Book Reviews: HRH Prince Philip Escape From The Palace & How The Stock Market Works

Tuesday, 30 September 2014
Hello everyone,

the last couple of weeks I was very busy and didn't have the time to read as much as I'd have liked, so you only get two reviews this week. But I hope you will enjoy them:

HRH Prince Philip: Escape from the Palace by Thomas J. O'Mara
If you like books with sensible plots, stay away from this one. HRH Prince Philip: Escape From The Palace is a very surreal read that makes the less sense the further on you go. But if you just relax and go with the flow, you may really enjoy it.
1960s. A middle-aged Prince Philip, father to four children and husband to the Queen of England, is living a privileged and comfortable life. But he doesn't see it that way. He feels trapped in a gilded cage. He doesn't want to abandon his duties completely, but needs at least a taste of freedom. But how? One night, Jones, the butler, informs him that he has found, in the Prince's bathroom, a mysterious hole. Curious, Philip decides to explore it. The hole is the entrance to an underground tunnel that runs under Buckingham Palace, connecting it to the outside world. It's an entrance very few people know about. One of these is the Earl of Buckingham, a hermit who lives under the palace to protect the royal family.
Philip asks his help to escape in disguise from the palace on a regular basis. It's not long before the Queen realises something's wrong with her husband. She decides, with the help of her mother and a few ladies-in-waiting, to investigate. Will she find out his secret? Will the press? That would create such a scandal, and every precaution must be taken to make sure they never get even the slightest hint of what's going on.
I found it hard to get into this book. At the beginning, I just kept thinking, "I can't imagine Prince Philip suffering from depression," "the Queen can't possibly be that petulant," or "this development in the plot doesn't make sense at all. There's no way this could ever happen." But, after a while, I decided to do something that made me enjoy the book a lot more: I took it for what it is. A surreal, senseless tale that however, explores serious issues. Are the lives of the privileged really that privileged? How much personal freedom should a person give up to do his/her duty and the right thing?
The book is written in a witty and entertaining writing style. And even though there isn't just one narrator (Prince Philip is, however, the main one), the story is not confusing at all. It flows easily and is a pleasure to read. Until you reach the last chapter at least. Even though at that point I didn't expect the story to make much sense and was glad with that, the end was so unbelievable it turned into a bit of a farce. But that's just me. I'm sure those who are into the surreal will love this book from the very beginning to the very end.
Available at: amazon
Rating: 4/5

How the Stock Market Works: A Beginner's Guide to Investment by Michael Becket
A lot of people are scared of the stock market and prefer to keep all their savings safely in the bank. But to invest some in stocks, bonds, and other financial products can make you a lot of money, even now in a time of recession. You just need the necessary knowledge to make the smart and right choices. Michael Becket, with his book How The Stock Market Works: A Beginner's Guide To Investment, helps you do just that.
Becket starts by explaining all the financial products being traded are, how they work, what their pros and cons are, and who should invest in them. He then explains how to evaluate the market, financial information, and individual shares to help you choose which ones are worth buying, how to buy, trade, and sell them, and the consequences, duties, and benefits of being a shareholder. The last chapter is dedicated to taxes. At the end, you will find a glossary explaining all the financial terms used in the book. But the most important advice he gives is this: listen to everyone's advice but follow your instinct. No one, not even experts, gets it right all the time. Following someone else's advice's blindly could cost you a lot of money.
Michael Becket is a financial journalist who worked for the Daily Telegraph, so the book is aimed at an UK audience. Some chapters, like that dedicated to taxes, will be of little use to those living in other countries, although there is a lot of information in here that anyone will find useful.
The book claims to be a beginner's guide to investment. I think that's partly true. I found some sections, like those who explained what stocks and bonds are, very straightforward and easy-to-understand even for newbies who know nothing about finance. But other parts, such as that dedicated to derivatives (quite a complicated topic I must add), were more difficult to grasp, and I had to reread them a couple of times to make sense of them. If you already know something about the topic, reading this book will be much easier for you. Even so, it is a very informative read. If you are interested in starting to invest in the stock market, and ready to master some financial language, you will find this book very useful.
Available at: amazon
Rating: 4/5

Would you like to read these books, or already have?

Disclaimer: this book was sent by PR for consideration. In addition, this post contains affiliate links.

