Monday, October 31, 2016

Top Ten Tuesday!

November 1: Top Ten Books To Read If Your Book Club Likes _______________ (if your book club likes historical fiction, inspiring stories, YA books, non-fiction, controversial books to debate about, or pick a specific book). Thank you to The Broke and the Bookish, once again!

The specific topic I am using to complete the sentence is 'Top Ten Books to Read if Your Book Club Likes Gilded Age NonFiction. I know, I know, it is super specific, but whatever. Call in non-fiction if you'd like. These books are fantastic and you should read them. Here is my list, in no particular order:

1. Fantastic read about a woman who thrived in an era that saw money-making typically reserved for men. Hetty Green is a fascinating woman and it is a shame that more people do not know of her the way they do the Morgans, Rockefellers, Carnegies, etc.

2. Some people seem to prefer one of these biographies over the other, but I really enjoyed both of them - insofar as you can enjoy learning about someone who seemed to be taken advantage of repeatedly in her later years. But I feel like both books gave a very clear and well-rounded picture of Ms. Clark, her family, the vultures who were after her money, and her massive fortune.

3. If you have never seen one of Shakespeare's Folios in person, you must remedy this ASAP. In the meantime, read this book that details how we came to have the Folger Library and these magnificent works of genius here in the US - instead of in England where they rightfully belong.

4. Oh, man. what I wouldn't give to be a fly on the wall at an Astor party, just once. Though, this book deals less with THE Mrs. Astor specifically than with the time period in which she lived. The book recreates the time period well and you get a good sense of Gilded Age New York.

5. Does a book about Rockefeller Center really need much of an explanation?

6. I really enjoyed this one, despite my lack of interest in finance and the economy in general. It not only looks at the successes and failures of these four men, but how those successes and failures impacted the rest of the country and the industries they captained.

7. It is mind-boggling as to just how reckless the Commodore's descendants were. A true rags-to-riches story, with a back-to-rags story. Except not quite rags, of course, because this is the Vanderbilts we are talking about after all.

Here are some additional titles that I personally have not read yet, but people I trust have recommended to me based on the aforementioned books. If you have read one, or read it in the future, let me know!







There are so many more I could add here but if you check out my 'Gilded Age New York' list on Goodreads you will find many more!

Let me know what you think of my list and leave a link to your own list so I can check it out. 

Happy Reading!

Monday Meme!


This is perhaps the silliest question I have ever heard.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Jackie After O: One Remarkable Year When Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Defied Expectations and Rediscovered Her Dreams


Rating: 3 Stars

First things first, if you have read other reviews of this book - I must have had a newer edition than others. I noticed a few people mentioned historical inaccuracies with dates. No big deal, just little things like the date of Kennedy's assassination *sarcasm*. The copy I read did speak of the assassination with the correct date of November 22nd, while others stated their copies said November 23rd. To me that is a pretty big deal and not something that can be easily dismissed. This date is a defining moment for so many, not least of all the very subject that the author was writing about. I was wary of other information I might come across, and often found myself checking many dates when mentioned. I did not find any other inaccuracies, but I may have also missed some.

I feel like I have a working knowledge of the Kennedy family and of Jackie, but I have yet to read anything solely dedicated to discussing her life. I was hoping to find that here, given the title, but got something a bit different. I learned quite a few new things about Jackie in the end, though it was not all I expected.

I made a note very early on of how much space was being dedicated to to the back story of Jackie and JFK, how they met, etc. I know very little of the early years of their courtship and marriage, so while I was expecting far more about Jackie's life AFTER her two marriages, I could still appreciate this aspect of the story. I did feel like this was necessary also, in order to show Jackie's career ambitions before marrying JFK, thus tying it to her life after Onassis died. The problem with this necessary thing though, is that in connecting Jackie's previous life to this 'Year After O', it essentially becomes a biography of her life, albeit a surface-skimming one. So much time is spent on her life prior to 1975, that essentially, the 'After O' part does not start until about 55%. The book itself, epilogue included, then ends at 83%. So, despite the title, less than 30% of the book is actually devoted to Jackie's life in that year after she became a widow for a second time. The rest then consists of notes and bibliography.

Every time I read something about Jackie, I feel a true connection to her and I think she is someone I would have liked to have known. Her love of the arts, reading, photography, and so on, are all things I hold in high esteem. When I first learned of her spearheading the efforts to save Grand Central Station, I knew we were kindred spirits. I have a special place in my heart for these beautiful old train stations (it still bums me out that Penn Station could not be saved, what a loss!) and am so glad she was able to help save this one.

I appreciated the use of Jackie's own letters, so we can be sure the words we are reading are hers. If you have read previous reviews of mine, you might know I am not a fan of re-creating conversations for manuscripts, unless the conversation was recorded and/or written down word-for-word. There are too many possible errors or misinterpretations and I don't like it. That did occur a few times with the book, which I did not care for.

Whether you know a lot about Jackie or not, I feel like there is some value with this text. It is by no means perfect, but I can appreciate what it tried to do, in looking at a very specific time in Jackie's life. The problem with trying this, is that so much of what happened in Jackie's past up to this point made her into the person she was, and it is almost impossible to tell the story of her later years without connecting to the early years.

"In many ways, she was at her best under the worst circumstances."

I don't now if any other statement could better describe Jacqueline Lee Bouvier Kennedy Onassis.

Local Glories: Opera Houses on Main Street, Where Art and Community Meet


Rating:  3 Stars

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

...And man, did it take forever to struggle through.

In the end, I am kind of confused still about the author's intent for this publication. Overall I found the book disorganized and all over the place. As such, my review might be the same.

At its heart, the book is meant to be about the development of opera houses across America and how they grew to become a hub of cultural activity in the cities where they were located. The author focused on a few specific states and tracked how they grew, changed, fell into disrepair, and ultimately how some were saved, but more still are merely shells of their once-great selves.

