Saturday, November 28, 2015

The Claddagh Ring: Ireland's Cherished Symbol of Friendship, Loyalty and Love


Rating: 4 Stars


I will be very honest, I first discovered the Claddagh ring because of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. That heart-wrenching moment on the pier where Angel has to leave and gives Buffy the ring, then they get attacked by Spike and Dru's men, and the rest is history. I fangirled hard over that show, and continue to do so to this day. So, back then when it was new episodes every week and Angelus had returned to wreck havoc on Sunnydale, I knew I had to have a Claddagh ring. I found one at the Irish Indeed store in the Mall of America while in high school and badgered my mom until she gave in and bought it for me. Many years later I was fortunate enough to go on a trip Ireland, again with my mom - and yes, one of our day trips included a stop in Galway. You can bet I bought another Claddagh there, this time with my birth stone in the heart.

So anyway, onto the book. This is a lovely little tribute to a beautiful symbol of love. It is a slim volume that details the two myths behind the creation of this ring, and also spends a decent amount of time focusing on 9/11 and the amount of Claddagh rings found in the rubble of the Twin Towers - a testament to the number of New York's Bravest and New York's Finest with Irish blood flowing through their veins. McCourt then also details the village of Claddagh itself, though it is now gone; "The people of the Claddagh are gone now, and the area has been newly developed, with new houses standing where the village of Claddagh stood for centuries" (page 106).

Overall, though it is short, it is full of interesting stories and information. It will not take long to read this one, but it is worth the time.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Queen of Scots: The True Life of Mary Stuart


Rating: 5 Stars


While I would not consider Mary a heroine of mine, I can certainly say that she is an unjustly maligned figure who deserves a lot more respect than she has received in the 400+ years since her death. It is no secret that Mary made some very poor choices later in her reign, but prior to that she ruled her country well, with tolerance for religion and an aim to work together with her council to govern Scotland as an independent nation free of England's interference.

Here with Guy's biography of Mary, we are given a beautifully written, exhaustively researched play-by-play of Mary's life. That is not to say the work is perfect, it does have its flaws, just as Mary did, but it is far less biased than some of the other texts available out there. I can say this with certainty, as it even paints Elizabeth in a decent light (which I don't care for) and Cecil (rightfully so) shoulders much of the blame in Mary's downfall.

From the very beginning of her life, Mary was a queen and raised as such. When her father James V died within a week of her birth, the crown became Mary's and perhaps her fate was sealed then. Scotland has never had great luck with minor rulers, yet due to Henry VIII and his 'rough wooing' of Mary as a bride for Edward, Mary was promptly sent to France before she was even old enough to understand her place and her mother Mary of Guise became regent.

Due to the research and facts presented here, no one can really be surprised that Mary acted as she did. Her entire early life, she was the darling of the French court - already Scotland's queen and being prepared to become France's as well. People speak and write of her as though she was just this dumb, vain little girl. While she could certainly exhibit those qualities, it is certainly not all there was to Mary. It is also no surprise that she was so trusting. Family was so important to Mary, from her time in France with her Guise uncles, to her half-brother Moray. Mary never really stood a chance with all these greedy and manipulative men aligned against her for their own self-interests. Her uncles did her no favors for her future, by styling her as Queen of England while she was in France; they set up the struggle that would come to define Mary's life after her execution. Moray's constant undermining and later treachery was beyond awful. Mary trusted her half brother time and again, because family was important to her. To call her stupid for wanting to trust her family is to do a great disservice to Mary.

While over all I have a favorable opinion of this biography, it is not without its flaws. The author speaks of some things as facts when there is little evidence to actually confirm. The first time this arises is actually in reference to Elizabeth and Dudley, whom the author says had a 'fling lasting 18 months'. This is incorrect on many levels, primarily being the fact that it was certainly no fling and likely lasted longer than 18 months, despite Dudley's multiple marriages - and to think, Elizabeth thought Mary would actually jump at the chance to Mary Dudley. What a joke. It actually saddens me that so much of Mary's story involves those two.

A second issue I take with the author's version of events is that he refers to Rizzio once being Darnley's lover. This is a huge point of contention and several authors have repeatedly addressed it. Again, no proof. I did learn that at one point Rizzio was apparently part of Darnley's circle, and there were stories that they had at various times shared a bed, but this was not uncommon in this time period, so I am confused as to how sharing a bed equals being lovers.

