Thursday, October 12, 2017

First Line Friday: Crusader Edition

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Heyo, it's that time again!

Last week was the debut of First Line Friday being hosted by Hoarding Books and I think this will work out so much better. If you are unfamiliar with how things work now, Hoarding Books was created by the original four members of First Line Friday - we've now grown to nearly 30 regular, active posters. It makes sense to start using a link-up so we are all connected in one place instead of trying to remember to add each new person to each of our individual posts. If you are a Top Ten Tuesday-er then the format will be very familiar to you. If not, check our The Broke and the Bookish for another cool way to connect with other bloggers and find new books to enjoy.

This week my first line is from one of the texts I am using for my research and writing on Eleanor of Aquitaine.

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"Nine hundred years ago the Christians of Europe waged a series of holy wars, or crusades, against the Muslim world, battling for dominion of a region sacred to both faiths - the Holy Land. This bloody struggle raged for two centuries, reshaping the history of Islam and the West."

You might be wondering how any of the crusades could possibly relate to Eleanor and why a book about such topics would be useful to my own book. Please allow me the very briefest of explanations:

Eleanor and her first husband Louis VII of France lead the Second Crusade to the Holy Land. It was a dismal failure and Eleanor nearly succeeded in gaining an annulment from Louis right there in Antioch, with her uncle Raymond's encouragement. He was the prince of Antioch and had left Aquitaine when Eleanor was very young. As the youngest son in the family, he had no prospects by remaining in Poitiers so he made his fortune elsewhere, first in England in the service of Henry I and later in Antioch. Unfortunately he was killed in battle after Louis had forced Eleanor to leave with his army to head for Jerusalem.

Then of course there is Richard the Lion Heart, Eleanor's most beloved son who headed up the Third Crusade while he was king of England. He was captured and imprisoned by former crusader allies whom he had managed to piss off, and they were working in conjunction with John to keep Richard from getting home. Eleanor naturally put a stop to that nonsense in typical mama bear fashion, collected the huge sums needed for Richard's ransom, and hand-delivered it to Duke Leopold of Austria in exchange for her son's freedom.

So, yeah, the crusades are kind of a major factor in Eleanor's life.

What are you reading this week? Leave a comment below with your own line, or thoughts on mine, or both! Then head over to Hoarding Books to see what other First Liners have this week.

Happy Reading!
Sarah

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Cor Rotto: A Novel of Catherine Carey

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Rating: 4 Stars

Full Disclosure: I have this book shelved as being a gift from and author or publisher because this is technically true. Adrienne Dillard is the author but she has, more importantly, become my friend. It will probably not surprise anyone that we 'met' on a post from Dan Jones' Facebook page. We share a love of history, specifically the Tudor era, and really ridiculous amounts of awesome GIFs. As such, while this book was a gift, it did not come with the expectation of a review. It came as a gift from one friend to another.

Normally, I do not like historical fiction. Everyone and their mother knows this by now. There are exceptions I am willing to make though - particularly if it is someone who I know about, but not too much. I can not abide fictional works of certain real-life people, namely Eleanor of Aquitaine and her brood. She is too near and dear to my heart for me to entertain what someone thinks she MIGHT HAVE said or thought. Novels like this then are ideal for me because I know who Catherine Carey was, but have no deep connection otherwise. I enjoy Adrienne's work because she is thorough in her research and always quick to make note of where she took her information from, what is historically accurate, and what came from her own imagination. That is the reason I read her second novel, of Jane Boleyn, so quickly. I could not put it down. I enjoyed learning Catherine's story, but was also pleased to find that I for the most part was able to decipher on my own what was real and what was imagined, based on my other Tudor knowledge.

One thing I am not a fan of is stories told in first person. That is really the only aspect of the novel that bothered me, and it bothers me in literally every other novel I have read in the last five years. I don't know what has caused this change in me, it never used to bother me so much. Perhaps it is because my brain is now wired for non-fiction, so peoples' thoughts and emotion perturbed me now. Who knows.

I did enjoy some of the perspectives taken in Catherine's eyes, particularly that of Mary I. I have long maintained a special place in my heart for the daughter of Catherine of Aragon. I feel the treatment of herself and her mother by Henry in the years leading up to and following his marriage to Anne Boleyn were what changed Mary into the person she became. By all accounts she was a happy, thriving child, but Henry took that light in her and twisted it and damaged it beyond repair. Had she been treated more justly, I believe her reign would have reflected that. I also appreciated Catherine's portrayal in how she regarded Elizabeth - that she was difficult. Elizabeth is one of my least favorite people in history, I find her manipulative and dramatic and annoying. I am glad to see I am not the only one who might view her as difficult and Catherine and I agreed greatly - though she was still loyal and loved Elizabeth dearly.

