Wednesday, September 30, 2015

A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare: 1599


Rating: 4 Stars


I will be upfront right away and say that I do not believe for one moment that anyone but William Shakespeare of Stratford-upon-Avon wrote the plays credited to him - not Bacon or Devereaux or anyone else. For a man who wrote, "The play's the thing" (which I realize is followed by, "wherein I'll catch the conscience of the king", but just go with it here), it makes sense to me that we don't know much about his personal life. The plays, the sonnets, those are what mattered to Shakespeare. Fame did not. If it had been important, he would have taken the route of fellow author and frenemy Ben Jonson, and put together a Folio in his lifetime for himself. While the identity of Shakespeare is not the subject of this particular book, I always feel it is important to mention this, given the amount of ridiculousness out there purporting anyone else to be the true Bard.

I've read Shapiro's work before and one thing I appreciated from this book especially is that he is very up front about what little information we actually know to be fact about Shakespeare. In the introduction he says quite plainly that he does his best to acknowledge when facts are unknown and will not deal with conjecture as much as he can avoid it.

1599 was quite the year for Master Shakespeare, and for England in general. Shapiro weaves the story of the country and the story of the playwright together very well, breaking his book up into four seasons, then within each section chapters varying back and forth between life in London and life for Shakespeare and Company. I can imagine London was not a very comfortable place to be living toward the end of Elizabeth's reign, after decades of religious upheaval, assassination plots (real and imagined), the threat of the Armada, Ireland's constant 'rebellions', and so forth. This was the backdrop against which Shakespeare wrote and performed some of his greatest works - Hamlet, As You Like It, Henry the Fifth, and Julius Caesar. It is in this time frame we truly get a sense of Shakespeare the writer, the actor, and the businessman. We get glimpses of how he related to his fellow writers and actors (Will Kemp, anyone?!) and the rivalries that came with his line of work.

Shapiro details the many books and plays that were banned and burned at this time for fear of their traitorous content, and it seems Shakespeare was lucky enough to be one of the few that escaped any kind of censorship. Imagine if he had not been, we might have even fewer copies of his plays than we already do.

This is a superbly written book that really gives the reader a feel for what life was like across the social spectrum for people in many walks of life in that fateful year. Shakespeare has been one of my favorite writers for as long as I can remember, since I first tried to make sense of Romeo and Juliet way back when I was a 5th grader with a habit of reading every book I could find on my uncle Kraig's bookshelf (that's how I discovered To Kill a Mockingbird the following year and my life was never the same). Many times I have wondered what it would be like to travel the city in Shakespeare's time, to see the sights and sounds of HIS London, to see the people and places and other plays that gave him inspiration. Imagine my pleasant surprise to find this gem so early on in the book (page 81):

"But Shakespeare's was an aural culture, the music of which has long faded. Lost to us are the unrecorded sounds reverberating around him - street cries of vendors, church bells, regional and foreign accents, scraps of overheard conversation, and countless bits of speech and noise that filled the densely packed capital."

Simply, beautiful.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Medieval Ireland: The Enduring Tradition


Rating: 3.5 Stars


Given that my main area of interest leans toward England, the majority of my knowledge of Ireland in medieval times comes with a decidedly English slant. It was refreshing then to find this text, though it was published in 1988. I would be very interested to read the newest edition that came out in 2005 to see what insights have been added in the last couple of decades. Despite the slimness of the volume, it contained a plethora of information focusing mainly on 500-1500 AD, though the two early sections dealt briefly with Ireland prior to that time.

I do have a few complaints - more than once the author made a point and supported it with some detail, but followed up with the phrase, "...but that won't be discussed here..." or something to that effect. This is something that would be very frustrating for someone with no background knowledge. It leaves the reader with two dilemmas - the first being why is this info important enough to mention but not be elaborated on and two, now I have to seek out this information elsewhere (for the truly interested, at least. Some are able to just gloss over lines like that and keep going. I am not one of those people.)

