Sunday, March 29, 2015

Elizabeth I and Her Circle

Author: Susan Doran

Rating: 4 Stars


I received this as an ARC from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

I must first disclose that I am no particular fan of Elizabeth I. She was a spoiled, manipulative, whiny brat who made everyone around her suffer with her tantrums and outbursts. She could not stand to see her favorites happy with anyone but her, yet would or could not ever commit to any of them due to their varying statuses in society. However, that being said, I find the Tudor dynasty truly fascinating, and even Elizabeth's place in it. (Incidentally, I was concurrently reading God's Traitors: Terror and Faith in Elizabethan England, and Elizabeth was not nearly as religiously tolerant as some have been lead to believe in the past. I find it unfair that Mary Tudor will forever be 'Bloody Mary' because of her religious fervor, yet there are hardly any mentions at times of the terror that Catholics felt and faced once Mary died and Elizabeth assumed the throne. But that is another review for another book.)

I have read many books about life in Elizabethan England, including various books specific in regards to Elizabeth's relationships with certain people, such as her half-sister Mary, one specifically about Elizabeth and Dudley, and of course her doomed cousin who repeatedly made the most appallingly poor choices once could make, given her precarious position once in Elizabeth's custody, Mary, Queen of Scots. And don't even get me started on the fact that Elizabeth had no right to hold, or put on trial the monarch of another country, nor sign the laughable death warrant and PLEASE, of course she knew about it and sanctioned it and only played innocent afterwards to avoid war with James - who himself did not seem terribly bothered by the murder of his mother. But why should he, since he had never really known her and was too busy being a sloppily dressed king who apparently could not keep his tongue in his mouth, But I digress.

This book is well-researched and neatly laid out in a way that anyone could find interesting, whether they are just learning about Elizabeth's world for the first time, or they, like me, have an in-depth knowledge already. I liked that it was broken up into sections, family, courtiers (both men and women), and councilors. While I did skim over the chapter on courtiers as it related especially to Dudley (because seriously, that is a dead horse that continues to be flogged. He and Elizabeth truly were perfect for each other - whiny, manipulative brats, a lot of the time. And don't even try to tell me he cared one iota when Amy died, since he had not seen her in A YEAR. He cared that his reputation was in tatters over the murder allegations and he certainly could never marry Elizabeth after that.) I recognize that of course in any book about Elizabeth there will have to be sections related to Dudley, he was easily the most important man in her life for decades, I just personally am not especially interested in reading any more, as I am not sure at this stage what new information can be uncovered. Nor to I really care too much that they did or did not ever actually have a sexual relationship. I'm quite sure they probably did, though I can only hope that the stories of the babies resulting from the rumored relationship being killed are untrue, because that in itself is wholly heartbreaking to think of.

 I especially found the section on Christopher Hatton interesting, as he is one of the courtiers I knew the least about. And we best not forget poor, stupid Devereux, busting into Elizabeth's chamber in a misguided attempt to win back her favor. Clearly he knew her not at all if he thought that was ever a good idea.

I wish there was more information available on the women who served Elizabeth in her lifetime. In this section about courtiers, each of the gentlemen (Dudley, Hatton, and Devereux) are given their own chapters, while the women are all lumped together in one long chapter. Again, this is likely due to the fact that there simply is not as much information about the women of the time, despite them being wholly more important than those three men, as they were the one who literally attended to the queen's ever whim and need. Kat Astley/Ashley, whatever you would prefer to call her, as every author takes their own liberty with her name, seems to be one of the few where there are more than a few sentences. This is owing to the fact that she is the one woman who was almost always constant in Elizabeth's life, despite a few times where she was locked up for various offences (did it ever really seem like a good idea to try to hook the teen-aged Elizabeth up with Seymour? Seriously?) But anyway, it felt as though the women were less important and less influencing then the men, which perhaps may have been the case, though it seems to be with as stubborn and narrow minded as Elizabeth seemed to be, that no one could really tell her what to do, save one man, William Cecil.

I especially enjoyed the section devoted to Elizabeth's councilors. Walsingham has always been a somewhat shadowy figure for me and this book really helped flesh him out and make him more real. I guess perhaps because he was so good at his job being a spymaster and all, even in all the books I've read, I have never been able to fully get a grasp on him as a person. But this text nicely laid out who he was and how he fit into this world, spying and all.