The tenderness between the various characters is what really stands out in this novel for me, whether it be between husbands and wives, parents and children, etc. Sometimes it is easy to look back on these long-ago times and see these people as so wholly different from us. But it is also easy to forget they will in fact real people with real thoughts and feelings and hopes and dreams, people who loved those dear to them. I always find this especially true when addressing the high mortality rate in infants and children of the time. Just because a family has so many children does not mean the deaths of little ones are felt any less deeply. I also appreciated the love between Catherine and her husband. While it was an arranged marriage, I can hope that it truly became a loving one - and I think the multitude of children reflects that.

The big question here though, involves the view that recognizes Catherine has Henry VIII's daughter, this making Catherine a half sister to three Tudor monarchs. I believe until there is DNA testing done to prove once and for all, this debate will not end. But, as we can not even pin down the time line correctly, this may be another one for the 'We will never know' pile. 

Overall this was a lovely portrayal of a lesser-known figure in Tudor history. If you enjoy historical fiction based on the facts available, you will likely enjoy this one. Highly recommended.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

First Line Friday - Now With Linky Widget


First Line Fridays hosted by Hoarding Books

Happy First Line Friday!

Due to the massive increase in the number of bloggers participating in First Line Friday, the decision was made to run the meme like you see from The Broke and the Bookish with their Top Ten Tuesday. If you're not familiar, click the links to check out how it works. This means that instead of each of us linking to every other blog every single week, we will simply post our own First Line, then add our blogs to the link-up so others can take a look. This will make things so much easier and allow many other participants, all while finding new books for those TBRs of ours!

This week my line is from a book I am super excited to read, but just have not had the chance to yet.

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I think at some point, everyone experiences doubt. It's not always soul-crushing for everyone, but sometimes something makes you pause - then question everything you thought you knew.

"Life is fragile. We desire security and certainty, but we often face a world full of unknowns, danger, and brokenness. Faith is also fragile. We yearn for absolutes and rock-solid assurances, but we often feel insecure and uncertain about what God is up to and why He seems to be taking so long."

Truer words have never been spoken.

Let me know what you think of this line, then head on over to 

grab button for Hoarding Books

to find my fellow First-Liners.

Happy Reading!
Sarah

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Here's What Happens When You Meet Someone You Admire...

...you fangirl REAL hard.

And by 'you', I of course mean 'me'.

Some of you might recall my affinity for a certain British historian with heaps of knowledge about my favorite dysfunctional dynasty and access to all the chronicles and texts I can only dream of.

That's right, ladies and gents. I met Dan Jones. Bonus, he was not terrified of me and my fangirlish ways. He has been on a book tour in the US to coincide with the release of his fifth book, The Templars: The Rise and Fall of God's Holy Warriors.


Dan (I am going to assume from here on out we are on a first-name basis) spoke for nearly an hour, first explaining why he chose to write about the Templars, then delving into each section as he explored their rise and fall. He took a few questions from the audience, and THEN it was time for the book signing. My friend Roxy and I waited to be the very last people to have our books signed and I do mean BOOKS. He was gracious enough to sign all five of mine - including personalizing the Templars proof. I jokingly asked if he told the publisher to pick me in the hopes that I would not bring my crazy to St. Louis but he said no, he'd had nothing to do with it. I said something about the Plantagenets and Eleanor and kind of blurted out that I was writing a book about her; he did not seem at all surprised, considering the fact that I told him I named my daughter after her. THEN he asked what I thought of her and I completely froze because, HELLO! this historian who knows more about the period and people than I could even hope to was asking ME what I thought of Eleanor of Aquitaine! We ended up talking for a bit and it was incredible.

I got to talk to Dan Jones about Eleanor of Aquitaine!

I seriously still can not believe this actually happened.

Pretty fantastic night and here is the smile to prove it:


Thursday, September 7, 2017

First Line Friday: William Marshal Edition


Happy First Line Friday!

I missed out on posting last week because things got a bit hectic here with some very good news - I am now working on a full-length biography of Eleanor of Aquitaine! I am so excited for the project and I hope I can do her story justice. Given the fact that we don't even know what she looked like, you can imagine how hard it is to come by information that we know for certain is 100% true. Slowly but surely I am plodding along and gathering more sources from her contemporaries - expensive investments but worth it in the long run. And, as one such investment, I would like to share a line this week from a book about another favorite medieval hero of mine.

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I have actually cheated a little and chosen two lines. The first is from the introduction by the translator, Nigel Bryant, regarding the fact that this biography is very special indeed. The second line/paragraph is from the actual text, written by its author. We do not know the identity of the author though we know it was someone from his household, commissioned by Marshal's son a few years after Marshal's death.

