Thursday, March 23, 2017

First Line Friday: Non-Eleanor Edition II


I have been in writing mode the last few evenings so I thought I would take a very short Eleanor-related break and show off some of the other fun stuff I am reading right now.

This week's line is from Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah. Now let me be the first to say I was very wrong about Trevor Noah. I loved The Daily Show. Loved, loved, LOVED! I love Jon Stewart, I love Stephen Colbert, I loved all of them. Then came The Colbert Report, and eventually he moved on to a more traditional late-show spot because he could no longer play such a buffoon of a character, and then a few months later Stewart announced he would be ending his run with Comedy Central. I was sure there was no one who could replace Jon Stewart. No way this Trevor guy could ever be even a fraction of as awesome as Jon.

Boy, was I wrong.

Trevor Noah is fucking awesome. Don't get me wrong, Jon Stewart will always be the person I think of first in fond memories of The Daily Show. But Trevor Noah is incredibly intelligent and funny as hell. I am so glad I came around to the idea of anyone else hosting the show, because Trevor's spot-on impression of trump is some much-needed humor in this living nightmare.

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I am cheating and using two first lines. Ahead of every chapter, there is a brief section relating to the history of apartheid in South Africa (in addition to the horrifying things I am learning from the chapters themselves), So, for this one I am using the first paragraph from the apartheid section, followed by the first paragraph of Chapter 1: Run

"The genius of apartheid was convincing people who were the overwhelming majority to turn on each other. Apart hate, is what it was. You separate people into groups and make them hate one another so you can run them all."

and

"Sometimes in big Hollywood movies they'll have these crazy chase scenes where somebody jumps or gets thrown from a moving car. The person hits the ground and rolls for a bit. Then they come to a stop and pop up and dust themselves off, like it was no big deal. Whenever I see that I think, That's rubbish. Getting thrown out of a moving car hurts way worse than that."

(And for the record in case you are wanting to know, he knows this because when he was nine his mother threw him out of a moving car, then herself jumped out, while holding Trevor's baby brother. All were okay - his brother did not have a mark on him, Trevor says -  but they most certainly would not have been had they stayed in the car.)

Leave a comment below about my line or feel free to share one of your own. Then take a look at what my fellow First-Liners have for you this week.


Rachel - Bookworm Mama




Lauraine - Lauraine's Notes

Andi - Radiant Light


Robin - Robin's Nest


Kathleen - Kathleen Denly



Happy Friday and Happy Reading!
Sarah

Monday, March 20, 2017

Top Ten Tuesday!


Courtesy of The Broke and the Bookish. Be sure to check out the blog for plenty of other TTTs from fellow readers.

Well now, it's been a minute, hasn't it?

So many of the first weeks of 2017's TTTs were more difficult for me and some seemed so much better suited for fiction that it gave me time to focus elsewhere for a bit, but I am excited for both this week's topic and the next (FYI: it's about authors I'd like to meet/have met/etc. Basically, it will be an essay about why Dan Jones is the coolest.) This week's, on the other hand, is one that makes me seem markedly LESS crazy:

March 21st: Read in One Sitting Theme: ten of the shortest books I've read, top ten books I read in one sitting, ten books to read when you are short on time, top ten books that will make you read the whole day away, etc.

Mine will be kind of a mix of the suggestions offered. So, here they are in no particular order:

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1. Where do I even begin with this one? I could not put it down and it baffles me as to how William Marshal, the greatest knight to ever live, has yet to have his life played out on the big-screen. Of course, I would hate whatever Hollywood came up with because they would inevitably screw it up in a really awful way and I would be furious at them for ever impugning on his honor. So, perhaps it is best there is no movie. If this age, and knights especially, are of interest to you then like me, you will easily read it in one sitting and not be the least bit sorry you did.