It took me a long time to get into this one. And this happened over and over. My interest would be piqued, then it would meander around and kind of lose its way, then I would stumble on an interesting part again. This went on for a while. That's not to say I didn't learn anything about opera houses or their uses. Quite the opposite, I can readily admit. For example, I learned that most of Andrew Carnegie's libraries also had music halls, because he considered those to be just as important to the cultural well-being of the city.

I was really interested as the author began tying in theatre to the opera houses. There was a comparison of how theatre developed in the north vs. the south. With the north being ruled by New England, the Puritans, and the Quakers, theatre was outlawed for a long time, but this was not so in the south, where it flourished. The issue here is that while the author discusses traveling theatre troupes at length, yet theatres and opera houses were often separate venues. It felt to me like the focus in these sections was more on the cultural and societal opportunities, and not the opera houses. A lot of the time, it did not make a lot of sense to included the information about the activities that took place out of the opera houses. From there the author jumped to riverboats, also called "entertainment boats" and it was again confusing.

At this point I was not sure I could finished the book because it was just so over the place and was about so much more than what the title implied. In reading the title, I thought the book would focus on opera houses as hubs of activity, as implied by the subtitle of art and community coming together.

One of many examples of how the text seemed to jump around: at about 32% there was a very specific section about the adaptation of Uncle Tom's Cabin from the book, then to a random paragraph about opera houses burning down. The book skipped around in time as well, not just from topic to topic. Then we get information about indoor bicycling in another section that was all over the map and it was almost too much. It became literally just paragraphs of all the activities held at the opera houses, by town - bands, roller skating, school debates and graduations, boxing matches, etc. While this information was exactly what I was expecting from this text, I feel like a different way of organizing the facts would have helped the book immensely.

As I look back on my notes, I see time and again places that I marked as being very scattered and almost mishmash. In addition, the text got very repetitive. Around 50%, there was a point where within a few paragraphs the author stated three different times that many opera houses were destroyed by fires, natural disasters, etc.

There are some positives here that I would like to point out. First and foremost, I am always a fan of using contemporary sources not just a research of course, but as visuals or direct quotes. The author did this; for example, at 14% there was an article from a Kentucky newspaper from 1890 in relation to the topic.

Another positive that I personally found of interest was that the author spent considerable time talking about Nebraska. It was interesting to see how the population of the state changed and as people immigrated here, how they used the opera houses. If the book did anything, it at least got me interested in seeing the opera houses that still exist here and learning more about their specific histories.

The text itself ended at 85%, and was followed by an appendix of opera houses that still exist, state by state. As I had an ARC, this was kind of jumbled. Hopefully that problem was sorted out for the final print copy. Some states also simply said "no data", and the author pointed out the list was not an exhaustive one. It would be good if she had been able to locate at least some information on opera houses still in existence in those states. The notes section ran from 90% to 94%. The bibliography takes up the remaining 6%. As I said before, there is substantial research, it just did not always fit together in a way that made sense.

In the end though, what it feels like happened is that the author had too much information and did not know how to organize it. There are so many chapters, but it feels like she makes the same statements and tells the same stories over and over. She might have been better served to have organized the chapters by the specific opera houses she was looking at, with perhaps a more 'general information' chapter at the beginning. The book was so all-over-the-place that it ended up taking me sixth months to get through - and even longer to get the review written. I think I would still recommend it, but with some reservation. The history itself of these beautiful buildings, and the conservation going on today to save many, is worth the read. You will, however, have to meander your way along with the text to get to that history.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

The Lost Tudor Princess: The Life of Lady Margaret Douglas


Rating: 4 Stars

I have been putting this review off for a good long while and finally decided to bite the bullet so to speak, and just get it over with. This is not to imply it is a bad book by any means; it was really quite good. I know there are some who do not like Weir, but I have always found her to be a thorough historian. All historians have to use a bit of conjecture in their works when we do not have facts, but I find that Weir makes it clear what is her own opinion on what someone meant by their words/actions, and have no problem with her work. But every time I looked at my notes, it was so overwhelming and ugh, I just want to read. But these reviews won't write themselves now, will they?

First and foremost, lets address something that needs to be said if it hasn't been already (though I'm sure it has). Is it any wonder that this next generation of Tudors grew up to behave the way they did? Margaret Douglas (Queen Margaret's daughter and subject of the book), Mary (Henry's daughter), Elizabeth (Henry's daughter) and Mary, Queen of Scots. All of these, and more, cousins and second cousins had really crappy parent(s) who did really crappy things, and often. Being royal definitely did not always make life any easier.

I like to think that I am not too shabby in my recollection of knowledge about this time period - despite all the Henrys and Marys and Margarets and Edwards and such to keep straight. But I never realized quite what information I was actually missing until I read this book. It is no joke that, as the inside dust jacket states, "The life of Margaret Douglas spans five reigns and provides many missing links between the Tudor and Stuart dynasties". Um, major understatement. It felt like a light bulb went on in my head every time I made new connection after new connection of people I thought I knew so well.

As expected, Weir used tons of contemporary resources to bring the drama and intrigue to life. By page 60 alone we had already seen poems - some possibly written by Margaret herself - as well as well as her own letters, her mother's (also Margaret, one-time Queen of Scotland) letters to Henry VIII (her uncle) during the younger Margaret's imprisonment in the Tower for her pre-contract to Thomas Howard, and so on. In fact, we are treated to several poems that Margaret and Thomas wrote back and forth to one another while in the Tower. I really loved being able to read Margaret's own words, I find that aspect of history so intriguing. It also fascinates me to see how different, yet alike, we are to those who lived and died so long ago. It also amazes me as to how much has survived.