As always seems to be the case, one can not discuss Mary without addressing Elizabeth. While the author does put a positive light on Elizabeth, her major flaws shine even brighter. For example, Elizabeth felt like she had the power to veto any attempt at marriage Mary might make. It doesn't surprise me, given the fact that Elizabeth was selfish and manipulative, but Mary was the queen of an independent nation and equal to Elizabeth in every way. Elizabeth had no rights or power of the Queen of Scots, but she never could seem to remember that fact. The bigger problem than Elizabeth though, was Cecil, always Cecil. He infuriated me with every turn of the page. He was constantly undermining Mary at every opportunity. It is almost certain that he knew of both the plots against both Rizzio and Darnley, yet he did nothing. He wanted Mary out of Elizabeth's way and he knew that these two incidents would ensure that. Cecil is repeatedly painted by Guy as the bad guy and while I have no love for the guy, the constant reference to his will being done over Elizabeth's in regards to Mary means one of two things: 1) Elizabeth wasn't as strong of a ruler as everyone believes she supposedly was, or 2) Cecil is merely a scapegoat to present Elizabeth as a better person than she actually was in regards to Mary. I have no doubt in my mind that Mary's execution was always his goal once her personal life began to fall apart - he certainly saw the opportunity. But this is problematic in regards to Elizabeth. It makes Elizabeth look weak and as though she has no control over her counselors. I'm fine either way, because I am no fan of Elizabeth, but still.

While Mary is often depicted as a queen who never ruled well, who was weak and easily swayed by her counselors, Guy shows us in fact, that is not the case. Especially in regards to Darnley, and keeping him close to her when necessary, Mary showed great strength and resolve. "When Darnley arrived at the gates of Holyroodhouse a week later, insisting that her counselors must be evicted before he would deign enter, he was personally hauled inside by his wife" (page 261). Mary was no fool. Guy's work is refreshing to read as an in-depth look at her role as queen. Time and again Mary is shown as an active queen, working with her counselors and using her method of divide and conquer so to speak, to make sure her government continued to run. Had things gone differently and Mary been able to hold onto her throne, Mary might today be recognized as the greatest ruler on that little island, not Elizabeth.

My only other gripe beyond the questionable things presented as fact was the issue of photographs. It would have been nice if at least some of them had been in color. And call me crazy, but there is something to be said for photos being printed on photo paper instead of the same paper as the text,

Especially beautiful quotes:

"For all these years, perhaps ever since the death of her first husband, she had been in someone else's way" (page 484). What a tragically beautiful truth, Mary had been surrounded her whole life by ruthlessly ambitious men who did not value her right as queen to rule.

"Mary herself was a mass of contradictions, but some qualities abided. She was glamorous, intelligent, gregarious, vivacious, kind, generous, loyal to her supporters and friends, and devoted to her Guise relations. whether or not they returned her love. She could be ingenious and courageous with the razor sharp wit, and never more animated and exuberant than when riding her horse at the head of her army wearing her steel cap.

But she had deep emotional needs. She expected love and needed to be loved. And to a large extent she got what she demanded: from her Guise family as a child, from her Maries as an adult, from her domestic servants and, until she married Bothwell, from her people, who were spellbound by her youth, beauty, and glamour. Maitland came closest to the marl when he predicted that the ordinary people of Scotland would be captivated by her merest smiles or frowns. But as queen she lacked the love of a partner, an equal, who could have bolstered her in her anxieties and tempered her impulsiveness. And this hunger for a partner, a husband, a king, led her to her most grotesque and uncharacteristic miscalculations.

Although her rank meant that she was never alone, loneliness must often have consumed her, and it was a sign of her emotional isolation during her later years that her pets became everything to her. Her final reckless throw of the dice in 1586, endorsing a madcap plot in which not even the motives of the principals were clear, is a reflection of her desperation" (pages 496-497).

And this one sums up my thoughts best:

"But to let the end of her life overshadow the whole is an injustice. The odds were stacked against her from the beginning" (page 499).

Truly, Mary never stood a chance against all of these forces who continued to put their interests ahead of her own, even as she was the sovereign ruler of Scotland. She was their queen and they did everything they could to bring her down. Though, there is some solace in this:

"Her victory was more conclusive than even she might have dared hope, because every subsequent British ruler has been descended from her, and all derive their claim to the throne from her and not Elizabeth" (page 489). 
So there, Elizabeth!

All in all, this is an amazing biography. John Guy has done a wonderful job dispelling all the abhorrent myths and rumors that have run wild in the last 400 years. It is definitely not for the casual reader who has no background knowledge of Mary or her turbulent world, as it runs 500 pages, not including the notes. Still, if you have the interest, by all means, go for it. Highly recommended.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Well, darn

I have not been neglecting my blog. I have pneumonia and it is really rather hard to want to do anything but sleep. I hope to be back to reading and reviewing soon!

Friday, November 13, 2015

Sweating Sickness: In a Nutshell


Rating: 4 Stars


Direct and straight to the point, just like I like 'em. I am so confused by those who have rated this book lower based on the fact that they feel it is short, or more like a thesis; I mean, it is part of a series call 'In a Nutshell', so I am unsure what others were expecting.

