PositiveThe New York Times Book Review... shows an exceptionally gifted novelist distancing himself from his characters ... tightly compressed, skillfully whittled down to the point where each word carries far more than its weight ... Evil is held at arm’s length, almost as though the author himself craved the consolation of dwelling upon spotless virtue. But pure-hearted characters often run the risk of appearing lifeless, and so it is with Ryan’s resolute portrayal of \'Black Alex\' as a man without a flaw, equated, the reader may uncomfortably conclude, with the Messiah, whose miraculous restoration of a blind man’s vision is the subject of Josh’s first attempt to write a novel ... Filled with tenderness, and written with the quiet lyricism that has put Ryan on the topmost branch of the flourishing tree of contemporary Irish fiction, Strange Flowers has the feel of an intriguingly transitional work, a steppingstone in the career of an adventurous and courageously affirmative novelist.
RaveThe Financial Times (UK)... narrated with an admirable balance of sympathy and wit ... Vickers has ensured that Marlborough’s last duchess won’t return to obscurity any time soon by giving us this richly anecdotal and oddly captivating book.
RaveThe Financial TimesPhilip Mansel writes shrewdly about the self-styled Sun King’s doomed endeavours to enlarge his dominion ... Excellent though Mansel is on the larger picture — you will find no more comprehensive biography of this extraordinary monarch who reigned from 1643–1715 — his genius in King of the World lies in unpacking the complexities of Louis’ royal court. The contrast is chillingly made between a starving country and the deplorable but engrossing ostentation of Louis’ most enduring creation: the Palace of Versailles ... Mansel is an acknowledged expert on Versailles and he combines exceptional detail with an enjoyably cool detachment.
RaveThe New York Times Book Review... a vibrantly imaginative narrative of passion, intrigue and literary ambition set in the garish heyday of a theater presided over by a tyrannical Irving and an exquisitely vulgar Ellen Terry, Britain’s answer to Sarah Bernhardt ... opens in Dublin in the winter of 1876, with O’Connor painting that ravishing city with a soft lyricism that Stoker himself might have envied ... Artfully splicing truth with fantasy, O’Connor has a glorious time turning a ramshackle and haunted London playhouse into a primary source for Stoker’s Gothic imaginings ... Throughout this vivid re-creation of one of the most fascinating and neglected episodes in the enticingly murky history of the Gothic novel, the storyteller keeps his reader deliciously in the dark.
PositiveThe Times (UK)If anything can swing opinion away from what Thompson calls \'the po- faced brigade\' of Nancy-haters, it will be this shrewd, passionate book. A warning, though; it has an irritating stylistic tic ... why, dear Miss Thompson (she uses this form of address herself, unfortunately), do you have to keep dropping into schoolgirl colloquial? ... Lapses of style apart, the book is a gem: fresh, intelligent and assured, and moving in its appreciation of the heroic lightheartedness with which Nancy confronted a grim and, in its final stages, agonising life ... Magnificent in her account of Nancy’s last years, in the hideous home in Versailles where she grew touchingly concerned about a tortoise, Thompson is best at separating fiction from life.
MixedThe New York Times Book Review... agreeable ... Hardyment’s commentary jogs us along at a comfortable pace ... We may not have needed telling that the current and very well-visited residence of Sherlock Holmes on London’s Baker Street was recreated on the site of a bank, or that Henry James regarded the country house as one of England’s greatest achievements ... Surprises do occasionally emerge ... Chapters on Daphne du Maurier’s Manderley, Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead and E.M. Forster’s Howards End feel a little too predictable ... Perhaps Hardyment’s decision to focus almost exclusively on Britain is meant to highlight a fearful island’s crawl toward ever greater insularity. But I did regret the absence of Colette’s influential childhood home and Lampedusa’s great Sicilian palaces. A larger study would have done more honor to Bachelard’s wonderfully suggestive arguments about the uncommon ability of houses to haunt our fiction-making minds.
RaveFinancial Times... [a] spellbinding recreation of the making of Romantic poetry ... The Making of Poetry is an excitingly new kind of literary book, one which artfully combines illustrations (the bright and powerful woodcut images by Tom Hammick offer haunting correspondences to Nicolson’s imaginative prose) with a naturalist’s approach to biography. The result...enables the writer to evoke as never before the regular pilgrimages of Wordsworth, Coleridge and their companions. Nicolson’s marvellously intuitive writing brings the poets and their friends...springing over woodland fences and down into our lives. Here is no handshake across time (Richard Holmes’s description of his own biographical art), but a lived experience ... Occasionally, Nicolson’s delectable prose pudding tastes over-egged ... Such infelicities offer the only irritations in one of the most imaginative and luminously intelligent books about poetry I have read. Hammick’s images add a quiet enchantment that is all their own.
