Sunday, March 31, 2019

Tackling the TBR Week 12: March 22-March 31, 2019

Each week I will be keeping track of books that I have read from my TBR. I have a huge backlog of books and often end up reading new books that are not even on my list, instead of trying to whittle down the list that continues to balloon up on Goodreads. Chuckles had the idea first, and we are going to use this as a chance to encourage each other to get those books read instead of always grabbing new ones and thus never making a dent in the physical and digital stacks we already have. It will also give us a chance to take a good look at our lists and see if there are ones we are no longer interested in. We will be posting on the 7th, 14th, 21st, and the last day of the month.

Previous Week's TBR Total: 3,613

Books Added to TBR This Week: 3

Books Removed from TBR This Week: 35

Currently Reading: 9

Books Finished This Week: 12

Books DNF-ed This Week: 2

Duplicates Removed: 2


New TBR Total: 3,566 (my calculation) 3,571 (Goodreads total)

I know I said last week I was not going to bother pointing out the differences and just go with what Goodreads says, but now the numbers are close again and, well, it's my blog, I do what I want.

Is your TBR under control, or a hot mess like mine? Though, to be fair to myself and honor my progress, this list is not nearly as big a hot mess as before Chuckles and I started this adventure!

Happy Reading!

Saturday, March 30, 2019

State of the ARC #14

State of the ARC is a monthly feature hosted by Avalinah's Books. I am so glad I stumbled upon it, because it helped me so much in tackling my ARC list in 2018. Now things are under control, and this post doesn't cause me as much worry as it used to. Links go to Goodreads, unless I have finished the review, in which case it goes to that. All ARCs are from NetGalley or Edelweiss, unless otherwise noted.

Pending = Zero

Not Started = Zero

Started = One
Mercia: The Rise and Fall of a Kingdom, 9-17-18 (received two days after publication, author request/digital from publisher)

DNF = None

Finished/Review to Come = One
Review or Feedback Sent = Five
You Are Your Strong, 3-19-19

The Invisible Emperor, 10-9-18 (hard copy from publisher)

Women of the Bible and Contemporary Women of Faith: A Feminist Perspective, 9-22-17 (received 15 months after publication)

On the Hunt for the Haunted, 4-8-19

Ghost of the Grand Canyon, 4-8-19

There you have it! What does you ARC situation look like for this month?

Happy Reading!

Monday, March 25, 2019


Hi all!

I just wanted to drop a quick note that I am super super swamped with school work right now, with it now being testing season, and my 5th graders getting ready soon to move on to middle school, and all kinds of end-of-the-year things coming up soon. 

I have responded to some comments and will get to the others ASAP. And I will be coming around to your blogs, but it will probably not be until this coming weekend, or even next week. I have hardly been reading at all either, which is KILLING ME! ...except for Two Can Keep a Secret which I am in love with and was so good. Ask Greg, he'll tell ya.

Happy Reading!

Saturday, March 23, 2019

Stacking the Shelves #40

Stacking the Shelves is a weekly feature co-hosted by Tynga's Reviews and Reading Reality. It is a chance to showcase all the goodies you've collected throughout the week, whether they're bought on-line or in-store, an ARC or a final copy, borrowed from a friend or the library, physical or digital, etc. Never has my addiction been more obvious than when I am now keeping track of every single book I acquire.

Library Treasures
38532207 35230402 38225791 37564532

What did you add to your stash this week?

Happy Reading!

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Tackling the TBR Week 11: March 15-March 21, 2019

Each week I will be keeping track of books that I have read from my TBR. I have a huge backlog of books and often end up reading new books that are not even on my list, instead of trying to whittle down the list that continues to balloon up on Goodreads. Chuckles had the idea first, and we are going to use this as a chance to encourage each other to get those books read instead of always grabbing new ones and thus never making a dent in the physical and digital stacks we already have. It will also give us a chance to take a good look at our lists and see if there are ones we are no longer interested in. We will be posting on the 7th, 14th, 21st, and the last day of the month.

Previous Week's TBR Total: 3,668

Books Added to TBR This Week: 6

Books Removed from TBR This Week: 57

Currently Reading: 11

Books Finished This Week: 5

Books DNF-ed This Week: 0

Duplicates Removed: 0


New TBR Total: 3,613

Numbers are off  little bit again this week but I am not even going to waste time on it anymore. Until the list becomes a bit more manageable I will continue to use Goodreads number listed for my to-read shelf. I would rather err on the side of caution and overestimate how many I have left.

Is your TBR under control, or a hot mess like mine?

Friday, March 15, 2019

Stacking the Shelves #39

Stacking the Shelves is a weekly feature co-hosted by Tynga's Reviews and Reading Reality. It is a chance to showcase all the goodies you've collected throughout the week, whether they're bought on-line or in-store, an ARC or a final copy, borrowed from a friend or the library, physical or digital, etc. Never has my addiction been more obvious than when I am now keeping track of every single book I acquire.

I totally went on a bender Tuesday night and requested tons of books from the library (all from my TBR, no worries). Plus, I have gotten some reviews done, woohoo. Spring Break has been very productive and I don't want it to end!

Library Treasures
36525023 38743554 40598936 40364332 29502450
34859714  35069544 29496435 36342140 24911006
16144046 14964005 31176294
35721620 17836520 3364025333574165 34964998
32026054 32740061 24693812
28178182 33932361 38525517
35805861 29467267 36100710

What did you add to your stash this week?

