Thursday, December 31, 2015

2015 Goodreads Challenge

As I am sitting here unable to sleep, and it is nearly midnight on the last day of 2015, I realize I have read a TON of books in the last 365 days. I successfully completed my Goodreads Challenge this year. My goal was 200 and I surpassed that, reading a total of  238. Now, I do have to confess, there were a few that were relegated to the 'Did Not Finish' pile, and so I can not say with total honesty that all 238 were actually completed. The problem is, Goodreads only has a 'To-Read', 'Currently Reading', and 'Read' list. If only there was an official 'Did Not Finish' list, the counts would be more accurate. But I digress. Even with the DNFs, I still met and surpassed my goal.

I know it surprises some people to find out how much I read, especially because I have a very active toddler. Here's my secret: I'm a very fast reader, and I utilize nap and bed time to my advantage. Some of my most favorite times of day are when Babe and I are curled up in bed, she sleeping soundly on my arm, me with a book or my Kindle in the other hand.

So now, with two minutes left until 2016 comes to the Midwest, I am pondering my new goal. I know 200 is doable, as I have done it. Is 250? I guess we will find out.

Here's to happy reading in the new year!


I have been cleaning things up a bit and added a new page relating to review requests. This is primarily geared toward authors and publishers, but if you are a fellow reader who would like to know what I think about a book, feel free to also send me a message. Most pages have been updated, take a look!

Happy Reading,

In Search of the Paranormal: The Hammer House Murder, Ghosts of the Clink, and Other Disturbing Investigations


Rating: 4 Stars


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

If you read my prior review which also involved a book about paranormal investigators and their experiences, you know that I have high standards and expectations for how the information is presented. This book, despite being an ARC, was very nearly the complete opposite of that one in so many ways. The history of each case the author presents was much more in-depth the majority of the time, the writing was professional, and it had clearly been through editing already. Much, much more professional. I can't stress enough why that professionalism piece is so important. People who do not believe in ghosts think it is a big joke to begin with.

The author not only recounted his early beginnings as a ghost hunter, but described ways in which the field evolved as well, the equipment used, and why some of these methods are controversial. He notes that many pioneers of paranormal investigations had nothing but a notebook, pencil, and their own two eyes. He does point out though, that having all the gadgets that crews like T.A.P.S. (the team featured on 'Ghost Hunters', on the SyFy network) have would be nice. But, you make do with what you have. As a side note, I have to admit I was glad to see the ridiculously hilarious/awesome 'Most Haunted' get a mention with 'Ghost Hunters'. Not curiously, 'Ghost Adventures' was left out. I am perfectly okay with that.

What I appreciated most about this book compared to the previous paranormal book I read boils down to the focus of the content. Even though the author was sharing his experiences as an investigator, it was not about him. It was about those places, those ghosts, and the people impacted by the potential hauntings he and his team investigated. That made for a much different reading experience.

The book was so strong until the final investigation discussed. Here the author talks of joining a team who used Ouija boards and table tipping as means of communication. While I do believe in paranormal experiences, particularly mine of course, I do draw the line at these kinds of methods - these are so easily manipulated by living, breathing people that I can not put much stock in them. Otherwise, this was an excellent source of investigations that I found highly interesting and finished in just a few hours. Definitely recommended.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

The Haunting of the Tenth Avenue Theatre


Rating: 2 Stars


I received this as an ARC via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. As such, I sincerely hope beyond hope that this book went through major revisions and editing before its final publication. I am not saying this to be purposely disparaging, but because I love reading books about paranormal investigations and really would like to see the field taken more seriously. Amateur writing about these experience contribute to the field continuing to be perceived as amateurish. I do think there is a good story here to tell, but again, more editing was hopefully done before its release.

The author begins with recounting her childhood tales of ghost hunting, which perhaps were meant to show how her career began. Instead it came off as this book being all about her. It never was really explained why her mom wanted to keep her away from that 'stuff', and was never explained later on either. It came across as filler, but again could have had as much to do with the writing style as the content. I think one of my biggest issues with the writing style had to do with how conversational it was, because that too came across as unprofessional. The book meandered from some history of the theatre finally, to the author's readings staged there, to conversations between the team members, literal conversations - if it was not recorded and she does not know for a fact that the conversations happened in the way portrayed in the book, then no thank you, please do not include them. So many times it was "I stated...". Many sentences started with 'Because'. Tenses changed often. I had to remind myself several times that this was an ARC, and would hopefully not be the final copy. My concern though, seems reasonable. I've yet to read an ARC that needed SO much editing still in order to be ready for publication.

In addition to the writing itself, there were more than a few situations that did not seem to make a lot of sense if this were a professional team who worked actual cases. When the first investigation into the theatre was set to happen, the author says she doesn't even think there will be a lot of activity. Yet she had a pretty major unexplained experience during the performance of her first play there when the lights were set for her, despite no one being in the booth. Not to mention several other unexplained occurrences told to her by people she knew well.

Maybe I have been spoiled by my love of Ghost Hunters (who work on debunking as much as they can FIRST, and then move on to labeling things 'unexplained' BEFORE calling anything paranormal), but I also could not believe the behavior of some of the members of the author's team. One member, Rick, seemed to be afraid of even the idea of a paranormal experience occurring. Two members of her team - Rick may have been one of them, I do not recall - ran yelling down the stairs at the end of the investigation because they claimed to hear a voice say, "Mommy". If that is what it takes to frighten two team members, then perhaps ghost hunting is not their vocation, or even hobby. On top of that, the author had been sort of on-the-job interviewing a potential new team member during an investigation. She talks about needing to trust the team 110%, and suddenly he is on the team and the investigation is not even over? How can you trust someone who has zero experience to begin with in the field, particularly on an investigation where there has been very little interaction? How do you know this guy won't run screaming down the stairs like the other guys? Again, it comes across as unprofessional and there are enough non-believers who already think we are crazy. Standards have to be raised if we want to be taken more seriously.

All in all, I was expecting so much more from this one. I myself have had paranormal experiences (I mean come on, I stayed at the Stanley Hotel. Chase and I purposely went looking for ghosts on our own and had some really awesome experiences that neither of us can explain) and I love reading about the experiences of others. I love the history of these supposedly haunted places, learning about how they came to be and who might still be hanging around. I do not love though when the projects related to them become more about the investigator than the investigatee. I know, it is not a word, but whatever. I can't say I would recommend this one whole-heartedly, as it was an ARC, but perhaps give the published version a chance.

