Saturday, December 31, 2016

Farewell 2016!

What a year!

If you have been following me especially in the last few days on Twitter, you might already know that I was so close - yet so far - from reaching my 2016 Goodreads Challenge of 250 books.

In 2015 I had set my goal for 200 books and surpassed it easily, finishing the year at 238 books/61,279 pages. I figured what would another 12 books be? I could read 250 easily.

Boy, was I wrong.

In all my infinite wisdom, I forgot the little fact that I had also committed myself to blogging more earnestly about my books and reviews. I also wanted to become more involved in the blogging community because this can sometimes be a lonely gig when you read a lot of books that other people don't. Finding a group to belong to helps, even if your reading tastes vary.

So, despite my great effort in the last three weeks or so, I must admit defeat. With a little more than three hours until 2017 descends upon us, I have decided I will not longer try to scramble to finish the easy-peasy-lemon-squeezey chick lit and cozy mysteries that have jammed their way into my brain. I do not mean any offense to those who enjoy these kinds of stories. I actually found a few books that I enjoyed and look forward to continuing a series or two in 2017. The majority, however, were simply not for me.

Instead, I will end the year as I began it - with those I love the most: the Tudors, Plantagenets, and an assortment of US presidents.

Happy Reading and Happy New Year!

Friday, December 30, 2016

First Line Friday!


I am really excited this week for a couple reasons. First, I am super close to meeting my goal of 250 books this year (Never mind that I am plowing through 'chick lit' and 'cozy mysteries' to reach it). Secondly, because I am super close to reaching my goal, I am able to get back to books I actually care about and WANT to read.

So, I am very happy that this week's First Line comes from Sarah Bryson's book about Charles Brandon, Henry VIII's BFF.

"Charles Brandon was an enigmatic, charismatic man, rising from mere boyhood friend of a future king to flirting with a European duchess, marrying the Dowager Queen of France, being created the Duke of Suffolk, and not to mention becoming the leading magnate in Lincolnshire by the end of his life."

After letting me know what your First Line is in the comments below, check out my fellow First-Liners and see what they chose this week!

Rachel - Bookworm Mama

Andi - Radiant Light

Robin - Robin's Nest

Happy Reading!

Friday, December 23, 2016

First Line Friday!

Hooray for Christmas vacation! I was free of students as of 4:05 Thursday afternoon and am looking forward to spending the holiday with my family at home, doing nothing but laying on the couch, watching bowl games, eating ridiculous amounts of yummy food, and of course reading.

This week's First Line is from a book I was so surprised and excited to get, but that also made me kind of sad because this is the man who should be our president. He poured his heart and soul into his campaign and I am so proud of what he has awakened in my generation, and those after. I only say the book was a surprise because it was a Christmas gift from my daughter's father's parents. They're fairly conservative, but they saw the value in the political experiences I was providing for Eleanor at a such young age. We caucused for Senator Sanders back in March, then attended a rally on November 4th where not only did we get to hear him speak, but I got to talk to him and ugly-cry while we took a selfie. I then had reporters after the ugly-cry-selfie asking for my name and email address, so they could send me photos they took of us. It was pretty awesome and my daughter, though only 3 1/2, is OBSESSED with him. When I opened the box, she immediately shouted, "Bernie!" and grabbed it from me - then asked me to read it to her at bedtime. 


Now, the First Line:

"When we began our race for the presidency in April 2015, we were considered by the political establishment and the media to be a "fringe" campaign, something not to be taken seriously."

Oh how wrong the media was, and err'body knows it.

Check out what my fellow First Liners have to say this week. Due to Christmas being upon us, a few of the ladies are not posting, but you can check out previous First Lines you might have missed. 

Rachel - Bookworm Mama

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Summer of Blood: England's First Revolution


Rating: 4 Stars

(Before we start: this book was originally published in the UK in 2009. I am reviewing the edition published here in the US in November of 2016.)

I fear that if I fangirl over Dan Jones too many more times on Twitter, he is going to get a restraining order. But it is super easy to be totally into your favorite authors, then also kind of in awe about the fact that many of them really do run their own social media accounts. They actually take the time to respond to their fans. To me that is one of the the coolest things an author can do, so yes, I have stupid-happy fangirl moments when my favorite authors, Dan Jones of course among them, acknowledges my existence.

Let's take a moment and admire that cover, shall we? I talk a lot about cover art and how it is crucial. Judging books by covers is totally okay in some instances and this would be one of them. It is striking. I love a good cover, especially when it is a subject I am highly interested in.

One of the things that makes Jones just the author for subjects like this, is that he has the ability time and again to take something that could be considered boring to some, and weave the facts and figures together in a narrative that is appealing to a variety of people. Namely, both those like myself who are on a mission to read every book about the Plantagenet dynasty possible, and those who might have a passing interest because they saw The Tudors on HBO and aren't the Tudors and Plantagenets the same anyway? (Not kidding, someone really said this to me. I had to just shake my head no.) There seems to be this prevailing attitude among my generation and perhaps at least the one after mine that considers history dull old stories about people long dead, so why should we care? I can't even tell you how many times I have been asked why I read so much non-fiction, and history in particular - especially history of a country that is not even mine. While all of Jones' books are very well-researched and detailed, the story-telling aspect is what can keep even those less interested in the subject as a whole engaged. It is a handy to skill to have.

