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Graceann Macleod "Books Fuel My Life" (London, UK)
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TV's M*A*S*H: The Ultimate Guide Book
TV's M*A*S*H: The Ultimate Guide Book
by Ed Solomonson
Edition: Paperback
Price: £30.50

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Exhaustive, Yet Somehow Breezy Visit to the 4077th, 22 Mar. 2010
This is an astounding testament to the continuing influence of this seminal television program. Over more than 800 pages, Ed Solomonson and Mark O'Neill share secrets regarding how M*A*S*H got off the ground, and how the different characters grew over its eleven years. Not every detail is accurate (for instance, two possible explanations for Col. Potter saying "Courage, Camille" in an episode are offered, and neither are correct), but overall the attention to detail is amazing. This project clearly had the support of the late, great Larry Gelbart, and that shows to the benefit of the final product. Other people who were involved with the show in ways large and small are interviewed, and it's great fun to read the observations of actors like Jeff "Igor" Maxwell and Richard Lee "This is me!" Sung. This is obviously a warmly remembered time in their careers, and they are generous with their reminiscences.

When someone asked me how I was enjoying M*A*S*H: The Ultimate Guide Book, I said that I wasn't reading it, I was savoring it. Now that I've read through it completely, I'll keep it on my coffee table and refer to it when I'm watching my favorite television program of all time. This book will be a permanent part of my collection, and I'm thrilled that it's available.


Forever Amber
Forever Amber
by Kathleen Winsor
Edition: Paperback
Price: £13.48

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars He's Not That Into You - Restoration Style, 15 Mar. 2010
This review is from: Forever Amber (Paperback)
This is the most compulsively readable and enjoyable book, with the most unlikeable lead character, that I think I have ever read. There is absolutely nothing to recommend Amber St. Clare to us. She's emotionally stupid, selfish, avaricious, vain and completely blind to facts that at times quite literally slap her in the face.

Usually when I read a novel, I want to root for the main character. In Forever Amber, I took rather a morbid delight in the various misfortunes that Amber brought onto herself. In only one sequence does Amber act completely out of love, with no goal beyond protecting someone about whom she cares. On most of the other amazingly fast 972 pages, everything she does has an ulterior motive to her own gain and someone else's detriment. Watching her fall on her face is more entertaining than I'd like to admit.

This is a classic novel, one that was scandalous when it was first published in 1944. Given how laughably tame it is to my modern-day eyes, hearing that it was banned in Boston makes me wonder where they thought babies came from back then. You'd have to read very carefully between the lines here in order to find out, because there is nothing explicit in Winsor's text. The details are left refreshingly to the imagination of the reader. Maybe that's why it was banned - an individual reader's mind can dream up far more salacious situations than could ever be presented in mere text.


Wartime Chronicle: Vera Brittain's Diary, 1939-45 (Charnwood Library)
Wartime Chronicle: Vera Brittain's Diary, 1939-45 (Charnwood Library)
by Vera Brittain
Edition: Hardcover

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An Upper-Class, Pacifist View of WWII, 6 Mar. 2010
Vera Brittain is known for her Testament Trilogy (Testament of Youth, Testament of Friendship and Testament of Experience) and her work as a pacifist. She withstood a lot of criticism due to her unwavering devotion to peace, and her contention that chasing peace by bombing those who oppose us was a fool's errand. That could be debated to the end of recorded time (and it will be), but what is present here is the day-to-day life of a woman who is separated from her children due to the Blitz, trying to maintain a punishing speaking and writing schedule while bombs fall around her, and fighting red tape within her own government that would be enough to strangle even the most patient person.

It is sometimes difficult to have sympathy with someone whose contribution to the "make do and mend" difficulties of wartime Britain is to combine two of her fur coats, and who dines out at posh restaurants and complains of the lack of tasty items on the menu. "Regular folk" Miss Brittain is not. On the other hand, reading her diary is a great insight into what daily life is like when you're not sure if your home will still be standing the next day. Her contempt for Jan Struther, author of Mrs. Miniver, is most acute. Brittain is in England, facing the bombs and on fire duty, while Jan Struther wrote the much-revered novel on which the Greer Garson film is based while safely ensconced in the United States.