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2. It's pretty much a given at this point that nearly every TTT I participate in will include a book written by Dan Jones. The reason is simple, he is a fan-fucking-tastic historian and writes in a way that makes that history accessible without being condescending or dumbing anything down. Like the first book on the list, this book is a great way to spend a few hours or a day, depending on how fast you read. Before I really got cozy with the Plantagenets, I thought the Tudors were my favorite dysfunctional family. I had no idea there was an even more insane dynasty before them. Bonus, this was the book where I first discovered Eleanor of Aquitaine, in the final stretch of my pregnancy. So, basically, Dan Jones helped me name my baby. He doesn't know it, but no matter. I am forever grateful to him for introducing me to easily the biggest BAMF in history.

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3. This gem was a very recent read and GUH. I could not put it down, except in the time where I had to force myself to put it down so I could go to sleep. But the actual combined reading time was just a couple of hours total. Dillard tells such a beautifully tragic story and you just want to pull Jane out of the awful situation she is in, but you can't because, well her fate was pretty much sealed the moment Catherine's affair came to light. She had survived the beheading of one queen but there's no way she could be so lucky twice. Though there is so much we will never know about Jane Boleyn, this is a book very much worth reading.

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4. Here is another that I read in a few hours. It should not have even taken me that long, but once the sobbing started, it was hard to see through the tears. I had first seen this ESPN short, written by Tom Rinaldi and narrated by Ed Burns on the tenth anniversary of the attacks. I bawled watching the segment, and still do. This young man could have saved his own life, but instead he gave his to save others. September 11th has always been particularly hard for me; it was my freshman year of college and I was far from my family when the devastation occurred. It was a time of great change and I think I feel so connected to this story, because this young man was only a few years older than myself. Would I have had the courage to do what he did in that situation? I hope so, but I don't know. But I also recognize that the impact it had on me in no ways compares to the victims, both living and deceased, and their families. This story will stay with me forever and I happened on the book by chance just a few months ago. I'd stopped at a local bookstore after driving by it for the past three years. Perusing the shelves, I saw the spine of a book and before I even saw the title, seeing the bandanna pattern, I knew instantly what it was. It is well worth your time, but have tissues ready.

Here is the ESPN segment. Please, if you don't read the book, at least watch the video; learn the story of Welles Crowther and the last, heroic hour of his life.



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5. Here is yet another that I read in technically two days, but easily could have finished in one afternoon had I not stopped every ten seconds to make note of this, that, or the other. While it seems a bit cheeky at first, this is legitimately one of my favorite reads of 2016. I did not get caught up in the hype of Hamilton in that whirlwind, but I knew a long time ago (circa House, season 6) that Lin-Manuel Miranda was awesome, so pretty much everyone else was late to the party. I picked this one up on a whim at the library and it did not disappoint. A lot of really sound advice, definitely a solid addition to your TBR list.

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6. This might be one of the only times I am willing to entertain alternative history - because I want so badly to know how differently England and Europe might look today, had Harold won at Hastings. This awesome little treat serves up a variety of alternative endings to 1066, and I am also pleased to say that many involved a bad end for William the Bastard. What if the Anglo-Saxons had remained in control of England? Or, possibly worse than the Normans, what if Harald had defeated Harold at Stamford Bridge? Though, I admit I have a bit of a soft spot for the last great Viking - and who can't get behind a berserker? I mean, really. The stories don't have to be read in order, all are completely independent of one another. And if one idea is not of great interest to you, move on to another. I, however, read them all and was smitten. Bonus: G.K. Holloway has previously written a historical fiction novel called 1066: What Fates Impose that I would also recommend.

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7. I am a sucker for a good city biography. It is partly due to my love of history, but also my love of seeing a city start and grow and change over time. (It is one of the reasons I will be forever obsessed with NYC, as it is alive and thriving, constantly moving and changing.) This is by far one of the better city bios that I have read and it was another that I breezed through within a short amount of time. More than one afternoon for sure, but collectively it was still one I read in a matter of hours. I know no idea that the history of New Orleans was so checkered and I learned a great deal about the place.

