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Posts from the ‘non-fiction’ Category


#NF Dawn of the Belle Epoque

Alfred Sisley:  Fog, Voisins (1874)



Dawn of the Belle Epoque The Paris of Monet, Zola, Bernhardt, Eiffel, Debussy, Clemenceau, and Their Friends by Mary McAuliffe by Mary McAuliffe Mary McAuliffe

Finish date: 17 January 2022
Genre: Non-fiction
Rating: A

Bad news: No book is perfect…but I had to think very hard to find a minus point in this book.
It was long (400 pages). That is a lot to cover in 2 days. I have the next book on my reading list but will have to wait until I digest this one. Rightly Ms McAuliffe touches on the politics and science (..few pages about Mme Cure) in the Belle Epoque. Honestly, I’ve read about – seen movie about The Dreyfus Affair so felt I could skim these pages. Also George Clemeanceau and all his band of merry men…don’t interest me. Also…there were not many illustrations in the book so I had to depend on Wikipedia/Google.

Good news: Now the real reason to read this book is the world of literature, art, music and engineering! 75% of the book is about the wonderful world of French painters who dazzeled the world. We all know the list of names but I fell very much head over heels reading about Pissarro. He tends to fall into the back round when you think about Van Gogh, Renoir, Degas, Manet brothers and Monet. But Camille Pissarro was the father figure who nurtured and held these men together! PS: Did you know Pissarro was born in St. Thomas, Virgin Islands?

Good News Having read bio’s about B. Morisot and V. Hugo I could quickly get through the first chapters. Also I’ve read all 20 of Zola’s Rougon-Macquart books….so references to Nana or L’Assommier, L’Oeuvre were familiar characters to me. I knew nothing about the great 4 composers Claude Debussy, D’Indy, Ravel and the wonderful Saint-Saëns. If you do anything listen to his Carnival des Animaux on Spotify…just breathtaking. This book contains tidbits of information that have slipped between the cracks of Wikipedia!

Good news: There were interesting chapters about the history of
the Pantheon in Paris (…..Victor Hugo thought is a wretched copy of St. Peter’s in Rome!) Statue of Liberty – Eiffel Tower. There were…steamy love affairs: between Debussy and older Mme Vasnier (married). Another affair between Claude Monet and Mme Alice Hoschedé (married) was very touching…they stayed devoted to each other for life! Loved the back round information about Rodin’s famous sculpture “The Kiss”…was it inspired by his affair with Camille Claudel or Dante’s Inferno 2nd level Francesca en Paolo?

Good news: Auguste Escoffier shook-up the world of haute cuisine and created Pêche Melba for Australian singer Nellie Melba and Fraises Bernhardt for Sarah, the great French actress. He was just as revolutionary as anything Rodin, Seurat, Debussy or Gustave Eiffel were doing! He looked at restaurant meals from a woman’s point of view….as every chef should!

Good news: Did I learn something I never heard about? Sarah Bernhardt was not only an actress but also a sculptor. I got a peak at the installation plans for the Statue of Liberty and Tour Eiffel. Learned about the uproar the controversial sculpture The Bronze Age by Rodin created. The model was a Belgian soldier and so lifelike no one believed it was not made with a plaster caste of the body! What a body! (see Wikipedia)

Personal While reading this book I had Spotfy to listen to the music of the composers and Wikipedia to have the many works of art (don’t forget the beautiful Art Nouveau illustrations by Alphonse Mucha….beautiful!) by the painters at my fingertips. It is the best way to read this book. Finally after having collected dust on my TBR for 5 years…I discovered this gem!


#Cultural History Motive for Murder?


6. A Cultural History of Causality Science, Murder Novels, and Systems of Thought by Stephen Kern by Stephen Kern (no photo)

Finish date: 09 January 2022
Genre: cultural history
Rating: C

Stephen Kern is an Distinguished Research Professor so I should not have been surprised how ‘academic, scholarly’ this book was But I was a bit bushwhacked. My rating is still C because the book delivered exactly what was intended but it was a difficult read.