As I said before, I am not actually particularly fond of Elizabeth as a monarch, but truly found her treatment as a child horrible at times, that she can't really be blamed for turning out the way she did - just as I feel the same way about her half-sister Mary. Here is a baby, clearly one who has a devoted mother who cared deeply for her child, despite not being able to personally raise her (Anne Boleyn might have been a lot of things - manipulative and home-wrecker among them [though not incestuous, despite the accusations] but from other readings I have done 'terrible and inattentive mother' are not ways she could ever be described). You have to wonder how early on she learned the fate of her mother, and how deeply it might have effected Elizabeth for the rest of her life - and her relationship with her father. Now granted, family relationships look far different today than they did then, but children are still children, and trauma like that surely caused her grief. And by various account, Jane Seymour seemed far more fond of Mary than Elizabeth, to the point Elizabeth was all but ignored. So here, you have a child who may or may not know her mother was beheaded on her father's orders, who has been sent away from court, reduced from princess to lady, then to be rejected by a potential mother figure for reasons that are not in her control? I must say, while I certainly enjoy reading about this time period, and the Tudors especially, I am certainly glad I was born in the 20th century.

Overall, I found this to be a well-written, well-researched account of Elizabeth's life and the people who knew her. While the title may be a bit mis-leading (as Mary, Queen of Scots was certainly NOT part of her 'circle'), I understand what the author was going for with the title. These are the people who, for better or worse, shaped Elizabeth into the person she became, who history (though not me) remembers as one of England's greatest monarchs. Highly recommended for anyone interested in the time period or the Tudors.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania

Author: Erik Larson

Rating: 5 Stars

Before I start, I must say I have been waiting ever so (im)patiently for this book to arrive. I started it the very night I checked it out and finished it the next. I could hardly put it down, and luckily I only had to do that once, as I finished it in two sittings. Wonderfully, heartbreakingly written. Fantastic work, Mr. Larson.


After having read Devil in the White City, I knew in the future I'd always put every other book on pause for a new Erik Larson book. That's exactly what happened with this one, and it did not disappoint. From starting it last night to finishing it tonight, it took me only about four hours to read. I could not put it down, even though many times I wanted to. I could not bear the thought of all those little ones going into the sea, of the possibility of Robert Kaye's mother giving birth in the water - something that haunted him the rest of his life - of little Betty, who did not survive despite her mother's attempt. It just makes my heart hurt to think of the children who were separated from their parents in the chaos. We can only hope that death came quickly and that they did not suffer - though we also get the impression that was not the case.

It infuriates me beyond belief the behavior of Room 40. They wanted the Lusitania to be attacked because American deaths would bring America into WWI. Yet Wilson waited another TWO YEARS before finally declaring war on Germany. All those deaths were in vain, all those children, I honestly can hardly even think of it. I realize that perhaps my extra sensitivity comes from being a parent myself to a small child who I love more than anything in this world, and it would destroy me completely should anything ever happen to her, as it must've destroyed these families who lost their children. 

As always, Larson delivers an engaging story filled with facts. He weaves the narrative together so seamlessly, it reads like a novel and I wish it were, but sadly we know that's not true. Larson has clearly done the research and the book drew me in further and further as the Lusitania glided speedily toward her doom, the fate that Room 40 and U-20 had assigned her.

I've lost quite a bit of respect I had for Churchill, not only for his remarks that merchant ships are 'on their own' (LIE! - what about the Orion and several other ships who had been given escorts?!) and also the treatment of Captain Turner and the attempts to fault him for the tragedy. First and foremost, this was murder committed by Germany and Captain Schwieger and his crew. Secondly, escorts had been provided to countless other ships in the area, yet somehow the Lusitania did not merit the same attention, despite it being obvious she was a target.

Any review can never come close to doing this book and subject justice. Larson is a talented writer who delivers an awesome and awful story; well worth the wait

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Writing Contest

So I have not been writing much this week - baby girl has been sick. Really sick, and it has been no fun for either of us! But she seems to be on the mend and resting now, so I thought I would take a few minutes and update my corner of the Internet.

Today on Facebook I saw a post from Omaha Public Libraries about a writing contest sponsored by the 1877 Society and I am really excited about it. The deadline is July 3rd, so that gives me plenty of time to work on some things I have had in my head for a while. The only problem is, the limit is 5,000 words and anyone who knows me, knows that word limits are a struggle for me. There are two categories, personal essay and short story. I will hopefully be able to enter the short story contest. First place is $500 in each category, and then a third prize of $250 will be awarded for the best of either category. I am very much looking forward to this challenge!

Friday, March 6, 2015

My Writing/Update

On Monday Bruce Arant visited school to talk to our students and read his book, Simpson's Sheep Won't Go to Sleep, (such a cute story, I am getting it for my Sweetie Babe) and did a drawing activity with our students. I was able to speak to him for a few minutes after his presentation and learn about how he went about getting an agent and eventually getting published. This is the biggest part that worries me. First, I have no agent - at least, not yet. There are publishers who will accept manuscripts without being submitted by an agent, but not many that I have found so far. Mr. Arant told me his book was rejected THIRTY TIMES before finally finding a home. This does not shock me, I have read about this happening many times, but to hear straight from a published author that it took thirty tries, it is just almost soul-crushing. I know I am a good writer. I am not being a braggart, at least not intending to sound like one, it is just something I know I am good at (rambling blog posts aside). I don't know if I could handle thirty rejections of something I love so much and not get a little dejected about it. Plus, the project I am currently working on is especially near and dear to my heart because it involves my baby girl, so I think I would end up taking it very personally, even though that would not actually be the case.

