A Week in Winter by Maeve Binchy

A Week in Winter by Maeve Binchy

This novel is a wonderful read and well recommended. A lovely novel which I enjoyed.

This book portrays the difficulties of young women in the early days of Ireland in the 1950’s and continues with the stories of the characters to the present day and how they overcame their difficulties in life. Chicky, who left Ireland at an early age and made a life for herself in USA but eventually returns to the place she always loved.

A week in winter is a beautiful holiday destination on the wild coast of Ireland where some of the characters resolve their differences and learn to live with one another. The holiday alters their perspectives on life and they decide upon their futures.  It is a wonderful book.  There is the story of the accountant who is expected to join his father’s firm in Sweden but instead enjoys the freedom of travelling in Ireland and becoming immersed in the rich Irish heritage and music when he meets up with a travelling companion and they go to music gigs together.

Each person has a unique character and often a perplexing or difficult background. It is wonderful to read about these characters and how they change their lives for the better.

This book cannot be more highly recommended. I loved reading this story about the various people who chose to go on holiday to this special place in Ireland.  It is quite extraordinary in the way that people’s lives could work out the way they did and also there is romance alive in this novel.

It also details some of the challenges young people have to face in early life or difficulties encountered bringing up a child who is veering towards leading a life of crime and how the situation is reversed for the better.

There is also the story of the mother and the prospective daughter-in-law who do not see eye to eye and do not get along. However, this situation also is resolved in the end.  It is quite incredible, really.  Maeve Binchy also writes about life and she does this so well.

A beautiful novel of charm to read.

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Regent’s Park by Paul Rabbitts

Regent’s Park

From Tudor Hunting Ground to the Present

By Paul Rabbitts

I have enjoyed reading this wonderful book which tells the story of

the development of Regent’s Park over time. This book gives fascinating

insights into the decisions of the times and the workings of parliament and

local bodies.

A majestic park, which was once a forest, nearly lost during the time of Queen

Mary I and subsequently destroyed is by Oliver Cromwell, who had many of the

trees in the forest cut down for timber. There are prints included and also

aquatints which show the park from earlier times. There is a lovely rural scene of

Marylebone Park, which was its previous name in 1750. There was a Plan of Improvements

For Marylebone Park in 1809 by John White, which preserved rural characteristics with

Housing around its perimeter. It is mentioned that White’s design would have influenced

John Nash’s ideas but that White was never acknowledged.

After reading so much of the history of the park, the villas, and people who occupied them, the

stories of the architects and the wonderful town planning of the park and Regent Street I would

like to visit Regent’s Park on a visit to London.

The history is wonderful and this book by Paul Rabbitts describes in detail the beauty of the designs of the villas and gardens of Regent’s Park.  For all who love London, this book is a treasure.  It also gives information regarding the greenery and recreation areas needed as cities grew in population.  A wonderful informative read!

Pictures of the various villas are included and also the beautiful flower gardens and lake. A wonderful chapter on “Regents Park: a literary park” describes the wonders of the literary poets and writers and their impressions of the park given in their stories and also songs, as for example, references to singers and the park’s alluring qualities.  To be at the top of Primrose Hill and see a beautiful sunrise is extraordinary and described as being very beautiful.  A wonderful experience which seems to be magical.

It is indeed fortunate that this park is now available for the enjoyment of visitors, tourists and people because of decisions made by The Regent and also John Nash who was responsible for many of the designs. People interested in town planning would also enjoy reading this book.

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In the Footsteps of Anne Boleyn

In the Footsteps of Anne Boleyn

This book by Natalie Gueninger and Sarah Morris gives a wonderful historical

account of the places where Anne Boleyn visited during her life-time. Wonderful chateaux

in France, stately tudor mansions and beautiful lost palaces and majestic castles which hark back

to an earlier time in history.

I found this book informative and would also be useful as a guide if visiting some of the places

mentioned. There is Hever Castle, childhood home of Anne Boleyn, where her father is buried

at the chapel of St Peter with the full regalia in brass of the Order of the Garter.

There is also the history of the Tower of London, which at one time was also a palace for royalty

and Anne Boleyn was accommodated here before her coronation.

