Book Reviews: Victorian Murderesses, The Marriage Game, & Creating Business Plans

Tuesday, 29 July 2014
Hello everyone,

I have read and reviewed three more books for you. Enjoy!

Victorian Murderesses: A True History of Thirteen Respectable French and English Women Accused of Unspeakable Crimes by Mary S. Hartman
If you're interested in gruesome crime tales, where every detail of the murders is minutely and vividly described, this book is not for you. If you're expecting a light, scandalous, and sensationalist account of each crime, you'll be disappointed too. Instead, you'll get something much, much better. In Victorian Murderesses, Hartman uses the stories of 13 British and French ladies accused of murder to take a close look at the role women had in Victorian society, what influence that society had on their lives, how this led to them being accused, something erroneously, of murder, and the impact society's view on women had on the outcomes of their trials. The result is fascinating and will completely change your views on women's lives in the 19th century.
The crimes are only briefly described. Instead, the author focuses on the backgrounds of these women to examine what kind of lives they led, and why they felt they had no option but to commit murder or why they were so easily, albeit wrongly, cast in the role of murderesses. The book is divided in six parts, each of which discusses two cases (one involved two women) that have similarities in common. The cases are listed in chronological order, which allows the readers to see how much the situation of women, and the problems they faced, changed throughout the course of the 19th century. This is also useful to understand how different life for women in England, were they began to emancipate themselves much sooner, and France was.
The book is beautifully written, meticulously researched, and extensively noted. It's a long, scholarly, read, but a very engrossing one too. Yes, it has poison, guns, sex, intrigue, and plots, but these were only small parts of the women's lives, and, unless they were a huge part of their motives, they remain firmly in the background.
Victorian Murderesses is definitely one of the most compelling books that I have read this year. I highly recommend it to anyone interested in the lives of Victorian women as well as crime.
Available: Amazon
Rating: 4.5/5

The Marriage Game by Alison Weir
No one ever played the marriage game better than Elizabeth I. Although the Virgin Queen never had any real intentions of getting married, she was great at manipulating all her suitors, be they powerful foreign princes or ambitious English noblemen (including her beloved Robert Dudley), promising them her hand in marriage and then drawing out the negotiations endlessly as a means to secure peace and advantages to England. This is the subject of this book, which starts where The Lady Elizabeth left off, with a young Elizabeth just ascended to the throne.
The first couple of chapters were really boring and slow, with endless discussions about why Elizabeth should get married and very little else. I was almost ready to stop reading, but I'm glad I didn't. Although her councillors, especially Cecil, attempt till the end of her childbearing years to force her to get married to someone (anyone, really), all the problems and events that occurred during her long reign, such as the many plots to put Mary, Queen of Scots, on the throne, the invincible armada, and Elizabeth's visit at Dudley's residence Kenilworth Castle, help speed the plot along and add drama and intrigue to the story.
But the book is also a love story of Elizabeth and Robert Dudley, describing the blossoming of the amorous relationship, and its deterioration as Robert's resentment at Elizabeth's constant promises and refusals to marry him grew. But throughout their ups and downs, the two never stopped loving each other.
I also loved Elizabeth's portrayal. She's capricious, jealous, and selfish, but she's also loyal to those she loves and to her subjects and is always striving to do her best for them. She's a clever and skilled diplomat, but also a woman with deep emotional wounds and fears that prevent her from going through with a marriage plan even when it seems the best choice for her and her country. In the end, the choice to remain a Virgin Queen may have been the right one, but it is clear that has cost her a lot.
Although slow at the beginning, the book is well-written. Weir makes Elizabeth, Robert, Cecil, and the Tudor court, with its intrigues and plots, ambitious upstarts and faithful councillors, come to life. A few times, Weir slipped back into her non-fictional style, telling rather than describing what happened during a certain year. But these slips are, luckily, few and short. Weir tends to be quite faithful to the historical record, although, like all novelists, she takes a few liberties. When she did so, she explained her reasons in an appendix at the end of the book.
The Marriage Game isn't for everyone. If you like fast-paced novels full of plots, secrecy and intrigue, this will likely disappoint you. Instead, this is a novel of Elizabeth's relationship with Dudley, her endless negotiations with her many suitors, and her deeply-rooted fears of marriage. If you always thought someone should have written a novel about that, you should definitely pick up this book.
Available at: amazon
Rating: 4/5