I have been feeling extra inspired today, despite going home early from work because I got sick. My goal for this weekend is to finish the first story and see what I can do about the next step, locating more publishers who accept manuscripts straight from authors. Mr. Arant was also kind enough to offer some advice and give me his email address as well if I had any more questions.

I am so excited about this book. Or possibly books. I have not decided if it would make a better stand-alone, or a mini-series, or what. But I at least have a very clear idea in my head of the first story. A very curious and rambunctious little lady finds herself in all kinds of adventures with her sidekick, her best buddy, a teddy bear named Barnabas - who just happens to come alive. I have all these ideas for so many adventures and I am eager to share them - and who knows, maybe use them to pay for another certain little lady's college education.

Happy Reading,

Sunday, March 1, 2015

The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn

Author: Eric Ives

Rating: 4 Stars


I am certainly no admirer of Anne Boleyn, in fact I hold more than a bit of disdain for her. She is a least favorite of mine among Henry's wives. However, I continue to read about her because she is a somewhat unfortunate piece of the Tudor puzzle that I have begun putting together. She was no victim, she played the game, gambled, and lost. She could hardly have been surprised that scheming brought her to Henry's side and it would just as easily remove her.

I think it's quite obvious even without Ives' book that she was innocent of the charges against her; there's simply no way the queen could have carried on these affairs. But neither should we be surprised that this is what it took to be rid of her.

Some credit I am willing to give her though is that both based on this account and other texts I've read, she was a good mother who loved Elizabeth dearly. You can't help but feel sadness for this young child, to lose her mother in such a terrible way. But by the same token, my sympathy for Mary runs even deeper. Being separated from Catherine those long years was unjust and cruel - Henry's doing of course, but no doubt Anne had a hand in that as well, even if she was simply in the king's ear about it. 

That being said, this is a fairly well-written account of Anne's life and ultimately her death, though it is a bit dry. I have read several books dedicated to Henry's wives, as well as about Anne or her sister, and one thing I have grown so weary of is this debate over their ages! Clearly Anne simply could not have been born in 1507, and how this date came to be accepted so widely baffles me. And to ever suggest Henry was actually Anne's father - rubbish!

One thing to note, the author takes sly shots at Jane Seymour for doing to Anne exactly what Anne did to Catherine. I find that to be hypocritical. The true victims in this story will always be the men falsely accused with Anne (though I find little sympathy for her brother George), and above all Catherine and Mary. Anne Boleyn was not a victim and should not be thought of as such


Sometimes I find my dislike for the subject matter kind of takes over my review, which clearly happened here. Ives book is certainly the best and most well-researched that I have read about Anne Boleyn, and I have read more than a few. Some enjoy his writing style, but as mentioned above, sometimes it becomes dry. I find the extra details added in the updated version fascinating, though not everyone might be interested in wardrobe updates. This truly is the definitive book on Anne, as best we can have with what information is left at least. It is a shame that only Henry's letters to Anne survive, but hers to him did not. It would have been interesting to read and help further pieces together their "courtship". Highly recommended for Tudorphiles first and foremost. Casual readers might also be interested, though it might be a bit overwhelming if you don't have a bit of background knowledge in this dynasty. 


Two books in one post, as they are vastly different in quality despite both being about a fascinating and infuriating subject, everyone's favorite time-waster: Facebook.

1. The Accidental Billionaires: The Founding of Facebook, a Tale of Sex, Money, Genius, and Betrayal

Author: Ben Mezrich

Rating: 2 Stars


If I read the word 'surmise' one more time...


Literally, that was my whole review. I read this a couple years ago, and even now that is all I remember thinking once I had finished it. It could have been so much better, there was potential. But this book was not good, and the only way they could get people to read it was by putting 'sex' first, when clearly genius should have held that spot. Then money, then sex, then betrayal. It was all conjecture. Everything was 'may have' and 'probably' and 'likely' type words. Ugh.

2. The Facebook Effect: The Inside Story of the Company that is Connecting the World

Author: David Kirkpatrick

Rating: 3 Stars


Clearly Kirkpatrick has done his research; the book is incredibly well-written and gives a great history of everyone's favorite way to waste time online. The only flaw really is that it was clearly written with a pro-Facebook slant. You'd just expect a journalist to be a little more objective - even one who says in the 'Note on Reporting for This Book' that no one from Facebook required approval beforehand, nor did they request a copy before it was released. Still, definitely worth the read.