For once I appreciated a lack of photos. They would not have served the text well. Too often I read books that have X amount of colored 'plates' (please, be MORE pretentious) and half of them end up being kind of related to the topic, in that they're from the same time period, but often there is not a specific connection. If I recall correctly, this book at three or four black and white maps of Ireland. They were really all that were necessary, as the primary focus of the text was the development of Ireland in medieval times. While society, culture, literature, the Church, and so on were important to make this development happen, a smattering of random photographs were not.

This is a fairly intense academic work, despite the length. It might be off-putting for those with a casual interest. I would recommend starting elsewhere if you have no background knowledge of medieval Ireland. Otherwise, I can say I recommend it (or perhaps the most current edition) for those who already have a foundation.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Good Book: The Bizarre, Hilarious, Disturbing, Marvelous, and Inspiring Things I Learned When I Read Every Single Word of the Bible


Rating: 4 Stars


As anyone who knows me may have guessed by now, I am something of a reader. I devoured books left and right from elementary school on, and this love of reading (and writing!) was fostered even more in 6th grade by quite possibly one of the best teachers I have ever had, Mr. Hanzlik - more affectionately referred to simply as H. Seriously, he's one cool cat, and even the kids who hated reading loved his class. Well, in 7th grade I proudly told Mr. H I had finally found a book that might slow me down a little in my reading endeavors - the Bible. I remember this moment and him chuckling, saying only that it might. I had started it in an attempt to read it cover to cover and made it to Deuteronomy. I am kind of embarrassed to admit that in terms of cover-to-cover, I never made it any farther. Since then I have read different books of the Bible, there are my favorites that I can read over and over (Hello, Matthew!), but I have never been able to go start to finish, and my lone attempt remains that try in 7th grade. However, after reading this book, I am inspired to try again, but more about that later.

Firstly, the author, David Plotz, is Jewish, so naturally his interpretation and relationship to the Bible is going to be different than mine. I am, to use the umbrella term, Protestant; baptized Lutheran, confirmed Methodist, now a member of a very wonderful Covenant church that is everything I have ever wanted a church to be with wonderful pastors and a congregation that has made me feel so welcome since my first service a year and a half ago. Plotz set out on this journey to read the Bible (or, the Old Testament, for us Christians) to see what kinds of insights and such he can glean for himself without someone telling him what this story or that really means. He is a self-proclaimed non-practicing Jew - one who is not particularly observant, vaguely knowing it when it is Sabbath, and rarely attending Synagogue. While at a cousin's bat mitzvah, he grows bored and opens the Torah, coming across the story of Dinah's rape and her brothers' subsequent revenge. Plotz is horrified not only by the story, but kind of of the realization that there is a lot in the Bible that he thought he knew, but actually doesn't. This book is the product of his year spent reading the Bible and his observations and thoughts along the way. He points at that even in the stories he thought he knew, those of Jacob vs. Esau, Cain vs. Abel, David, Solomon, etc., there were many things he did not.

While Plotz uses humor and sarcasm, he has some really great insights that I think a lot of people might come to when reading the Bible on their own. I do take issue with some of the conclusions he draws, as he sometimes looked only at a specific event instead of the big picture. But by and large that was not terribly common and he made a lot of great observations.

In the middle of Plotz's Biblical journey, he takes a trip to Jerusalem, to walk in these places that he is reading about. I am very jealous, as this is something I want so badly to do. I can't even begin to imagine being in these places where so much history has occurred, and to walk the place of the Bible, to see some of these places unchanged for thousands of years. I feel a kind of sadness for Plotz though, as the trip has brought him closer to the places he is reading about, but not to God. He says of the trip, "but I leave no more certain that God was here when it happened." Plotz talked about how thrilling it was to see these places, but I felt as I was reading that couldn't that be God working though his experience with him, speaking to him? I don't get the sense from Plotz that he really WANTS to believe in God, so maybe that is why this does not occur to him? He just doesn't see to be able to acknowledge perhaps he feels this way because God is present with him at that moment.