Creating Business Plans by Harvard Business Review
If you're thinking of starting a business or just proposing a new initiative within your organization, then you need a business plans. Without a good, well-crafted one, it's unlikely that you'll get much, if any, support. But creating a good business plan is a difficult, even daunting task. Where to start? By picking up a copy of Creative Business Plans. Part of the 20 Minute Manager series, this is a short book that covers all the basics, such as how to present your idea clearly, how to develop a good business plan, how to project rewards as well as risks, and how to anticipate any concerns your audience may have. It briefly but throughout explains what you should put in each section and then shows you an example of a business plan for a made-up company that you can use to model your own business plan on. Each chapter is straight-to-the-point, so you don't need to navigate through a lot of jibber jabber to find the information you need. Highly recommended.
Available at: Amazon
Rating: 4.5/5

Are you going to pick up any of these?

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

Fancy A Game Of Cribbage?

Monday, 28 July 2014

The game of cribbed, still popular today, is said to have been invented by Sir John Suckling, a 17th century poet and skilled gamer. The New Hoyle explained the rules thus:

This game is played with the whole pack of cards, generally by two persons, and sometimes by four. There are also different modes of playing, that is, with 5, 0, or 8 cards. But the games principally played are those with five and six cards.


Crib, are the cards thrown away by each party, and whatever points they make are scored by the dealer.

Pairs, are two like cards, as two aces, or two kings, &c. and reckon for two points, whether in hand, or playing.

Pairs royal, are three like cards, and reckon for six points, whether in hand or playing.

Double pairs royal, are four like cards, and reckon for twelve points, whether in hand or playing.

fifteens. Each fifteen reckons for two points, whether in hand or playing. In hand they are formed either by two cards, such as a five and any tenth card, a six and a nine, a seven -and eight, or by three cards, as a two, a five, and an eight.


In dealing, the dealer may discover every card he has, if he pleases. But if he shows his adversary’s cards, the adversary is entitled to mark two points to his game, and demand a fresh deal if he thinks proper.

Neither party may shuffle or meddle with the cards, from the time they are dealt until they are cut for the turn-up card, under penalty of the adversary scoring two points to his game.

Either party scoring more points than he is entitled to, either in playing his cards, or marking his hand or crib, the adversary may first put back the points so marked, and score the same number to his

Either party touching their pegs, unless when necessary to mark his points, the adversary may score two points to his game.

Either party taking out their front peg must place it behind the other.

Any by-stander interfering, or speaking in the game, shall pay the stakes lost.

Either party scoring a less number of points than are his due incurs no penalty.

Either player has a right to pack his own cards, and should he place them on the pack, and omit scoring for them, whether hand or crib, he must not mark for them afterwards.


Sixty-one points constitute the game, and the best mode of marking them is with a board pierced with as many holes, and two pegs for each party.

On beginning the game the parties must cut for the deal; the person outting the lowest cribbage card is dealer, and the non dealer must score three points, which is called three for the last, and may be marked at any period of the game. The deal is made by dealing one card alternately until each party has five.

Each person then proceeds to lay out two cards for the crib. In doing this always be careful to recollect whose crib it is, as the cards which may advantage your own are almost invariably prejudicial to your game when to your adversary. This done, the nondealer is to cut the remaining cards of the pack, and the dealer turns up the uppermost. This card, whatever it may be, is reckoned by each party in hand or crib.

When the turned-up card is a knave, the dealer scores two points to bis game.

The non-dealer plays first, the adversary next each scoring what the cards may make, either by pans, pairs royal, &c. until thirty-one, or near it, by either party. The remaining cards are not to be played. The non-dealer then counts his hand, and scores the points it yields. The dealer then marks for his hand, and afterwards for his crib.

Movie Review: Gypsy (1962)

Friday, 25 July 2014

Many people consider Gypsy the best musical ever made. I'm not sure about that, but it is definitely one of the most tragic. Loosely based upon the life of burlesque star Gypsy Rose Lee and her aggressive stage mother, Mama Rose, the story shows how, under the glitz and glamour of showbiz, lies a seedy and corrupted world where becoming famous, by all means necessary, is the only thing that counts.

Gypsy Rose Lee, or Louise as she was initially called, never wanted to become famous. A quiet, anonymous life was all she craved as a child. But her mother would have none of it. Deprived as a child of her chance to become a star, she was determined that her daughters were gonna make it in vaudeville. She never seriously believed in Louise's talent, though, and the little girl ended up dancing in the background dressed as a boy while her younger sister June took the prominent place in the limelight.

