I am certainly no expert on the life of Mary Stuart: I read this biography after Leonie Frieda's "Catherine de Medici" because I wanted to learn more about her highly romanticized daughter-in-law. That said, I enjoyed this book tremendously. I found Mary to be not only a tragic figure, but strong, complicated, and somewhat elusive. Mary's judgment in men was famously bad, and this biography illustrates just what kind of men Darnley and Bothwell were, to horrific effect. Elizabeth I comes off as rather despicable, as one might expect. All characters are well-drawn.
The author reads his own work. That is the only thing I would change, not because the reading was particularly bad, but because he reads very fast and does not pace the excellent story as well as a professional reader or actor might.
In "Days Without Number," the Paleologus children gather for a birthday celebration for the eldest at the Cornish home of their rather beastly father. They have received a generous offer from a wealthy man who is ostensibly interested in the father's house for archaeological and historical reasons. The gathering ends badly, with the father's refusal of the offer, as well as his usual voicing of complaints about how each of his children has disappointed him. The next day, he is found dead, apparently of an accident. But was it an accident? That, and many more mysteries, are at the heart of this compelling story.
Gordon Griffin is a new narrator for me, but an intriguing one. He really brought this story to life and gave distinct voices to each character. I'd love to listen to something else from him.
Having just finished Goddard's "Painting the Darkness," performed by the incomparable Michael Kitchen, I wanted to leave a review but found that the title is "unavailable." I highly recommend it also. In it Goddard shows himself to be a brilliant master in complete control of his medium. It has been interesting to see how his already excellent writing has been refined and perfected. He just gets better and better. Long may he write.
I enjoyed both volumes of THE INNOCENCE OF FATHER BROWN. David Timson is always an amazing narrator, but here he surpasses himself as he renders innocents and villains with equal aplomb. Father Brown himself is unique and unforgettable, as are many of the ancillary characters, and the settings are varied and delightfully rendered. I recommend the two volumes to those who love a good short story collection, classic mysteries, or just long for a little trip back into a world forever lost to us. Enjoy them.
One hundred years ago this July, events began to unfold which would change the world forever. This book examines of some of the factors which led up to them as they relate to three of Queen Victoria's grandchildren.
Miranda Carter is outstanding and her book is likely to appeal to many. It is not that there is anything particularly new here in the way of information, but that she tells the story beautifully and with great attention to detail, which makes the book a welcome addition.
Those who have an interest in the era or enjoy biographies will love the detail and careful rendering of setting and time period. Characterization is skillful, descriptions apt, and the story unfolds with perfect timing and holds one's interest to the final pages as we witness the vicissitudes of royal lives.
For those with an interest in the foundations of World War I, the view from the monarchies, as it were, is of great importance. Without hesitation, I recommend it to anyone who shares my obsession with the Great War, or who would like to understand its foundations better.
I read the book long ago but returned for a re-listen this week. I think I liked it even more the second time around.
Rosalyn Landor was, as ever, superb. What a lovely voice that actress has!
This review is personal and not as objective as I like my writing to be under normal circumstances. I've watched as several friends and family members attempt to follow positive thinking philosophies, both New Age and Judeo-Christian. Invariably, the attempt has come to a bad end.
Barbara Ehrenreich learned how pervasive the belief in positive thinking is, and just what this may mean to you when you're in crisis, through her experience with cancer treatment. While she didn't hold with positive thinking, but rather had it thrust upon her, others who do believe in positive thinking have had no less shocking encounters with its pervasive influence and the limits of its belief system.
My closest friend was deeply involved in a New Age group whose main tenet was of the positive thinking "You create your own reality" variety. When her young son was killed in a car accident, she was told a number of things. "He manifested his death," and "You chose this experience for your growth." I watched in horror as her group of "friends" and fellow believers responded with coldness and trite phrases, indeed anything but support or understanding.