Good news: Kern examines a specific factors or motives for murder.
Insightful to read the differences between
19th C Victor Hugo/Charles Dickens:
overbearing religious training producing killers like Frollo Hunchback of ND and Headstone Our Mutual Friend
20th C Patricia Highsmith/André Gide protecting loss of identity (Tom kills Dickie Greenleaf) in The Talented Mr. Ripley and the desire to commit a ‘motiveless crime’ (Lafcadio pushes man to his death on a train …for nothing. In other words: “I kill, therefore I am!”) in Lafcadio .

Bad news Not really bad….but you should be warned this book is not for the fainthearted!

Personal There is a lot to be learned in this book and if you see it in the library….take a look!
The best advice I can give is to skim the chapters and select the items that refer to a books (literature) that catch your eye. I will certainly look more carefully in CF, detectives and  novels for the
true motive (class difference, greed, fear, revenge, hatred, sexually repressed, traumatic childhood) for murder!


#Biography Thomas Becket

Academy Awards, USA 1965   Becket (Peter O’Toole and Richard Burton)



Thomas Becket by John Guy
Finish date: 05 January 2022
Genre: biography
Rating: B

Review: From my notes I see that the book captured
my interest starting with the “broken relationship” between King Henry II and Thomas Becket in chapter 12. So You have to plod on during the first 40% of
the book that was just a description of a middle class man who climbed the social, academic and political ladder. I was impressed by Becket’s mother and how keen she was  to see what her son needed for his future (education etc).

Bad news: Some key issues (Constitutions of Clarendon 1164, turning point in king-archbishop relationship) took a few chapters to get through. Tip: read about people/issues quickly on ( great reference website ) and it will save you time. The chapters can be ‘skimmed’ if you then wish.

Good news: This book really gave me an idea what happened in that period 1120 (birth) – 1170 (murder) -1220 (veneration of the saint). Focus is on the ruthless, untrustworthy vindictive character of King Henry II and Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury the ambitious, uncompromising zealot and how they clash. Sparks fly!

Personal: The only history about Henry II I knew  was from the movie Lion in Winter with Peter O’Toole and Katherine Hepburn. I loved the film. It takes place years after Becket’s murder and I must admit Henry II is painted in the embellishment of Hollywood colors and does not divulge what (excusez le mot) a badass he was! Hepburn brought Eleanor of Aquitaine alive for me and I’ve read more books about her.

Trivia: She was one of the longest living royalty in the Middle Ages…reached the age of 82 and outlived 8 of her 10 children.


(published 2012, 448 pg)



#Non-fiction Things I Have Withheld (essays)


Quick Scan:

  1. The first thing that impressed me was the title:
  2. Things I Have Withheld
  3. This book explores the meanings of silence and the things we cannot say.
  4. There are letters  to James Baldwin and Kenyan writer Binyaranga Wainaina.
  5. But Miller also offers musings on his family’s secrets….


Who is Kei Miller?

  1. He is my selection for #ReadingDiversely
  2. Caribbean literature.
  3. Kei Miller  is a Jamaican poet, essayist, and novelist. (info wikipedia link)
  4. He is currently Professor of Creative Writing at the University of Exeter.



  1. These are high quality essays
  2. …well written and they touch the soul!
  3. Unfortunately only 6 of the 14 essays touched MY soul.
  4. The introduction  is the hook… very personal, powerful.
  5. Miller’s first letter to James Baldwin  was absolutely wonderful!
  6. Second essay: Mr. Brown, Mrs. White  and Ms. Black
  7. highlighted the classism “…on these rocks that we call islands
  8. …that we call home.”
  9. The author shines as a storyteller in the essay that will catch
  10. every reader’s eye The Old Black Woman Who Sat In the Corner
  11. But after the first 6 essays there was less storytelling and more ramblings.
  12. The result is a mish-mash names, observations during Carnival in Kingston
  13. …trips to Kenya  and Ghana Africa and he text drowns in a sea of memories.
  14. Mr Miller tries to bookend the collection in the last essay
  15. …another letter to James Baldwin that was not as good as the first
  16. …but by now my interest was waning.
  17. #GoodRead essays 1-6 then
  18. ….I say try it and see if your like it more than I did.