(Side note: it is so frustrating that Anne Boleyn's letters to Henry did not survive, as I think once and for all the debate would finally be settled as to whether she really loved him or was forced into the marriage, either by her own ambition or that of her family's. If you have read any of my previous Tudor-related book reviews, you know where I stand on the matter, and very early on in the book, Weir's statement on Boleyn agrees with me: " that he could marry Anne Boleyn, a dark-haired enchantress with charm and ruthless ambition" (page 28). Yep, that's her. And no, I don't think she means enchantress as in witch craft, so don't get your panties in a bunch. My interpretation is enchantress, as in using her uncommon look to capture and hold Henry's attention.)

But back to Margaret's own letters...I found this quote particularly interesting: "The late Queen was 52, and there is little evidence to suggest that she and her daughter had been close. It seems clear that she had always preferred her son, James V, although she had been distressed by Margaret's fall from grace in 1536, and done her best to save her from Henry VIII's wrath. Yet there are no surviving letters or documents to show that mother and daughter had been in regular contact" (page 88). Again we must remember the time period and the value of male heirs over female ones, but it is still disheartening to read things like this. Ad of course, as always, no letters have survived to give us a definitive answer. Or, perhaps no surviving letters IS the answer, but we will never know for sure. Even more importantly, what amazes me is that Margaret's letters to Cecil survived. Say what you will about what a not so great person he was - and I myself have said it before, given his orchestration of the execution of Mary, Queen of Scots - he had least had the sense to preserve his letters. Whether it was intentional or not, he did that right at least.

One question that has always bothered me is how exactly Henry would have excluded his older sister Margaret's children in favor of his younger sister Mary's children. Now it all makes a lot more sense, because as I have said, this book really does fill in so many gaps. I knew that the new Act of Succession had passed, but never realized that Henry's purpose for doing so was to exclude his sister's descendants so that they could not unite the kingdoms of England and Scotland, unless his son Edward was wed to Mary, Queen of Scots.

The issue of children arises both in relation to Margaret, and her uncle, Henry VIII. Within the text, Weir states: "Six of Margaret's eight children died young, and the names of her four daughters are unrecorded" (page 131). These are the types of things that make reading about this time period less enjoyable. Deaths of little ones always makes me sad, regardless of the era.

Another aspect that was discussed in relation to Margaret's own unfortunate obstetric history, was that of her uncle, Henry. This particular piece of information was news to me and I fear I have missed out on some new reading material that covers this subject. For the most part it has been suggested that Henry fathered very few children, for any number of health reasons. But here Weir makes the statement that Henry "...had fathered 15 children by his wives and mistresses, seven of them sons, only five daughters growing to maturity (page 132). Five? There are, of course, Mary and Elizabeth, and possibly also Catherine Carey, who was the daughter of Mary Boleyn. In the notes section Weir thanks Elizabeth Norton for pointing out evidence for the case of Elizabeth Tailboys also being Henry's. But there is no mention of who the 5th is. So, are we really accepting that he had five daughters, or even seven sons - despite them not living to adulthood? I feel like this needed a bit more explanation, despite the fact that yes, Margaret was actually the subject of the book.

I never realized how close Mary I and Margaret were - showing once again that this book was definitely one that needed to be written. Weir wrote: "Mary was openly treating Margaret as her heir presumptive. She assigned the Lennoxes rooms at Whitehall, and furnished them with 21 pieces of tapestry and and ten beds. Margaret's being hung with royal purple velvet and cloth of gold (page 151). I had no idea that they were so close, or that Margaret was then the Chief Mourner at Queen Mary's funeral. So little has been written about Margaret, and the focus on her has really only been in that she was Darnley's mother and the mother in law to Mary, Queen of Scots. I simply didn't know that she'd spent so much of her life in England.

Something else the book does very well is that is goes a long way to explaining her son Darnley's character. "But Darnley had a weak character: as an adult he was arrogant, stupid, and wayward, and displayed little moral sensibility. In other words, he was spoiled" (page 158). This is hardly surprising, considering his mother had lost six of her eight children when they were so young. It also seems based on Weir's research and the surviving documents that of his two parents, Darnley respected his mother much more than his father. This also explains a lot of his change in behavior when he left England for Scotland in order to marry Mary, Queen of Scots. He seemed to listen to her much more, so once he was in Scotland and newly married, his mother was no longer in the vicinity to maintain any kind of control over him - for some of the time she was even held prisoner in the Tower. It is no surprise then though he did not seem terribly concerned about her being locked up. If only Darnley had not been such a spoiled brat, he and Mary might have successfully ruled both countries when the time arose.

The book also did a really great job explaining Mary being deposed after Darnley's murder, her escape to England, and everything the Lennoxes were up to in that time between her imprisonment in England, through Lennox's death, which is another thing that has never been given much detail in anything I have read before (that I can at least recall at the moment).

There is a lot of additional information that Weir includes, which I found helpful. Appendix I discusses Margaret's portraiture and whether or not any of the portraits that we believe might be her are actually of her. Appendix II contains miscellaneous poems that are attributed to Margaret, which are certainly of interest to get some insight into her thoughts. The section after that contains the names of important people of the time. Margaret of course, and her closest relations are first, and her children with Matthew Stewart, Earl of Lennox. Additionally Weir listed Scottish kings and queens, as well as Scottish and English nobility. Definitely helpful. The bibliography and notes sections were also incredibly detailed, and I would expect no less from Weir. Tons and tons of information.

The two quotes I've chosen to end with, I think sum up Margaret as nicely as can be done. I did not realize how much information I was actually missing in the big picture of both families. I highly recommend this book to anyone who loves Tudor history. 

"Love had been the great blessing and the great curse of Margaret's life, for she had truly suffered for it, and in the end had lost all those who were dear to her, including her adored husband and son, to violent deaths. She of all people should have learned that love and politics make dangerous bedfellows, but that seems to have eluded her, which shows that she allowed her heart to rule her head" (page 401).