There are no superfluous details here. It is exactly what the title implies. A mysterious illness impacted England intermittently primarily throughout over half the reign of the Tudor dynasty and we still don't really know anything about it, other than the fact that it often struck a very specific group - wealthy English males, 30-40. Though they were not the only ones to catch the Sweat, they were the largest group represented among the dead. Additionally, by and large even those foreign to England who caught the illness seemed to recover at great rate - something England's citizens could not do.

I found the theories that Ridgway explores quite interesting, particularly the one that compares the death rate of those with Anglo-Saxon ancestry vs. those with Celtic ancestry. 

Ridgway also discusses the variety of ways that people attempted to treat the sweating sickness or keep it away altogether. It was quite interesting to read specifically about Henry VIII's herbs/medicines. The author used numerous contemporary sources, which I found most valuable. It never ceases to amaze me how far medicine has come and I am time and again thankful to have been born in the 20th century.

This is a very quick read, took me maybe half an hour. Highly recommended for a quick look at a most mysterious time in England's history.

Hans Holbein: Portrait of an Unknown Man


Rating: 3 Stars


I am not terribly interested in art history but there is something about Hans Holbein the Younger that captures my attention every time I see one of his paintings. I was delighted to find a biography about him, though as is always the case with figures we revere, I also learned some things about the gifted painter that I do not especially care for. Additionally, there were some major issues with some of the author's facts and a HUGE bias in favor of Anne Boleyn and Thomas Cromwell in particular. I'll get to those in a moment.

Given the fact that Holbein was an artisan, it is not be expected that major details of his life were not recorded. Wilson has to make guesses at certain points with the information we do have, filling in the gaps with the most likely scenario. While it is frustrating to not know, sometimes it is the only option. Sadly, both Holbein's beginning and end are somewhat shrouded in mystery; we do not know for sure the year he was born, or how he died - but at least we know the year. It is possible the plague is to blame, but there is no way to be certain. Additionally, we do not even know where the artist was laid to rest and his mortal remains are lost to history.

Holbein's personal life is the area where we are most lacking in knowledge, not surprising. It appears he had two families; his wife Elsbeth and their children in Basel, and a mistress with whom he had 2-4 children who were young at the time of his untimely death - based on guesswork, Holbein was around 45 when he passed. Based on Holbein's infrequent visits home to Basel, it would appear he favored this family, as he spent far more time in London than his home city. Of course, London also happened to be where all his major patrons called home before they were systematically and literally destroyed on Henry VIII's orders (Thomas More, Anne Boleyn, Thomas Cromwell), but for the author to make the claim that Holbein was a family man, yet he almost completely ignored his actual family, seems like a leap without the facts.

This then brings me to all the issues I found within the book, which disappointed me because I am currently reading another by Wilson and have another one sitting on my desk that I am about to start about the Tower of London. Anyone who has ever read any of my reviews on books about Anne Boleyn knows I am not a fan, so that was strike one against the author for such a dramatic bias in her favor. However, given later comments he makes about other wives, I have a sneaking suspicion that had Anne not been such a pivotal figure in bringing Henry's attention to Protestantism, he would have said incredibly nasty and misogynist things about he as well. Two examples: Wilson is the only author thus far I have read who has referred to Jane Seymour as a 'vapid creature' (page 252). Then in regards to ridding Henry of the influence of the Howard clan he says, "That opportunity was handed to them on a plate by a stupid, over-sexed young woman" (page 276), meaning Catherine Howard of course.

The author's heavy bias toward Boleyn and Cromwell (this was especially unsettling; yes the religious revolution was exciting, but at what expense? I'm not even Catholic and the destruction of the religious houses and all that history disgusts me), and the factual errors relating to those at the Tudor court leave me wondering then what he might have gotten wrong them about Holbein, the very subject of the biography.

Still, for those interested I can recommend with some reservation. We catch a glimpse of Holbein and the world he lived, thrived, and struggled in. We see how difficult survival could be - especially when the king you are trying to gain favor with keeps chopping off the heads of the people who have employed you. Interesting read, though not without flaws, that is for certain.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Titanic 1912


Rating: 2 Stars



I am trying to be nicer in my reviews and finding positives among the negatives. It is hard though with books like this that will just make a statement and not back it up with any evidence, contemporary accounts, etc. I am glad I got this one for free on my Kindle.

First, the positives. There were many photographs I had not seen before - and some I never care to see again (primarily the one where a body is being pulled from the ocean during the recovery efforts. Even though it was just on my Kindle and it was an old photograph, a bit blurred and all, this is just not something I care to see. However, the myriad of other photographs aided in the story where the text was lacking and I found them to be interesting. Some were repeated however, so perhaps that will be cleaned up in a new edition.