I like to consider myself fairly well-read when it comes to this era in England's history. I am partial to earlier Plantagenets and Plantagenets-by-marriage (hey Eleanor, I see you girl!), but find the many colorful personalities highly entertaining. This specific event, however, is one that I did not know nearly as much about, so to find a book dedicated solely to the revolt, its key players, and its aftermath was indeed helpful in clarifying things. I know a fair amount about Richard II, but only of his later rule. As Jones points out, it is easy to see how the entire event impacted him (he was only 14 at the time) and shaped his outlook and rule over his kingdom and subjects for the ensuing 19 years. While previous uprisings (such as the events that lead to Magna Carta in 1215) were spearheaded by the aristocratic class, this was something entirely different. In this revolt, often referred to as the Peasants' Revolt, the Great Rising, or Wat Tyler's Rebellion, it was the lower classes who rose up to fight the taxes and statutes passed by their rulers - the council ruling for Richard until he came of age. Time and again throughout the rebellion, they insisted they were loyal to the king, but sought to rid him of those around him who were actually in charge. No person was more hated I believe than John of Gaunt, Richard's uncle. The Duke of Lancaster was the wealthiest man in the land, had properties all over the country, and sometimes fought unnecessary and coffer-draining battles. The thing here is that he was not even in England at the time, yet he remained a target as the rebels descended on London and destroyed his residence, Savoy Palace. As an aside, it totally kills me that some of these grand palaces (think Nonsuch, Woodstock, Savoy, to name a few) are gone now, and we do not even know for sure what some of them looked like. I had this grand idea in my head for a minute to take my daughter Eleanor to Europe when she is older so we can visit any place still in existence that is connected to Eleanor of Aquitaine, before my brain said, "Hey dummy, most of those places are gone now. Have fun in France at Fontevraud seeing the effigies of Eleanor, Henry II and Richard I, even though those other dummies scattered all their bones during the French Revolution."

But I digress.

There are several great quotes that I have included here that best sum up the events of the summer in 1381 better than I can:

"As if from nowhere, a huge army of farmers, bakers, brewers, and churchmen drawn from all over England rose up and attacked their masters. They nearly brought down the government. Several of the country's most senior officials and hundreds of other people were murdered before the rising dissolved into chaos and official retribution. Those who survived were deeply scarred by what they witnessed" (page 3).

Jones takes us through the events leading up to the rebellion, making sure to note it was not ONLY about taxes. Instead he says, "...the only way to unravel the rage of the rebels in 1381 is to examine a little more closely the changes that had taken place in English society during the previous thirty years. There was no single event to blame for the revolt but several burned fiercely underneath. And the most important was the arrival of the most ruthless killer England had seen then, or has seen since: the Black Death" (page 13). The nation was completely devastated by the disease, which gave way to a depleted labor force. This in turn allowed said laborers to increase prices on their goods/services, which of course was not going to go over well with the aristocracy who needed them. It goes without saying that there was a drastic difference in lifestyles from one group to the other, but the work force saw the opportunity to change that. It didn't work out for them, as could be expected, due to the taxes levied and statutes coming from Richard's council.

As mentioned before, John of Gaunt was easily the #1 target of the rebels once they were able to get into London. They had it in their minds to destroy the men they perceived as their enemies and destroy any ill-gotten wealth they could find. While this idea is kind of admirable, I found it disturbing that while ransacking and destroying Savoy, a man was caught trying to pocket a belonging of Gaunt's by other rebels and was promptly thrown in the fire that burned the palace down.

Aside from looking at the event as a whole and its aftermath, this can also be considered somewhat of a study of Richard himself in the final pages. Though he was only 14, age can not excuse the huge mistake he had made at Smithfield in telling the rebels they could go about catching traitors and turning them in for a trial. How he could have thought that would work is beyond me, given the violence that permeated the entire uprising. If he had simply left his message that day as one of forgiveness and telling everyone to go home, who knows how may lives might have been saved? But, as history would show, Richard would not become one of the great Plantagenet kings. After more years of missteps, and outright contempt for the powerful men around him, Richard was captured by his cousin, Henry Bolingbroke (John of Gaunt's son) and imprisoned at Pontefract Castle where he was (likely) murdered, thus paving the way for his cousin to become Henry IV.

At length, Jones addresses this in the epilogue in just how much of a disaster Richard's reign became: "At the root of many of these problems was the emerging nature of Richard's kingship. The young king had come of age at Smithfield, giving on that perilous afternoon a glimpse of the selfless bravery for which his father and the best of the Plantagenet dynasty had been famous. But in the aftermath he had shown the dark inclinations of his family's character that lay buried in his breast (page 200)...Richard was restoring his royal power not through reform or assertion of the rule of law, but by a barely legal terror in which viciousness had replaced wisdom, and blind fear stalked the troubled land (page 201)...Richard's personality and judgment had already been badly warped. He emerged from childhood, and 1381 in particular, with a profound distrust of his subjects and in particular his nobility. He grew up paranoid and vindictive, incensed at any attempts to guide him or to reform his rule (page 205)...Richard's first and greatest misfortune was that he lacked any effective role model for kingship. When he was a child he saw his grandfather, Edward III, at his worst: senile and surrounded by grasping acolytes. His father did not live long enough to shape Richard in his own mold. In the end, Richard's real role model was his uncle Gaunt, as disastrous a study in rule as he could've had. The boy picked up all of Gaunt's worst faults, without displaying any of his talent. He was a bully, but not authoritative; aggressive in defending the rights of the Crown, but with no true comprehension of its awesome responsibilities; eager to pick and maintain a quarrel, but guileless in making peace (page 206)."

