Sunday, January 31, 2016

Bosworth 1485: The Battle that Transformed England


Rating: 3 Stars



I am always looking to read anything I can about this time period, whether it is from the perspective of the Tudors, or "Ricardians", those kooky Richard III apologists who think that by re-envisioning history, they can rehabilitate the image of this king.

I enjoyed Jones' portions of "The King's Grave" - had that awful Philippa Langley written that whole book there is no way I could have finished it. I can not take someone seriously who is so obviously in love with the subject of her search. That is one of the reasons I then picked up this one, written some years before the discovery of Richard's grave.

I was never entirely clear on the allegations of Edward's birth, so this seemed to clear up how they came about and that Cecily herself first came forward about them after Edward married Elizabeth Woodville. I had always been under the impression that Richard had made these accusations after usurping the crown from his nephew Edward V. I did not know that it was Cecily herself saying these things, perhaps in an attempt to undermine the popular king's support. I am still not entirely convinced though, that it was not all Richard's doing. However, Jones makes an interesting case and one I am willing to consider, despite my firm belief that he did have his nephews murdered. The problem with this, and other pro-Richard books, is that his supporters are so eager to 'clear his name' that they only look at the facts that fit their own narrative. I don't believe we will ever know what really happened, but I also think that the most likely suspect is the guilty one - and that is Richard.

The murder of the princes is not all this books covers however - though it is an important aspect. If you are not one who normally reads battle history and were put off by the title, don't be. I also do not enjoy battle or military history. Very little of the book deals with the battle itself, where Henry Tudor would win the crown and become Henry VII, bringing an end to the Plantagenet Dynasty. Instead, this is a look at the events leading up to (and including) the battle. Hence, the discussion of Edward's real parentage, who the rightful successor was to Edward IV, and this mysterious pre-contract to Eleanor Butler before Edward married Elizabeth - and conveniently enough, the pre-contract was never brought up until after Edward died.

Besides the issues of accuracy and whether or not the interpretations by the author can be correct or make sense, there are some other problems I have with the text too. First and foremost, the author routinely throws around statements about how Shakespeare has influenced what we think of Richard III. This was an irritant, as Richard III is one of the few Shakespeare plays I have not actually read or seen. The author does not seem to give his audience much credit, almost like we only get our facts from pop-culture and not from academic sources. For me personally, all of my knowledge of Richard III has come from factual, historical research - both those for and against Richard III.

Additionally, the author mentions in the preface to this new edition the fact that Richard's body was recently discovered, so I have to wonder why the text itself could not have been updated? On page 219 Jones mentions at one point not knowing where Richard's body is and is adamant that Richard was not 'physically deformed', as the Tudor propaganda machine insisted. Based on the discovery of his skeleton though, he did in fact have a curvature of the spine (Philippa just HATED this), so naturally his enemies exaggerated. I feel like portion of the book could have been easily edited to account for the discovery, as it makes the text look outdated. If one can take the time to write a new preface, surely a few paragraphs could have been edited.

Overall, there is nothing terribly new. It is a look at the events from the side of Richard supporters, how they interpret events, documents, and so on from 500+ years ago. Take it or leave it.

Saturday, January 30, 2016



Rating: 4 Stars


I picked this one up on the trip Mom and I took to Ireland in 2010. I know that while i might take 1,000 pictures, my skills are somewhat limited and having books like this are a nice comfort when I miss the places I've been and don't know if I will get to see them again.

There really is not much to review in the way of actual text. The book is divided into the the four provinces - Ulster, Connacht, Munster, and Leinster. It then covers the beautiful landscapes, ruins, and villages of the provinces. I loved seeing places that I'd already been to, and also new places I could add to my list for next time. I also was a little disappointed in some of the things left out - such as any mention of Titanic when looking around Cork. But that is my own personal preference and the 15 year old girl in me will always look for little mentions like that.

The photographs are simply beautiful, though they can never do justice to the real thing. Ireland is beyond beautiful, though also depressing at the same time. Not so much in Dublin, which is always busy much like any other capital city. Outside the city though, the countryside is quite different - especially when you see miles and miles of penny walls, with famine houses dotting the landscape in between modern homes.

I especially liked the shots of the places I was lucky enough to visit - the Burren, Blarney Castle, Newgrange and the Tall Cross at Monasterboice. My only wish is that there would have been an aerial shot of Newgrange to show off the amazing hills, or a full shot of the Tall Cross to see each panel. All photos belong to me.

The Tall Cross (Muiredach's Cross) at Monasterboice and our wonderful tour guide. Our reservations were not in the system but I had the paperwork from Expedia. She insisted we were going when one of the other guides said there was not room.

Mom and I at Newgrange.

Our first glimpse of Newgrange from the bus.

Kissing the Blarney Stone. Worth the climb and the terror of hanging off the side of a ruined castle.

Highly recommended, wonderful book.

In Defense of the Princess: How Plastic Tiaras and Fairytale Dreams Can Inspire Smart, Strong Women


Rating: 2.5 Stars


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

I absolutely loved this one for about the first half or two thirds or so. The rest was such a disappointment. This may come as a surprise, since I seem to be the target audience. After all, I myself am a princess. My name means 'princess' in Hebrew, I have the word 'princess' tattooed in Hebrew on my body, and I was pretty much raised like a princess, being an only child - and only grandchild for ten years. But the problem with this one is that the author applies modern thinking while making general statements about all princesses - that princesses are caring, protective of their kingdoms, etc. Disney Princesses, yes (more on these lovely ladies in a second), but REAL princesses, in the middle ages? They had no power themselves and lived to be pawns for their fathers to gain power through marriages. Princesses then were decidedly NOT powerful, so I think it is important that the author makes the distinction of being a modern princess who has autonomy and control over her own life.

