Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Love Him Not


Rating: 4 Stars

Full Disclosure: The author, Tara Reed, and I became friends on Goodreads a few months ago when discussing our mutual interest in history, Eleanor of Aquitaine, Mary Queen of Scots and Elizabeth I. I did not realize that this book which was on my to-read list was hers at first and last week she sent me a message saying it was free on Amazon for a short time, so I grabbed it all quick-like, because I love free books. It's even better when they are GOOD free books! This did not impact my review in any way.

So onto 'Love Him Not'.

When I was a kid I LOOOOOOVED the Choose Your Own Adventure books. I read through them like crazy and read some of my favorites over and over. What kid didn't love exploring volcanoes or inadvertently becoming a Russian spy?

So, this is like that...well, in no way. You don't get to be a spy or anything like that, but you get to become the main character, Elle Masters (like L Masters? like Love Masters? Or am I just the one weirdo who reads too much into names and sounds and how they fit together?) Anyway. You are Elle and you get to navigate a brand new relationship with a charming (sometimes) and handsome (always) man named Nick Wright (Right?! Mr. Right?!) who you meet on a night out with your gal pals.

As the cover shows, there are sixty possible endings for your relationship. When the author says they are mostly unhappy endings, she is not joking. 58 of the 60 are unhappy, monsoon-of-tears worthy, infuriating endings. Some are blind-siding (like the cheating ones, him not you) and some are totally justified. I had a lot of fun meandering my way through the messes that I got myself into, as well as finding the two happy endings fairly early on, after I'd only gone through about half of the not-so-happy ones. I won't spoil what those endings are or how you get there, but trust me, they exist!

I contemplated putting the book down after that, because all those unhappy endings prior were not so much fun - especially when you invest a lot of time, the story keeps moving along, you think you are heading toward marriage and then BOOM, you break up. But I really wanted to see how the rest of the endings went so I plugged on and found most of them. After I did find the two happy endings, I went back to the beginning and started just making the worst decision in each instance - in those times, the relationship ends REALLY quickly.

I liked the concept of navigating a relationship in this way because it is realistic. You will recognize yourself or your friends in the main character, as well as in her two friends who both help and hinder your relationship with Nick. It is safe to say that most, if not all, of these situations have presented themselves to you or someone you know at some point in your dating life. You have had to decide if you will be the calm, level-headed, logical person, or the psycho who freaks out all the time. We've all been there. It was fun to be able to make those ridiculous choices without it having any real-world impact - like snooping through his email.

The only complaint I have here is the format; reading it on my Kindle was tough sometimes - not impossible, but tough. You might get yourself into a situation that ends in a big flaming ball of fire as your relationship crashes an burns, and want to back up to make a different choice. But you might have forgotten which section you previously came from, and end up in completely in the wrong spot. To aid with this, the author offers a little cheat sheet on her website that you can print off to check the sections as you go, so you know where you have been. I would recommend that.

Overall this was a fun, light-hearted read - as much as it can be for a book that is mostly about breaking up!

July Podcast!

This month over at Depth Xpressions I discussed why I love the Bowery Boys Adventures in Old New York. It was such a fun read - I did post a written review earlier in the month as well. It is one of my favorite books of 2016 and a must if you love history, NYC, and/or both! It is a fun read and makes you want to plan a trip to the Big Apple asap. It is podcast #6 (so you have to scroll down on the player to see it), take a listen and tell me what you think!

Monday, July 25, 2016

Monday Meme!


I will be honest and say I am not much of a Harry Potter fan (perhaps I am the only person in the world who can say this?), but Hermione and I think a lot alike.

I love the library!

Saturday, July 23, 2016

How to Teach Your Children Shakespeare


Rating: 5 Stars

Loved this book. Loved, loved, loved it. I breezed through the book in a matter of hour one morning - obviously meaning that I did not yet memorize the passages yet for myself. I was interested in the explanations first, and will go back through when my daughter is a little bit older for the big passages. That is kind of a gimme, seeing as how she is yet a toddler. Though, she does have one phrase memorized already, because we say it together before bedtime every night: "And though she be but little, she is fierce" (A Midsummer Night's Dream) and we shout 'fierce' together, because she is.

I was a bit skeptical (as a teacher) about the method the author uses of just rote memorization. But as I read, and realized the author was also explaining what the passages meant in accompanying t-charts, this method makes perfect sense. The author does not just list a bunch of passages, tell you to memorize them, and move on. He begins little by little, first with shorter couplets and such, before moving on to the massive soliloquies. 