Chosen?: Reading the Bible Amid the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict


Rating: 3 Stars


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

I have to be upfront and say that I do not know much at all about the conflict aside from the bare bones of it - Israelis and Palestinians are fighting over the same land and have been for decades. I was hoping in this text to get a little a little more background and specifics but it left me with more questions than answers. It appeared more superficial to me, and this might only be because of my lack of knowledge, but the focus was on what was said in the Bible about the Israelites being the Chosen People who were led to the Holy Land. Time and again the author said the land was given unconditionally, but that did not mean it could be kept unconditionally. It really seemed like he was driving that point home, time and again, so that is the main take-way? I do not know enough of this author's beliefs about the topic to know if that is indicative of his specific beliefs about the current conflict.

At the end of the book the author had a Q&A session, which I felt like should have been incorporated into the text itself, perhaps written as part the conclusion? It seemed strange to me, especially when the text was so slim to begin with. I also find it hard to take non-fiction authors seriously who use a lot of exclamation points. I don't know, that is just a personal thing.

I think the majority of the issues with the text are mine, due to my lack of knowledge. I plan to read further in order to learn more about this topic. I could recommend it though for those better versed in the subject.

100 Documents That Changed the World: From the Magna Carta to WikiLeaks


Rating: 3.5 Stars


I really love books like this, the '50 Objects..." or "12 Maps..." that 'changed the world' type books. This book is no exception, as it covered several documents that truly did change the world, for better or worse. While I disagree somewhat with some of the items included ('War and Peace' and '1984' - I do not consider books to be documents per se), the majority really do help the book live up to its name. How can you go wrong when writing about Magna Carta, the Emancipation Proclamation, the Apollo 11 Flight Plan, and Anne Frank's diary in one volume?

Turns out, you can. Or, at least not 'go wrong', but you can be lacking in detail and description at times. I understand this is not meant to be exhaustive, seeing as how it is quite slim to begin with, so I will get my complaints out of the way before I delve further in to discuss some of the specific documents addressed that I felt were among the most important. There is only one actual page of textual information devoted to each document, though that page often included a small picture of those who signed, witnessed, wrote, etc. the document. The opposite page was usually a picture of the document itself. Additionally, for a good portion of the beginning, nearly all of the documents were from Western Europe. Not all, but a good majority. Surely there were other important documents that could have been included from around the world and not just those few.

Now, to the documents I found most fascinating - it is also kind of embarrassing to admit that I did not know some of the facts I learned from this text. In my defense perhaps we were not taught those aspects in school? So many of these documents today exist now in the National Archives and I wish desperately to see them - namely the Fort Sumter Telegram announcing they were surrendering, and the Emancipation Proclamation. These were two hugely important documents that exist as a testament to the resolve of our young country - we were willing to go to war with ourselves to achieve the ends we wanted. The telegram began the war and the proclamation set us on the road to ending it. As an aside, I never knew that the E.P. ONLY freed slaves who were living in the states that had succeeded from the Union - AND applied only to those held by the Confederacy. So, apparently it was a shrug and a 'sorry' to the slaves living in areas recaptured by the Union, or the nearly 500,000 living in those border states who had not succeeded.

I am curious about the exclusion of the Gettysburg Address as an important document and thought perhaps it was excluded due to the inclusion of the Emancipation Proclamation. But both Martin Luther's 95 Theses were included, followed directly by the Edict of Worms. Those documents were separated by only four years, but concerned the same topic, so not sure why Lincoln's famous speech was not considered important enough?

Fun Fact: Apparently our Founding Fathers were not terribly responsible. The original copy of the Constitution had vanished at some point after its signing and no one knew where it was until 1846! Also, it has only been on display since 1952; I didn't realize it was such a short amount of time when I visited in 8th grade on a class trip.

A little dirty laundry gets aired here in the form of which states ratified the 19th Amendment and when - you keep it classy Mississippi, not ratifying until 1984. I am not surprised that many southern states were among the last to ratify it.

The 15 year old girl in me who will forever love Titanic could not help but be wistfully glad to see the inclusion of Titanic telegrams included as important documents that changed the world. Movie references aside, it really was a wake-up call to these shipping companies that safety measures needed to change and improve to avoid another tragedy on such a scale.

There were several documents relating to World War I and II, which should come as no surprise. The Treaty of Versailles is always troubling to me, as it basically assured that there would be another war - how could there not be? Germany was forced to take all the responsible for the Great War, only for the fact that they were the last ones standing when the war came to an end. It should shock no one that the Nazis were able to rise and grab power so swiftly; the treaty was crushing and the reparations were impossible.

When I think of a document, I think of something of the non-fiction, factual variety. This is why I struggle with the inclusion of books - manuscripts - in this text. However, I feel that Anne Frank's diary certainly deserves its place. The importance of this diary can not be overstated and if you do not believe me, try standing in the Annex and imagining living in this cramped space with seven other people, the majority of whom you struggle regularly to even get along with. It is one of the most humbling experiences I have ever had in my life and could not imagine spending two years in that place. Anne's diary gave a voice to the millions who had theirs cruelly and violently taken away. I did NOT like, however, that Miep Gies was simply referred to as the 'family friend' who later saved Anne's diary after the family had been taken away. Even with the focus being on the document itself, surely Miep deserves much more credit than that.

There were so many documents that I found interesting, I could keep writing for a while. I will finish this up with reference to a certain CIA document, dated August 6th, 2001, that stated very clearly an attack on the US by bin Laden was imminent. Unfortunately, this memo was handed to one of the most incompetent presidents in the history of our country, while he was staying at his ranch in Texas. You know, one of his 406 vacation days taken in his presidency, or some absurd number that the GOP conveniently likes to forget whenever they complain about Obama playing a round of golf. As a follow-up, the Iraq War Resolution was included but I couldn't even bother to read such garbage.

So, overall, this really is 3.5 stars. There were so many documents that belonged here, but at times their importance almost felt diminished simply because often only the bare facts were included. It is by no means a be-all, end-all for any of these documents and while I can recommend reading this one, I would also suggest further reading on any of the documents that interest you.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Beyond Belief: My Secret Life Inside Scientology and My Harrowing Escape


Rating: 5 Stars


I don't even know where to begin. At 7% in I was thinking how batshit insane this all was, how this amounted to nothing more than straight up child abuse. This is not religion, this is not faith, this a money-making scheme built on the backs of children - from those who were unfortunate enough to be born to Sea Org members (the most highly committed Scientology members) and separated from their families for months or years at a time, to others who did forced manual labor to build The Ranch, all while receiving no actual education in anything but the doctrine of LRH (L. Ron Hubbard). There is no way on earth that I could ever be separated from Eleanor in that way for so long. No job or commitment is worth that. Ever. Nothing. Yet without batting an eye Jenna's parents relocated away from Justin (her brother) and Jenna WITHOUT TELLING THEM. The siblings found out from the family living with them what was happening, and by then their parents were already gone. I can't even.

