies English Lit at Oxford and gets lost in the world of Keats and Byron. She then falls into unrequited love with the handsome and cold Max. These days she'd probably just read: "He's Just Not That Into You", but this was the Seventies. Max is a bit of a lost cause, but his younger brother, Marty, is keen. The problem is that he's mixed up with the drugs crowd...

I liked Sally more as I kept reading. …

Friendship for Grown-Ups by Lisa Whelchel

(Lisa Whelchel from Women of

Life is difficult for child stars and Lisa Whelchel was no exception. She went to Hollywood at the age of 12. Whelchel found it hard to make and keep close friends because she didn't have a normal school life. Eventually she struggled with her marriage which was breaking down and she suffered a nervous collapse. In this book, Whelchel tells the story of her journey towards making true friendships and how her faith helped her. She also provides excellent advice about how to make and keep friends.

Whelchel had many friends but she realized that she had been building defences around herself so she found it difficult to get close to people. Therapy and her strong belief in God and prayers helped her to understand that she needed to find a way to become closer to her old friends and make new friends.

The pretty star suffered rejections along the way. She wanted to be a 'best friend' to a woman called Heather, for example, but Heather r…

Dancing Into The Unknown by Tamara Tchinarova Finch

My drawing of a ballerina.

A gypsy told the ballerina, Tamara Tchinarova Finch, that she would travel, learn other languages, and people of different nationalities would applaud her work. Finch was only very young at the time, but she remembered the gypsy's words all of her life. They came true.

Finch was a 'Baby Ballerina' with the Ballets Russes, toured Europe, America, and Australia, and eventually married the great actor, Peter Finch. Her lively personality matches her joyful dancing, and she tells a riveting tale in this book which reads like a novel.

Life was difficult for Finch and her mother, a poor Romanian living in Paris. Her mother was very strong - she left Finch's father and refused to go back to Communist Russia with him. It was a very prescient decision but she had to make ballet shoes so that her talented daughter could have ballet lessons. Life was tough.

Soon Finch toured with the Ballets Russes - her mother went with her as chaperone. This is pro…

Books Read in July 2010

What Happened To Anna K. by Irina Reyn

This is a brilliant transposition of the story of Anna Karenina from Imperial Russia to modern Jewish New York. Reyn has kept the essence of the characters and the spirit of the story alive. She manages to make the characters sympathetic and easy to understand for modern readers. The actual writing is so exquisite that I didn't want to finish this book!

Clever and beautiful with her curves and dark, wavy hair, Anna K. envisions a brilliant future for herself even though she comes from a poor Russian immigrant family. She dreams of an exciting career in publishing and a lover like Darcy or Heathcliff. She wants a future that features 'searing political essays, powerful lovers and a work of art shaped by the most idiosyncratic emigre mind since Nabokov'.

When the book begins, Anna is 36 and disillusioned with life and love. When she meets the older, wealthy Alexander, she decides that it is time to give up the struggle and accepts his prop…

The King's Secret Matter by Jean Plaidy

This is a sympathetic portrayal of Catherine of Aragon who suffered so much at the hands of Henry VIII. Plaidy paints a vivid picture of the splendour of Henry's court and the life that Catherine is forced to endure after her downfall.

Catherine is depicted as proud and determined to fight for her daughter's legitimacy. She is a very loving wife and mother, and remains very fond of Henry even when he subjects her to great trials. She is, perhaps, shown as a little bit too saintly, but Plaidy does an excellent job of making the reader feel very sorry for her.

Plaidy's character analysis of Henry is also excellent. He could be kind and loving, but quickly change to being nasty. His mercurial nature must have been extremely frightening! Henry was capable of turning against people very quickly, and the fear of death became ever-present for those close to him.

Plaidy also wrote well about Wolsey, but I got a bit tired of reading about him. He wasn't a very likeable charac…

Six Wives by David Starkey

This is a clearly written and interesting book in which Starkey attempts to get rid of many misconceptions about Henry VIII's wives. These misconceptions have existed for centuries. Catherine of Aragon has always been regarded as saintly, for example. Although Starkey agrees that she was very religious, he does think that she probably lied about her first marriage. She did spend a long time with Henry's brother, Arthur, who was quite healthy. It is unlikely that the marriage wasn't consummated.

He also writes sympathetically about Katherine Howard. She is usually regarded as a rather stupid tecenager, but Starkey's book shows that she really wasn't stupid. She also had a mind of her own and spoke up for some people whose lives were in danger.