This book has so much to offer besides the memorization of certain passages. The author also explains what they mean, gives background of Shakespeare's life and work. The book is just filled with so much Shakespeare-y goodness, I really don't know where to start. I would definitely recommend it to those who find Shakespeare intimidating or *gasp* boring (do I really know people like that? I might, but given that I am not quiet a out my adoration of Shakespeare, perhaps these people in my life have chosen to remain quiet?) Either way, I do believe there is something for everyone here - very obviously including children.

Ludwig states that he started teaching his daughter Shakespeare when she was six years old. I think that is fantastic. Shakespeare is, without question, the single greatest writer in the history of the world. There's no argument, he invented so many words and phrases, most of which we still use today. I guarantee you (and me too, even) use phrases or variations every day that we have no idea started with Shakespeare. His contributions can never be overstated and that is why I wanted this book - I want my daughter to know and love his words as I do.

I did notice some reviews from parents who did not like some of the author's choice of passages - mainly those with sexual overtones. My suggestion: don't teach your child those if you feel they are so inappropriate. Is that really hard? You'd think this would be common sense. There's nothing saying you MUST TEACH YOUR CHILD ALL THE PASSAGES IN THIS BOOK. It would be easy enough to apply the method he uses to ANY Shakespeare passage that you love or enjoy and teach your child in that way. I mean seriously, come on.

I absolutely, positively, 100% recommend this book for anyone wanting to learn more about Shakespeare and his words, to memorize and know his works, not just children. Fantastic read. Go get it!

The Tudor Tutor: Your Cheeky Guide to the Dynasty


Rating: 2 Stars

The saying "you get what you pay for" is definitely true here. $.99 thanks to BookBub, this is definitely not for anyone who even knows a little bit about the Tudors. I've never read the author's blog, so I don't know for sure but this is basically an extended blog post that was published as a book.

Maybe because this is among my most favorite topics, I did not find anything 'cheeky' or cute about the book? It is absolutely the barest of bones. The Tudor timeline offered at 82% is well-done, so I can give some praise there. It really helps even those like me, who do know a lot about the period, to have the dates laid out so clearly in a timeline. The illustrations were also neat, but without captions it was sometimes difficult to determine who the picture was of, if you have never seen the actual portraits the illustrations were based on. That would be frustrating for those new to the topic.

Overall, I can't really recommend it. People who have a good knowledge base already will be wasting their time, since they know everything already covered. People who don't might like it, and it is a very quick read, but not one with a lot of meat to it. Pass.

The Devil in Massachusetts: A Modern Enquiry Into the Salem Witch Trials

The Devil in Massachusetts: A Modern Enquiry into the Salem Witch Trails

Rating: 3 Stars

It utterly baffles me that these events ever even occurred. And not just in Salem, but across the Massachusetts colony, at the time, and even across Europe as well at various times (James VI/I was kind of obsessed with witches). The text does show its age, particularly through the word choice of the author, but I still enjoyed the read for the most part. It is not without its flaws of course, and the prose could be quite irritating at times, but it was still interesting and provided a solid overview of the events as they occurred,

Reading the events clearly laid out by Starkey will help any reader navigate the supposed complexity of the situation. Myself personally, I don't see it as being terribly complex - these nasty, bored little girls found being the center of attention quite exhilarating and over time were basically addicted to it. But of course, I am applying by own 21st century analysis to a 17th century problem. This is one of the main flaws with the book, as the back cover states the author, "...takes dialogue from actual trial records but applies modern psychiatric knowledge to the witchcraft hysteria." As I mentioned above, the text 'shows its age', as it was published in 1949. So, basically, I am reading a book in 2016, through the lens of a 1949 writer, about events that occurred in 1692. It is easy to see there will be some disconnect. As I said in another recent review of Henry VIII and his supposed Kell Positive/McLeod's diagnosis, it is all but impossible to give a modern diagnosis to a historical person/people/event, and all it fact. While Starkey does not go so far as to actually call it fact, the application is there for the reader to decide if it makes sense. To me, it does not - at least not completely. The author mentions on more than one occasion something to the effect that many of these girls were of marry-able ages, but were not yet married and thus had no real purpose in life yet. The basic connection she seems to be making eventually seems is that these girls accused older women in their village because they were jealous that they themselves were not yet married and having sex. Perhaps I am misreading? Or reading too much into it? But that is how it comes across and to me that is entirely absurd to assume. It is almost impossible to apply modern thinking to historical events as I have said, and yet that seems to happen frequently.