Happy Reading!

Thursday, March 14, 2019

The King is Dead


Rating: 4 Stars

Damn, that cover is gorgeous. I fully own my cover snobbery and freely admit to judging books by covers. But an aside, even if I think the cover is trash, if I am interested enough in the topic, I will still read it. Sometimes the content changes my opinion of the cover, sometimes it doesn't. Luckily there is no problem here, the cover if beautiful and the content was full engaging.

Dr Lipscomb's account is thoroughly researched and detailed here, getting to the true heart of the matter and Henry's intentions for this final document as he lay dying. I appreciate that, in the course of this investigation, Lipscomb was willing to go against some other heavyweight historians (which she fully is in her own right as well, just so that is clear; Dr Lipscomb is pretty much and the opinions they hold - which have been accepted as gospel for years. The last will and testament of this tyrant of a king is such an important document in history, and especially of course to the Tudorphiles who will endlessly and happily debate every last detail possible. I am one of those people, so books like this are absolutely my favorite. So much has been written on the subject of the Tudors in general, so these kind of micro-histories in the broader scope of the dynasty are wonderful.

Basically, there are many theories about several aspects of this document. In it we are given pretty straight forward orders - Henry confirms the succession of those who should come after him, Edward, then Mary, then Elizabeth. Beyond his own children, Henry then set up the future rulers to be of the Grey and Suffolk branches of the family tree, completely excluding his sister Margaret's progeny in favor of Mary's line. We all know how that works out in the end though, don't we? The Greys get pushed to the front, Jane loses her head for a throne she never wanted, and then in the end James VI of Scotland adds the title of James I of England to his name and never returns to Edinburgh again So much for Henry barring the descendants of Margaret from the throne, eh? Henry also specifies who is to get which of his possessions, all given to his most trusted servants - you know, those who survived his mercurial temper and whims.

There is much debate, however, about the authenticity of the document as we know it today. The will was read out in Henry's final hours, then stamped and sealed. But there are many who believe that Henry's words have been misinterpreted, forged, and/or that the document is invalid for a variety of reasons. Lipscomb dives right into this debate headfirst, armed with a plethora of primary sources. In addition to the will itself, she makes great use of the records from privy council meetings and letters written by various important players. In doing so, Lipscomb makes a solid case for dismissing many of the rumors that have persisted for years that the will was altered after Henry's death, or even beforehand, and then stamped with his signature. Given the evidence collected from those primary sources, I feel that Lipscomb is correct in her conclusion and that this is the document Henry intended it to be. Controlling to the last, it is interesting to see what provisions Henry assumed would ensure that everything would be carried out the way that way he specified. Spoiler Alert: didn't happen.

I feel like I need to go back and talk about the cover some more, as well as the artwork within the pages. I absolutely love manuscripts dating back to medieval times and the Renaissance. The colors are so vibrant and the detail is sometimes breathtaking. The "font", as we would call it today, is equally as beautiful and it all fit together in quite a lovely way. There are several plates included, reproductions of original works from the period that add such a historic feel. Even the pages are different, much more closely related to parchment than we typically find in books printed today. Not only did the content pull me back nearly 500 years, but these aesthetic elements did as well.

In addition to delving into Henry's final years, months, and days, Lipscomb has produced the will in question, in its entirety. This is presented in Appendix I and was such an important piece to include. I find historical documents from this period interesting anyway, but to be reading Henry's will was something else altogether. Imagine being able to look at the actual thing, instead of a manufactured copy. That would really be something.

This beautiful little gem is a must-read for Tudorphiles, 100%. Highly recommended.

Illustrated Kings and Queens of England


Rating: 4 Stars

I really enjoy much of Ridgway's work and this text is no exception. This is a very quick read, despite covering all the monarchs since my personal fave, Alfred the Great. Ridgway does not waste time, and provides important details - just the facts, without going into personal opinions about aspects of the rulers' lives. This would be a very handy guide and a good resource for those just beginning their studies on the subject, or those who are interested in learning more about various kings and queens, but are a bit intimidated by some of the weighty tomes that cover only the life of one king or queen. What Ridgway also does is take the time to dismiss some of the rumors about these men and women, so those just starting out are not inundated with falsehoods and things that have been factually proven to be incorrect. Each ruler is given two pages, where Ridgway recounts the important dates in the life of that monarch, as well as short biographies and interesting facts. I only wish that I read a physical copy of this book, as I read it on my plain old Kindle. This way I could take advantage of really taking in the beautiful illustrations of the engravings that went along with each. Otherwise, I have no complaints and found this to be a very useful volume.

The Other Tudors: Henry VIII's Mistresses and Bastards


Rating: 2 Stars

Far too much speculation, not enough evidence to back up many of the claims. Hence why it is called speculation I suppose. I realize that a book like can only ever be filled in with speculation, as Henry did not keep a running list of all his mistresses and children - though that totally seems like something he would do. I myself run into that very problem in my writing about Eleanor of Aquitaine; sometimes we simply have to present what we know and what would have been expected at the time and leave it at that. It becomes complicated though when a book relies too much on that conjecture, which sometimes happened here.