I did think that Starkey got carried away by speculation at times. He writes that Anne Boleyn, for example, had her bed hung with richly embroidered crimson velvet of the 'Bed of Alancon'. He thinks that Anne may…

Library Loot

Like many book readers, I haunt my local library. I should read the books that I have at home, but I have to supply Mum with books too. She devours them so I really don't have enough books for her as well, unless I get them from the library. I often find books that I want, though!

Here's what I got today:

An Education by Lynn Barber;

The Lost Mona Lisa by R.A.Scott; and

How To Be Free by Tom Hodgkinson.

They all look good, especially An Education.


I just saw the movie and greatly enjoyed it. Falling in love with a wealthy thief has its advantages, apparently! Still, I'd like to see a film about a female student at Oxford.

Tuesday Teaser!

I haven't done this for ages. If I remember correctly, I write two sentences from the book that I'm reading and then tell you what it is! I hope that's right. I think that they're supposed to be some of the best sentences from the book. Here they are:

"To the young Louisine, the strange, almost abstract image of stage-flats, dancers and specks of light resembled nothing she had ever seen before on canvas. 'I scarcely knew how to appreciate it, or whether I liked it or not, for I believe it takes special brain cells to appreciate Degas."

That's from page 150 of The Private Lives of the Impressionists by Sue Roe.

Huge Readathon!

Kristen of Bookworming in the 21st Century is holding a huge readathon until this Sunday. You can obtain points if you join. (I haven't worked it all out yet, but I'm going to join).

Here are some books that I hope to finish:

The Private Lives of the Impressionists by Sue Roe;

Six Wives by David Starkey;

I am Madame X by Gloria Dilberto;


The King's Secret Matter by Jean Plaidy.

Books Read in June

Meltdown: The End of the Age of Greed by Paul Mason

This was written just after the GFC hit so it has the value of immediacy, but it's out-dated now in some ways. Paul Mason describes the fall of Lehman brothers, the bank bailouts, and the sub-prime mortgage crisis clearly and reasonably simply. However, I still found the book a bit difficult to read.

He attributes the crisis to the failure of neoliberalism, deregulation, a share market that was allowed to run wild, and various other factors. His analysis of the causes of the crisis is probably the most interesting part of the book.

Mason writes about the crisis from a left-wing point of view. Whether you agree with his conclusions or not will probably depend on your politics to some extent. Right-wing commentators have often argued that the GFC had completely different causes.

Mason does draw conclusions and suggests that the answer is a completely new form of hyper-regulated capitalism. I couldn't be bothered reading this…

Young Bess by Margaret Irwin

Young Bess by Margaret Irwin

By the time that this book begins, young Princess Elizabeth has had a lot to cope with, including her mother's brutal death, different stepmothers, and her father's changing moods. She has, understandably, become guarded and somewhat distrustful. Now she finds herself dealing with her father's death and her feelings for Thomas Seymour.

Ebullient, handsome Thomas Seymour, played brilliantly by Stewart Granger in the movie, is the real star of this book. Mercurial and ambitious, he has his eye on the Crown and he falls in love with the young Princess. This naturally upsets his sweet wife, the late King's widow. Elizabeth struggles with her feelings, torn between her love for Thomas and her love for his wife, Katherine. Thomas Seymour, has 'wit, but little judgment' and his love for Elizabeth places him in great danger. It also places him in grave danger, from his equally ambitious brother, the Lord Protector.

The rivalry between the two …

Tudor Challenge

The Tudor Mania Challenge run by the wonderful Marie Burton. I am going to enter this. I have started too late, however, so I'm very unlikely to win the prize!

Books Read in April

A Dangerous Liason by Carole Seymour

Two myths surround Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir. One is that they were loyal workers for the Resistance. The other is that they had had a wonderful romance. Seymour puts paid to both in this rather plodding biography.

This couple actually had rather a good time in the war - they even held parties and drank wine with Picasso. They were also not averse to working for the Germans. Sartre did write plays promoting the cause of freedom, but neither Sartre nor de Beauvoir did much for the Resistance according to this book. De Beauvoir could even be anti-Semitic at times.

They may have had a very long romance but it was very anguished. According to this book they liked to torment each other by having affairs with each other's lovers. De Beauvoir even had affairs with her young women students and passed them on to Sartre. Then she wanted to know the details of his affairs with them. They apparently constantly used and abused people and were rea…

Obstacles Welcome by Ralph de la Vega

Ralph de la Vega outlines his journey from the poverty of Cuba and hardship as a migrant in America to becoming the president of AT & T Mobility. He arrived in America as a scared boy of only ten who had to leave his parents behind. In this book he gives suggestions on how to overcome adversity and turn tough situations to your advantage.