Whew. Yes, I realize it is a long slew of quotes strung together, but I really think it sums Richard and his reign up perfectly. If you ever needed a speedy-quick run-down of Richard II, there you have it.

In closing, I first must say that I highly recommend this one, as has been my stance on the previous books he has authored. He is able to take a complex, well-researched story and still make it accessible to anyone, regardless of academic background. I shy away from calling it 'popular history', as to me that implies this kind of quickly-consumed-and-forgotten nonsense that seems to be so, well, popular at times. It is definitely anything but that.

Lastly, I will leave you with one final quote, despite the possibility that I am drowning my own review in an overabundance of quotes. (This is easy to do when you have a highly quotable book!)

"But of course the rebellion of 1381 was not just a tax revolt or a revolt against poorly considered labor legislation. It was the first sign that the ordinary people in England were politicized, and could be made angry enough to rise against bad leadership. They cared about foreign policy, and corrupt ministers, and bad laws...There was a profound sense that those high up in society were failing in their godly duties to protect and defend those lower down. Tyler's rebels were really very conservative. Only a few would have believed in Ball's doctrine of total egalitarianism; most simply wanted society and social relations to operate normally again" (page 207).

Ruthless: Scientology, My Son David Miscavige, and Me


Rating: 3 Stars

Okay, honesty time: I am completely fascinated by Scientology. Not in a Tom-Cruise-Jump-On-All-The-Couches-Kind-Of-Way, but in an "OMG WTF?!" kind of way. This is complete insanity to me. But then I remember I live in a country that recently elected an orangutan/Cheetoh for president, so nothing should REALLY surprise me in the level of gullibility or stupidity that exists. And yet, here we are.

There is a review in particular on Goodreads I would like to point you to if you have not seen it, which really sums up the book nicely. The user's name is Meg and her review is as follow: "No matter how bad things get, just remember: at least your dad never wrote a book about how you're a sociopath." And yes! This is such a true statement, on all levels. Firstly, because that is exactly what Ron Miscavige did and secondly, because his psycho son David really is a sociopath. And I  came to the conclusion about the sociopathiness of Miscavige when reading his niece's book a few months ago. This one confirmed it even more.

This is a quick read and is by no means groundbreaking. There is very little information about the elder Miscavige and his son, because there seemed to not really be any relationship to speak of. This could be due to the honesty of the author in depicting how difficult life was for his children growing up because of how much he and their mother fought. I don't blame the younger Miscavige for wanting to get away from home ASAP.

As opposed to Ron's granddaughter's book that I mentioned previously (Beyond Belief: My Secret Life Inside Scientology and My Harrowing Escape by Jenna Miscavige-Hill), the thing I found most useful in this one is that the author delved a little deeper in actual Scientology practices and core beliefs. However, I still don't understand what Scientology actually does. I mean, I get the auditing and the e-meters and all that shit, but when they talk about going on "missions", what are they doing? Just constantly asking for money and building huge worship centers? Except worship is not even the right word, because what do they worship, besides David Miscavige and $$$? They don't believe in God, yet celebrate Christmas. I just don't get it. And maybe that is okay, because it is all just nuts.

I can't help but feel sorry for the author in a few ways, however. As a parent, it would be very difficult to hear that your son had not only instructed private investigators to continue following you long after you left Scientology, but that in a moment where they thought you might be having a heart attack as you reached in your pocket for your phone, your son's words were, "If he dies, he dies. Don't intervene." That has to be hard for a parent to hear.

Ultimately though, there is nothing really new here that you could not have found elsewhere, such as in Jenna's book, or seeing what all the hullabaloo was when Leah Remini's book first came out. The thing is, so much of the author's information was second-hand also, as he was kind of on the outside for a long time before he and his second (I think. Maybe third?) wife finally left the group for good. 

In the end, this is one you can take or leave. But, if you are having a bad day, it might make you feel better about your own life!

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

First Line Friday!

Hellooooo First Line Friday!

I am super excited to share my First Line this week especially, because it is from a book I had REALLY REALLY wanted to read and received as an ARC from Amberley. I've been reading it for a couple weeks now but am using the very first line, straight from the introduction, because that sums things up pretty nicely.

First, the beautiful cover to admire:


I mean really. How can you not look at that and be like, "Wow."

My line this week is actually a short paragraph. Oops.

"King Henry III of England is a monarch who slips from the notice of history. Many famous events took place during his reign, but few would know that he was sitting on the throne at the time they occurred. He is overshadowed by events before his rule, great problems and even greater personalities during his kingship, and by the force of will that was his son and successor."

Safe to say this is one of the most accurate statements in the history of the world. Consider these facts:

1. King John was his father. We all know how that hot mess turned out. Worst. King. Ever. (Or at least pretty close.)

2. Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine were his grandparents. Henry II is arguably one of the great medieval kings, despite his major personality flaws. Need I even share my opinion of the great Eleanor of Aquitaine at this point?

3. Empress Matilda was his great grandmother. Her long and devastating civil war for the English throne wrecked havoc on the country. She is not the only one to blame, or even most at fault. Her sneaky cousin, King Stephen, was the usurper who stole the throne because the barons could not bear the thought of being governed by a woman. Cue lots of death and destruction.

4. Henry I was his great great grandfather. Who knows how differently things might have gone had the White Ship never sunk. The Plantagenet Dynasty might very well never have come about.