"Margaret did not live to see her dynastic ambitions brought to fruition. How she would have exulted to see her grandson ascend the English throne as James I, first monarch of the House of Stuart, uniting the kingdoms of England and Scotland under one ruler. It is what she had hoped and schemed for all her life. And it is her blood, not that of Henry VIII or her rival Elizabeth I, that has flowed in the veins of every sovereign since" (page 409).

Saturday, October 22, 2016

In the Name of Gucci


Rating: 4 Stars

Let's just take a moment and admire that cover, shall we? If you have read my reviews regularly, or even some of my Top Ten Tuesday posts, you know covers are VERY important and I absolutely judge a book by them. It doesn't mean I won't read books with terrible covers, but I will point out said terrible cover in my review. This one, however, is not terrible, it is beautiful and simple and a sweet photo of a girl and her father.

However, that girl happens to be Patricia Gucci, and her father happens to be Aldo Gucci, so it is definitely no ordinary family photo as they laugh together at a Gucci event in Hong Kong. Even though they are no ordinary family, it is easy to see their happiness being there together, sharing in laughter.

The back cover is equally as beautiful and I snapped a photo (originally provided courtesy of the author) of it to share so we all can bask in its beauty:

This one was tough for me to rate at first and I wanted to do a proper review, which is why it has been a couple months before I could get this one done. The story within these pages is quite a roller coaster ride and I needed some time to think about it and decide how I felt about the narrative. But truly, the inside dust jacket pretty much sums it up perfectly (and almost makes my review moot, but yes I am still going to write one anyway): "The gripping family drama - and never-before-told love story - surrounding the rise and fall of the late Aldo Gucci, the man responsible for making the legendary fashion label the powerhouse it is today, as told by his daughter."

While I myself am not able to afford the likes of Gucci, I can still appreciate the quality of the product. Basically, that's a nice way of saying that I am very nearly obsessed with the history of fashion, how these great fashion houses got their start, and basically anything related to two of my favorites - Gucci and Louis Vuitton. I appreciated the historical aspect of this book a lot, seeing how the author's father got his start and how the company that began as one small shop eventually grew into a world-wide powerhouse.

But that is not all the story contains. At its heart, it is not about the store or the brand, but about the love story of the author's parents, Aldo and Bruna Gucci. I have to admit I was skeptical at first, reading of their early encounters when the author's mother first began working at the store. It felt at first like he was far more interested in her than she was in him. Perhaps she was scared, for a multitude of reasons - the main one being that he was married and had children already with someone else. It felt at first almost like he was obsessed with her, the way those encounters were described, how he would glance at her or touch her cheek. It seemed to make her uncomfortable, but as I read more and more of their story, it seemed to me that they truly loved one another, and perhaps her unease rested solely on the fact that not only was he married with children, but when they had their own child (the author, Patricia), it was still illegal in Italy to have a child born out of wedlock. For much of the book, Aldo's feelings seem to be more prominent and discussed more at length. Perhaps this is because he was this kind of larger-than-life figure and overshadowed the rest? This quote stuck out for me in particular: "He had fallen hard for a woman young enough to be his daughter. It was an infatuation that ran bone deep and one that he seemed unable to fight even though he was aware of what he was risking - for him and for her" (page 54).

As the story weaves on, we get to see the author's childhood and I felt such sadness for her at many times as she described growing up as this secret child. Her mom couldn't really be a parent to her and was so non-functional whenever Aldo was away, and then for Patricia to lose her nanny, Maureen, when she was old enough to not physically need a nanny anymore. Emotionally though, she certainly still needed the love and care that Maureen had provided for her. It was quite heartbreaking. Her father's visits were not long, a weekend at most, usually once a month or so, and that part also made me sad for her. From the moment he arrived home, Bruna occupied his attention with her 'venting' as it was referred to in the book and it seems that even though they both always looked forward to his visits, the author didn't get to see him nearly as much as she wanted or needed. When Aldo became ill and was on the verge of passing away, I was in tears. It was a combination of everything he had gone through in his later years, when he should have been enjoying life with his family, and the hard fact that everyone eventually has to say goodbye to the people they love, that hit me so hard. But the author handles these last stories of her father quite elegantly, and it is as beautiful in her writing as it is devastating for her loss.

The one thing I could not relate to at all, was the absolute deviousness of both Aldo's sons from his first marriage, and his nephew to boot. I just can't imagine ever doing something so cold and heartless to anyone in general, much less a family member who had provided me with a life beyond anything a regular person would ever experience. His sons were horrible, and his nephew needed a good slap upside the head and a kick in the ass, just for good measure.

Overall, I enjoyed the book - but as I mentioned above, it is not without drama or sadness at times. I am sometimes cautious at first when family members pen memoirs of their own loved-ones, because often the story is told through rose-colored glasses with an obvious slant. Not so with this work, as the author seamlessly combines the two parallel stories - her family and the family business. I think Patricia Gucci has written a wonderful memoir that her father would be quite proud of her for.

Paper Princess (The Royals #1)


Edit 3-16-17:

Rating: 1 Star. I know I initially said no rating because it is not my normal genre, but forget that, this book was awful.


Rating: No Rating (mostly because I do not think it is fair, when this is not a book I would typically read)

I know, I know. Fiction. And not even HISTORICAL FICTION. Just plain old trashy fiction disguised as YA when it is really not.

The whole time I was reading it I could not stop thinking how unbelievable it was. Not in a good way unbelievable, but in the literal, this is not actually believable. The whole thing where no one knows her mom has died because they moved around so much? Not going to happen, no matter how many times you've moved. I could not stand the female lead, or any of the Royals, except maybe Easton. He was a douche in the beginning too, but he became like this lovable dumb puppy once they started getting along.