"The History of William of Marshal is the earliest surviving biography of a medieval knight - indeed, it is the first biography of a layman in the vernacular in European history."

and

"Anyone with a worthy subject should see he treats it in such a way that, if it starts well, it's carried through to a good conclusion - and that it chimes with the truth, irreproachably; for some are inclined to undertake such tasks with lesser intentions: they just want to run men down! And what is it that drives them? Envy - whose tongue, prompted by its bitter heart, can never stop sniping: it resents any sign of outstanding goodness. But to come straight to the point: my subject concerns the worthiest man who ever was in our time, so help me God - and may God grant me the grace and the wit to treat it so that it will give pleasure and enjoyment to all who hear it in the proper spirit."

Let me know what you think and/or leave a line of your own. Then, visit my fellow First-Liners to see what they have waiting for you this week.





Happy Reading!

Sarah

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Blue on Blue: An Insider's Story of Good Cops Catching Bad Cops

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Rating: 4 Stars

This book interested me for a couple reasons. One, I am utterly obsessed with New York City. Two, Law and Order: SVU is one of my favorite shows ever. And three, most importantly, I am deeply troubled about this growing divided between police officers and the public that seems to have been split wide open in the wake of the deaths of so many unarmed civilians, many of whom are young African American males.

The book is not perfect. In general it is fairly conversational and I liked that. It felt like I was sitting around with my grandpa and he was telling me stories about his childhood and this and that. Only it wasn't my grandpa, and the stories were about IAB catching nasty pieces of work who never should have been given the privilege of wearing an NYPD badge. But at times the writing feels a bit defensive about officer-involved shootings. I think most rational-minded people realize that the majority of police officers are honest, hardworking, good people who do their jobs with all the integrity with which they took their oath. The defensiveness was a by-product of trying to explain what it is like to be in a situation where you have a split-second to make what amounts to a life or death decision. I truly believe that the majority of the police officers in our country react the same way the author did, with thoughts of: Please don't make me shoot them, please don't make me shoot them, please don't make me shoot them. In the last few years, starting with the Michael Brown case in Ferguson, so many people have questions the idea of why an officer can't shoot to injure, instead of shoot to kill. The author explained that in the NYPD, the policy is 'shoot to stop'.

At the time of the author's retirement, only one other member of the NYPD had served as long or longer than him. He spent 20 years of his career with IAB, which makes for some fascinating and horrifying stories. It is hard to convince people to take a job that requires them to basically police the police, meaning some of their friends even. I can't imagine a more unenviable job but it is a necessary one, as this book proves time and again. It also amazes me that some of these officers could be so stupid as to think that they would get away with their crimes in the end. In fact, officers should always assume that when someone brings a shady plan to them, that it is really an Integrity Test. Unfortunately it won't, because there will always be bad cops, just like there are bad teachers, doctors, etc.

On a sort-of lighter note, Law and Order: SVU is one of my all-time favorite shows. I unfortunately had to stop watching it for two reasons: Elliot Stabler (Christopher Meloni, yum) left the force after season 12, and I had a baby which made it nearly impossible to watch a fictional show based on real crimes often committed against children. I could not handle it and cried buckets the first time I tried to watch the show as a new mom. And if you do not believe the tag line of 'ripped from the headlines', it is 100% true. The author recounted a tale of a suspect being arrested and beaten up by the four officers during transport to the precinct, where upon arrival two of the officers took him into a bathroom and one held him down while the other shoved the end of either a broom or a plunger (I can't remember which) into the man's rectum. This happened on an episode of SVU, though the motive and crimes surrounding this part of the story were changed. With some of the stories the author recounted, it was hard to not see Benson and Stabler as detectives within the narrative, even though yes I know they are fictional. It was also interesting to think about how Stabler always reacted every time IAB was afoot as I was reading.

Overall this is a good read about what it is like from the inside, investigating the very people who have sworn to protect the public. It is by no means an easy job, or a fun one, but it is a necessary one.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

First Line Friday: Pope Francis Edition


Happy First Line Friday!

This week I am sharing a line from a book that I am really hoping I will love, because I really kind of love the subject of the book A LOT. I am not Catholic, but I absolutely adore Pope Francis. I love his message and his position on so many social issues, and we are so lucky to have him in our world. At my imaginary dinner party, he would be seated between Eleanor of Aquitaine and Bernie Sanders, across from William Marshal and Dan Jones. Can you even begin to imagine these conversations?? It would be the best dinner party ever.

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"Many of us who have an interest IN our families' immigrant pasts have visited the port or THE town where our forebears arrived, lived, and struggled. We try to imagine the day of their arrival, the weather, the smell, the crowds, the anxiety. I have wandered the streets of Boston looking at the same sights my Irish maternal relatives must have seen; I have wondered what they must have felt when they read signs that said 'IRISH NEED NOT APPLY'."

Let me know what you think and/or leave a line of your own. Then, visit my fellow First-Liners to see what they have waiting for you this week.


Happy Reading!

Sarah