Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Tuesday, December 28, 2021

Tenderness by Alison MacLeod-2021. - 619 pages


Tenderness by Alison MacLeod-2021. - 619 pages

Alison MacLeod’s Website includes a list of her works and a bio.

Gateway to Alison MacLeod on The Reading Life

D. H. Lawrence 

September 11, 1885 - Eastwood, England

1928 - Lady Chatterley’s Lover first published 

March 2, 1930 - Vence, France

 loved this book.  Earlier in 2021 I read two novels I regarded as great works of art, Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov and The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov. I am very glad to close 2021 adding Tenderness by Alison MacLeod to this list

Experiencing Tenderness by Alison MacLeod was for me a very elevating life affirming way to close out a year most will be glad to see over.

The central focus of Tenderness develops out of the struggles of D. H. Lawrence to turn his life experiences into Lady Chatterly’s Lover and the long fight to get the novel published in England where the publisher, Penguin Press,was  criminally charged with publishing an obscene book.  This occurred in 1960 when Penquin  had printed 200,000 copies of an affordable paperback edition.  The government prosecutors claimed the book would potentially corrupt young readers, especially women and servants, a throw back to an older time from the Lordly Prosecutors.

There are several intertwined plot lines. MacLeod brings us deeply into the soul of Lawrence.  He knows he is very sick with probably little time left.  We see his struggles with his wife Frieda, the friends who provide them shelter and his own inner demons.  

MacLeod made me feel I was at the London trial.  The defense brings in numerous expert witnesses including E. M. Forester, at 85 the best known then living English novelist, to testify in defense of the novel.  The diverse defense witnesses portray the novel not as an attack on the  solemnity of marriage but as a defense of true love.  Hoover did his best to bring in witnesses favorable to prosecution.

J. Edgar Hoover was director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation from 1935 until his death in 1972.  Hoover kept extensive secret files documenting sexual improprieties of highly placed Americans he could use as political blackmail should his position ever be threatened. At the time of the English trial, homosexuality was against the law in America.  Extra marital sex was treated as a horrible scandal.  In a deep irony, history has shown us that Hoover was a closeted gay in long term relationship with his second in command at the FBI.  He was very concerned that American communists, backed by Russia, were trying to destroy the moral fiber of Americans by helping bringing back into print Lady Chatterly’s Lover.  Hoover was appalled by the language and the open depiction of sex between Lady Chatterly and the estate gardener. Her husband had been crippled from the waist down in World War One.  The novel presents an England itself crippled in spirit by the war.

MacLeod treats Hoover as  very against the presidential candidate John F. Kennedy, running against Richard Nixon in 1960. He had extensive documentation on the sex life of Kennedy and Kennedy’s wealthy father.  He dispatched an agent to spy on Jacqueline Kennedy. He photographed her with a copy of Lady Chatterly’s Lover. Hoover thought the American Public would be horrified by this and planned to leak the pictures to pro-Nixon newspapers.  The agent involved has a significant plot line dedicated to his career at the FBI.  Included is a fascinating creation of a conversation between Lionel Trilling, author of The Liberal Imagination, and Mrs. Kennedy

The prose is exquiste, there are so many delighful minors characters.  As I read this segment I wished so much I could have been Sir Stephen in another Life.

“Sir Stephen had been a first-rate classicist at Cambridge, and was a distinguished eccentric. He was known, for example, to wear a hair-net when he played tennis, and he hosted a dining club to which all members – men, naturally – were required to wear purple dinner jackets with lilac silk lining. He owned numerous Siamese cats; it was difficult, by all accounts, to keep them off the table or out of his guests’

laps when they dined. He was mad about bridge and shooting, and had tutored Queen Victoria’s grandson. Sir Stephen was, in short, an editor, a bibliographer, a renowned librarian, a speaker of ancient Coptic, and a lover of church vestments, rare books – and vodka. Crucially, he was also Keeper of the Papers at the Foreign Office. That was crucial because, in 1929, he ‘transported’ two copies of Lady Chatterley out of Italy.”

Mel Ulm

The Reading Life

Sunday, December 19, 2021

Wunderland by Jennifer Cody Epstein - 2019 - 384 pages


Wunderland by Jennifer Cody Epstein - 2019 - 384 pages 

Last month I read The Painter from Shanghai: A Novel by Jennifer Cody Epstein.  I added her two other novels to my Amazon wish list.  When Wunderland was marked down fifty percent, as a Kindle, I happily acquired it.  Set largely in Germany,  Wunderland centers around the impact  of the Holocaust on three women. Ava Fisher and her mother Ilsa have never been close.   Renete, Ilse’s very close friend when they were growing up, is the third.