Despite what I perceive as a flaw, the book is not without merit. As for providing a solid foundation for the events that occurred, the book does a wonderful job. One must just keep in mind the publishing date. The author made fantastic use of the sources available to her (there seems to be some confusion from some readers whether the author is male or female - Marion Lena Starkey was female. The back of the book even uses 'her' when referring to the author, so why the confusion?) There is a decent section about notes afterward and a selected biography, which in itself still used a fair number of sources. I always seem to have a problem judging a book by its notes and sources and I am really trying not to do so, but it is important to know where information has come from. I want to know that the author is not just making up random nonsense and trying to pass it off as fact. I especially approve of the use of sources contemporary to to the person or event being discussed, and you can't get much better than verbatim copies of the Salem Witchcraft papers, available at various archives, historical societies and libraries in Boston and NYC.

In reading, time and again it was frustrating to me that the magistrates could not see how absurd this whole debacle was. These girls were the reason so many innocent lives were lost. I say 'innocent' as a reference to the crime of which they are accused - witchcraft. That does not necessarily mean that all of the people found guilty were perfect, wonderful people (though by all accounts most were decent folks), but whatever undesirable characteristics they may have possessed certainly did not qualify them for hanging.

I learned a bit as well that I did not know before. One such example - I did not realize that it took so long for the trials to actually begin, from the time that the first person was accused of being a witch. I suppose it should not seem strange, given the state of the judicial system today, but one would have thought the trials would have moved along more quickly, given the perceived severity of what was going on. I also learned there was a lone 'afflicted boy' who was part of this mess but he rarely testified. It was interesting that "the detection of witches was apparently women's work" (page 195).

Overall I would recommend this one for anyone interested in the trials, but be aware of the age of the book.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Flunking Sainthood: A Year of Breaking the Sabbath, Forgetting to Pray, and Still Loving My Neighbor


Rating: 4 Stars

I took so many notes while reading this one, so please be patient with me as I try to succinctly describe why I adored this book.

First, the basic premise of the book is that the author began in the month of January to plan the rest of her year, month-by-month, which religious practice she would look at in-depth and try to complete consistently. As you may have guessed from the title, she fails at nearly every single one, but still learns a lot along the way. I, in turn, learned a lot from her. Additionally, she reads books related to whichever religious practice she is attempting each month. As a major bookworm, I find those additional books as valuable as the text itself. I want my knowledge to grow deeper, and reading is one of the best ways I learn, so, win-win.

When Riess starts February off with fasting, I know personally it is something I am not able to do - at least in the classical sense of abstaining from food for a set amount of time. I appreciate that the author addresses this exact thing, as she mentioned in the book SHE was reading about fasting that that authors notes there are some people who should not participate in food fasting. Among those listed are those who have struggled with an eating disorder. I find that to be crucial because anyone who has, knows just how easy it is to fall back into bad habits. There are certainly other ways to fast and things besides foo to abstain from that can be a legitimate substitute. In fact, social media would be a FANTASTIC example that we all could use a break from. Just sayin'.

I was especially interested in Chapter 4 - April and the practice of lectio divina, which the author describes as "an ancient spiritual practice that prescribes a way of discernment through reading and prayer" (page 39), and she also notes that this kind of prayer that is not praying for things you want or need, but "becoming one with God's will". Talk about intimidating, right? This is also the point in the book where it became abundantly clear that a month is not actually long enough to attempt most of these, or to become comfortable and familiar enough with them. That was my concern from the start, before I started reading the book. Riess addresses this herself around the same time that I started realizing it. She says, "This is where it becomes very clear that, like fasting in February, a month is not long enough to make any real headway with a new spiritual practice" (page 50). What also helped me through this chapter and to have a better understanding of what this practice is, I was getting as much from the tidbits the author including from the books she was reading for that month. I felt like that was as much of a guide at Riess herself and am interested to read some of the books she was also reading.

More than any other practice that the author attempted, June was the most interesting and pertinent month for me. It was in this month/chapter that Riess attempted 'contemplative prayer'. This kind of prayer is not just about praying for things either. Instead, it is the practice of, "being still...I'm in full agreement with the basic goal: that we stop yammering to God about our petty concerns and take the time to listen" (page 67). This is another practice I need a lot of help with. And not just contemplative prayer, but prayer in general even. I feel like I am repetitive, or not saying the right words and making it clear. And I logically know this is silly because God knows what I am trying to say even when I don't. I feel like I ask for too much and don't praise enough, but my praise sounds shallow even though it is sincere. It sounds silly even as I type it out. God knows my heart and my intentions, but I get so wrapped up in how/what I think about it, that I am not listening to Him. Enter, contemplative prayer. I need to just shut up and listen.

