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review 2018-03-21 01:40
SCANDAL IN WASHINGTON DC (1923)
Our Man In Washington - Roy Hoopes

"OUR MAN IN WASHINGTON" is one of those novels that blends reality with fiction so well that the reader won't be altogether sure of up from down, much less left from right. 

The story begins in Baltimore, Maryland during the spring of 1923. James M. Cain, a journalist and aspiring writer (who had done some work for the Baltimore Sun on labor issues), makes the acquaintance of the famous journalist, satirist, and cultural critic H.L. Mencken. Cain is hoping to get a job working for Mencken, who is rumored to be at work in creating a national journal that would bring together several of the nation's finest writers to contribute stories emblematic of the country's cultural values and lifestyles. Both men decide to collaborate on a book that would lay bare the rumors of scandal and corruption in the Harding Administration (i.e. graft, bootlegging, sex, and murder). 

In the process, Cain and Mencken spend the whole of the spring and most of the summer of 1923 investigating leads both in Washington and Baltimore, as well as becoming acquainted with some of the principal characters in, near or out of government who would later go down in infamy as the truth began to emerge about some of the scandals associated with the Harding White House. Both men also are able to have arranged for them separate off-the-record interviews with both President Harding and his wife (aka 'The Duchess'). 

There is a lot more to "OUR MAN IN WASHINGTON" than being both a thriller and a mystery novel. There is passion, subterfuge, and in Gaston B. Means, a real-life shady private-eye/fraudster/thief/confidence man who made this book even more compelling. And I must admit that the book's cover art captures perfectly the spirit and essence of early 1920s America with images of Warren G. Harding, Mencken, Nan Britton (President Harding's mistress who is said to have borne his daughter), Teapot Dome, and the presidential seal --- with the front page of the Sunday, May 7, 1922 issue of The Washington Post serving as backdrop. Anyone who enjoys a political thriller with the elements of a mystery novel will enjoy reading this book.
 

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review 2018-03-08 15:27
Entertaining, but limited
The Great War at Sea, 1914-1918 (Oxford Paperbacks) - Richard Alexander Hough

The title of Richard Hough's book promises more than it delivers, for instead of providing a comprehensive coverage of the naval campaigns of the First World War he offers a study focused on the arms race involving dreadnought construction and the stalemated confrontation between the British Grand Fleet and the German High Seas Fleet between the start of the war and the battle of Jutland. While Hough's focus is understandable, it comes at slighting the myriad other aspects of the naval war: of the sixteen chapters, only five do not address either one of these two relatively narrow aspects of the war at sea. Yet Hough is an able writer who provides a gripping account of such events as the pursuit of Germany's Pacific Squadron or the battle of Jutland. Readers seeking an entertaining account of the naval war will not be disappointed by this book, though those desiring a more comprehensive analysis would be better served turning to Lawrence Sondhaus's similarly titled The Great War at Sea.

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review 2017-10-27 23:47
IN THRALL TO THE DANCE OF TIME
On With The Dance - Michael Hardwick

"ON WITH THE DANCE" is a continuation of the 'Upstairs, Downstairs' series of novels and carries the Bellamys and their servants into the early post-World War I years. 

The novel begins in July 1919, on the day that the Victory Parade is scheduled to take place in London. Richard Bellamy, now a member of the House of Lords, had recently returned from France with his new wife Virginia (and her 2 young children; like Richard, she had been a widow for several years following the death of her first husband, a naval officer, early in the war), where they honeymooned and took in both the Paris Peace Conference and Versailles, where the peace treaty formally ending World War I had been signed on June 28th.