I like how the book started out, specifically focusing on Disney Princesses. We love Disney in this house and I will never apologize for that. My daughter is two and a half and loves to watch Frozen, Tangled, and Brave especially. She dresses up in the Elsa and Anna costumes, then plays with her dump trucks and garbage trucks. I have zero worry that she is being damaged by unrealistic expectations that Disney supposedly promotes. So, I appreciate this aspect of the book and the author suggestions that these princesses display self-reliance, compassion, critical thinking, ingenuity, etc. However, lets be honest, that was not the message being sent when Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, and Snow White came out decades ago. I do agree that these princesses were more on the weak side when compared today to the likes of Rapunzel and Merida. And before you tell me that Rapunzel waited for a man (Flynn Rider) to help her leave her tower, I must remind you that she had never left the tower and had also asked Mother Gothel to take her. It was not that she needed a man to protect her - she did that just fine on her own. She just needed someone to show her the way to the lanterns.

A quote I particularly liked in reference to this issue: "I'm not suggesting we negate all critical thinking when it comes to viewing Disney films with our children - but if someone tells me that Disney princesses possess zero redeeming qualities, I must and will protest" (8%). This, I certainly agree with.

Another positive: the author mentions Boudicca and Eleanor of Aquitaine in the same sentence and they are awesome. My daughter is named after Eleanor of Aquitaine and her nickname has evolved over the last two years to Boody, for Boudicca. It makes sense in my head and in hers, trust me.

My biggest issue with this book is that the author assumes that women and girls want to be princesses because of the qualities of kindness and compassion, caring for those around them, caring about the 'global and human implications of decisions and not just financial implications'...that is all well and good and OF COURSE we want to raise all our children, not just girls to be kind and caring people. But this assumes then that girls are not also competitive or things that might be perceived as more 'masculine' qualities, because the author uses the phrase 'scientifically proven' several times at the end when discussing the characteristics of women/princesses. Sorry I'm not sorry, but I am super competitive and I always want to win. If I win, that means someone else has to lose. That does not make me any less of a princess. I'd wear my tiara to work every day if I could, but unfortunately I live in the Midwest where people would look at me like I was crazy and I just don't want to deal with that. If I lived in New York or LA, no one would look twice. But I digress. Back to the topic at hand - the qualities the author says princesses have are not the ONLY qualities we possess and that is okay. It doesn't mean that I want everyone else to fail so I can win, and of course it depends on the situation, but still, she is supposing a lot.

Another issue that bothered me was when the author repeatedly discussed Prince William losing his hair in her section on Kate. The author previously made the point about not emphasizing beauty, yet she takes these little potshots at the fact that he is going bald. The first time, I let it go, but then the second mention came in the form of, "...back in the days when his cheeks had color and his head had hair"...and following up with this one a swipe later about, "...November 2010 when his eligibility came to an end and so did much of his hair." Why is it okay to do this and repeatedly comment on his looks, when we should not do this to women/princesses? Speaking of Kate - while I was among the many who watched the wedding, enthralled, I am a bit skeptical of the author's prediction that she will one day be known as 'Kate the Great'. Does the author know that only one ruler in the history of the country - from even before England was united as England - is known as 'the Great'? He goes by the name of Alfred and he busted his butt to secure Wessex and the surrounding lands, fight Vikings, promote religion and learning, create burghs. I am guessing she does not, since she also stated that the royal family of England goes back to the 400s AD. Um, no, they definitely do not. Roman occupation slowly dwindled out and the country eventually became divided into small kingdoms. It was not until Aethelstan, Alfred's grandson, that England even became united into England in Anglo-Saxon times. Please know your history when it is relevant to your topic.

As an aside, the author mentions a 12 year old girl in California who has discovered that all US presidents except one are directly descended from King John (That would be Eleanor of Aquitaine's youngest son, Richard I's brother who is possibly one of the worst kings England had, and thus came Magna Carta). I found this fact very interesting and wanted to know more about this, how she came across this information and what materials did she have access to in order to determine this?

In the end, I was highly disappointed in how the book devolved from how princesses could be strong, powerful and capable, to a diatribe about feminism. I do agree that you can be pro princess and a feminist. Feminist is not a dirty word, being a feminist simply means you recognize gender equality as a must in our world, so let's just get that out of the way. Yet the author goes on saying how we hate ourselves for buying Princess Diana biographies, and don't want our daughters to have princess-themed birthday parties...Um, please. My daughter's first birthday was Disney princess themed, complete with a three-tiered replica of the Disneyland Castle. I am entirely not ashamed of my princess-ness and no one else should be either. Being a princess is awesome.

And for the record, my toddler knows she is a princess too. She says it every day while she twirls around in her fancy dresses, surrounded by all her trucks.

The Chelsea Handler Collection

Are You There, Vodka? It's Me, Chelsea




Rating: 4 Stars, 4 Stars, 4 Stars, 3 Stars


Just to clarify beforehand, this is not actually a collection. I binge-read four of Handler's books last week when the hubbub was going on about how Heather McDonald was terrified of Chelsea or whatever. I used to catch her show, Chelsea Lately, regularly but would not necessarily classify myself as an avid fan. I watched when I remembered it was on, and found her funny at the time, but was not heavily invested (like I am with my future-BFF Mindy Kaling). So I set out to decide which side I would take in this totally irrelevant high school cat fight being played out in the media.

Given the obvious fact (and the several times Chelsea admits to it) that Chelsea is predisposed to telling gigantic lies, it is hard to know what to believe and what not to believe in any of her books. That did not stop 'Are You There Vodka' from being hilarious. Her childhood is both terrifying and amazing because she is absolutely the girl out behind the middle school smoking and asking you to be a look out one time. Not that she would have really cared if she had been caught, but you know. This one was my favorite, looking back over all of them. It is here I discovered we share disdain for two things: gingers and dogs in costumes. "Dog costumes are right up there with something else I find particularly offensive: sweater vests" (page 151). Oh, Chelsea. Overall, this was an easy breezy read and I finished it in about an hour and a half.