Another friend allowed her terminal illness to grow worse without treatment because she believed she brought it on herself with her "negative thinking." Still another followed "The Secret" religiously, only to find herself less productive and deeper than ever in debt. It has been heartbreaking to watch and left me with much anger.
Sadly, the positive thinking mindset is difficult to penetrate with logic. As when you deny a tenet of Freudianism and you are told, "You are in denial," in positive thinking philosophies, you may be told, "It's not working because you don't believe in it," or some other variation, such as "You don't have enough faith." Whatever the case, it's your fault and you may be ostracized for your questioning and disbelief.
Why people "wishful think" there is an easy way through life is difficult to understand, but Ehrenreich's work is a meaningful contribution toward deeper understanding. The fact is, your body may very well "betray you" despite your care of it, death is certain, and before any of that happens, hard work is required to achieve anything worthwhile in this world. For some reason, no one wants to hear that.
The narrator was extremely annoying and sounded condescending. Rarely do I think an author should read her own work, but this is an exception. Had I not been pressed for time, I would have returned this and read it on a Kindle.
If you enjoy this book, I'd also highly recommend another take on the subject, Oliver Burkeman's "The Antidote."
Those who are familiar with E.F. Benson only through his "Mapp and Lucia" series may not realize he wrote just short of five dozen supernatural stories, of which we have thirteen here.
Benson's world is very much like that of Saki. One gets the impression that, before the Great War at least, the most dreadful thing that befell these gentlemen was finding the contents of a soda siphon empty and no servant at hand to attend the disaster. It is not a world in which ghosts and spectral horrors figure prominently. But they do here, and this is what you can expect:
(1) An artist makes a summer visit to an old friend with whom he used to share a studio. Stunned by the friend's youthful appearance and serenity, he attempts to understand the way he lives in THE MAN WHO WENT TOO FAR.
(2) On holiday in the Engadine, an English gentleman hears the local legend of a mountain known as THE HORROR-HORN and has an experience which might put him off winter sports.
(3) During another winter visit to Switzerland, we meet a psychic waiter who may hold the key to the mystery of THE OTHER BED.
(4) GAVON'S EVE finds us heading north into Sutherlandshire toward Gavon Loch, Pictish ruins, and hauntings.
(5) THE ROOM IN THE TOWER is a story of a nightmare come true. For many years, the narrator dreamed of being shown to a room in a tower "where horror dwelt." This story of a malevolent self-portrait shows Benson at his best.
(6) When travel tales were very much in fashion, and the world not quite so small, a story like ALI ABDUL'S GRAVE and its description of black magic in Luxor might have been more exotic than it seems today.
(7) HOW FEAR DEPARTED FROM THE LONG GALLERY is a classic English ghost story which takes place in the stately residence of Church-Peveril.
(8) THE SHOOTINGS OF ACHNALEISH is another story of Sutherlandshire and, this time, of its hares.
(9) THE DUST-CLOUD is a true period piece that will interest those who are fascinated by the "machines" of the early days of "motoring."
(10) THE CONFESSION OF CHARLES LINKWORTH centers on a man condemned to death.
(11) Reading the Villa Cascana had recently been pulled down causes our narrator to reflect on events which he remembers with a special kind of horror in CATERPILLARS.
(12) AT THE FARMHOUSE finds a man desperate to rid himself of his wife.
(13) The narrator's friend Hugh tells him of a strange hallucination in THE BUS CONDUCTOR.
Sadly, with a few exceptions, these are not Benson's best stories. There is an unfortunate tendency that Benson had to tie up every loose end, as if to explain things neatly away. So as ghost stories, some of these fall flat. But as period pieces of a vanished world, they are charming and quaint.
I hope Mr. Wagland will bring us the rest of Benson's stories, including "Mrs. Amworth," "Naboth's Vineyard," and others which are scarier. He has a pleasant, calm British voice well-suited to classic stories and I enjoy him very much.
