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Book Reviews: Irene A Designer From The Golden Age Of Hollywood, Robert The Bruce, & One Size Never Fits All

Tuesday, 16 September 2014
Hello everyone,

ready for today's reviews? Let's get started then:

Irene: A Designer from the Golden Age of Hollywood: The MGM Years 1942-49 by Frank Billecci and Lauranne Fisher
In the Golden Age of Hollywood, actresses were the epitomes of timeless elegance and sophistication. That was, in part, due to the very talented but troubled designer Irene Lentz-Gibbons, who created countless looks for the big screen before moving on and starting her own label, Irene Inc. But if you're looking for a full, in-depth biography of this remarkable woman, you won't find it here.
Irene: A Designer from the Golden Age of Hollywood: The MGM Years 1942-49 is a short volume that focuses on Irene's time at MGM. Based on interviews of people who knew Irene well, unprecedented access to her records, and the memories of her personal artist, Virginia Fisher, the book reveals what it was like to work for such a big study in the '40s, and the friendships, politics, and backstabbing that took place behind the scenes. It's peppered with anecdotes about the movie stars of the era, who often sought reassurance from Irene, and glimpses into her tragic personal life, marred by the loss of her first husband, the love of her life, and alcoholism.
Although chapters are short, they are widely illustrated. The book is full of photos of Irene and her staff and of sketches of designs created by the designer for the many movies she worked on, including some that were never used. They are absolutely gorgeous.
If you're a fan of Irene, fashion, or Hollywood's Golden Age, you can't miss this book. It deserves a place in your library.
Available at: amazon
Rating: 4/5

Robert the Bruce: King of the Scots by Michael Penman
My science teacher in high school loved his subject and knew it inside out. You couldn’t fault his knowledge. But you could fault the way he imparted it to his students. He would just enter the classroom, make sure we were all present, and then he'd started talking, piling science facts one upon the other, using always the same dry and monotonous tone of voice, for the next 50 minutes. As a result, me and most of my classmates really struggled in his subject.
What has all this got to do with Robert the Bruce? It's simple. Michael Penman reminds me of my science teacher. He knows and loves his subject, but he doesn't communicate it clearly. Rather than telling the story of what Robert did after Bannockburn (the book is supposed to focus on that, although the first chapters cover his struggle to be recognized as king before that battle), he chooses to pile facts upon facts upon facts, which makes, at time, for some very dry reading. Worse, some of these facts, such as the endless lists of land transfers from Robert's enemies to his allies, are irrelevant and disrupt the narrative of the book while also leaving no room for important background information. For instance, in the first part of the book, where Robert and Comyn are both battling for the throne, the author doesn't mention what right the latter had to it. He also often introduces new characters (and there are plenty of them) into the story without giving us much information about them. As a result, if you're not already familiar with the history of the time period, you'll often feel lost and confused.
Having said that, this book isn't all bad. It is clear that Penman has done his research. The book is extensively noted and debunks common myths about Bruce. Therefore, it would be an interesting read for scholars and students of this period looking for accurate information about Rober's kingship after Bannockburn. But casual readers wouldn't enjoy it much.
Available at: amazon
Rating: 3/5

One Size Never Fits All: Business Development Strategies Tailored for Women (and Most Men) by Arin N. Reeves
Only a very small number of women hired by professional firms makes it to the top and becomes a leader of the organizations they work for. Why is that? According to Reeves, it's because most firms continue to encourage the use of traditional business development strategies, which were created and developed by men and thus focus on their strengths. But women (and some men) are different, and these tactics simply don't work for them.
That's when the shoes come in. Doesn't matter how talented a player you are, if you play basketball wearing shoes that don't fit your feet, you're gonna perform poorly and maybe even cost the team the match. Yet, this is exactly what women are been asked to do every day. And when they fail, they feel frustrated and start doubting their abilities. But these women are very talented, qualified and competent. They’re just not well equipped for the game they are playing. Just like a player needs the right shoe size, women need to use tactics that work for them.
After explaining why traditional strategies aren't working for women, Reeves proposes a series of alternative approaches that both firms and women, on their own, can adopt to develop business and thrive in their careers. It's not going to be easy. Business development is closely linked to money and privileges, and those who are enjoying them won't let them go without a fight. But change is possible. Reeves's strategies are simple and customizable, allowing each woman to pick and adapt those that best suit her personality and strength, bringing home results that their bosses and partners simply won’t be able to ignore.
If you're a woman or a man struggling with business development, or a boss who wants to see the women in his/her organization thrive, I highly recommend you pick up this book. It may transform your life.
Available at: amazon
Rationg: 4/5

Which of these books would you like to read?