It absolutely breaks my heart to even look at this cover and see this sweet face, and to know that her childhood was completely destroyed by these monsters - her own family being among the perpetrators. Worse still, to know that there are so many who went through and continue to go through the exact same thing she did - the psychological torture, the emotional abuse, even physical abuse. Heartbreaking is the only way to describe it.

Prior to reading this book I had very little knowledge of Scientology. I know it is a super expensive, super secret cult 'religion' that does not believe in pain medication or psychiatry. And it makes Tom Cruise jump around on couches acting like a damn fool. I mean really, would he have done that BEFORE becoming more involved with the cult 'Church'? No. Before that, when he was still married to Nicole, he was normal. There are still many, many things I do not understand (like why are adults called Mr. regardless of gender?) and so I am no expert, but I know what the experience was like for THIS child. I also do not understand why, at the age of seven, Jenna's job at The Ranch was to be the health monitor, keep track of all the illnesses the other children had, and to administer vitamins and help those who were injured. I also do not understand why when books like this come out, these abuses and allegations are not looked into by the authorities. Jenna, however, made a good point after her parents had left the cult 'Church' and didn't talk bad to Jenna about it at all, who was still very much involved. She made the statement that you can't tell a brainwashed person that they are brainwashed, they won't believe it. Perhaps this is why even if any authorities were to look into the allegations, they would come up with nothing, or very uncooperative people who do not see anything wrong with the way they and those around them are treated.

This was a very engaging, horribly heartbreaking story. Ultimately though, Jenna escapes (as the subtitle states, so no spoilers here) and has gone on to speak out against the cult 'Church'. I hope that now that she is free, raising a family of her own, that she can really put her life back together and find peace and happiness that she certainly never would have had if she had remained. Highly recommended.

Here We Are Now: The Lasting Impact of Kurt Cobain


Rating: 1 Star


I apologize in advance for the language I may use as this review progresses, or the language of my initial short 'review', a brief sentence or two I posted on Goodreads as soon as I finished the book. But seriously. Eff this guy.

I have always felt that I am not meant for Generation Y, but Gen X. I missed it by only two years and have always had a deep affinity for Nirvana, largely due to my introduction early on by my Uncle Kraig, only roughly a decade older than I. While I listened to New Kids on the Block faithfully, there was something about Kurt's voice that always drew me in. I was 11 when he died and I remember watching MTV's breaking news running on repeat, Kurt Loder telling me time and again that the body of Kurt Cobain had been discovered.

I still recall with great clarity seeing the footage of throngs of fans gathering, in tears, some hysterical; Courtney's voice reading his note out loud to them, all of it. I remember even at that young age knowing what I was witnessing was very important, though at the time I did not yet understand why.

Fast forward 20 years and we have Charles Cross STILL cashing in on Kurt's name and giving Courtney positive attention/publicity. I will read anything and everything about Kurt that continues to be published (except his Journals, which I own but will never read). Yet THIS guy, making a buck off his loose connections to one of the greatest musicians of all time...just, fuck this guy.

Cross addresses several areas of popular culture that still are impacted by the short life of Cobain and the even shorter span of his music career. But it does not take a genius, or this doofus making money, to tell us why Kurt matters. He matters because he was talented, and we were privy to just a tiny of sliver of what he was capable of. He matters because we will never know what could have been. He matters because he was a human being with his own demons and struggles, played out on a very public stage. He matters, period.

In the end, I freely admit that I do not believe Kurt killed himself. I am wary of any book (Heavier than Heaven, which I read) that comes out with Courtney's stamp of approval. I am not typically a conspiracy theorist (except for JFK because come on, no way did Oswald pull that off alone), but there is something there we do not know. And maybe it is not ours to know, the fans who still crave any scrap of information, any rough recording, practice session, anything of Kurt - though I personally have no desire to see the newly developed crime scene photos that somehow sat in evidence for the last twenty years and no one thought it was necessary to take a look.

By the way, Cross also mentioned Adele frequently, who I dig. But for him to say that 21 might be as good as Nevermind (or something to that effect, I was seeing red so I don't recall his exact verbage)? No. Nevermind is not even my favorite Nirvana album (In Utero is) and still, no.

If you are like me and deeply love Nirvana but are suspicious of his death, have at it but be aware of Cross towing the party line about Kurt's 'suicide'. It is a short text and won't take long. You'll roll your eyes at parts. especially the stretches he takes to connect Kurt to current music - namely hip-hop. But please, if you even have the slightest doubt about Kurt's death, do not take what Cross says in this book or parts of Heavier than Heaven as absolute fact.

And just for good measure, I leave you with this:

Thursday, December 24, 2015

The Children of Henry VIII


Rating: 4 Stars


When I first saw this slim volume at Half-Price Books (albeit a brand new copy - pay attention to those letters on the stickers, people! There are far more new books for sale in the shop than you might realize!), I knew chances were good that it would not be any new information. But who am I to resist a book about one of the most dysfunctional families in history?

I always feel a bit bad for Henry Fitzroy - while we see Henry VIII, Mary I, Elizabeth I, and Edward VI there on the cover together, poor Fitzroy is relegated to smaller portrait on the back cover, At least he is mentioned however, and significant space is dedicated to him within the text, especially before the arrival of Elizabeth. Once again, Anne was up to her old tricks and did all she could supposedly to ensure that Fitzroy was on the back-burner.

This brings me to a point I would like to address in regards to Henry's illegitimate children, however. There's always been speculation that Mary Boleyn's son and daughter were Henry's and not her husband's, as the timeline is murky about when she was actually Henry's mistress. However, given his lack of heirs - or male heirs - I'd have thought the time would come that, were they his children, or the son at least (also named Henry) then the old grouch would have acknowledge them, Maybe I am wrong, but I do doubt they were his children and given what we know now medically, I am pretty sure these four are his only surviving children. It makes little sense that he would acknowledge one illegitimate child but not any others,

Anyway, on to the book. John Guy is an author that I really like, for the most part. Here he has presented a lot of information in a small space, but does not skimp on the details. he also offers a plethora of notes and references to aid the reader in seeking more information. The inclusion of the Tudor, Howard, and Boleyn family trees was useful as well and would be an asset to those very new to Tudor history. I myself still mix these people up and I have read quite a fair bit of text about the dynasty in the last few years. Still, it is a handy reference to have.

My only complaint is what it often is - lack of photos. However, this time that can attributed to the fact that this is such a short text. Not to mention the fact that even portraits available that we think might be of certain people from the period can often turn out to be misidentified.

