Thursday, September 28, 2017

Here's What Happens When You Meet Someone You Admire... fangirl REAL hard.

And by 'you', I of course mean 'me'.

Some of you might recall my affinity for a certain British historian with heaps of knowledge about my favorite dysfunctional dynasty and access to all the chronicles and texts I can only dream of.

That's right, ladies and gents. I met Dan Jones. Bonus, he was not terrified of me and my fangirlish ways. He has been on a book tour in the US to coincide with the release of his fifth book, The Templars: The Rise and Fall of God's Holy Warriors.

Dan (I am going to assume from here on out we are on a first-name basis) spoke for nearly an hour, first explaining why he chose to write about the Templars, then delving into each section as he explored their rise and fall. He took a few questions from the audience, and THEN it was time for the book signing. My friend Roxy and I waited to be the very last people to have our books signed and I do mean BOOKS. He was gracious enough to sign all five of mine - including personalizing the Templars proof. I jokingly asked if he told the publisher to pick me in the hopes that I would not bring my crazy to St. Louis but he said no, he'd had nothing to do with it. I said something about the Plantagenets and Eleanor and kind of blurted out that I was writing a book about her; he did not seem at all surprised, considering the fact that I told him I named my daughter after her. THEN he asked what I thought of her and I completely froze because, HELLO! this historian who knows more about the period and people than I could even hope to was asking ME what I thought of Eleanor of Aquitaine! We ended up talking for a bit and it was incredible.

I got to talk to Dan Jones about Eleanor of Aquitaine!

I seriously still can not believe this actually happened.

Pretty fantastic night and here is the smile to prove it:

Thursday, September 7, 2017

First Line Friday: William Marshal Edition

Happy First Line Friday!

I missed out on posting last week because things got a bit hectic here with some very good news - I am now working on a full-length biography of Eleanor of Aquitaine! I am so excited for the project and I hope I can do her story justice. Given the fact that we don't even know what she looked like, you can imagine how hard it is to come by information that we know for certain is 100% true. Slowly but surely I am plodding along and gathering more sources from her contemporaries - expensive investments but worth it in the long run. And, as one such investment, I would like to share a line this week from a book about another favorite medieval hero of mine.


I have actually cheated a little and chosen two lines. The first is from the introduction by the translator, Nigel Bryant, regarding the fact that this biography is very special indeed. The second line/paragraph is from the actual text, written by its author. We do not know the identity of the author though we know it was someone from his household, commissioned by Marshal's son a few years after Marshal's death.

"The History of William of Marshal is the earliest surviving biography of a medieval knight - indeed, it is the first biography of a layman in the vernacular in European history."


"Anyone with a worthy subject should see he treats it in such a way that, if it starts well, it's carried through to a good conclusion - and that it chimes with the truth, irreproachably; for some are inclined to undertake such tasks with lesser intentions: they just want to run men down! And what is it that drives them? Envy - whose tongue, prompted by its bitter heart, can never stop sniping: it resents any sign of outstanding goodness. But to come straight to the point: my subject concerns the worthiest man who ever was in our time, so help me God - and may God grant me the grace and the wit to treat it so that it will give pleasure and enjoyment to all who hear it in the proper spirit."

Let me know what you think and/or leave a line of your own. Then, visit my fellow First-Liners to see what they have waiting for you this week.

Happy Reading!


Saturday, September 2, 2017

Blue on Blue: An Insider's Story of Good Cops Catching Bad Cops


Rating: 4 Stars

This book interested me for a couple reasons. One, I am utterly obsessed with New York City. Two, Law and Order: SVU is one of my favorite shows ever. And three, most importantly, I am deeply troubled about this growing divided between police officers and the public that seems to have been split wide open in the wake of the deaths of so many unarmed civilians, many of whom are young African American males.

The book is not perfect. In general it is fairly conversational and I liked that. It felt like I was sitting around with my grandpa and he was telling me stories about his childhood and this and that. Only it wasn't my grandpa, and the stories were about IAB catching nasty pieces of work who never should have been given the privilege of wearing an NYPD badge. But at times the writing feels a bit defensive about officer-involved shootings. I think most rational-minded people realize that the majority of police officers are honest, hardworking, good people who do their jobs with all the integrity with which they took their oath. The defensiveness was a by-product of trying to explain what it is like to be in a situation where you have a split-second to make what amounts to a life or death decision. I truly believe that the majority of the police officers in our country react the same way the author did, with thoughts of: Please don't make me shoot them, please don't make me shoot them, please don't make me shoot them. In the last few years, starting with the Michael Brown case in Ferguson, so many people have questions the idea of why an officer can't shoot to injure, instead of shoot to kill. The author explained that in the NYPD, the policy is 'shoot to stop'.

At the time of the author's retirement, only one other member of the NYPD had served as long or longer than him. He spent 20 years of his career with IAB, which makes for some fascinating and horrifying stories. It is hard to convince people to take a job that requires them to basically police the police, meaning some of their friends even. I can't imagine a more unenviable job but it is a necessary one, as this book proves time and again. It also amazes me that some of these officers could be so stupid as to think that they would get away with their crimes in the end. In fact, officers should always assume that when someone brings a shady plan to them, that it is really an Integrity Test. Unfortunately it won't, because there will always be bad cops, just like there are bad teachers, doctors, etc.

On a sort-of lighter note, Law and Order: SVU is one of my all-time favorite shows. I unfortunately had to stop watching it for two reasons: Elliot Stabler (Christopher Meloni, yum) left the force after season 12, and I had a baby which made it nearly impossible to watch a fictional show based on real crimes often committed against children. I could not handle it and cried buckets the first time I tried to watch the show as a new mom. And if you do not believe the tag line of 'ripped from the headlines', it is 100% true. The author recounted a tale of a suspect being arrested and beaten up by the four officers during transport to the precinct, where upon arrival two of the officers took him into a bathroom and one held him down while the other shoved the end of either a broom or a plunger (I can't remember which) into the man's rectum. This happened on an episode of SVU, though the motive and crimes surrounding this part of the story were changed. With some of the stories the author recounted, it was hard to not see Benson and Stabler as detectives within the narrative, even though yes I know they are fictional. It was also interesting to think about how Stabler always reacted every time IAB was afoot as I was reading.

Overall this is a good read about what it is like from the inside, investigating the very people who have sworn to protect the public. It is by no means an easy job, or a fun one, but it is a necessary one.