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

More 18th Century Inspired Commercials

Monday, 15 September 2014
A few months ago, I shared with you some cool ads inspired by the 18th century. Well, I've recently found three more I think you may enjoy. I especially love the latter. It features a ball, masks, and David Bowie. Enjoy!

15 Minutes With Evangeline @ Edwardian Promenade

Friday, 12 September 2014

Edwardian Promenade is a must read for all fans of the Edwardian era. Run by the lovely Evangeline, the website covers every aspect of life during this period, "with a bit of Gilded Age America, Belle Epoque France, and WWI thrown into the mix!" Evangeline lives with her "very possessive and territorial cat" in Northern California, where she writes historical romantic fiction with "strong and intelligent heroines grappling their personal relationships and the thornier issues of their time".

Curious to know more about Evangeline, read on:

1. If you could live in any era, what would it be and why?
Tough one! Either the court of Versailles during the reign of the Sun King or 1930s Hollywood. The court of Versailles because I want to see its magnificence at the beginning and have a soft spot for Madame de Montespan. 1930s Hollywood because I am a classic cinema buff and I'd love to meet Jean Harlow (so pre-1937 ).

2. If you could invite three people, dead or alive, to dinner, who would you invite, and why?
Alice Roosevelt Longworth, Ida B. Wells-Barnett, and Rosa Lewis--three strong, unforgettable, and independent women who left an inedible mark on society.

3. Three books everyone should read?
The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton, Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child and The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

4. Who's your style icon?
The late Lauren Bacall

5. What are you watching on TV?
Sleepy Hollow, Downton Abbey, Extant, Scandal, and lots of history documentaries.

6. What's the soundtrack of your life?
Christina Aguilera's Stripped. I've loved this record for over a decade.

7. What's your favourite holiday destination, and why?
Washington D.C. - I'm a political history junkie and the Smithsonian was where I fell in love with history and science as a child.

8. What inspires you?
Food--as you can see with my recommendation of Julia Child's cookbook. I read them for pleasure, whether they be modern or historical.

9. One thing on your bucket list?
Extensive travel in the UK and Europe.

10. Something about you that would surprise us?
I don't know...lol. Maybe that I was a cheerleader in high school? I auditioned at the last minute in jeans and made the squad my freshman year.

Thanks Evangeline!

If you haven't already done so, go check out Edwardian Promenade now. You can also keep up with Evangeline on Facebook and Twitter, and buy her books on Amazon.

Laetitia Pilkington, Her Serene Highness Of Lilliput

Thursday, 11 September 2014

Laetitia Pilkington was a celebrated Anglo-Irish poet best known for her friendship with Jonathan Swift. Until he cut her off when she divorced her husband, Matthew Pilkington, a priest for the Anglican Church of Ireland. He didn't want to be associated with a separated couple, although he was in a way responsible for the divorce. Not that he had meant any harm. He had just wanted to help the couple. But let's start at the beginning.

Laetitia, whose maiden name was van Lewen, was born in around 1709 in a good Irish family. Her father was a physician and obstetrician, and eventually became the president of the College of Physicians for Ireland, while her mother was the niece of Sir John Meade. Laetitia had met and married Matthew when she was only 16, and shortly afterwards the couple was introduce to Swift. The celebrated author enjoyed the company of the Pilkingtons, whom he called "a little young poetical parson, who has a littler young poetical wife" for their literary skills.

Swift spent many nights conversing on all kinds of topics with the couple. He was inspired by them, but also inspired them. Once he recognized how talented Laetitia was at poetry, he encouraged her to pursue it. He also tried to help the couple financially and was eventually able to get Matthew a job in London, as chaplain to the Lord Mayor for 1732–1733. That's when the problems began. Laetitia didn't follow her husband to the English capital, preferring to stay in London.

Alone in the big city, Matthew did a lot more than preach. He had involved himself in many shady political schemes and had fallen in love with a Drury Lane Theatre actress. Laetitia discovered all this only two years later, when she visited her husband in London. So, she started spending time with the fashionable set of writers, journalists, and artists, and rakes of her time. Years later, she would write about them, their habits and their scams in her memoirs. But Matthew's time in London was running out. In 1734, he was arrested for one of his shady political affairs and sent back to Dublin.