De la Vega includes many useful tips in this book and he gives examples of how he overcame hard times himself to rise to the peak of his career. He writes about how Hurricane Andrew showed him that ‘he had to take care of his own people first’, for example. When Hurricane Katrina hit de la Vega knew exactly where all his employees were and set up a tent city for them. After the employees knew that they were cared for they could focus on their work.

This book is especially useful for rising managers and CEO’s. De la Vega writes about ethics, communication, having a vision, and other self-help topics. It is not very helpful for the self-employed.


Books Read During March

Since we last met I've walked around the Golden Mount in Bangkok, been lost in beautiful San Gimignano, lamented being snowed in in Venice, and had a sleepless night on a train from Venice to Paris. I apologise for being away for so long but I had a lovely holiday.

That Summer in Sicily by Marlena de Blasi

This book has everything - a moving love story, exciting history, and a villianous enemy. It concerns a romance between a poor but strong woman who falls in love with a prince in the Italy of the 1930's. Unfortunately, the Mafia plans revenge on the prince because of his reforms which help the peasants.

I enjoyed this book and I liked reading it in Italy. However, I preferred Marlena de Blasi's autobiographies.

Paris to the Moon by Adam Gopnik

This was about an American man who moved with his wife and young son to Paris. It has great detail about the minuitae of family life in Paris and gives a child's view of this enchanting city. Gopnik has interesting insights abo…

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Books Read in February

Serendipity by Louise Shaffer

I was so lost in the world of old Broadway that this book describes that I almost missed my bus!

This is by a former actress so she knows this world and evokes it very well. The book concerns three generations of women - Carrie, Rose, and Lu - who all have conflicted relationships with their mothers and grandmothers. Carrie, the heroine, is struggling with her mother's death when the book begins. She wants to solve the mystery surrounding Rose. Why did Rose, a beautiful and wealthy socialite, who married a famous writer of musicals and lived a glamorous life donate most of her money to the poor when he died? Why did she bring Carrie up in a small, stuffy apartment in a working-class neighbourhood? Why did she never speak to Lu, her famous actress grandmother?

As Carrie discovers more about Rose's reasons, we also read Rose's and Lu's stories.
All of these women are very strong, American women, but their characters are very different so the…


I found this at the Reading Adventures blog. It's great fun! It's a reading meme that consists of opening the book that you're reading at a random page and selecting two sentences that show the quality of the writing and give readers an idea of whether they'd like the book or not.

Here goes:

The last thing Rose needed in her life was another self-centered, workaholic egomaniac in her life. But the right girl can change a man.

This is from Serendipity by Louise Shaffer.

'Anne of Windy Poplars' (1940)

As I am a big fan of the 'Anne' series by L.M.Montgomery I couldn't resist taping Anne of Windy Poplars the other night. It was on very late and the timer on my video machine doesn't work so I had to stay up more than half of the night!

I can see why many 'Anne' fans have written bad reviews of this film. It is incredibly old-fashioned and corny. It is also extremely melodramatic.

In the book Anne, who has recently graduated from university, goes to a small town to teach. Unfortunately, this town is dominated by Pringles who dislike Anne from the start. She finds Jen Pringle, a girl in her class, especially difficult. She also finds a fellow teacher, Katherine, very cold and unfriendly.

The film sticks to the spirit of the book but the story is changed in a few ways. There are several new characters who are rather quaint and irritating, such as the man who stokes the stove at the school, and an old sailor. There is also a rather handsome Pringle, Tony, who …

Books Read in January

The Conjurer's Bird by Martin Davies

This was an enchanting mixture of history and romance although I thought
that the story's ending was a let-down. A young naturalist sets out to find
out the truth about a famous bird discovered by Joseph Banks in the South Seas.

The book was based on historical fact and certainly made me more interested in
Banks. His life was apparently fairly mysterious in some aspects.

Here is my review of : Very Valentine by Adriana Trigiani.

With Violets by Elizabeth Robards

This is a beautifully written novel about the ambitious, young woman artist, Berthe Morisot, and her love affair with Edouard Manet. The prose does descend into the 'purple' sometimes, I feel, and the dialogue is a bit contrived at times, but I enjoyed it very much.

The characterization is very good. Berthe is a very likeable young woman, torn between trying to please her mother who wants her to marry well, and her love for a married man. She is also an excellent artist.

Edouard M…

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