The problem, as always, is that there is too little information about many of the women mentioned. We have no idea of the context that put some of them into Henry's orbit, so we can't say for sure why he possibly supported this family, or this child, or whatever. Without any substantial information on these women, it is hard to know if they truly were mistresses, so it is important to look at who the men in their lives were - fathers, brothers, husbands - to see if perhaps we can figure out the reason for Henry's support that way. Unfortunately, that did not always happen in this text and it is, in my opinion, the least problematic way to go about trying to determine which child was Henry's and which wasn't. I especially think it is always of interest to note that Henry did recognize one of his illegitimate children, Henry Fitzroy, his son by Bessie Blount. Whether or not the children of Mary Boleyn were actually Henry's is also a major issue, as it completely makes sense why he would never acknowledge them - it would have further wrenched his plan to marry Anne, with the whole 'knowing her sister' thing (in addition to all the other reasons he should not have shacked up with the Concubine. An Anne Boleyn supporter I am decidedly NOT.) With any of the potential others though, not acknowledging them doesn't make much sense. Henry knew the importance all too well of needing an heir and a spare, he himself had been the spare while his older brother Arthur still lived. Given the difficulties of producing any children period, not just males, it seems like Henry would have legitimized any son he had outside of his marriages (again, excepting those who he may have father with Mary).

Speaking of Mary, who is my fave Boleyn, I really appreciated the author's perspective in looking at whether or not she ever was a mistress to Francis I during her time at court in France. I feel like Mary really got the short end of the stick - I know it sounds strange to say, considering the fact that both of her siblings were beheaded, but even so, she was the black sheep of the family and I want so badly to know more about her, to see what truly made her act as she did in the choices she made.

By the end, the author comes out with a firm statement, which I think is bold even if I disagree with her conclusions:

"The three children of Henry VIII are, in fact, the eight children of Henry VIII. A man who longed for a son actually had five; a man who didn't want daughters had three. The tragedy was that so many of them were outside the lawful boundaries of marriage" (page 306).

Except, again, with Henry that was never a problem. We are talking about the guy who eventually declared himself head of the Church of England. He was willing to break with the pope over his marriage to Anne Boleyn, and he raised up one illegitimate son. There is simply no reason to think he would not have done the same with the others, had they been his.

I will say that one aspect of the book I did enjoy was seeing how Henry's legitimate children interacted with these potential half-siblings during their various times on the throne and before. Perhaps there are some clues in those interactions, but I again have a hard time believing that Henry would not raise up more sons to appropriate titles, regardless of their legitimacy. Henry knew he could pretty much do as he pleased, as he proved with Fitzroy. The evidence for the rest of these supposed sons is just not convincing enough for me.

Tackling the TBR Week 10: Match 8-March 14, 2019

Each week I will be keeping track of books that I have read from my TBR. I have a huge backlog of books and often end up reading new books that are not even on my list, instead of trying to whittle down the list that continues to balloon up on Goodreads. Chuckles had the idea first, and we are going to use this as a chance to encourage each other to get those books read instead of always grabbing new ones and thus never making a dent in the physical and digital stacks we already have. It will also give us a chance to take a good look at our lists and see if there are ones we are no longer interested in. We will be posting on the 7th, 14th, 21st, and the last day of the month.

Previous Week's TBR Total: 3,825

Books Added to TBR This Week: 13

Books Removed from TBR This Week: 161

Currently Reading:

Books Finished This Week: 7

Books DNF-ed This Week: 1

Duplicates Removed: 0


New TBR Total: My calculation says 3,653. Goodreads says 3,668

This discrepancy is the biggest I have had since starting this challenge and I am unsure of which total to go with at this point. I will probably stick with the Goodreads number for the time being, only because I would hate to go with the lower number and then find out later that it was do to me forgetting that I added X number of books to my TBR or something stupid like that.

Is your TBR under control, or a hot mess like mine?

Happy Reading!

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Dave Cullen: From Columbine to Parkland

5632446 41154327

Columbine: 4 Stars        Parkland: 5 Stars

FYI: This is probably one of the most emotional posts you will find on my blog, as this is a topic that constantly enrages me. When we accept that dead kids are the side effect of everyone being able to have as many fucking guns as they want without some serious gun law reform, there's a problem. Seriously, no one wants to take your guns - unless you're a psychopath. Then fuck yeah, we are taking your guns. But really, truly, all we want is for people to stop the constant barrage of senseless gun violence. I don't think that is too much to ask. Anyway, as this is a topic I get heated about, you will find some (many) tangents if you stick around until the very end. And f-bombs. I apologize for neither.

This April will mark the 20th anniversary of the school shooting that ushered in the era that we find ourselves in today. Columbine was of course not the first school shooting, but it was the one with an unimaginable body count at the time - 13. Now I doubt Columbine even cracks the top ten when it comes to deadliest shooting sprees. 

And guess what? 


Not for the better, anyway. Kids are still dying in schools. People are dying in churches and theatres and at concerts. When we accepted Newtown, and silently agreed that the Second Amendment was more important than all those young lives lost, we lost our soul.


If those who are fanatic about owning guns would actually listen to what is being suggested, they would realize that no one is "coming for their guns". Anyone who is a law-abiding citizen should have no problems with expanded background checks. You'll still get your guns and ammo and be able to hunt and shoot targets until your heart is content. But we have to do SOMETHING about those who are getting guns and should most definitely NOT have them. There has to be a solution because I for one DO NOT ACCEPT that the murder of six and seven year olds is okay.

Since Columbine, there have been countless other mass shootings. Not only at schools, but at concerts, in movie theatres, in houses of worship, and more. Yet one must only hear the word 'Columbine' to KNOW, to be transported back to April 20th, 1999. I will never forget where I was - walking into school at around 6 PM, just returning from a track meet at another school. I was a sophomore and I stared in awe at the television still on in the front lobby, watching the news footage in horror as Patrick Ireland struggled to get out the second story window of the school's library. I see it just as clearly in my head now, as if I were watching it again.