Plotz continues to read the rest of the Old Testament, and his own conclusion leaves me a bit heartbroken for him. I find it interesting that this journey through the Bible brought him closer to his religion, his Jewishness, so to speak, but farther from God, if possible. He says, "I leave the Bible as a hopeless and angry agnostic. I'm broken-hearted about God." And this is perhaps where the differences of our two faiths became most apparent  as I was reading, and this is something Plotz acknowledges. He relates how he has discussed this with Christian friends, who say it is all a set-up for the New Testament. Plotz points out though, "But that doesn't work for me. I'm a Jew. I don't, and I can't, believe that Christ died for my sins. And even if he did, I still don't think that would wash away God's epic crimes in the Old Testament." This line made me just so sad for him. But again, that shows where and how our beliefs differ from Judaism to Christianity.

There were a lot of great quotes Plotz has throughout. Here are a few of my favorites:

In regards to the laws of Leviticus (page 59): "But if there's anything I've learned from these months with the Good Book, it;s that we all have our own Bible. We linger on the passages we love and blot out, or ague with, or skim the verses that repel us. My Bible, I suppose, has a very long Leviticus 19, and a very short Leviticus 18."

Page 81: "So Numbers 27 is a liberal's paradise: the first lawsuit, the first women's rights, the separation of church and state."

Page 128: "Saul, like a greedy president or King Henry VIII, is trying to undo the separation of powers."

Page 131: " 'The shaft of his spear was like a weaver's beam, and his spear head weighed 600 shekels.' I don't know what that means, but it sounds scary."

Page 142: "Question: how do Christian denominations and colleges that forbid dancing reconcile their position with God's obvious love for the cha-cha."

I really appreciated Plotz taking on such a behemoth of a task. Like the author, there were many things I thought I knew about the Old Testament, that I learned in Sunday School or Confirmation classes in high school, but it turned out I only had part of the story. I would agree with Plotz that Samson was a total meat head - how did he NEVER catch on that Delilah was plotting against him the whole time?! I also didn't know he had been married before Delilah came along. I was also unaware that David had a son with Bathsheba BEFORE SOLOMON. I don't know why this is news to me, and I felt at times as I was reading like the Bible was a completely foreign text to me. I also didn't know/recall Jonah being such a baby when God decided to save Nineveh after He ordered Jonah to go and Jonah first refused (and thus the whale had to help him along on his journey).

I also never realized how many phrases we still use today have their roots in the Bible. Plotz points out many of them, more than I made note of, but a few examples include a leopard not being able to change his spots, and the root of the awful word jeremiad (I can't remember the book I recently read that used this word incessantly, but now I know where it came from - Jeremiah and his long-windedness!) The phrase about 'picking up the mantle' is another example. Plotz sums it up nicely, saying (page 300): "It was as if I lifted a veil off my culture. You can't get through a chapter of the Bible, even the most obscure book, without encountering a phrase, a name, a character, or an idea that has come down to us from 3,000 years ago,"

A few other things of note as I wrap this up:

I was glad to see that the story of David and Goliath lived up to Plotz's childhood memories and that in turn it lived up to mine too. This has always been one of my favorite stories and as we approached it, I was concerned there would be something I had not been taught in Sunday School that would come to light and ruin it. Luckily, this did not happen and my memory of this story is safe.

Plotz suggests, due to Isaiah's temperament (he describes reading Isaiah's book as "like being trapped in an elevator with Al Sharpton") adding the phrase "You idiots!" to the end of any verse in Isaiah. it turns out pretty funny. I recommend you try it too.

From Plotz's summary alone, Ruth might be my favorite book. I have yet to read it in its entirety, but I plan to very shortly. Maybe even after I finish this review.

So, in the end, I highly recommend this book. You may not agree with every conclusion that Plotz comes to, but I learned so much more about the Old Testament than I thought I would - mostly because I thought I already knew these big stories. Turns out I didn't know them as well as I thought. Like Plotz, many things God did made me angry, made me question Him, made me want to know more. It also made me angry at times at David, Solomon, and a myriad of others I thought were so upright and constantly faithful.