I was less impressed with Chelsea Chelsea Bang Bang and I felt like it was told in a way that was more for shock value. Not sure if that's the best way to describe it but there was just something about this one that I did not care for as much. It was still funny, funnier than Uganda Be Kidding Me, but something was a little off. I did, however, highly enjoy the story about her and her brother Glen doing shrooms. I actually laughed out loud reading that one and I hope that story is true because it is a good one.

I know a lot of people felt like 'Lies Chelsea Handler told me was a cop-out and that when Chelsea had a book due on her contract, she conned her employees and friends into writing it for her. I am pretty sure that is what happened here but it doesn't make the stories less funny. This time we are just hearing them from the perspective of the victim instead of the perpetrator. Stories abound of the jokes that Chelsea has played on her friends and staff, time and again. I wonder about the intelligence of some of the people, I mean, Chelsea does not strike me as a terribly trustworthy person, given her own admissions. Why would anyone believe what she tells them, especially while working on her show - one had to feel like there was always the chance you were always being filmed for a segment. I also found this one particular interesting because there is a chapter written by Heather McDonald, who is really the reason I read all of these books in a matter of days to begin with. I mean, I get that Heather is writing a chapter in a book about Chelsea, so she can't say that she is afraid or fearful for her job or whatever she was fearful of when she was on the show, but if she was all that terrified I don't think she would have written on page 73 that, "My relationship with Chelsea was much more like  marriage, only better. Yes, like a marriage, it has its ups and downs. You have to take the good with the bad." She also further uses the marriage metaphor by saying Chelsea has given her better gifts than her husband, taken her on more romantic, better vacations, written her more heartfelt letters, and so on. Sorry but that does not sound like someone who is living in fear of Chelsea Handler to me. And now it sounds like Heather is backtracking and saying her quote was taken out of context so, whatever. She is just looking to stay in the public eye now when Chelsea did not renew the show. The rest of the book had some pretty funny stories, though I admit I skipped the last chapter 'written' by Chelsea's dog Chunk.

I think I would have probably liked Uganda Be Kidding Me a lot better had I just not read three other Chelsea books in the previous couple days. The first story really bothered me though and Chelsea's time in Africa seems like such a waste, just being drunk all the time. This is exactly why the rest of the world hates Americans, this exact behavior. I mean, being drunk and having a good time is your prerogative on vacation and I can't say I did not enjoy my share of Guinness when Mom and I were in Ireland. Beyond that, there were other travel stories that were far funnier - not to say the Africa trip did not have its moments, there were some funny parts. I just did not enjoy the overall tone. One of my favorite moments in this book came when Chelsea was on a flight in first class. The cabin was empty except for one man, who sat right next to her because that is where his seat is. She wouldn't turn off her phone so he 'tells on her'. I love that her response to this was asking him if he was a Scientologist. He probably was. While I did not love this book or laugh nearly as much as with Vodka, the last travel tip from Chelsea is worth mentioning: "And last but not least, go for it. Go wherever you can afford to go with whomever you can get to go with you" (page 255). Amen, Chelsea.

Verdict: Chelsea wins. Be quiet, Heather.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

The Norman Conquest of England


Rating: 4 Stars


I grabbed this one for cheap at Half Price Books in the World History section a few months ago and finally got around to. It is a quick read about a subject very near and dear to my heart, so when I quickly realized it is geared toward a younger audience, I didn't even mind. Sometimes it is nice to read something quick and easy like this about a topic one is already well-acquainted with, it is like a catching-up conversation with an old friend.

There is certainly nothing new here in terms of the battles themselves. The author does a fantastic job covering this complex issue in an easy way for a younger audience to understand. Not easy, considering all parties involved.

A modern fact I was pleased to learn is that since 2003, King Harold has been celebrated with his own day at Waltham Abbey, where a yearly festival offers a variety of events for visitors, such as crafts, music, medieval food, and weapons displays. I find this especially important, given the  controversy surrounding the Norman Invasion. I do believe that even if Harold swore an allegiance to William while stranded in Normandy, what choice did he have? He surely would have been held captive if he did not. Whether or not King Edward (the Confessor) had chosen Harold as his successor, the Witan had to confirm the appointment and it seems that they did in fact approve of Harold becoming the next king of England. By all accounts that come down to us through the centuries, he was a strong leader and it is interesting to think often about how different England might look today had the invasion not been successful.

The book does go into some detail about this idea, and specifically looks at the Bayeux Tapestry and its importance after the battle. But because of the short length there is not room for any real in-depth exploration of the possibilities, and no mention at all of the Aethelings - Edmund Ironside's sons who were rightful heirs by blood.

In addition to chapters detailing life in Anglo-Saxon England, Kings of England, the Invasion, the aftermath, and so on, there is a plethora of resources in the index for young scholars who are interested in further research. There is information about primary source documents, sections of the Bayeux Tapestry in Latin and the translations for certain panels, a timeline of events from B.C. and the first people on the island, a glossary, and even a short section on some of our modern words and where in the old English that they came from. Word play like that is always interesting to me so I was glad to see something like that in a book geared toward a younger audience, as this is not something they might typically learn.

Overall, this is something that would be primarily aimed at middle or high schoolers, depending on their reading level. For anyone already familiar with this topic, and older readers, there won't be much in the way of new information. Still, I can recommend it for those with interest but little knowledge of the Invasion.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

The Real Lives of Roman Britains

The Real Lives of Roman Britain

Rating: 4 Stars


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

I was hesitant at first to read this one, as the last book I read by this author started out promising, but I did not finish it due to losing interest. This could be because I was primarily reading the previous book for the section on Boudicca (the book was 'Defying Rome'). It was not the writing or any fault of the author that I did not finish that one, I have just found that my reading tastes have changed and I am less interested in Ancient Rome than I used to be. I am still, however, quite interested in Roman Britain and so this one was easier to stick with.