5. His great great great grandfather was none other than William the Bastard. Some of you might know him as William the Conqueror, another usurper who fought long bloody battles to claim the throne from King Harold Goodwinson.

Seems like a lot of pressure, huh? ESPECIALLY when your dad is widely considered one of the worst kings to ever rule.

Oh, and by the way, his son and heir was Edward I, also known as Edward Longshanks and the Hammer of the Scots. Not that I like anyone hammering my Scots in any way, shape, or form because Scotland is pretty much my favorite country ever, but you get the idea. So really, it is easy to see sometimes, often, how Henry III is overlooked. Which is why I was SO PSYCHED for this one. Thus far, it has not disappointed. It is such a happy feeling when a book you really really wanted is just what you were hoping it would be.

Let me know what you think about ol' Henry III and/or his colorful family tree (did you know his dad/aunts/uncles, but mainly the boys I am assuming, were referred to as the 'Devil's Brood'? Not to their faces of course...). Then head over to see what my fellow First Liners have waiting for you today

Rachel - Bookworm Mama

Happy Reading!

Friday, December 9, 2016

First Line Friday!

This week's First Line Friday comes from one I just finished recently and I decided to take a line from a little more controversial chapter toward the end.

The book is Ruthless: Scientology, My Son David Miscavige, and Me and the first line from Chapter 24 'Now What?' is:

"The degree to which David has deviated from L. Ron Hubbard's management directives since he took power in the 1980s has had several consequences that I don't think he ever predicted."

These words are indeed controversial coming from someone formerly so devoted to the group. The younger Miscavige spends obscene amounts of money going after anyone who speaks poorly of the 'church', so the sentence also indicates the author's belief in Scientology as a whole, perhaps without his son as the leader. While I did not learn anything earth-shattering in the book, it is interesting that now two family members have come out saying how things really work. What is your take on Scientology?

Now stop on by to see the First Lines of fellow readers!

Rachel - Bookworm Mama

Happy Reading!

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Founding Feuds: The Rivalries, Clashes, and Conflicts That Forged a Nation


Rating: 4 Stars

I received a digital ARC of this book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Wow, I am so hopelessly behind on my reviews - I read this in July!

But anyway...

This was a highly entertaining introduction to so many feuds that I didn't know had even existed. Some of these men REALLY hated one another, and in reading about some of their battles with one another, it is somewhat a surprise that our little fledgling nation survived at all.

The text is divided into chapters by feuds, and while I know that those who formed our early government did not always see eye to eye (understatement of the year), I had no idea that there were so many feuds - sometimes multiple going on at once! As I have been trying to read more books about ALL our former presidents, instead of just my favorites, I am also starting to learn more about the very men I had previously held in high esteem. I've mentioned this in previous posts about Washington-related books. It is kind of glossed over in history classes that Washington, Jefferson, etc all owned slaves. This is something that can not be forgotten as we idolize these founders. Washington especially has been hard for me, as he was a slave owner. He owned many throughout his life and fought hard to get them back after the war. That is something that has to be taken into account, though his view did evolve and he freed them at his death. That does not change the fact that he was a slave owner though, and we must remember to look at the big picture instead of completely glorifying them and believing they were perfect (the ridiculous slogan 'Make America Great Again' comes to mind with this. Which 'great' are we going back to? Segregation and Jim Crow? Women not having the right to vote? Slavery?) Please do not think I am only picking on Washington. I lost a lot of respect I might havehad for Jefferson, given his views on Africans and African-Americans as described in this book. His thoughts were truly disgusting and that too can not be overlooked when we look back on this time in history.

I think Hamilton and Jefferson were among my favorites to read about and their feuds bordered sometimes on hilarious. They were like little old ladies picking at one another and "When Hamilton caught Yellow Fever, Jefferson accused him of hypochondria" (3%). Little things like that racked me up throughout the book and yes we can laugh a bit now, because our nation survived the squabbles, and more serious arguments. The chapter on these two occurs at 20% and it did not disappoint. Books like these do wonders to helps us see that a country did not magically come together overnight to declare its independence. I even learned that New York abstained altogether from the vote, and Pennsylvania and Georgia only voted at the last minute when their delegates finally arrived. All these men we consider to be so great were still very human with their own beliefs, biases, and issues with one another.

Similarly, I was looking forward to the chapter on Jefferson and Adams as well, and their myriad of arguments. The difference here of course, is that at one time the two were friends before they began heading in very different directions with their ideas on government. The end of their story is one that always seems so poetic. The two men, who did patch up their friendship in later years, died within hours of one another on July 4th, 1826 - the 50th anniversary of Congress adopting the Declaration of Independence.

Another intriguing feud was that between Thomas Paine and George Washington. Again, Washington has always been held up as this kind of ideal, perfect ruler. It is hard to imagine then anyone disagreeing with him or clashing with him on certain ideas or topics. He had no one running against him in his unanimous election, and yet Paine was no fan. Another good example is that of Jefferson and his thoughts on Washington at times: "Jefferson complained to James Madison that the president 'is fortunate to get off just as the bubble is bursting, leaving others to hold the bag' and that Washington 'will have his usual good fortune of reaping credit from the good acts of others, and leaving them that of his errors. But Jefferson's mutterings to Madison were strictly private. Washington was, as historian Joseph Ellis put it, 'the Foundingest Father of them all', and amid all their feuds, no leading founder dared attack Washington publicly. Except Thomas Paine" (34%).