As an aside, I like the Jesus Prayer: "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner". 12 little words doesn't seem like a lot, but man the weight in those words is HUGE. Just saying it throughout the day, especially in times that I am frustrated or impatient or angry has helped immensely - not only to calm those feelings but to feel closer to God. This is, after all, something the author wants for herself, and something I want as well. She made the point earlier in the book that that was her purpose for completing these spiritual practices, that has the need to feel close to God. I have found through this prayer at random times during the day, and in those negative moments, helps me gain that feeling over and over again.

It should be no surprise then that November's practice, praying the hours, is incredibly intriguing to me as well. I love the idea of this, and have always been intrigued by it. As a teacher in a public school though, I don't know how well this would be received. I would assume there is some rule that is this were part of my religion, they have to let me take the time off briefly to pray. I could see how it would make some people upset or be seen as a bother and not something to be taken seriously by some co-workers. It is something I will have to consider carefully.

For the author's December practice, she put into action her plan of 'never saying no' and giving generously to anyone who would ask. She set a monetary goal to reach and in the ensuing chapter the act of tithing came up. This is something that is tough to do for many people, myself included because I am a poor teacher with no money. I do tithe, though I am not up to 10% yet. After a long, long, long conversation with my own pastor, we came up with an idea and plan that I am implementing because this really is so important to me. Something that confused me was the author stating something to the effect of 'imagine what could be accomplished if everyone tithed 10% of their after-tax income' (not a direct quote). I was confused because I thought you were suppose to tithe BEFORE taxes, out of your gross income?

Other things of note:

My pastors are mentioned in this book on page 112! It was neat to see anecdotes of them in print (one of my two pastors ((they're married)) lent me the book to borrow - they are friends with the author).

Monasteries are forever intriguing to me. It is almost embarrassing to admit that it never occurred to me that they might exist in the US. Like, duh Sarah. But I have never really thought about them in the modern sense. Mostly when I hear or read the word monastery, it conjures images of Ol' Henry destroying them in England in the 1500s.

Two quotes I especially liked:

"Sodom and its neighboring town Gomorrah were destroyed not because men were having sex with cows or each other - despite the unfortunate fact that the word Gomorrah sounds like a venereal disease - but because their people tried to kill God's messengers" (page 120). THANK YOU.

"I already know I am a crappy old sinner, even while everybody keeps telling me, in and out of church, that I'm basically a nice person. They're wrong. If I learned anything this year, especially from the Jesus Prayer back in June, it's that I'm a selfish worm" (page 151).

I feel ya, sister.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

David and the Psalms


Rating: 4 Stars

I read this one in a matter of just a couple days (Thank you BookBub for the great deal!) and I am so glad I did. I must make a confession that there was a period in my life in college and grad school (roughly 2001-2011), that religion took a backseat. I toyed with agnosticism and even atheism. But they never felt right to me, even when I was rebelling against faith. I was not brought up in a strict religious home, but we did attend church every Sunday, I participated in Sunday School, then Confirmation classes on Wednesdays in high school - but even then I was not reading the Bible closely, and as I got older I was not reading it at all.

Then I had a baby and wow, did that quickly bring the big picture into focus.

I feel so behind in where I should be in my knowledge of God, Jesus, and the Bible. So, I am forever grateful for books like this that help dumbdumbs like me play catch-up. While different branches of Christianity hold very different beliefs (the author is Catholic; I am baptized Lutheran, confirmed Methodist, now a member of a Covenant church), there is still much that can be learned from one another, especially when delving into material such as the Bible, which we all use.

My knowledge of the New Testament is much better than the Old Testament, so when I found this one, I knew I had to read it. I am personally quite fond of the King James Version, which lyrically is beautiful, even if not entirely accurate compared with other versions of the text. The problem then, is that sometimes takes me a few readings to understand the Early Modern English (sorry kids, it's not Old English).

This book is a very easy to read discussion of the life of David. In fact, the first 70% or so is dedicated to his story before even getting into the Psalms. I feel like I have a much better knowledge of David now, aside from the basics that everyone seems to know - son of Solomon, Bathsheba, etc. And perhaps because of my supreme lack of knowledge, the rest of his story seems enlightening to me, and that is kind of embarrassing. But I have to start somewhere, and this is a good place. I feel like those who have a better grasp of David and his life might already know a lot of what is contained here, but it is a good read for this with less knowledge of him, like myself.

Following the analysis of David's life, the author moves into the Psalms themselves that have been attributed to him. The Psalms are analyzed as well, and then there is discussion of what a Psalm actually is.

This was highly informative and an easy read. That is something I consider important for those like me who are new to really studying the Bible in-depth. It is easy to get overwhelmed, and thus give up, in Bible studies. When books to guide are easily accessible, it makes the journey a lot less intimidating. Definitely recommended.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Monday Meme!