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8. Love, love, love, love, love, I really loved this book. Really, really. I snagged the hardcover edition from my library when it was first out and could not put it down. There is something about New York City that is forever calling to me and I can not wait to travel there some day with my daughter to see the sights and hear the sounds of a truly living city. St Marks is arguably one of the most well-known neighborhoods in the US, and perhaps only Haight-Ashbury could compete for the top spot. You will devour this one in only a few hours, no question. Bonus: At the end of the book Calhoun records various times in which St Marks is mentioned in pop culture, with lists broken up by music, television, and film. As I perused the television list I saw one glaring piece of tv history missing - the mention of St Marks Comics on FRIENDS from The One With The Mugging (Ross was mugged by Phoebe when they were younger). I asked the author about it and that mention was added to the paperback release! So, there is my contribution to St Marks history.

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9. Technically this is cheating but I have never really been on to follow the rules so...whatever. What makes both of these books so captivating is the story itself: Huguette Clark, one of the richest women in the world, chose to live most of her adulthood as a recluse, and spent the last twenty years of her life living in a hospital despite being healthy. Her story is so enthralling and heartbreaking and though it disgusted me to see how she was taken advantage of at times, I do think she was a lot more aware of what was going on than anyone gave her credit for. It is very easy to get lost in her story in either one of these books. Or both. Definitely both.

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10. Big surprise, I am cheating again. I love Mindy Kaling. I think she is hilarious and a talented writer. Like so many others have said, I feel like Mindy is someone I could be best friends with and we would have so much fun and be BFFs forever. Both books are easy reads because they feel more like you are hanging out with a friend and chatting (although it is a very one-sided conversation of course, since she is the one doing the talking). Definitely a fine way to spend a couple hours.

BONUS!

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11. I know, I know. But I love this series. I have read several good ones so far and there are still more to read. As you can see, the ones I have displayed here revolve primarily around the Tudor period, but I hear there is a 1066 one coming out, and it is my great hope that there will be at least one Plantagenet dynasty-related one in the near-future (wink, wink). These are well-written and well-researched overviews of their subjects. They truly do mean "in a nutshell", so do not expect great in-depth exploration of very specific areas related to each topic. That is not their purpose. Even so, you will get a lot of information in a short read and I highly recommend them.

So there you have it. As you can see, most of mine ended up in the category of 'books you can lose an afternoon with' and that is kind of how I expected it to go. Hopefully you found something of interest. I would love to hear your thoughts on my list, especially if you have read any of these titles, and have the chance to take a look at your list as well.

Happy Reading!
Sarah

Saturday, March 18, 2017

The Woman Who Wasn't There: The True Story of an Incredible Deception

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Rating: 3.5 Stars

This will undoubtedly be one of my shortest reviews, because I do not want to give this woman any more attention than she has already received. She makes me absolutely sick, and the depth of her deception is astounding. There is also a Netflix documentary by the same name to coincide with the book, which I watched a few years ago that is equally as infuriating, given what we are talking about here: claiming to be a survivor of the worst attack on US soil since Pearl Harbor. AND, not only making that claim, but perpetuating the lie for YEARS and becoming the face of the survivors' groups. Perhaps I am too bold, but there is a special place in Hell for people such as this.

You might have read other reviews I have done of other books related to September 11th. This was an event that impacted me very deeply, despite being halfway across the country from where any of the events took place. But it occurred in the first weeks of my freshman year of college, where I was hours from my family, at a time when I was already dealing with a lot of change. That is one of the reasons I will not even name this woman who conned so many people. I know that, though it impacted me a great deal, that is nothing in comparison to the men and women who survived, and the loved ones left behind of those who did not. I could not for one second even entertain the thought of doing what this woman did, claiming to be a survivor of the 78th floor sky lobby, where Welles Crowther rescued many when he did not have to. He could have walked down those final steps and out into the rest of his life. He chose to return to certain death, trying to save as many people as possible from the same fate. To know that this woman met with his family, told a story full of lies, a story that was not hers to tell, makes me sick. There is a section devoted to just that meeting between her and the Crowthers and I can't even imagine the pain it caused his family to later find out she was a fraud. Of course, they still had the truth from others who he HAD truly rescued, but it must have felt like such a betrayal that someone who had not even been in the country at the time of the attacks would take something so personal and make her own game out of it.