Ilse and Renete grew up very close. Hitler has come to power, Ilse joins Hitler youth organizations and begins to write articles about how Jews were destroying Germany.  Through a series of revelations Renete discovers her mother has kept secret their Jewish ancestry.  Epstein vividly portrays how both girls lives are impacted by the Nuremburg laws, the Gestapo.  Things were never easy between Ava and her mother Ilse, supposedly her father had been killed on the Eastern Front.  Terrible attacks on Jews are depicted.

Once Renete’s ancestory comes out, it changes everything.   We see the pervasive way German Society is destroyed.

The narrative moves from Germany in 1936 to New York City in the 1980s.  There are lots of delightful literary references including a number to a German translation of Alice in Wonderland.

From the author’s website

“I am the author of the USA Today bestseller Wunderland, now out in paperback. My prior works include The Gods of Heavenly Punishment, winner of the 2014 Asian Pacific Association of Librarians Honor award for outstanding fiction, as well as the international bestseller The Painter from Shanghai. I have also written for The Wall Street Journal, The Asian Wall Street Journal, The Nation (Thailand), Self and Mademoiselle magazines, and the NBC and HBO networks, working in Kyoto, Tokyo, Hong Kong and Bangkok as well as Washington D.C. and New York. I’ve taught at Columbia University in New York and Doshisha University in Kyoto, and have an MFA from Columbia, a Masters of International Relations from the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, and a BA in Asian Studies/English from Amherst College.

I currently live in Brooklyn, NY with my husband, filmmaker Michael Epstein, my two amazing daughters and an exceptionally needy Springer Spaniel.”

I hope to read The Gods of Heavenly Punishment, set in Japan during World War Two, soon.

Saturday, December 11, 2021

The Last Bookstore in London by Madeline Martin - 2021


The Last Bookstore in London by Madeline Martin - 2021

On a personal note, at age 22 my uncle Melvin Ramsey was killed defending London in a fighter plane. He was an American but before the USA joined the war, he signed up for the Canadian Air Force. When in London I looked for his grave but could not find it.  I never met him. His loss hurt my mother and grandmother terribly. 

As the work begins, just before Germany starts World War Two, Grace Bennett, along with her best friend Viv, realize their dream of escaping the provinces and moving  to London where they will live with her late mother’s best friend, Mrs Weatherford.  Grace worked in her uncle’s store and hated it.

In order to get a job in London one had to have a letter of recommendation from a prior employer. Grace’s uncle refused to give her one. Viv had forged her self a letter but Grace’s integrity made her refuse this.  Viv got a job at the highly prestigious department London department store, Harrods, where Mrs Weatherford’s son worked. Mrs Weatherford gets Grace a job at a bookstore where after six months she can get a letter to get a job at Harrods along with Viv and Colin, Mrs Weatherford’s only child.  Grace has never had time for reading and at first feels totally out of place at Primrose Books.

The owner is very cantankerous, being short with Grace and giving her little direction.  The shop is a disorganized mess. Grace makes it her mission to organize the shop, making it a pleasant place where people will want to shop.  Soon she has transformed the shop.

War is declared.  A handsome customer, George, talks to Grace about the magic of reading.  Just before leaving for the war he gives her a copy of The Count of Monte Cristo.  After a few months, the blitz bombing of London begins.  Grace volunteers three nights a week as an air raid warden. Grace begins to love reading. She reads from classics like Middlemarch to others sheltering in tube stations with her.  

The horror and terror of the blitz gets worse and worse but the English are not beaten down.  We see the impact of rationing on Mrs Weatherford’s cooking, she converts her flower garden to a “victory” vegetable garden.

Grace and the book store owner become very close as he opens up to her.

Tragic things do happen.  I found this book very moving and uplifting.  If London can survive the Blitz, it  can survive the pandemic.  I loved the close of the book.  Some on Goodreads have said the book is “too romantic” for them.  

Madeline Martin is a New York Times and International Bestselling author of historical fiction and historical romance.

She lives in sunny Florida with her two daughters (known collectively as the minions), one incredibly spoiled cat and a man so wonderful he's been dubbed Mr. Awesome. She is a die-hard history lover who will happily lose herself in research any day. When she's not writing, researching or 'moming', you can find her spending time with her family at Disney or sneaking a couple spoonfuls of Nutella while laughing over cat videos. She also loves research and travel, attributing her fascination with history to having spent most of her childhood as an Army brat in Germany.”

