Tuesday, July 31, 2018

The Palmer House Hotel Part I/III



I mentioned in a previous post that Eleanor and I are spending some quality time at home for a few days until school starts. We are having some fun lazy days at my mom's house, and this past weekend we attended a family reunion in a small town called Sauk Centre, Minnesota. This might be a familiar town to those of you who read Sinclair Lewis, as he grew up there. I was extra excited because my grandparents had surprised me with a stay at the Palmer House Hotel, while every else was staying at another hotel a few minutes away. And the reason for this is....

The Palmer House Hotel is haunted!

That was the rumor anyway, and I wanted to see for myself. The Palmer House has been featured on a couple different paranormal shows such as The Dead Files and Ghost Adventures. There have also been several write-ups in the media and such that you can check out HERE. You can also finds books with chapters dedicated to the Palmer House at that link. Mom bought me one, which I am looking forward to reading.

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Anyway, this post is going to be kind of long, because there was activity going on from the moment I was unpacking in my room, until literally the moment I left. While I am by no means perfect at this investigating thing, I have been lucky enough to have some interesting paranormal experiences at both the Villisca Axe Murder House in Villisca, Iowa and The Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colorado.  I also lived in an apartment for roughly five years that was also inhabited by what we called 'Ghost Baby', because 'Ghost Toddler' just didn't have quite the same ring to it. I try to look for logical explanations first, before jumping directly to paranormal. I have included a couple pictures and videos too, so if you decide to stick it out through the post, hopefully you find something of interest here. Again, I realize this is longer than any review I have ever written, but I wanted to give as many details as possible to give people some context.

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I arrived at the Palmer around 4:00 PM on Saturday. I spoke to the owner, Kelley Freese, for several minutes about my stay and how excited I was to be there. She is wonderful, and answered all my questions. I had also stupidly forgotten my 'ghost hunting kit', so she let me borrow a KII (pronounced K2) EMF detector and a team reader, as well as spare batteries for my camera. A KII detects electromagnetic fields. There is energy and electricity around us all the time and investigators use this piece of equipment to determine if there is an entity nearby. It is believed that the energy a spirit uses can be picked up by the detector. Kelley also let me know at that time that the hotel is pet-friendly now, and in her entire 17 years in owning the place no one has ever brought a cat with them. This matters because people who are allergic to cats tend to have rough nights in room #11, due to the ghostly cat who lounges around the room. Guests have also reported hearing meows and scratching, as well as the feel of a small animal jumping up on the bed to curl up with them.

Great, just great. Know why?

I'M ALLERGIC TO CATS.

I made sure to get some Benadryl, just in case. My cat allergy is seriously awful and I did not want to risk missing anything due to itchy eyes, and sneezing my face off.

The moment I walked into the room, I made sure to say out loud that I was allergic to cats, so Annie, please help keep the cat from jumping on me during the night. Just an FYI, Annie is one of the 'unregistered guests' who seems to prefer room #11, where I was staying that evening.



Activity started as soon as I was in the room unpacking. I was setting out items on the bed, including my laptop, the equipment from Kelley, and my camera. My camera was still inside its case, where it had been since Eleanor's birthday party a few weeks back. I had put new batteries in it for her party, but it had not been used since. As I was unpacking, I was getting kind of warm. I tried to figure out the AC, but had no luck. Finally I said out loud, "I can't figure this out, can you please help me make it cooler in here?" Within two seconds of those words leaving my lips, I hear a dinging sound. I looked around and realized it was coming from my camera case.I opened it to find my camera, which had been off, dinging, and the dead-battery message flashing in red on the screen. As I was doing this, the room became significantly cooler. I grabbed the KII meter and turned it on; these work by the series of lights lighting up twice to show they are working. It did so, then flashed all the way to red a third time, indicating a sudden increase in energy. Just as quickly the meter returned to green, and that was that.




Equipment batteries being drained are often viewed as a sign that there is an entity present, as the theory is that they require energy to manifest or do something physical, or change themselves in some physical way. One way to get that energy is to drain nearby batteries and I believe that is what happened in this case. Out loud, I thanked whoever had helped me out and continued unpacking.

Around 4:30 an aunt and cousin of mine stopped by to see the room. We chatted a bit and immediately my cousin said she was feeling a prickly sensation around her ankles. My aunt and I did not feel it at that point, though as we continued chatting my aunt began to feel it also. I showed them around the cozy room, then we headed down to dinner.

My daughter, mom, and grandparents stayed at a nearby hotel with the rest of the family, and I hung out with them until around 10 PM. Upon my return to the Palmer House, I looked around to see if anything had been moved, but found everything was as I left it (except the hand soap, which I will get to later!) I had taken pictures of everything, so I could compare if I thought anything had been moved. I tried logging in to the WiFi, as I had quite a few friends interested in my stay and was planning to do a little Facebook Live to show off the digs. I could not connect and went downstairs to find out what was up, only to learn the WiFi was not working for anyone, and would not be back up until Monday. In hindsight, I am glad it was down. Otherwise I might have gotten myself distracted and missed some interesting little bits of activity.