The book goes into as much detail as one can expect, considering Roman Britain gradually ceased to exist 1500 years ago. However, new discoveries are being made all the time - pieces of walls, old forts, shards of pottery. Unfortunately all we have are pieces. While the picture gets clearer with each discovery, I doubt we will ever have enough to make the whole picture, so to speak.

Something I appreciated as much as the actual content was the extensive resources that made up the last 20% or so of the book. There was an extensive notes and bibliography sections. There was also a section on how Roman names were created, and a timeline of events in the history of Roman Britain starting with the first contact on the island. Additionally, there was a plethora of information on museums around the country where one can see artifacts from the centuries of Roman rule. My particular favorite, is, of course Bath. In previous posts about Roman Britain I have always included a few photos from my trip to the UK in 2009 with my mom. Here are a few of my favorites. All photos were taken by and belong to me:

The Great Bath (Bath, 2009)

The Great Bath (Bath, 2009)

Semi-Circular Bath (Bath, 2009)

The hypocaust (Bath, 2009)

Overall, this is a thoroughly researched, highly informative book. There's not necessarily a TON of new information if this is a subject you are already very familiar with, but still a good read nonetheless. There are several photos prior to chapter one depicting some of the many artifacts found over the years. My only real complaint is that these photos would have better served the text by being included within the chapter they were related to. I'd like to take a look at the physical copy of this book to see some of the photos in color, as opposed to the black and white photos of my Kindle.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

The English and Their History


Rating: 3 Stars


This book is exhausting. So exhausting, in fact, that I am not even sure I can review it properly. I have read more than my fair share of books. One might say reading is my 'thing'. I am especially fond of that little island now called England and its amazing history, going way back to the Iron Age people, through Roman Britain, the Anglo-Saxons, the Normans, the Plantagenets, and the Tudors. Beyond that, my interest starts to wane. In the past with books about the history of England, I have always given up a bit after James VI/I. Sometimes I make it through the execution of his son, Charles I, but rarely. I vowed this time, with this one, to make it through. And so I did. Barely.

So, this one began in what is typically still referred to as the Dark Ages, despite our knowledge of the time growing more clear all the time with new discoveries. The Anglo-Saxons and Alfred are possibly my most favorite of the eras in England's history, so it is always nice to see him given his due. Alfred is, after all, the only king in the country's history to be called 'the Great'.

My concerns with the book come very early on though, as I feel there were many aspects of England's history that were glossed over or not mentioned at all from those early years, in favor of much more material covering the last two hundred years. For example, while we see Edgar Aetheling mentioned, there is almost zilch about his grandfather Edmund Ironside and his brief co-reign with Cnut - it is generally thought that Edmund was murdered by or on Cnut's orders so he could assume complete power. Subsequently there is nothing about Ironside's sons who were spirited out of the country and Cnut's reach. That in itself is a fascinating story and deserved a place. The course of history might look very different for England had someone aside from William I become king. There were many other times that this lack of detail jumped out at me - perhaps because these are among the time periods I know best. The author calls the circumstances of William II's (William Rufus) death 'mysterious', but does not fully elaborate. It is considered mysterious for a number of reasons, considering he was shot in the chest with an arrow and the culprit left the scene immediately - while Henry I (his younger brother, the youngest son) headed straight for the treasury to secure it and the crown, effectively stealing it from Robert who was next in line. Further more, it was strange to me that the author considered Matilda (Henry I's daughter) the antagonist in the civil war between her and her cousin Stephen. When Matilda's brother Henry died on the White Ship, she became the only legitimate heir. At least twice Henry I made his nobles swear an oath to support Matilda's claim as queen, but given the fact that there had never been a queen who ruled in her own right, as soon as Henry I was dead they naturally (for the time period) looked elsewhere. Stephen was the usurper, the antagonist, though Matilda certainly did herself no favors by alienating some who she needed support from. In the end, Stephen agreed for Matilda's son to become king as Henry II, despite Stephen having a son of his own. So began the 300 year rule of the Plantagenets.

There was very little attention given to another of my favorites - Eleanor of Aquitaine. She is hardly mentioned, and only as Henry II's wife. We get a glimpse but that is it and no where does it say that without her gathering the ransom, her son Richard I would likely never have been released from prison. While Richard cared very little for England and preferred his lands in Aquitaine, or the Holy Land on Crusade, him being overthrown by John even earlier could have caused even more destruction.

By the time we get to Elizabeth, all of my favorite periods were covered. This amount to roughly 200 pages out of nearly 900 (1,000 if you count the end notes, index, etc). For the rest of the time it was pretty rough going for me, because it just does not hold my interest the way early England does. I truly don't even understand it myself, how I can be totally enthralled by the first 1,600 years and not care one iota about the last 400. But I was determined to slog on through. As a result, it took me a while and I frequently set it aside for something else. I have to be quite honest and admit I skimmed the Industrial Revolution. Glad it happened and all, but it is a terrible snooze to read about.

I found the Victorian era more interesting to read about this time around, so perhaps there is hope for that in the future. World War I and World War II were great reads from the English perspective, as anything I have read about them in the past have been strictly from an American viewpoint. Throughout the book there were tons of maps to aid the reader with the text, which I have always found especially helpful when discussing battles and troop movements. My only real complaint about WWI material involves the omission of Gavrilo Princip. You may not recognize the name, as so often he is simply referred to as 'the assassin of Archduke Franz Ferdinand'. I feel like it is a disservice to history that his name is routinely ignored. Like it or not, for better or worse, hi actions set of a chain of events that culminated in The Great War, which in turn lead directly to WWII.