Wonderful snippets of history are included in the book which also portrays a time of romance and

elegance from another era. Anne Boleyn was created Marquess of Pembroke at Windsor Castle and Blenheim Palace is built across the valley from the Lost Palace of Woodstock.  There is a little village of Woodstock in Oxfordshire.

It is interesting to note also that Anne Boleyn may have been inspired by the interior decorations of the renaissance which she would have become accustomed to during her time in France. These renaissance themes may also have influenced her decisions when Henry and Anne were decorating Whitehall Palace and other places.

It is also sad to think that so many old palaces and castles from tudor times have been lost because of fire, civil unrest or from not being maintained in a proper manner over the years. However, there are still many emblems of tudor life to be seen and many old medieval tudor themed villages in England with the timber framed houses to view.

Many of the grounds of the castles are described vividly with orchards, gardens, tiltyards fish ponds and it is easy to imagine the beautiful scenery of a bygone era when the king, queen and court would go on their progress around the countryside visiting many of the stately manors and castles.    This book is highly recommended and gives the reader a fascinating insight into the layout of the castles, grounds and gardens and the way of life lived in many of the rooms of the lost palaces and castles.  It also gives wonderful insights into the romance of King Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn. e.g. The palace of Havering-Att-Bower which was a palace given to Anne Boleyn on her marriage to

Henry VIII, which was set upon a hill overlooking the Thames Valley with beautiful park land. This was an old Saxon castle and popular with kings and was known as  the Palace of the Queens from the days of Queen Eleanor’s dower.

Abbeys are also included in this book, though unfortunately many of these were lost with the dissolution of the abbeys and monasteries during the reformation years.  Notley Abbey was restored by Vivien Leigh and Sir Lawrence Olivier in the 1940’s.

This book is certainly evocative of earlier times of enchantment and romance with the lovely descriptions of scenery and locations brimming with fascinating history. A book which is lively and interesting and a wonderful companion to take on a journey throughout some of the byways and paths travelled by Anne Boleyn and Henry in England.

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The House at Riverton by Kate Morton

The House at Riverton by Kate Morton

The House at Riverton is a compelling tale set in the days of the 1920’s with references to the present day where we see the main character of the story, Grace, as an elderly lady who recalls past events in her life.

The story is quite riveting and fascinating. A beautiful mansion set in wonderful landscaped gardens with an Icarus fountain and statues of Eros and Psyche  and also memorable characters who live and work at the house at Riverton.  A beautiful place with a lake and summer house.  A place which lent itself to wonderful entertainments and soirees.

A place also, where Grace spent so much of her life at from the time of arrival at age 14. The place and her duties there as a domestic servant and subsequently as a lady’s maid inspired in her a life-time of devotion and loyalty.

There were so many new things for Grace to learn and assimilate and over time she came to learn about matters which had not been brought to the surface. As though so many things about her life were kept hidden from her.  In many respects, this book is also psychological as well as being a mystery.

It tells of a time of beauty and elegance, a way of life which was more in keeping with the Victorian era and values and of a world on the brink of change.

The lives of Hannah and Emmeline, two aristocratic sisters, coincided with the life of Grace. It was also a story of an aristocratic family of England before and after the First World War;  how the the war years  affected the fortunes of the family and the perils of social change in the class system of the time.

The dialogue of the story and characterisation are absolutely thrilling. The story at times is also tense and emotional.  It also reflects the modes and manners of the time.   It is a wonderful story which I highly recommend.

There is also an interview with the author who describes her interest in the times of the 1920’s and gives further reading material.  There are also questions posed regarding the story and its characters for discussion at reading groups.

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Madame de Maintenon, the secret wife of Louis XIV, by Veronica Buckley

Madame de Maintenon, the secret wife of King Louis XIV by Veronica Buckley

I enjoyed reading this story of the life of Francoise d’Aubigny, later to become Madame de Maintenon and the uncrowned queen of France as the secret wife of Louis XIV.

This story is quite extraordinary.

Francoise did occasionally enjoy stability and security while staying with her aunt and uncle and cousin at the Chateau of Mursay, however, this was often short lived as she would be uplifted and taken to Paris to live elsewhere and be brought up under a different religion.

