Longbourn contains some beautiful writing and a compelling plot. No, it wouldn't work without the P&P story overarching it, but still,...moreThe pluses:
Longbourn contains some beautiful writing and a compelling plot. No, it wouldn't work without the P&P story overarching it, but still, the "below stairs" story manages to be as independently interesting as possible, which is quite an achievement.
I also thought Baker's take on some of Austen's characters was well done and felt that her portrayals of Mr. Collins, Wickham, and Elizabeth Bennet were particularly spot-on.
And James, the footman, one of Baker's original creations, is as noble and likeable as any of Austen's own heroes; more so, in my opinion, since his lack of money could easily have made him desperate and unscrupulous. He's like an impoverished Mr. Knightly with a dark secret.
The dirty details. How many scenes involving the lugging of chamber pots, scraping mud off of boots, or cleaning dirty diapers (soiled by the Gardiner kids) do the readers need before we get the point that, yes, the maids were given tasks that no one else wanted to do? There are several scenes having nothing to do with excrement or mud where the ick level goes absolutely off the charts, making Baker's quest to bring realism to the original story seem extremely heavy-handed.
Most of this, it seems, is to illustrate how difficult life was for the servants of this time period. Point taken -- again and again and again -- but in my opinion Baker's chief error is having protagonist Sarah constantly complaining internally about her grueling tasks while endlessly comparing her life with those she serves. I don't think many 18th/19th century people in service would have done much of either. Twenty-first century people transported back in time? Definitely. But there's no time travel going on here except for the reader who, though appreciative of the time Baker took to research what life was like for servants in Jane Austen's day, might have liked a more accurate depiction of their thought processes as well.
Although this book is aimed at young adults I couldn't put it down. Maybe it was because most of the women featured -- war reporters from WWI to the p...moreAlthough this book is aimed at young adults I couldn't put it down. Maybe it was because most of the women featured -- war reporters from WWI to the present -- had to risk serious personal danger in order to get their scoops. Or perhaps it was a fascination with these intense personalities and a curiosity about where their ambition would next land them.
Hollihan's biographies of these compelling women are concise but thorough and the reader cannot help getting a close-up view of the events the women were determined to cover; there's a plethora of well-researched history here and you see it through the reporters' eyes as it unfolded. Exciting stuff.
This is obviously a great read for teens or for those who study women's history or journalism but it deserves a much broader audience.(less)
I paid nearly full price for this book (something I rarely do) and it was worth every penny. I'm a musician/poetry lover and I thoroughly enjoyed seei...moreI paid nearly full price for this book (something I rarely do) and it was worth every penny. I'm a musician/poetry lover and I thoroughly enjoyed seeing how various authors from different time periods tried to put music into words. Not easily accomplished but the various attempts are well worth taking the time to read.(less)
I bought a used copy of this coffee table photo book at AbeBooks.com and a few things hit me upside the head as I read it. First, the sad contrast bet...moreI bought a used copy of this coffee table photo book at AbeBooks.com and a few things hit me upside the head as I read it. First, the sad contrast between this young -- and apparently happy -- royal couple and the current one, knowing that the former's union was doomed from the start whereas Will & Kate are obviously here to stay.
The following is probably a bit of hindsighted psychoanalysis but it seems to me that Charles possibly considered, in these photographs that were snapped during very public functions, that all the attention being lavished on the two of them was for him. Or at least most of it. I'm sure it didn't take him long to catch on.
Diana, on the other hand, is absolutely glowing and her happiness seems to stem from the fact that she has taken on an exciting new role -- and the reader/viewer can see her growing into it as the photos progress -- because she's in love with her Prince Charming.
So I found the book heartbreaking but insightful. The narrative is full of details regarding the historical implications of the marriage but though it is well-written it is jarringly out of sequence with the photos. Not necessarily a big issue but it does seem odd at times.(less)
I've always thought the Solzhenitsyn course I took in college was all I'd ever need for an insider's perspective of Stalinist Russia. But although it'...moreI've always thought the Solzhenitsyn course I took in college was all I'd ever need for an insider's perspective of Stalinist Russia. But although it's been decades since took that course, I don't recall being quite as thoroughly chilled by Solzhenitsyn's novels as I was with Rupert Colley's The Black Maria.
Perhaps this is because 1) Solzhenitsyn came to understand the evil of the system not as a civilian but as a respected military man before he was arrested and sent to a labor camp for criticizing, in a private letter, Stalin's handling of World War II; and 2) his most powerful works deal with imprisonment: One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, In the First Circle, The Gulag Archipelago, for example.
Colley's protagonist, Maria Radekovna, on the other hand, is a civilian who is relatively free (although arrest and imprisonment are constant threats) and perhaps that is why I found her to be a more relatable character than many of those found in Solzhenitsyn's great works.
When her story begins, the reader finds Maria tightly bound by the tentacles of the secret police. Her brother Victor -- having recently returned from a labor camp an emotional vegetable -- is the reason she has been forced into a job that requires her to "out" someone every two weeks, someone who is (or isn't -- it really doesn't matter) being ever so slightly disloyal to the State. Victor's sad life would be over if Maria didn't keep making her twice-monthly reports against her fellow-citizens, most of whom haven't uttered a disloyal syllable. Their lives for her brother's.
Maria is also trapped in a loveless marriage with an insipid Party official because he knows something about her history. And in this real-life dystopia items in one's past that would be considered inconsequential from a western perspective could be absolutely devastating for those who were attempting to survive during this time and place.
On the horizon of Maria's bleak world there suddenly appears a handsome, independently-minded artist who is, for the moment, enjoying state-sponsored patronage only because Stalin can see the propaganda value in art -- "The artist is the engineer of the soul."
Passion, loyalty, love, betrayal, and death play out between a small cast of finely crafted characters within a page-turning plotline, as they always do in Colley's historical fiction. But this book kept me turning (er, clicking) the pages a bit faster than the others. Perhaps this has something to do with the book's construction or else because The Black Maria takes place in Moscow, in the heart of Soviet Russia (as opposed to a satellite Iron Curtain country like Hungary, the setting of Colley's My Brother, the Enemy). Moscow in the 1930's was Communism exactly as Stalin desired it to be and this book gives a close-up view of the constant terror Muscovites were forced to endure as Stalin's secret police waged their ideological war on their own people via purge after endless purge, denunciation after endless denunciation.
Colley, a former librarian, wrote The Black Maria after wading through multiple accounts of those who had witnessed the Soviet terror. It shows. He even -- quite chillingly -- is able to get into the mindset of those orchestrating this "war", phrasing it like this:
"We are fighting a war, and our enemy is an internal one, one that doesn’t wear a uniform. We must always be vigilant; we can’t afford to spare the rod, not until our work is done.’
They were, most unfortunately, true to their aims and the way in which Colley captures this piece of history will stay with the reader perhaps longer than they wish it to.