The author seems to have it in for Captain Smith from the start. He makes statements throughout that Captain Smith ignored all the ice warnings, he didn't fire the rockets in the correct order so as to signal distress, etc. While I don't think he ignored the warnings in the way that is implied here, people have to remember Titanic was one of the biggest ships in the world, captained by one of the most experienced seamen at the time. Captain Smith had years of knowledge working against him - along with the notion that the ship was unsinkable. While realistically many seafarers probably recognized that no ship is truly unsinkable, the chaotic and celebratory days of the first voyage must have made it easy for them to want to believe the hype. Secondly, every book I have read thus far of crew member accounts, plus those on the nearby California who refused to answer the distress call, recognized the flares as a distress call. I would have liked the author to elaborate and explain what he means by the rockets not being set off correctly. Unfortunately, there is none.

In addition to lack of information, this applies as well to the interesting premise the author includes early on about comparing Titanic to the Costa Concordia which sank a few years ago. Some of the parallels are mentioned earlier on, but eventually that just kind of goes by the wayside and there's no follow up. It seems kind of pointless to have included it at all, when there was little analysis. Again too, with the author's mention of the book published fourteen years before Titanic sank, called Wreck of the Titan. This was one of the shortest chapters, yet could have been so much more interesting. There were similarities to begin with between the book and Titanic, though I believe I read in a different book that after Titanic sank, a new edition was published with added details to make the sinkings even more similar. Again though, no analysis where there was room for plenty.

All in all, I did find the photographs interesting. I can't completely say don't bother, if only for those. However, this book truly only skimmed the surface and could in truth have been much longer, but also much better. I wish the author had delved a little more deeply into the topics I mentioned above, as well as a few others I've chosen not to go into for sake of brevity. It's got a pretty steep bias against Captain Smith also, and little blame put on Ismay, which I think is inaccurate. The author even says at one point that Ismay wouldn't have pushed for the ship to go faster, as passengers would then have arrived a day early and be ahead of any reservations they might have made in the city. Personally I highly doubt Ismay would have cared about that when he could have gotten major headlines for arriving early. More attention meant more people ready to spend money which in turn meant a bigger profit for him.

Anyway, if you have never read a single book about Titanic and the movie is your only source of knowledge, do not start with this book. If you have a good base, this one might be okay but you won't learn many new facts.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Why Not Me?


Rating: 5 Stars


It took weeks for all the bozos ahead of me on the library waiting list to finally finish and return their copies so I could get my hands on this one. Totally worth the wait. And I read it in a matter of hours because I am not embarrassed to say I AM OBSESSED WITH MINDY KALING AND I KNOW WE WOULD BE BEST FRIENDS IF WE EVER MET.

I mean, seriously, who wouldn't want to be best friends with Mindy? If you don't, you are probably boring. Or a terrorist. And really, Kelly Kapoor annoyed the bejeezus out of me a lot of the time, which is a testament to how funny Mindy is, because usually when a character annoys me, I write off the actor or actress as also annoying.

On the surface Mindy may look like just another self-absorbed Hollywood starlet - commentary I have actually read based on the fact that she has now released two books about her life without yet reaching age 40. To those people I say, shut up and just read the books. Then you might see why we need people like Mindy Kaling as an actual role model for young women who are constantly bombarded with this idea of perfection that no normal human being can actually achieve. Mindy comes across as a very real person, with real fears and flaws just like everyone else. She is not that person who whitewashes her life to give the impression that everything is wonderful and unicorns and rainbows all the time - despite the advice of Reese Witherspoon telling her to smile after leaving their lunch. ALWAYS smile!

I pretty much laughed from beginning to end (except the actual end was much more serious because truly, Mindy is pretty damn hard-working and has a lot of really good advice), which was kind of painful because I still have bronchitis so when I laugh, I cough for about ten minutes afterward. Then my eyes tear up and I can't read because I can't see. It's a mess.

Anyway, I was dying laughing from this gem about Nosferatu, "That vampire taught me my number one and number two favorite beauty tricks of all time: avoid the sun at all costs and always try to appear shrouded in shadows." I fully intend to implement every last beauty secret Mindy was kind enough to share with the world, because that is exactly what she intended and was not at all joking about any of it.

