Monday, May 30, 2016

Monday Meme!


From the time I was young, Little Women by Louisa May Alcott has been among my most favorite of books. As I grew older my tastes changed, from the Baby-Sitters Club to Fear Street, and finally it has evolved into almost exclusively reading non-fiction as an adult. But time and again, I know that the most comforting and wonderful of books for me will always be Little Women. I own at least fifteen different copies and can never pass up the chance to snag a new one.

Books in general are of great comfort and refuge, and can accompany you anywhere. Which book in particular provides this for you?

Sunday, May 29, 2016

The Phantom of Fifth Avenue: The Mysterious Life and Scandalous Death of Heiress Huguette Clark


Rating: 4 Stars

Basically this book shows you that everything you think is probably true about people that you wish was not actually true, is true.

Is that a sentence?

At least it makes sense in my head. People are selfish and manipulative and will do whatever they can to cash in on an inheritance that does not belong to them, all under the guise of 'caring for a family member'. What bullshit.

Having first read Empty Mansions by Bill Dedman, I feel like both are well-written and engaging. I don't really recommend one over the other and think that if you are interested in the strange life and sad death of Huguette Clark, you should read both.

This book doesn't just cover the end of Huguette's life when she voluntarily chose to leave her number of homes and live in Beth Israel Hospital. Instead, the author traces Huguette's life from the start - her life in Paris, growing up in Butte, Montana, the family's home in Santa Barbara at Bellosguardo, and the main residence on Fifth Avenue that stood for only eleven years before being torn down after her father's death. By all accounts, Huguette was an active social - albeit shy - young lady who  enjoyed the life that her robber baron of a father provided with his copper fortune.

So what changed?

First, Huguette's beloved older sister Andree died of meningitis at 17, when Huguette was only 13. I feel like this was really the point that changed Huguette and her mother. Then her father passed away in 1925 - but not before imparting this gem on his youngest daughter: "No one will love you for who you are. They will love you for your money." It seems like a harsh lesson to have dropped on such a 16 year old, but he was not wrong. As Huguette neared the end of her life, family members from her father's first marriage seemed to come out of the woodwork to get their hands on her inheritance - despite the fact that they had all already received their shares of the family fortune. Not that anyone else in Huguette's life was any better. Her nurse, doctors, the hospital, her lawyer, and accountant - all of these people just wanted her money and it was painfully obvious that the only two people in her life who were not gold diggers were her goddaughter Wanda and her assistant Chris. I get the fact that there was concern about elder abuse, that Huguette might be a hostage of some kind and being coerced into giving her money to those around her. However, her money-grubbing family members had no footing on which to claim they were looking out for her best interests.

There are so many aspects of Huguette's life that are intriguing and tragic and heartbreaking. The whole 'eviction' notice from her father in his will was awful. So, basically Clark spent a ton of money to build this house that everyone said was ugly. I thought it was beautiful, and wish all these old mansions still existed as a testament to this bygone time.

"The public be damned - William Clark was happy with his new home" (page 82). I'd agree with the sentiment.

Huguette and her family lived in the house for only eleven years and then it was demolished to make way for apartment buildings. Huguette and her mother moved into an apartment and slowly but surely withdrew from their once active social lives. They stopped visiting Bellosguardo in the 1950s, but continued to maintain the home at a cost of $1 million per year. Were they just so dependent on one another, or was it more so that Huguette was terrified of losing the last person she loved and cared about, and so they kind of wrapped themselves in this cocoon and never went anywhere or saw anyone because they were so afraid of losing one another? I don't know. And now, after Huguette passing in 2011, we will never have the answers to any of the questions we might have about what made Huguette behave the way she did, make the choices that she did, and ultimately end her days in a hospital as a healthy individual who could have gone home.

In the early 1990s it was discovered that Huguette had skin cancer and she was taken to the hospital, from which she would never leave. This is another issue that will never really be resolved - why would she refuse to go home once she was cancer-free and healthy again? The author contends that while change was difficult for Huguette, once she discovered this new world she could live in and have limited contact with other people on her own terms, she did not want to return to her home.

The problem became that everyone she came in contact with after her arrival and subsequent stay in the hospital, they are wanted her money. It is absolutely disgusting how these people behaved. Huguette's close friend Suzanna helped to hire a full time private nurse named Hadassah, who for many years worked 12 hours a day, seven days a week to be with Huguette at the hospital. So apparently, because Hadassah agreed to Huguette's outrageous terms, she felt entitled to every penny she could get out of her employer? Whether that was the intent or not, that is exactly how she comes across - especially with the issue of this check for $5 million that she felt she was owed because Huguette has promised it. THEN she and her husband had the nerve to be pissed that they did not have the money when they wanted it. It's all just so gross.

If you are in any doubt about how yucky these people were in grubbing for Huguette's money, here are a few gems from the book:

"What Hadassah learned was that if she simply mentioned her problems to Huguette, her wealthy and healthy patient would reach for her checkbook" (page 245).

"The secret of Hadassah's salesmanship was that she never had to directly ask for anything. All she had to do was discuss her concerns over the high cost of private school (and the college) for her three children; Huguette began paying not only the tuition bills but the cost of after school activities" (page 245).

The hospital staffers were no better, from the CEO to her doctors, they all wanted money for the hospital. They were constantly coming up with ways to mention to Huguette that the hospital was in need of donations; one doctor even used his own mother to spend time with Huguette in order to try and get money that way. All of these people were taking advantage of her kindness, and had not done anything to deserve the thousands and thousands of dollars she gave to them. At first they were keen to send her home, but when they realized how much money she was worth, it is pretty clear they wanted her to stay to keep the money coming in.

"The nurse was not alone in seeing dollar signs above Huguette's hospital bed; the administrators and doctors running Beth Israel Hospital wanted their share, too" (page 264). Except, wait, they were not entitled to her money just because. Again, so disgusting.

So many of Huguette's actions I simply do not understand. Perhaps it is because she had so much money her entire life to do whatever she wanted with, that $1 million meant nothing to her? For example, she never took any legal action when she was wronged. Was it really that terrible to have her name in the papers, that she would rather just let the money go than claim what belonged to her? At one point, "Even when she was wronged, she refused to sue. Citibank had informed the heiress several years earlier that more than $5 million worth of jewelry, including her mother's wedding ring and a magnificent bracelet adorned with sapphires and diamonds, had been pilfered from a custodial account at a bank branch" (page 259). How does this happen? I don't understand. THEN, on top of that, the remaining pieces that had not been stolen had been put into a new safety deposit box, which was 'inadvertantly' listed as abandoned and the rest of the contents sold at auction. These were family pieces that Huguette had thought were safe, and twice she was robbed. But again she did not choose to sue. Instead she accepted a monetary settlement for far less than the pieces had been worth. It's just so sad that all these terrible things kept happening to Huguette and she continued to just grin and bear it.