The read itself was quick, and often punctuated with recreated conversations, something that bothers me so. The writing is fine, but nothing spectacular - which seems odd considering Fisher has been nominated for a Pulitzer twice. Yet this kind of 'narrative journalism' is exactly what she teachers at Rutgers so, there you go I guess. The story itself begins with us first introduced to the woman and her lies as though it is factual, as though she is simply retelling the same story that she's told so many times to fellow survivors. In fact, unless you did not know the premise of the book or who she is, you might think what you are reading did in fact happen. It would be very easy to get caught up in her story, though one would also start to poke holes in it when looking at the whole picture, much like those around her did when everything started to unravel.

While the strength of the book is that we have the complete story she wove together, her entire pack of lies laid out for everyone to see. The unfortunate part is that there is no answer as to why she did it, what made her con so many people already in such deep, unending physical and/or emotional pain. Part of me doesn't care and hopes that the remainder of her life is not comfortable in any way. Another, smaller part though, needs to understand what could possess someone to hijack the stories of others and use it for her own gain. But I don't understand that level of malevolence, and I never will.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

First Line Friday: Eleanor Edition V


It's already Friday, which on one hand is soul-crushing because it means Spring Break is almost over. On the other hand it's neat because I get to share another line about my favorite queen and rebel for First Line Friday.

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This week my line comes from the afore-pictured book, one that is so expensive, I had to use InterLibrary Loan just to get my hands on. Shout out to Western Michigan University for sending it so promptly. No joke, the least expensive copy I have found so far is going for $116 on Amazon, last I checked. I have searched other sites as well, such as the Book Depository, AbeBooks, etc. If you know of another site I could try, please let me know! I have tried so hard to be responsible and not purchase the most expensive of the books, but this one is just so, SO GOOD. I need it for the collection I've created for my daughter. It is already a must-have and I am not entirely done reading it yet. Perhaps I can start a GoFundMe?

I took this week's line straight from the introduction:

"Fixed in many French imaginations as a reverse image of Joan of Arc, Eleanor of Aquitaine still fascinates and puzzles historians of today, who, for many reasons which this book will try to clarify, still seek to penetrate the mystery surrounding her."

I am very tempted to include the whole paragraph following this sentence, but I am REALLY trying to stick to the FIRST LINE thing.

Leave a comment about mine, or share a first line of your own, then head over to the blogs of my fellow First-Liners to see what they have this week:


Rachel - Bookworm Mama




Lauraine - Lauraine's Notes



Robin - Robin's Nest


Kathleen - Kathleen Denly



Happy Reading!
Sarah

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Demons of the Hellmouth: A Guide for Slayers

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Rating: 5 Stars

*Sigh* I really miss this show.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer consumed my high school years. I saw the show by accident one time and cursed myself for months following that I had not witnessed the greatness from the beginning. I very clearly remember the first episode I ever watched: Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered. It was life-changing. I was obsessed. I was also way behind, as season 2 was nearly over so I had to process everything before, through the season 2 finale, in a very short amount of time. And Angel being sent to hell, don't even get me started. I sobbed. Over a tv show. And a fictional character.

But they felt so real to me, and that is the beauty of Joss' creation. The Scoobies might have been battling mythic beasts and big bads, but the message was clear: they were (usually) metaphors for very real things teenagers and young adults face.

But I suppose I should be on to the book now, no?