Overall I would say that if you already know quite a bit about the Tudors, you can pass on this one. If you are still new to the dynasty then I would certainly say have at it, you will learn quite a bit about these poor children who, unsurprisingly, grew up to be very dysfunctional adults (or at least dysfunctional teenagers, in the case.of Edward, who died at 16 or 17, depending on who you ask).

The Politics of Myth


Rating: 3 Stars


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

If I would have seen this book cover in the store instead of for free on NetGalley, there is a very good chance I would have skipped it altogether. I get it, it is definitely Jackie and Diana looking at us in the collage, and they are certainly almost mythic figures at this point, but they are not even figures discussed in the book. And really, it is more creepy than anything to me.

I wavered for along time on the rating for this one and I think if I think about it anymore, it would end up being two stars. So, I will go forward as is, trying to review a book that all at once seemed to know its direct purpose and path, yet seemed to get lost along the way.

The idea of myth are interesting and so are all the figures addressed here: King Arthur, Guinevere, Merlin, Ned Kelly, Joan of Arc, Shakespeare, Sherlock Holmes, Robin Hood and Elizabeth I. Some are, of course, real historical people who lived and died in well-documented ways. Others are figures who may have had some basis in reality but over centuries have evolved into something bigger than their humble beginnings.

Truthfully, I found the historical aspects of all those discussed to be far more interesting than the actual premise of the book, the politics behind these myths and how they can used and misused to further the ideas and agendas of others well into our own century. Even Ned Kelly, who is easily the one I knew the least about - along with Sherlock Holmes - was able to keep my interest for the history and facts, though I am not inclined to seek further information about him.

One major issue I do take with the book aside from its meandering, is the fact that there are only nine figures discussed, yet three of them are figures who are very much entwined in one anothers' stories - Arthur, Guinevere and Merlin. Were there seriously no other mythical figures in history that fit this idea that the author had? I find that hard to believe, though when you look at the figures, there are all of British, French or Australian origin, so perhaps that says something about the intent as well.

Unrelated to the purpose of the book, some things I appreciate greatly include the fact that Mary was given a bit better look here when discussing Elizabeth's reign. Certainly Mary does deserve more credit than she gets about the positive things she did in her short reign and I dig that. I also was pleased to see this author does not think Shakespeare is anyone other than the Stratford man we know him as. None of these other supposed writers are given much credit, nor should they be, as I do not buy into the nonsense that Shakespeare was a secret identity.

Speaking of Shakespeare, I have a bone to pick with the author about this line when discussing the Bard in the 20th Century: "...and Kenneth Branagh in some unremarkable recent films." Now, I never saw him in 'Hamlet' (1996), but I most certainly saw 'Much Ado About Nothing' (1993) and I certainly hope that is not what the author is referring to because Much Ado was fantastic. I would suppose they are the films he is referring to though, as these would still qualify as recent (within the last 22 years) when discussing someone who has been dead for 400 years. So, boo to that. I love Much Ado.

Anyway, this is one I can take or leave. it was okay, but I found myself skimming more and more toward the end. Perhaps I am just not the target audience for this one.

Ghosts of Lincoln: Discovering His Paranormal Legacy


Rating: 4 Stars


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

When I first began this one, I was wholly unimpressed. While I am firm believer in the paranormal, I find the idea of mediums and seances to be nonsense. I know the experiences I have had for myself, and given how people love to make money, anyone really can tell you they are talking to your dead relative or friend or pet and just be looking to make a buck. So, when the author was writing specifically about this aspect of the paranormal and how it fit into the lives of President Lincoln and his wife, I was ready to toss it aside. I am glad that I didn't, because what I was really looking for was soon to come - the history an ghost stories of Lincoln himself, The unfortunate part in all that of course was that he first had to be assassinated to get to those stories.

The book covers many aspects of the paranormal and how it was part of the lives of both Abe and Mary. It seems that although this was something that Mary was heavily involved in, particularly after their son's death, it does not seem like it was something that Abe was opposed to. Though, I have to be very honest, the seances and such were very boring to me. I stopped counting how many times the author mentioned this weird flying piano story that I had never even heard until this book, and it was highly annoying for lack of a better word. It is all just so preposterous to me - and so many of these sessions were proven to be fraudulent. It would be easy to rig up the piano to make it move. And an we really imagine Lincoln ever riding a flying piano? I highly doubt it. I skimmed a lot of this section because it was not what I was reading the book for. I understand the reason for its inclusion, as the author was addressing all paranormal aspects relating to Lincoln (just wait until the time traveler nonsense comes up toward the end!) but it was still not interesting to me. The spiritualist movement just doesn't hold much weight with me, though others might find it more interesting.

The book picked up with an interesting chapter about Lincoln's funeral train and the places you can supposedly observe it still rolling down the tracks. But just as suddenly as the train appeared, it was gone again and we are brought back to more seance stuff again, this time with people who are claiming to have contacted Lincoln and Booth after their deaths. However, this time the section devoted to seances was much shorter and we are soon introduced to those who made their livings as spirit photographers. I had never heard of this until reading this book so I Googled it of course and found some interesting information, especially about William Mumler, the spirit photographer who took the famous photo of Mary that supposedly shows Abe standing behind her with his hands on her shoulders. It is an intriguing idea.

I know what you might be thinking at this point: "Sarah, how can you say seances and mediums are nonsense, yet give any credence then to these spirit photographers who could easily manipulate film by double-exposing it, even in its primitive stages in the late 1800s?!" That's what I thought at first too, until the author brought up this interesting point:

"Photographs that appear to show a spirit are not difficult to fake, but photographs that appear to show a very specific one, who many never have been photographed in life, and who Mumler had never seen, and had no photos of himself, are another matter altogether" ( at 73%).

The story given here is that Mary traveled incognito to see Mumler and kept her face covered = even giving an assumed name. it was supposedly not until the moment before the photo was taken that she removed the veil she had been wearing. Again, it is at least intriguing to think about.

From here we are back to the ghost story aspect of the book, beyond just the ghost train. The author gives us a slew of places Lincoln has been sighted in, including the random little town in Iowa of Mount Pleasant. At this point I also found out that Robert Lincoln had his mother committed to an asylum for a year. Those surrounding Lincoln immediately after he had been shot (Mary, Rathbone, Clara) all had sad endings to their lives. The final section of ghost sightings speaks directly about those at the White House. I only wish there were more documented sightings from earlier.