I would definitely recommend this book over the former, despite the bias. At least Kirkpatrick had access to information. Even with the pro-Facebook bias, it is still the better book. You just have to recognize that as you read. Had that not existed, I could have rated this 4 Stars.

Edward VI: The Lost King of England

Author: Chris Skidmore

Rating: 3 Stars


The premise was interesting - so much has been written about Mary and Elizabeth, but hardly anything about Edward. I was disappointed, however, because there were many sections that seemed to serve no purpose except to provide filler. Discussing Katherine Parr would have been relevant in regards to her relationship with Edward, but the back-story of her life after Henry wasn't necessary. As he was not able to rule on his own due to his age, the title is misleading; it focuses also on the main political figures surrounding Edward. That and the general lack of information about Henry's longed-for heir make this more a study of the time period, not just Edward's reign. I did find the discussion about possible causes of death interesting - from possibly being poisoned to contracting TB, there are a few theories. Edward could have been a great king had he lived, or he could have been a tyrant. We will never know, and nothing in this text gave a real indication as to which direction his reign might have gone. Still, I'd recommend this to anyone interested in the Tudor time period, you might learn something new.


I always had a problem with the title. Edward VI was not lost or misplaced, he simply died very young. You want to talk about a 'lost' king, let's look at Edward V, one of the 'Princes in the Tower', son of Edward IV, likely murdered on the order of his uncle, Richard III. Now THAT is lost.

Anne Boleyn: Henry VIII's Obsession

Author: Elizabeth Norton

Rating: 3 Stars


A fairly easy read - I finished it in less than a day and I have an 11 month old baby (hello, naptime!)

Overall it's not a bad text, but the author repeated several phrases and words, often in close proximity. I found this to very rather annoying, as though a thesaurus wasn't available?

I've stated in other reviews that one of my greatest pet peeves is when authors claim to know what their subject is thinking or feeling about a given situation. Just stop, please, thanks.

I still side with those who dislike Anne, and she's certainly not someone to be pitied. While she quite truly couldn't have been guilty of the charges against her, she deserved a downfall as humiliating as what Catherine and Mary were subjected to those long years.

The real victim here is Elizabeth, losing her mother at such a young age. Anne may have been a lot of terrible things, but 'mother' doesn't fall into that category. On the contrary, from information we do have it seems Anne was a very loving and devoted mother. It saddens me when I read of Elizabeth being neglected or ignored, she was a child who had done nothing wrong. Lucky for her, she would end up doing alright for herself...

Easy read, interesting subject, what's not to like?


I LOVE Tudor history. It is my obsession, much as Anne was Henry's. I have read so many books on Tudor history, I can't even count, so luckily Goodreads does it for me.

More Sports-Related Books

Here are a few more books again, not reviewed but rated. As will be come apparent very quickly, I primarily only read sports books about college football and basketball. I love the professional versions of these sports as well, but few books in that sub-genre interest me - unless it is about Michael Jordan, the G.O.A.T. Just a reading quirk I have. I suppose it has to do with every win seeming so much more important in college because this is about pride and not money (unless you look UNDER the table, of course).

1. The Junction Boys: How 10 Days in Hell with Bear Bryant Forged a Championship Team by Jim Dent

Rating: 4 Stars

Note: Now, everyone knows I roll my eyes whenever I hear a 'Roll Tide', and that I can't stand 'Bama, or Nick Saban, or anything about the program, but that doesn't mean you can't respect it. And seriously, Bear Bryant, how could you NOT want to read about one of the greatest college coaches in the history of the game?

2. Friday Night Lights: A Town, a Team, and a Dream by H.G. Bissinger

Rating: 5 Stars

Note: Trust me, way better than the movie or the show. Give it a read.

3. Seabiscuit: An American Legend by Laura Hillenbrand

Rating: 5 Stars

Note: This is one of the few books that breaks from my typical reads in the sport genre. Still, a really wonderful book and again, better than the movie. (Isn't that always the truth? Almost always. The only exceptions I can think of are The Godfather and Jurassic Park. Very different books, both with movies that are on par (Jurassic Park) or better (The Godfather. Especially II. I could dedicate a whole post to this, but that would be a major tangent.)

4. War as They Knew It: Woody Hayes, Bo Schembechler, and America in a Time of Unrest

Rating: 4 Stars

Note: Now, I have always come down on the side of Michigan in the Michigan/OSU Rivalry - one of the greatest in college football. (Give Michigan a little time with Harbaugh and it'll be a contest again. It's not easy to replace Lloyd Carr, and you try with Rich Rod? Come on. But I digress.) This is when the rivalry was WAR, when it was nasty and mean and terrible. And awesome. Highly recommend for college football fans in general, you don't just have to be a fan of either team.