While I enjoyed the beauty secrets chapter, by far one of my favorites was about Mindy and B.J. I love B.J. Novak too, but in a much different way. Like, I want to have babies with him. On the other hand, I love him and Mindy together so much, that I want them to get married and have beautiful little caramel colored hilarious genius babies. So, I am a little conflicted in this arena. They really are soup snakes though, even if B.J. falls asleep at Broadway shows and completely embarrasses Mindy, though his argument is sound: "I don't know why you embarrassed of me. The embarrassment should rest squarely on the shoulders of theatre itself. If you put me, a well-educated, curious person, interested in seeing a Broadway show, in a second-row seat at the finest play of the year, and you still can't prevent me from falling asleep, then there is a problem with your medium of communication." Touche, Mr. Novak. Seriously, would you not just want to be a fly on the wall during their conversations??

By the end of the book, Mindy gets serious. And it is because she is so honest about all the ridiculous and crazy things she says and does, that she can be taken seriously as a person who has had enough experiences to give some really good advice. These gems are among my favorites:

"Which is why you need the tiniest bit of bravery. People get scared when you try to do something, especially when it looks like you're succeeding. People do not get scared when you're failing. It calms them. That's why the show 'Intervention' is a hit and everyone loves "worrying about" Amanda Bynes. But when you're winning it makes them feel like they're losing, or, worse yet, that maybe they should've tried to do something too, but now it's too late. And since they didn't, they want to stop you. You can't let them." (page 221-222)


"Work hard, know your shit, show your shit, and then feel entitled. Listen to no one except the two smartest and kindest adults you know, and that doesn't always mean your parents. If you do that, you will be fine." (page 223)

Thank you, Mindy. Or should I say, BFF.

An Unlikely Union: The Love-Hate Story of New York's Irish and Italians


Rating: 4 Stars


I received this many moons ago as an ARC via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. Thank you for trusting me with so many books, I promise I will read all of them!

I can't figure out why it took me so long to finish this one, having started it months ago. It covers three of my favorite topics all nicely mooshed together in one book: New York, the Irish, and Italians. Okay, maybe the Irish and Italians in a very Godfather kind of way, because I am strangely obsessed with the Mafia circa early 1900s. And The Godfather is one of my top three movies of all time (sharing the honor with Jurassic Park and Newsies. I know, it is a very eclectic mix. I can't explain that either, except that aside from New York, Irish, and Italians, I also love dinosaurs and Christian Bale.)

It is strange to me that I dragged this one along for so long and I guess the only explanation I can come up with is that it is one of the first books I downloaded on my Kindle. Even after finally giving in after six months of back and forth, should I/shouldn't I and my mom saying, "For the love of God, BUY YOURSELF SOMETHING FOR A CHANGE!", I was not sold on reading books via a Kindle. There is simply no substitute for holding an actual book in your hands and leafing through casually, instead of making sure you use the correct amount of pressure in your fingertip so the device registers your swipe on the screen. It's really just not the same. At all. Plus, as I am a fan of reading (and reviewing!) older books, there is a certain smell that just evokes feelings of contentment. The whole library smells that way. At least, my favorite branch, Swanson, does. There are definitely some branches of Omaha Public Libraries that smell like other things - judgment and impatience (I'm looking at YOU, Millard).

Anyway, so me rebelling against my own purchase was probably a contributing factor for this one taking so long. The content of the book was truly fascinating to me. It tells the story of two ethnic groups forging their identities in America and what a struggle it was as waves of Italians began immigrating, which ruffled the feathers of the already-established Irish population. As someone of neither Irish nor Italian decent (heavy on the German with a side of Swedish right here), it gives me a bit of a different perspective, as I am an outside among these two groups. It is hard to recognize your own similarities with another group, whom you are basically taught to hold in very low-esteem, yet the Irish and Italians encountered many of the same problems and prejudices from others as they worked to establish themselves. There are far more similarities between the two groups than either would have cared to admit 150 years ago, or even 75.

I enjoyed many aspects of this book, not only the detailing of the ups and downs these two groups shared in their tumultuous relationship, but of the history lesson in which the author also looked at the groups separately to give the reader a clear picture and the groups distinguished identities. I especially find interesting the era in New York when Boss Tweed and Tammany Hall ruled with an iron fist, so there was plenty of New York history as well, all entwined together in this love-hate relationship. I've added several more books to my to-read list as a result of the myriad of interesting people I was introduced to in this book.

As the book neared the end of the line, the author also discussed how this sort of rivalry had been tamed as the two groups intermarried and became more at ease with one another. New ethnic groups moving in to traditionally Irish and Italian sections of the city also paved the way for new rivalries on par with this one, and make for interesting comparisons.

All in all, a great read. I highly recommend it, regardless of your own ancestry. This is a highly interesting look at a volatile time in the history of the US and how these two groups were so important in shaping New York.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

From Skedaddle to Selfie: Words of the Generations


Rating: 4 Stars


Thank you NetGalley for this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

It's no surprise that I love words. I love learning about how words came to be, different definitions and how they've changed over generations, and so on.