New Look

Monday, 29 September 2014

Madame Victoire Of France

Thursday, 25 September 2014

The birth of a child is always a joyous event, but an expensive one too. And that's true for kings too. Especially kings of France. Etiquette required that every princess was to have her own household, with hundreds of attendants taking care of her every need and whim. The cost to keep it running was outrageously expensive so when on 11 May 1733 Queen Marie Leszczynska, wife of Louis XV, gave birth to the couple's fifth daughter, Victoire, the Prime Minister, Cardinal de Fleury, chose to send her, once turned 5, to the Royal Abbey of Fontevraud (her younger sisters would follow her there too).

The Abbey was a prestigious, but not a teaching, establishment. The princesses were mere boarders there, and were raised, according to Madame Campan, as "provincial nuns." The princesses' education thus suffered and the poor girls didn't have even the comfort of her mother's love and tender care. Madame Campan continues: "Madame Victoire attributed the terror attacks she had never been able to overcome to the violent fears she felt at the Abbey of Fontevraud, every time she was sent, as a punishment, to pray alone in the nuns’ burial crypt. No salutary foresight have protected these princesses from the fateful impressions that the least informed mother knows how to keep away from her children."

Victoire spent 10 years at the Abbey before finally being allowed to return home. She was now young enough to marry but the only proposed suitor was King Ferdinand VI of Spain. Problem was, he was already married. His wife was sick, but in no rush to die. When she did, Ferdinand was dying too. So, Victoire spent the following years at Versailles with her family. She grew particularly close to Louise, so it must have been particularly hard for her when her sister left to become a Carmelite nun.

She found solace in food and the company of her remaining sisters, Adelaide and Sophie, with whom she lived at their ch√Ęteau of Bellevue, away from Versailles. Sophie, though, wouldn't live to see the Revolution break out. Adelaide and Victoire were the only children of Louis XV alive at the time and together, they fled to Italy in 1791. They had to move from town to town as the French troops kept advancing into the country. On 7 June 1799, after 8 years of wandering, Victorie died of breast cancer in Trieste.

Further reading:
Memoirs Of The Court Of Marie Antoinette, Queen Of France by Madame Campan
Versailles And More

I Let The Public Believe That I Have More Influence Than I Really Have

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Marie Antoinette is often unjustly accused of having too much influence on her husband and interfering in political affairs. In truth, Louis XVI was determined to keep her away from politics, as the Queen herself explained to her brother in this letter:

September 22d, 1784.

"I will not contradict you, my dear brother, on what you say about the short-sightedness of our ministry. I have long ago made some of the reflections which you express in your letter. I have spoken on the subject more than once to the king; but one must know him thoroughly to be able to judge of the extent to which, his character and prejudices cripple my resources and means of influencing him. He is by nature very taciturn; and it often happens that he does not speak to me about matters of importance even when he has not the least wish to conceal them from me. He answers me when I speak to him about them, but he scarcely ever opens the subject; and when I have learned a quarter of the business, I am then forced to use some address to make the ministers tell me the rest, by letting them think that the king has told me every thing.

When I reproach him for not having spoken to me of such and such matters, he is not annoyed, but only seems a little embarrassed, and sometimes answers, in an off-hand way, that he had never thought of it. This distrust, which is natural to him, was at first strengthened by his govern--or before my marriage. M. de Vauguyon had alarmed him about the authority which his wife would desire to assume over him, and the duke's black disposition delighted in terrifying his pupil with all the phantom stories invented against the house of Austria. M. de Maurepas, though less obstinate and less malicious, still thought it advantageous to his own credit to keep up the same notions in the king's mind.

M. de Vergennes follows the same plan, and perhaps avails himself of his correspondence on foreign affairs to propagate falsehoods. I have spoken plainly about this to the king more than once. He has sometimes answered me rather peevishly, and, as he is never fond of discussion, I have not been able to persuade him that his minister was deceived, or was deceiving him. I do not blind myself as to the extent of my own influence. I know that I have no great ascendency over the king's mind, especially in politics; and would it be prudent in me to have scenes with his ministers on such subjects, on which it is almost certain that the king would not support me?

Without ever boasting or saying a word that is not true, I, however, let the public believe that I have more influence than I really have, because, if they did not think so, I should have still less. The avowals which I am making to you, my dear brother, are not very flattering to my self-love; but I do not like to hide any thing from you, in order that you may be able to judge of my conduct as correctly as is possible at this terrible distance from you, at which my destiny has placed me."