Why do we have to have these things called 'jobs'? I say job instead of career, partly due to my dear friend, Jim Halpert circa 2005/Season 1 of The Office: "Right now this is just a job. If I advance any higher in this company, then this would be my career. And, uh...well, if this were my career, I'd have to throw myself in front of a train" (Episode: Health Care).

Friday, July 15, 2016

C.S. Lewis: A Life Inspired


Rating: 4 Stars

I might be one of the only people in the world who has not read the Chronicles of Narnia. I am not sure why this is, but I haven't. I am interested more in his non-fiction work (and the Screwtape Letters). This might also be my shortest review ever.

His life is incredibly interesting to me, but the book is not very long - maybe 100 or so pages in length (not exactly sure how to quantify it, as I read it on my Kindle). I feel like this is a good starting point for someone who knows nothing about C.S. Lewis - like me. It is also harder for me to critique and analyze anything within the text, because this is literally all I know about him. Anyone who knows more about Lewis and is familiar with his life and works would probably know everything written here already. I also feel like he is probably a much more complex man than this biography allows for, again due to length. If you know nothing about his personal life and are interested, this is as good a place to start as any. 

Friday, July 8, 2016

England: A History


Rating: 2 Stars

Ugh. This was a tough one to get through. The history of England is complicated to begin with. England as we know it didn't really exist until Athelstan, grandson of my buddy Alfred the Great. And even then, it wasn't exactly England yet. It kind of starts with the Norman Conquest of Anglo-Saxon England and then glosses over all the best parts of the island's history that I care about. There was no mention whatsoever of Eleanor of Aquitaine, a mere paragraph about Richard I, and a total whitewashing of John. While I am not a huge fan of ALL Plantagenets, they are highly intriguing and they did rule England for 300 years. Yet, by 40% of the book, we are already at the dawn of Stuart rule by James VI/I. This might seem like a lot at first being devoted to the Plantagenets and Tudors, but you must also consider the fact that the book ends after World War II. That's something else I can't understand but, whatever. It is hardly even worth delving into.

As an aside, it has never been lost on me that the Tudors are in fact, and always have been, Welsh - not English. yet the English seem to overlook this now? And then at the same time looked down on the Welsh? Another thing that has never made any sense to me. 

This quote I did appreciate, in regards to the execution of Mary, Queen of Scots: "...Elizabeth managed to look the other way until the deed was done, and like a true daughter of her house, she saw to it that her secretary, William Davison, took the blame for the execution of Mary's death warrant" (30%). Yep, exactly. Elizabeth is the WORST. The author did not justice to Mary Tudor either, but he seems to approve a bit more of Elizabeth. Either way, nothing he says is particularly positive about any of them.

Where he really lost me: at 48% he called Cromwell the 'greatest Englishman of his century'. Um. No.

Around 55%, the only things keeping me going were: 1) it was written so generally that it was still an incredibly breezy read. It was not terribly specific, and not very detailed either. 2) At the time I was also operating under the assumption that eventually we'd get to the House of Windsor, William, and Harry. Especially Harry. You can imagine my disappointment then when, as I mentioned earlier, the books ends after WWII.

89%: Blah Blah British Imperialism, snooooze.

So, I guess have at it but I can't say I really recommend this one. The history of England is far too vast and complicated for this slim a volume - even one that ends after WWII. Don't take this one too seriously if you do give it a shot.

The Bowery Boys: Adventures in Old New York: An Unconventional Exploration of Manhattan's Historic Neighborhoods, Secret Spots and Colorful Characters


Rating: 5 Stars

(I really, really, REALLY hope I win the Goodreads giveaway for this one. Like, desperately. It's a rare book that I actually say I MUST own. This is one of them. So, Goodreads, please pick me.)

Love. Love. Love. I loved this book. I loved it so much I don't even know if I can write a proper review of it because all I am going to say is how much I love it. This is exactly the kind of book I was looking for about New York City. I love city biographies and this was phenomenal. Easily one of the best books I have read this year. Loved it. Just loved it.

But I suppose that's not enough, is it? I should probably show you why I loved it so much, so you can go out and buy it or check it out from the library and love it too. Man, this is a daunting task.