 

Since his remarriage, Richard is no longer living at 165 Eaton Place and is looking for a new house near Hyde Park with Virginia. He meets after the Parade has run its course, with James, his son, who is as morose and restless as ever. Though the war has been over for 8 months and James has fully recovered from the wounds he sustained at Passchendaele, he has been aimless and with little enthusiasm for getting his life on a firm track so that he can begin to move forward and settle himself. Georgina (his cousin by marriage - the 2 had hovered on the edge of falling into a full-scale wartime romance given the smoldering attraction each had for the other; however, since the Armistice and the various shocks - personal, social, and economic - taking place in Britain as everyone tried to adapt themselves to a peacetime world - their passion had ebbed and died, though both remained as close friends) tries to cajol James into enjoying the fireworks outside. But James' enthusiasm has apparently been used up through his earlier participation that day in the Victory Parade. 

The staff at Eaton Place has a new footman and under-parlour maid. Edward, now discharged from the Army, and his wife Daisy had left the employ of the Bellamys several months earlier to eke out a living for themselves. Both pay a visit to their former colleagues 'downstairs', trying to display a new air of confidence, that in truth, neither has. Edward's job as a door-to-door salesman isn't getting him any closer to establishing for himself, Daisy, and their unborn child the type of success he craves for himself. 

The novel goes on to take the reader into the lives of both the Bellamys and servants over the next 4 years. And what a whirlwind those years prove to be! Years full of happiness, heartbreak, and anguish. Again I couldn't help but marvel over how a novel with 156 pages could be so engaging and compelling.

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review 2017-10-25 19:44
'UPSTAIRS, DOWNSTAIRS' Goes to War
The War to End Wars (Upstairs Downstairs, #4) - Mollie Hardwick

THE WAR TO END WARS” follows hard upon “The Years of Change”, seeing the Bellamys and their servants at 165 Eaton Place through the four years of the First World War. Richard Bellamy, the father, a Member of Parliament, is given - as the war progresses - additional duties and responsibilities through his work with the Admiralty. His son, James, has rejoined the Army and is sent to France before the end of 1914. At first, the war is like a liberation for James from the discontent and restlessness that had a great effect on his moods from time to time. (Hazel, his wife, suffered from his neglect and occasional harsh temper – yet busied herself in various social activities in support of the war effort.) He takes pride in being in command of troops at the Front and sharing in their joys, sufferings, and sorrows. But as the war drones on into stalemate, James becomes disillusioned with the war and while home on leave, made the mistake of making his views known to a journalist. As a result, he was posted to a staff position in the UK, which he hated. But eventually, he is given active command of a new unit and is sent back to France. (Unbeknownst to James, it was Hazel’s influence with one of the Army’s high-ranking officers she knew as a social acquaintance that brought about James’ combat posting.) In the meantime, young Georgina Worsley (she was 19 when the war began), determined to do her bit, volunteers in a nursing program and upon passing, does a lot of the menial work nurses were often given in UK hospitals. She also worked with doctors and tended to wounded soldiers brought home from France. Eventually, Georgina is sent to France, where she works in a field hospital not far from the Front.

The servants in the Bellamy’s household (Mr. Hudson, the head butler and the acknowledged leader of the staff ‘downstairs’; Mrs. Bridges, the cook; Edward, the footman; Ruby, who worked closely with Mrs. Bridges in the kitchen; Rose, the head parlour maid; and Daisy, the under parlour maid) experience many ups and downs that seem to parallel the course of the war itself. Edward joins the Army and marries Daisy (both are very much in love) shortly before he is posted to France with a close friend who had been Best Man at his wedding. There, he manages to survive the hell of the Battle of the Somme. After many months in France, he is granted leave and returns to Daisy just before Christmas 1916. Together, they see in the new year, 1917, along with the rest of the Bellamy staff. But Edward is not quite the same. His nerves are shot. Shell-shock.

How it was that Mollie Hardwick was able to pack in so much drama and suspense in 220 pages amazes me. There were moments in reading “THE WAR TO END WARS” that I had to hold my breath or hold back tears. The world of the Bellamys and their servants became my world, too. For anyone who was a fan of the original ‘Upstairs, Downstairs’ TV drama or became a fan of ‘Downton Abbey’, you’ll love this book.

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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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