The last quote I will leave you with sums up nicely how to reconcile this very problem:

"It reminds us that the Bible is not an idealization, but a book written by (and about) real people, who can be both scornful and kind, faithful and cruel, sarcastic and sweet - as their God can be, too." I think this is so important to remember. I learned so much more about people from the Bible who I thought I knew, but it is important to remember that they were people too. Not perfect, but sometimes deeply flawed. Still, God chose them to perform amazing feats, in spite of or because of those very flaws. I am inspired to start again - and this time finish - what I began in 7th grade. It might take me a year - or longer, as I of course intend to read the New Testament as well - but that is my goal.

The Swerve: How the World Became Modern


Rating: 3.5 Stars


Omaha Public Libraries offers this really great service that allows you to submit the genres of books you are interested in, and in turn a librarian will email you a list of potential books you might enjoy. That is how I found this title and I must say that I was not disappointed. It was not my favorite that was recommended, but I found many parts of the story very interesting - though perhaps not the parts the author intended to be the focus.

Prior to reading this one, I had not heard of Lucretius or his so-called blasphemous poem On the Nature of Things. What can I say, I am just not terribly interested in reading all the ancient poets. Perhaps someday, but for now they do not hold my interest.

In 1417 a man named Poggio Bracciolini discovered this poem in a dusty collection of old manuscripts in a monastery that was all but in accessible. Bracciolini himself was far more interesting to me than his actual discovery. Here was a man who has held one of the highest offices working for Pope John XXIII, who was completely greedy and a bad guy, and when that position is lost when Pope John XXIII loses his position, he sets off in search of the ancient manuscripts. Apparently this was a big thing - these guys set of for these random, remote monasteries to see what they could find, if there were hidden gems being hidden away by the monks who themselves may not be fully aware of the ancient texts in their possession. Bracciolini is one of many men who embarked on journeys like these, and I found that far more interesting than the poem itself or what Greenblatt purports it to have done.

In short, On the Nature of Things was full of ideas that the church considered dangerous and heretical, false claims made by pagans. Lucretius' poem contends that there are no gods who tend to our universe, that they don't care what we are doing and our offerings/prayers do not entice them to intervene, virtue and pleasure go together, and that everything in the universe is made up of these small particles that collide and swerve in new directions. As one can see, this would be a big time blow to the Catholic Church at the time when they were already combating what they considered heresy from those who took issue with the practices within the Church.

Something else I appreciated from the book was the descriptions of how fragile these ancient manuscripts were - common sense yes, but I did not know the book worms were actual wormy things that ate books. Makes total sense to me now why we call people who devour books quickly 'bookworms'. Eleanor and I definitely fit that description! The work necessary to even put these books together to begin with is nothing short of a miracle. Thank goodness for the invention of the printing press. Gutenberg, you are The Man.

Greenblatt contends that this is 'when the world became modern', but my issue is simply that he does not tie the two together nearly as succinctly as he might have. He weaves the story well but the end is still kind of loose and it not nearly as satisfying as I expected. The vagueness of how it made the world modern, Lucretius and his atheism, just not wrapped up in a way that leaves the reader with a concrete base in which to put it all together.

The Oxford Illustrated History of Roman Britain

Peter Salway

Rating: 4 Stars


This was quite an endeavor. I thoroughly enjoy all things British (until James VI/I has to go an die), so this was a no-brainer for me to pick up, despite its age (my edition published in 1993, but the first edition came out in 1981). This is 500+ pages of everything you would ever want to know about Roman Britain and everything we could possibly know up to that point. Of course there have been further discoveries made in the last 22 years, but this one is still very, very comprehensive.