Don't even get me started on Reed. I don't understand being attracted to someone who completely treats you so terribly. I mean, I probably did understand in my early twenties, but not any more.

The twins were just weird, and not even involved that much in the story.

Gideon just came in and out and was not much of a presence either, until the end when he told Ella to stay away from Reed. Big shocker about what happened when Ella saw Reed next *sarcasm*.

You might wonder why I even bothered with this one, as it was not in my typical genres. This is not meant in any way to offend anyone who loved the book. If you loved it, that's awesome and I am glad you found a book that worked for you. But I, on the other hand was painfully reminded of why I tend to stick to non-fiction. First and foremost, a lot of people did love it and when a fellow book blogger (Hey Candace!) had Tweeted about the book only being 99 cents, I jumped at it because, why not? And really, truly, I am so far behind on my Goodreads Challenge that quick fiction helps me get caught up. That's why I devoured Gossip Girl and Pretty Little Liars in a week over the summer, to help me catch up. Only this time, I am not 6 books behind, I am 32 books behind and in dire need of MORE fiction to help me not fail. I am far too competitive, even with myself, to fail my Goodreads Challenge this year.

One of my biggest issues in general is the fact that this is not a YA book and I feel like it is marketed that way because the characters are in high school. I feel like YA (can we just call this 'Teen'? Because seriously, that's really the range) is basically meant for 13-18 year olds. But this was far more adult than young. I definitely would not let my daughter read it at 15 or 16 for sure. There were some seriously rapey-like scenes and I was not down with that. No one is actually raped in the book, but there is a close call, and there are a few times when it is a very rapey-vibe, especially early on. 

The book ends on a cliffhanger that would imply epic proportions if it had not been predictable. I completely expected Reed to do what he did, just wasn't totally expecting it to be his dad's ex, the name of whom I can't recall at this moment. I am sure there are answers in book 2 and book 3, but I can' actually say I am inclined to find out. Though I do hope nothing bad happens to Easton with his little gambling problem. Seriously, big dumb adorable puppy ((much like how I refer to Gronk as such - he, (Rob Gronkowski), is a tight end for the Patriots, FYI for those unfamiliar)). I think he was the only character I actually liked, and it took a ways into the story for me to feel that way. If I do grab the other two, you can bet it will be for free or no more than 99 cents, and it will be to help me catch up on my 2016 Challenge.

Friday, October 21, 2016

My Weekend...


Yep! Nothing but reading, reading, reading...a few reviews here and there...then more reading, reading, READING!

Monday, October 17, 2016

Top Ten Tuesday!

October 18: Ten Characters I'd Name A Child/Dog/Cat/Car/Etc. After -- we did this topic back in 2011 and thought it might be fun to revisit it...feel free to spin it how you need!

So, here we are again with another TTT, that I am totally pumped for because one of the names on this list is one I actually DID name my child after. My list will mainly be historical figures, with a sprinkle of fiction here and there. Some names are better suited for pets than human beings, but alas, I can't help what my heroes were named by their parents. So, here we go:

1. Aliénor of Aquitaine - or, as we know her today - Eleanor.

Image result for eleanor of aquitaine
Eleanor's effigy at Fontevraud Abbey. Richard I and Henry II were also laid to rest here. Unfortunately the tombs were disturbed during the French Revolution. And by 'disturbed' I mean these jerkwads went and scattered the bones of the dead in a field somewhere. But, I am thankful that somehow through that, their effigies survived (photo from Wikipedia).

Way back around 1122 (even the year is at best an educated guess) this little lady was born who would grow up to become first the Queen of France, then Queen of England. She was named for her mother, Aénor, and her own name, Aliénor, translate to 'another Aénor'. Eleanor was well-educated and became a patron of poets and writers as an adult (one of my fave things about her). She also went on Crusade with her first husband, King Louis VII of France - then divorced him to wed Henry of Anjou, also known as Henry Plantagenet and/or Henry II, king of England. They would go on to have what many referred to as the Devil's Brood (though never to their faces of course) that included two more kings: Richard I and John. Eleanor was very active even in her old age - securing Richard's ransom after he was imprisoned by Leopold on the way home from a crusade of his own. I discovered Eleanor of Aquitaine while I was pregnant with my daughter and since then have been collecting every non-fiction book about her I can find, in order to give that collection to my own little lady when she is old enough to read them - which at this rate will probably be around age 5, ha! No, seriously, she is three and has more books than I do. The only issue with this name is that people assume Eleanor Roosevelt first when I say she is named after a heroine of mine. Eleanor Roosevelt is perfectly lovely, but my girl is named after a QUEEN.

2. Boudicca (and various other spellings)

So it should not really surprise anyone that we don't actually know what Boudicca looks like, seeing as how she lived way back in the first century. This statue was sculpted by Thomas Thornycroft in 1850 and stands on the Victoria Embankment at Westminster Bridge (photo from

This fierce Iceni warrior queen took on Roman troops and won - twice. Unfortunately third time was the charm and her troops and subjects were slaughtered in the last clash of Iceni warriors vs Roman soldiers. Historians argue as to whether or not Boudicca even existed, but given that archaeologists have identified what is referred to as the 'Boudiccan Destruction Layer' (remains of burned clay walls beneath the ground) in Colchester (that's Camulodunum for the ancient Romans joining us this evening) and Tacitus, one of Rome's greatest historians, wrote directly of her, I'd say there is a good chance she existed. I often joke that my daughter is lucky I discovered Eleanor of Aquitaine BEFORE Boudicca, though it has not stopped me from calling her Boudicca or Boudy as a nickname.

