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Reviews Written by
Jeane FREER "Spiritual Counsellor" (Paris, France)

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The Diana Chronicles
The Diana Chronicles
by Tina Brown
Edition: Hardcover

2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars An Assemblage of Detail, 20 Feb. 2008
This review is from: The Diana Chronicles (Hardcover)
The Diana Chronicles by Tina Brown do not add much to our knowledge of the life and death of Diana, Princess of Wales. Nonetheless, Tina Brown's access to people and the 2007 publication date which allowed her to review all that was known before the inquest of that year and the next, does provide us with the most extensive compilation of quotations yet assembled in one place.

While venturing to comment frequently on Diana's psychological state, Brown refers to but does not take into account her mother's alcoholism, the double-dealing of her sisters especially Jane Fellowes or similar bonding difficulties in Diana's life. Brown does, however, clearly emphasize the princess's astounding isolation in her early palace years.

Brown also seems a bit bemused by the continual reports, from those who were present, of the healing touch the Princess seemed to have had, and of the gift of light Diana so willingly brought to so many. Brown does agree that Princess Diana always `rose to the occasion' and never disappointed those waiting for her, regardless of her personal state, even from the earliest days of her marriage.

One of Brown's main contributions is the clear statement that El Fayed's ten-year shouting campaign about a murder conspiracy has almost obscured the fact that it was his son, his hotel and his staff that in the end were responsible for the death of the Princess of Wales.

The other point Brown makes is that, on the evidence, Diana and Charles liked each other, cared for one another and that without Camilla might have made a go of their reationship. Thus Brown hints at but again does not develop the story of Camilla's tenacity. Perhaps especially because of Charles' inability to resist Camilla, it seems impossible for Brown to paint a picture of Charles as someone fit to be king and defender of (the) faith, at least according to the standards set by his mother and grandfather. Brown reluctantly, and almost in spite of herself, reveals Charles' failure to be courteous to the young woman he was escorting as she struggled to cope with their early engagements.

Roy Strong, the fastidious director of the Victoria and Albert Museum, met the couple at the unveiling of an exhibition at his museum and told Brown « I don't think he - Charles - looked after her enough. » Patsy and David Puttnam, a film producer, were present at a dinner in 1984 at the London home of Lord Waldegrave and his wife Caroline. While Diana was being `watched' and reported on to the palace, Brown tells us that « In fact, it was Charles' bad behaviour, not Diana's, that made an impression on the Puttnams that night. While Diana was solicitous and affectionate towards the Prince, he was openly dismissive towards her. `He behaved as if she were an irritant,' said Patsy. `He would have liked her to be invisible and she knew it.' »

Brown is, overall, another Charles apologist, but then Diana is dead, Charles is alive and likely will be king and Brown is still a working girl in need of the next good job. Still, on two key issues of interest - was it Diana or Camilla who rendez-vous'd with Charles in the train before the marriage, and is it Charles or Hewitt who fathered Prince Harry - Brown only repeats already aired information and gossip, without even trying to put the pieces together in ways that might suggest new readings.

In places the book seems poorly edited or awkwardly written, trying to `bridge the pond' in a way that sometimes leaves it stranded in the mid-Atlantic. Nevertheless, if you are a gossip hound who loves to know what key players in any drama `really said' this book will probably be of interest. If you have not read the « Diana literature » as it has emerged, this book offers a very good summary overview.

The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency
The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency
by Alexander McCall Smith
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars African Wisdom, 12 Sept. 2007
Written by a man, The No.1 Ladies' Detective Agency has enough of a feminist persepctive for me to feel I was reading something actually written for me, rather than feeling as I usually do when reading, that I am trying to take pleasure in literature created for an audience of which I am not a part. McCall Smith' s feminism is simple but fundamental : men should not beat their wives, the better fathers are those who encourage their daughters to be independent and realise their dreams, women have a right to happiness.

These beliefs are just part of the basic philosophy of the central character, Mma Precious Ramotswe, the first lady detective in Botswana, who imparts her basic moral philosophy at the same time - murder is worse than lying, relationships are more important than money, intuition is a kind of knowledge. While all of this philosophy may seem clichéd, as perhaps it is, it appears naturally in the book as part of the character and helps us to understand her approach to solving the cases brought to her.

Woven throughout all of this is a picture of Botswana, considered by Ramotswe, and presumably McCall Smith, as the best and most successful country in Africa. Independent from the British since 1966, there is enormous pride in her accomplishments, and only the ongoinging black magic practices of some of the country's witchdoctors cast a shadow on the shining accomplishments of Botswana's diamond-fueled progress.

Most powerfully of all, it is the love of the land that sings throughout the book. Botswana - stretching from the Kalahari desert to the Limpopo river, a country where « there is a place for me, and for everybody, to sit down on this earth and touch it and call it their own ». A country with its distinct riches - « that was what her country was so rich in - emptiness...those empty spaces, those wide grasslands that broke and broke the heart ». With its thorn trees that know how to survive in the searing heat and the birds and snakes of Mother Africa. Where nature is a family member and where the rising of the sun and its setting at the end of day are events to be savoured in the daily rhythm of life.

I read this book in a relaxed afternoon, and felt I had passed my time with a pleasant companion, who had painted pictures for me of a place I might otherwise never visit.