I have always had good luck with the Oxford University Press books. I've never met one that I couldn't read quickly. This brick, however, presented my first challenge. Part of the reason for the slow-going is that I am far more interested in Roman Britain than Ancient Rome, and the two are naturally very connected, seeing as how you couldn't have the one I am interested in without the one I am less interested in. But so many things happening all over the Roman Empire had a direct impact on Roman Britain, primarily in regards to the Roman army and taking soldiers off the island when needed to quell outbreaks elsewhere - which directly led to the fall of Roman control.

Another reason for my slow-going could also be partly due to the fact that the writing was kind of dry at times. It just was not very exciting or inciting me to turn the pages very quickly - except for the photographs and maps. There are a plethora of both included (this being the 'illustrated' history and all) and I often found many of those to be more interesting than the writing itself. I don't think this is totally the fault of the author, as this is a huge section of time to take on, especially for a time period where we don't have a lot of contemporary accounts. We have the accounts by Roman citizens living on the Continent and in Rome itself, but far fewer from those living on the island of Britain.

This leads to my last sort-of disappointment. While the focus was of course Roman Britain and how it functioned as property of the Roman Empire, I was looking for more attention paid to the indigenous population. As always, Boudica gets her (well-deserved) moment in the sun, even if the facts are at best fleeting. (As an aside, how can one not admire this warrior queen who avenged her daughters in such a awesomely powerful way? It makes her later defeat that much more tragic. I tell Eleanor all the time she is lucky I discovered Eleanor of Aquitaine before I discovered this mighty Iceni queen, or her name might have been VERY VERY different!) I would have liked to see more focus on the people who the Romans conquered, and how profoundly their lives were changed.

Over all, this is a highly comprehensive look at the island of Britain during its time as part of the Roman Empire. There are several helpful maps, floor plans, and photographs. Highly recommended for those with a deep interested in the subject, though it might be a bit overwhelming for those with no background knowledge or just a passing interest.

As always, here are a few photos in connection with my own contact with Roman Britain - Mom and I at the Roman baths at Bath in 2009:

Looking down from the balcony into the main bath. The spring is in the upper right corner (Bath, 2009)

Standing my the spring, lower left, looking out to the main bath (Bath, 2009)

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Titanic Survivor


Rating: 4 Stars


In the past I have often had an issue with a book presenting itself as one thing, then becoming something entirely else. This is one case where I am utterly okay with that scenario. I was expecting another recounting solely of Titanic sinking, and was much looking forward to it. Pretty much all the accounts we have of survivors come from passengers, yet here finally was an account of the sinking from someone who worked on the ship. Yet, there are only three chapters actually devoted to the sinking, but I could not put it down. What a remarkable and adventurous life this woman had! And it makes it all the more remarkable in that her travels occurred in a time when travel was not easy. 

Violet was born in Argentina, then moved with her mother and surviving siblings after their father's untimely death. Violet writes of these early events with some detachment, though she does give more space to her father's death than that of the siblings who died young - three, if I recall correctly. These events are reported on simply as, the baby died, for example. Perhaps it is the difference in time periods, but it just seems so detached.

After moving home to England, Violet and her younger sister Eileen are educated in a convent, a place Violet clearly loved very much. It must have been so difficult for her to leave this place and her dear sister when it became necessary for her to find a job to support the family. The majority of the memoir then covers Violet's life at sea and all he adventure and danger she found on her many voyages. Titanic is only a small piece of this woman's remarkable life and the book is well worth the read. In fact, I read it in only a few hours total.

The one thing I could do without is the editor's annoying and often useless commentary. I found it disrespectful that he would contradict Violet, for example when she talked about the moon being out the night Titanic sank. As he was merely the editor, and not the author, I was not reading this to get his opinion on what Violet recalled from her life at sea. I was reading it in order to understand and learn about her experiences. I quit reading his "contributions" pretty early on, as they did not add anything of value to an already interesting manuscript.

Now, With Facebook!