I have put off writing this review for a long time. First, it was because Columbine was such a tragic, horrific event. As a high school student at the time, those memories and fears come back to the surface very easily. That, coupled with the knowledge that Columbine was preventable had people just been paying attention to what the murderers were doing, makes this subject so hard to talk about, even though we MUST have these conversations and MUST get to a solution.

Once I heard that Cullen was writing about Parkland, I then decided to put off the Columbine review even longer, because I wanted to review them together and see the differences - of which there were many. Both books are as excellent as they are different. Columbine was about the killers, the hows and whys this happened. Parkland though, not so much. We know the whys and the hows. This one is different, it's about the potential for change. For one, the killer's name is never mentioned. This is an approach I wish all reporters and newscasters should take when reporting on this subject. It pains me to even type that sentence, knowing we are at any given time not far off from our next preventable mass shooting. If we would focus on the victims and survivors, and forget the name of the monster who went on a rampage, I think we'd be a lot better off. I also discovered as I was reading that when Cullen made a point to say that he was not going to use the killer's name, I racked my brain trying to remember it. I couldn't. I still can't and have no interest in doing so. He doesn't matter. But I know who David is, and Emma, and Jaclyn, and Cameron. I know the names of the victims, of the teachers who protected their students and ultimately lost their lives in doing so. They are the ones who should be remembered and this is a lesson that the media would do well to take to heart.

There are parts of Cullen's book on Columbine that I find problematic. While I do not doubt Eric Harris was, in fact, a psychopath (um, hellooooo police, his website was horrifyingly descriptive), I also believe that bullying was an issue. I agree that he didn't just snap one day, as it was shown that he and Klebold meticulously planned this for over a year. But I have read several accounts of Columbine and there are several instances where friends of the two talked about being bullied. Harris even talked about it in one of his journals:

"Everyone is always making fun of me because of how I look, how fucking weak I am and shit, well I will get you all back: ultimate fucking revenge right here...I have practically no self-esteem, especially concerning girls and looks and such..."

Even so, it is not en excuse for what he and Klebold did. Personally, Klebold is much harder for me to figure out because he seems like the more complicated one. That he was depressed seems so obvious, but the glee that he shared with Harris about planning this and carrying it out does not exactly jive with the whole 'follower' idea that some have of him. I recall a line from the book that was something like, "Eric went in the building to kill, Dylan went in to die" or something similar. This statement makes some sense, but then does not explain why Klebold shot students as indiscriminately as Harris did. He participated in the gathering of supplies and building of bombs. This was no game to them, they were serious and intended to kill as many people as possible. Still, both killers at one point or another think about the impact this will have on their own families after their deaths. Neither had any anger toward their parents for anything, and essentially remark in their journals and the videos they made leading up to April 20th, 1999 that the aftermath will be hard on them and they're sorry for that.

What completely baffles me about this whole situation, is that again, it was completely preventable. When Harris made it his mission to target one of Klebold's friends (and formerly his own friend as well - Brooks Brown), NOTHING WAS DONE. The police had reports of Harris' behavior, his website even where he raged about everything that pissed him off, and his very specific threats against Brown were enough to get a search warrant drawn up and signed. And what happened with the warrant, you might ask? Nothing. Not a damn fucking thing. It was never used. Such complete and utter bullshit. Harris pretty much came right out and said he hated everyone, he thought he was smarter than everyone and thus it does make sense that the plan would target a large group, not just those who bullied him and Klebold. Klebold's journals are vastly different from those Harris wrote. This is in no way an attempt to humanize Klebold, he was a murderer just as Harris was. But he also seemed like he could have been one to easily manipulate into going along with a plan like this. Maybe manipulate isn't the right word, and I am struggling with what to go for here. Maybe the depression made him eager to set the plan in motion so he could have an excuse to kill himself. I don't know. I don't understand the mind of someone like this and I don't even want to try.

Touching on the issue of the warrant never being executed, I also learned more about the police response, and how even after kids were coming out of the building and saying that Klebold and Harris were dead in the library, officers still waited. Dave Sanders bled to death as his students desperately tried to keep him alive, tried to get the attention of the officers outside that they needed immediate help, and that help never came. It is appalling, yet something we would also see play out at Parkland. Not only did the school resource officer not go in, but the first responding officers didn't either. So many more lives lost in an already senseless tragedy.

Cullen does try though, and for all his reporting on, studying, and wanting to make sense of this horrific tragedy, by the time Parkland came around he had developed secondary PTDS. Columbine never left him, from the earliest days when he was on the scene reporting on its immediate aftermath. So when it came to writing about Parkland, I am not surprised on his choice of what to focus on, for two reasons. The first reason being, of course, the survivors and students who became activists immediately, as in the same day that 17 people were murdered on campus. The second reason being that PTSD is real and no joke. Revisiting events over and over and over, even if you did not experience them, can be traumatizing. (It is something teachers are taught how to deal with as well in so many of our professional development days. You would not believe some of the stories I carry in my heart that my students have told me over the years. They are heartbreaking and unimaginable.)