Once such incident involves the bar of soap I mentioned above. I had washed my hands before going to dinner, and tried placing the soap back in the little dish carved into either side of the sink ledge, by the faucets, in a sea shell type design.



No matter what I tried when I attempted to keep the soap in the sea shell, it would slide slowly to the edge, because of course it was wet and slippery. Finally I gave up on trying to keep it from falling into the sink and left with it with a corner hanging off the edge. However, when I went to wash my hands after my return from talking to Kelley, the owner of The Palmer House, after 1 AM, the bar of soap was completely dry and sitting perfectly centered in the middle of the shell. Literally the ONE thing I did not think to take a picture of. So, when I noticed it was placed differently, I snapped the photo above in case it happened again. (Sad news, it did not.)

While on the subject of the sink area, previous guests and investigators have reported feeling a kind of heaviness in that area. From the collage above you can see that the whole bathroom area is blocked off by one current, but that the sink area is then separated from the toilet and shower by a second curtain. I did not necessarily feel a heaviness, maybe more like some light pressure? I did get dizzy when entering the sink area, but the feeling would go away whenever I stepped back out, and I did not experience that sensation in any other part of the room. The energy just felt really different in that space. This lasted for maybe the first twenty minutes of my time in the room once I returned after 10 for the night. After that, the feeling did not occur again in the sink area or any part of the room.

At that point in the evening I tried messing with AC again. I messed with the remote for quite a while but despite my best efforts, i could not get the temp to change to anything else and it remained at 70 degrees. I re-read the directions multiple times, then went back downstairs for help again. Kelley (the owner) was at the bar folding napkins and preparing silverware for the next day. I let her know the AC was on the fritz and her immediate response was, "Ask Annie to help." I let her know I had done that once already, but did not want to keep bothering her. But in seriousness Kelley then asked Maria, one of the waitresses, to go up and look at it because she helps with a little of everything around the hotel. I did let Kelley know that I wanted to talk about Annie, and would be back down in a bit. Despite Maria's best efforts too, she could not get the temp to lower either. She got me a fan to use, which was helpful. I do not necessarily think this was paranormal, but want to include everything of significance that happened.

After the AC thing I headed downstairs once more, this time to chat with Kelley about the 'unregistered guest' I would possibly be sharing my room with that night. I sat on a stool at the very end of the bar, with the side door to my right. I had a clear view of both the bathroom area, and the stairs leading up to the second floor. We talked for over two hours, not only about the paranormal activity, but the hotel and its history, her decision to involve tv crews, various events offered at the Palmer House, and a wide variety of topics. I shared about my previous experiences also and I feel like I really got a good feel for the vibe of the place and the staff. Kelley answered every question I had, and continues to via text, at this very moment as I am typing up this post.

About half an hour into the conversation I felt something on my right side, low toward my back, like someone had run two/three fingers across my side. I quickly turned, but saw no one. Kelley asked if I had been touched, and when I said yes, she smiled and said it was probably one of they kids; they like to play.

This is the first time (to my knowledge) that I have ever had physical contact with a spirit/ghost/whatever you would like to call it. I could not get over it, and how normal it seemed. The last few patrons had been in the bar area for the live music and were on the other side of the bar. From my vantage point I would have seen someone come in the door before they had a chance to touch me. I said out loud to whoever was there that they were not in trouble for touching me and I was not mad. I also said my sides are very ticklish, so please stay away from them! Kelley and I continued chatting, though every so often I would feel what felt like little fingers poking at my right leg, both down on my calf and up above my knee and to the right. It was never anything mean, no hard jabs or anything, just little fingers tapping my leg.


The above image is not mine. I rather stupidly did not take any pictures downstairs, so I had to search around for a while to find a picture of the bar where Kelley and I talked. This image is taken from the website Unexplained Research, from a post about their favorite Minnesota haunts.

Are you still interested? I hope so, because there is plenty more of this story to come. More activity too, including my very last minutes at the Palmer House on Sunday morning, where I get a message that was reeeealllyyyy hard to turn down.

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Have you ever experienced any paranormal-type activity? Do you believe there are 'no such things as ghosts'? I'd love to hear your stories and opinions!

Happy Reading!
Sarah

State of the ARC 6



State of the ARC is a monthly feature hosted by Avalinah's Books. I am so glad I stumbled upon it, because it is really helping me with my 2018 Reading Goals (also find a related Top Ten Tuesday HERE). Links go to Goodreads, unless I have finished the review, in which case it goes to that. All ARCs are from NetGalley or Edelweiss, unless otherwise noted.

(Format equals = title/% complete, pub date)

Pending Approval/Denial = None

Not Started = None

Started = Two
The First Congress (63%), 2-9-16 (Received one month after publication)

George Washington's Washington (15%), 4-1-18 (received in May from my NetGalley Wishlist!)

DNF = One
The Price of Greatness (36%), 6-5-18

Finished/Review to Come = Four
We Were Eight Years in Power, 10-3-17

American Gothic, 10-4-16

The Black Prince, 5-1-18

Cecily Neville: Mother of Richard III, 4-30-18 (received three weeks after publication)

Review or Feedback Sent = Nine
Those Three Words, 5-15-18 (from publisher)

Six Months at the White House with Abraham Lincoln, 4-15-16 (Received three days after publication)

Whose Promised Land, 10-15-15 (received four months after publication)

The Price of Greatness (36%), 6-5-18

These last two ARCs are reeeeeallllllyyyyy dragging and I am really just burned out on the Revolutionary War and our fledgling government. I am struggling through them, but they might be DNFs too, at least for the time being.