So, in the end, the book paints a pretty grim picture of a woman who was completely surrounded by vultures. Even so, she continued to spend her time as she wished, creating grand art projects that occupied her time up until the very end. Perhaps she did not mind people constantly asking for money? Perhaps it really meant nothing to her. When her attorneys continually tried to get her to sign a new will (her previous one left her inheritance to her mother), she was reminded time and again that without a new will, the descendents of her half-siblings would get her money. And still she refused to entertain the idea of a new will. It doesn't make it right that they all came after her money anyway, but still.

Anyway, Huguette Clark is a fascinating figure. The people around her will infuriate you with their greed. I would like to think that she was mentally competent to be signing these checks, and that all the money really did mean nothing to her. Above all, I hope she was happy with her choices. Highly recommended.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

The Bible: A Biography


Rating: 2 Stars

Man, this book was dull.

Considering the fact that the topic is one of the most important books ever compiled, you'd think the history could be put together in an engaging way. It's not. There is a ton of information in this short volume, but it is so haphazard and random that I don't even recall anything I learned. My total lack of interest could also have to do with the fact that the author needs a thesaurus because she used the word 'exegesis' or a variant on every single page. It was the worst. You could make a drinking game out of how many times she uses it, and you would be hammered after the first third of the book. 

Don't bother with this one.

Summer Reading!


So after visiting the library today, I found out from one of the librarians that we could actually start the Summer Reading Program on May 15th - that's the day the site opened to start adding books and hours, and collecting badges. WHAAAAAATTTT??!! 

So, I upped my goal from 35 books for the summer to 50, and went back to look on Goodreads for all the books I had read since May 15th. I am at 11 so far. I also had to try to figure out my actual reading hours, which is not easy because I am trying to account for the last two weeks.

Happy Reading!

It's that time of year again! I am super excited, mostly because I am super competitive and I love to read (duh!). I have set my summer goal a bit more modestly than my Goodreads goal.

Summer Goal - 35 Books

Goodreads Goal - 250 Books

Although the official start date is listed as June 1st, everyone has already started. The requirements for the OPL Program is to read 10 hours. I have obviously already surpassed that, as I started a couple days ago. You also have the chance to collect badges, which for every I believe three badges up to a certain amount, you get your name entered into the drawing again. I don't really like this, basing it on hours read. I wish it could be based on the number of books read, as it was my first time participating. And this whole badge thing is also kind of hard to keep track of, because half the time I forget to check and see which badges I qualify for. Plus, it is easy for cheaters to just go enter a bunch of badge codes, because a lot of them are listed on the website. Mostly, I am doing this to be competitive and I love to read.

Happy Reading!

The Far Traveler: Voyages of a Viking Woman


Rating: 3.5 Stars

Gah! I really wanted to love this one, because if you have been reading my blog, or know me at all, you know that bad-ass women are among my most favorite topics - hellooooo Boudicca and Eleanor of Aquitaine! Gudrid would certainly qualify as being pretty bad-ass herself, but the author just could not let the story tell itself and she had to push and pull it along and put herself into it and just, argh.

So, anyway.

This text tells the story of Gudrid, an extraordinary woman we know about because of the Icelandic Sagas, but who no one thought really existed. Or, sure she existed, but the details of her life simply could not possibly be true. However, 15 years ago archaeologists discovered a Viking long house buried in a hay field in Iceland, exactly where the sagas stated that Gudrid had lived and cared for her family. Prior to this book, I had no idea who Gudrid was. My own experience with the Vikings has so far come in the form of my poor, dear Anglo-Saxons constantly being harangued and sold as slaves by those nasties from the north. I know very little of the sagas, Leif Eiriksson, and of course Gudrid. Until now.

The problem is, though, that we will not really know FOR SURE if this is Gudrid's house. Those involved in the project were even slow to identify it exactly as yes, this is her house. The author is very enthusiastic about her topic and that is good and necessary, but it can also be a bit deceiving. I myself want to believe that the excavation did uncover Gudrid's former home, but in truth we simply can not know for certain. However, I think at least we can say it is LIKELY to be her home, given the accounts as told in the sagas. And truthfully, I really, really want it to be her home. I want to visit the land and see it someday. Unfortunately, once the excavation was completed for the season, photos taken and any artifacts accounted for, the home was recovered and buried again beneath the sod. Perhaps this is as it should be, it should be left to return to the land it came from, but part of me just wants all that history out in the open so we can see it and walk around it and learn from it. And really, I just love history too much to see it waste away back into nothing. Iceland's government does not share my opinion: "But as for digging on purpose in historical spots, the official opinion is that Iceland's history is far safer left in the ground" (page 43). I get it, because archaeology really does destroy some of the history it is aiming to preserve, but just think of everything left undiscovered.

The book is not without major issues though, no matter how engaging the topic. It is always frustrating to me when the author has a really interesting story and they go and ruin it by making themselves PART of the story. I was not interested in the author's own experiences, I wanted to know about Gudrid. The problem is, of course, having enough material to actually complete a book and thus it became necessary for the author to share said experiences when she participated in the excavation of the long house (another point of contention, by the way. Though, at least the author had the common sense to address this - how she, someone with no archaeological experience, was permitted to work on such an amazing find and make judgments in the spur of the moment of what ash to keep and what to discard. That is unreal to me). I get it, I understand the author is as fascinated by Gudrid as I am, but I wanted this to be Gudrid's story. It was not entirely.

I also find it problematic when authors recreate conversations about their topic in nonfiction texts. This really is something that bothers me beyond belief and maybe I am just being nit-picky but I don't care. Unless the actual conversation was recorded and the author could refer to it and write it word for word in the book, I can do without that nonsense please. It gives less credibility I believe.

Another issue plaguing the book was the fact that it jumped around in time constantly. This occurred within the same paragraphs and I found it rather distracting. For example. there is a paragraph on page 223 that starts out talking about Gudrid making clothing for her family, then suddenly the paragraph morphs into the techniques being used today at Copenhagen's Center for Textile Research. This happened a lot and I feel like the book would have come across as better organized if this jumping around had not occurred - at least not within the same paragraph.

The problem, overall, is that there really is not a lot of information to go on about Gudrid aside from the snippets even mentioned in the sagas. This book is supposed to be at its heart about Gudrid, this amazing woman who traveled all over the world, from Vinland to Greenland, to a pilgrimage to Rome, and yet it is not. This instead is just as much about the time period in which she lived and she merits a mention because she was a woman making the dangerous voyages typically reserved for men at the time. You might go pages at a time with information of the period but not one single mention of Gudrid. The positive in that is that it piqued my interest in the Vikings, their Sagas, and their exploration of the West, but left me feeling very unsatisfied in the pursuit of knowledge about Gudrid.