That's exactly what this book then presents. Starting in the mid 1700s with the Republican Generation, the author takes us on a wonderful journey up through what has apparently been coined the 'Homeland' Generation, which is the kiddos from 2005-on (in fact, half of this generation has not even been born yet).

The author provides multiple sources of information, something I found most valuable. Included here is ample evidence of the word uses from their specific generations - stories, newspaper articles, and quotes. As the book moves through to more recent generations, there are references naturally also to how these words have invaded our lexicon through Facebook and Twitter.

The book is naturally told in chronological order, beginning with the generation that brought us words like unalienable and gerrymander. Prior to introducing the key words themselves, the author introduces the generation itself, the years it encompasses, and what made this generation unique from those who came before. I found this historical aspect especially interesting, as I learned a few new things about said generations, not just the words they made famous. I always knew why the Baby Boomers were referred to as such, but had no idea how large the numbers actually were - the book states that 80 million Americans comprise the Baby Boomer generation, born between 1946 and 1964. 80 MILLION!

While I was familiar with all the words in the book, I was certainly not familiar with many of their origins, and so many words are much older than I realized. I also found that it was not until the GI/Greatest Generation that I became most familiar with those words in the context as we know them today. In prior generations, word meanings have changed, or are not nearly as common. I mean seriously, how often do you use gerrymander in daily conversation?

Upon arriving at Gen X, I was happy to not only see some favorites words, but specific references to Nirvana and lyrics to 'Lithium' in the 'grunge' description. Here the author relays a quote from a member of that generation, saying Kurt's death (I refuse to call it a suicide. You know what you did, Courtney Love) was his generation's JFK moment. I feel like this really does capture Generation X; though I was born one year into Generation Y (as I prefer to call it, because Millennial is STUPID), even I recall seeing the report from Kurt Loder on MTV announcing that Cobain's body had been discovered. For so many, it really was a generation-defining moment.

I began the section on my own generation with some trepidation - and with good reason. My generation has come up with some really stupid words and phrases. In fact, I am almost embarrassed. As I mentioned above, I prefer Generation Y to Millennial. Perhaps my generation as coined so many dumb phrases because we are saddled with such a dumb label. I skipped over the section devoted to selfie, easily my least favorite of the group. Additionally, YOLO, abbrevs, hipster, and flash mob are terrible things. However, while it is the words 'YOLO' and abbrevs' that annoy me, is is the thing 'hipster' and 'flashmob' actually represent that bug me also. Gavin DeGraw said it best in 'Best I Ever Had': "Take me home, I can't stand this place/'Cause there's too many hipsters and I just can't relate". Perfect, thanks Gavin. One thing I can and do enjoy about the language of my generation though, is 'awkward'. The author states, "Whatever the reason, Millennials are the generation that actually says "awkward" when a situation is awkward." This is so hilariously and wonderfully true. I have done it. Multiple times. It is something I can not explain.

Really, there is not a whole lot to find fault with here. This is a fun pop-culture look at the words of generations. My one major glaring complaint was the discussion of the word 'gay'. Definitely lost points for using the phrase "the gay lifestyle". Sorry I'm not sorry, but there is no 'lifestyle' about it, being gay is just part of being for some. Aside from that, I can recommend this one as a fun, easy read.

Here are a few of my favorites:

The word 'dude' goes all the way back to 1883. Who knew it's not just for stoners?

'Fan' began as a shortened version of fanatic, and referred specifically to baseball fans. Thank goodness it is much more generic now, because if it only applied to baseball, I could never be called a fan. Snooooooze.

The use of the word sexy goes back to the early 1900s! Had no idea. It seems so racy in that context, on account of the phrase 'have sex' didn't even become a thing until the mid 1800s.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Survivors Stories of the Titanic


Rating: 4 Stars


I feel kind of wrong in reviewing or even rating this one. I mean, seriously, how do you review someone's recollection of what is likely the worst night of their lives? A tragedy of this magnitude can't really even be imagined by those who did not experience it, no matter how many times we might watch Jack and Rose trying to survive.

This neat little volume is a compilation of three accounts of the sinking - Colonel Gracie, Second Officer Lightoller, and Harold Bride, the assistant radio operator.

Colonel Gracie's account is first and the most detailed - also very objective. It is certainly unlike new texts written about the sinking that play on emotion. It is very detailed, and but also almost technical - perhaps that does not make a lot of sense, but it might should you decide to pick this one up. Gracie's account begins far before the sinking, and we get glimpses of several other passengers, including some brief commentary on Mr. and Mrs. Straus. They became more real - and their story that much more heartbreaking, when here we are given a new account instead of the usual anecdote about how Mrs. Straus refused to leave her husband's side and so they both perished. I have always found it especially heartbreaking that though she refused to leave him, even in death they were still separated, as her body was never recovered.