She spent time in the overseas colonies of France but often lived her life through the generosity and friendship of others, even in her early days in the French colonies. There is also a hint in the novel, whether true or false that Francoise and her younger brother were sent out on to the streets of La Rochelle as they were in dire need of food and were begging.  This was before they would have embarked on their voyage to the French colony of Martinique.

Francoise’s father was more or less disowned by his own father and her mother spent years In Paris trying to claim money which she believed was owed to her husband. It was not a very good beginning in life for Francoise, who may also have been born in prison (according to the book.)

I was shocked and humbled by the extremes of poverty which the family did suffer while waiting for passage to Martinique at La Rochelle. It may have been from this time that Francoise always seemed to suffer from the cold.

It is also a sad story but later on Francoise enjoyed her life in the Marais district of Paris, as is mentioned in a chapter, The Merry Widow. At a young age she had married a scandalous poet, Paul Scarron,aAnd was thereafter known as the Widow Scarron.  However, it was during these years that Francoise came into her own and enjoyed meeting intelligent and influential people at his Paris Salon.  It would have been a glittering social scene for Francoise though perhaps people must have wondered the reason that she was married to Paul Scarron, especially at such a young age.  Francoise did seem to shine at this salon and became friends with Madame de Montespan, whose children she later minded.  It was in this regard that Madame de Maintenon later came into contact with the King.

Madame de Maintenon would have seen the king in the early days in Paris when he first entered the city with his Spanish bride which was a grand occasion and many people crowded the balconies to get a view. Francoise would also have attended entertainments which were put on by the king at the gardens of Versailles.

It was not until later that Francoise and the king became more acquainted and the king admired and respected Francoise for her intelligent conversation and obviously also as she took such great care of his children.

The book gives wonderful insights of the court of Louis XIV and the politics of the day. It is well worth reading.  It presented a different view for me as I had previously read books about other members of the royal court and the story of Madame de Maintenon is certainly something different.

It is stated at the beginning of the book that she had said that her life had been a miracle. It certainly is and also an extraordinary story as Francoise did become an uncrowned queen of France and perhaps if the king had had his own way with his councillors and advisors he may have crowned Francoise d’Aubigny as a queen of France.

An incredible story!

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The English Girl by Daniel Silva

The story in this book is quite riveting and well worth reading. It is a different style of genre from which I have normally been reading. The story takes place amidst the political machinations of England and the kidnapping of an English girl who had a promising career within the parliamentary establishment.

To prevent a scandal an Israeli intelligence officer is called upon to investigate the matter with as little repercussions as possible in the political establishment.

The story has wonderful settings of Israel, France, Corsica and also Russia.  It is a roller coaster of a story which I enjoyed reading. The action, the mystery and the intrigue keep the reader guessing the motives.

The fascinating dialogue and camaraderie of the characters also plays its part. There were also clever repetitive actions and manners of speech which added a certain quirkiness to the novel.  I also enjoyed the mood and ambience of the novel.  It was wonderful.  A brilliant story and I am now reading another book by the same authorof the tales of the Israeli spy, Gabriel Allon.

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The Lost Duchess by Jenny Barden

The Lost Duchess by Jenny Barden

The Last Duchess by Jenny Barden is a wonderful descriptive novel of early tudor England and the very different conditions encountered by the early settlers at Roanoke Island in the New World. The story follows the adventures of Emme, a lady-in-waiting to Queen Elizabeth I and an adventurer sailor, Kit, who has decided to make a new life in the New World.
This novel gives fascinating insights into the times of Elizabeth I and the many courtiers and famous characters from history who surrounded the Queen during these eventful years e.g. Lord Burghley, Sir Francis Walsingham, Sir Francis Drake, Sir Walter Raleigh and Christopher Hatton.
Emme and Kit are the main protagonists and the story follows their adventures and romance closely. It is a wonderful tale of beauty, mystery and also courage.
In this story there is an account given of the mystery surrounding the early settlers of Roanoke Island and what may have happened to them. The story is also peppered by real life characters of the times who were engaged as governors , botanists and scientists amongst the early settlers.
This book is well recommended. I found this book wonderful. It is educational, historical and also fascinating to read about these earlier times in the history of England and USA. The story is quite compelling and quickly draws the reader into the narrative.
I found reading this story and learning of the early days of settlement in the New World , the dangers and hardships incurred and also the strength and resilience of the early settlers to be a beautiful story.

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