Also, for the record, I can't take an author too seriously when she describes a boat as "humping the waves". Just sayin'.

Overall, go into this one realizing that it will not be about Gudrid. it will be about the Vikings, their long houses, their sheep, the Inuits, and everything else related to the time period of Viking exploration. You will have glimpses of this woman through time, but will be left wondering, with more questions than answers. Still, worth a read to get even those glimpses.

Shakespeare's Shrine: The Bard's Birthplace and the Invention of Stratford-Upon-Avon


Rating: 3 Stars

Oh you funny Victorian tourists. 

I feel like I should have liked this one better than I did. I think perhaps the reason is, is that the writing was kind of dull at times. I am not particularly interested in Victorian England, and that is really when Stratford became Stratford. So, there's that.

The book, however, does a fine job of tracing the history of the home. The author introduces us to the house in Victorian times, traces the ownership and the task of authenticating it, as well as restoration and the habits f tourists writing their names on the walls. (Yeesh!) It just was not done in a very engaging way to me, and again this could go back to the fact that the place came to be what it was during the Victorian era and nothing makes that interesting to me, unfortunately not even Shakespeare.

I appreciated the fact that there were numerous photographs, carvings, etc. It would have been nice to see these in color though, and not printed directly on the page with the text so they remained in black and white. Or, black and cream, as the pages were not white. The author also had quite an exhaustive list of notes and bibliography that runs some 40 pages. The research is there and it shows, but still it was kind of a struggle to finish this one. That bummed me out, given my Shakespeare obsession. I wanted to like this book a lot better but in the end it was just much more dry than I care for. I don't mean it was overly academic, because I do enjoy my academic texts as much as the next nerd, I really just think it is because the Victorians bore me to tears.

So, give it a go. There's tons of history and information about how that little house in Stratford-upon-Avon became what it is today. Perhaps you will enjoy it more than I did.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Shakespeare's Freedom


Rating: 3 Stars

Do not be fooled by the slimness of this volume. This is by far Greenblatt's more academic work relating to Shakespeare, as compared to Will in the World (also very good though, from what I hear. It's on my to-read list, I hope to get to it soon). This might come as a surprise but there is a ton of information packed into this one, despite only being 160 pages. Greenblatt explores the themes of beauty, hatred, power/authority, and autonomy and he does so well, almost too well.

I think I would have rather heard this as a lecture instead of reading it, as it is a bit dry. However, it is interesting nonetheless due to the content. It is not yet another book about what we *might* know or suppose happened in Shakespeare's life. Instead, Greenblatt looks at his plays and uses them to explore said themes as mentioned above. It might bother some that some of the lesser-known (if there is such a thing) plays are used as opposed to say, numerous obvious examples from Hamlet or Romeo and Juliet, etc. This is a must for any Shakespeare fan, but probably not as enjoyable for the casual reader.

The Millionaire and the Bard: Henry Folger’s Obsessive Hunt for Shakespeare’s First Folio


Rating: 4 Stars

I first have to note that I picked this book up at the museum here while the First Folio was on display as part of it's tour for Shakespeare400. It is the most beautiful book I have ever seen in my entire life. Unfortunately we were, of course, not allowed to take pictures, but you can bet I was standing over that glass case every chance I had that someone else was not waiting to view it. It was open to Hamlet's "To be or not to be" soliloquy and I must have read the words a hundred times in the two visits I made to the exhibit. If it has not yet come to your state and will be soon, you must see it. It is completely worth whatever museum admission fee you might pay. It is absolutely breathtaking.

More than anything, this book makes me want to see the Folger Library and bask in the glorious beautiful of so many Folios in one place. Unfortunately they are not accessible to the public and that is terribly disappointing. I do not think I qualify as a special enough scholar with the exact credentials needed to gain access. What a pity.

I understand being obsessed with things, being so obsessive that I have to collect everything possibly related to whatever the subject is. Unfortunately, I will never have the funds to fuel any kind of obsession the way Folger did. He was able to spend obscene amounts of money to secure more First Folios than any other collector in the world, on top of playbills, paintings, and all sorts of Shakespeare-related items. Not only that, but he then proceeded to construct a temple to house his treasures that still stands to this day, one of the foremost authorities on the greatest writer to ever live.

The book begins with a jaunt through the life of Shakespeare, which of course makes sense. Without him, Folger might instead have been collecting the works of Jonson or Marlowe. The bulk of the text though relates to that first purchase that Folger made, then his subsequent quest to collect every Folio he could find - regardless of condition. Like Folger, I am of the mindset that condition does not matter. To have as many copies as possible would be the ultimate goal. Not to mention all the lose pages - it's even mentioned at one point that it may be possible to create another two or three Folios just from said loose pages. This is completely fascinating to me, to see all of those documents and books together in one place.

While I enjoyed the book over all, the actual portions dealing with the acquisitions of the each major Folio were a bit dry and took me the longest to get through. I'm not quite sure why, it is not a poorly written book and the there is no sudden change in style. Perhaps it is again that aspect of money, and knowing that there is no way I will ever be able to indulge myself in anything of interest quite the way Folger was able to in his lifetime? Who knows. But, either way, this section did take me the longest to get through and it has never taken me so long to read a book related to Shakespeare before.

The text really picked up for me again once Folger began planning his grand library and I was anxious to see how it would turn out. The fear he would pass away before it was complete unfortunately came true as I worried it might. But, his wife Emily was there to carry on the dream and I was at least glad to see that the library was completed in her lifetime. I do not find it strange, as the author kind of thought people might, that Henry and Emily Folger are interred in the library that bears their name. it makes complete sense to me that this would be their final resting place, surrounded in death by the collection that was so important to them in life.

One issue I take with the book is the idea that Folger was 'rescuing' the Folios. First and foremost, Shakespeare belongs to England. To think that he and his words would be better taken care of here in the US than in his native England seems kind of pompous. I do not think that was Folger's intention, to be that pompous. Or maybe it was, but as the text states, "His was a selective and singular madness" (page 276) and I think his intent was solely to collect s many as he could. I can understand why the English took issue with the great robber barons of the day rummaging through the cabinets so to speak, and carrying off anything of value that they could find.

Two more quotes I found interesting:

"At the library that bears his name, there is little remembrance or recognition of Folger's other life, the one that paid for it all" (page 273)


"In a library filled with signs and symbols that evoke the age of Shakespeare, there is none that evokes the industrial age of Henry Folger" (page 273).