I was interested in the chapter on Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton as well. I am kind of embarrassed to admit that, though I now that Burr shot Hamilton in a duel, I don't actually recall what specifically they were dueling about in the first place. I feel like I probably learned about it at some point in school; it is, after all, kind of a big deal that our Founding Fathers were going about shooting at one another, but the reason escaped me until I read and relearned. I won't spoil it for you if you do not remember either - get this book and find out!

The book is not just limited to the males involved in the founding of our country, however, which I was pleasantly surprised to find. We are shown that some of these men feuded with women who were vocal about their opinions of the direction our country should go, and we see this manifest in the feuds first between Jefferson and Phyllis Wheatley and then John Adams vs. Mercy Otis Warren. I was really happy to see women included, as their role in the fight for independence and subsequent founding of our country is often overlooked.

The text ended at roughly 76%. The rest of the book was devoted to thorough notes, extended reading titles and miscellaneous information about the author, publisher, and this being an ARC. The notes section is extensive and there were many books listed as sources which I intend to add to my to-read list (or them listed already. It is always a nice kind of confirmation in choice of reading material when a book I enjoy cites books I want to read within a bibliography).

I highly recommend this one and leave you with this quote, which I think is especially fitting in this time of great upheaval in our country. We can survive this and we will, because there is no other choice:

"The founders could be petty, their feuds very personal...yet there was more to the founders and their feuds than that. The founders fought with each other, too, because they understood that at stake was the future of the nation, indeed the future of their great Republican experiment...Politicians ought not to follow in the footsteps of Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton and start shooting at each other. But Americans ought also not to yearn for a time when everyone agreed about everything. That time never existed." (72%).

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Reluctant Hero: A 9/11 Survivor Speaks Out About That Unthinkable Day, What He's Learned, How He's Struggled, and What No One Should Ever Forget


Rating: 4 Stars

Books about that day are difficult to read, but necessary. We can't forget that day, though we have forgotten the time of unity that followed it. I have a hard time reviewing books about 9-11 because it was such a tragedy and how do sit there and critique someone's experience of the worst day of their life? You don't. But I have a few thoughts about this one, and that will suffice for a review.

I was a freshman in college on 9-11. It was a few weeks into the school year, I was away from home for the first time in my life (about a six hour drive), and I think that is why this day has had the impact on me that it did. I was already going through this huge transition in my own life, and then suddenly so is my country. It was a lot to take in. So, I am drawn to the stories of the survivors and victims alike, and read these books to honor the memories of those who were lost and recognize the courage and struggle of those left behind.

As it turns out, Michael Benfante is a man I have seen dozens of times, though I did not realize it until picking up this book. He is, in fact, the man you have seen a clip of hundreds of times, running full-speed past a cameraman on the street who wipes his lens and continues filming as the second tower comes down. As I read the book and he mentioned this, I even looked up the interview clip he mentioned and sure enough, I had seen that before as well.

I really appreciated the way the author told his story. It was raw and angry and hopeful, even. We heard all the time in those chaotic days that followed of countless, selfless acts of kindness and heroism. Benfante is no exception, as he and a co-worker carried a woman who was stranded in her wheelchair, Tina Hansen, out of the North Tower, taking nearly an hour to escape when they could have simply passed by as others had.

This is what really shows the strength and resiliency of America and our people. When we were under attack, people looked out for one another. People lined up for blocks to donate blood, people like Welles Crowther returned time and again to the Sky Lobby to save as many people as he could.

At around 65% the author began recounting his visit back to Ground Zero for the first time since escaping the North Tower that day. I don't know if I could ever have gone back, had I been one of the survivors. I watch videos of that day, the plans hitting the towers and them falling, and that is hard enough. Knowing the trauma and tragedy going on inside as the planes burned and the towers eventually fell, it is mind-boggling. I don't think I could do it - I'm not even sure I could go to NYC and see the memorial, though I feel it is something I have to do at some point in my life. Benfante is much stronger than I am, even if he does not feel that way.

Prior to reading this, I had never heard the phrase "9-11 Fatigue" and I would love to know who the d-bag is that came up with that. If we stop talking about it, we start forgetting it. We forget the terror, the horror, the tragedy of that day. For a brief moment in time, our country was united and it would be so wonderful to be that way again. I just don't want another attack like 9-11 have to be the thing that makes people see it. I know right now we are more divided than ever, with good reason, but at some point we have to come together. A house divided cannot stand (I am by no means suggesting we forgive and forget the atrocious election season or its result, that is another conversation for another time), but there has to be some way to move forward and make progress, and I think I can speak for everyone when I say we do not want another 9-11 to be that catalyst.

In closing, I enjoyed this book as much as one can enjoy something of such tragedy. But we need these stories, and need to know there are still good people in the world who will do whatever they can for a stranger in their time of need. Some reviews stated the author was too angry and too repetitive, to which I stink-eye snidely and say, "Um, yeah, I think he's earned the right to be angry, he survived 9-11."

Highly recommended.

I Was Saved by the Bell: Stories of Life, Love, and Dreams That Do Come True


Rating: 4 Stars

I received a free digital ARC of this book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Before I get too far into this, I feel I must remind (or inform, if you have never read a review from me before) those reading that when I love something, I can become obsessed. Think Buffy, Titanic, etc.