I can't speak for the accuracy of the rest of the text due to my limited knowledge of those eras, but I at least found them somewhat engaging - enough to continue reading anyway. This is certainly not a book I would consider as my first if I knew nothing about England's history. It is quite the endeavor and not one to enter into lightly if you are looking for a quick read. On the other hand, if you are more interested in the time periods after the Tudors that are less interesting to me, then this may just be the book for you, as that is the bulk of the material.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Cold Case Reopened: The Princes in the Tower


Rating: 2.5 Stars


I wavered back and forth between a two and three stars. While I disagree whole-heartedly with the author's conclusion that Henry VII had the princes murdered, that is not the issue for me. That the author is very up front about not being a historian or a writer, I can appreciate; the writing is not great, very basic, but gets the point across. So, it's not that either. I guess what makes this one so not good for me is the application of modern thought, morals (so to speak), etc. on a completely different time period. Additionally, there are some pretty big jumps to conclusions (Richard loved his two nephews and took care of them, he would never hurt them, etc.) that I just can not overlook. The author does politely ask that, due to his not being a writer/historian, that reviews not be scathing, so I will do my best to be as gentle as possible in ares that sorely need attentions.

As I said, I believe his conclusion is wrong. It was widely believed during Richard's own reign that the boys had been murdered on his orders. Whether it was Tyrell or Buckingham, whoever actually committed the crime we do not know. And while we do not know 100% Richard did...I mean, come on. You hear hoof beats in the park, think horses, not zebras. The most logical answer is USUALLY the right one. So, logically, Richard makes the most sense. When Richard moved to have the princes declared illegitimate, that would have negated their claims on the crown. When the rumors started, had Richard cared so deeply about his nephews as the author claims, he would surely have brought them out so people could see they were still alive. It would have greatly enhanced his image and his subjects would likely have given him more support. With the princes declared illegitimate, I don't believe anyone was going to risk being on the losing end of an uprising to place Edward V back on the throne. Instead, Richard let rumors swirl and as a result, he lost support throughout the country and of course the idea of a new king gained traction quickly. The author also points to the issue of Warwick being left alive by Richard as a clue to the fate of the princes. There is a problem with this though also. While Warwick would have had a claim to the throne as Edward IV's (and Richard's) nephew (his father was the executed Clarence), his claim would have been behind Richard's. If given the choice, Parliament was always going to put an adult on the throne in place of a child if there was a question of the succession - in Edward V's case there was no question, he was the rightful heir and king as Edward IV's oldest son. Thus, Richard had every reason to remove Edward IV's sons from his path. Warwick was irrelevant to the situation.

Another issue arises for me in the form of the author's focus on Elizabeth of York as the possible murderer of her brothers. Not only that, but inaccurate or unsubstantiated information regarding her characters. We really do not know a lot about her - despite Weir's biography. Yet here the author refers to Elizabeth having "shown a tendency for manipulative and unscrupulous behaviors." I double checked just to make sure the author was not talking about her mother, Elizabeth Woodeville, who also gets a lot of flak. But no, he was talking about the princess. Then there is the matter of Richard planning to marry Elizabeth of York - his niece. The author refers to this several times as a possible motive for Elizabeth, that by her having her brothers murdered, it would secure the crown for her and whoever her husband would be - either Richard or Henry. While this has been suggested many times, there is no actual proof that they were having an affair before Queen Anne died, or after. Yet the author states that, "A number of notable historians do suggest that Richard and Elizabeth were sleeping together on a regular basis." WHO?! Which historians are saying this? At first the author seems to just be suggesting this affair as a possibility, but later he asks, "Would Elizabeth of York have offered her affections so readily to Richard III if she believed he had murdered her brothers?" Uh, yeah? Once she had left sanctuary, what choice did she have but to return to Court and act as though everything were okay? It's not as though she could run through the streets shouting that he murdered her brothers, if that is what she thought happened. The Elizabeth theory just doesn't make sense and I can see why historians do not give much thought to it.

Another issue I have is with this idea involving Thomas More and how, because he was apparently such a huge prankster (?), that he somehow had the skeletons planted beneath the stairs in the Tower - either as a joke, or to give more weight to his work depicting Richard as a murderer (which he very well could have been - is it a distinct possibility that he was in the room when poor King Henry VI was murdered in captivity on Edward IV's orders and could even have committed the murder himself). Back to the topic at hand though, this idea that More somehow planted the skeletons - how would this even happen? The skeletons were found at least ten feet below the ground. It is almost impossible for the work this would have taken to have gone unnoticed. You don't just start digging around one of Henry VIII's residences without someone noticing.

So, here's my own final verdict: I think this was an interesting perspective with which to look at this mystery from. The author is/was an investigator. He looked solely at the only facts we really know (though some of these facts really are questionable). The problem is he is looking at this with modern eyes, and not in the mindset of the time, as a historian would do. That's not to say this is the worst book you will ever read, it is certainly interesting - though some of the theories are incredibly far-fetched. If you already know a lot about this subject, it is not likely your mind will be changed upon finishing it. Might be worth a quick look, at 84 pages.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

St. Marks Is Dead: The Many Lives of America's Hippest Street


Rating: 5 Stars


Ugh. Everything about this book is so beautiful and ugly and traumatic and hopeful. I don't even know where to start. So, let's just appreciate that cover for a moment. I love it. Gorgeous. Plus, with an endorsement from King Ad-Rock (my most favorite of the Beastie Boys) on the back once the book was actually in my hands, I knew this would not miss. I was not disappointed.

There are a few things that have fueled my obsession with New York over the course of my lifetime: 1. my general love of history and the fact that NYC is one of the oldest cities in the country 2. Two of my favorite movies that take place there (The Godfather and Newsies. Yes, my tastes are eclectic.) 3. My love for the idea of hanging out in The Village, sitting on a couch in a coffee house with my Friends for hours without a care in the world. I am not sure I can truly convey the powerful hold the idea of New York City has over me. I have never visited the city and the closest I've been was a quick layover in Jersey upon my and my mom's return from Amsterdam in 2010. Somehow, it just wasn't quite the same as walking the streets of the historic neighborhoods, being immersed in the culture of the city. I often wonder if I have built it up so much in my mind that the reality could never live up to the idea I have in my head, and that is a depressing thought.