It is unfortunate that in Folger's triumph in giving the world this library, he himself is largely forgotten. We tend to look back now on the industrial age somewhat negatively, to look at the likes of Rockefeller, Vanderbilt and Morgan as these robber baron-esque types who were only concerned with making money for themselves. While Folger certainly was part of that age (he worked at Standard Oil for Rockefeller), he was also a philanthropist and his library is the proof. He could have kept his collection private and never shared it with the world. He chose not to. And so, his and Emily's legacy will live on. Highly recommended.

Game of Crowns: Elizabeth, Camilla, Kate, and the Throne


Rating: 4 Stars

This really is not a book that needed to be written. It is full of all the usual gossip we have been hearing about for years all the crap about Camilla (barf) and Charles (double-barf) carrying on with their affair, Harry not being Charles' son, Elizabeth and Philip being cold and unloving parents, etc. On the other hand, it is exactly what you would want and expect if you are obsessed with the House of Windsor. It is every tabloid article ever, condensed into a book. I am kind of embarrassed to say that I plowed through this one in about three and a half hours, I just could not put it down. That does not mean the content is academic, or that it is a great literary work, but if you love to read about the royal family, it does serve its purpose. Unfortunately I am part of the problem, as if people would stop reading this kind of stuff, then there would be little incentive to publish it. And perhaps William and Harry especially could be regarded as real people, instead of being gawked at all the time.

Basically, the book looks at Elizabeth II, Camilla, and Kate, comparing the women and how they are shaping the future of the throne. Elizabeth, of course, is the longest-reigning monarch in British history. Camilla is a home-wrecking devil, and Kate is the one everyone would actually want to become queen after Elizabeth. Time and again the author addresses several facts regarding Camilla and Charles; how many would rather see William become king next, that Charles said Camilla would never be crowned but has since gone back on his word, etc.

Really, this review is about to become a diatribe against Charles and Camilla and cheating. This book just reiterates the fact that they're both terrible people who deserve each other, and unfortunately Diana suffered as a result. Not only that, but William and Harry suffered greatly as well. Can you imagine, week in and week out, your family's personal affairs being splashed all over the pages of every newspaper and magazine around the world? Is anyone surprised that Harry acted out the way he did? He had the luxury to do so, something William was never afforded - being third in-line and all. Diana and Charles' whole marriage was just so heartbreaking, and Camilla and Charles seemed to enjoy the game, it is just insufferable. And then to try and make Diana look as though she was crazy? I know Diana was not perfect and she certainly had her own flaws, but how much of her behavior was brought on by the way Charles treated her? Ugh, just yuck.

I wish once an for all this whole issue of who Harry's father is could be put to rest. The author points out at least twice when Harry was looking "less like a Windsor and more like a Hewitt". We get it, Diana had affairs too. It's a big deal because Harry is 5th in line to the throne. But there was reportedly a paternity test done - though of course whatever results they wanted to report could be stated as truth and we would never know for sure. I'd like to think at this point however, the truth would be out. And perhaps it does not even matter. Or perhaps Harry knows the truth and Hewitt is his father. Really, it is not our business. It's just not fair to Harry, either way. He's had this hanging over him his whole life and probably will forever. I'd like to think he knows for certain, so at least he has some kind of closure and peace of mind.

While the book as a whole is pretty tacky, one part I truly thought was weird was the imagining of Queen Elizabeth's death. It was weird and I did not like it. This author did the same thing in one of his books about JFK Jr., imagining the last moments of his life before his small plan crashed in the ocean. It's creepy and weird. We get it, Elizabeth will (likely) have to pass on for either Charles or William to become king, but it is not something we need to plan out. That's the kind of thing that would get you executed in Henry VIII's day. As an aside, the idea of abdication is an interesting one. It would be fabulous if Charles would abdicate. William is much more popular, and younger, and Kate is far more queenly than Camilla. I mean, as queenly as a 'commoner' can be of course, right? And seriously, no one wants to see Camilla as queen. No one. Nor do I really want to see Charles crowned king. The author insinuates should this happen, it might mean the end of the House of Windsor. That would not be such a great thing.

So, in the end, this is nothing more than gossip at both its best and worst. It's a very new publication (my library system just got it this month), so it is the most up-to-date as can be, outside of daily and weekly gossip publications. Please though, do not spend the money on it. If you are, like me, part of the problem and have to read it, check it out from the library instead. Everyone is manipulating and conniving (except William and Harry - there's actually very little mention of Harry at all), even Kate's family. You'll thank your lucky stars time and again to not be born into the House of Windsor.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Monday Meme!


Heaven will be a kind of library much like what Belle found in Beast's castle, I believe. 

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Boo to Being Sick!

I have not up and abandoned my blog. I have bronchitis and I am having a hard time wanting to do anything right now besides sleeping and sleeping. I have plenty of books to read and reviews to write and am hoping to get back to them this weekend - after sleeping, of course.

Happy Reading!

Monday, May 16, 2016

Monday Meme

I mean, not always. But sometimes. More so before I had a baby. Now I need all the sleep I can get! (The phrasing 'pretend to myself' bothers me, but the general feeling is entirely accurate).

Saturday, May 14, 2016

She-Wolves: The Women Who Ruled England Before Elizabeth


Rating: 4 Stars

I am almost embarrassed by how short this review is going to be. Typically as I read, I update my progress on Goodreads and make notes of things I want to be sure to mention when I review a particular book. There are some books that are so inaccurate or terrible that I am constantly stopping to make a note of this or that. There are some books that bore me so much, I end up just turning pages without REALLY reading just to be done.

And then there are books like this, stories that I am so familiar and comfortable with, I breeze through and am done with the book in no time. Sadly still though, without hardly a note to speak of.

If you have been reading my blog for a while, or know me at all, you might recall that Eleanor of Aquitaine is a heroine of mine. She is the first reason I picked up this book. The second reason is that it is always refreshing to me to see strong female rulers BESIDES Elizabeth getting the credit and spotlight they deserve. Despite the fact that save for one, Mary I, none of the women ruled on their own, they still wielded great power and contributed to the making of England.

I must first point out, the title is not something I care for. Perhaps this is because I associate the term 'she-wolf' with Isabella, wife of Edward II. She has been referred to through the centuries as Isabella, She-Wolf of France, and not always in a very nice way. Now to be fair, she and her lover Roger Mortimer did have Edward deposed and murdered so it is kind of fitting, but thus it is not how I want Eleanor of Aquitaine referred to as well. Eleanor might have incited her sons into rebellion against their father. More than once. But she did not have him murdered. Okay, so he basically died because Richard all but hounded him to death, but it is not exactly the same. It's not.