Naturally for those who do still enjoy the movie, there will always be the habit of comparing the film to real-life accounts. I found myself a little disappointed in Office Lowe based on testimonies given at the British and American Inquiries, which were relayed in at least in part in Gracie's account. In the movie, Lowe is the one to start lashing the lifeboats together and shuffling passengers in order to return to pick up any survivors from the water. But varying accounts given disagree on certain aspects - disparaging remarks made about those not 'worthy' of rescue and such. Other testimonies claim he acted with the utmost care and respect. I'd like to believe the latter. 

My thoughts as I finished Gracie's account add up to this: No matter how may times I read about it, it still infuriates me as to how few people were placed in some of the lifeboats. I hear Victor Garber's voice echoing in my head every time with his line, "Rubbish! They were tested in Belfast with the weight of 70 men! Now, fill these boats, Mr. Lightoller, for God's sake man!" I like that he used testimony from both Inquiries, and I wish Ismay had shown half the courage that Captain Smith had in going down with the ship.

I enjoyed Lightoller's account as much as I did Gracie's, inasmuch as you can enjoy the subject matter. It was interesting to have a crew member's perspective to compare to that of a passenger. I found this quote to be fitting, as I have always had a special spot in my heart for the much-maligned-by-some Captain Smith, "Captain 'EJ" was one of the ablest skippers on the Atlantic, and accusations of recklessness, carelessness, not taking due precautions, or driving his ship at too high a speed, were absolutely, and utterly unfounded; but the armchair complaint is a very common disease, and generally accepted as one of the necessary evils from which the seafarer is condemned to suffer." Though Lightoller's account was much shorter, it was still very sound and full of detail. As the highest ranking officer to survive, I think we can and should take his word at face value and stop putting all blame on Captain Smith.

The final section was brief, just a few pages. Bride was the assistant Marconi operator and his account of the night, though short, gave us a good view of Jack Phillips, who worked ceaselessly until the last possible moment to try and summon any possible help that he could. Like the stories of the band continuing to play, I find Phillips actions heroic. He continued sending out distress signals a full fifteen minutes after being released from his duties by Captain Smith. it is a shame that having survived the ship going under, he was unable to survive the night. But, we have Bride's account here to ensure that his bravery is not forgotten.

I definitely recommend this collection for those who love Titanic history. It was a refreshing change of pace to read survivor accounts as opposed to the rehashing of the tragedy by historians today, who are quick to quote survivors and then put their own spin on the information.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

The Lost Gospel: Decoding the Ancient Text that Reveals Jesus' Marriage to Mary the Magdalene


Rating: 1 Star - did not finish


Honestly, the subtitle alone is absurd. If you have read my reviews before, you know how I feel about ridiculously long subtitles. If the subtitle needs to be that long, you are doing something wrong. In this case, there is much, much wrong. I contemplated not even bothering with a short review, since I quit this one very early on, but I just could not remain quiet and had to say SOMETHING.

I will start with the positives, because despite what it looks like, I do try to find something good in every book I review. It is tough sometimes, and I REEEEEALLY have to look, but there is always some little nugget of positive that I can show. In this case, it is that the writing itself is actually quite good. I don't mean the content, I will get to that in a moment, but the actual writing. It flows well, and the style is engaging. Any other book or subject and I might be able to make it through the entire thing.

Now, onto the not so good. Pretty much, everything else. I wanted to give this one a try, as I am always interested in these ideas of 'lost gospels'. There is so much we do not know about the early days of Christianity and Jesus, as well as his family and followers. Imagine if manuscripts were discovered that could truly be authenticated and just came right out and said, "Here's the story." Wouldn't that be amazing? Instead, we have things like this, 'hidden gospels' that we have to use a great stretch of the imagination and connect all these dots that don't totally seem to fit, in order to make something kind of make sense if you look at it sideways.

I am not opposed to the idea of Jesus being married, and it does make sense. It is not a new idea by any means, and certainly would not have changed His work or Message. I can also understand the whitewashing of that aspect of His life from the Gospel, if that were to turn out to be the case, as the Apostles were only concerned with the work that Jesus performed and His role as Savior. His possible wife and children did not fit into that mold and thus would not have been something they considered important for future generations to know.

I was ready to give up on page 36 when Gnosticism reared its ugly head - particularly as the author seemed to find a fault in Christianity as we know it today and seemed to scoff at it, while giving favor to Gnosticism. Being objective did not seem to be on the menu. Additionally when the author straight out said Gnosticism was more grounded in history than the Gospel, I knew I may not be able to continue on much longer.