I feel the same way about Saved by the Bell. I was younger than the intended audience, being born in 1983 and all, but man did I fall hard for Zack Morris in 1991. So I was 8, big deal. I've seen all the episodes, even the Good Morning, Miss Bliss ones, the College Years, and both movies. I could not, however, bring myself to watch The New Class. It just was not the same. I tried for a while, but without Zack and Kelly, I just could not do it.

So, given my love for all things 90s, you can imagine how giddy I was when I spied this title on NetGalley. I have know the name Peter Engel for years, as he is the man who gave the world this awesome gift (minus Tori), but it occurred to be that I knew very little about HIM, the creator of a show I loved so much (and own all the DVDs of).

Typically when reading books like this, I would want to skip straight to the part I am most interested in and not bother with anything before it. But Engel's discussion of his early exposure to politics and his belief in President Kennedy's message was incredibly interesting to me - and it seems like he felt about Kennedy the way I feel about Bernie Sanders - though THAT is an entirely different post and honestly I don't know if I can stand talking about that catastrophe of an election anymore.

Moving on...

Engel is very candid and honest about things in those early years. He mentions an affair he had while married to his first wife and how when he moved out of their home, his wife did not protest because, even though she did not know about his affair, "she new as well as I did that our marriage was not forever" (25%). This really bothered me for a while, like he was trying to justify the affair somehow? What followed that was also kind of hard for me to digest, when he began talking about his kind of downward spiral after his second divorce into drugs and meaningless sex and such. It was so the opposite of what I expected to read about from the creator of a show that was so exactly the opposite of that. I do, however, appreciate Engel's honesty in regards to this part of his life, and am glad it was not something he glossed over or sugarcoated. Sometimes brutal honesty is necessary and even cathartic.

I was then interested to read about the change that came about in Engel's life because of his new-found faith in Jesus Christ. Not only because I myself am a Christian, but because Peter was not - he is Jewish, which then makes him a Messianic Jewish person (is this phrasing even right? I am not trying to be insulting at all, I am just not sure how to phrase it?) I am someone who has recently come back to finding my faith again and so it was cool to see someone else doing so also. I have to admit I was cautious about this, wondering if it would last, but it was also cool to see that it did. And I can totally relate to Engel's experience about buying his first Bible. I purchased a new one a few years ago as I began going to church again and though I must have looked at fifty, I stuck with the first one I found - the King James Version.

The part I'd been waiting for came at 49% - Saved by the Bell! There was nothing terribly new here about the show or cast, but the behind-the-scenes things were of course news to me, such as how hard Engel had to fight for the show at first. I was also highly amused by the fact that he hated the name 'Saved by the Bell' and insisted that the show's theme would have no bells ringing, no mention of bells in the lyrics, and definitely would never say 'saved by the bell'. His tirade is kind of amusing now, given the theme song and the fact that he ended up loving it. I also love the story behind his company logo, the heart. It was drawn by his two sons when they were six and four years old.

I think it is safe to say that the episode where Jessie flips out because of her addiction to caffeine pills is by far the best-known episode of all time (though my favorites will always be the mall episode, the murder mystery episode, and episode where Zack hurt his knee before the basketball game). I am surprised I did not know this little nugget of information, but Jessie was actually supposed to be hooked on speed instead. The episode makes a zillion times more sense that way, but I also understand why the networks couldn't go for it.

There are a lot of great quotes from Engel throughout, but I have chosen a few here that I really love and I feel really show who he is as a person:

(91%) "...I resent the cheap and underhanded politicization of my Savior. I resent politicians who claim to be Christians but send children to their deaths and destroy countries and countless lives for money and for power and for ideology. I resent liars who would use the name of Jesus as great machines of war and as currency for votes. I also resent being made to feel that if I don't somehow align with the Republican Party I'm somehow less of a Christian..."

YES! A thousand times yes!

(92%) "Finally, if you're told that the finals of your show are being preempted on Illinois stations by the Democratic National Convention because a junior senator from Chicago is giving the keynote address, and you've never heard of him, hold off on screaming out, 'Who the fuck is Barack Obama?' Hold off for a few years, because that junior senator from Chicago may very well be the next president of the United States."

(99%) "To this date, Bell is by far my greatest accomplishment. It influenced an entire generation. In fact, it has touched multiple generations, including kids being brought up today, 25 years after we first hit the air. it provided kids with happiness and fun. It helped them define their characters, who they wanted to be...In a certain sense, Saved by the Bell saved me. it filled a hole, a need to do something far more important than myself that could affirm my life and make it worthwhile. Before Bell, I felt lost, like I hadn't done what I needed to do, like I hadn't done what I was meant to do."

(100%) "If your happiness abandons you, find another happiness. And remember, someday today will be a long time ago...Don't miss one moment of it!"

All in all, I can definitely say I recommend this one whole-heartedly. It will be especially meaningful for those of us who grew up watching the show, but those who found it later in life, or are part of that new generation of viewers, will enjoy it also.

Friday, December 2, 2016

First Line Friday!

I am fully participating in #FirstLineFriday this week, complete with my handy new graphic (that is not to be laughed at while I get the hang of designing graphics!), because what a fun way to get more involved in the various book-blogging communities, right? The idea is to open up the book closest to you and post the first line. This could be the first line of the entire book, the first line of the chapter you are on, etc. Change it up a bit if you like!

The book nearest to me right now is Napoleon: A Life.


I just bought it this morning (what did I tell you, Bookbub?!), so even though it is on my Kindle with 300+ other books, it is the one nearest me since it is the first one in the queue. There is no messing around for this author, Andrew Roberts, and he cuts right to the chase:

"Napoleon Bonaparte was the founder of modern France and is one of the great conquerors of history."