It might surprise some readers then that the book begins, not with any of these she-wolves, but with a fifteen year old boy. Edward VI is dying, slowly and painfully. The Tudor dynasty that Henry VIII literally killed for is on the verge of collapse because it just can not be accepted that a woman might be able to rule the country. At least, not an independent, adult woman. Readers are introduced to the whole background, how Mary and Elizabeth were excluded from the succession in Edward's last days, how Jane would be proclaimed queen, and the country saved from a return to the old faith. And yet, despite the fact that these men surrounding Edward feared what might happen were a woman to rule, we then step back in time to see that this did, in fact, happen already and in some cases, quite successfully.

First there is Matilda, daughter of Henry I who lost her brother when the White Ship sank and Henry found himself without a legitimate male heir. Despite demanding loyalty be sworn to Matilda as next in line, the moment Henry had passed those loyalties quickly shifted and suddenly Stephen, Henry's nephew was proclaimed king. The result was a bloody and violent civil war that raged for years and all but tore England apart. It only ended when Stephen agreed that Matilda's son Henry would succeed him in place of his own son. It helped that his own son passed away and would therefore been unable to rule, on account of the being dead and all.

As with other books of similar content, it took too long to get to the section about Eleanor, and even as I was reading it flew by too quickly. But that is a personal thing, as anyone else who might be far less invested in Eleanor's story will not think so. We follow Eleanor from her days in Aquitaine, to the court of France where she first became a queen, then back to Aquitaine after her annulment and quickly on to England where she arrives as queen of England to Henry II. There is a reason her chapter is titled, "An Incomparable Woman". In fact, there are many. But you'll have to find those reasons for yourself, as her story is so remarkable that justice is not done to it when hearing only the summary.

After Eleanor comes Isabella, as mentioned above. Her story is an interesting one to be sure, another I know well. One can hardly fault her for eventually resorting to the violence that she (likely) ordered. From the start, Isabella was treated as though she were in the way in her own marriage. Edward II was nothing like his father Edward I. He spent his time with hobbies deemed below his station - I mean, he was the king, shouldn't he be allowed to do whatever he wants? But no, everyone was up in a huge tizzy because he enjoyed what were referred to as 'rustic pursuits'. Things like swimming, rowing, digging ditches, thatching houses, etc. The digging ditches thing always confused me, I mean what did he do, just go around the castle grounds digging random ditches? This part is never really explained in any book I have read of them thus far, but come on. Let the king do what he wants, as long as his mind is also on the keeping the realm safe. The problem was, Edward II was not really interested in battles and military; he preferred hanging out with his favorites and this left little room in his life for Isabella, who suffered great indignities at times for the sake of these male courtiers.

The last she-wolf we meet before Mary I is Margaret of Anjou, who was in the unenviable position of being married to King Henry VI. He'd not have been such a terrible king had he been mentally stronger than he was. But during the periods of time when he lapsed into a king of trance and didn't emerge for months, it was easy for usurpers to claw their way toward the throne. Their collective story remains one of the saddest for me in the whole of England's history. In those times that Henry VI was basically a vegetable, Margaret had to work twice as hard to hold the kingdom and her son's inheritance together. Then Henry would become lucid again, but never exhibited the strong characteristics needed in such turbulent times. Eventually Margaret would lose both her husband (likely murdered on Edward IV's orders) and her son (battle) and end her days living in Anjou once again without anything to show for having once been Queen of England.

The text then ends where it began, with the death of of Edward VI. The discussion turns to Mary, the challenges she faced both before and during her rule, and finally her death and a brief look at Elizabeth's rule. If you are interested in further reading specifically about Mary - which I highly suggest, as she has gotten the short end of the stick for the last 450 years - check out the books I have reviewed about her located under the Tudor tag here, or on my Goodreads Tudor shelf. She deserves a second look, for certain.

Additional material that I find especially helpful were the family trees located just before each section. Even someone with a lot of background knowledge of the rulers in each period still might find it easy to mix up siblings and cousins and such. New readers will also find it helpful to see how these women were all related to one another either by marriage or blood, down through the centuries. It really is amazing how much we are able to know about so many people who lived so many centuries ago. Almost 1,000 years separates us from Matilda and Eleanor. While there are many things we will likely never know, there are still documents and decrees and such that find their way to the light for eager amateur and professional historians alike. We are also given maps of each period, in order to show how England's claim to continental lands grew and shrank over the centuries. Again, a very helpful resource especially for those new to the subject.

Overall, this is a highly engaging, well-written account of women who ruled in a time when that was all but unheard of. These women faced major obstacles time and again; some they overcame, some they did not. But their stories are worthy of being told. Highly recommended.

Friday, May 13, 2016

102 Minutes: The Unforgettable Story of the Fight to Survive Inside the Twin Towers


Rating: 5 Stars

I mean, really. How do you write a review about a book like this? I am not sure, but I will try. Though, I am fairly confident I will meet the same challenges here that I did when I reviewed Flight 93 by Tom McMillan, and I probably won't do this book justice. But I will try.

First the cover. I have never once been to NYC in my entire life. It is on my bucket list, it is a dream of mine to go. My first glimpses of New York came in the mid-90s when I started watching FRIENDS. Yes, I was 11, don't judge. I loved the skyline of the city regularly shown in the episodes and something about the towers spoke to me. So, here on the cover there they are, outlined, still standing like guardians.  I can't look at a photo of the Manhattan skyline now and not place the towers back there myself in my mind. Seeing the cover, in all its simplicity, is comforting and heartbreaking. I just wish there was less text on the cover. In particular, I could do without the plug at the top, comparing it to Lord's 'A Night to Remember'. Still, it is beautiful. The towers are beautiful. That is how I always want to remember them.

While we are sort of on the subject of Walter Lord and his book (that coincidentally, I recently reviewed) 'A Night to Remember', I do have one small complaint. Not only did that little blurb I mentioned above do so, but there are a couple points in the book where the sinking of the Titanic and the terrorist attacks of 9-11 are compared. This bothered me a lot. I always feel like comparing tragedies in this way somehow diminishes their importance. I don't think it is necessary or helpful. Luckily, it only occurs a couple times and it is the only real complaint I have. I even feel a little guilty for having a complaint at all.

Aside from the, pardon my language, A-HOLES, who took it upon themselves to crash two airplanes into the Twin Towers, it seems that the two biggest factors that contributed to the senseless deaths of so many innocent people were poor building planning before, and lack of any communication during.