Laetitia had put up with her husband's affair with the actress, but he didn't return the favour. When, three years later, he found her alone in her bedroom with Robert Adair, a young surgeon who would later become surgeon general of England, he promptly filed for divorce. It was a bitter, long and costly proceeding, and it ended up costing Laetitia her friendship with Swift. The writer had once called Laetitia "her Serene Highness of Lilliput". Now, she became the "profligate whore".

Laetitia was left with little money after her divorce so she threw herself in her work. She wrote poems, a feminist prologue for Worsdale's A Cure for a Scold, and even an opera that was however only performed and never published, No Death but Marriage. In 1739, she moved to London, where she lived under the name of Mrs Meade to escape her fame and suitors. Here, she met the great literary minds of her time, such as the publisher and novelist Samuel Richardson and the poet laureate Colley Cibber, who advised her on how to make money from the press, like he had.

She continued writing, penning many poems for other people they could pass off as her own, and even tried to set up a print shop and bookseller's in St. James's. Unfortunately, the enterprise wasn't successful and Laetitia ended up in the Marshalsea prison for her debts. Luckily for her, Richardson came to her rescue. In 1743, she began writing her most popular work, her memoirs. But she struggled to find someone to published the book. No one in the literary London world wanted to see their flaws exposed in a book. Matthew also did all he could to stop his ex wife from publishing her memoirs too.

Finding it impossible to find a publisher for her memoirs in London, Laetitia went back to Ireland. Once there, she published the first two volumes, but died of a bleeding ulcer on 29 July 1750, leaving the third one unfinished. Her son would complete and publish it four years later.

Further reading:
Queen of the Wits: A Life of Laetitia Pilkington by Norma Clarke

A Remarkable Instance Of A Person Being Tried For Murder On The Pretended Information Of A Ghost

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Being the first to "discover" the murder and raising the alarm can sometimes serve the culprit as a distraction to take everyone's attention away from him. Just don't embellish your story too much, and don't drag ghosts into it. It's a terrible idea, like this killer found out for himself:

A farmer, on his return from the market at Southam in the county of Warwick, was murdered. A man went next morning to his wife, and inquired if her husband came home the evening before: she replied no, and that she was under the utmost anxiety and terror on that account. "Your terror," said he, "cannot equal mine; for last night as I lay in bed quite awake, the apparition of your husband appeared to me, shewed me several ghastly stabs in his body, told me he had been murdered by such a person, and his carcase thrown into such a marl-pit."

The alarm was given, the pit searched, the body found, and the wounds answered the description of them. The man whom the ghost had accused was apprehended, and committed on a violent suspicion of murder. His trial came on at Warwick before the Lord Chief Justice Raymond, when the jury would have convicted as rashly as the justice of the peace had committed him, had not the judge checked them. He addressed himself to them in words to this effect: "I think, gentlemen, you seem inclined to lay more stress on the evidence of an apparition than it will bear. I cannot say that I give much credit to these kinds of stories; but, be that as it will, we have no right to follow our own private opinions here: we are now in a court of law, and must determine according to it; and I know not of any law now in being which will admit of the testimony of an apparition; nor yet if it did, doth the ghost appear to give evidence. Crier," said he, "call the ghost;" which was thrice done to no manner of purpose!

"Gentlemen of the jury," continued the judge, "the prisoner at the bar, as you have heard by undeniable witnesses, is a man of a most unblemished character; nor hath it appeared in the course of the examination, that there was any manner of quarrel or grudge between him and the party deceased. I do verily believe him to be perfectly innocent, and as there is no evidence against him, either positive or circumstantial, he must be acquitted. But from many circumstances which have arisen during the trial, I do strongly suspect that the gentleman who saw the apparition was himself the murderer; in which case he might easily ascertain the pit, the stabs, &c. without any supernatural assistance; and on such suspicion, I shall think myself justified in committing him to close custody till the matter can be further inquired into." This was immediately done, and the warrant granted for searching his house, when such strong proofs of guilt appeared against him, that he confessed the murder, and was executed at the next assizes.