Despite all her efforts, the domineering and resourceful Rose only managed to achieve modest success for a brief time. Yet, she remained unwilling to make changes to the act and accept that vaudeville was dying, thus sabotaging the dream she had for her daughters. Eventually June, who, unlike her sister, really wanted to make it as an actress, got tired of always playing Baby June, got married and left. Louise hoped that her mother would now finally give up her showbiz dream, marry Herbie, and live quietly ever after. But Rose isn't capable of that. Instead, she decided to turn Rose into a star. Eventually she becomes one. But not in vaudeville. In burlesque.

Rose isn't happy about that. It's true that she pushes her daughter on the stage for the first time, but she stresses that she should perform life a lady, just lowering her shoulder strap at the most. But Louise, who had always believed to be ugly and talentless, finds in burlesque something she's good at. And she discovers how pretty she really is. For someone as damaged as her, it's easy to mistake the applause and cheers from the leering men in the crowd for love and approval. And love her they might, but in the totally wrong way. Louise, for her part, tries to make her act lady-like, but in the end, that just becomes a gimmick that cannot hide the fact that she's making a living by taking her clothes off for crowds of men.

Natalie Wood is great in the part of Gypsy Rose Lee. She has a naive, vulnerable charm that captures the torments, insecurities, and abuse Louise suffered as a child and that led her to choose a career as a stripper. With a mother like Rose, she never had the chance to be anything else. And while it would be easy to see Rose only as a monster mom, she is a victim too. Abandoned at a young age by her mother, and never receiving the support she needed to make her dreams come true by her father, Rose devotes all her efforts to give her daughters the life she always wanted to live. But by so doing, she ends up alone. Rosalind Russell played her, with her exuberance, restlessness, and many contradictions, perfectly.

The musical numbers are plentiful, beautiful, and short. My favourite songs are "Some People", where Rose explains that she just can't live the boring, domesticated life her daughters so desperately need and "Rose's Turn", in which she pours her heart out when, in the end, she's finally left alone on the stage to reflect about her failures. It's a powerful number. Unfortunately, the songs are so famous that not everyone listens the lyrics or music anymore, which is really a shame.

Gypsy is a great all round musical, with glitz and glamour, tragic and drama, wonderful music and brilliant acting. Although it can at times feel like the movie's glamourizing strippers, its aim is to explain what led Gypsy Rose Lee to become one. The musical is a powerful reminder of the damage stage moms can inflict on their children, ruining their chances to lead a happy and fulfilling life. Sadly, it is a lesson too many parents haven't learned yet.

Lady Margaret Beaufort

Thursday, 24 July 2014

"She was a gentlewoman, a scholar, and a saint, and after having been three times married, she took a vow of celibacy. What more could be expected of any woman?"

In The White Queen, the BBC show inspired by Philippa Gregory's novel, Margaret Beaufort was portrayed as a religious nutcase. But while very pious, the mother of Henry VII was also a smart, pragmatic and ambitious woman who had a powerful influence on English history. Born on 31 May 1443, Margaret was the daughter of Margaret Beauchamp and her second husband John Beaufort, 1st Duke of Somerset, and the illegitimate son of John of Gaunt and his mistress Katherine Swynford (the couple was later married and the children legitimized).

Her father died soon after her birth, so the king, Henry IV granted her wardship to William de la Pole, Earl of Suffolk and steward of the royal household. At the tender age of six, she was married to the Earl’s seven year old son, but the little girl didn't move in with her new husband straight away. Instead, she was allowed to remain with her mother on the Bletso estate. Some say that it wasn't a marriage at all, though. Only a betrothal. In any case, a few years later King Henry VI revoked the de Pole’s wardship, handing it over to his own half brothers Jasper and Edmund Tudor. Margaret's marriage was then annulled.

On 1 November 1455, aged only 12, Margaret married the 24 year old Edmond Tudor. The marriage was immediately consummated and, the following year, Margaret gave birth to her only son, Henry. The birth was very difficult, and both mother and son almost died. But it was Edmund who would never see his son, having died a few months before the birth. Margaret moved in with her family in Wales, but was soon separated from her child. The king had granted his wardship to William, Lord Herbert and the child lived with him until he was 12. These were difficult years, not just for Margaret, but for the country too. The War of the Roses raged on and, when Edward IV regained the throne, Henry fled to Brittany, where he remained for 14 years. During most of his young life, Margaret rarely saw her son and communicated with him mostly by letters.