I hope by this point the police and fire departments have gotten over their pathetic pissing contests and are able to communicate. It was so incredibly childish to read time and again of squabbles between the two forces and how it impacted their work on September 11th. There were special radios purchased specifically for the use of the two departments to communicate, yet they could not agree on who would be in charge of the frequency so the radios went unused. The fire commanders had to contact their dispatchers who then contacted the police. Talk about a major time-waster. I honestly could not believe what I was reading and throughout it became painfully obvious that so many deaths would be directly because of this lack of communication.

On the same theme, it baffled me how many people in the south tower began evacuating when the north tower was struck, yet were told everything was okay and they could go back upstairs and resume their days. I understand that when the first plane hit, everyone thought it was an accident. But there is no way I could have in good conscience told people to go back upstairs, nor is that a directive I could have followed. I also realize that no one expected the towers to come down, but remaining inside seemed like such a huge risk to take. For example, when Port Authority employee Patrick Hoey called the PA police desk from his office in the north tower, he was told to stay put and the police would come to him. I don't understand why he was told this. Several people on his floor, 64, left immediately. Flight 11 had crashed into the building nearly 30 floors above them. Mr. Hoey, like so many others that day, should have survived. I don't understand why so many people were told to stay put. I also don't understand why the direction was obeyed. Perhaps many were there for the bombing in 1993 and were unfazed? I am not sure and it is so frustrating to think how many more lived might have been saved. At what point too does the idea of self-preservation kick in, especially when seeing/hearing so many others evacuating from the higher floors?

One thing that may be of comfort to family members left behind that day are the countless stories of heroism. It was so refreshing to see that, despite the lack of communication, the miscommunication, the incorrect information, and so on, there were ordinary people who performed extraordinary feats in the face of death. People like Frank De Martini and Pablo Ortiz who went floor by floor, freeing people who were trapped by jammed doors, directing them to safety. Then there are those who were not named, people like Welles Crowther who, time and again, returned to the burning Sky Lobby to lead others to safety - though like De Martini and Ortiz, would not make it home. I first learned of Crowther specifically when ESPN aired the short, "Man in the Red Bandana", which you can watch HERE if you have not seen it yet. In the book, survivors detail how a man "appeared out of no where", at one point carrying a woman on his back, leading others, performing first aid, rescuing people. Time and again Crowther returned to the 78th floor where Flight 175 had struck, killing so many on impact. Yet Crowther directed dazed survivors and was able to make sure that those he could help reached safety. Yet he was never named in the book, and this bothered me because of the postscript that was included for the 10th anniversary edition. I wouldn't expect them to change the original text, but mentioning the identity of Crowther in the postscript might have been appropriate. This detail bothered me so much in fact, that I emailed the author, Jim Dwyer, at the New York Times to ask about it. He responded quite promptly, saying that at the time the book was first printed, Crowther had not yet been identified as the man in the red bandana, and he agreed that the story is truly an inspiring one. So, I felt a little better, but would still like to see him acknowledged somewhere in a subsequent edition. The courage that so many showed that day is beyond anything I could hope for in myself. I'd like to believe I would think of others, do what I could to rescue people, but we never really know how we will respond until we are in the moment and truthfully, I hope that day never comes for me. Frank De Martini, Pablo Ortiz, Welles Crowther. Remember these names. They are heroes.

Perhaps one of the hardest stories for me to read was that of Ed Beyea. He was confined to a wheelchair, a quadriplegic, and ultimately did not survive. Time and again firefighters and rescuers passed by him as he and his friend, Abe Zelmanowitz waited patiently for help. Though Abe was able, he never left his friend's side and the two men, presumably along with Captain Burke, perished when the north tower came down.

Some have complained about the jumping viewpoints and that the story is not linear, but I could not disagree more. It is written in a way that gives you a feeling for the day, the chaos and terror going on inside the tower for those agonizing 102 minutes. I found myself reading of someone, then flipping quickly to the back where the authors listed the names of those who ultimately did not survive, hoping to not see their names. Of course, 131 times, I was disappointed. The authors cover so many stories of both victims and survivors in the book, and of all of those stories told, 131 people did not survive and are memorialized; employees are listed with which tower they worked in, then those at the Marriott, firefighters, police officers (both NYPD and PAPD), then NYC Emergency Medical Services. There are so many more stories I want to tell, but it is best if you read it for yourself, hear the stories from the survivors and the loved ones left behind.

Though this national tragedy occurred 15 years ago this coming September, the day is very vivid in my mind. The world I grew up in is gone and it makes me sad for future generations, for my own daughter, that this is the world she has to navigate now. It has only been recently that I have been able to start reading about September 11th, and if you are like me and find it difficult still, then start with this one. If you read nothing else about that day, this will give you a much better understanding of how and why so many did not make it home - not only because of the planes, but so many other factors working against the employees housed in the towers. Highly recommended.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Hypatia of Alexandria: Mathematician and Martyr


Rating: 2.5 Stars

I hate math. I mean, I really hate it. It made me miserable for years. What made my misery ever worse is that my mom is really good at math, so I could never understand when she would try to explain my homework to me, and she could never understand why I couldn't understand her.

It might seem strange then, that I am completely obsessed with Hypatia, a mathematician who lived over 1500 years ago. Part of the allure I think, is that we know so little about her - kind of like Boudicca, another fabulously fierce heroine my daughter will some day know all about. Or, know as much as she can, given how little concrete information we have about either of these women.

And therein, of course, lies the problem. There is so little information about Hypatia herself, that one can hardly write an entire book about her, Instead, one would have to not only include the facts we do know, but give explanation of the times she lived in, the math and philosophy she worked on, and so forth. 

That is exactly what the author does, and really it is almost too much. The math alone is very in-depth and academic. I am all for scholarly and academic texts, I read them often. But for someone like myself who is predisposed to hate math because that gene skipped me somehow, this was like reading a text book at times. I wanted to like this book and for it to be everything I was looking for, but it can't. That is no fault of the author, he did the best he could with the information he had to work with, but there is simply not enough know for certain to fill a book.

The author uses what sources still exist to flesh out Hypatia and at least give her a form - but in truth we do not even know what she looked liked. I appreciate though, that there is not a lot of conjecture here. In truth, very little of the book is about Hypatia. Without beating a dead horse too much, there just is not enough info.

So, I can really only recommend this one to people who love math. Hypatia is there of course, and we know what we can. Sadly though, that is not much and I fear that will never change.

May Podcast!

My May podcast is up. I had a tough time in April deciding between a review of books about Nirvana or Titanic. I figured, why not do both. Last month I talked about Kurt and ranted about Courtney. This month, I discuss Walter Lord's 'A Night to Remember'. Fantastic book, even 50+ years later. You'll have to scroll down on the media player to see either last month or this month's podcast.

