PositiveThe Times (UK)... illuminating ... These figures have hovered in the backgrounds of the palaces over the years, clearing their throats like characters in Act II of Hamlet, and Low helpfully sorts them out and immortalises their moments of success or failure ... an excellent snapshot of the royal bureaucratic situation at the very end of Elizabeth’s reign.
RaveThe Times (UK)I salute Helen Rappaport for taking us to this place so completely with all her imagination, research and thinking ... This is an astonishingly rich story ... Rappaport refreshingly doesn’t claim to know everything. We share her frustrations when the trail runs cold ... This wonderfully informative book presents Seacole in all her roundness: a ministering angel who was no angel; a driven woman who basked in adulation, and was forgotten for 90 years after her death.
PositiveThe TimesDeborah Cadbury, drawing on her interviews with former pupils, tells this story with admirable plainness...It makes for a devastatingly affecting and moving book...Her chapters alternate between the nightmarish experiences of Jewish children in the Third Reich, and a kind of earthly paradise; this kindly run English institution with hot-water bottles, a vegetable garden, a gramophone club and Sunday violin concerts in the hall — the latter, as one pupil said, providing \'a unique and orderly situation as far removed from the chaos in Germany as it was possible to be\'.
RaveThe Times (UK)Sparkling ... Ward sets her story in the context of the story of inoculation, and it’s all the more gripping to read having lived through the Covid vaccination campaign. Ward alerts us to the first uses of concepts we have become familiar with ... This is exactly the book we need to read at the moment, to remind us of the best of Russia under a truly enlightened leader.
RaveThe Times (UK)... engrossing ... It’s a tribute to Byrne’s clear-eyed and thorough but warm-hearted approach to Pym that we don’t hold that unsavoury episode against her ... Prepare yourself for a long read. Byrne presents Pym’s life story in the picaresque style of Henry Fielding’s Tom Jones: 124 chapters with titles such as \'In which our Heroine sees Friedbert for the Last Time\' and \'In which Miss Pym leaves Pimlico for Barnes\'. Byrne justifies this comic-epic format by suggesting that Pym \'spent a lot of time in love\' and \'on the road\'. I’m not sure about the on the road part: for 28 years she held down the same editorial job in central London, not going anywhere much except to join the dwindling congregation at St Laurence’s, Brondesbury until it closed in 1971 ... The chapters are enticingly short, though, and I romped through them. Each adds a vital piece of the jigsaw, explaining the provenance of her fictional characters and building up our understanding of the state of mind of the person who wrote the late masterpieces ... It’s a delight to meet her again in these pages.
PositiveThe Daily Mail (UK)These letters certainly provide an eye-opening insight into the intoxicatingly (literally) liberal gay world of San Francisco in the years before, during and after the Aids epidemic ... Lots of his letters are full of all this — the simple pleasures of his daily life ... He can be hilariously rude about other writers.
RaveThe Times (UK)This is a scintillating story superbly told by Catherine Ostler ... She has a remarkable ability to demonstrate her deep knowledge of the period without being boring or a show-off. She packs every paragraph with eye-opening detail, making you feel as though you’re living in the 18th century, but never veers from the central story of a woman trying to hold herself together in that vicious society while the men did as they pleased ... Many extraordinary and touching details.
PositiveThe Times (UK)[Thompson] is right: we do tend to think that if we were heiresses, we’d be intelligent and sensible about it and would live in a state of permanently fulfilled bliss. This book suggests that we’d probably make the same mistakes and that life with a keen edge of financial anxiety is actually happier ... Thompson gives us a pleasingly long perspective on the poor little rich girl ... My eyes started to glaze over at the torrent of names and the endless stream of loveless luxury. Much as Thompson succeeds in bringing out the pathos, in her case studies, the lasting impression is of the shallowness of that moneyed world. As glue and ballast for her argument, she peppers her pages with modifiers...This has a confusing effect.
PositiveThe Times (UK)These diaries lack the waspishness of Pope-Hennessy, who could be withering about royal decor and ruthless in his thumbnail sketches of fat foreign princesses ... What they exude instead is the rather touching sense of the dazzlement, excitement and nervousness of a 29-year-old biographer setting out on his quest, thrilled to have an excuse to visit everyone famous or grand he has ever heard of ... Rather than being annoyed by Vickers’s childlike delight at all this flattery and attention, I took it as a necessary ingredient, an added layer of fun for the reader. As with The Quest for Queen Mary, you read this book not so much to learn about Beaton, rather to relish the foibles and preoccupations of his circle and his biographer ... If you tend to glaze over at pages dotted with names, you might find it all a bit hard-going. The gossip keeps coming, a constant trickle of half-forgotten networking and long-forgotten feuds ... He carries us along, name-dropping as he goes, and it’s all delicious in its way, recreating a lost world.