What a bargain this collection is. It contains a couple of Conrad's often anthologized short stories, but also includes some wonderful ones which are only infrequently recorded. Greg Wagland's performance is admirable. If you're an old fan of Conrad or a new reader, this little selection has much to recommend it.
YOUTH finds Marlow yarning again, this time about his youth, when he was on a ship called "The Judea." In age, we find our "weary eyes looking still, looking always, looking anxiously for something out of life, something that while it is expected is already gone" until we have lost the last of our illusions.
KARAIN: A MEMORY is often called Conrad's "attempted ghost story," but as ever, the story is far more than its surface appearance. Ambiguous, haunting, and not quite resolved at its finish, KARAIN is, for me, as full of memorable phrases as is HEART OF DARKNESS and almost as interesting.
As with the other stories here, there is much regret, loss, and sadness. At one point, Conrad speaks of "...all the exiled and charming shades of loved women; all the beautiful and tender ghosts of ideals, remembered, forgotten, cherished, execrated; all the cast out and reproachful ghosts of friends admired, trusted, traduced, betrayed, left dead by the way..."
AN OUTPOST OF PROGRESS is a must-read: Conrad considered this his finest story. It is the story of two ivory traders, Kayerts and Carlier, and what happens to them in their isolation and power struggles.
THE LAGOON is another tale in which illusions are laid waste. Unpredictability reigns and what one believes is secure vanishes before one's eyes. "There is no light and no peace in the world, but only death for the many."
AMY FOSTER is another of his deceptively simple tales. An emigrant sailing from Hamburg is shipwrecked off the coast of England. He settles with those who rescued him and eventually marries a servant girl, Amy Foster. The story and its tragic ending address familiar Conrad themes, most especially that of the stranger in a strange land, and the meaning of home.
THE ANARCHIST is the final tale, and possibly the least interesting, though you may disagree.
The late Josephine Hart opened her first novel: "There is an internal landscape, a geography of the soul. We search for its outlines all our lives." The reason I return to Conrad again and again is that he attempted to chart this landscape. He is politically incorrect, and a bit of an old curmudgeon, but I love him. He looked at the human condition without flinching and told the truth of his life. I couldn't ask more of any writer.
As others have rightly said, Trollope may be better than Dickens. And if not better, then he certainly can give him a run for his money every time!
Both share a genius for choosing the perfect names, and both provide social commentary and satirical wit. Both stage-manage a breathtaking cast of characters, and provide unforgettable stories. But there are differences. For one thing, I find Trollope's female characters, while still Victorian, to be far more fully developed and interesting. At times one begins to feel that the women in Dickens are either angels or demons, with some close to caricatures. Not so with Trollope. And his wit is so dry and crisp that he doesn't lapse into the preaching tone into which Dickens sometimes falls.
One couldn't find a better illustration of Trollope's considerable talents than this book. It begins simply: Auguste Melmotte has lately come to London. If one is well-born, one certainly does not wish to know this man, but one cannot afford to ignore anyone this rich, nor the daughter who is his sole heir. The vultures begin to circle, to highly entertaining effect, and we meet dozens of characters whose lives will be affected by the parvenu.
We may not be corseted, nor driving four-in-hand in the park these days, but this is still the way we live 138 years later. Money "expects money," and those who do not have money scheme to get it, some legally, some not. And as ever, greed and social climbing are the very soul of modern satire.
For those who watched the wonderful BBC miniseries with David Suchet you may find the book to be even better. It ends in a far more interesting way, I think, with all the loose ends tied up, and the characters are fully developed over the long course of the reading. Timothy West is incredible at bringing the characters to life.
"What follows is intended to show nothing in history is inevitable. Events themselves can be both cause and consequence." Richard Overy
Overy, Professor of History at the University of Exeter, brings to life a ten day period in 1939, prior to Germany's invasion of Poland. While there is nothing new here to any student of the era, what is here is presented well and in a no-nonsense manner. The book is only 120-something pages, so it makes a quick listen with no fluff. While it is more of an essay than a great work of history, it is nonetheless a valuable, thought-provoking piece of writing.