The first time I ever heard of St Marks came in season 9 of Friends when Ross mentions being at St Marks comics prior to his being mugged in his youth (by Phoebe). I was delighted then to find it is/was an actual place on St Marks, as the author offers a list of pop culture references to the street. The listings are grouped by song mentions and movie/tv mentions or as the location of filming. Incidentally, Friends is not on this list, which is kind of ironic seeing as how it was my first introduction to the famous and infamous street. The book was just published, so I can not see why it would have been overlooked. But I digress.

I guess I should talk about the book itself now; I've talked about myself long enough. The first thing I appreciate about books like this is the author herself. This was not someone who chose a topic to research on whim or because an editor thought it would be a great read. I mean, those things could ALSO be true, but the author is a child of St Marks, having grown up there and experienced living their first hand. Who better qualified to write a history of such an iconic place? Calhoun is a talented writer and it is clear she has a lot of love for the street and the city.

Calhoun begins with 400 years ago, on Peter Stuyvesant's farm and from there weaves an engaging story through time, following the path as Manhattan grew up around it. I loved not only learning about St Marks, but other tidbits along the way. I loved seeing how the names evolved over the years from Bouwerie and Breukelen then to Bowery and Brooklyn now. I also was finally able to discover where the term 'knickerbocker' came from (because I was too lazy to Google it I suppose, or did not realize how much I wanted to know where it came from until I read this). I won't spoil it, the answer is on page 6.

The book flows well and is a quick read. You will cross paths with the likes of The Beastie Boys (only about a page though, my biggest complaint!), Andy Warhol, Leon Trotsky, The Ramones, and Allen Ginsberg, just to name a few. Time and again, the theme is that the street is dead, always proclaimed by the generation that leaves and a new wave takes their place. From a Dutch colony, to the Beatniks, anarchists, punks, drag queens and so on. However, as you will find, that is not actually the case. Each new group to take over St Marks leaves a piece of itself before moving on, contributing to the legend of the legendary street.

I know even as I am writing this, the review here does not do the book justice. All I can say is to read and enjoy for yourself. Only seventeen days into the new year and I think this will be a top 5 book of 2016 for me. Highly recommended.

A History of Civilization in 50 Disasters


Rating: 4 Stars


I have this habit of going through the new release section of the public library catalog and putting a bunch of books on hold that I am interested in. Half the time, the books end up being YA/juvenile, despite me clicking specifically on the history section on the adult list. Sometimes I read the book anyway and this is just such an occasion.

First, I love these kinds of history lessons, these sort of lists that look at some sub-section of human history and how those pieces matter and come together to form one aspect - another good one is 'The History of the World in 100 Objects'. Very interesting.

Anyway, despite being about a depressing subject matter, the content was highly interesting and worked well for an adult, as easily as it would for a YA reader. The book covers a wide range of topics, from earthquakes, plague, volcanoes, to a molasses flood. For real. A flood of molasses. It would be funny if people had not died. I guess the phrase "Slower than molasses in winter" is not really accurate after all. I don't say this to be cheeky, I had never heard of this disaster and it was very interesting, I love that Santorini, the burning of Rome, and Pompeii were included, though the majority of the disasters that the author focused on were 13th century and beyond. This makes sense of course, those darn dinosaurs Neanderthals never bothered to write anything down.

Each chapter is between two and four pages long, so not overly detailed for the intended audience, but still giving enough information to keep the reader interested. This would be a great resource for research, or for a reluctant reader to find topics that might be of interest to them. In addition, there are a few further resources - a glossary for readers who might be unfamiliar with the terms in the book, and additional resources related to each topic, as well as a brief introduction to the research process. There are also tons of maps and photos throughout, great color photos that add to the content.

I like this series, I think it is an interesting way to hook those readers who have had a hard time finding things that they want to read about. Short chapters, with addition resources if they do find something of interest.

My only real, tiny complaint is in the form of the 50th disaster - it was actually called 'Disaster in the Making' and discussed climate change in our century and the possible ensuing consequences that will come if we do not reverse course and try to get global warming under control. So really, this is not actually a disaster that has happened, but one that is in the process of happening as I type this review. And even then, this is not major - more of an aside.

I recommend this both for those YA readers looking for something engaging, and those who are interested in learning more about these types of disasters and how they have impacted our history.

Haunted Castles & Houses of Scotland


Rating: 3 Stars


Yet another neat little book I picked up when Mom and I were in Scotland in 2009. It is a fun little romp around the country to all the haunted nooks and crannies that this beautiful land has to offer.

The book is divided into several sections within each chapter, starting with 'Ladies of Different Colors' - mainly the 'green', 'white' or 'grey' ladies supposedly seen haunting various locations. The legends behind these ghosts are further divided into how they may have met their ends - suicides, misadventure, murder, etc. I love that there was an entire section, nearly ten pages, devoted to locations said to be haunted by Mary, Queen of Scots. One must have to think she is still so busy in the afterlife, given all the places she's been seen; have to get those tourist dollars!

There are two more sections dealing with the supernatural, one regarding portents and brownies, and then the final section relating to ghostly men that haunt locales also. It is of no surprise to me that Darnley supposedly haunts Kirk O' Field - what a shame that nothing survives, even in ruins.

In addition to the stories, there is also a wealth of information in the form of further reading, maps of where the ghosts are supposedly located, and a list of the castles and houses mentioned in the book. This list is especially useful as it denotes whether the location is open to the public and if so, gives contact information and times of year to visit. Quite useful if you are planning a haunted vacation!