3. Buffy

(Photo from Buffy.Wikia.Com)

This is not cheating, I swear. Look at my Goodreads shelves and you will see several dozen BtVS books, both fiction and non-fiction. So really, it is not cheating. Even though Buffy herself annoyed me greatly in late seasons sometimes, she is still pretty much the most kick-ass chick this side of Boudicca. I don't think I would go so far as to name a child after her, but definitely a pet, or my car. Because, come on, it's still kind of silly.

4. Josephine - Jo for short.

Image result for Jo March little women
Winona Ryder as Jo March in the 1994 film adaptation of Little Women (photo from Pinterest)

To this day, Little Women is one of my all-time favorite books. I own several copies, each varying in cover and length, movie tie-in or not. I loved the story, loved Jo, and so desperately wanted to BE her. I was not disappointed by the movie at all (though that might be different if I were to watch it today), and it remains another favorite.

5. Anne

(Photo from Goodreads)

Oh how I LOVED Anne of Green Gables. I was devouring these books in 4th grade and my best friend Amy and I would play Anne of Green Gables every day at recess. I would be Anne, she would be Diana, and we always tried to get one of the boys to be Gilbert to re-enact the pond scene but none of them would so we just did it ourselves and imagined Gilbert was there. This was back in the day before I made ginger jokes, or even knew what a ginger was (I jest, mostly). Visiting Prince Edward Island is on my bucket list and I so very excited to read these books with my little girl and visit there one day together.

Leave a comment and let me know if we have any in common, and where I can find your list!

Happy Reading,

Monday Meme

So this is really just devolving into any picture I find that makes me chuckle and/or is 100% accurate in relation to my love and obsession with all things books and reading. But I like alliteration so, Monday Meme it is.

Happy Reading!

Monday, October 10, 2016

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Oh My!

Here are some cool items that book fanatics would love. I want all of these so badly! Book Pillow!:

#4 is probably the best one on a whole list of super amazing things that I must have. Pinterest really gets me.

Hair: A Human History


Rating: 3.5 Stars

Those who know me well know that I am *kind of* vain about my hair. My most favorite Lady Gaga song is dedicated to this very thing: hair.

If you have not heard the song before, even if you can't stand her, please listen anyway. It's such a fantastic song. I have really lovely, thick, flowing locks myself, though these beautiful strands of hair have been in a perpetual state of messy bun for the last four years (babies love pulling hair and preschoolers love brushing hair which, at these ages, is kind of the same thing).

So, given my deep-seated love for my locks, you can imagine my delight when discovering this book while perusing the new non-fiction releases at the library recently.

Thus, you can then imagine my disappointment in the fact that this book was dreadfully boring at times.

I know, I know. A book about hair is something I should love. But not only were the scientific aspects uninteresting to me, there were a few statements that were incorrect or that I questioned their validity:

1. There was a statement at one point that Anne Boleyn (among others: Joan od Arc and Marie Antoinette) had her head shaved before her execution (page 62). I know a thing or two about Anne Boleyn and I feel like this is something I would have noticed in my readings. On the other hand, I have read so much about the period, it would be easy for some details to escape me after a while. So, if anyone else who is interested in this period has come across information indicating Anne's head had been shaved before she lost it, please let me know!

2. The son of Louis and Marie Antoinette was referred to as the Dauphine, not the Dauphin. Sorry I'm not sorry, but in France, male heirs were Dauphins.

Thus, I was curious about what else might actually be incorrect that I would not recognize as such. So, it made for a somewhat difficult read in that respect.

As mentioned, I was less interested in the scientific explanations and diagrams and such involving hair - though if you are, you will find plenty of information in the beginning sections. As for myself, I was more interested in the social and cultural histories. For example, I had never really considered the idea of how barbershop quartets originated, but it was in actual barbershops. Granted, I do not spend much time at all thinking about barbershops or their quartets, but facts like that made the rest of the book more interesting. Again, I was cautious though, given the errors, as well as others I came across, pointed out above.

Fun Fact: A lock of 10,000 hairs is strong enough to lift more than one adult person (page 80). I mean, wow, that is insane to me.

Oh, gingers: "Red-tressed females were believed to have fiery tempers and unusually aggressive sexual appetites, while red-headed males were considered weak and sexually distasteful" (page 94). The medieval period was not kind to our red-headed brethren, though I myself have also been guilty of gingery type jokes. But, one must only seek out the younger son of Diana and Charles to see that there are some very desirable redheads among us:

(Basically, this was also just an excuse to post a picture of Prince Harry. When I was younger I always thought William was a dish, but Harry really has become quite dashing himself.)

While the majority of the hair discussed is of the natural variety, the author also included references and discussion about wigs. It was here that I discovered pubic wigs are actually a thing. Not that I have ever actually wondered if they are a thing, because who would ever need one? Medieval prostitutes, that's who. He discusses this in relation to how they would shave their pubic hair so not to get lice, but then also may need a covering of some sort to hide the marks left on their skin by any venereal disease. So, there you go, new knowledge for the day: pubic wigs are a thing. To be fair, the author also indicates these are used by actors on stage and in movies to avoid an accidental indecent exposure incident.
Fun Fact: "...the first wig guild was founded in France in 1665" (page 99).

Interesting Quote: "(Of Louis XIII wearing wigs in 1624)...Said to be the first wig in any royal court since ancient Egyptian times, the hairpiece kicked off a new fashion that persisted for almost 200 years, ending with the French Revolution, when royal heads and wigs were separated from royal bodies" (page 99).

There is on bit included that I must comment on, and that is the idea of robots cutting hair. The author discusses this at some length on page 162 in the epilogue regarding the future of hair. Guess what? I think that idea is really stupid. I would never in a million years want a robot to cut my hair. We seriously do not need technology to do everything for us, I promise. Garbage like this is making us so lazy. How hard is it to go to a salon or barbershop and get a haircut? It's not. Don't be lazy. This is technology we do not need.

