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review 2017-10-20 03:19
Years of Change (Upstairs Downstairs) - Mollie Hardwick

Before 'Downton Abbey', there was 'Upstairs, Downstairs.' This book, 'THE YEARS OF CHANGE', is based on an episode of Upstairs, Downstairs that takes the Bellamy Family and their servants at 165 Eaton Place from the spring of 1912 to August 1914. 

Once I began reading 'THE YEARS OF CHANGE' on the subway to work earlier this week, I didn't want to put it down. For all of its 239 pages, it was packed with some of the most lively, intense, and at turns joyous and tragic family drama that I've encountered in a novel for quite a while. The reader also gets full views of what the lives of both servants and their so-called 'betters' (i.e. the ones upstairs as represented by the Bellamy Family) were like in considerable detail. For instance, the Bellamy son, James, a rather restless, impatient and frustrated man who had left the Army (he had been an officer in India) to take up a job in London -with his father's help - with a trading company, had married a typist in haste after professing undying love to her. After the first few weeks of shows of passionate devotion and affection, the marriage settles into one of stultifying indolence. One couldn't help but feel sorry for Hazel, James' wife, who clearly deserved better. There is a scene at a hunting party in the countryside (to which James had been invited by one of his moneyed, propertied friends) in which all the invited couples had retired for the night after a day of hard riding and shooting. James was peeved at Hazel for having defied his edict that she not ride. But she had been urged on by Lady Diana Russell (who had fancied James for some time - but having been spurned by James when he was feverishly in love with Hazel, she settled for a marriage offer from another man of her class she didn't love) and several of her friends to join in the hunt. Besides, they assured Hazel they would have a placid-tempered horse for her to ride. Well, Hazel was given at the last minute a more spirited horse to ride, which gave her a fright and made her a spectacle before James and his conferes. Hazel suspected that James, having regretted married her, was awaiting his chance to steal away in the night to Lady Diana's room for some "horizontal refreshment." After all, under such circumstances, it was not at all unusual for the rich and privileged set in Britain to quietly swap partners overnight. So long as discretion was observed and maintained, there was no reason for complaint from an aggrieved husband, or cause for public scandal. 

"THE YEARS OF CHANGE" is packed with so much. I enjoyed becoming acquainted with the Bellamys, the young Lady Georgina Worsley (a distant relation of the elder Bellamy's newly arrived from a Swiss boarding school), the society in which they lived with all its complex social standards and rules, as well as the servants 'downstairs - Mr. Hudson, the head butler and manager of staff; Mrs. Bridges the cook; Edward, the footman; Daisy, the sweet assistant parlour maid he came to love; Rose, the head parlour maid; and Ruby, the loveable, well-meaning, and unassuming kitchen servant. This is a novel that, once you begin to read it, you'll probably find yourself staying up all night to reach the finish. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
 

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review 2017-09-02 05:31
BOHEMIAN LONDON, 1994-95
The Lesser Barbarians - Eimear McBride

Last year, I first learned about "THE LESSER BOHEMIANS" through a radio interview the author had given BBC Radio London. My curiosity was piqued so much that I ordered the paperback edition from a UK-based website. But when I began reading the novel, it was a struggle trying to keep up with the stream-of-consciousness rhythm for the first 30 to 40 pages. I was very frustrated because to get a real, firm grasp of the story itself, told largely from the vantage point of Eily, an 18 year old acting student from Ireland who had come to London in 1994 to pursue a dream -- and along the way, finds love with Stephen, an established actor 20 years her senior --- wasn't an easy process. This was a demanding book, one that I came close to abandoning out of frustration. But then, somehow, the maddening struggle to keep apace of the stream-of-consciousness rush of words on the page faded away and I found that I could now easily follow the storyline. That helped to change my attitude towards the book.

As the saying goes, 'the course of true love never did run smooth'. Eily and Stephen had a very rocky path to get through, because like most people in new, budding relationships, each of them had longstanding issues in their pasts that made it difficult for both to trust themselves and each other. And the way the author uses words like a pointillist painter gave me a kind of visceral sensation at times that this roiling drama was happening in real time, not the early 1990s. 

"THE LITTLE BOHEMIANS" may not be a book for readers leery or unreceptive to stream-of-consciousness prose. But if you are willing to be challenged as a reader, the journey itself will be well-worth the time taken to immerse yourself in it.
 

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review 2017-08-13 09:00
East West Street: On the Origins of "Genocide" and "Crimes Against Humanity" - Philippe Sands

Of all the books I've read thus far this year, "EAST WEST STREET: On the Origins of 'Genocide' and 'Crimes Against Humanity' " is perhaps the most powerfully affecting and well-written. At times, as I read deeply into this book, it felt as if I was reading a family history, mystery novel, and story of the development of 2 key legal concepts from 2 remarkable men from Poland (Hersh Lauterpacht and Rafael Lemkin) which revolutionized the study and practice of international law - with respect to human rights - in the immediate aftermath of the Second World War.