Happy Reading!
Sarah

Friday, July 27, 2018

Stacking the Shelves #29


Stacking the Shelves is a weekly feature co-hosted by Tynga's Reviews and Reading Reality. It is a chance to showcase all the goodies you've collected throughout the week, whether they're bought on-line or in-store, an ARC or a final copy, borrowed from a friend or the library, physical or digital, etc. Never has my addiction been more obvious than when I am now keeping track of every single book I acquire.

Kindle Unlimited
38889377 30303394

I already finished the Die Hard one, and am over halfway done with the President Obama book. You can see the Die Hard review HERE.


What did you add to your stash this week?

Happy Reading!
Sarah

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Hooray!



Two weeks from today will be my first work day back at school, as suddenly the 2018-2019 year is upon us. To say that I am dreading it is an understatement. This summer went entirely too fast and one of the reasons I feel this way is because my baby girl will be in Kindergarten. It's kind of a rough time for this momma, because it means she is ever so consistently moving a little more each day toward independence.

However, there is some good in the next two weeks as well: tomorrow the munchkin and I are heading home to spend a glorious mini vacation with our family and I can not wait. I get to lay on the couch, pretend I am in college again, and stuff my face with all of my momma's and grandma's delicious cooking. I fully anticipate that I will probably gain at least five pounds. And I don't even care because...

Summer. Family. Home.

Happy Reading!
Sarah


Would You Rather... #14

 
A

B

Option A or Option B, and why?

Happy Reading!
Sarah

Saved By The Boats: The Heroic Sea Evacuation of September 11

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Rating: 5 Stars

Wow. Just, wow.

I saw this at the library the other day when my now-five year old and I were completing one of the scavenger hunts for musical instruments in the hopes of scoring symphony tickets this upcoming season. I was struck by the simplicity of the cover, and those towers, and the fact that this is a story of 9/11 that I did not actually know about.

If you have read other reviews I've done of books on 9/11, you know this is a particularly emotional thing for me, despite the fact that I was halfway across the country. I was about three weeks into my freshman year of college, a six-hour drive from home; it was both terrifying and exhilarating. That beautiful morning as I was getting ready for an 8 AM class, I briefly saw something on the news about an airplane hitting the North Tower. I was in shock, but still thought like so many others that it was a tragic accident. As I trekked across campus and arrived for class, it was obvious it was no accident, when the second plan struck the South Tower. There I was, an 18 year old kid far from home, already dealing with the major changes of navigating the beginning of the end of life as a dependent human being, and our nation was under attack.

Like with so many others, through the pain and trauma, the hero stories became the thing that helped us cope. The First Responders running into the towers while everyone else was running out. The stories of men and women who helped their colleagues to safety, risking their own lives in the process and ultimately sacrificing themselves so others might have a chance.

That is exactly what this book is about, the heroes. I never realized how many evacuations were actually made by water. So often when I have read books about that day, so many survivors recounted trekking miles and miles to safety. There was nothing to do but walk, and walk, and walk. I never realized so many of them ended up walking to the harbors, seeking safety there.

One of the reason I chose this book was so I could read it with Eleanor, but also to learn a bit more for myself. One might think this is a heavy topic for a five year old, and you would be exactly right. It is a heavy topic. Every so often I will let Eleanor go through her Amazon cart and pick some books out (free shipping over $25, woohoo!). She really likes that What Is/Who Is/Where Is series and one of the books she chose a while back is What Were the Twin Towers. I looked through it when we received it and knew right away that it would just be too much for a four year old, even one with the intelligence and maturity that Eleanor has. She has asked about it a few times, and I have explained that some bad men wanted to hurt our country, so they took some airplanes and crashed them, and many people died because of the bad men. Once I saw this book and flipped through it, I knew that it could do a much better job of explaining the horrors of 9/11, and I was right.


"While more than one million people searched for escape, hundreds of boat captains sailed into the destruction. They felt a call to action, a desire to help, a realization that they could provide a safe harbor. They were ordinary people who became heroes on a day when greatness was desperately needed.

A day when the unthinkable happened."
(page 3)

The drawings, as much as the words, truly convey the feelings of the day. They are all done in black and a tannish off-white. But the sky is a brilliant crisp, clear blue, just as it has been described time and again. Only the smoke from the towers is a charcoal black, flowing across the pages. The choice of the tannish off-white works so well because to me it really captured the fact that these survivors, struggling to escape, were covered from head to toe with ash. The diversity is still there if you take the time to look, a woman in a hijab holding her child close, shoppers with bags, students with backpacks, young men with afros, men in baseball caps, women and men in suits with their briefcases. The message is unmistakable: that day, covered with ash, they were all the same. They were all Americans, trying to reach safety, pushed to the edge of the island in a desperate attempt to escape Lower Manhattan.