So, while Columbine is a minute-by-minute account of everything that lead up to the shooting and all that came after, Parkland: Birth of a Movement is just as the title implies. It is the story of children, entering young adulthood, tired and traumatized and understanding that the adults in power are not going to do anything to protect them or any other kids from becoming the next Columbine, the next Va Tech, the next Newtown, and on and on and on. These kids mobilized and sprang into action and I am in awe of this generation. Despite what the trolls at Faux News would have you believe, these young people are brave and intelligent and will change the world. I felt such pride in reading about all that they took on, the planning and organizing and creating a movement that very well could finally begin to chip away at the stranglehold that money has on politicians. It won't be easy, and it will be years before we see big change, but we will see change - I firmly believe that. I think it is also important to consider just how much of a threat that Faux News and their minions consider these young ones, considering the amount of words wasted on attacking them and their ideas. If they were not a threat, you know those idiots would not have wasted their precious air time in going after them. Viciously. Repeatedly.

It didn't really matter to the Parkland kids though because they were ready and they came out swinging, as demonstrated by an early line in the book on page 6:

"There were no vacant stares from the Parkland survivors. This generation had grown up on lockdown drills - and this time, they were ready."

They shouldn't have to be ready. Kids should not be afraid to go to school. We've got kids saying 'Stop killing us', we've got African-Americans saying, 'Stop killing us', and yet we can't figure out a solution? What a bunch of fucking bullshit. Gun laws that make sense would be a good place to start. While we're at it, let's de-stigmatize mental health issues. There are so many things going into this, but those are the two best places to start. Speaking of bullshit, don't come at me with incorrect information. Time an again people arguing against gun laws make stupid claims like, "Chicago has super strict gun laws and look at the crime there!" Yeah, you know why? Because laws RIGHT NEXT DOOR IN INDIANA ARE NOT AS STRICT. It's not rocket science, morons. The guns are coming from places where the laws are more lax. If gun laws were the same across the board, in all fifty states, this would decrease some of that flow into Chicago and other cities too that have strict laws and still see horrifying amounts of gun violence.

Another quote from Parkland really got to me and caused me to reflect not only on the sad state of affairs in our school system today, but the fact that both my daughter and I go every day into public schools and somewhere in the back of my mind, I am always thinking about the what-ifs.

"The Columbine survivors had never been trained in lockdown drills. They had never heard the term. They didn't rise up against the epidemic of school shooters because they had no idea it had begun. The surviving students were in their late thirties now. The faculty were retired or approaching it" (page 231).

This makes me so incredibly sad. I hate that both as a mom and a teacher, that children have to know what to do if there is a threat inside the building. I hate that it is something my baby had to learn about in pre-school. A four year old should not have to deal with that and the ensuing questions about, "What did my teacher mean by maybe a bad guy comes into school?" Those questions are FUCKING AWFUL and I tried not to cry while answering them. I tried to explain as best I could to my sweet little girl that sometimes we need to practice being safe at school and always following our teacher's directions so we keep ourselves safe, just like we practice for fires and tornadoes. With my students, a mix of 3rd, 4th, and 5th graders, we had a class discussion the morning after it happened. Some had seen the news but didn't understand it all, some had seen the news and knew all too well what it meant, and some had no idea what we were talking about. Keep in mind, my students are all diagnosed with a behavior disorder/emotional disturbance. Those diagnoses are often coupled with ADHD, ADD, ODD, SLD, PTSD, Bi-polar Disorder, and/or a whole slew of other acronyms. I explained that a former student had gone into a school building in Florida and shot many people. Seventeen of them died. What was so disheartening is that some of the students did not even care. Some shrugged their shoulders and zoned out. Now, it is also true that at least some of my students' lives have already been touched by some kind of violence, whether it is gun violence or otherwise. Some of them are already jaded in regards to that topic, and they're not even out of elementary school yet. Some even say they would fight the shooter. I ask how, when he or she has a gun. They have no plan, just that they would "totally beat him up". Yeah, sure, okay. I then switched gears and we talked about what would happen if we had to go into a lockdown. We have someone designated to turn off the lights while I lock the door, and then we sit in a back corner, out of sight. Those were the instructions given anyway, but I added something else to it, because I'll be damned if we're just going to sit there like lambs, waiting for slaughter. I've instructed students every year that while we have to be absolutely silent, everyone needs to grab something that is light enough for them to be able to throw, and throw across the room, but heavy enough to do some damage were someone to ever enter our room. I have never been so thankful to have so many students who are so flawless at throwing chairs. Some of the kids understood right away, that if everyone had something to throw, that would give enough kids some time. Some of us could make it out. SOME being the operative word. Most accepted this without a word. Another piece of the puzzle that breaks my heart. But, there is still another part to the plan, as each time a mass shooting happens I objectively survey my classroom and each time am met with the harsh reality in that there are simply not enough places to hide ten kids and three adults. And we are on the second floor. Again, I am lucky in that we have a few students who are really good at breaking things, so popping the screen off the window has not been an issue for the three years we have been in the room. I've said without much explanation that, should it come to that, the minute we know it is safe outside (our room overlooks the main entrance to the building), we are busting out that window and everyone is going out. Broken legs and arms be damned, I will do whatever I have to so that as many of my students as possible survive. And I really hope I never have to drop any of them out the window.

As you can see, this topic is very close to my heart. I also hate the fact that my daughter and I are not in the same building, but there is nothing I can do about that for the time being. Eventually though, I will make sure that happens.