I don't want to give much attention to the crazy man who thinks he is a time traveler and appears as a child in the foreground of the only known photos of Lincoln at Gettysburg, because it is such a joke, but I appreciate this line:

"After spending enough time reading different sources and footnotes of Lincoln lore, the idea that we can chalk things up to time travelers and alternate realities starts to seem more and more appealing" (at 84%).

That being said, I was impressed by the research the author has done into the life and death of Lincoln and how this spectrum of the paranormal touched his life. One does not always find this level of research in relation to paranormal books, or the quality of writing. I have read some paranormal books in dire need of a good editor but luckily this is not one of them.

Quote that really stuck with me:

"It is fair to say that Lincoln haunts the United States, whether as an actual ghost, as several different ghosts, or as just a strange, unknowable presence in our collective mind and memory. His life and work changed nearly every aspect of the nation, and his death changed more of them still" (at 4%).

Whether you are even interested in only the paranormal or only the Lincoln aspect, definitely recommended.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Mary Boleyn: In a Nutshell


Rating: 4 Stars


I really love these 'History in a Nutshell' books. When you read them, however, you always have to keep the series name in mind and thus rate, review and set your expectations accordingly. This was not meant to be an exhaustive history of the life of Mary Boleyn - there simply is not enough information available about her to write such a thing. But I feel like the author did a great job with the information we do have to work with.

I have always had a soft spot in my heart for Mary Boleyn, despite my intense dislike of her sister. I feel like she is treated quite unfairly in history as being the least ambitious of the siblings and it seems as though she is looked down on for the decisions she made - primarily because of her choice in marriage after her first husband died. Mary would get the last laugh of course, seeing as she is the only one who kept her head (though I doubt she was actually laughing, what a horrific thing to go through, whether they were estranged or not).

The problem, of course, is the very thing I mentioned above - there simply is not enough actual concrete information known about Mary to warrant a full text - though Alison Weir did try. I appreciate the author's use of many historical references and the great bibliography included. Not to mention I had no idea so many well-known people are descended from Mary. Last laugh, indeed.

Wicked Women of the Bible


Rating: 4 Stars


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

I find books like this helpful for two reasons:

1) I don't know the Old Testament very well (except for Sarah's story, of course)


2) In general, as someone who has only recently in the last two years been working on recapturing her faith, it is helpful in general to understand how all of these people are connected and how their stories weave from one to the other through the centuries.

(Not-so-secret 3) I love reading books about religion, especially early Judaism and Christianity.)

I really enjoyed this book. Do not let the title fool you, it is not just about those naughty ones, the Jezebels and the Delilahs - though those two OF COURSE make their appearances. Here though we are also able to know more about those wicked GOOD women of the Bible - Esther, Mary, Ruth, etc. All of the women we are introduced to show us how their actions helped to shape Judaism and Christianity in one way or another. Naturally you will find that the women's stories are entwined with the men of their stories, but there really is no way around that. Could you tell Sarah's story without talking about Abraham or Isaac? I mean, really? The women are still the focus, though there is plenty about the men who also shaped these two religions.

Here the author looks at twenty women from the Bible, both Old Testament and New. The chapters are broken up into three parts: the Biblical story, then a brief overview of the time period the story takes place in, and finally self-reflection questions as they pertain to each story.

An issue I do take with this book is the details added to the Biblical stories in order to flesh them out a bit more. I mean, I get it, the only information the author has to work with is the Bible. But conjecture is a bone I always have to pick because it bugs me no matter what I am reading. However, I could look past that a bit with this one.

I found this to be a quick read. It could be a good/fun one for a book club too (which I myself am hoping to start at my church after Christmas break), especially with those discussion questions included in each chapter. Highly recommended.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Who's Who at the Tudor Court


Rating: 3 Stars


This will be kind of a slim review for a slim book. Or, what I would imagine would be a slim book, seeing as how I read it on my Kindle.

I can fully appreciate this book for the clarification of a lot of the job titles that get thrown around in Tudor history books without any explanation. Even with a fairly significant background knowledge of the time period, I still am somewhat foggy on what some of those jobs entailed. I liked that the author not only specified what the job requirements were for for a particular post in the King's Court, but several men who held such posts were identified by name. The author breaks down how the court functioned and the mirrored roles for those who served his many queens as well.

I think the weakness of this book is the focus actually spent on the queens themselves and some of the repetitive information from chapter to chapter. There has already been so much written about Henry, Catherine, Anne, Jane, Anne, Katherine, and Katherine and I felt like the 'Who's Who' part could have focused more on those that the general reader might know less about. Unfortunately that would not work so well if that information is lost to us, so the additional focus on the queens might have been a bit necessary.

I was fully ready to give this one a four star review, I liked it. However, the clear bias in favor of Anne Boleyn was a deal-breaker for me and the book lost a star by the end. The author refers to Anne's downfall as a tragedy and says around 74% that Anne was "callously ripped from the life of her three year old daughter." And yet, it is barely mentioned how, even more cruelly Catherine and Mary were separated even in life and once sent away, were never allowed to see one another again. Not even as Catherine lay dying, was Mary allowed to see her mother (Is anyone really surprised how Mary turned out, given the way she and her mother were treated?)

So, I can recommend with some reservation. It is an interesting look at the multiple players at court, their social-climbing and maneuvering to place their family members based on favors from Henry. However, expect much favoring of Anne.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Out of the Storm: The Life and Legacy of Martin Luther


Rating: 4 Stars


I should start this review off with a couple statements religion as it pertains to my life:

1. I was baptized Lutheran and attended a Lutheran church up until the middle of my freshman year of high school.

2. I started going to the Methodist church and was confirmed there because a pastor at my home church found it appropriate to discuss church financial matters at an Easter service. This was very off-putting to me.

3. I did not attend church for over a decade after high school.

4. Eleanor was baptized at the Covenant church where my grandparents got married and where my mom was baptized.

5. Eleanor and I now attend a wonderful Covenant church and I am so grateful for this place that is allowing me to recapture my faith every single day.

I am not sure what compelled me to share these things, but maybe it will help people understand why I am still kind of stupid in religion-related discussions. I feel like when it comes to the Bible itself, I have a decent grasp. When it comes to the hows and whys of some aspects, I am still unclear at times. I love learning about the history of religion, how it has developed and evolved over thousands of years, and who the prime movers and shakers were that made things happen.

So, that makes Martin Luther kind of an important guy, right? And probably someone who I should already know a lot about, seeing as how he is the inadvertent FOUNDER of my section of Protestantism.

As it turns out, I didn't really know anything, except one day he marched himself up to the cathedral in Wittenberg, nailed his 95 Theses to the door, and set off on a one-man crusade to stop Catholicism in its tracks.

And even THAT is not entirely accurate.