For those who are new to the study of World War II, this is a snapshot or sketch rather than a finished portrait. The narrow focus centers on the post World War I creation of the independent Polish state and issues surrounding Danzig, etc. Overy writes, "It was Poland's intransigent refusal to make any concessions to its powerful German neighbor that made war almost certain." But only "almost," in his view.
Interesting personalities abound, from Hermann Goering, whose diplomacy with the Swedes was critical, to Neville Chamberlain and his famously embarassing negotiations with Adolf Hitler, and many others. The author's views of some players may surprise the reader.
I can't say I agreed with Overy on all points, but I'm glad I listened to the book. My own views, possibly for personal reasons, are more fatalistic. World War I, and particularly Germany's not being defeated in the field, and the consequent Treaty of Versailles made war inevitable. It was not a question of "if," only of "when," that war would be.
May 22, 2013 marked the 200th anniversary of Richard Wagner's birth. Perhaps not surprisingly, the magazine Der Spiegel ran a cover on its March 30th issue featuring a portrait of Wagner holding a tiny fire-breathing dragon as if it were his pet. The headine: "Das wahnsinnige Genie," or "The Insane Genius." This was visual shorthand for the pop culture view that we already know all there is to know about Wagner, danke schön.
But what do we know, and is it even true?
Often we are reminded Wagner was Hitler's favorite composer, and his music is used as background in TV programs featuring the Third Reich. Many of Hitler's minions did not share his taste for Wagner's operas, but never mind. We are primed to imagine the horrors of that regime set to the work of one composer in particular.
Wagner was not a pleasant man. If you need to love the person to enjoy his work, this isn't the composer for you. But the personality characteristic criticized most often, Wagner's anti-Semitism, is rarely put into the context of his times and the many who sadly shared his views.
On a lighter note, jokes are made about things "Wagnerian," while brides still continue to use the march from Wagner's Lohengrin as they proceed down the aisle, and cartoons feature fat, horn-helmeted women belting out glass-shattering tunes.
So who was this Richard Wagner, and why should anyone care?
Stephen Johnson answers that question admirably and contributes a great deal to the study of classical music in this book. It will reward anyone who is interested in Wagner, of course, but also makes a valuable addition to those starting their discovery of his music.
As Johnson says, "While this book makes no effort to gloss over the less pleasant aspects of Wagner's personality and thinking, its main purpose is to show that what matters most about Wagner's work are the very aspects of his work that make it greater than the man."
Far greater than the man. Listen and see if you don't agree with him.
There is narcissism with a small "n" and there is narcissism with a capital "N" as in "Narcissistic Personality Disorder" or NPD. Our culture is one becoming ever more narcissistic in the first sense of the word. But this book is about something far more serious:
"The word narcissism in its most fundamental sense means a tendency to self-worship. For the narcissist, his excessive self-absorption is a protection against unconscious but powerful feelings of inadequacy. Seduced by the narcissist's camouflage of outer charm or confidence, you are eventually drawn into the nightmare side of this relationship. By the time you realize that something is wrong, the cumulative effects can range from bruised self-esteem to severe depression." Eleanor Payson
You're a very lucky creature if you have never been involved with someone who has NPD characteristics. But if you have, Eleanor Payson offers much to help you here. Catherine Bond Doyle's narration imbues the author's work with an additional feeling of compassion.
Updating the Greek myth of Narcissus, Payson uses the metaphor of "The Wizard of Oz," hence the title. In dealing with a narcissist, there is only one road, and that is the road that leads to them.
She introduces the book with a discussion of NPD, including variations on its definition and diagnosis, and a discussion of overt and covert types. After establishing a broad foundation, she goes on to discuss various relationships, from parent-child dynamics to narcissists in professional and social life. The section on "love" relationships --- and I use that word advisedly in this context --- is particularly enlightening.
May you find healing, comfort, and peace as you bid the Yellow Brick Road farewell.
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