RaveThe Sunday Times (UK)... gripping ... Warning: this is far from being a totally fresh new book. It’s an updating of Vickers’s earlier biography ... \'This edition has been completely rewritten,\' Vickers writes in the preface. That’s an overstatement. Reading the two versions in parallel, I noted swathes of prose from the first book reproduced word for word, or with tiny adjustments. So this is not so much a rewriting as a reheating with fresh seasoning ... Vickers paints an unforgettable picture of the world in which Gladys and Sunny grew up ... Vickers has an unerring eye for telling social details ... This is a pitiful, jaw-dropping story, brilliantly told.
PositiveThe TimesPasternak’s mission is to make us love Simpson, to see her as a tragic heroine, unfairly vilified, who did all she could to make the man who loved her desist from giving up the crown to marry her ... The book does have the Desert Island Discs effect of making you take notice of and see the compassionate, vulnerable sides of someone you’ve subconsciously compartmentalised all your life as too rich, too thin and, let’s be frank, too American ... As with most royal biographies, there’s little here that hasn’t been written somewhere before ... So why read it? Well, Pasternak did interview a few fresh people...These people bring fresh observations to bear ... What makes the book unputdownable is Pasternak’s lively and detailed (and thankfully not Mills & Boonsy) retelling of this ever-fascinating, ridiculously poignant love story ... Although Simpson is the central character, this is as much a biography of Edward: just as nothing could separate them in life, no biographer can separate them in death. On every page you wince as they once more step towards a life of exiled futility.
PositiveThe Times (UK)[Lucy Worsley]’s a national treasure. So, can we forgive her for writing this book about Queen Victoria in which she shamelessly quotes everybody else’s books endlessly? I think we can, just. She acknowledges every quote, telling us exactly which page of whose book it came from. And, in conceiving this book, she has had one inspired new idea.
That idea is to take 24 days across Victoria’s life and write a chapter about each one. It’s the Advent-calendar approach to royal biography and makes for a pleasingly unboring book ... You can hear Worsley’s voice clearly as you read ... The glory of this book is in the details, and the specific moments, that Worsley chooses to single out for mention, and in her cheerful voice as she leads us by the hand to the next window of Victoria’s life calendar.
PanThe Times (UK)\"It’s the reviewer’s duty to read every word meticulously, and I did, going over countless paragraphs twice to make head or tail of them, and taking 15 small pages of notes to whittle down the thing to its essence. The essence was hard to pin down, fractured as the book is into a hundred disjointed scenes with a constant barrage of characters ... There are just far too many political, cultural and personal crises going on, and Baker lacks the crucial skill of making us feel for the huge cast of characters who appear.\
MixedThe Sunday TimesBy page 4 of this vast biography, I liked Edward Lear. By page 21, I pitied and cared about him. By page 90, I loved him. By page 521, I’d slightly had enough of him ... I liked him because, from the start, Jenny Uglow brings out Lear’s self-effacing, eccentric and rather girlie sweetness ... Uglow, who has written biographies of William Hogarth and Elizabeth Gaskell, takes us, month by month, year by year, through his adult life. This is impossible to do, I’m afraid, without causing a degree of tedium ... What could Uglow do? If you are writing Lear’s biography, you’ve got to say what he did, but by the page 300s I was finding that my least-favourite opening sentence of a paragraph was: \'The tour was not altogether finished\' ... We’re up against the uninterestingness of Other People’s Holidays. In England, we’re up against the uninterestingness of Other People’s Friends ... The friends often die. When Lear is heartbroken yet again, when his young Italian gardener dies of suspected typhus, I found I had compassion fatigue.
RaveThe Sunday TimesThis account of the life of Aida Edemariam’s grandmother is embellished with the author’s fiery imagination and her deep reading about Ethiopia’s history ... Edemariam wants us to fall in love with Ethiopia, and she does a good job of it. Her descriptions of the daily grinding of spices, the making of sauces and the scent of limes are beguiling ... The book’s heightened, almost Biblical prose can sometimes be a bit too grandiose ... The reality is dreamlike enough. It’s a book that gets under the skin.