Monday, December 6, 2021

The Chanel Sisters by Judithe Little - 2020

 The Chanel Sisters by Judithe Little - 2020

In July of 2015  I read and was fascinated by Mademoiselle Coco Chanel and the Pulse of History by Rhonda Garelick.  For sure Coco Chanel (1883 to 1971)  is one of if not the most influential fashion designers of the 20th century. Worldwide her influence on fashion is tremendous.  When I started reading Garelick's superb biography I knew very little about Coco Chanel.    Upon reaching the end I felt I had been taken deeply into the psyche and life of an incredibly creative woman, a business genius who created from nothing a fashion and perfume empire worth billions of dollars, a woman who began life as an orphan and ended it atop the fashion universe.  I also saw a complex, deeply troubled and very much a flawed woman.  I admired her to a degree but found her often very selfish, insecure and I find her anti-Semiticism despicable.  I am convinced by the information in this book that Chanel did not just collaborate with the Nazis but tried to use the antiJewish laws they put in place to cheat the Jewish family that bought ninety percent of the rights to her famous perfume, Chanel # 5 from her.  

Coco (Gabrilla) Chanel is the most influential fashion designer of all times.  In the side bar of my blog there are four writers wearing Chanel inspired clothing.  She, as vividly 

potrayed in Judithe Little’s marvelous histotical fiction, rose from the depths of poverty to incredible wealth based on her talent, drive and creativity.  

I greatly enjoyed Reading The Chanel Sisters by Judithe Little.

The Three Chanel Sisters - abandoned by their father, their mother deceased were left in a Pensionnat, an orphange/ School run by Catholic  nuns.  

September 11, 1882: Julia-Berthe Chanel is born 

August 19, 1883: Gabrielle Chanel, later known as Coco, is born 

June 14, 1887: Antoinette Chanel is born

1902 (est.) Coco and Antoinette leave the Pensionnat and begin to work as seamstresses, for which they were trained.  From this humble start, with the help of a very wealthy man, Coco will build her huge  fortune.  She learned  the hard way to never rely totolly on anyone else.  Men will leave you, just as her father did her and her sisters, marry somone else or die. She liked her men tall, rich, thin and with a title. She never married.

There is a very useful timeline included at the close of The Chanel Sisters, from which the dates above are taken.

The story is told from the point of view of Antoinette Chanel.  Unlike Coco, not much is known about her  personal life.  Little  creates romances she might have had from what might have developed from the wealthy men she met through working as Coco’s second in charge.  It was exciting to see the sucess of Coco, starting out as just a hat maker and getting wealthier by the day as she expands into clothing.  

The story ends  just after May 2, 1921: Antoinette Chanel dies in Buenos Aires at the former Majestic Hotel. The cause of death is listed as “intoxicación,” or poisoning.  Little creates a very exciting but tragic account of why she was there.

We do miss out on the further huge sucess of Coco, her rise to international super star status as well as her possible flirtation  with The Nazis during World War Two, her post year time living in Switzerland and her return to France. 

“Judithe is the award-winning author of two historical novels, The Chanel Sisters and Wickwythe Hall. 

She grew up in Virginia and earned a Bachelor of Arts in Foreign Affairs from the University of Virginia. After studying at the Institute of European Studies and the Institut Catholique in Paris, France, and interning at the U.S. Department of State, she earned a law degree from the University of Virginia School of Law where she was on the Editorial Board of the Journal of International Law and a Dillard Fellow. She lives in Houston, Texas, with her husband and three children, where she is working on her third novel. When she’s not writing or practicing law, Judithe enjoys riding horses, reading, scouring the fields during Round Top Antiques Week, and volunteering. “ from judithelittle.COM 

Sunday, December 5, 2021

The Paris Bookseller by Kerri Maher - forthcoming January 11, 2022


The Paris Bookseller by Kerri Maher - forthcoming January 2022

Sylvia Beach 

March 14, 1887 - Baltimore Maryland 

1901 Family moves to Paris

1914 - starts Shakespeare and Company

July 1920 - Meets James Joyce

1922 - publishes Ulysses 

I loved this marvelous book.  Based on the Paris experiences   of Slyvia Beach, founder of the very famous book store Shakespeare and Company it is a story of Slyvia’s love for Paris, for literature, for her book store, for Adrienne Monnier, owner of a French language book store and for helping the many expatriate writers in Paris. 

Among writers we meet in Slyvia’s store, featuring books in English for sale or loan, were James Joyce, Ernest Hemingway, Ezra Pound, T. S. Eliot.  Joyce, as potrayed by Meher was an almost daily visitor to the shop.  Joyce was a “challenging” genius. Beach tried to help him with his marriage and eye problems as he worked on Ulysses. Meher really brought Joyce to life for me.    Sylvia worked very hard to get Ulysses published and fight American regulators  who had declared it “obscene”.  There is a lot of detail about court battles and clandestine distributions of the book.  Slyvia helped Joyce financially in his hard times, paying for his eye treatments.  We see his stormy relationship to Nora.