This book was very slow-going for me, but in a very positive way. It is so filled with interesting facts that I found myself constantly pausing to take notes on what I was reading, or to go to Google Maps and Google Street View when I came to the 'Stand Here' section in each chapter. I took so many notes, in fact, that I think I set a new record - 43. It only took me three days to read, and I could have zoomed through much more quickly than that even if I was not stopping to take said notes, but then I would not have been able to look back at it now and appreciate everything it has to offer. I like to take notes in general when I read so I have some idea of what I am going to write in my review, but this time it was so much more. I have never been to New York City and it is my dream to visit there some day with my daughter and drag her along to all the historical sites that we can possibly cram into a week's visit. Normally I have very specific time periods I am interested in, whether it be Anglo-Saxon England, Roman Britain, Biblical Middle East, etc. But New York City is the one place that, no matter the time period, I want to know about it. From its early days as the Dutch settlement of New Amsterdam, to the bustle and blinding lights of Times Square now, I want to know about all of it. All the secrets of the neighborhoods, all the stories, I want to know it all.

I have often wondered where this obsession came from, and sadly I think part of it came from the September 11th attacks on the World Trade Center. Around the country and around the world, we watched this city of millions come together as one and rise up from unspeakable horror. The City that Never Sleeps became a symbol for what it meant to be an American, to be resilient in the face of tragedy, and soldiered on. Then, in 2004 the Beastie Boys (one of my favorite groups EVER) released their album "To the 5 Boroughs", with 'An Open Letter to NYC' and I wanted to be a part of that. I wanted to not only visit New York, but to live there, to become a New Yorker and BE there.

While that has not exactly worked out the way I wanted for the time being, I have to be content with planning trips and reading books like these to help plan said trips. This is the perfect guidebook without actually being a guidebook. It touches on so many well-known and obscure details of the city and I learned so much more than I even thought I would. It is written in such a way that is easily accessible for any reader and educates without being pompous or overly academic. That doesn't mean you won't learn anything, you will learn TONS. But it won't feel like you are. The authors do a fantastic job keeping the book almost conversational without dumbing anything down.

The book begins with a map of Manhattan. In a section they call "Situate the Reader', this map is broken up into numbered sections which correspond to the subsequent chapters in the book. The authors start us out in New York Harbor in chapter 1, and we meander north through Battery Park, Chinatown, Little Italy, SoHo, the Bowery, Greenwich Village, Gramercy Park, Times Square and Rockefeller Center, Central Park, and finally end up in Washington Heights - but not without seeing all the amazing and historical sites in between. On top of that, interspersed throughout the book we also get sections titled "A Brief History of..." and are given glimpses of the remaining four boroughs - Staten Island, the Bronx, Brooklyn, and Queens (I really, really hope these guys write four more books. Look, four boroughs, four books. Hmmm. But please write them, okay guys?)

The set-up for each chapter is relatively uniform. While they may not be exactly in the same order, they contain the same sub-sections. Each chapter starts with a map that shows points of interest, preceded by a brief summary of the area called 'Situate the Reader'. Then there is a main article related to the area, followed by short paragraphs related to the points of interest on the map at the very beginning of the chapter. There's literally so much information, I was constantly flipping back and forth as I read, first to look at the map to figure out where on Manhattan it was, then looking up further information on my computer, then back to the book. The authors also make a note of each point of interest and its location today, or also let the reader know if it no longer exists - but usually still give the cross streets of where the landmark stood at one time. As mentioned previously, there is also a section called 'Stand Here', and the authors explain their reasoning for a particular view of what they want you to see (this is one of the many reasons why this is the perfect guidebook). Throughout each chapter then are also shorter articles in addition to the main article. These shorter articles often pertain specifically to a point of interest and are a bit more in-depth. There are also many black and white photographs included throughout. While I am normally a stickler for photos, and color ones in particular, in this text I found that the black and white photos were very fitting. I think color photos would have been out of place. The beginning of each chapter also included a photo, as well as some kind of quote from a contemporary source of the period.

There were a lot of points of interest that I knew about, but still learned so much more. A prime example is the disaster of the fire/sinking of the General Slocum. I knew the basics of the tragedy - families out on a Sunday cruise and a fire broke out. The crew panicked, the people panicked, and in the end over 1,000 people were dead - mostly women and children. The fire hose had rotted, as had the life vests. The image of mothers strapping their children into these vests and putting them into the water - only to watch in horror as their children sank in the water and never came up - is horrible. I do not know that I learned about this in school - it is possible but I do not recall. It saddens me that there is not a better, more prominent memorial to these victims. The authors address why this may be - whether it had to do with the nationality (mainly German) or social class (poor) of those killed that June day in 1904. I'd think now though, in 2016, surely a better memorial could be built to honor them. Why more people don't know of this event, I do not know for sure. But this book goes a long way to start educating. I would hope at least that students in New York learn about this events that have impacted their city, even if the rest of the country may not.