Check it out!!sbn/op5sq

Women of Colonial America: 13 Stories of Courage and Survival in the New World

Women of Colonial America: 13 Stories of Courage and Survival in the New World

Rating: 4 Stars

For its purpose - to inform younger readers of this time period - this book serves is purpose very well. I did not now when I first snagged it off an end cap in the library that it was YA. This happens to me quite often, but I went ahead with it anyway because when I was younger I really loved this time period. As I have gotten older, my interests have jumped across the pond, but still gave this one a go.

The purpose of this text specifically is to introduce readers to various women of the time. This includes Native American women, indentured servants from Europe, young (mail-order-ish) brides sent for to help the colonies survive, and African women brought to the colonies as slaves.

Though I was familiar with a couple of the women - Pocahontas, Anne Hutchinson, Martha Corey, and Eliza Lucas Pinckney - I still learned new information about them. I had no idea that Pocahontas was kidnapped and held hostage for over a year, or that that is how she came to be married to John Rolfe. Whether she ever actually agreed to the marriage herself or not, is something we will likely never know, but either way she accompanied him to England eventually, where she subsequently died. The later facts I knew, but the rest of my knowledge was scanty at best.

One of the reasons I have lost interest in colonial and revolutionary times is the details regarding the battles and skirmishes between Native Americans and colonists. After I became a mother, it became nearly impossible for me to even watch the news anymore, with such terrible things being reported all the times in regards to crimes against children. Seriously, I can't even watch Law and Order: SVU anymore, and those are fictionalized stories. But there are so many terrible accounts of babies and children murdered by raiding parties, it just makes my heart break for these little ones who were murdered and their mothers who sometimes survived. This book was no exception, as there are accounts both of Anne Hutchinson and many of her children, who were scalped and murdered. Later on in the text there is the account of a young woman who had recently had a baby, and the baby was murdered in a raid as well. I an hardly type the words, it just makes me sick.

Now, I do of course realize the terrible crimes committed against the Native Americans as well, their lands taken, their cultures destroyed, their entire way of life changed after thousands of years. However, my sympathies are not solely given only to the little ones belonging to the colonists. It is all children period, that I simply can not abide the violence against them, regardless of the violence of the age. It just sickens me and makes me hold my sweet girl tighter and give her more hugs, and thank God once again that we live now and not then. This world is not without its own dangers of course, but that is a whole different can of worms I do not care to open right now, nor is it directly related to my review.

I appreciated the way the information in the text was organized. The women are divided up among categories and a brief kind of summary, just a few pages, of relevant information is given before getting to the women themselves. For example, one chapter is called 'In This New Discovered Virginia', where we find first the section on Pocahontas, then the next on Cecily Jordan Farrar. The last chapter, 'A Changing World', gave information about the later period, before discussing four more remarkable women - Eliza Lucas Pinckney, a slave known only as Eve, and Christiana Campbell and Jane Vobe - two women busy running competing taverns in that time.

Overall I would definitely recommend this one for its intended demographic. It is well-written and well-researched. The author left a dedication at the beginning of the text, which I find especially poignant and accurate.

"Dedicated also to the women of Colonial America. How I wish you'd left more of yourselves behind, your stories in your own words."

If only, indeed.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Monday Meme

My tumblr blog where I post about books, photography, culture, and all things #education-with a serving of inspirational quotes on the side. Join Me!:

Yes, yes, a thousand times yes. My To-read list on Goodreads is well over 3,000 books and I make the constant mistakes of going on BookBub daily and also perusing the new titles available at the library. Sometimes it makes me sad to think there are books I will never get to read, because just think how many I would be interested in that are not even published yet! But then I stop being sad and get to reading, because no one can be sad AND read at the same time.

How massive is your to-read list?

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Miles of Files


Rating: 3.5 Stars (EDIT: I have decided after a lot of thought to go with 3.5 Stars. The main character, Paul, really just got on my nerves too often to be 4 Stars.)

I received this book for free in exchange for an honest review from the author, Michael Sahno.

I was debating for a long time between 3 and 4 stars. I thought about 3.5 and then kind of figured out what my deal is with fiction: I read so much non-fiction about extraordinary people doing extraordinary things and that makes me expect too much from all fictional characters. Like, I expect all the fictional characters I read about to do grand and amazing things. I realize this is just not possible, so I have to accept that sometimes fictional characters are going to be like regular people and irritate me, and go on with my day.

I like the premise of the story. Paul, the main character, stumbles across two strange accounts at the insurance company he works for and eventually discovers that his boss is stealing from the employees' 401(k) plans. He has to decide if he is going to do something about it and turn his boss in, or keep quiet. The story is told from multiple perspectives of those involved; Paul, the one who discovers something is not right, his immediate boss Graham, the perpetrator of the crime, and James, the head honcho who runs the company.

I won't give much more of the plot away because it would involve spoilers and I really try not to do that with fiction, but over the course of the book Paul meanders from being so gung-ho about investigating what is going on, then suddenly a couple months go by and he's just kind of put the little 'project' to the side. Then after that, he dilly-dallies about whether or not to tell his higher up boss what is going on, and eventually the police. Basically, he just drags his feet about the whole thing and while I was reading I wanted to shake him and tell him to man-up. At one point the girl he is dating, Suzanne, calls him out for that very thing and she was not wrong.

Speaking of Suzanne, I just could not deal with her last name. Beidertyme. Like Bide her time? The word play with character names came up a couple times, whether intentional or not. One would have to think it was. There was also a character named Cora Gable; the story takes place in Florida. Funny little things like that throughout.

The story is also a bit like the movie Go, in that there are multiple little subplots going on, but they are all connected by common characters (no raves though, sorry?). I enjoy stories like that and seeing how everyone knows one another and how the whole thing fits together in the end. The own of the company, James, had a brother who worked at the family law firm and was totally scummy and gross and due to his scummy ways, ended up losing his condo to his ex-wife and sleeping on their parents' couch while having to move out. He leers at all the females it seems, including James' daughter's nanny, who is friends with Suzanne, who dated Paul. A friend of theirs, Mercedes, was in love with a local weatherman and honestly his part of the story was least connected, but we also see the cook that James and his wife employ and his relationship with a girlfriend who was jealous of the nanny. Basically, all the characters' lives were interconnected somehow and those webs are always interesting to me.

One thing that I did not understand was why the police did not begin investigating themselves when told about the scam that Paul's immediate boss had been running. I guess I do not know a lot about police procedure, aside from what I saw when I used to watch SVU before Christopher Meloni left and I had a baby (while I wish those two events were connected, sadly, they are not. Christopher Meloni is not the father of my child). It just seems odd that the crime was reported but they said a private investigator might be able to get more information. Who knew.