Cullen spent so much time getting to know these kids, getting to the very heart of their mission. It has to be remembered and stated again and again, they are not advocating for all guns to be taken away. Literally no sane person is saying that. Instead, they are asking the adults in charge to do their jobs and attempt to make our country a marginally safer place. (Spoiler Alert: Arming teachers is NOT the answer. Fuck off with that bullshit.) These young adults have had to take matters into their own hands because they, the generation who has only known lockdown/active shooter drills as a regular part of their lives, saw that no one else was willing to actually stand up to the NRA and its money and demand change. I've said it before and I will say it again: the moment was accepted the murders of those babies at Sandy Hook, our country lost its soul. These kids KNOW, though. They know the world can change, that our country can change. They know it won't be easy, that it may not even happen in the next five years. But it WILL happen.

I deeply appreciate that Cullen remained an observer, even while in the trenches with the kids, covering event after event after event with them. By now Dave Cullen is regarded by fellow media members as one of the top journalists to call on when a mass shooting occurs. While I don't think it is a job that anyone would really want, Cullen is the consummate professional. He lets the story tell itself, gives the survivors and activists room to breathe and tell their story and be kids and be heard. He does not inject his own opinions into the narrative about any of the topics, be it gun control, mental health, whatever. The Parkland kids run the show and he documents it. Time and again I was struck by the courage and resiliency of the students, and I was inspired and hopeful for the future. They have shown the world what a few people with a big idea and the drive to accomplish what they set their minds to can do. I don't know any of them, but I am proud of what they have accomplished so far, and am greatly interested in seeing where they will go next to achieve their goals.

Highly, highly recommended.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

The Game Console: A Photographic History From Atari to XBox


Rating: 4 Stars

This book is gorgeous. Beautifully, stunningly, GORGEOUS. With a cover like that, so simple but effective, could the contents have been anything but? Unlikely. The whole slew of photographs are on-point.

I can in no way be mistaken for a serious gamer. I don't have the newest systems, I don't wait outside a store until midnight to get a particular game, and I don't even play the systems I do have very regularly (this will definitely change when my daughter is a little older and can play too). What I do have, however, is a deep appreciate for older systems that allowed me to play the games I do love so much. I remember well playing Pitfall on the Atari with my mom and one of my uncles, until my uncle sold it and I was heartbroken. That would have been late 80s, very early 90s. Then I received an original NES for my birthday, again very early 90s, and IT STILL WORKS! None of that nonsense with having to blow on the cartridges, or stick a ruler into the game slot with the game just to hold it down. I also have a still working SNES, which I really only wanted for the original Sim City. I have a PS2, because of The Godfather game (and all the Guitar Hero editions - Eleanor wants to play this one so badly, any day now). I also have a Wii, which I almost got by accident. Mom had some last minute Christmas shopping to do, gosh maybe a decade ago now (has it really been THAT long?!?!) and I didn't want to go along. Seriously last minute, we are talking December 23rd. I whined and complained, as any mature 26 year old would do, and she said if I went along with to help, she would get me a Wii. I even got a pink controller out of the deal, so in the end it was worth braving the crowds - and I then got Super Mario World and The Godfather: The Blackhand Edition. Sadly, my original Gameboy no longer works, though I can not bear to part with it. When my mom moved while I was in college, the Gameboy (inside its carrying case of course) must've have had something heavier placed on top of it by accident, because the A button is permanently pressed in. Such a sad discovery, that was. It still turns on and would work otherwise, but somehow I don't think customer service would help me get it repaired now, even if I did call the 1-800 number.

Anyway, you might be wondering what I am doing reading and reviewing a book about a subject that seems ill-suited for me, given my singular focus when it comes to what games I am interested in. I love the nostalgia and seeing these systems - plus so many that I never even knew existed. I love history, and even if I did not have or use all the systems, growing up my friends did - not to mention two of my guy friends/former roommates who - combined with an ex-boyfriend who was best friends with them - literally had every system ever crammed into the living room in our apartment.

The author did not set out to write a book. Initially he began this little project as a way of improving the Wikipedia articles he came across that had some very poor quality photos. He took it upon himself to find so many of these systems, photograph them, and improve their pages. This passion project of his turned into what we have now, and isn't that cover gorgeous? I was very happy to see an NES control on the cover. I recall having arguments in elementary school over the NES and SNES vs. the Sega Genesis and though I thought Sonic was pretty neat, I was always firmly in the Mario camp. I don't even know why we argued about it then, I have no recollection of the actual arguments, just the feeling of these arguments being intense.

The book is broken up into generations of consoles, which I found helpful, as I was not familiar with so many of the systems. I of course knew to which generation my own belong, but there was much I learned from this book, even when its focus was not so much on the words as it was the pictures. Each console presented is given two pages, sometimes more, to showcase not only the exterior, but all the interior pieces as well. Controllers and accessories were also included where applicable and I loved seeing how those evolved over time. The text was helpful, especially when detailing the pros and cons of consoles and why some worked well and others failed miserably. There are specs tables included that give information about where it was manufactured and when, any memory it might have, the year it came out, how many were made, how many games were manufactured for it, and so on. The focus is strictly on the hardware here, aside from the mentions of how many games went with the console, though of course the very most popular systems and their flagship characters were given a few lines in most cases.

Obviously this book will be of interest mostly to those who love video games and play them regularly. Or, someone like me who loves the older systems and enjoys the nostalgia and good memories that these older systems conjure up.