As I was reading to Eleanor, she stopped once, and told me it was so sad that so many people got hurt and she did not want to read anymore because she did not want to be sad. I pulled her onto my lap and explained that she was right, it was a sad story. But if we kept reading, we would find out about all the brave captains and crews who went into the danger even though they did not have to, because they wanted to help. She thought about it for a minute, and then we continued reading. So many times I had a lump in my throat, and that kind of funny feeling that starts in your stomach and rises up as you speak, that kind of pride knowing that on September 11th, we were all in this together. The text included direct quotes from captains, firefighters, and engineers who witnessed it, as boats of all kinds came to the rescue, responding to the Coast Guard's call between 11 and 11:30 that morning: "All available boats! This is the United States Coast Guard aboard the pilot boat New York. Anyone wanting to help with the evacuation of Lower Manhattan, report to Governor's Island" (page 14). And help, they did. Boats from all over arrived, even private boats. Tugboats, ferries, and party boats came with captains and crews, ready and willing to haul as many passengers as possible to safety.

Tom Sullivan was a firefighter aboard a fireboat in the harbor as thousands of people ran toward the Hudson when the Towers first came down, before the Coast Guard call went out. Thousands became hundreds of thousands, with people climbing over railings when necessary and boarding boats already there. Sullivan recounted how, "People were just diving onto the boat...Mothers and nannies with infants in their arms were dropping the children down to us. And then we helped the mothers and nannies down" (page 13).

Boats sailed back and forth from Manhattan, taking the weary survivors to New Jersey, then heading back to the island with rescue workers and supplies. The author notes (having been one of the evacuees herself, which she explains in an author's note) how police officers warned the thousands and thousands of people queuing up for boats that it could be several hours before they could get going, due to the massive numbers of people lined up. In the end, it took nine hours to ferry nearly 500,000 people across to Jersey. 500,000. That number is insane to me, but it is a testament to just how many hundreds of boats responded to the call, helmed by captains and crews who were under no obligation to do so.


"It was the largest sea evacuation in history.
It was an answer to a call for help.
It was a light on the city's darkest day"
(page 29)

I had tears in my eyes by the end. Eleanor asked if I was sad. I told her I was proud that, even on such a terrible day, people found the courage to do what most will never have the opportunity to: risk their lives for another human being with little thought for their own safety. That is one of the lasting legacies of that horrible day and amid the trauma, something we can be proud of.

Monday, July 23, 2018

Die Hard: An Oral History

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Rating: 5 Stars

Totally found this gem by accident when I saw the author's book about President Obama advertised on Goodreads. I ended up getting both for free via Kindle Unlimited. It is only about 70 pages, but it was a lovely little slice of goodness about the greatest Christmas movie ever. It details, through various people involved in the process, what it took to get this movie made, and showed just how many times it was rejected until it was completely re-written into what we know the movie to be today. Thank goodness that it was re-written at all, because the original premise involved a retired police officer going to his daughter's office Christmas party, and she ends up dying, and it would have been a terrible movie. Instead, things were changed up quite a bit, and we get a great hero in John McClane, and the final result is fucking perfect. Die Hard is such a perfect action movie BECAUSE John McClane is not a typical hero. He's a regular guy who gets put into a situation totally out of his control and he is in way over his head. He survives time and time again not because of convenient happenstance, but because he is constantly trying to be one step ahead of the bad guys, and that is REALLY REALLY hard when the villain you are up against in Hans Grüber. (This is obviously different in the later movies when McClane goes from being the Everyguy Hero to an Action Hero, but I don't really pay attention to those. The original Die Hard is pretty much it for me. I am really good at ignoring sequels.)

I only wish this short could be expanded to a full length book. Perhaps material about actual filming of the movie, things that were easy or difficult, funny anecdotes, and the like. Maaaaybe even an interview with Bruce Willis, that would be kind of fantastic. Such a shame that Alan Rickman has passed away, one of the all-time greatest film villains - Hans Grüber. (Don't come at me with Harry Potter b.s. Hans > Snape. Goodbye.)

Die Hard fans will really like this, but definitely get it from Kindle Unlimited if you can.

Sunday, July 22, 2018

The Poison Plot: A Tale of Adultery and Murder in Colonial Newport

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I received a free digital ARC from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 2 Stars

I am not sure why, but I am drawn to stories seemingly like this involving the sensationalized murders committed using (usually) poison. I don't know why this is such a draw - and usually it is Victorian Era cases that I am interested in, but this one went a bit further back, to Colonial Newport in the early 1700s.

I also have to admit that one of the reasons I first requested this book was because I failed to read the subtitle, and when I read the name Benedict Arnold, first assumed it was about THE Benedict Arnold, which made me doubly confused because I thought/knew poisoning was definitely NOT how he died. Oops. Sometimes I am great at reading, sometimes not so much. This is kind of embarrassing, but at the same time, eh, whatever. Everyone at one point or another has done something similar.