#AusReadingMonth 2021 Wrap-up post

  1. It has been a long summer…
  2. filled with climate change events COP26  (fires, hurricanes, floods)
  3. ….USA finally ending a 20 yr war….(…exit was messy)
  4. ….battle to control Covid #DeltaVariant  and now
  5. …a new #OmicronVariant continues!!
  6. I always look forward to #AusReadingMonth2021
  7. @bronasbooks (This Reading Life)
  8. ….and want to thank her for doing a wonderful
  9. …job hosting and reviewing!


 For #AusReadingMonth2021 I read:

  1. Coda – Thea Astley (1994) (novella)  REVIEW
  2. The Year of Living Dangerously – ( 224 pg) Chris Koch (1978)  REVIEW 
  3. Always Add Lemon – Danielle Alvarez  REVIEW
  4. Vertigo: A Novella – (144 pg) Amanda Lohrey (2008) (novella)  REVIEW
  5. The Newspaper of Claremont Street – Elizabeth Jolley (1981) (novella)  REVIEW
  6. In Praise of Veg – Alice Zaslavsky  REVIEW
  7. Australian Food – Bill Granger  REVIEW
  8. Basics to Brilliance – Donna Hay (cookbook)  REVIEW
  9. Tea and Sympathetic Magic – Tansy Rayner Roberts (novella)  REVIEW
  10. I’m Ready Now – (156 pg) Nigel Featherstone (novella)  REVIEW



#NonFicNov 2021 week 4

Week 4: (November 22-26) – Stranger Than Fiction with Christopher at Plucked from the Stacks: This week we’re focusing on all the great nonfiction books that *almost* don’t seem real. A sports biography involving overcoming massive obstacles, a profile on a bizarre scam, a look into the natural wonders in our world—basically, if it makes your jaw drop, you can highlight it for this week’s topic.


My choice are: 


Atomic Thunder by Elizabeth Tynan (2018)



  1. Between 1956 and 1963, the United Kingdom conducted
  2. seven nuclear tests at the Maralinga site in South Australia,
  3. The atomic weapons test series wreaked havoc on Indigenous communities.
  4. It  turned the land into a radioactive wasteland.
  5. In 1950 Australian PM  Robert Menzies agreed to atomic tests
  6. …and left the public completely in the dark.
  7. It is the uncovering of the extensive secrecy around the British tests in Australia
  8. ….and many years after the British had departed, leaving an unholy mess behind.
  9. Elizabeth Tynan has brought together a vast array of detail in this book
  10. that just made my jaw drop!
  11. #MustRead nonfiction
  12. REVIEW




Book nr 2:

Adani:   Following Its Dirty Footprint   by Lindsay Simpson


  1. Another JAW-DROPPING  non-fiction book
  2. that is SO  relevant today thinking about COP26 and
  3. the dangers of climate change.
  4. Absolutely disgusting….what is happening in Australia!
  5. Adani’s license to mine 60 million tonnes of coal for 60 years
  6. threatens Australia’s precious ancient source of groundwater
  7. …in the Galillee Basin, a vast underground water reservoir,
  8. part of the Great Artesian Basin, occupying more than 20% of Australia.




#NonFicNov 2021 week 3

Week 3: (November 15-19) – Be/Ask/Become the Expert with Veronica at The Thousand Book Project: Three ways to join in this week! You can either share 3 or more books on a single topic that you have read and can recommend (be the expert), you can put the call out for good nonfiction on a specific topic that you have been dying to read (ask the expert), or you can create your own list of books on a topic that you’d like to read (become the expert). 



  1. I must have spent 2-3 hours just thinking about what topic
  2. …I want to be an expert in?
  3. Racism, history, art, science….I just could not put my finger on one topic.
  4. So I just decided to READ  the  nonfiction 
  5. Longlist for the 2021 National Book Awards.
  6. I’m sure this will guide me in my NF reading….into areas that I
  7. …never would have explored



UPDATE: 17.11.2021  National Book Awards Winners 2021!