My only complaint is that some of the stories were so incredibly short, it seemed almost a waste to include them, unless they supplemented a more detailed story. There were also some stories that got repetitive due to lack of information and I felt like those did not add much to the collection.

Over all however, I can recommend this one to those who love a good ghost story!

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Under This Roof: The White House and the Presidency


Rating: 4 Stars


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

I learned quite a few interesting tidbits about so many presidents who I thought I knew well. I also learned that the White House might be the most poorly constructed building in the history of the world.

As stated in the title, this book takes a look at 21 different rooms in the White House and the story of that room as relating to a specific president. The stories flow well for the most part, weaving the wider US and/or world events as related to the purpose of the room and the president of the time. The book contained several pictures per chapter which are relevant, though I wish I would have had a physical copy as I would love to see many of these in color. I also wish there had been more pictures of the rooms themselves at least for as far back as pictures would exist. It would have been nice to see reproductions of Jefferson's design plans that are mentioned. I am interested to see if they still exist, as would it be cool if plans by any other presidents exist also.

Not only is this a history of the White House, but a history of some of these presidencies at crucial times in our nation's history. For example, I did not know that it was ever a question as to who would succeed the president, should he pass away while in office. This issue came to light in the case of Harrison and Tyler when the former died after a month in office. I also do not recall ever learning about Wilson's last 18 months in office when he was no longer actually in charge due to the massive stroke he had that rendered him all but helpless and paralyzed on his left side. It is said that his wife essentially became president and made decisions. That is a very interesting but also a scary prospect.

I was pleased to see a section for FDR, though I would have been surprised if he had not been included. If only he could have lived forever and gone on being re-elected. Would he have made the decision to drop the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki? Could history have been dramatically different? 

There is so much history I do not know about so many of the presidents and it is my goal to read at least one book about each man to hold this office. I appreciated this book piquing my interest in some of these men who I have yet to learn about - incidentally I am far more curious now about Nixon than I was prior to reading, when all I really knew related to Watergate. Interesting that such an intensely private person would seek the highest office in the country. He is intriguing.

I realize this is only an ARC as I have received it, so my only real complaint was the final chapter and how it ended. This final chapter revolved around President Obama and the movie theatre within the house. There was no real end to the chapter though, it just kind of devolved into a brief conclusion without any heading indicating as such, then moved to the author thanking those who assisted him, and finally on to the notes. Hopefully in the final copy, this was resolved.

I've never been to the White House, though I was able to see the building from afar on a class trip to D.C. in 8th grade. I was in awe of the ease in which people could just come and go to call on the president in the infancy of the presidency. Of course this would be impossible to do today, but how awesome would that be to just stroll up the steps and see if the president was available for an evening chat?

Overall, this was an interesting look at the White House and 21 important stories in 21 rooms as related to our country's history and I highly recommend it. I must say though, it is a home I am certainly glad I don't live in - I fear one day it may really fall apart!

Sunday, January 10, 2016

In the Lion's Court: Power, Ambition, and Sudden Death in the Reign of Henry VIII


Rating: 4 Stars


As my daughter would say, "Oh my gracious sakes!"

This one took me For.Ev.Er. Probably because of my preference to place periods in the middle of words, but I digress.

I admit that I have a very love/hate relationship with Wilson when he is being misogynistic but there is no denying that he is a very serious researcher when it comes to texts. I wonder where some of these sources come from though, when the facts are blatantly wrong, but that is another issue I will address later on.

Instead of going the typical route of focusing on the six wives of Henry VIII, Wilson explores the lives, and deaths, of six of the most important men in Henry's Court - all named Thomas. Thomas More, Thomas Wolsey, Thomas Cromwell, Thomas Cranmer, Thomas Howard, and Thomas Wriothesley. Not going to lie, that last Thomas I was the least familiar with and even had to double check the spelling of his last name. Despite the many flaws of these men, it is hard not to feel sorry for them when they meet their ends - though Howard, proving his family always survives, managed to become the only of the six to die at home in his bed of natural causes. Not too shabby for a man who very nearly met his end in the Tower and was saved only by the death of Henry himself.

So, the positives first. As I already stated, it is clear that a lot of research went into the book. That is further evident by the vast numbers of direct quotes drawn from several historical documents. It got to the point where nearly a whole page might be a letter or document having to do with one of the Thomases, and that did get to be a bit much. I skimmed some of them for a while when explanation was discussed in the preceding and following paragraphs. There's only so much old English spelling I can take. I expected the text to be much more disjointed than it actually was, because weaving together not two, but six lives and careers, could not have been easy. The disjointedness came more from the tangents (such as detail on Mary and Suffolk's marriage); even those they were not the worst things that bothered me about this book.

I would have liked to have seen equal attention given to each man in their own introductions before jumping into the chaos that was the later reign of Henry VIII. More, Howard and Wolsey got  pages and pages devoted to them, yet Cromwell and Cranmer got a few paragraphs each at what can only be described as the end of Wolsey's chapter - and though it has been a while since I began this book, I do not actually recall how Wriothesley figured into that section at all. But, again, this might be due simply to me forgetting, as it has been three months since I began this journey.

Despite the obvious issue of Wolsey's desire to shine so brightly and outdo everyone, perhaps even Henry, in show, I certainly do not think he was incompetent, as Wilson states. Wolsey played a dangerous game in trying to "work on" the annulment/divorce for Henry and it cost him his life because of his master's impatience, and all of Wolsey's enemies at Court. But his failing in getting the what Henry wanted had nothing to do with incompetence. It has been shown time and again prior to Henry's involvement with Anne that he was a skilled adviser and highly intelligent. For all these flaws of Wolsey's, it is a shame his end came as it did - though dying on his own accord of illness as opposed to the execution awaiting him was surely a better way to go out.