Further reading:
Repository of Arts, Literature, Fashions &c, 1820

Book Reviews: Jane Austen's First Love, Mona Lisa: A Life Discovered, & The Teen Money Making Manual

Tuesday, 9 September 2014
Hello everyone,

curious to find out what I've been reading lately? Here we go:

Jane Austen's First Love by Syrie James
I don't read many romance novels these days but, as a Janeite, I just couldn't pass this up. Inspired by actual events in Jane Austen's life, the book imagines our favourite English author falling in love for the first time. The object of her affections is the dashing and charming but devilish Edward Taylor, heir to the Taylors of Bifrons. A 15 year old Jane meets him when she travels to Kent with her family to be introduced to her brother's fiancee, Elizabeth, and her family, the Bridges. It's going to be a month full of parties, fun, and games, as the Bridges celebrate both Elizabeth's and her elder sister Fanny's engagements.
Her feelings for Edward, though, don't prevent Jane from interfering in other people's relationships. Fancying herself a good judge of human character, she starts playing matchmaker, but the outcome is very different from what she had expected. Sounds familiar? During her stay in Kent, Jane learns some important lessons that will one day inspire some of her most popular and loved works.
James has thoroughly research both Austen and the time period. She faithfully recreates Regency customs and courtship rituals and her characters are interesting and charming. I especially loved the young Jane Austen. She's a smart and witty tomboy who is not afraid to speak her mind, almost to the point of rudeness. She's just like I imagined her to be at that age. And Edward Taylor, although no Mr Darcy, is definitely worthy of the affections of our heroine. His charm is very difficult to resist.
The story, narrated by Jane, is written in the Regency style. It's old-fashioned compared to the more colloquial and concise style we're used to these days, but by no means convoluted or boring. On the contrary, it makes for a charming, more realistic read. Although this is a fictional work, it was so accurate that I felt like things could have really happened the way that James describes them.
Jane Austen's First Love is truly a delightful read, which I highly recommend to all Janeites. It will not disappoint.
Available at: Amazon
Rating: 4.5/5

Mona Lisa: A Life Discovered by Dianne Hales
Mona Lisa is one of the most famous women in history. Everyone knows her face and her smile, but only a few her name and her story. Who was the woman who inspired Leonardo da Vinci to paint his masterpiece? Although several candidates have been proposed, most experts agree her name was Lisa Gherardini del Giocondo, a Florentine woman whose life spanned the most tumultuous years of her city and of the greatest artistic outpouring the world has ever seen, the Renaissance.
Mona Lisa: A Life Discovered is part biography, part history, and part memoir. The things we know for certain about Lisa Gherardini del Giocondo wouldn't fill a whole page, let alone a whole book. But, after spending countless hours in archives, interviewing experts on Lisa and Florentine Renaissance history, and walking through the same streets Leonardo's muse walked in, Hales manages to reconstruct what her life would have been like. Her assumptions are always based on what we know about the lives of women like Lisa at her time, and the customs and laws of the city she lived in. Sometimes, Hales also imagines what Lisa must have felt life at particular moments in her life, but when she does it, she always clearly mentions it.
The book is also a treasure trove of facts about Lisa, her portrait, and anything connected with them. Hales introduces us to her ancestors and her descendants, helps us navigate the tumultuous political times of Medieval and Renaissance Florence, shares anecdotes about the great artists that lived and embellished the city and the men who ruled it, and tells us what happened to the painting after Leonardo's death. Leonardo is also, obviously, a big part of her book. So much so that at times it almost seems like the book is as much about the artist as it is about his model.
But the book is also a memoir of Hales and her discovery of Lisa's story. The author takes us on the journey with her, sharing with us the places she's seen, the sources she's consulted, the conversations she's had about Lisa, and how her fascination for her was born and developed.
Not everyone will be interested in that last part, though. I enjoyed taking a trip to Renaissance Florence with Hales, but some readers may be interested just in the facts of Lisa's life and the history of her city. Which leads me to my main problem with the book. At the end of it, the real Lisa Gherardini del Giocondo remains elusive. This is no fault of Hales, though. It's obvious that she did a huge amount of research, and reported her findings accurately, but there is so little information available on Lisa that any book about her will perforce be more speculation than reality. We may, through careful and in-depth historical research, discover how she lived her life, but not what kind of person she was and what made her tick.
Hales is a journalist, which shows in her writing style. From the first moment I opened the book, I felt like I was reading a very long, and very fascinating, magazine article rather than a boring essay or biography. I mean that in the best way possible. She has a beautiful way with words that sucks you right in from the start. And her passion shines through every page. I highly recommended it to all fans of this iconic painting and those who want to know more about its subject.
Available at: Amazon
Rating: 3.5/5