So, I knew even less about Luther than I thought, and despite the somewhat love/hate relationship I seem to be developing with the author, and this biography really opened by eyes to who this man was. I don't know why it took me so long to actually read a biography about Luther; perhaps I thought I knew all I needed to, with the whole theses-nailed-to-the-door thing. As it turns out, there is a question of whether or not events actually played out that way, and early on the Theses didn't even make as big of a splash with religious leaders as has been portrayed. In addition to that, I thought I knew more than I did because I have spent so much of the last few years reading about the Tudors, and of course Henry VIII is especially involved in this time period. I have always read about this from the Tudor perspective and Henry's in particular. I'd always wondered what Luther's responses had been to all of Henry's ridiculousness. Of course it is what you'd expect.

Luther's primary motivation for writing his 95 Theses was due to the selling of Indulgences by the Church and the fact that it appeared to even be sanctioned by the Pope. Imagine how different the course of Christianity might have gone had the Pope agreed and stopped the practice? At least in England, how would Henry have wriggled out of his first marriage? He would not have had the excuse to break with Rome, could not have declared himself the Supreme Head of Church...or maybe he could have, this is Henry we are talking about. But what religion would he have wandered toward?

I found the aspects dealing with Luther's personal life more intriguing even than all the uproar he created after his Theses were published. There were so many things I found interesting, the first being that Luther himself eventually married and had many children. How amazing would it have been to have been a student staying in the Luther home, attending University and learning from him at the same time? I can imagine what lively dinner discussions might have been had in the old cloister, and what hustle and bustle would have constantly been going on with students and family around constantly.

Near the end of the book Wilson brings up the thought-provoking point as follows:

"It embarrassed his friends who realized that their leader was becoming increasingly an eccentric, angry old man at odds with the world. It gave unsympathetic historians the opportunity to concentrate on style rather than on substance. And it actually obscured the finer points of his argument" (page 317). Basically, Wilson surmises that perhaps Luther lived too long and actually may have done damage to the movement, though by then it had outgrown him and taken on a life of its own, and to his own legacy. Due to my own limited knowledge, I can not say I agree or disagree, but he makes an interesting point.

I was pleased to discover the author had included Luther's 95 Theses after his notes. I've not read these since high school, and feel like today I have a much better understanding of what he was saying. I've reread that section several times.

Overall I can say I can recommend this book on the basis of both religion and biography. For those interested in the Reformation from the perspective of those who got it really going, this one is definitely recommended. But also I can recommend it as a biography of a highly important figure in history as well.

The Tower: The Tumultuous History of the Tower of London from 1078


Rating: 3 Stars - Did Not Finish


I had to keep reminding myself that this edition was published in 1979. It was not easy and I often found myself frustrated with some of the things Wilson wrote as fact. On the other hand, he also puts forth some of those same sentiments in more recent books, so, there's that to deal with as well (he is NOT a fan of Mary Tudor). As a result, I waver back and forth between two and three stars. The reason I did not finish this one is not due to the dryness of the writing, but to lack of interest in the periods following the reign of James VI/I. I did give it a go, but decided there are too many other books waiting for me.

The text was good, not great. Much of that is owed to the fact that it was written so long ago and the way we look at these eras is quite different, even from the way historians viewed them 40 years ago. I feel like this text would be much stronger if it was updated - not only to reflect more accurate facts as we know them now about those early periods, but so the Tower can be presented now up to it current status and function. As an aside, it still pains me that when Mom and I were in London as part of our UK Extravaganza, we had such short time in London itself that we were not able to see the Tower. This is, without a doubt, #2 on my list of attractions to visit (#1 encompassing any and every place still in existence connected to Eleanor of Aquitaine, of course.)

The many factual inaccuracies were distracting, despite my own attempt to remember it was 40 years old. For example, Wilson refers to de Burgh as being the man who held the most authority in Henry III's reign, due to him being an experienced soldier and administrator. To that I had to say, "Um, helloooo, ever heard of this man by the name of WILLIAM MARSHAL?!" I do have quite a soft spot in my heart for that ol' soldier and always like to see him get his due.

Moving on to the Tudor reign, there were a few issues I took with statements Wilson made as well. Now, I have never made it a secret that have no good feelings about Anne Boleyn. Catherine will always be the rightful and true queen to me, as Mary was always the rightful heir. That does mean that I support everything Mary did during her reign, but I do think everything that happened to her during her childhood once Henry initiated the divorce need to be weighed greatly in understanding how that impacted her. No one can really be surprised in how tightly she clung to her faith and viewed Catholicism as the only religion, given its treatment in her lifetime as a means to an end for Henry to get what he wanted. I know this is not a popular opinion among some and that is fine, but Wilson's assessment of Mary's reign as an "appalling blunder" by the English when they supported Mary instead of her cousin Lady Jane Grey is inaccurate in my eyes. Given a closer and less biased look, there were many aspects of Mary's reign that actually proved quite successful. While that is another debate for another post and I won't go into detail here, I might recommend The First Queen of England: The Myth of Bloody Mary for anyone interested in what I am suggesting. Continuing along this path, I was confused when Wilson states that Catherine Parr died in childbirth "or probably before". Everything I have read thus far indicates she died after giving birth to a daughter, who also did not live long - perhaps a year or two. I am curious as to where Wilson got this idea and if that was accepted as fact in the 1970s, where new information came from since then to change what we know now. He also cites tuberculosis as the cause of death for Edward, which gave way to Mary's reign. While it is certainly one of the theories, there have been others put forth as well. Again I wonder if this could be that TB was accepted in the 1970s and only with new information coming to light have we changed our thinking?

There are positives to the book, do not get me wrong. I found the illustrations included to be useful. Another reason I would like to see a new edition to the book would be to see new photographs of the Tower added in comparison. It would be very interesting to see drawings of the original structure, compared to how it looks now.

I realize that the issues I have touched on had more to do with the people connected to the Tower than the Tower itself. All in all, this is because this book was as much about the people who inhabited the the fortress as the buildings themselves. This I can appreciate, as it covered all of the periods in England's history that are among my most favorite (and more - if you have been reading my reviews for a while, you know I don't have much interest beyond the reign of James VI/I). I wish there would be an update, though if you can keep in mind the age, then I can recommend with some hesitancy. It is very dry at times after all and that could be very off-putting for those who are less interested in the times.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Confession: I Am A Book Snob

I must say: I am a book snob.

I mean this because for the longest time, I refrained from buying an e-reader. I knew if I ever gave in and purchased one, it would be a Kindle (I did finally, just a few months ago). But it was not a decision I came to lightly. I went back and forth with myself for a long time, over six months at least. Finally around Mother's Day my own mom said to me, "You never do anything for yourself, just buy it already!"