While I found the author's factual history to be interesting, and even enjoyed that aspect of the book early on, I could not abide the constant ending of each chapter with a silly 'cliffhanger'. It was incredibly juvenile and kind of annoying, truth be told. I barely even got into the actual content, the core thesis of the book, in that this obscure manuscript was really he hidden story of Jesus and Mary, and had to quit around page 50. It was simply too absurd to continue.

Mockingbird: A Portrait of Harper Lee AND I Am Scout: The Biography of Harper Lee



Rating: 4 Stars each


Given that these two are essentially the same book, I am posting them as one review. I read the YA version, I Am Scout, first. I was just interested to see how the author would write for each audience, what material would be included, and what would be left out.

Anyone who knows me knows that To Kill a Mockingbird is among one of my favorite books of all time. One might even know the story of how I first discovered this incredibly powerful novel - totally by accident. I was spending a lazy afternoon at my grandma and grandpa's house, some time during my 6th grade year. I loved hanging out in the basement, where my youngest uncle had a kind of office area for himself - a giant desk, surrounded by bookshelves crammed with records, cds, and books. I found a worn paperback with a mustard yellow cover, the title standing out in bright, bold red. I settled into my uncle's comfy chair and read To Kill a Mockingbird straight through, within just a couple of hours. At one point my poor grandma nearly had a heart attack when she called down the stairs to ask what I was doing and I told her I had found a book I really liked. Grandma was sure that my mom would be upset that I had read it, given my age and some of the more sensitive aspects of the book.

After reading TKAM, I looked for other books by the author and was greatly disappointed to find she had never written anything else. I made it a mission to find out everything I could about her then, my new idol, but sadly here was not a lot of information to be had and eventually I grew up - though never losing the idea of Ms. Nelle Harper Lee as being the ideal, the author I most wanted to emulate. It gave me hope that she could go three decades of her life writing and writing and writing, but not be published until her early thirties. I might still have a chance to be a published myself, though I know I could never hope to write a novel on par with To Kill a Mockingbird; that in itself is beyond anything most people could ever even dream of.

But on to the books themselves...

Most people seem to have complained about the lack of access to the title subject herself, and how the book was basically about everyone who ever knew her or had some insight into Lee's life. I'm curious in what other way a biography might be written, when there is no access to the person who the book is about. Biographies are written all the time about Washington and Lincoln, but no one is complaining about lack of access to the former presidents. While I realize of course that Ms. Lee is still alive, she is simply not accessible and the author worked well with the material he had in order to create a portrait of her that would be as thorough as possible.

The books naturally had some major differences, given their intended audiences were different. The adult version had a much more detailed description of Ms. Lee's life in NY right off the bat, something altogether left out of the YA version. I am not sure of the purpose for anything but length. In fact, it seemed that the majority of the information left out of the YA version was simply due to length, and not because anything but be unsuitable for younger readers or something might be difficult for a younger audience to understand. The one exception to this to this may be all the information about the Clutter family - the family murdered in Kansas who were the subject of Truman Capote's book In Cold Blood. There were far more facts and insight into the family, and much of what was touched on might have been difficult for younger readers to comprehend.

Speaking of Truman - thanks to these books, I can safely say I will never read any work of his, ever. I can not imagine a more pompous, arrogant, manipulative, whiny little jerk. It baffles me that Ms. Lee was able to tolerate him for so long, despite his repeated jabs and attempts at sabotaging their friendship. Ranging from never really going out of his way o deny the rumors that he wrote To Kill a Mockingbird, to not giving Nelle any credit whatsoever for the long hours of work she put into his book, I can't imagine how she put up with him. He would have done well to remember and recognize that without Nelle, he would have had no book, period. Had it not been for her, her notes, and her ability to speak and connect to people in a way Truman never could, I highly doubt that In Cold Blood would have been half the book it turned out to be.

I found the information relating to the film highly interesting. To imagine Gregory Peck dressed as a person in need and sneaking into town to avoid causing an uproar does cause a chuckle. I was disappointed to learn though that he was the driving force behind a lot of the changes made to the film. To me, the story is fully about Scout and Jem and how they viewed the world around them as these great changes were taking place. The movie became more about Atticus, which never seemed right to me. I must say though, Peck is the only person who really could have played Atticus Finch. He IS Atticus. I could never even picture Spencer Tracy in that role, or anyone else Nelle or the studio had in mind.

All in all, the books were informative and written well in a way that were easy reads and easy to follow. I would certainly recommend Mockingbird to anyone interested in this fascinating and talented writer, and I Am Scout would be a great addition to a class or school library.

Forgive me that this review is not my usual in-depth fare. I am still sick and not on my game 100% but wanted to get something new posted. Thank you!