Overall, it was an interesting story and one that I breezed through pretty quickly. Be prepared for a main character who may irritate you at times though.The story wraps up well for the most part and I found it an interesting read.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Blood Will Tell: A Medical Explanation of the Tyranny of Henry VIII


Rating: 2 Stars


Let's start with the positives, shall we?



Okay, so the author stated very early on (4% according to my Kindle) that "there is extreme difficulty in proving beyond doubt..." when discussing whether or not Henry was Kell positive and developed McLeod Syndrome later in life.This seemed to me a very good start. After all too many times I have read pompous authors who claim to have solved all the mysteries ever in the whole world on "new" readings of the same old documents, conjecture, etc. There were some reviewers seeming to be all up in a tizzy about the author's subject matter and at first I did not understand. After all, if the other was merely proposing a theory and not presenting it as fact, I do not take issue with that. What I do take issue with is when authors apply modern social norms and medically diagnose people who lived centuries before us. Of course there are a plethora of diseases we know today how to diagnose and treat, so it is not crazy to suppose what possibilities might apply. Again, this is all assuming it remains a theory and does not get injected into our collective consciousness as truth without hard evidence confirming it.

Unfortunately for me and the $3.99 I'll never get back, things went down hill rather quickly. And it is not even because of anything medical related - at first. It is because of all the historical inaccuracies that were presented. The medical portion too would spin wildly out of control, but not for some time. First prime example, it is my understanding that Henry and his mistress Bessie Blount had only one son, Henry Fitzroy, and that their affair ended once she became pregnant with the child. Perhaps there are other children he never acknowledged by her, especially if they were girls I could see why, yet I do not recall a single other author thus far mentioning any children after Fitzroy was born. If there are books that claim such, I would love to know about them.

The writing itself eventually became a distraction in itself and if plagiarism wasn't a thing, I would have seriously considering rewriting the book to make it more readable and less meandering. The author provides background information on each of the marriages in chronological order, but again with the meandering. How rapidly the chapter titled regarding Katherine of Aragon became about Henry VII, the Wars of the Roses, and the Tudors. I thought Katherine and her marriage to Henry would be the main focus of a chapter she lent her name to. As we move into Anne's chapter, the author seemed again to be all over the place. There are two very glaring examples of this. The first comes at 31% when the author is discussing how Henry was treating Katherine even in the break-up of their marriage. In one paragraph she is talking about Henry treating her so badly, them immediately in the next paragraph she claims Henry still treated her with some respect. So, which is it? The second one is directly in regards to Anne, who the author claims she felt bad for what had happened to Katherine: "She at least began to feel some sorrow about Katherine's death, and more importantly, remorse about how Katherine had been treated" (39%). Seriously? I mean, the author uses Starkey as a source for this, but come on. Anne wasn't sorrowful about Katherine's death in a way the author would apparently like you to believe. With Katherine gone, Anne knew it was that much easier for her to be set aside just as Henry has set Katherine aside. Anne was concerned with her own well-being and her own fate. Katherine was not of concern to her.

There are a whole slew of quotes mainly throughout the sections relating to Henry's relationship with Anne that just baffle me for a variety of reasons. Some definitely ensure the author's loss of credibility, either with me personally, or in general for this to be taken seriously as an academic work. Here is just a sampling:

1. Describing Anne Boleyn as "lovely" and "dynamic" (19%)

2. Actual sentence regarding Henry and his pursuit of Anne. "You could almost feel sorry for Henry, if he wasn't being such a putz" (19%). How scholarly.

3. "Is it fair to despise her simply because she was the best in the game?" (20%). Ummm, are you really framing the situation in that context? Her 'game' brought huge, dangerous, disruptive and even deadly changes to an entire nation, very abruptly. Are we supposed to feel sympathy for Anne that people were calling her names and speaking so poorly of her? She was playing her own part in breaking up a marriage - though let's be clear, the majority of the blame lies with Henry alone. Still, I have zero sympathy for Anne for her part.

For the most part, the chapters detailing Henry's marriages are merely re-tellings of already-known information of events that occurred at the time, splashed with interjections of, "he must have done this because he was suffering from McLeod's Syndrome!" To be fair, the exclamation mark is my own, just to emphasize the enthusiasm with which the author abandoned the theory to make this fact.

The author seems to have an issue with marriage and family politics of the 16th century. At one point she claims that while people like to paint Katherine as such a wonderful mother to Mary, there is really no evidence of any maternal concern for Mary. She states Katherine's only concern and goal was to prove that her marriage to Henry was valid. OF COURSE that was her goal. Had the marriage not been valid, Mary would have lost the inheritance that was rightfully hers. Everything Katherine did seems to be for both herself and her daughter. The Anne-bias is strong throughout, but let's still be realistic. She also not only uses a modern medical diagnosis on someone from the 16th century - dangerous, no matter how well-known and well-documented his life may have been - but she wants to apply modern thinking about gender roles. She seems to take issue with the fact that it was accepted that males had affairs but was completely out of the question for a woman to do so. First of all, women did have affairs too, though it was of course kept a much better secret and not generally expected. Secondly though, and more importantly, it was completely out of the question even the idea that a queen would have an affair. A point the author seems to forget is that the legitimacy of the royal line depended on the children being the king's. It doesn't make it right or fair - and seriously, the right and fair thing would be for NO ONE to be having affairs - but again, you can't apply 21st century thinking to 16th century situations.

There was a decent rundown of the accepted medical beliefs and practices of the time. The author included a lot of background information here, including the reliance on astronomy and the belief that the four humors guided health. This idea of these different humors controlling different aspects of body and mind is terribly fascinating to me and I enjoy it wherever I find it. There is also a 'what-if' kind of chapter (around 91%) and was certainly interesting; what if Henry's reign had been different had he not been Kell positive or had McLeod Syndrome? Note: Long before this, at 63% or even earlier, the author had abandoned being objective. She had gone from saying it was a possible diagnosis, to he must have had McLeod Syndrome in order to do the things he did. That aside, it would have been nice to explore these possibilities more in-depth. England, and indeed Europe might look very different today today.

All in all, it should come as no surprise that I say I can not recommend this one. So many times I wanted to stop reading. But for $3.99, I knew I had to finish it. I ended up being highly disappointed with both the presentation of the diagnosis and the historical facts alongside. I have never paid that much for a book for my Kindle and I certainly never will again, though this had been one I was so excited to read. As if there were any lingering doubt by the final paragraph of the entire book, the last line was the final nail of several nails in this coffin:

"How very, very sad it is that because of a mutation in Henry's blood he became a monster, and is now known primarily as a savage tyrant who slaughtered wives and martyred scholars."

Well, there you have it. Henry had McLeod Syndrome and that's that. I guess.