So, I did.

I instantly regretted it and barely used it for the first three months I had it. Like I said, I'm a book snob.

This changed when I began using NetGalley more. If you are not familiar with it, NetGalley is a wonderful website where I get many of the titles I review, which allows hundreds of publishers and authors to connect with readers by sending out ARCs (advanced reader copies) in order to get feedback on a book before it is published. The issue I was having is that I would download the numerous titles I was approved for to my laptop, but the files expire after 55 days. You can always re-download the title, until it is archived. Once it is archived, you no longer have access. However, by downloading the titles to my Kindle, I have aces to them indefinitely. So, there was my first incentive to actually use the device.

Then, I discovered another website I really love:

On the website you are able to customize your recommendations with genres that interest you and get a daily email about titles that are available at low cost - usually for a limited time. Personally, I will not spend more than $1.99 on a title - $2.99 ONLY if it is one that would cost me much more to check out through the Inter-Library Loan System from OPL. I have gotten so many titles for free, even titles that have been lingering on my Goodreads to read list for ages, mainly because OPL does not have them and I can't afford to use ILL on a regular basis. is another website that operates much in the same way. I have not had as much luck with that one though, as it seems geared more towards fiction. I rarely find a non fiction title I am interested in, but I continue to peruse it anyway.

While I am always fond of new books, of being the only owner, of not having books covered in the previous owner's cat's hair, etc. I know I read far too many books to ever be able to afford to feed my habit. So, I am on a first name basis with many librarians at my favorite branch in OPL - Swanson. So is Eleanor, too. And while I try to keep her corralled in the children's section, luckily the librarians think nothing of it when they see her streaking like a bolt of lightning across the tiled floor to hide among the stacks.

Still, I find I can not stay away from another favorite establishment - Half Price Books. I have found some fantastic gems here, especially in the last year. I am collecting all the non fiction texts about Eleanor of Aquitaine that I can find to give to my little lady when she is older, and I have found many in great condition here. Not to mention, I one day met a man here who is the husband of Queen Eleanor's multiple-greats grand daughter. It was a pretty amazing moment.

So, what about you? Are you a book snob like myself, or are you inseparable from your e-reader? Do you stalk the stacks of the library, or cram shelves full of books that you just have to have from Books-a-Million or Barnes and Noble?

Saturday, December 5, 2015

BiblioTech: Why Libraries Matter More Than Ever in the Age of Google


Rating: 2 Stars


Well. I am not actually sure where to begin. So, I will first say that I received this as an ARC via NetGalley. Unfortunately it was archived before I could finish it, so I ended up doing so by checking out a hard copy from my wonderful public library (love you, Swanson Branch!) and reading it that way.

It absolutely terrifies me that physical libraries will go the way of the dodo. I can't ever imagine not taking my daughter to the library for story time, for perusing the stacks just to see what I can find to learn about that I don't yet know I want to learn about, for striking up conversations with librarians who become friends (shout out to Cecelia and Doe!) Yet if libraries ever were to go completely digital, that is exactly what would happen. Where is the fun of downloaded a bunch of books to your Kindle? I mean, I do that too, but I love going online to the library's catalog, putting books on hold from my ever-expanding Goodreads to-read list, then watching on-line as slowly but surely the books trickle in within a day or two from branches around the city. I am armed with my 'I Love the Library' bag when Eleanor and I arrive, ready to cram as many into the bag as possible, yet almost always needed one of the nicely offered plastic bags to accommodate those that would not fit, despite my best efforts, and the librarian's too.

So, on to the book itself. I am not actually sure what the author intended with his book. At times it is both an admonishment of the system and imploring librarians to do whatever they can to save their jobs - which means embracing the technology. I guess perhaps because I live in a larger city, I feel like this is already done well? Maybe not, and I am blinded by my own nostalgia and love of the library, which the author has little time for - since it will not save the library as we know it. His opinion and arguments seem to hold less weight with me at least, as he is not actually a librarian, who was somehow put in charge of these Harvard library projects. It rankled some feathers then and kind of rankles mine now in learning about it. It is always easy for someone to criticize from the outside - something he does when taking shots at education and libraries as well with this line:

"In some places, the problem is a lack of financial resources, but in many cases the problems facing education have little to do with money and much to do with management, outlook, and commitment" (page 175).

It was right then and there that, as a teacher, I stopped having any respect for his opinion that I had in the beginning. I won't bother going into detail about the space devoted to Common Core - something everyone should vehemently oppose - as it would only be a tangent here. We need libraries and librarians, but according to the author, they too are to plan, because they don't ask for enough money. Really? Apparently. I think in this case his heart was in the right place, but the statement is so over-simplified; he can't really be so uninformed that he would not now that libraries to ask for funding, that is repeatedly and consistently cut by those holding the purse strings, right?

Libraries offer such a variety of services and resources, they can not be allowed to fade away. I could never read the amount of books that I do if it were not for the library. here is simply no way I could afford it, nor would I have a place to store all the books even if I did have the money to buy them all. Though I suppose if I could afford that many books, I would have my Beast-like library from Beauty and the Beast, so scratch that argument. All I did was read in those summer months as I waited for Eleanor to arrive - and that is thus how I met my first favorite librarian, who became a good friend. There are so many activities going on every day at all dozen or so branches of the Omaha Public Libraries, there is something for everyone. Teen lock-ins, toddler story times, free Internet access, and as always, the faithful and trusty librarians who always seem to be able to help me find what I am looking for. OPL offers an awesome service that allows you to email them your favorite genres and types of books you read and don't read, and then within a day you have a personalized email back listing about 10-15 books you might also be interested in. The first time I tried, the list was so accurate, it contained about seven I had already read. A computer can't try to do that, but given the inaccuracies I find just with the Goodreads recommendations based on some of my shelves, I don't have much faith in that technology.

Overall, I really can't recommend this one very highly. The premise was a good one, but the first few chapters were so repetitive that I was not really interested instead he got to the actual chapter about librarians. The rest of the book after that point was a bit more interesting, but still very dry. If nothing else, the author made me more aware than ever of the battle our public libraries are fighting every day. I am very concerned for the future of libraries and if you love reading and books, and/or care about how knowledge is preserved for future generations, you should be too.

Life in a Tudor Palace and Life in a Medieval Castle



Rating: 4 Stars each


These are such brief reads (and both part of the Life series) that I can hardly write a full review, so I am reviewing them together. That is not meant to be disparaging however, because these are simply slim volumes that focuses on a very specific part of history - Tudor palace life and medieval castle life. I really enjoyed these one for what they were, brief glimpses at history. One of the only things I will say negatively is that both books would have done better had there been illustrations to go along with. This would have been helpful for those of us not familiar with the layouts of the buildings.