Margaret married twice more. On 3 January 1458, she tied the knot with her second cousin, Sir Henry Stafford. The coupled live peacefully together, but never had any children. In 1471, her husband died. The following year, Margaret married again, this time to Thomas Stanley, the Lord High Constable and King of Mann. Their was a marriage of convenience. Thanks to Stanley, Margaret was able to return at court and was even chosen as godmother for one of Queen Elizabeth's daughters. After Edward IV's death, the throne was seized by his brother Richard. Margaret briefly served his Queen too.

Richard stripped Margaret of all her titles and estate, transferring her properties to her husband. Perhaps he was suspecting that she was plotting with the dowager queen, Elizabeth Woodville, to remove him from the throne. Because Elizabeth's sons, the Princes in the Tower, were thought dead, the dowager queen agreed to marry her eldest daughter, Elizabeth, to Margaret's son, Henry. The marriage would unite the two houses of York and Lancaster. Margaret was also very likely involved in the Buckingham rebellion, which failed, also thanks to her husband who supported the King.

However, Stanley wouldn't come to the king's aid at the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485. Instead, even though his eldest son was held hostage by Richard, he waited to see how the battle would unfold and, when he was finally ready to fight, it was to support his stepson Henry Tudor. King Richard was killed and Henry became King. It was Stanley that placed the crown on his head after the battle. Margaret was now known as "My Lady the King's Mother". Her son also rewarded her by recognising her right to hold property independently from her husband and, towards the end of his reign, he also appointed to her to a special commission to administer justice in the north of England.

Margaret now lived away from her husband. In 1499, with Stanley's permission, she took a vow of chastity. A very pious woman, she was famous for her education. During her life, she founded and supported several schools and churches. Her son was very devoted to her and she had a great influence on her youngest grandson, the future Henry VIII, too. Margaret died in the Deanery of Westminster Abbey on 29 June 1509, the day after her grandson's 18th birthday and just over two months after the death of her son. She is buried in the Henry VII Lady Chapel of the Abbey.

Further reading:
Margaret Beaufort: Mother of the Tudor Dynasty by Elizabeth Norton

Master Crewe As Henry VIII

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Estelle M. Hurll thus describes this portrait by Sir Joshua Reynolds:

Henry VIII. had been dead some two hundred years before the Master Crewe of our picture was born, but English kings are not allowed to be forgotten. Successive generations of children were shown Holbein's portraits of the bluff old ruler, and were taught something about his reign.

It happened one time that the children of Master Crewe's acquaintance had a fancy dress party. The Crewes were people of fashion who entered constantly into social affairs. Naturally there was much discussion over their son's part and costume. It was a happy thought which fixed upon the character of Henry VIII., for the boy's round face, square shoulders, and sturdy frame were well fitted for the rôle.

Evidently no pains were spared to make the costume historically correct. Holbein's portrait was the costumer's model, and every detail was faithfully followed. The boy is dressed in the fashion of the sixteenth century in "doublet and hose." This consists first of a richly embroidered waistcoat, the most effective part of the dress. The sleeves are made of the same material and are gathered at the wrists in a ruffle. The lower part of the doublet is a skirt falling just above the knees.

Over all is flung a handsome mantle; but this is drawn apart in front to display the smart waistcoat to full advantage. A broad-brimmed hat set jauntily on one side, and trimmed with a long feather, completes the costume. By way of ornament is worn a big jewelled collar and a long chain with locket. A short sword swings from the girdle, and on the left leg is the garter, which is the badge of membership in the ancient Order of the Garter, of which Henry VIII. was the tenth sovereign member. This is of dark blue ribbon edged with gold, and bearing in gold letters the motto "Honi soit qui mal y pense".

It is one thing to have a perfect costume, and another to understand the rôle. Master Crewe not only looks his part, but he acts it as well. He has not failed to take in all the points of the portrait, and imitates the pompous attitude to perfection. He stands with feet wide apart, grasping his gloves in the right hand and supporting the other on the sash.