After much thought I have decided to create a Facebook page for Sarah's Book Nook, in addition to this blog. I will continue to post here first as always, but will begin posting reviews there as well. I feel like it might be easier to generate some conversation that way. I love this blog and would post forever even if no one ever comments again, because I just love writing and writing reviews and thinking about books. I hope the blog will continue to get as many views as it has, and I will always post pictures of my own that are relevant to the topic. I will not be posting those pictures on the Facebook page, as Facebook just is not as conducive to this endeavor as Blogger is. But, I am trying to reach a wider audience and generate more conversation, so I should be available in more places.

Happy Reading!


The Food and Feasts of Jesus


Rating: 4 Stars


I am in no way someone who could remotely be classified as a cook. I survived college on the standard fare of Ramen Noodles and Hot Pockets. Even today as a so-called adult I like my frozen pizza bagels and baked potatoes. But I am slowly learning simple recipes that Eleanor and I are both able to enjoy. That being said, it might surprise those who know me well that I LOVE food books. Or maybe it won't, because everyone knows how much I love to eat.

And I guess 'food books' is not quite right either, because the books that fall into this category that I enjoy typically include recipes for the very dishes I am reading about. They are more like a history of food, which might seem silly to some, but it is fascinating to read about how different diets were 2,000 years ago - or even 500.

In this book, the authors have a background ancient foods. One is even an Episcopal priest who has taught classes on this subject as well. Clearly they have done this before, and recount their own methods of making these foods eaten so many centuries ago.

The first four chapters focus on the history itself and the different kinds of foods that would have been available in the time of Jesus, and meals He would have had. There is also a chapter detailing the why; why bother trying to recreate meals from so long ago. There is another with sections specifically focused on bread and its importance in the time period.

The remaining chapters then cover a variety of feasts that were celebrated in the lifetime of Jesus, from the Sabbath feast, a typical wedding feast and celebration, to the Feast of Passover, just to name a few. Each chapter first gives the significance of the specific feast/celebration, then details a menu and recipe that would have been used in that time. There are suggestions for substitutes as well, as some of these foods are either no longer available, or we have no way of knowing what the actual food was (Example - references to gourds.) There is also a supplemental chapter to the Feast of Passover that includes prayers and Psalms to be recited at different points in the feast. Other chapters also included appropriate Scripture. The authors focus a lot on creating these feasts and sharing them with friends and family, encouraging the reader to dine as they did so long ago, seated and reclining on the floor or cushions, etc.

My main issue with the book involves some of the repetition. There were some lines and sentences repeated almost verbatim within the feast chapters that had been used in the lead-up chapters of background and history. Sometimes these repetitions occurred within the same couple of paragraphs and I found that annoying.

Overall, however, I thoroughly enjoyed this one and read it in one sitting. I would love to try one some of these recipes for myself, because I do like cooking even though I am not terribly good at it. Perhaps this would be one to enlist my grandma's help on!

Saturday, September 12, 2015

The Age of Shakespeare

By Frank Kermode

Rating: 3 Stars


Quite a bit of information packed into such a short text. I was expecting more of an overview/introduction into England at the time of Shakespeare. While it did give that certainly, the text also mainly focused on the plays themselves, and how they related to life in England at the time, under both Elizabeth and James. It's broken up into different stages in Shakespeare's life and looks at the culture and climate of (mainly) London at the time. An interesting little read and for once even though it was not what I expected, it still held my attention.

The Storm of the Century: Tragedy, Heroism, Survival, and the Epic True Story of America's Deadliest Natural Disaster: The Great Gulf Hurricane of 1900


Rating: 2.5/3 Stars


First, the title. While I love Erik Larson, even his titles are sometimes too long for my taste, and they are not even that long. But THIS ridiculousness is just that. I mean, it is absurd and bordering on comical. THE SUBTITLE HAS A SUBTITLE. It was almost enough to make me not even bother with the book, because books with stupidly long titles tend to be on the pretentious side and no one likes too much pretension. Luckily, the book itself is written very simply, almost too simply for what the title implied. Does that even make sense? Oh well, it makes sense to me at least.