Other events were news to me too - like the Astor Place riots, or the Civil War Draft Riots. The former occurred because of class differences (and theatrical preferences), the latter due to, more obviously, the Civil War and thus, race. So many events like this, totally unknown to me before. Hopefully not so to the youth of New York City.

There were also many events and buildings and neighborhoods I did know about - including my personal favorite: St Marks (and for an in-depth look at St Marks Place, you should definitely read 'St Marks is Dead: The Many Lives of America's Hippest Street' by Ada Calhoun). But in addition to St Marks, there was Strand Bookstore (imagine seeing Book Row, wow!), the Triangle Shirtwaist Company fire, the Stonewall Riots, the Cunard and White Star Line piers (Piers 54 and 59), the Flatiron building, the Cloisters...I feel like I could go on and on naming the places and events of interest to me.

One thing that kind of disturbs me is the amount of cemeteries that were turned into public parks, or just completely plowed over when people realized what prime locations the cemeteries were using. One example (of many) is the James J Walker Park. The only thing remaining in the now-park to show it was ever a cemetery is the Firemans Memorial Stone. When the city turned the land into the park, they removed the headstones and left the bodies buried. Seriously creepy.

One last place and event I think warrants a mention - Penn Station. The loss of this building seriously makes me terribly sad. I love train stations and the idea of this kind of travel in the late 1800s/early 1900s. The train station here in Omaha has been turned into a museum, and is a place my daughter and I enjoy very much. The high ceilings, the benches and waiting areas, the original ticket counters and such - I love it. I'm so glad that many of these places have been preserved and the authors note that Penn Station kind of became the tipping point where people realized these structures needed protection and saving. They write of Penn, "the station is often credited with being the martyr that saved other jewels from similar destruction" (page 308).

There is something about New York City that speaks to my soul and calls to me. I don't think I have articulated it in quite the right way and mostly I am coming across sounding like a loon, but I think it is possible to be in love with a city (It's true, because I love Edinburgh, Scotland in much the same way I love the idea of New York and I hope the real thing lives up to the idea of it I have built up in my head).

Books like this are such fantastic resources in two ways - first of course being the wealth of information they provide themselves. The second way is the sources the authors used that they then pass on to their readers. At the end of the book is a section titled 'Bowery Boys Bookshelf'. I added nearly all of them to my Goodreads to-read list - all the ones not already there, anyway. I was pleased to see so many already were and also to find some sure-to-be gems that I will have to find ASAP. In addition to the many books the authors offered, they included a list of favorite websites, including many blogs dedicated to the history of New York City. You can be sure I have checked out most of them already.

I wish I had a time machine to go back specifically to Gilded Age New York. Can you imagine seeing those mansions lining Fifth Avenue, or the ladies shopping on Sixth, all the department stores and everyone dressed up just to shop? Oi. I can't even. What a sight that would be.

So in the end, I think it is pretty clear that I very highly recommend this one. It has so much to offer, whether you are obsessed with New York like I am, or are just a general lover of history. I have decided it is definitely one I have to own. Then I will highlight and make notes and plan all the places we will see when we visit (So please, Goodreads, choose me for the giveaway!)

Vanderbilt's Biltmore


Rating: 3 Stars

I have a problem when I see a book about a topic I am extremely interested in - I pretty much buy the book without much thought, if it is what appears to be a decent price. This one looked like a steal for $.99, but ended up only being 17 'pages' long. So really, probably not worth it to most people, and realistically I should probably be mad and feel duped and dumb for spending that much on it.

I don't really mind though, honestly, because the Vanderbilts are an endless source of intrigue for me, as are all the of the families we consider 'Old Money' (but were called 'New Money' at the time). There is something about the robber barons/Gilded Age that holds endless fascination for me. The fact that so many of their summer homes still exist (especially when their 5th Avenue mansions do not) makes my heart so joyous and some day I will take a trip to the East Coast to see all of them.

Biltmore is a bit different though, as it was built by George Washington Vanderbilt II (youngest son of William Henry Vanderbilt and grandson of the Commodore, Cornelius Vanderbilt) as a summer home - but not in the typical location. Instead he opted for Asheville, North Carolina while his brothers and sisters built theirs in Newport and Hyde Park.

I guess my only problem with the volume is that it is so short. I was looking for maybe a combination history of the home and Vanderbilt's life? This was his home after all, you'd think that the two would be a little entwined. But this was a very brief introduction of the property. It was not a terrible book by any means, and there was a lot of interesting information but this read more like a souvenir guidebook you might buy at the property than an actual book. And maybe that is what it is meant to be. I should have paid a little more attention when BookBub tempted me with it, but all I could see was the word 'Vanderbilt' and it was over. Still, I'd recommend it for those interested in the property. It is quite beautiful and one I hope to visit in the future.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Gossip Girl and Pretty Little Liars

I know what you might be thinking - how can you review two major series in one post? It will go on forever!