Queen Camilla
Queen Camilla
by Sue Townsend
Edition: Paperback

9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars In Celebration of British Liberty, 10 Sept. 2007
This review is from: Queen Camilla (Paperback)
« Queen Camilla » by Sue Townsend 2006 Penguin Books, UK

Sue Townsend is a very well-established comic novelist, and the light-hearted humour throughout « Queen Camilla » provides a welcome relief from the heavy- handed news reports that can make us heavy-hearted about the Royal Family on a daily basis. I read this book in the week between Prince Harry's well-delivered tribute at the Guard's Chapel on the Friday and his shambolic hung-over performance at Heathrow Airport the following Thursday. Townsend seems to have Harry's number exactly, and though he rarely appears in the novel at all, he was at one point suspected by Charles of having lobbed a brick tied round with a handwritten note saying « Yourl never be queen ». Near the end of the book Harry gets a 15-year-old neighbour on the council estate pregnant and agrees to marry her. Each member of the Royal Family receives piercing and perceptive treatment from Townsend, though she seems kindest about William - the only one in the family to take a real job and come home with callousses on his hands - and the Queen, whom everyone finds kind and caring, if a bit common in her tastes and interests, and who abdicates near the end.

In « Queen Camilla », the monarchy has been abolished and the Royal Family has been sent to live in an exclusion zone, along with « the criminal, the antisocial, the inadequate, the feckless, the agitators, the disgraced professionals, the stupid, the drug-addicted and the morbidly obese » - about 40% of the population. Tagged and watched on closed-circuit television, privacy is a thing of the past. Townsend touches all the bases, portraying government leaders and their public-private enterprise partners with the same astute and amusing good taste she brings to the Family. And let us not forget her portrayal of Vulcan, the hugely expensive national computer that knows all about our various aliments, our shopping history, our reading matter and everything else, trusted implicitly by the people but known by the police to be almost entirely unreliable. The `plot' such as it is, centres on the Prime Minister's attempt to lose the election by banning dogs, and therefore dogs - and their ability to talk to one another - play an important part in this story, as does Camilla's apparent inability to grasp the significance of her situation.

« Queen Camilla » is a fast and amusing read, which prompted a few gentle chuckles and touched a soft spot for our much beleagured Royal Family and our long-suffering electorate. And what the book speaks to, perhaps more than anything else, is the tremendous luxury of our freedoms, that such a book can be written and enjoyed, and no one is threatened, imprisoned, stoned or beheaded. Even in its mocking of our traditions, « Queen Camilla » is a celebration of all that we hold dear .

Birth Order Book, the
Birth Order Book, the
by Kevin Leman
Edition: Paperback

4 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Self-Awareness through Birth Order, 10 Sept. 2007
This review is from: Birth Order Book, the (Paperback)
« The Birth Order Book: Why You Are the Way you Are » by Dr. Kevin Leman 1985 Baker Publishing Group USA

Dr. Leman is perhaps the foremost proponent of the importance of birth order in our psychological make-up. He has written numerous books on the subject, and has appeared on many American television and radio shows. He takes a humorous approach to his subject, and in order to follow him closely, it does help if you are conversant with favourite American television shows since the 1950's, and mainstream American slang. But his basic concepts are accessible even without these finer points. For each birth order position (firstborn, middle, youngest and only child) he gives a « Typical Traits: Strengths and Weaknesses » chart and questions you can ask yourself about your behaviour to help make your relationships with others go more smoothly. If you are on a path to self-awareness and have not yet explored issues relating to your birth order, this book by an experienced psychologist can shed more light on your inner workings.

There are, of course, many times when Dr. Leman mentions exceptions to his generalisations, and then casts about for explanations. It is at these times that I find the limitations of his Creationist beliefs most evident, because he is not open to including other influences, particularly astrology. I believe that a combination of birth order awareness and astrological information (together with basic psychological principles) gives a more complete explanation of our behavioural tendencies, which are of course modified by our real-life experiences.

« The Birth Order Book » is an easy read that can add to your understanding of yourself and your relationships with others.

Jeane Freer
Spiritual Counsellor & Personal Development Coach
"Therapy With A Difference!"
Paris, France
September, 2007

City of Djinns: A Year in Delhi
City of Djinns: A Year in Delhi
by William Dalrymple
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.99

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Legacy of Partition, 10 Sept. 2007
« City of Djinns: A Year in Delhi » William Dalrymple HarperCollins 1993

« City of Djinns: A Year in Delhi » was my travel reading for my first trip to India in the summer of 2007, a trip which began and ended in Delhi. Having read other writers and other Dalrymple books on India before I set out, I read « City of Djinns: A Year in Delhi » first on my outward journey, and then reviewed it again as we made our way back to Delhi on the last stage of our tour. The book was an invaluable resource, supplementing the ill-informed and poorly spoken guides who were difficult to understand and unable to answer questions in any depth. Dalrymple's book helped me to tie the city and its sites and history together into some sort of coherent whole. I also found the pen-and-ink illustrations by Dalrymple's wife Olivia Fraser very illuminating. Although at first sight they struck me as much too calm and uncluttered to convey the true image of the places they posed, I later came to appreciate how they captured the inherent essence of their subject and spoke volumes in their simple way.

As a journalist, Dalrymple has a knack for finding the right people to talk with - people with living memories of the time he writes about, who can bring to life the crumbling ruins they inhabit and instil us with visions of the beauty that once radiated in Delhi. It is certainly difficult to see today but reading the stories did help me to understand the sensibilities of some of the « Delhi-wallahs » we encountered in our travels.

My one criticism of the book is that he reuses material that has appeared elsewhere, which broke the rhythm of my involvement with his story and made me feel uncomfortable. These passages were extensive, and not changed sufficiently to feel new in any way. I was surprised that his editors allowed this to pass, unless there were deadline difficulties.

The overall impression that I was left with is that India today is still suffering from the reverberations of the devastation of partition, which brought incomprehensible tragedy and hardship and touched almost every family in India in one way or another. As we watch India vie for its place in the globalised technological marketplace, we will understand her better if we remember this recent back-story in her development.

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