This book is marketed as a murder mystery, it says so right there in the subtitle. But the problem with that is, that's not really what the book is about. With so many unknown variables, and the fact that there are no contemporary sources that record Mary Arnold's personal thoughts and feelings, or purpose for her possible actions, it is almost entirely filled with conjecture. A rime example of this appears at 29% where the author states, "Psychological reasons may have bee responsible for Mary's behavior as her life unfolded, although such possibilities are merely conjectural." Seriously, the title of this book should have actually been Conjecture About a Possible Murder and Some Other Stuff About Colonial Newport. It would have been highly accurate, at least.

The death/murder of her husband is dealt with rather swiftly in the first couple chapters of the book. The motive, means, and opportunity are all there, but given how little information there actually is left in any existing records, the author again falls back on the dreaded C-word. The author even states at one point, "Then again, there is no hard evidence that Mary actually tried to poison Benedict or that he was in fact poisoned" (forgot to record what % this was at, sorry!) Well damn, then what was the point of all of this nonsense then anyway?!

My biggest issue really is that the book was not what it purported to be. The drama surrounding Benedict and Mary, he being roughly two decades older than her, she having affairs and burning through his fortune like there's no tomorrow, certainly could make a circumstantial case - especially if Mary might be excluded from receiving anything in her husband's will. All we know for sure is that Benedict became ill. Upon his recovery he filed a divorce petition, indicating the affairs Mary carried on while married was a reason for the divorce. Then Benedict died not long after the divorce was granted. One of the problems is that at that time there was no way to test someone to see if they had been poisoned. So, where is the mystery then? Truthfully, there really isn't one, because there are far too many unknowns.

That the author is a historian, that much is obvious. And I truly enjoyed the dissection of daily life in Colonial Newport far more than I enjoyed the story surrounding the Arnold marriage. We get to see so much of daily life as it would have been for most citizens. The author does a fine job explaining social, political, and economic issues of the period. Perhaps this book would have been better if it had strictly been a biography of the city of Newport, Rhode Island - to be fair, I must say that city biographies are one of my most favorite kinds of books to read, so I would be far interested in that than any "Eh, we don't really know, but maybe?" murder mystery.

As a 'true crime'-ish murder mystery, I can not recommend this book at all. As a snapshot of life in colonial New England, yes, have it. Just ignore the hubbub about the Arnold family.

Lighting the Fires of Freedom: African American Women in the Civil Rights Movement

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I received a free digital ARC from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 4 Stars

I loved this book. I could not put it down, for a number of reasons. First and foremost, it is a beautiful living history of so many women who did so much of the hard work to keep the movement going. That does not mean women like Coretta Scott King and Rosa Parks are unimportant, it simply means that we are finally learning the names of so many other women who made great contributions to the Civil Rights Movement, who are often overlooked because they did the everyday grunt work, doing what needed to be done.

A second reason why I loved this book so much is that I teach in a school that is predominantly African American. Specifically I teach in a Behavior Skills classroom, which means my class size is smaller and comprised of students who have been diagnosed with an emotional disturbance, sometimes among other disorders as well. These students especially need to see others who look like them, achieving and being successful. I am a firm believer, and research supports this, that children need to see members of both their gender and their race in positions of success as role models, to see just what is possible for someone who looks like them to achieve. HERE is a great article from a couple years ago explaining some of the research. So when I have in my hands a book that showcases some very exceptional women, I know already that it will be useful in my classroom.

To ensure that I am doing what I can to pass on the names of these brave and inspirational woman, I want to list them before delving into the text a little further. Commit them to memory, and learn all you can. Their unique stories are endlessly fascinating not only as African Americans fighting for equal rights regardless of race, but as powerful women making their mark on the movement to show that gender would also not be a factor in holding anyone back. Female leadership was key and it is about time that these women, and I'm sure countless others, were given their due recognition (links go to various articles/websites about each woman):
 


The author chose these nine women whose experiences in that turbulent time are remarkable for both how similar and different they were. Most of the women are in their 80s now, and to read their stories felt like I was there, part of the conversation. The events they described were so vivid, the fear and the exhilaration all at once, I felt it as I read every single word. Each voice was clear and authentic, it did not feel like the same person speaking, over and over.

I have read my fair share of history told in this format and compiling an oral history seems easy enough on the surface: interview some people and record exactly what they say. Easy, no? Well, not really. The Civil Rights Movement was so huge, with so many working parts, sometimes trying to get everyone to work together so that the movement would 'keep moving' so to speak, could be difficult. The same goes for attempts at oral histories. The parts of the whole have to flow to keep the narrative moving. I think the author has done a fantastic job in piecing together this important history. For me personally there were no lulls, or places where I wished the stories were longer or shorter. It flows well, even as we are given such widely varying perspectives of the time. Though their accomplishments were not the same, the impact of their hard work and dedication will still be felt for many years to come.

The Assassination of Robert F. Kennedy: Crime, Conspiracy and Cover-Up - A New Investigation

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I received a free digital ARC from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 4 Stars

Prior to reading this I knew next to nothing about Bobby's assassination, aside from the fact that he was shot in Los Angeles by a man whose last name is the same as his first. I can tell you nearly every last detail of JFK's assassination a few years earlier, but am the exact opposite when it comes to my knowledge of RFK - yet another example of Bobby living in Jack's shadow. Given the timing of the book's release to coincide with the 50th anniversary, now was as good a time as any to start learning.