He is a bright boy, who enters into the spirit of the game, and it tickles him hugely to play the part of a despot. But while he is Henry VIII. in miniature, he is Henry VIII. without the king's coarseness, and in the place is a child's innocent pleasure. It was no wonder that his parents, delighted with the success of the costume, wished to have a portrait made.

The boy is painted as he appeared when posing for his admiring friends. In his effort to assume a lordly air his boyish glee gets the better of him, and he belies the character by a broad grin. Perhaps he has caught the twinkle in his father's eye, or his mother's suppressed smile, and he can keep serious no longer. "Bravo!" cries the audience, and he smiles in innocent delight at his success.

His pet dogs are in the room, and one of them is rather suspicious of this strange young prince. He sniffs cautiously at his legs, for though his eyes deceive him, his sense of smell cannot be mistaken. Through a window in the rear we get a glimpse of the park beyond, which adds much to the beauty of the picture.

Further reading:
Sir Joshua Reynolds A Collection of Fifteen Pictures and a Portrait of the Painter with Introduction and Interpretation by Estelle M. Hurll

Book Review: The Romanov Sisters: The Lost Lives Of The Daughters Of Nicholas And Alexandra By Helen Rappaport

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

When I first requested a copy of The Romanov Sisters: The Lost Lives Of The Daughters of Nicholas And Alexandra by Helena Rappaport, I thought it would be one of those difficult reads that would take me ages to finish. Why? Because the fate of this wonderful family was so tragic, I thought I could only bear reading it in small doses. But I devoured it. Rappaport's style is engaging and compelling. Once you start reading the book, you just cannot put it down.

Thanks to a treasure trove of diaries and letters from the grand duchesses to their friends and family, some of which had never been published before, Rappaport manages to bring the four Grand Duchesses back to life. During the decades, the sisters have been turned into a faceless and undistinguished mass. The fact that they themselves used the term OTMA to refer to themselves, often wore similar white dresses, and were paired in groups of two by their own mother, only reinforced this erroneous impression. In reality, each Grand Duchess had a very different personality and individuality. Olga was the bookworm, with an intellectual bent. Tatiana took a lot after her mother, was very practical and was famous for her nursing skills. Maria was a placid and sweet creature, while Anastasia had an irrepressible but good nature.

All of them though, even once grown-up, retained a certain innocence about the world, which was due to the seclusion in which they had always lived. Although they were the most popular princesses in Europe, the details of their daily lives were hidden from a public who wanted to know more about them. Alexandra, who was very often ill and had an aversion for society, and Nicholas, wanted to give their daughters as normal an upbringing as possible, without however, letting them forget their positions and the duties that came with them. As a result, the four sisters (and their brother), grew up with barely any friends and eager for any information about the world outside their palace. They grew up into sweet and caring women devoted to their family, their country, and God, but to the Russian people they, like their parents and brother, were strangers.

Rappaport doesn't just manage to present the Grand Duchesses as individual women, allowing you to finally be able to tell them apart, but she also reveals details about their daily lives no one else had ever mentioned before. There is new information about the Grand Duchesses, their brother, and their parents on most pages! Quite a feat, if you consider how many volumes have been written about this unfortunate family! Placed in the proper context, this information helps us gain a deeper understanding of who the Romanov were, why they acted the way the did, and what their relationship in the family dynamic was. I had never realised, for instance, the terrible toll her frequent pregnancies, which resulted mostly in the births of girls, and the illness of her only son had on Alexandra's health, and how much that impacted the family, increasing their seclusion and their distance from the Russian people.

As I reached the end, I couldn't help but hope the story had ended differently. The last days and deaths of the Romanovs are covered in just a few sentences though. That's because Rappaport has already written a wonderful book, Ekaterinburg, on the subject. While I do understand her choice, I wish she had given us a few more details, just to make the story more complete. As it is, the end is quite rushed. All the same, though, this is a must read for any fans of the Romanov family. It will greatly enrich your understanding of all its members.

Meticulous researched and compellingly written, The Romanov Sisters: The Lost Lives Of The Daughters Of Nicholas And Alexandra By Helen Rappaport, brings the four Grand Duchesses, each with its own distinct personality and individuality, back to life. The book, which draws heavily from diaries and letters from the grand duchesses to their friends and family, features lots of never-published-before information on their daily lives that will greatly enrich your understanding of this wonderful but tragic family. The end, though, is a bit rushed.

Available at: amazon

Rating: 5/5

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

Some Stunning Lucile Dresses

Monday, 21 July 2014

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