Paperback Crush: The Totally Radical History of '80s and '90s Teen Fiction


Rating: 2 Stars

I was super excited for this one, but it left me completely underwhelmed. Given my love of books from my childhood and teen years, I was deeply sad when I finished the book because it was not at all what I thought it would be. Seriously, only being able to muster two stars for this book is crushing my soul. But I have to be honest. So, honestly, this book was a huuuuuuge disappointment - and the two stars are generous. The only reason it is even getting two stars if because of the nostalgia it did provide in certain sections.

In the synopsis on Goodreads it says, "A hilarious and nostalgic trip through the history of paperback pre-teen series of the 80s and 90s"I must have missed the humor part, which I suppose is possible, considering the fact that I ended up skimming quite a bit toward the end.

So the book was divided up into sections based on love, friends, family, school, jobs, danger, and terror. The author pulled from many series and authors over and over, and the general structure of the book didn't make a lot of sense to me. I feel like there could have been a better way to discuss such pivotal books (no, I don't mean they're great literature, but be honest, these books made so many kids into readers. That counts for a lot, even if they don't stand up well to the test of time). Maybe if the bigger series could have had their own chapters, or at least their own extensive sections, then the content would not have felt so scattered and all over the place. For example, Sweet Valley was discussed at length, but spread out over those multiple chapters, so the book felt disjointed. There was also not nearly as much a discussion on Fear Street as there should have been, and again I think this is owed to the poorly structured way the book was written. Fear Street really only fits the categories of 'danger' and 'terror', so there was not nearly enough written about the impact of these books - or Goosebumps for the bit younger crowd. And if you're up for a debate, there weren't nearly enough pages devoted to Christopher Pike either. Ah, memories. To go back to the days of simplicity, when the biggest kerfuffle was arguing over who was better, Stine or Pike. Personally, I preferred Stine because I loved all the history that went into Fear Street, like the original trilogy saga. Plus one can't forget the Cheerleaders series, and Fear Street Seniors. Man, I loved those books. Pike kind of freaked me out, his books always felt darker to me, which is a laugh now when I look back at how dark and crazed Stine's books also were. Seriously, a whole group of seniors were dying and no parents thought, "Hmmm, we have multiple really scary incidents and strange, violent deaths here in Shadyside. Maybe we should leave so our kids don't DIE." But that was the beauty of it. It was teen and pre-teen fiction; we ate it up, it didn't always have to make sense.

My number one issue with this entire book is that honestly, it felt at many times like the author didn't even love the books as a kid nearly as much as the title and blurb implied. She was so critical of nearly every book, author, series, whatever. It really was not a fun book to read. What I wanted (and thought I was getting) from this was a trip down memory lane with books that I devoured as a middle school and high school student. I wanted to know more about how they came to be, the authors, etc. Instead, this text is peppered with long and short diatribes lamenting the lack of diversity - a topic so many other reviewers have also commented on. We live in an era very different from the one that produced these books, even though it was only 20-30 years ago. It does not make it okay to exclude diverse casts of characters, but at the same time, nothing about those books is going to change now. So instead of constantly going on and one about how white upper middle class the books were, save the critical analysis for a book that is set up to be just that. In fact that would make an interesting book and I would read it, but this one is practically a bait and switch. It pulled me in with the promise of nostalgia for books I read and reread and reread until they fell apart, but then hit me over the head time and again with how this lack of diversity is awful and we are all bad people for loving these books. You know, when we were kids. Okay, so the author does not go so far as to say we are bad people, but man, it really felt like that was an underlying current sometimes. Luckily, though I no longer read teen and YA books, this problem is being remedied every day. There are a slew of amazing books coming out all the time that include worlds and characters now more reflective of our time and place. Having representation in reading material is so crucial, especially if we want to make sure all kids have the opportunities to learn to love reading.

I did love the cover. it was just about the only thing that was perfect here. If that cover doesn't scream 80s and 90s teen lit, I don't know what does. I really, really love the cover.

So instead of a lighthearted celebration of teen lit from two-three decades ago, we get a book that is critical of the entire genre - and the snark isn't even funny, it's just mean. Being objective, and completely eviscerating are two totally different things. Maybe Moss felt like if she did not complete talk down on some of these books, she would lose some street cred or something, because seriously, I do not know why she chose to write about this topic - though she stated upfront she was a fan. Perhaps the author would have better served her subject if she had taken on the task of discussing why these books became so popular - particularly The Baby-Sitters Club and Sweet Valley - and allllll the spin-offs (not to mention movies and/or television shows).

The final blow for this one, the reason it truly should be no more than a one star rating, was the complete lack of attention to the Baby-Sitters Club series. There was hardly anything at all written about that series, which was arguably bigger than Sweet Valley. It was completely unacceptable that so little ink went into giving that series the same attention that others received. On the other hand, as I think about it, perhaps that is for the best, because maybe had she devoted more attention to it, she would have torn it completely apart just like all the others.

ARC, Publisher Gift: Invisible Emperor: Napoleon on Elba from Exile to Escape


I received a complimentary paperback copy of this book in exchange for an honest review

Rating: 3 Stars

I know almost nothing about Napoleon. You might wonder why I accepted this book then, and it is because I read Braude's previous book about Monte Carlo and absolutely LOVED IT. He's a great writer with a good eye for the details that really matter and the research to back up his interpretations.

This one though...while all of these things are true for this book also...I have come to the conclusion that I just can not get interested in France once my heroine Eleanor has passed from this life. So basically, anything going on in France after 1204, I am not into.