The Love story with Adrienne Monnier is very central to The book .  The erotic scenes are very powerful.  Same sex relationships were made legal during The French Revolution so things were more open there. Natalie Burney comes in for a mention which delighted me.  Of course Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas are featured.

I learned a lot about The day to day operations of the 

 store, often an operational and financial Challenge.

There is a bibliography of works Maher suggests at the close.

I totally endorse this book.  There is much more in it than I have mentioned.

There is bio data and information on The author on her website

Thursday, December 2, 2021

Adventurism and Empire The Struggle for Mastery in the Louisiana-Florida Borderlands, 1762-1803 By David Narrett

 In December of 2018, in consultation with Max u, it was decided that there should be an annual post in observation of our Father's December 2, 1914 birthday.

Our Father served four years in the United States Army during World War Two.  He was a junior officer serving under General Douglas MacArthur.  He was stationed in New Guinea and shortly after the war in the Philippines.  For the initial observation  I posted on a wonderful book, Rampage MacArthur, Yamashita and The Battle of Manila by James M. Scott .  Shortly after I posted, the author, a great speaker, did a book tour in Manila.  My wife and I attended one of his talks. Afterwards we had a lovely conversation with Mr. Scott.

In 2019 I came upon a perfect book for the second annual birthday observation, War at the End of the World: Douglas MacArthur and the Forgotten Fight For New Guinea, 1942-1945 Book by James P Duffy

Our father was born in Georgia, in the southern part of the state just north of Florida.  Our ancestry goes way back before the American Revolution so in December of 2020

I posted upon a biography of a pre-Revolution governor of the then colony of Georgia, James Edward Oglethorpe by Joyce Blackburn.  Our father, with our grandparents, moved to Florida around 1921.

This year I was happy to find a very interesting book on Florida history.   Adventurism and Empire The Struggle for Mastery in the Louisiana-Florida Borderlands, 1762-1803  By David Narrett 

Narrett begins his study in 1763 with the close of the Seven Year War to the Louisiana Purchase in 1803.  Narrett details how a rivalry deveoped with Spain in the Mississippi Valley and on borderlands between Georgia and Florida.  He tells us the stories of traders and schemers involved in cross border trade including slavery.  He details numerous military conflicts.  We see the impact of the American Revolution as well as the French Revolution.  He expanded my understanding of how these matters impacted greater Atlantic area.

David Narrett is Professor of History at the University of Texas at Arlington, where he has taught since 1984. He received his B.A. at Columbia University in 1973—and his Ph. D. at Cornell in 1981.


Wednesday, December 1, 2021

The Reading Life Review - November 2021

The Reading Life is a multicultural

book blog, committed to Literary Globalism 

November Authors

Column One

  1. Brian Kirk - Ireland - his work has been featured 11 times
  2. Nalo Hopkinson - Jamaica to Canada. Great S/F writer, genius at creating worlds
  3. Jennifer Cody Epstein - USA - author The Painter from Shanghai. First appearance - I hope to read her two other novels next year.

Column Two

  1. Lizzie Collingham - UK- wonderful food historian. 
  2. Eric Maria Remarque - Germany 
  3. Margaret Atwood - Canada

Column Three 

  1. Barbara Pym - UK. I am hoping to finish my read through of her novels next year
  2. Freya Sampson - UK - I loved her debut novel, The Last Library. First appearance. Hopefully many more to come
  3. Hiromi Kawakami - Japan . - Multi-awarded writer

Current  Countries of Authors 

  1. UK - 3
  2. Canada - 2
  3. Ireland - 1
  4. Japan - 1
  5. USA - 1
  6. Germany - 1

Seven works by women were featured, two by men.  Two authors are no longer living.  Only two authors were featured for first time, both will hopefully  return .

I read two non-fiction works upon which I did not post

  1. Black Spartacus - The Life of Toussaint Louverture by Sudhir Hazareesingh 
  2. The Taste of Conquest:  The Rise and Fall of Three Cities of Spice by MICHAEL KRONDL

Blog Stats 

Our posts have been viewed 

6,536,254 times

The top countries of origins of visitors are

  1. USA
  2. The Phillippines 
  3. India
  4. Romania - first time with such a high rank
  5. Canada
  6. Germany
  7. France
  8. Russia

The top five viewed posts were all concerning Short stories

Future Plans and Hopes - to Blog on through to The  end of The pandemic after 660 days of lockdown in Metro Manila.

I offer my thanks to Max u for his kind Gift Cards

To my fellow book bloggers, keep blogging, we are in ugly times but The World needs you.