By nature I am not much into conspiracy theories, but there has always been something about the Kennedy family that has drawn me in. The glitz and glamour, the perfect family photos, lots of easy explanations for the attention they have garnered over the decades. So for me, the idea that two sons from this powerful family just happened to be assassinated within five years of one another, one as president and one as a presidential hopeful...there's something bigger at work. Tragedy befell the family often, but two assassinations, and by random lone gunman? Sorry not sorry, but I don't buy it. Especially after reading this one and exploring Bobby's death, the mishandling of the investigation, and the odd journey of the supposed assassin. That being said, I do not doubt that Sirhan Sirhan shot at Bobby, wounding others surrounding Kennedy as he exited that night. I just don't think he was the only one to do so.

It is clear from the start that the authors put blood, sweat, and tears into this book. The research is there, the pouring over of documents time and time again from the days and weeks and months after Bobby died. Not to mention the uncovering of additional evidence that had, prior to now, been unknown to the public. I also appreciated the fact that the authors took the time to go back and conduct new interviews with relevant people, instead of relying solely on interviews from the time that the assassination happened.

More than anything else, the forensics prove that Sirhan was not the only shooter in the pantry that night. I don't just mean because there were allegedly thirteen shots fired, which were accidentally captured on audio, or 'possible' bullet holes were identified in numerous locations within the pantry signifying that there must have been a second shooter, because how could a gun that could only hold eight bullets make thirteen holes? No, it comes down to the autopsy, plain and simple, as well as eyewitness statements and photographic evidence that Sirhan was in front of Bobby the entire time in the pantry. Not only that, but he was several feet away when he began firing. How is it then, that Thomas Noguchi, LA County's Chief Medical Examiner-Corornor, concluded that Robert F. Kennedy died from a bullet fired into the back of his head? Noguchi's report was detailed and very specific in recounting the fatal shot, determining this based on his expert opinion, that it came from that back of Bobby's head at an upward angle. And even if one were to argue that maybe witnesses are mis-remembering, and Sirhan DID take a shot at Bobby from behind him, the distance calculated swiftly crushes that idea. Noguchi further determined that the fatal shot was fired from no father than three inches away from Bobby's head, perhaps as close to half an inch. Time and again witnesses made statements that Sirhan was in front of Bobby the entire time, and that he never got that close to him. There is simply no way for Sirhan to have fired that shot. Even Paul Schrade, one of Kennedy's aides, believes Sirhan did not assassinate Bobby. Schade was walking behind Bobby into the pantry and has stated to Sirhan directly, as quoted in the book, "You were never behind Bob, nor was Bob's back ever exposed to you."

The book addresses several other points that seem to create the aura of assassination conspiracy and further fan those flames. There is discussion of Sirham being hypnotized or brainwashed, Manchurian Candidate style. Much is also made of witness statements about a man in a gold sweater and the Girl in the Polka Dot Dress. I don't draw more attention to her in jest, she is a very real piece of the puzzle latched onto by so many who claim it was a big murder conspiracy. This is all small potatoes to me when compared to the physical evidence, which might seem to be too dismissive, but the proof is there that Kennedy was killed by someone other than Sirhan. Unfortunately I do not think we will ever be able to answer the questions of 'who' and 'why'.

And perhaps there was no conspiracy to kill Bobby at all, which I know deviates from what I said in the opening paragraph. Perhaps a cover-up became mandatory when the investigators realized that the evidence they were recovering from the scene did not fit their initial assumptions and statements about Sirhan acting alone. Maybe they did destroy evidence and bully witnesses into recanting. But for what reason? The investigators didn't want to look incompetent? They did not want to bungle the case and have a re-play of the investigation surrounding Jack's assassination just five years earlier, where so many doubted then and still do today that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone? Unfortunately for those in power, whatever their reasons for the cover-up, that is exactly what happened anyway. Fifty years later, it is more than clear that there were two shooters that night. I don't think anyone is denying that Sirhan was in the pantry, that he had a gun, or that he fired it. He simply was not the only one.

Not too long ago Robert F. Kennedy, Jr met with Sirhan in prison, for several hours, presumably discussing every last detail of that night. RFK Jr came away from that time spent believing that the man before him had not murdered his father. Surely that alone merits re-opening the investigation.

Top Hoodlum: Frank Costello, Prime Minister of the Mafia

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I received a free digital ARC from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 4 Stars

I love The Godfather and it is my all-time favorite movie. As a result I will read pretty much anything written about the Mafia, particularly during the 'glory days' so to speak. I realize how dangerous that can be, romanticizing such brutality. You can tell me about while I sit here playing The Godfather: Black Hand Edition on my Wii.

But in all seriousness, this is an excellent, well-researched biography of arguably the most important man to ever run the show. He got his start during Prohibition, making a fortune on that and various illegal gambling operations. For all that he made though, it was never really the money that was the end game. What Costello wanted more than anything else was to be accepted a legitimate business man who was a contributing member of society. He almost made it, but was never quite legit enough. Unfortunately, it was never to be, both because of his bootlegging days and those he kept company with later in life. Those ties to illegal activities in his earlier years would come back to haunt him, as it was all dredged up time and again when he was called to testify at various hearings.