Even so, I wanted to give this one a try because I really do not know anything about the former emperor except that he was a little guy with a big ego, and probably a bit of a chip on his shoulder due to being so short. 5'2" seems short, even for that period, though it was obviously far less pronounced than it would be today.


I didn't know why he was exiled, how it came to be, or even where he was exiled until reading this one, so I appreciated the gaps in my knowledge being filled. Beyond the basics though, this part of his story was really hard for me to get into. I started here because I figured I would get enough of the back story to see how he came to this point, and that this would also pique my interest because he escapes. That should have been tense and dramatic, right? wasn't. A memorable line for me what the statements in regard to even though he had been exiled, there was no language written up in any documents that explicitly said that Napoleon could not leave Elba, so what did they expect? He was a military leader and good at commanding people, so it should come as a shock to no one that he up and left. Even with that tension though, the story as a whole felt very quiet and unremarkable to me. Not through the author's writing, but because of the material, the story itself. Given the fact that at one time Napoleon ruled over half of Europe and tens of millions of subjects, his peaceful and unassuming existence on Elba did not fit what picture I do have of him in my mind.

I found it interesting that this is the first text to really explore this period of Napoleon's life. I wonder why it is so often skipped over, given that fascination with him. Everyone has heard of Waterloo, yet historians don't spend a lot of time discussing the period leading up to Napoleon's brief return to power, and the battle that would eventually mean the deaths of thousands fighting on both sides.

It still baffles me that anyone thought this exile was a good idea - especially one that was not terribly far from France. That they let so many of his followers go with him to Elba is also questionable. I'd love to have been in that meeting:

"Hey, so Napoleon needs to go. We should execute him and end this for good."

"Nah, let's just send him and his most fanatical followers packing to a little island not too far away, and allow him to rule there and still keep up the show of him being in charge of anything. What could go wrong?"

Um, hello?? Did they really think he would stay there? Especially when someone obviously forgot to add the clause, "By the way, you can never leave Elba.?!?! Seriously. Come on now.

In the end though, I do have to say this book was not for me. I find no matter how I try, there are some subjects who hold little interest for me and Napoleon is one of them. Even so, I do not want this review to dissuade anyone who does have an interest in France and/or Napoleon from reading it. It is probably best to read if you already have a lot of knowledge about this era and Napoleon, as I did feel I was at a disadvantage to truly appreciate what this time on Elba meant for Napoleon, given that I know very little else about him. It is a well-researched and incredibly thorough text, and you get to know the historical figures grappling with this unusual situation very well. 

NetGalley ARC: Ghosts of the Grand Canyon


I received a free digital ARC from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review

Rating: 2.5 Stars

I am not what you would call and "outdoor girl". In fact, I am pretty much what Jack thinks of when he calls Rose and "indoor girl" the first night they met. I don't like nature (close up, at least. I can admire from afar), I don't want it to touch me, I don't want to be in it, I don't like humidity and being sweaty and gross (winter is a whole different story, I love winter and I love snow). Even so, there is something about the Grand Canyon that draws me in, that I would be willing to set aside all my 'nature rules' in order to go hiking up, down, and all around. So when I saw a new paranormal book up on Llewellyn's page AND it was specific to the Grand Canyon, I was pretty interested.

Sadly, this one was not a favorite - and I have read a ton of these types of books that Llewellyn offers.

First, I want to address the issue of the errors in the proof. This is not the author's fault in any way and what I am about to address did not impact my rating in any way. However, this is now the second or third book from Llewellyn where the proof copy has been terrible. I don't mean typos and such, those are expected at least somewhat in an uncorrected proof. This issue goes beyond that. Any time a word should have had an 'ff', that set of letters was missing. There is another combo as well, I believe either 'if' or 'fi', I can not recall, but it was hugely distracting. And as this is not the first proof I have found that in recently, I am wondering what the purpose is? Sometimes it was obvious was the word was meant to be, and other times it made a different word, which then lead me to believe there were many typos, until I caught on to the pattern of what was missing. Again, this part did not impact my rating, but it was suuuuuper annoying.

As for the book itself, as it went on, I found myself skimming toward the later half, especially when stories became very similar. I don't to discuss anything too in-depth about the kinds of experiences people had and continue to have, because there are some great stories. But I do think some of the more repetitive ones could have been left out. Another major frustration and part of the reason for the score of 2.5 stars instead of 3 has to do with the fact that there is little verifiable information. We often do not even get dates or a time frame for when any of the experiences supposedly occurred. I understand that putting a date to all would be impossible, given the fact that so many stories are passed on from one staff member to the next, and information gets lost over time, but it certainly would have lent some credibility to some of the stories if there was more meat to them overall.

The authors are very familiar with the setting, living and working in the area. I mistakenly thought when I first grabbed this one though, that these were all their personal stories and I should have read the synopsis a little more carefully. They do share some of their experiences, but overall the majority are accounts that other people have reported to have had. I realize there simply is no real plausible way to do any kind of investigation within the canyon, the amount of contamination in the evidence would be astronomical. Even so, I would have appreciated some more concrete evidence within some of the stories.

Something else I think the authors did well relates to their knowledge of the Grand Canyon. We get plenty of historical information not only related to the supposed hauntings, but of the canyon itself and its surroundings. I think that part is just as important, so readers and would-be investigators get a feel for why a place might attract spirits or why guests might linger, long after their earthly body has departed. I also have never really given much thought to what a vast complex of buildings must cover the site at this point, and it was interesting to learn about that aspect of the history as well.