This is by no means the worst book I have ever read. Though it is certainly written in such a way that 'popular' history is, to make is easily accessible, there are some good things here. I did like that the book introduced and focused on specific citizens of Galveston prior to the hurricane. Though as I have said in other reviews, when there are children involved, that always seems to tug at my heart more and the moment we meet little Louise, I had to flip to the end to make sure she survived. I'm not sure I could have continued reading if she hadn't. It is one thing to think about the destruction and death in general terms, because in that way the victims are nameless. But when you get more personal, it is even harder to comprehend or accept tragedy on this scale. I don't mean to make that sound impersonal, but it does make the reading of events easier to stomach.

The book moves very quickly and I read it in almost one sitting. It menaders back and forth between Galveston, meteorology, and the path of the hurricane. I found this to be interesting, though was less interested in the meteorology in general. Once again American arrogance shines through brightly, and the warnings from Cuba are silenced and ignored. It is infuriating that so many lives could have been saved had they just listened. It is heartbreaking to think of all these people going through such trauma and tragedy, for nothing.

I am especially interested in reading more about Issac Cline. It is a wonder he was able to continue in his job after losing his wife and unborn child in the storm, and some of the blame can surely be laid directly on his shoulders for denying the necessity of building a seawall to protect the island city. He was arguably the best weatherman in the country and his opinion was naturally highly valued. Had the seawall alone been built, even if the warnings from Cuba still been ignored, who knows what difference that might have made. I understand that in that time they were of course operating with the best scientific understanding of the time, and hindsight is always 20/20, but I imagine that burden might have been difficult to carry for the rest of his life.

I am wavering back and forth between 2.5 and 3 stars on this one. It really was okay, and it is not that I didn't like it at all, I just have a feeling that after I finally get around to reading Larson's version (Isaac's Storm), everything else will pale in comparison.

The Oxford Illustrated History of the Vikings

Edited by Peter Sawyer

Rating: 4 Stars


I really enjoyed this collections of essays for a number of reasons. My primary level of interest in is Anglo-Saxon England and the Wessex kings especially - Alfred the Great is great for a reason (and the only king of England with this descriptor!) I also enjoy learning about the Vikings, as so much of the history of Norway, Iceland, and Greenland was only passed down from one generation to the next by word of mouth. What we do have written is truly a treasure, as these people and cultures can come alive to us once again by these words.

The text is a series of essays. Each author focused on their own area of interest, ranging from the Vikings in England, the end of he Viking age, Vikings in Russia, the ships, and so on. While I am not really interested in the ships themselves, or learning about maritime travel, that essay still help valuable information. One essay I found especially interesting was 'Religions Old and New', which discusses the old religion of the Vikings and their gods and the advent of Christianity. Greenland and Iceland were of particular interest too, not only because it is amazing that the ships were able to travel that far, but even beyond to reach North America - long before Columbus and his germ warfare. I would love to see the settlement ruins someday, and it is definitely on my bucket list. The essay focusing on Ireland, etc. was of great interest as well, as I have been to Dublin. Upon my visit with Mom in 2010, I had no idea that the Vikings had ruled Dublin for so long and that it was an area of focus for them. When visiting Dublin Castle on one of our tours, we were able to go below street level to see what remained of not only the medieval castle from the 13th century, but the earthen bank/stone wall of the original Viking town. Photographs belong to me and were taking in Dublin in July of 2010.

Helpful info to start with (2010) Unfortunately I don't have a great shot of the remains of anything but the medieval castle.

Overall, while some of the essays were a bit more dry than others, I enjoyed this collection. Certainly recommended for those interested in various aspects of life as a Viking.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Reflections of Scotland


Rating: 5 Stars


I know what you are all thinking: oh here we go again, Sarah is reviewing ANOTHER book about Scotland. And guess what? Hell yeah I am, because Scotland is pretty much my favorite place in the world and I am never going to be sorry for shouting from the mountaintops how much I love it. So, if that is an issue...why are you still reading this?