Guess what?

It won't.

Because these series are almost identical in the basics - ridiculous behavior from high school students, brand-name dropping left and right, notes at the end of each book from a mysterious source, and tons of melodrama.

The only thing that REALLY makes PLL different is the murders.

I read through these in the last two weeks or so because I was incredibly behind on my Goodreads Challenge, and my daughter's surgery was coming up so I knew I would fall even further behind. I sped read through them, because lets be honest - these two series do not take a lot of brain cells. And much like the Baby-Sitters Club when I was young, you could always skip a few pages at the beginning of each when they rehash what happened in previous books. Now, I am happily 9 books ahead and can take a breather to do my second favorite thing after reading books: reviewing them.

I don't say the things I've said to knock the books (at least, not the first few books of PLL, but I'll get to that in a bit). They serve their intended purpose beautifully. I can definitely understand why teens would read them and I certainly would have read them when I was in high school if they'd have come out then. Alas, the first GG book didn't come out until 2002, the year after I graduated. The first PLL followed in 2006, the year after I graduated from college the first time.

It is hard to decide which series is better. Not because they're not comparable, but because PLL is like three different series in and of itself. The first four books of PLL were supposed to be it for the series, I believe. The murder was neatly solved, the murderer apprehended, the end. Yet, the final count in the series is a whopping SIXTEEN.

My guess? The show was so successful, the author knew she could keep making money, and heaps of it, but continuing the series as far as she could take it - because even if the plot of the shows differed from the books, her audience would still fork over their hard-earned baby-sitting money for it. And she was right. My biggest issue with PLL is how stupidly insane it got by the end. Stupid decision after stupid decision by these four morons, it's like they WANTED A (that would be First A, Real A, New A, Helper A. FFS. Seriously. When yu have to differentiate your villains like that, YOU'VE GONE TOO FAR!) to have enough dirt on them so they could not go to he police. Book 4 should have been the end. Even when it went on to book 8, I'd say that was decent. But everything from book 9 on is utter shit. Absolute stupid garbage that makes no sense and no one can really believe. If you are going to read these, stop at either of those points, book 4, or book 8 if you really must. You will be much happier than if you read all the way through 16.

At times it felt like PLL wanted to be GG, but with murder. There was this attempt at dropping the names of certain brands, but no where on the same level of GG. I mean, that was beyond compare. I should have made a list of every time the author told me who was wearing what and who made it. I easily could have fill an entire notebook. I get it, we have t know just how rich these people are - as if the summer homes and cars and colleges don't tell us already, but come on. it was about as annoying as every time a new killer popped up in PLL. Also, as PLL went on, each book would end with a note from A. This was very GG-esque, as GG always ended with a note about what happened and what was coming. PLL started to do that with A being snarky and giving a tiny glimpse of what was to come. 

I have not watched either tv show related to the books, and I can't say that I am terribly interested in doing so. I gather that they're wildly different from the books they are based on, so perhaps I'd like the shows more. I typically find that books are able to offer more depth than movies or tv shows, but the opposite might be true in these cases - especially PLL. They're seriously the dumbest four girl I have ever read about in my entire life. I also constantly mixed up Spencer and Aria because they were all so stupidly similar. And what is with the girls all having awful families who were terrible to them?

In the end, I an't say I recommend either series whole-heartedly. I secretly love Gossip Girl, which you might not be able to tell from this review, partly because we never find out who GG is. I know there were spin-offs to the series but don't plan on reading them. First, because they will be exactly like this series, but with different characters and the same "problems". Secondly, the spin-off revolving around Jenny would absolutely bore me to tears. I could not stand her.

So, these are great fluff reads for a rainy day when you find yourself far behind in a reading challenge, like I did. They're also great to kind of clear your mind and recharge, also like I need to do once in a while. I tend to only read non-fiction and sometimes my brain needs a break from reading more academic books. These are certainly the opposite of academic. They still have their place though, and it is okay to slum it with books like these when your brain needs time to rest.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Monday Meme

Even though it is the 4th of July, I could not miss a Monday!

Bookworm problems!:

Always! This is one of the reasons I always have multiple books going at a time. That one looks good...No THAT one looks good...Oh I have to read this one too! Then suddenly I have 22 books that I am currently reading. And it is glorious.

Happy 4th of July!