So, there you have it. Would you agree or disagree with this statement?

What is your First Line today? Leave a comment and let me know, then share your First Line with my fellow Bookdragons! If you are interested in participating, let Carrie know.

Bookworm Mama (Rachel)

Radiant Light (Andi)

Happy Reading!

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

BookBub, I'm Looking at You...

The struggle is real:

How I feel every day when looking at my 'recommended' titles. I can't not look. Lord, help me.

Author Spotlight

L. M. Montgomery

Who would have guessed there would be two spotlights, two days in a row? Me, if I would have given a second thought to it! While yesterday was Louisa May Alcott's 184th birthday, today is another special day, as it the birthday of ANOTHER childhood favorite: Lucy Maud Montgomery.

Anne with an 'e' is one of my all-time favorite character and I have spoken of my love for the entire Anne of Green Gables series in various posts, especially the Top ten Tuesdays where she is applicable. I won't rehash those statements, but I do adore Anne and wanted to live on Prince Edward Island with my BFF Diana Barry.

L.M. Montgomery was born on November 30th, 1874. In her lifetime, until her death on April 24th, 1942, Montgomery published 20 novels, as well as hundreds of short stories, poems, and essays. If you are only familiar with Anne and her series, I certainly recommend some of her other novels as well. Most of her writings were set in PEI and put the province on the map as a popular tourist destination. I am excited to visit with my daughter one day when she is old enough to read these books - I just hope she loves them as much as I do.

Her mother passed away when Montomery was just shy of two years old, and so her father sent her to live with her grandparents. Montgomery had commented on how lonely she was growing up, and it was in this time that she developed a creativity that would benefit her later as a writer. Later, she attended Prince of Wales College in Charlottetown, where she earned her teaching license. She then went on to study literature at Dalhousie University.

Anne of Green Gables was published in 1908 and was instantly a hit, A couple years later she married Ewen Macdonald. They had three sons, though their second was stillborn. Throughout her adult life, Montgomery struggled with depression, and considered writing to be her source of comfort in her "mostly unhappy" life.

An interesting fact I recently learned is that Montgomery had completed a ninth Anne book in the year leading up to her death. This was a collection of short stories that had been published previously, but that Montgomery had edited and revised to include Anne and her family. There were also poems, which were "written" by Anne and Walter (even as I write his name as an adult, my heart jumps in my throat and I tear-up thinking of him, as he was killed in World War I. These characters became so real to me). However, the book was not published at the time and one possibility is because of the strong anti-war message in one of Anne's passages. In October of 2009, the volume was finally published in its entirety; it had previously been published under the name 'The Road to Yesterday', with many pieces of the original work removed. You can find it today under its original title, "The Blythes are Quoted". I will definitely look for this one ASAP.

There are several biographies to choose from if you are so inclined to learn more about the life of L.M. Montgomery. I can not recommend the Anne series enough; Green Gables was easily the most important book in my life prior to discovering To Kill a Mockingbird in 6th grade.

Have you read the entire series, or only Green Gables? What about the Emily books, or Pat? Leave a comment and let me know what you think!

(photo and some information from

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Author Spotlight

I am toying with new ideas for the blog and figured what better day to try out this feature than on this, the 184th birthday of Louisa May Alcott. Alcott wrote numerous books, the most well-known being Little Women, followed by Little Men and Jo's Boys. These were among my most favorite childhood books. I did read some of her other works, but nothing came close to Little Women for me. I imagined myself as Jo, going off to the big city (though I already lived in a suburb of one, so the 'big city' really wasn't terribly far away) and selling my stories, working for a newspaper, etc. I have several editions of this book, ranging from abridged children's versions to the complete work (did you know Little Women as we know it today was originally published in two parts?). I also have a variety of movie tie-ins, and the movie itself. Christian Bale as Laurie was perfect, though I have never forgiven Samantha Mathis (as Amy) for marrying him.

The real Jo, Louisa May Alcott, was born on this day in 1832. At that time her family had been living in Germantown, PA. Alcott had three sisters, Anna, Elizabeth, and May. They spent much of their childhood in Boston and Concord. Their parents, Bronson Alcott (a philosopher and teacher) and Abigail May, were friends with the likes of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau and Nathaniel Hawthorne.

Like Jo March, Louisa was both a tomboy and a writer. As in Little Women, Jo and her sisters would act out plays for their friends and family. As she grew up though, money was an issue for the family and Louisa took whatever jobs she could find to help provide support

At age 22, Alcott's first book was published, entitled Flower Fables. Prior to that her short stories and poetry had been published in magazines. By age 35, she was hard at work on Little Women, based on the childhood of Alcott and her sisters.

Alcott passed away on March 6th, 1888 at age 55. In her lifetime she had published more than 30 books. She is buried at the Sleepy Hollow Cemetery in Concord. You can also visit Orchard House, where much of the furnishings on display were owned by the Alcotts and the house has been preserved much like when they lived there. This is where Alcott wrote Little Women.

Which books, if any, by Louisa May Alcott have you read? Do you have a favorite? Let me know!

(Photo and author information from

Monday, November 28, 2016

Top Ten Tuesday!

November 29: Holiday Gift Guide freebie (ten books to buy the YA lover in your life, 10 books to buy for your dad, etc.)