One of the key takeaways from Costello's life was the way he operated. He moved in circles that included some very unsavory people who did some very unsavory things. Yet Costello was called the 'Prime Minister' for a reason. He recognized that violence and wars between the families was bad for business. It is no secret that muscle was often called in to take care of a multitude of jobs. But Costello does not appear to have been an advocate for violence. Even so, he was still the head of one of the Five Families. Death and destruction was part of the life and as a result, Costello could never be considered legitimate.

This is a story first and foremost about Costello's life on the wrong side of the law. There is very little in the way of his personal life, so if that is what you are looking for you will be disappointed. However, if you are looking for a well-researched book on the life and crimes of Frank Costello, then this is exactly what you need. I thoroughly enjoyed this one and could not put it down. Highly recommended.

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Review Bomb: Antiquity


I can't believe how quickly summer is slipping away. In just a few weeks I will have to report back to school for the new year and my baby is somehow going to be in Kindergarten. I can't even.

So, I am in the process of trying to knock out as many reviews as possible while Eleanor is at her dad's for the weekend, while also continuing my own research and writing about Eleanor of Aquitaine. We are also going home to Minnesota for a visit with family for two whole glorious weeks, and I won't be around much at all. Best to get as much done as possible now while I can.

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2000647 3 Stars

I first have to say that the only reason this one is getting a full three stars is because I want so badly for Atlantis to be real. And when you take everything in the book at face value, you can almost believe it too. It is not a terrible book in that it gives the reader exactly what they are hoping for (assuming one is reading it because they, like me, want Atlantis to have been a real place with a thriving culture). Ultimately you will have to decide for yourself whether you believe or not, but the journey toward either conclusion is half the fun.

One of the main reasons that I could not rate this book any higher is due to the author's seemingly disdainful attitude toward those who dismiss Atlantis as merely a myth. In so many words, he basically alludes to those experts who study the ancient world as lacking imagination. This is troubling, because it simply is not true. There are so many discoveries that have been made explicitly because archaeologists, anthropologists, and a whole host of other -ologists DO have imagination, and seek out what they must to find what they believe is there. And truthfully, it weakens his arguments when he wants to present himself as a credible historian, traipsing all over the world to find evidence. What he appears to be saying, whether it was his intention or not, is that HE is right and every other expert in all those previously-listed fields are wrong. Can we really believe that? Not really.

Despite all of that, I still found myself enjoying much of the book, because turning the idea of Atlantis over in one's mind is a fun thing to do. You can't take the book to seriously, but you can enjoy a few hours wondering 'what if...'


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7740360 4 Stars

I was pleasantly surprised by this slim volume. Covering any aspect of Ancient Rome is something that typically demands hundreds of pages. This text is simply dedicated to the facts of exactly what happened in those final days of Rome's existence as the center of the world. The author makes great use of primary sources, but I did not feel bogged down by the amount of those used, in correlation to the length of the text. It is highly readable and succinct, and makes clear Rome's downfall was their arrogance.

The author details Rome's mistreatment of the Visigoths, who were at that time seeking respite from the attacking Huns who were following them. This put the Visigoths in a terrible position, boxed in by the Romans on one side who did nothing to help, and the Huns on the other in hot pursuit. Visigoth leaders sought some land of their own to provide for their people and asked for this from Rome, offering military aid, yet no deal and Rome missed the boat. The empire would see the error of its ways only when it was burning in the aftermath of Rome's sacking.

Serious scholars or those who study Rome and the Ancient World extensively will not find anything new here. But for those who want a better understanding of a complex time and place, this would be an excellent text to start with. My own interest in Rome waxes and wanes, so I found it to be informative, with many things I knew already but more than a few new pieces of information as well.


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3413181 3.5 Stars
This is kind of a weird book. The subject matter itself, and the heart of the issue - whether or not looted items should be returned to their countries of origin - is not the weird part. The author throughout made some really odd statements and assumptions that almost distracted from the main body of work and left me wondering what the purpose was. The prime example pertains to her statement when discussing the Getty and I suppose trying to illustrate the 'wild' and out-of-control behavior of acquiring stolen art by saying that it was to be expected that employees at the Getty were all having affairs with one another, because it was an elite institution with too much money...what?

Luckily the author also managed to stick to facts when discussing the main topic, and that is items that have been stolen from various countries, sold to other countries, and now reside in big fancy museums in wings dedicated to their time period, ripped completely out of context from their place of origin.

Going into this book, I was a firm believer in the fact that those items should be returned. After reading the book, I still stand by that, in most cases. Because, I also want that history to be cared for, and available for future generations to learn from and about. The destruction of Palmyra by ISIS weighed heavily on my mind while reading this though it was published in 2008, because instability is a huge issue when trying to care for these relics of the past. So much of Palmyra has been destroyed, beautiful ancient structures that can never be replaced. What if the same thing were to happen say, to the Rosetta Stone, one of the specific artifacts that Waxman touches on? Without the Rosetta Stone, we may still be wholly unable to decipher the Egyptian hieroglyphs that this piece of history allowed us to finally read. The stone certainly does not belong to the French or the British, despite their discovering and deciphering. It belongs to Egypt. So, do American and European museums have the right to demand that these items be cared for a certain way, before they are willing to return them? Can they even be forced to return the items? I completely understand the fears of great museums, so worried about being emptied of their treasures, but the items never belonged to the countries where they now reside.