Fiction – Nonfiction – Poetry – Translated literature – Young People’s Literature



Hanif Abdurraqib, “A Little Devil in America: Notes in Praise of Black Performance” (finalist) –



Lucas Bessire, Running Out: In Search of Water on the High Plains” (finalist)


Grace M. Cho, Tastes Like War: A Memoir” (finalist)


Scott Ellsworth, “The Ground Breaking: An American City and Its Search for Justice


Nicole Eustace, “Covered with Night: A Story of Murder and Indigenous Justice in Early America” (finalist)


Heather McGhee, The Sum of Us: What Racism Costs Everyone and How We Can Prosper Together


Louis Menand, The Free World: Art and Thought in the Cold War


Tiya Miles, All That She Carried: The Journey of Ashley’s Sack, a Black Family Keepsake  (finalist)


Clint Smith, How the Word Is Passed: A Reckoning with the History of Slavery Across America” 



Deborah Willis, The Black Civil War Soldier: A Visual History of Conflict and Citizenship





#Non-fiction Clint Smith (essays)


Quick Scan:

  1. A deeply researched look at the legacy of slavery
  2. …and its imprint on centuries of American history.
  3. If I could give a book a rating
  4. with  10 stars…this is the one!
  5. This book is #Must Read for high school students…
  6. and in fact every American.
  7. To say…I learned a lot
  8. is an understatement.
  9. This isn’t just a work of history,  but an exploration of
  10. how we’re still distorting our history.
  11. Favorite chapters: Monticello, Whitney Plantation,
  12. Angola Prison and New York City.
  13. #1 New York Times bestseller
  14. Longlisted for the 2021 National Book Award for Nonfiction

Last thought tweet:

  • #NonficNov essays by Clint Smith, “How the Word Is Passed”.
  • Revelations of Black life in America… absorbing (if sometimes uncomfortable)
  • reading because of the way it’s organized, as a travelogue of sorts
  • ….but still a magnificent book!



#NonficNov 2021 David Olusago


Quick scan:

  1. The historian English-Nigerian David Olusoga has written
  2. that slavery is often misremembered in the U.K.
  3. …as a uniquely American atrocity.
  4. He points out that British-owned slaves mostly lived and worked in the Caribbean.
  5. The goal of this book is to ensure that the British involvement with
  6. slavery NOT be largely airbrushed out of  the
  7. “standard, Dickensian image of Britain in the Victorian age…” (pg 234).
  8. It’s time to have a look at what the Brits….were up to!
  9. The book charts black British history from the first meeting
  10. between the people of Britain and the people of Africa
  11. during the Roman period, to the racism
  12. …Olusoga encountered during his own childhood.
  13. It is a story that some of Olusoga’s critics would prefer was forgotten.


Strong point:

  1. The book is filled with new discoveries
  2. about the British involvement in the slaver trade.
  3. Olusago supports these findings with the science behind it.
  4. “…skeletons excavated decades ago are suddenly able to tell their stories.” (pg 40)
  5. This process transforming history
  6. is radioisotope analysis. (article from Nat. Geographic)
  7. Where you grew up…what you ate…your bones record your life.


Some thoughts….

Ch 4: 

  1. Ch 4 is  about legal cases 1770s to ensure
  2. slavery does not become acceptable in England
  3. ...or the right of Brits to hold slaves in the American colonies.
  4. Yes, this is an important part of British/Black history
  5. …but it was not the MOST engaging section of the book.
  6. #PersonalPreference

Ch 5:

  1. Chapter 5 was more interesting….linking my thoughts to a book I
  2. had just read Bedlam in Botany Bay (James Dunk).
  3. It reveals the resettlement schemes of London’s black poor in
  4. 1780s to Sierra Leone and Botany Bay Australia.
  5. (pg 148) “There were those is London, on the committee,
  6. …who just wanted them (blacks) gone and
  7. …cared little about their long-term prospects.
  8. This is the history the British
  9. …would like to see airbrushed away!

Ch 6: 

  1. 22 May 1787 –> the birth of the Abolitionist Movement
  2. is very interesting.
  3. Trivia: Did you know that  trendy Canary Wharf London was built by
  4. slave trade  mogul  George Hibbert  1757-1837 (who?) as West Indies Docks’.
  5. This dock was used to import the sugar from West Indies plantations!