A lot of the issues I have with the book are, incidentally, things that have little to do with any of the Thomases at all. I consider myself to be somewhat knowledgeable about this time period and so when I see facts that are disputed by other historians, it gives me pause. This book was published in 2002, so there are possibly new documents and such that have come to light in the last thirteen years that could have contributed to shifts in opinion. However, that is not true in all cases and when I read things I know to not be accurate about events and people I am familiar with, it makes me wonder what inaccuracies might exist elsewhere in the text when the information is new to me - such as in the case of Wriothesley. First, there is Anne's birth date drama, which will likely never go away because we will never know for sure. Here Wilson seems to accept as fact that Anne was born in 1507, as he states that Henry had fallen in love with Anne when she was still a teenager (page 383). I think at this point we can agree that the date does not entirely make sense and there is a much stronger case for 1501 (and let's not even get started on who was born first, Anne or Mary!) The earlier birth date makes much more sense considering what we (relatively) know of her travels in Europe before coming home to England.

My next gripe comes about in regards to Jane Seymour, the 'lucky' one, you could say. Without any room for the possibility that it is not true, Wilson states (one page 404) that Jane died after having given birth to Edward via C-Section. WAIT A MINUTE. You're really trying to tell me that in the mid 1500s, this was a thing? I can safely tell you it in fact, was not. Certainly not while the mother still lived, anyway. While Church law (both Catholic and Anglican) did not allow C-Sections, they were performed when the mother had already passed away during the birth. However, seeing as how all records indicate that Jane lived nearly two weeks after Edward's birth, it is nearly impossible that she had a C-Section. She even began her recovery from birth, before weakening and dying - most likely from puerperal (childbed) fever. Then on the same page recounting Jane's death, Wilson states that, "Henry was so distressed at Jane's passing that he was already looking for another bride." That is completely contradictory of itself.  Henry would not go on to marry Anne of Cleves for another three years. Whether he started looking for a wife immediately or not, Henry considered Jane to be his true love. I personally believe this is only because she gave him what no other wife did - a son. And I also believe that had she lived, Henry would likely have found some reason to grow tired of her as well. He may have believed she was his true love, but I don't think anyone else does.

This is a very detailed, very heavily researched book. It is also dry and at times incredibly boring. That does not mean it is not good, but it is certainly not for the faint of heart. If you have no knowledge of the Tudors, this is the absolute last book on earth you should pick up to start you education. However, for anyone who has knowledge of the life and times of one of the most turbulent periods in England's history, then by all means have at it.

"The drama of the six Thomases is a tragedy of men who were destroyed not simply by a king who was a capricious monster. They were tossed to and fro by the violent gusts of social, political and religious change" (page 521).

And Also Now With Twitter!

I have had a Twitter account since 2009 and at first it was a personal account where I bantered with friends online as we did in real life about football and nonsense. In the last couple years I have begun following users who have more to do with the academic topics I am interested in involving Scotland, England, Ireland, etc. I have been working on revamping the account and will continue to post about the topics that I typically read about. There's a wealth of information on Twitter and I am finally using it to my advantage!

You can find me on Twitter, hope to see you there.

Happy Reading!

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Scottish Fairy Tales


Rating: 3 Stars


I picked up this little gem in a store when Mom and I were in Scotland in 2009. We were on a day trip that included a visit to Loch Lomond, but opted not to go on the little cruise around the loch. Instead we meandered down the paths and took beautiful picture of Ben Lomond and these lovely ducks who wanted to follow us around. (All photos are my personal photos, taken in 2009).

I'm not really an 'outdoor girl' (Scotland, 2009)

My little buddies (Scotland, 2009)

Loch Lomond; Ben Lomond is hiding behind the clouds (Scotland, 2009)

This is one of several books I purchased when we wandered into the welcome center and it is definitely a treat. There is lots of trickery and shape-shifting in these stories, they all seem very strange until you then think about modern versions of fairy tales as told in the US and their earlier versions from around the world. Often these stories had wicked queen/step-mothers/both. This is a strange little collection that was entertaining, though I did not read all in one sitting, despite it being such a short text. Many of the stories are so similar in theme and characters that I would read one or two and then come back to it later. Most are no longer than 5-6 pages. The illustrations are very colorful and whimsical, perfectly matched to the subject matter.

My only complaint is that there was no historical context, something I would have appreciated. I would have found it interesting to learn where the stories may have originated, any basis in reality from where the myths evolved, etc. There was zilch in that department, and as someone who enjoys history, I was disappointed. That is the reason I could only give this one three stars and not four.

This one will be especially enjoyable for anyone who enjoys legends and folk lore, and that beautiful country that I always feel is my native land.

Friday, January 8, 2016

I Found My Friends: The Oral History of Nirvana


Rating: 2.5 Stars


...because calling it "I Found My Friends: The Oral History of Bands from the Pacific Northwest in the Early 90s with a Major Emphasis on Nirvana" would have bordered on ridiculous.

I love Nirvana, always will. I don't like giving a poor rating to a book about a band I love. Kurt's death is beyond infuriating, there was so much more to come I believe. So, I read anything and everything published that I can get my hands on - except Kurt's Journals. I own the book, but can not and will not bring myself to actually read it.

The problem with this book for me though is that there is so much, "I didn't know Kurt well, but he seemed..." for this performance or that show. The author interviewed something like 200 people for the book, but that did not help me know Nirvana any better than I already do. There were some handfuls of people who knew the band, and then a bunch of people from other bands who played with them a few times. Not exactly authorities on the subject. I get that the music community was tight-knit and that comes through from some of the interviewees, but so many other people contradict one another in the same section, addressing the same time frame.

In between interviews, the author inserted these brief synopses and more and more, I found myself skimming the actual interviews and reading his summaries of what happened in a given period.

I'd recommend this for serious Nirvana fans, perhaps you will get more out of it than I did. For the casual fan, you can probably pass on this one.