Sometimes I think Brittain thought her diary might be read in the future, and at other times I'm sure she didn't. Some people are referred to in ways that are mortifying to those she's describing - she was an astute and sometimes acidic observer. Entertaining reading, unless you're reading about yourself. Most pleasing to me is that Brittain's daughter Shirley, now known as Dame Shirley Williams, has these pages to look back on. To know that one's mother missed her every single day and rejoiced in her return has to be particularly moving.


The Fraud
The Fraud
by Barbara Ewing
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

5.0 out of 5 stars I Love Surprises, 25 Feb. 2010
This review is from: The Fraud (Paperback)
It is a very rare occasion when I honestly don't know what's going to happen next at any point in a novel. There was never a moment in The Fraud where I said "ah, this is where such and so will occur." I mean this as high praise.

Grace Marshall has a completely unpredictable life in Bristol and then Georgian London, and encounters many people the average woman would never meet. She has great aspiration and vigour; despite attempts to thwart her ambitions, she keeps her eyes on a goal denied most women of her time. The trials she faces and in what ways she succeeds make up this intricate, complex story.

Nobody is a complete hero here, though there are plenty of villains to go around. I love that even our heroine makes choices that are questionable in pursuit of her goals. I spent a great deal of my reading time rooting for her and hoping for particularly painful comeuppance to the people who stood in her way.


The Night Watch
The Night Watch
by Sarah Waters
Edition: Hardcover

4.0 out of 5 stars Moving Backward in Time Through London, 19 Feb. 2010
This review is from: The Night Watch (Hardcover)
Sarah Waters starts in 1947 with several diverse characters, already immersed in their own problems and consequences, and then moves backward to show us how they arrived at their various destinations. In this way, The Night Watch yields its layers like an onion.

Duncan, Viv, Kay, Helen, Julia and others, have secrets, memories and tragedies. The character I most related to, which probably explains my liking her the most, was Viv. Her storyine was certainly a dramatic one, and I thought it was the best written of the ones included in the novel. As a resident of London, it was very interesting for me to read of the runs through the streets during raids and rescues and note to myself what buildings still exist and which ones are now gone. I did feel as if I was a part of the experience, especially during the claustrophobic darkness of the blackout.

Much may have been made of the lesbian characters who live and work in Sarah Waters' London. To me, the book didn't ring out as a "lesbian" novel, but rather as one about people living, working and loving in London, some of whom happened to be lesbians. The love story present in the middle third of the book could exist in any story with heterosexual characters - just change the names. This is actually a compliment on my part - there's a great deal of talk about the "other"-ness and "difference" of gay people and lesbians from straight people. Sarah Waters' take seems to dispel that.

Would The Night Watch have been as interesting to me if it had been written in traditional, linear sequence? I'm not sure. As it is, however, it is an impressive undertaking.


Colleen Dewhurst: Her Autobiography
Colleen Dewhurst: Her Autobiography
by Colleen Dewhurst
Edition: Hardcover

5.0 out of 5 stars Part Memoir, Part Memorial, 12 Feb. 2010
Colleen Dewhurst, the actress who made even the most banal scripts into masterpieces, died in August 1991, leaving the manuscript for her memoir only half completed. Thanks to her editor and her assistant, what grew out of the tragedy of losing Miss Dewhurst is an even more well-rounded portrait of this marvelous woman. I believe that if it had been left only to her own memory, there would have been a number of omissions - because her friends and family were asked to share their reminiscences, we have a much fuller view of what living in her world must have been like.

Colleen was endlessly generous, astoundingly profane, loving, supportive, continually strapped for cash, and outspoken. When she took on causes, tasks got completed, even as her own personal business fell to others because she was simply too disorganized to manage it. Her haven, The Farm, was a place of rest for numerous "strays," both human and animal, and often she went to sleep at night not quite sure who else was down the hall or in her living room.

For a look at what goes on back stage and in the mind of an actor preparing for a role, this is a priceless resource. For a hilarious take on the overblown egos of some directors and co-stars, this is a laugh-out-loud read. For a moving story of what it's like to lose someone who left an indelible mark on theatre and cultural life, as well as on the hearts of countless loved ones, friends and fans, this is a beautiful memorial.


From the Corner of His Eye
From the Corner of His Eye
by Dean Koontz
Edition: Mass Market Paperback

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Suspense and Faith, Woven Beautifully, 6 Feb. 2010
Dean Koontz is clearly undergoing, or revealing, his own faith in some of his writing. I'm not complaining, because this is adding a layer that I love - one where doubt, surprise, suspense and revelation all take their turn.