I did not purchase this one intending to learn new information about any of the demons Buffy and her pals faced in their seven years on the Hellmouth. That is not the point, and people expecting anything more kind of missed the boat on this one. This was a nice walk down memory lane with characters I know so well. Given that it is intended as a guide for all the new slayers, it made sense for Giles to be the one to "write it", and I was also pleasantly surprised to see the introduction from Anthony Stewart Head. An addition to the text are comments in the margins from Buffy, Willow, Xander, and Faith. I am conflicted on these. The comments feel right in terms of context and in keeping with their characters' personalities, but would Giles really have allowed them to write in his guide? On the other hand, given that nothing else was typical about Buffy and her slaying, perhaps it should not be a surprise that he allowed it. I don't know. It was nice to "hear" their voices again, but I could have also done without them and not been bothered either way. The one that will seem out of place to many people is Faith, given her history with Buffy and her friends. However, people should also remember how she finally was 'rescued' herself and became the slayer they needed her to be. Still, the purist in me would have liked if it had just been the originals, Giles, Buffy, Xander, and Willow.

This book is a must for die-hard fans. Casual fans may not be as interested, but those like me who want any and every scrap of Buffy-related stuff we can find, will enjoy this comfortable chat with old friends.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

First Line Friday: Non-Eleanor Edition!



It's First Line Friday! I decided to take a week off from sharing my love of Eleanor of Aquitaine to introduce you to a fantastic historical fiction novel about Jane Boleyn, wife of George Boleyn and sister-in-law to Mary and Anne Boleyn. I read it in a matter of hours and if you are interested you can find my review HERE. If you are interested in Tudor history, I recommend it highly. Though it is fiction, I really enjoyed it. There's so little we know about so many of these Tudor women, it is kind of nice to imagine what they might have been like and lucky for us, Adrienne Dillard was happy to fill in the missing pieces of what Jane's life might have been like.

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"November 12, 1541
Journey to the Tower

The river was as calm as I had ever seen it."

I won't say any more because I don't want to spoil a thing, so leave your own line or a comment about mine and then visit my fellow First-Liners to see what they have for you this week


Rachel - Bookworm Mama




Lauraine - Lauraine's Notes



Robin - Robin's Nest


Kathleen - Kathleen Denly



If you would like to participate in First Line Friday, let Carrie know.
Happy Friday!
Sarah

Monday, March 6, 2017

The Raven's Widow: A Novel of Jane Boleyn

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Rating: 4 Stars

I received a free digital copy of this book from the publisher, MadeGlobal, in exchange for an honest review. I also must make note that I have read Dillard's Catherine Carey in a Nutshell and you will find a quote from my review of that book prior to the start of the novel.

Who would've thought, my first post NOT about my own book is not my typical fare, but historical fiction instead. I became acquainted with the author, Adrienne Dillard, not surprisingly, through Dan Jones' Facebook page because of course. We bonded over our love of history and these families and I was very interested to learn that Dillard was writing a book about Jane (Parker) Boleyn. Up to this point I had only read one non-fiction book about Jane, by Julia Fox and entitled Jane Boleyn: The True Story of the Infamous Lady Rochford. While that book did the best it could with the material available, there is unfortunately little we actually know in the way of facts. Perhaps that is why I was drawn to one of the historical fiction variety.

I could not put this book down. I mean, okay, I had to physically put it down to go to sleep, but collectively I read it in a matter of hours. For those who have only seen Jane and George as portrayed by Showtime's The Tudors, this will be something quite different. Now, don't get me wrong, I loved the show because I could stare at Henry Cavill and Jonathan Rhys Meyers until the end of time. But it was definitely not an accurate portrayal of the family. Here in Dillard's novel we see Jane and George actually caring for one another, and nothing of the violence as the show gave us a glimpse of. Dillard is able to take information from the period and apply that to Jane and George, such as portraying their attempts to have children and the miscarriages that resulted each time. There is no evidence either way that these ever occurred, but that is not unsurprising. We only know Jane's name for two reasons: 1) she was Anne Boleyn's sister-in-law and 2) She was labeled a co-conspirator in Catherine Howard's affairs and thus executed alongside the disgraced 5th queen. Very little is known of her life and while that is frustrating now, when in the 21st century we want to know everything about these intriguing figures from history, it would not have caused anyone then to bat an eyelash about lack of documentation on her life.