Thank you as always to The Broke and the Bookish (link above) for providing hours of entertainment pouring over lists of fellow bookdragons.

My list is comprised of books you should consider buying for the person in your life who just can't let go of Titanic and is forever heartbroken that Rose literally let go of Jack (even though she had to in order to survive). As a treat, there is also one listed that you should definitely AVOID, because it was not good at all.

If you are in any doubt, I am one of the aforementioned people who remains enthralled by Titanic (not just the movie). Although, the 15 year old in me still bawls for the last 45 minutes of the film. I can't even handle it. I'm 33 now #SorryImNotSorry

Onto the list, as always, in no particular order.


1. This is THE definitive account of the sinking of Titanic. Lord spoke to so may survivors and tells the story so eloquently, you feel like you are there. This and Ballard's book may be the top two books required for any Titanic-lover's bookshelf


2. As you can surmise from the cover, this book contains accounts of three well-known men who were able to survive the ship's sinking. Though Lord's book is fantastic, there is something very special about reading the account in the words of those who were there.


3. While I could have done without the book's "editor" who kept butting his nose into the story and speaking for Violet, this is another account of survival. What I enjoyed about this one and what makes it different from the previous book is this one solely focuses on Violet Jessop, her life growing up, and what she did before and after the sinking. Very nicely told, and truthfully the 'editor notes' were unnecessary.


4. If you thought the story of Titanic's sinking couldn't get any more sad, think again. This one was especially rough, if for no other reason than a reminder of how little we know about some of the men, women, and children who were lost in those early morning hours in April. But even so, the author does do a fantastic job with what is known, especially in regards to Wallace Hartley, the bandleader. This one is a must.


5. Incredibly thorough account of the sinking. So thorough, in fact that another book that came out six years later seemed to borrow quite liberally from it in certain paragraphs relating to the account of the actual sinking. Do not confuse the two in any way. "Unsinkable" is head and shoulders above this one:


and I do not recommend the latter at all. You can check out my review on Goodreads for a more thorough explanation as to why this one is not worth the time.


6. On one hand it seems in poor taste to recreate a dinner party from Titanic - particularly the last dinner served, but on the other hand it is always interesting to see meals and desserts and sides and such that were popular in a specific period. Plus, I pretty much love to eat, and the focus is not specifically on the last meal served, but the overall menu and recipes. If I had any kind of talent related to cooking, I would actually give some of these a try.


7. I've seen the exhibit a few times and it never ceases to amaze me. Again, this is kind of morbid - here we are strolling through displays of items belonging to people who died that night, or managed to survive but are no longer living. I am very much against the idea of treasure seekers mining Titanic for artifacts to sell to the highest bidder. That is disgusting and where the ship lays is a graveyard that deserves respect. But there is also this curiosity and awe of the great liner that I believe will never be sated, simply because there are so many things we don't know and will never be able to find out. It is my hope that the site will be protected from the greedy who seek to exploit it, and the ship and her ghosts be left in peace until she is finally completely reclaimed by nature and is no more.

There are a few more books I would like to make note of, though I have not yet read them myself. They are books that have been recommended to me by those I trust based on my interest in the subject. I can not definitely say that they are all winners, but I have included a few of them here.


It is kind of embarrassing that I have not read this one yet. After all, he is the one who rediscovered the ship. It is a priority though!


I have a copy of this but can't for the life of me find it. I am beginning to think it got mixed in with some books that I sold to Half-Price Books by mistake, in which case I am going to be devastated.


I know nothing of this one except a friend recommended it. For what it's worth, the rating on Goodreads is 4.01 currently.


This one is a bit hard to find, as it was originally published by Beesley just two months after the sinking. These firsthand accounts are so worth it if you can find them though.


I really want to read this one because there are not many biographies dedicated to Thomas Andrews out there. On the other hand, this author has another book in which he claims in his previous life is WAS Thomas Andrews. I am not completely dismissing it as hokum, as I have not read that one, but it is highly suspect to say the least. If you get to this one before I do, let me know what you think!


I am interested to see if there really is enough material to fill a book solely about Wallace Hartley. I suspect not, which is why the previous book on my 'Read' list worked so well - it was about all the members of the band and not just one. Still, being the bandleader, Hartley is the one who might know the most about, even if that still amounts to very little actual fact.


Perhaps it is unfair that we judge Ismay so harshly. Or perhaps we are right on target. Like so many other aspects of the sinking, we will never know if he gave the orders to Captain Smith to speed up, or if he was strictly a passenger along for the maiden voyage. I am inclined to believe he encouraged it, given how in-the-know it appears he was about everything else going on. Another mystery.


Gimme gimme gimme. If the Californian's captain really did behave in the way suggested, and ignored the distress calls, he is every bit as guilty as others who made terrible decisions that night.


I'm not sure I will actually be able to sit through this one. I can't think of too many more heartbreaking ways to spend your honeymoon than watching the ship of dreams sink with your new husband on board. I am hopeful that at least some of these stories will have happy endings though.

There are many more books to list, but I figure it's time to put the kibosh on it when the books-I-haven't-read list is longer (9) than the books-I-recommend (7). If you are interested, I have a whole slew of them on Goodreads, (plus a couple I rated 3 Stars that I did not consider list-worthy), on my unsurprisingly named 'Titanic' shelf.

Let me know what you think and leave a link to your own TTT so I can take a look. If you're so inclined, hit that 'Follow' button at the top right and I'll be sure to do the same for you if I have not already!

Happy Reading,