Basically, everyone involved in this whole process is guilty of something - the source countries for creating a climate that allowed looting, the looters and smugglers for stealing the items, and the brokers and buyers for not caring too greatly that the pieces they're acquiring are likely stolen. As long as there is money to be made in this, it will continue to happen, whether the pieces are going to large museums or private collections.

The author also spends a bit of time delving into the strange case of Marion True. Her own saga is no less intriguing than the artifacts in question throughout the book. I wonder what she really knew, and why she was the only person prosecuted when it is clear she could not have been the only one guilty in that case. It hardly seems fair, especially if she was trying to do things the right way. Surely though she had to have realized how suspicious the loans for the purchase of her new home looked? What a mess.

I feel like there is a trade-off: either these stolen pieces remain where they are in these internationally renowned museums where millions of visitors get to view them each year - not in their proper context but accompanied with placards describing the very details one could witness for themselves if seeing the works of art in a museum, or historical site, in their country of origin. The downside to the latter part is, as mentioned previously, the care and upkeep of the returned pieces. What if artifacts were returned, only to be stolen again and then sold off into the hands of a private collector or worse, destroyed like so much of Palmyra and other ancient sites? In either case, those artifacts would be gone forever.

Friday, July 20, 2018

Stacking the Shelves #28


Stacking the Shelves is a weekly feature co-hosted by Tynga's Reviews and Reading Reality. It is a chance to showcase all the goodies you've collected throughout the week, whether they're bought on-line or in-store, an ARC or a final copy, borrowed from a friend or the library, physical or digital, etc. Never has my addiction been more obvious than when I am now keeping track of every single book I acquire.

Library (Withdrawn from Circulation)
13050383 1566513
21493 22557272 

I know, I know, FICTION. But seriously, I could not pass up that one for free! I read it within hours of acquiring it on Thursday. The review is HERE. I must say, it is one of my best reviews ever 🤣🤣🤣

What did you add to your stash this week?

Happy Reading!
Sarah

Thursday, July 19, 2018

First Line Friday: Anglo-Saxons Round II


First Line Friday is brought to you by Hoarding Books.

19152768

"While it is not possible to produce a full biography of the Lincolnshire thegn called Hereward, the main threads of his career can be recovered, at least in outline."

I am looking forward to this one with cautious optimism. There is just so much we will never know about the period, but Hereward is a figure who I am endlessly intrigued by.

Leave a comment and let me know what you think.

Happy Reading!
Sarah

The Girl on the Train

22557272

Rating: 4 Stars

A bunch of terrible people do a bunch of terrible things to each other. The end.

SPOILER AHEAD!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 
Stop reading right now if you are one of the last people on earth who has not read this book and would still like to. If you don't care and aren't going to, then by all means, read on.










I am pretty good at solving mysteries. The more complicated, the better. This one was good, without actually being all that complicated. I think the simplicity of it is what made the book really good, because even with a drunken, completely unreliable narrator who has serious boundary issues, all things became pretty clear when you remember A) The majority of murders are committed by someone who has a relationship with the victim and B) Once a cheater, always a cheater. So, I figured it out probably a bit earlier than the author intended, but it was still an interesting read.

I do have to say that I really felt for the victim by the end, getting more of her story, and seeing things from her point of view in the last hours of her life. She seemed to be the only one who realized she was terrible, and made the decision to not be terrible any more. Ultimately, her deciding to be a better person is exactly what cost her her life.

And yes I know - GASP! - FICTION! But this lonely little book without a dust jacket was sitting on the withdrawn cart today at the library and I thought I would give it a try to see what the big fuss was all about. I read it in a couple hours - part of the time while exercising even. In fact, I rode my bike longer than I intended, because I did not want to put the book down until I was finished and knew how all the terrible people ended up, going about their terrible lives, being terrible. Seriously, Evie the baby was the only not terrible person. And Cathy the acquaintance/landlord. But alas, they were secondary characters.

Monday, July 16, 2018

Top Ten Tuesday #36: Short Stories/Novellas



Welcome to another Top Ten Tuesday, now hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl.

This week's topic is "Favorite Novellas/Short Stories". A few weeks back there was a TTT about a favorite series and I finally let the world know that there is actually one cozy mystery series I do read and am desperately longing for the next installment. In addition to the full-length books, the Mercy Watts series (Goodreads link) includes a couple of shorts that are pretty decent and sort-of helped with a quick book-boyfriend fix, because I love Chuck and who doesn't love a hot detective? (Another example: Detective Stabler, anyone? Christopher Meloni, yum.) So, even though I included the shorts in that post a few weeks ago, here they are again...plus another gem I really like.

15564064 16170968
.5                                   2.4

15994955 23800197
2.5                                    3.5

29420347
5.5

18007533

Have you read any of these? Let me know what you think, and leave a link to your own list.

Happy Reading!
Sarah