Further reading:
The Life of Marie Antoinette, Queen of France by Charles Duke Yonge

Book Reviews: Teachable Moments, Happiness By Design, & The Complete Guide To Professional Networking

Tuesday, 23 September 2014
Hello everyone,

today let's take a break from history to talk about three interesting self-help books I've recently read. Enjoy!

Teachable Moments: Using Everyday Encounters with Media and Culture to Instill Conscience, Character, and Faith by Marybeth Hicks
Some people have questioned what right Hicks had of writing this book. Apparently four children and a career as a media columnist and adviser on all things parenting aren't good enough credentials. To me, raising balanced, conscientious, and independent children is all the credentials I need. These parents often give much better advice than so called experts who have studied child-rearing only on books.
That doesn't mean that I agree with everything Hicks said, though. But I still think this is a great resource for Christian parents who are finding it harder and harder to raise children in the tenets of their faith in a world that has lost its moral compass. Although we'd like to protect children from everything that is wrong and that could harm them, we can't. Even if we, for instance, ban them from watching at home a TV show we think is promoting the wrong values (and Hicks thinks you should if it doesn't match yours), your child will still hear about it from his friends or schoolmates. What to do then? Use it as a teachable moment. A teachable moment is an unplanned event that parents can use it to teach children a valuable lesson. In the example above, if you find out your child has watched something that was banned at home, talk to them about it and explain what you find offensive and wrong about it.
Teachable moments can happen at any time, anywhere. They can happen at school, at sports, at home, in the real world, while consuming media... Hicks has identified 8 categories where teachable moments can occur and, for each one, she has created 10 scenarios, often inspired by her personal experiences with her children, that help parents figure out what to do when they experience them. Of course, this is not a comprehensive guide. There is no way anyone could list all the situations your children can find themselves into, but it provides some practical tips and guidelines that can be applied to many events.
Hicks' approach is very old school. A conservative Christian and patriotic American, she believes in the importance of teaching obedience to children and thinks shame could be used to instill conscience and character into them. But she also believes in being present so as to be able to catch any teachable moment that comes your way, in talking to children, in teaching them to live their lives according to their values, and in loving and respecting even those who makes choices we don't agree with.
This approach to parenting certainly won't appeal to anyone. Patriotic and conservative Christian American parents will consider this an invaluable guide to help them raise their children, while everyone else may find Hicks' approach too strict and her tone a bit too preachy at times. Even so, though, there are many tips here than any parent can implement to help them navigate the many tricky situations they will encounter along the parenting way, and teach their children media literacy. Overall, I found the book very useful.
Available at: amazon
Rating: 4/5

Happiness by Design: Change What You Do, Not How You Think by Paul Dolan
Self-help books about happiness usually focus on changing the way you think. Paul Dolan, instead, has a different approach. He believes that we should change what we do. A self-styled sentimental hedonist, Dolan defines happiness as "experiences of pleasure and purpose over time." Therefore, we should behave in a way that increases our positive experiences. Combining the latest insights from economics and psychological research, he has created a "deciding, designing, and doing" system that helps us do just that.
To be happier, Dolan argues, we need to pay more attention to positive stimuli and devise our environment in a way that automatically maximizies our happiness. How? If you'd like to quit smoking, for instance, you should stop taking your cigarettes at work with you. Want to lose weight? When going to work, take a road where a gym, rather than a fast food, is located. This will take some cognitive effort at the beginning but, before you know it, your brain will become used to the new behaviour and turn it into a habit. This way, it will be much easier for us to achieve our goals.
Dolan also states how important helping others is for our happiness, and how we can stop procrastinating. That's a section that I found particularly useful as I'm a chronic procrastinator. Dolan made me think about why I do it and offered tips to stop this bad habit. Pretty much every claim he makes is backed-up by research or from personal experiences, making this book both an informative and engaging read. If you're read many self-help books about happiness without success, pick this up. This innovative approach may work for you. And if you’ve never read any, check it out too. The insights and tips it provides can help anyone become happier.
Available at: amazon
Rating: 4/5