I took issue also with a statement from the medieval castle book where the author said reading and writing were typically left for girls. This seems strange, as men were expected to be able to do those things in order to conduct their business. Some educators even thought that reading was too taxing on the brain for women, so...

Ending on a positive note, I love that this short little medieval castle book gives a shout out to William Marshal, one of my medieval heroes. Lately I have read much longer books dealing with that period of time and this great knight gets no mention at all. Yet here his name pops up and I was glad to see it.

Recommended for anyone even with a slight interest. These are quick reads, still packed with tons of interesting information.

Pope Benedict XVI: Protector of Faith or Opponent of Progress?


Rating: 3 Stars


Very brief read about Pope Benedict XVI that I found while perusing BookBub for Kindle deals. Despite being Lutheran, I am oddly a little obsessed with the papacy. Maybe it is because we Lutherans don't have this kind of supreme ruler? I don't know. it helps that the current pope, Pope Francis, is a total BAMF.

I was curious about Benedict because of all the conflicting types of information I have read about him in brief news snippets. In some cases he is a Nazi sympathizer, in others he is the defender of the faith, and I was looking for something that would kind of reconcile how one person can be described in such drastically different ways.

Unfortunately this did not quite help. I do not know the author's background, but suspect he is staunch Catholic, as there was nothing negative about Benedict, and I find it hard to believe that anyone could be that perfect - even a man on his way to the papacy. I do greatly admire Benedict's commitment to academia and learning; that is quality I can admire in almost anyone.

This was a very quick, very positive read and while I did gain a lot of information about Benedict, it is hardly what I would consider an actual biography. I still learned quite a bit, though I knew nothing of his life before becoming pope, so that is not saying a lot. Someone who is Catholic or is interested in the papacy would likely know much of this already. Still, I was interested enough to finish the book, and found it mostly worth the time at least in order to gain a foundation. The writing itself is very much like a college term paper at times, but it made for an easy read in that regard.

Primates of Park Avenue


Rating: 1 Star - Did Not Finish


Oh sweet baby Jesus.

Now, don't get me wrong, every once in a while I love a stupidly trashy gossipy 'memoir'. As I was at the library last night picking up a couple books I had on hold, I spied this one and thought, why not? Sometimes something mindless helps recharge my brain for the more academic books I usually read. I was hesitant when reading the back cover and how reviewers said it was as though Jane Goodall was an urban anthropologist, infiltrating the Park Avenue Mommy club. But still I went ahead with it.

That might seriously be one of the biggest mistakes I have ever made in relation to books.

This chick is seriously ridiculous, and not in a funny or ironic kind of way. She presented this like an anthropological study because her mom just loved anthropology when she was growing up in the Midwest and gosh this would be such a challenge because we have to have an apartment in THAT neighborhood so our kids can go to THAT public school. For f**k's sake, lady. Please pardon my language, but seriously.

By page five when the author is comparing herself to Jane Goodall, all I could think was how insulting that was to Goodall. Basically, this was just an excuse for a super rich white chick to brag about how much money they have and how hard life is with being a stay at home mom in Manhattan with nannies and blah blah blah. I totally skipped over the equally as pretentious 'field notes' section where she again tries to present this as 'research'. I will not dignify this book with any other response to this blathering drivel.

I quit reading after they got their condo or whatever. I don't even know. I don't even care. Don't read this, it is awful.

The Rise and Fall of Alexandria: Birthplace of the Modern Mind


Rating: 5 Stars


I never knew how little I actually knew about Alexandria until I read this book. The first book I read of Pollard's was about Alfred the Great and I absolutely loved it, it was well-researched and beautifully written. The Rise and Fall of Alexandria is no different. It is truly so beautiful and lovely and depressing to read about this great center of academia, and THAT library, and after centuries of surviving, it's just gone. Based solely on the book's content, I would give this a solid four stars, but given my love of all things academic and library-ish, I had to go with five stars.

There are so many directions I might go with this review, so many things to discuss and dissect, to relate to our modern world, I don't think I would have the space or time to even attempt that. So instead I will just touch briefly on some of the things that were most intriguing to me.

The book begins where you would expect - with the founding of the city. There is a solid foundation, figuratively, to build the rest of the book on. We are given a background of Alexander and Ptolemy take-over after Alexander's death. As time went on, the library accumulated more and more knowledge, just imagine all those scrolls, all that history in one place.

"Alexandria was built on knowledge, and at its heart was not a treasury but the greatest library and museum of antiquity" (introduction).

But, Alexandria was so much more than just the library and museums, if that is even possible. Truth be told, that is really all I knew of the great city prior to picking this one up, aside from knowledge too of its famous founder - who did not live long enough to see the glorious crown jewel of his empire reach its full potential.

I found the medical information to be among the most interesting facts (I mean seriously, despite the plethora of mathematicians who lived and worked in Alexandria, we all should know by now how I feel about math. I think it is a testament to how enthralling Alexandria is that I was able to muster through those sections - I am NOT a number gal!) Given my love for all things medieval England/Ireland/Scotland, I was familiar with the idea of the four humors, but did not know much about what they represented or how this information was used. Here the author goes into a bit of detail when discussing medical practices that were developed in Alexandria, including the understanding of anatomy. The disturbing way they came about this knowledge was that doctors were given LIVE condemned prisoners to experiment and operate on, so...not all was perfect in the city.

One of the both high- and low-lights of this one for me was a whole chapter dedicated to Hypatia. It's a highlight because she is such a fascinating figure in history, and while there is not a lot of information known about her, there is enough that tells us she is certainly someone who was held in esteem. The low-light of course would be her cruel and violent death, and the fact that Cyril played such a role in it and that later he was even raised to sainthood. That is a travesty to me.

"With the death of Hypatia, her city also began to die. Philosophers were still to found in the city's streets and the 'Alexandrian school' continued quietly - ever more quietly - to refine pagan Neoplatonism" (page 280). 

Overall, I really loved this one. I can highly recommend it to anyone who has an interest in non-fiction. Even if you do not know much about this time period, the people, this city, the library, it is a great starting point. It is also great for those who already have a knowledge of any of those topics, as the detail and research is quite evident.

And oh, what I would not give to see that library in its full glory.

"And what of the books? The fate of the libraries of Alexandria is one of the greatest mysteries of the ancient world. It would still be tragic, but at least convenient, if a single moment of their destruction could be found, a moment at which the curtain came down on the classical world and a new and darker age commenced" (page 281).