Very early on I could not help but notice simply how beautifully this novel is writing. The major contrast of course first being the way Jane and George were portrayed elsewhere, but also in the way Jane herself is thought about and considered and discussed. She is often seen as this vengeful wraith who gave evidence against George in his trial and Anne's, then threw herself into helping Catherine carry on her affair with Culpeper because she supposedly just liked to meddle and be involved in dangerous, deadly games.

I have to admit that I was skeptical at first when discovering the book was written in first person. This seemed like an odd choice to me, because the end of Jane's life was a fact: she was executed along with Catherine for her involvement in the affair and supposedly helping Catherine. This part was a definite struggle for me. However, it also became clear that for once, Jane needed to have a voice and tell her story herself. Her story could be told in no other way, especially in order to combat the rumors about her. Given the view from inside Jane's mind, the speculation of why she did the things she did seem to make sense in that yes, it may very well be that she lost her mind and was innocent of the charges, but simply was doing what she was told in aiding Catherine.

Fun Fact: I have discovered that no matter what, fiction or nonfiction, I really hate Anne Boleyn. Her arrogance in all of it makes me want to slap her in the face. I know it is kind of mean, but I not-so-secretly hope that the scene around 52%, when Anne and Jane had to escape quickly by boat from the mob of women supporting Katherine, is something that actually occurred in real life.

While Jane is the focus of the novel, I loved the portrayal also of Mary Boleyn. Mary is easily my favorite of the Boleyn siblings and I really appreciate that she is given a voice here also. I do not always think she is given a fair shake and history has been somewhat unkind. Perhaps my favoring Mary over Anne also comes from the fact that they seem like opposites in so many regards. Either way, yay Mary.

The questions surrounding Jane's sanity are touched on time and again throughout the novel. This again is why, though first person was strange to me at first, very quickly I came around to the idea of it, because we had to be in Jane's head to see how she viewed what was happening around her, to her, and to those she loved. The scene where she is finally given permission to visit George's grave is beyond heart-wrenching - though I also teared up when the end arrived as well. Jane throughout seems to be very aware of the thin line she walks between sanity and insanity. I wonder if it is always that easy for some to recognize that they have gone mad, or perhaps that is the clarity she had once she had lost everyone around her.

I greatly appreciated the fact that the author had a rather lengthy note following the novel. In it she explained the choices she made and offered up sound reasoning for doing so. She refers to documentation from Jane's lifetime, as well as nonfiction works by modern authors. Additionally, she has prepared book club questions that could be of value either to an individual reader or for use in a group. Overall, I must say that I highly recommend this one whether you are like me and wade very rarely into the fiction pool, or dive in head first every chance you get.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

First Line Friday: Eleanor Edition IV


This week my First Line comes from one of my favorite books on medieval queens - partly because Eleanor is given a lot of attention, and also because I do not personally care much for Elizabeth I and like to see other women who ruled before her, even as consort, given their proper attention.

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I am cheating a bit again, as I am taking my first line from section III, which is where Eleanor's story begins:

"A casual observer at Henry II's court in September 1166 might have been forgiven for thinking that Eleanor of Aquitaine was the most conventional of queens."

I don't know how anyone could have thought that for a moment - especially her contemporaries!

After you leave your first line below, check out what my fellow First Liners have waiting for you this week. If you want to play too, contact Carrie from Reading is my SuperPower.


Rachel - Bookworm Mama




Lauraine - Lauraine's Notes

Andi - Radiant Light


Robin - Robin's Nest


Kathleen - Kathleen Denly


Happy Reading!
Sarah