I bought this book (among many others) in 2009 when Mom and I were in Scotland. Am I the only person who buys books when traveling? I know there must be others like me, I just have not met them yet because most I know thought I was a weirdo when I came home with a suitcase full of books. Oh well.

Anyway. This isn't a regular book, exactly. I mean, it is a physical book, complete with covers and pages and words and pictures. It is also not exactly a coffee table book, because it is too small, and also too wonderful and unpretentious - something I personally find as the opposite with most so-called coffee table books.

The book is divided into sections from the Lowlands, to the Islands, Central Scotland, and the Highlands, among others. Each chapter begins with a few pages of description of that area's points of interest before giving way to the photographs. Additional information dots the chapters, ranging from paragraphs about whisky to castles to golf to Nessie - all very Scottish things.

This is simply a beautiful collection of photographs of a beautiful country, which I dare you to visit and not be taken-in by. I myself am what most people would all an "indoor girl", and the beauty of Scotland's natural surroundings is utterly breathtaking. Add in a countryside littered with ruins of once-and-still proud castles, abbeys, etc. and you have a recipe for amazing photography - which is exactly what is captured here. Normally when I peruse photography books, I think the whole time, "Nope, no way, it can't look like that in real life." But with this one, I was constantly saying, "Yep, that's exactly what it looks like, because I WAS THERE."

And as always, just to show it, here are a few pictures from my trip. No, none of them are castles. You're welcome. Read this book and visit Scotland. You won't regret either.

(All photographs below belong to me and were taken throughout Scotland in November, 2009).

Visiting Hamish on our way through the Highlands

It was a little windy and drizzly in the Highlands, but still amazing!

Probably my favorite shot from our cruise on Loch Ness.

At Loch Lomond

Mom and I in the Trossachs National Park

More Trossachs

Salisbury Crags, from Holyrood Palace. The tony dots on top are people hiking.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

The Twelve: The Lives of the Apostles After Calvary


Rating: 5 Stars


I really enjoyed this one. I love reading about figures from the Bible and find this ancient history so fascinating. It is so frustrating that so many documents have been and texts have been lost over the years. I found this one especially interesting because I don't really know anything about the Apostles after the Resurrection. I thought it was also interesting that the author included both the sort of outrageous claims that were handed down though the years in contrast to the more likely or reliable information. This is a quick read but informative and I definitely recommend it.


Okay, I had to come back and do this book real justice. The brief non-review I did just was kind of worthless but I was doing it quickly while E was taking a very brief nap and didn't really put much thought into it because there just was not time.

Anyway, this book covers the rest of the lives of the Apostles after the Resurrection. Each chapter is dedicated to one or two of the Apostles as they continue the work Jesus commanded them to do. Some of the chapters were actually pretty in-depth, though of course we always have to keep in mind that after many centuries, the documents and stories we have are not necessarily one hundred percent reliable. What makes some of these accounts that much more trustworthy is that many are verified through other sources, and not just documents of the early Christian Church. 

The book acknowledges how little material we have about some of the Apostles, save for brief mentions in the Gospel. Chapter 4 even addresses the issue of multiple men named James and which is most likely to be the Apostle James. Of the whole Gospel, I find the Book of Matthew to be one I enjoy most, so it was surprising to me to find his chapter called "Matthew: The Phantom Apostle". I did not realize there was truly so little known about some of these men who have some of the most important words of the Bible attributed to them.

Judas and Matthias share a chapter, and I find Judas an intriguing - if repelling - figure. Naturally he is not likely to be a popular person among Christians, but this does not make him any less interesting. The chapter focuses quite a bit both on possible motives, as well as addressing the discrepancies in the Gospel about his death. Matthias might be even more 'shadowy' than Matthew, as even less is known about Judas' replacement.

I hope this review is better than the garbage I rolled out earlier. I have been in kind of a review slump and really struggling to find my words. Not a good thing for a writer!

As I said before, highly recommended.