The Complete Guide to Professional Networking: The Secrets of Online and Offline Success by Simon Phillips
It's not just what you know. Who you know matters too. Often, the best opportunities from your career come from networking rather than job boards, newspaper ads, and postings. Luckily, getting to know people is now easier than ever. Technology has made it easy for everyone to connect with anyone, but that doesn't mean that networking in person can be neglected too. In The Complete Guide to Professional Networking: The Secrets of Online and Offline Success, Simon Philips help you succeed in both.
The book provides lots of ideas and tools to help you build an effective network, and as a result, grow your business. It will help you figure out what events and conferences are worth attending (those can be pretty pricey and you want to make sure they are a good fit for your business needs), how to work the room once you are there, how to follow up with the new connections you made, how to use social media, email, and other online tools to grow your network and more. My favourite sections, though, were those about the four different styles of networking and the importance of adapting yours to that of the person you're connecting with, and those about accountability. After all, how do you know if you're using the right techniques and are connecting with the right people if you never measure your progress?
Every tip or technique is backed up by interviews with some of the world's most successful experts on networking, which are accompanied by their caricatures. These images are really fun and add an informal touch to a professional book. Not that the writing is boring. Phillips writes in a clear and straightforward way and the book flows easily. However, to me, what's missing to make it a complete guide on networking is practical examples of speeches, emails, and online profiles people can tweak and use to start a conversion with a stranger or follow up with their contacts.
Despite this, this is one of the most comprehensive books I've read so far on networking, and I would highly recommend it to anyone who wants to get better at it.
Available at: amazon
Rating: 4/5

What do you think of these books?

Disclaimer: this book was sent by PR for consideration. In addition, this post contains affiliate links.

At The Milliner's

Monday, 22 September 2014
A Milliner’s Shop, 1787

At the milliner's

Ladies at the Milliners by Alonso Perez

The Milliner's Shop by James Tissot

The Milliner on the Champs Elysees by Jean Beraud

At The Milliner's by Edgar Degas, 1882

The Millinery Shop by Edgar Degas, 1885

Two Milliners Rue du Caire by Paul Signac

The Hat Makers by Carlton Alfred Smith, 1891

The Hat Shop by Henry Tonks, 1892

The Milliners by Marie Louise Catherine Breslau, 1899

The Milliner by Richard Edward Miller, c.1909

The Blue Hat by Arthur Navez, 1917

Movie Review: Mayerling

Friday, 19 September 2014

On 30 January 1889, the dead bodies of Crown Prince Rudolph of Austria and his lover, Baroness Maria Vetsera, were discovered in the Imperial hunting lodge at Mayerling. The official version is that Rudolf killed Maria in a suicide pact before taking his own life. But, another, more sinister theory suggests that the two lovers were murdered by political enemies. Personally, I believe the assassination theory. The suicide pact has always seemed too simple an explanation to me.

Plenty of royals, even married ones, have found ways to be with the women they loved. So, was suicide really necessary? It's also true though, that as Rudolph used drugs and probably suffered from bouts of depression, he may have thought there was no other way for him to be with Maria bar in death. Depression twists our perception of things and can make any situation seem utterly hopeless and any problem without solution. Self-medication with drugs just makes things so much worse. I doubt we'll ever know for sure what happened, unless new evidence should be discovered in the future.

This post, though, is not about my thoughts about Rudolph's death, but on the 1968 movie inspired by the events at Mayerling. The movie espouses the suicide pact theory. Rudolph (played by Omar Sharif), kept away by his father from any real position of power for his liberal ideas and thwarted in his desire to be with Maria (Catherine Denevue), becomes so depressed that he decides to take his own life. Maria, who doesn't want to live without him, asks him to kill her too. 

Although Sharif and Denevue are both great actors, they lack chemistry. There is so little spark between them that you can hardly believe they are madly in love with each other. Of course, this could have been intentional. This story is more about despair than passion, but still, I'd have loved to see more of the latter at least in the initial stages of their relationship, before the obstacles in their path seemed so large and indomitable to destroy all their hopes and lead them, ultimately, to their deaths.

The lack of emotions permeates the entire movie though. The cast is full of brilliant actors - James Mason plays the Emperor Franz Josef, Ava Gardner the Empress Elizabeth, and James Robertson Justice the Prince of Wales - but their performances are quite cold and detached, even when away from the prying eyes of the court. Instead, the movie is a feast for the eyes. The costumes, settings, and music are absolutely stunning and show us the opulence and decadence of a world long gone. Just for that, this movie is well worth a watch.

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