Ch 7:

  1. Frederic Douglass on his second speaking tour in late 1850s felt
  2. a decline in anti-slavery sentiment and the rise in racism.
  3. The turnig point
  4. American racism had started to seep into Britain.

Ch 14:

  1. Wow…just wow!
  2. This book may exhaust you but keep on reading
  3. …because Olusago really “lets loose” in ch 14-15!!
  4. I never knew the extent of racism in Britain….shocking!




  1. David Olusago, in the last chapter, bookends his
  2. history with the “Windrush Myth”.
  3. The post-war wave of migration from the Caribbean.
  4. In the book’s introduction we read about
  5. Enoch Powell’s 1961 speech “Rivers of Blood”.
  6. Powell’s persistent themes of national sovereignty,
  7. purity of citizenship and a
  8. determination to keep out undesirable immigrants still  echoes
  9. in the European politics of far-right politicians.


  1. Historian Olusago has shown me that
  2. this idea of “purity of citizenship” is also a myth.
  3. I’ve read about 
  4. the presence of African peoples in Roman Britain
  5. and Black Tudors, Stuarts, Edwardians, Victorians and Georgians.
  6. If history was properly discussed as Olusago shows us
  7. the British could  awaken us from their colonial dreamtimes when…


  1. ” Rule Britannia! rules the waves!
  2. “Britons never will be slaves.”
  3. …but they will eagerly take part in the slave
  4. trade from  1560 Queen Elizabeth I –> Charles II
  5. –> the abolition of slave trade 1833 King William IV.


  1. People hold on to the belief that the UK was a “white country”.
  2. David Olusago challenges this concept in this book.
  3. Olusoga was confident about having two identities.
  4. despite the prejudice he had encountered.
  5. He was proud of being a black Nigerian of Yoruba heritage and
  6. being part of his mother’s white working-class geordie tradition.
  7. But he has always had a third identity:
  8. I’m also black British – and that had no history, no recognition
  9. Best quote:  D. Olusago
    1. “My job is to be a historian.
    2. It’s not to make people feel good”.


Last Thoughts:

  1. There is a lot of “new history” for me  in this book!
  2. Weak point: Sometimes Olusago can go into numbing details (ch 4, ch 7)
  3. but other times he left me scratching my head with the
  4. thought: “Why have I never heard about this?”
  5. That could be due to not having read enough history in depth.
  6. Thank goodness David Olussago is helping me.
  7. Loved to read the royal connections…
  8. by Queen Elizabeth I and Charles II…I never knew!
  9. They understood the profitability of the English slave trade.
  10. Be prepared for some long reading days…(639 pg)…but of
  11. course with books like these some skimming is unavoidable!
  12. This reader was very tired  after 13 chapters…still 2 ch  to go
  13. …but oh, they were well worth reading!
  14. This is an excellent, readable book
  15. …but very long
  16. #HistoryBuffs don’t miss this one!

#NonFicNov 2021 week 2

Week 2: (November 8-12) – Book Pairing  with Katie at Doing Dewey: This week, pair up a nonfiction book with a fiction title. It can be a “If you loved this book, read this!” or just two titles that you think would go well together. Maybe it’s a historical novel and you’d like to get the real history by reading a nonfiction version of the story. 


The Jakarta Method  (2020)  REVIEW

Vincent Bivens….award-winning journalist and correspondent.

He covered Southeast Asia for the Washington Post.


The Year of Living Dangerously (1978)  REVIEW

Christopher J. Koch (1932–2013) was an acclaimed Australian journalist-novelist from Hobart, Tasmania.


Rope Burns by F.X. Toole  (256 pg)    2000

  1. The novella “Rope Burns” offers a gritty, heartrending account of the
  2. indestructible bond that develops between a devoted fighter and his trainer.


After the Count: The Death of Davey Browne     by Stephanie Convery   2020   REVIEW

  1. Ring magic is different from the magic of the theatre,
  2. because the curtain never comes down
  3. …because the blood in the ring is real blood, and
  4. …the broken noses and the broken hearts are real,
  5. …and sometimes they are broken forever.