At the first page, we are introduced to characters who are immediately embraceable, but Koontz can be cruel to his readers. No sooner did I fall in love with some folks than I lost them to the villain or to the vagaries of life in a Koontz plot. As annoying as I might find this with a lesser writer, with Mr. Koontz, I accepted the challenge and understood the need. The book is plotted in such a way that, just when I thought I couldn't stand another page of the awful behavior of the bad guy, the story moved to the good folks who populate the novel in much greater numbers. Agnes, Maria, Barty, Angel, Celestina, Wally - these are interesting, fun people, and I loved knowing them.

Sometimes when I'm reading a long novel, I think "come on now, let's get on with it." At the end of 730 pages, I was disappointed that FROM THE CORNER OF HIS EYE was over so soon.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Sep 21, 2010 7:21 PM BST


The Founding (Dynasty: 1)
The Founding (Dynasty: 1)
by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles
Edition: Paperback

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Setting the Tone, 16 Jan. 2010
As of this review, there are now 32 books in the Morland Dynasty series, and this was the very first one. In 1434, Eleanor Courteney is pledged to Edward Morland in a marriage she resists in her heart and mind. Being a woman of her time, however, she does her feminine duty and serves her lord and country. Eleanor is the beginning of a long, long story, and she populates it heavily, first by giving birth to numerous children, and then by running their lives and the Morland Estates with an iron fist.

The family tree comes in extraordinarly handy by the end of the book, given how many Richards, Edwards, Edmunds and Cecilys there are. At times, some of the characters seem interchangeable in mannerism and in what happens to them. By the time I was nearing the end of this first novel, I was feeling a bit tired of the machinations of the indomitable Eleanor. She's not a particularly sympathetic character, and even when her management leads directly to heartbreaking tragedies, she learns nothing from events and plows forward just as she always did.

Cynthia Harrod-Eagles is an excellent writer. I got a wonderful feel for the home in which the Morlands lived, the difficulties they faced and the landscape surrounding them. Now that she's introduced me to this sprawling family, I look forward to seeing how they continue to interact with history.


The Doctors' Plague: Germs, Childbed Fever and the Strange Story of Ignac Semmelweis (Great Discoveries)
The Doctors' Plague: Germs, Childbed Fever and the Strange Story of Ignac Semmelweis (Great Discoveries)
by Sherwin B Nuland
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.99

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Nobody Listens and Meanwhile, Women Die, 9 Jan. 2010
Childbed fever killed women in enormous numbers before the significance of bacteria in the travel of illness was discovered. This book discusses the work of one physician to solve the mystery of puerperal fever, and why it was that hundreds of women would die if they went into one ward of a specific hospital, but only a few would die in the other ward.

Sometimes the language used is a bit too clinical for the average reader, but the puzzle being assembled is a fascinating one. How Dr. Semmelweis was able to connect the dots using such rudimentary evidence is nothing short of genius. Sadly, the doctor's own behavior and attitude caused him to be largely ignored. It wasn't until many years later when the calm, methodical Dr. Lister came along, that things finally began to change. It's an interesting, infuriating and investigative story - one that is well written and well worth the reader's time.


Week-End Marriage
Week-End Marriage
by Faith Baldwin
Edition: Hardcover

5.0 out of 5 stars A Time Capsule, 6 Jan. 2010
This review is from: Week-End Marriage (Hardcover)
Faith Baldwin was famous for writing novels which focused on the tug of war between work and family life. Week-End Marriage is about the "scandal" of a woman who decides to continue working outside the home after her wedding day. First published in 1931, and made into a film starring Loretta Young in 1932, Baldwin's novel takes the stance of the time, as you might expect.

Lola Hayes enjoys her job and is making as much money as her husband. When his situation is altered, her income becomes even more important. His pride, however, is injured, and everyone she encounters tells her she is "selfish" for wanting a 50-50 partnership in her home. When she receives an opportunity too big to pass up, it is met with scorn, where if her husband had received that same opportunity, it would be cause for a celebration. Whenever she asks why this is so, she's told "because that would be different."

Presented as a cautionary tale, where wage-earning wives cause broken homes, messy living rooms and childless marriages, Faith Baldwin's WEEK-END MARRIAGE, read in a time when double-income families are not only common, but imperative in many instances, is a veritable time capsule of a novel.


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