So, over all, this is an interesting read. There are numerous diagrams and pictures included relating to the wide variety of topics that the author discussed. It was hard for me to get into it at first because of the scientific aspect that came first. I did, however, much enjoy the historical and cultural parts that came later.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

My Life in Ink


Rating: 3 Stars

It usually comes as a surprise to people when I talk about my tattoos. Mostly, I think, because apparently I don't look like a person who would have any. Stereotypically, it makes sense. I am, after all, a teacher by day, writer/reader/blogger by nights and weekends, and a mom full time.

Well guess what. I DO have tattoos.

In fact, I have eight of them. And every single one was done at Iron Brush in Lincoln, Nebraska. Best shop in the state, no contest. The guys at the shop are amazing and even though it has been about five years since my last piece of art and I no longer live in Lincoln, I am always toying with new ideas and randomly telling Kevin on Facebook that I have a new idea (Kevin Chasek is the artist who has done 7 of my 8 tattoos and he is phenomenal and patient. Seriously, I have the lowest pain tolerance of anyone, ever. Nate Deal did my very first one and was equally as patient with me. Nate is no longer at Iron Brush, but you would do well to get a tattoo done by either of them. Or Tyson, who owns the shop. All really good guys). This book made me seriously crave a new piece of art, because I love tattoos. I love looking at them, hearing the stories behind why people chose what they did to represent themselves in that way, I love coming up with new ideas and seeing Kevin make it a reality, all of it. I love tattoos. Just not the pain part, but all the time and pain is worth it when it is done if you have a good artist.

Now then, on to the book. was okay. Bang Bang (real name Kevin McCurdy) is one of the most sought-after artists in the world and has celebs flying him all over the place to do their tattoos. He doesn't come across nearly as arrogant as he could, but it's there, like he COULD just come out and be the most arrogant guy in the world at any moment. Honestly, I was surprised at how humble he came across to me, but then again he did admit that Justin Bieber is his friend, so he kind of has to be humble because Justin Bieber is a tool.

Admittedly, I was more interested in the photos than his stories, because the artwork is amazing. I don't really care about any of the celebrities that he works with, and loved seeing photos of non-celeb tattoos more than anything. I myself am not really a fan of the whole 'tattoo a face on my body' kind of work, but his talent shines through even in tattoos I would not be interested in getting for myself. But that is kind of the whole point and what makes getting a tattoo such a personal experience - we all have our own stories to tell and things that mean something only to us. With every single one of my tattoos I toyed with wording and design, then set it aside for a couple months and if I still wanted it after that time, took my idea to Iron Brush and let Kevin work his magic on the final design, lettering, etc. I was never disappointed, because the work was quality and he knew even better than I did what I wanted. That's how tattooing should be. Yes, they are costly, but this a piece of art you are going to wear for the rest of your life, shouldn't it be costly?

Sorry for the sidetrack, I can really talk about tattoos forever.

All in all, it is not a bad book. It is clear that Bang Bang is not a professional writer, but I get the feeling the book is written in the way he talks, as it is very conversational. I am okay with. I just can not take someone totally seriously who has a high opinion of Justin Bieber. Don't let that make you shy away from the book though. If you are genuinely interested in tattoos, give this one a try. The photos alone are amazing.

What Life Was Like When Rome Ruled the World: The Roman Empire, 100 BC - AD 200


Rating: 4 Stars

I love books like this, that get to the heart of daily life in a particular time and/or place. I feel like sometimes these books are judged too harshly. Some say they lack detail or research. To those people I would suggest then finding a book on something more specific to the topic they are interested in. Books such as these are meant to give a broad picture of their overall topic, and provide little morsels that might then interest someone into seeking out other books more specific to certain aspects discussed therein. Books like this are also good reminders when you need or want a quick refresher. They often times help me remember things I already know.

As stated above, this book looks at the basics of every-day life as a Roman citizen. There were even things I learned as I was reading that were new to me and not just reminders. One such new tidbit came in this quote: "Finally, the two came to blows, and Romulus prevailed, consecrating Rome with his brother's blood" (page 8). How did I miss this part in school, that Romulus killed Remus? In the fog and cobwebs that surround my knowledge of Ancient Rome and its mythological creation, I was under the impression that the story went that they founded Rome together. Good to know.

As I am fond of doing, I picked out another quote that seems to me bests encapsulates this ancient civilization: "More concerned with the here and now than the hereafter, they took the world by storm and left it a different place - and in doing so, made sure that their deeds would never be forgotten" (page 11). How true indeed. Even in 2016, the lives of the Romans still seem to hypnotize us. I personally am so eager to see Pompeii some day, to walk the ancient streets and see the ruins, to see this place frozen in time when Vesuvius covered the land with ash and debris. Speaking of Pompeii and Vesuvius, I loved the photos from the preserved villas in Herculaneum and Pompeii (page 49). I only wish the captions would have specified which villas were from which city. That bothered me a bit. But for the most part, the captions were pretty informative and there were tons of photos throughout.

The following quote (page 27) attributed to Caesar about Brutus struck me rather ironically. Caesar was very observant. If only he had been moreso to the Ides of March: "I do not know what this young man wants, but everything that he wants, he wants very badly."

My only major issue with the book, and this will not be major for most people because most people do not know who I am talking about, is the lack of any mention of Boudicca. There is a section related to Roman Britain, so you would think the fierce Iceni queen who defeated the Romans twice before dying herself warranted at least a blurb. But alas, there is none. Surely, information about the various rebellions of the native British peoples would have impacted the daily lives of those Roman citizens living in Roman Britain, no?

Really, this is a decent introduction for those new to learning about Ancient Rome. It is also a nice refresher for those who have some background in the subject, but would likely be pointless for those who already have a large library of knowledge on Ancient Rome, physical or otherwise. 