 

This book gets its impetus from a visit the author (a British law professor and international lawyer) made in 2010 to Lviv, a city in the Ukraine that over the past century changed hands and names several times. Prior to November 1918, Lviv was known as Lemberg within the Austro-Hungarian Empire, which had a rich, diverse Jewish culture and distinguished university and law school in Lemberg University (now Lviv University). Then with the dissolution of the Dual Monarchy, Lemberg became Lwów within a newly independent, re-established Poland. But with the outbreak of the Second World War in September 1939, Lwów fell under Soviet control as a result of the Soviet-German non-aggression pact, which carved up Poland between Berlin and Moscow. This control proved to be shortlived, for once Germany invaded Soviet Russia in June 1941, Lwów became German and its Jewish population between 1941 and 1944 (when the Soviets retook the city, renaming it Lviv) was ghettoized and largely wiped out in the Holocaust.

 

What makes Lviv significant in this book is the connection the author's family and both Hersh Lauterpacht and Rafael Lemkin have to it. Sands' maternal grandfather Leon Buchholz and the families of both Lauterpacht and Lemkin lived in or near Lviv. Through sheer determination and lots of what can be likened to detective work, Sands shares with the reader the histories of his family through Leon's long, challenging and varied life (which took him from Poland to Vienna to Paris in January 1939) and that of Lauterpacht and Lemkin. Lauterpacht made a life for himself in Britain, where he achieved renown as a law professor and legal mind whose development of the concept of 'crimes against humanity' became widely adopted within international law during the Nuremberg war crimes trials of 1945-46. Lemkin, who was slightly younger than Lauterpacht, was a polyglot who spent most of his working years in Poland as a successful lawyer til he was forced to leave the country shortly after the beginning of the German occupation. In contrast to Lauterpacht who asserted that "the individual human being ... is the ultimate unit of all law", Lemkin developed during the Second World War the concept of "genocide", a deliberative action by a state to exterminate a people (along religious, racial, national, or ethnic lines). Indeed, Lemkin coined the word and tried throughout the war crimes trials in Nuremberg to have "genocide" formally adopted and accepted as a part of international law.

 

"Lauterpacht never embraced the idea of genocide. To the end of his life, he was dismissive, both of the subject and, perhaps more politely, of the man who concocted it, even if he recognized the aspirational quality. Lemkin feared that the separate projects of protecting individual human rights, on the one hand, and protecting groups and preventing genocide, on the other, were in contradiction."

 

Sands also sheds light on Hans Frank, Hitler's former personal lawyer who later was named Governor-General of Occupied Poland, where he figured prominently in the disenfrachisement and murder of Jews. In this capacity, Frank made a stop in Lemberg in August 1942, where he made a speech promoting his anti-Jewish policies. Frank later was tried for war crimes along with a number of top surviving members of the Third Reich (e.g., Hermann Göring, Joachim von Ribbentrop, Rudolf Hess, Wilhelm Keitel, Ernst Kaltenbrunner of the SS, and Alfred Jodl who had been Chief of the Operations Staff of the Armed Forces) at Nuremberg, where Lauterpacht and Lemkin watched him testify.

 

This was a book I enjoyed reading from start to finish. It embodied all the attributes of a novel and mystery thriller. And yet the fact that "East West Street" is a true story made my reading experience even more rewarding.

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review 2017-08-09 02:30
The Moonlit Garden (Audiobook)
The Moonlit Garden - Alison Layland,Corina Bomann

This was a pleasant surprise! Especially for an Amazon First selection since usually those books are not that great. This is translated into English, but I didn't notice any awkward phrasing to the translation was well done. 

 

I wasn't sure what I was getting into with this one, except that at some point there'd a moonlit garden :D so I was just going along for the ride and it was a good one. Lily owns an antique shop in Berlin and one day an old man comes in, hands her an old violin, tells her it's hers and leaves. The rest of the book goes back and forth between Lily trying to solve the mystery of the violin and Rose, the violin's original owner, a master violinist in the earliest part of the 1900s.

 

There's enough left out in the historical parts to keep the mystery moving in the current timeline. It's just nice to have a mystery that doesn't revolve around murder for a change, and trying to figure out how all the pieces fit together. And while parts of this take place in England and Germany, a good chunk of it takes place in Sumatra, Indonesia, which was also a nice change of pace as I don't often come across books set in Asia.

 

The narrator has kind of a soft voice but it didn't bother me too much. I do wish she had more range in her voices, especially for the men since despite some slight differences to their accents, it was difficult to tell them apart because they all sounded so similar. She does a somewhat better job differentiating the female voices. 

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review 2017-07-14 03:51
A Room With a View (Audiobook) - DNF @ 38%
A Room with a View - E.M. Forster

This is partly my fault, and partly the book's fault.

 

My fault - For some reason I thought this was like Rear Window, and that the movie was an adaptation of this book??? The movie has a guy with view outside his room, okay! I've never seen it, I just know about it through pop culture and the last time I heard anything about it was years ago, so I forgot the title. So I saw this book, and went hey! I should read that and then I can watch the movie, or rewatch that episode of Castle at least. Hahahaha! Nope. There is a murder, but that's about the only thing these two have in common. So incorrect expectations are totes my fault.

 

Book's fault - Bored now. Women were repressed in ye olden times. Did you know that? This is complete news to me. *sigh* Just a bunch of talking heads, characters are self-important and annoying (well, I guess Lucy's alright) and NOTHING HAPPENS. Walk around the countryside and talk. Next day: walk around the countryside and talk. Next day: Drive around the countryside and talk. Talk talk talk talkety talk talk. This is a British romance so boring even Hugh Grant wasn't in the movie adaptation. It's that bad!

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