The Teen Money Manual: A Guide to Cash, Credit, Spending, Saving, Work, Wealth, and More by Kara F. McGuire
Think that adolescence is to soon to start making some money? Think again. Learning how money works, how to make it, save it, and invest it, and how to protect it are skills that will benefit you for the rest of your life. And they're never taught too soon. This little manual explains how to do all that in a clear and straightforward manner anyone can easily understand. No complicated jargon here.
You'll learn how to land your first job or start your own business, how to save money for university, a house, or anything else you want, how to negotiate your paycheck and a raise, how to choose the best investments for you, how to stretch all your money so that you can pay for everything you need without giving up all that you want, how to make sure you have enough money for emergencies and retirement, and how to protect yourself from financial frauds and scams.
Although the book is aimed at teens, the wisdom in these pages would be useful for adults that are struggling financially too. However, if it's step-by-step instructions you're looking for, you will disappointed. The information provided is quite general and, while it touches all the bases, it never explains them too in-depth. Because of it, this book is a great introduction to the topic of money, but, as you start practising its advice, you will probably need more detailed information from other sources. Should you buy a more detailed book from the start? That depends on your situation and your interest in the topic. Some teens may be frustrated by how short each section is, while others will feel grateful that the book covers all the essentials rather than overwhelming them with information they won't need straight away. In either case, if you are a teen or know one, you may want to check it out.
Available at: amazon
Rating: 3.5/5

Would you like to read any of these books?

Disclaimer: I received these books in exchange for my honest opinion. In addition, this post contains affiliate links.

Lord Chesterfield's Avice To His Son

Monday, 8 September 2014

Neglected in his own childhood, Philip Stanhope, 4th Earl of Chesterfield, had determined to give his illegitimate son Philip a good education. He, therefore, wrote him many letters, giving advice on all kinds of matters, from deportment to morals, from etiquette to books. Lord Chesterfield never thought anyone but Philip would see his letters, but they were later published and became very popular during the 18th and 19th centuries.

Although many of his recommendations are old-fashioned, a lot of them still ring true today. All of them, though, provide a fascinating insight into the manners and life of an 18th century gentleman. Here are a few extracts.

A man who sets out in the world with real timidity and diffidence has not an equal chance for it; he will be discouraged, put by, or trampled upon. But to succeed, a man, especially a young one, should have inward firmness, steadiness, and intrepidity, with exterior modesty and SEEMING diffidence. He must modestly, but resolutely, assert his own rights and privileges. 'Suaviter in modo', but 'fortiter in re'. He should have an apparent frankness and openness, but with inward caution and closeness. All these things will come to you by frequenting and observing good company.

Next to good-breeding is genteel manners and carriage, and the best method to acquire these is through a knowledge of dance. Now to acquire a graceful air, you must attend to your dancing; no one can either sit, stand or walk well, unless he dances well. And in learning to dance, be particularly attentive to the motion of your arms for a stiffness in the wrist will make any man look awkward. If a man walks well, presents himself well in company, wears his hat well, moves his head properly, and his arms gracefully, it is almost all that is necessary.

Many people lose a great deal of their time by laziness; they loll and yawn in a great chair, tell themselves that they have not time to begin anything then, and that it will do as well another time. This is a most unfortunate disposition, and the greatest obstruction to both knowledge and business. At your age, you have no right nor claim to laziness; I have, if I please, being emeritus. You are but just listed in the world, and must be active, diligent, indefatigable. If ever you propose commanding with dignity, you must serve up to it with diligence. Never put off till tomorrow what you can do to-day.

I here subjoin a list of all those necessary, ornamental accomplishments (without which, no man living can either please, or rise in the world) which hitherto I fear you want, and which only require your care and attention to possess.
To speak elegantly, whatever language you speak in; without which nobody will hear you with pleasure, and consequently you will speak to very little purpose.
An agreeable and distinct elocution; without which nobody will hear you with patience: this everybody may acquire, who is not born with some imperfection in the organs of speech. You are not; and therefore it is wholly in your power. You need take much less pains for it than Demosthenes did.
A distinguished politeness of manners and address; which common sense, observation, good company, and imitation, will infallibly give you if you will accept it.
A genteel carriage and graceful motions, with the air of a man of fashion: a good dancing-master, with some care on your part, and some imitation of those who excel, will soon bring this about.
To be extremely clean in your person, and perfectly well dressed, according to the fashion, be that what it will: Your negligence of your dress while you were a schoolboy was pardonable, but would not be so now.
Upon the whole, take it for granted, that without these accomplishments, all you know, and all you can do, will avail you very little.


Further reading:
Letters To His Son On The Art Of Becoming A Man Of The World And A Gentleman, 1750 by Lord Chesterfield

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