The Invisibles: The Untold Story of African American Slaves in the White House


Rating: 4 Stars

Michelle Obama's speech at the DNC has been dissected and argued about in the press and by these talking heads since it happened, but it was that speech and this particular part:

"...I wake up every morning in a house that was built by slaves -- (applause) -- and I watch my daughters –- two beautiful, intelligent, black young women –- playing with their dogs on the White House lawn." (Speech text taken from

...that made me feel like a total moron. In my defense, and the defense of countless others across the country who have never given much thought to those who built the White House, it is because we were never TAUGHT that. Yes, we learned about the Revolutionary War and those tough early years of the fledgling country that is now the greatest power on earth. We may have read a paragraph about the War of 1812 when the British burned the White House to the ground and Dolley Madison bravely saved the Landsdowne portrait of Washington before fleeing for her life - though even this is not entirely accurate and she almost certainly had help in removing it.

Basically, it never occurred to me that slaves built the White House. And that is embarrassing.

So, in order to remedy this and gain some much-needed knowledge, I found this one while perusing the new releases at the library. It was kind of another wake-up moment for me. I have known as an adult that most of the early presidents owned slaves, but again even then, it did not occur to me that slaves lived and worked in the White House. Perhaps because I am white, this is not something I have ever had to consider - that my ancestors may have been owned by others and forced to work while their owners profited from the labor (most of my family is German with a lil bit of Swede and came to the US in the late 1800s or so). When people say white privilege is not a thing, this itself is a prime example that white privilege is very much a thing that is alive and well today.

The only real flaw in the book is the fact that there are so many unknowns about the people who worked and cared for the early presidents and their families. As we now know, very little record-keeping was done then in regards to slaves. We simply do not know who many of these people were, because of their status as slaves, and were deemed property instead of human beings. I was interested to read in the conclusion that the author is continuing his research in order to find more information on those mentioned in the current book, as well as other stories yet to be discovered. He also mentions the research being done in regards to the life of slaves on the various presidential plantations. I would be very interested to read those stories as well.

I have a love/hate relationship with these presidents, particularly George Washington and to a lesser extent, Thomas Jefferson (this is only because Washington was one of my favorite presidents from my youth, and there has always been something about Jefferson that rubs me the wrong way, though I can not quite figure out what it is, aside from the obvious in being a slave owner). From the time I was old enough to learn about these early presidents, Washington captivated me. He was a strong leader in the army, before becoming our first president. He had stood up to the British, won numerous battles, and freed the colonies from the oppressive taxes of a far-off government. I was enthralled by him and this group of men who dared to stand up and fight for their freedom. But as I got older, mostly in high school, college, and now that I have settled back into my reading-for-pleasure habit again, cracks began to appear in this image I had of Washington. How could someone I admired so greatly for all of his courage and virtues, in turn deny the very freedom he fought for, to the slaves he owned? The author does point out the times in which the slaves were freed in the wills of their owners, but this is not good enough. We can not deny the fact that slavery and all its trauma and horror played such a prominent role in building the very foundation of this nation. While we may still revere these men for those aspects of their character that made them great leaders, we can't forget that while they forged ahead with their new-found freedom, their slaves were left behind in bondage.

Highly recommended.
really liked it

Friday, October 7, 2016

The 15:17 to Paris: The True Story of a Terrorist, a Train, and Three American Heroes


Rating: 3 Stars

This is a tough one to review, or even rate. I feel like if I give it a lower rating or speak to the disjointed flow of the narrative, then I am somehow devaluing the experience of these three young me and their actions to help stop an ISIS attack on this train and its passengers. That is not my intention at all. The story itself is captivating but the writing really just made it difficult to stick with.

I would assume that Jeffrey Stern did most of the writing despite the fact that the three young men are billed first. That is typically the case with books such as these. If Sadler, Skarlatos, and Stone had done all the writing themselves, I would be far more willing to cut these guys some slack, not being professional writers. But with the presence of Stearn, I expected better. The flow of information and the unfolding of events prior to the attack itself were simply told in a totally boring way. Then the disjointedness comes from the fact that the attack was not told in one section and was interspersed between the stories of each young man and how they met and became friends, growing up together, and eventually meeting up to travel together on that fateful day to Paris.

One thing of interest that struck me was their waffling on whether or not to actually go to Paris in the first place. While traveling, others had suggested foregoing Paris for other locations, but in the end, these men ended up on that train. And thank goodness they did. Who knows how many might have been injured or killed had this terrorist been successful. This idea of fate is an interesting one and there have been many times in my life I have acted on gut instinct to make a decision. Part of the reason is because, in high school I ignored a gut instinct and moments later was hit nearly head-on in my little 1986 Chevy Nova by a Ford Bronco running a light. I don't often ignore my instincts anymore and I am so glad these young men didn't either.

If the book does nothing else, it at least points out the glaringly obvious fact that the media in the US is totally screwed up (something we already knew, given the media's treatment of Bernie compared to Hillary throughout the primary season). I remember when this story first broke, it was all about how three US Marines on leave had thwarted a terrorist attack. That was completely inaccurate. Two of the three young men are in the military, however NONE were Marines. It just goes to show you how quickly the media will jump on a story without having all the facts. This is certainly nothing these men did wrong, but is an big indicator of how ridiculous media outlets here are.

I am really going to miss President Obama and his sense of humor once he leaves the White House. There is a point in the narrative when they are recalling their initial phone conversation with Obama and he says, "...I was just talking to Spencer and told him, like, when I have a class reunion kind of thing, we just have a beer, we don't like, tackle terrorists or anything" (page 84).

In the end, it is not a bad story, but still a poorly told one. The moving back and forth between their childhoods and the event on the train was frustrating because it made the narrative so choppy. That does not diminish the importance of the story and I feel like it is still one that needs to be told and read and applauded. The way it was told simply did not work for me.