MixedThe New York Times Book Review... spirited and wide-ranging ... While Morrison fails to rescue the image of England’s ruler as the portly, self-indulgent lecher waggishly created by the poets and cartoonists of Regency times, he does well to remind readers how much George and his pet architect, John Nash, contributed to transforming London into an elegant and supremely modern metropolis ... While Morrison’s tales of high society lack the spice of novelty, he does a splendid job of exposing the grubby underbelly of Georgian life ... Sex in Regency times offers Morrison a field day in salacious details. The reader is not stinted ... can be enjoyed without accepting all of Morrison’s theories ... Although elegant, entertaining and frequently surprising, The Regency Years nevertheless failed to convince this reader that 19th-century England’s post-Waterloo emergence as the world’s most powerful nation had much to do with its capricious and pleasure-loving ruler. Having a handsome street and a splendid park named in the regent’s honor seems just about right for George’s epitaph.
MixedThe Financial Times (UK)...[a] blushlessly adoring paean ... Anolik is at her best when sending herself up as she attempts to barter free lunches for spicy revelations, with Babitz munching speechlessly on until a nod indicates her wish to be driven home ... Witty and self-parodying though Babitz is as a writer, Anolik does her no favours with comparisons to Proust (and, yes, Colette) or by denigrating every other writer on LA — from Didion to Nathanael West — in an effort to enshrine her heroine ... Still, Hollywood’s Eve offers a perversely enjoyable introduction to a stylish writer and a West Coast way of life that should have ended — but didn’t — that ominous night in 1969, when Charles Manson’s acolytes broke into a secluded mansion on Cielo Drive and slaughtered the inhabitants.
PanThe Financial Times[A] dishearteningly mean-spirited biography of a fallen icon...small hints appear of the fascinating mass of contradictions from which a young and ambitious Australian constructed that mythical creature known as \'Germaine Greer\'. But the most interesting questions about that transformation remain unanswered ... disappointingly, Kleinhenz has riffled through the scholarly papers in search of lines that make Greer sound quotably absurd ... venomous ... Present throughout this book, but never fully acknowledged, is the subject this diligent biographer might have explored, had she ever been willing to consider Greer’s public persona as a disguise ... Kleinhenz’s failure should not deter Greer’s future biographers. I only hope that the next one has better luck in dislodging the mask that here continues to protect an extraordinary woman from view.
PositiveThe New York Times Book ReviewGoldstone’s forthright and often witty asides keep this complicated story bowling along at a terrific pace ... Hard though Goldstone works, she fails to inject the daughters of her book’s title (Princesses Elizabeth, Louisa, Henrietta Maria and Sophia) with the charisma of their mother, also known in her day as \'the queen of hearts\' and even as \'the most charming princess of Europe\' ... Lively and well-researched, Daughters of the Winter Queen offers a timely introduction to a turbulent period in Britain’s past relations with Europe.
MixedThe Guardian...sporadically brilliant ... Phillips’s use of Rhys’s life is capricious. We learn little about her writing and nothing at all about her relationship with Ford Madox Ford, her first editor. Instead, Phillips speeds the story past an impulsive first marriage to Jean Lenglet, and into Gwen’s reckless decision to marry the most forlornly chivalrous of all her gentlemen, a failed publisher (who has promised to promote her work) ... Phillips makes skilful use of Tilden-Smith as a prism through which to observe an angry, taunting sorceress; a woman who knows how to enchant and how to inflict pain. He watches Gwen flaunt herself, a naked Circe before a mirror ... Phillips ends a well-intended but mildly unsatisfactory novel by imagining a penitent Gwen weeding her Welsh father’s neglected grave—while proudly rejecting assistance from a well-meaning Negro ... Finally...Phillips tells us that Jean Rhys—a novelist whose work is known to be ferociously unsentimental— \'broke off a piece of her heart and gently dropped it into the blue water.\'
RaveThe Guardian...it was partly due to Victoria’s manipulative energy that seven of her 42 grandchildren eventually became crowned rulers. Much of the pathos of Deborah Cadbury’s absorbing book stems from our knowledge of what happened next ... Anarchy was the brooding giant that overshadowed Queen Victoria’s manipulative scheming in her role as 'universal grandmother' ... Dynastic mergers, we may deduce from Deborah Cadbury’s account, offer no defence against the whims of history. This catastrophe-laced slice of royal history offers a ripping read.
RaveThe GuardianThe number of cross-connections between life and fiction that Bellos describes are remarkable. The 19-year exile of Hugo himself paralleled the 19-year prison sentence served by Valjean, the sinner turned saint hero of the novel ... Can Hugo’s monumental novel provide a mirror to the injustices of our own times? After reading Bellos’s graceful and constantly intriguing account of a great novel’s history, the uninitiated (myself included) will have been inspired to find out.
Christine L. Corton
RaveThe New York Times“Corton’s book combines meticulous social history with a wealth of eccentric detail…. It’s discoveries like these that make reading London Fog such an unusual, enthralling and enlightening experience.”