Wednesday, April 30, 2014

"And I Think to Myself, What a Wonderful World" : A List of Books About the Natural Beauty of Our World

This is a lovely planet we have ourselves here, and these books celebrate them! Here in the midwest we are slowly creeping towards spring, and being stuck inside during the winter makes me appreciate the great outdoors all the more!

"My First Summer in the Sierra" by John Muir

Hopefully the name John Muir should be ringing a bell for you somewhere back in your brain. John Muir was a Scotsman by birth but his family moved to the United States (Wisconsin, in fact) in 1849. He had always loved being outside and exploring nature. He even walked from Indiana to Florida once! (That's over a thousand miles). He became a great advocate for conservationism, the National Parks and even founded the Sierra Club.

The book "My First Summer in the Sierra" is a journal of John's first summer in the Sierra mountains of California. He was hired by a friend to help keep an eye on the friends sheep and the shepherd that had also been hired. (The shepherd doesn't sound like a particularly dedicated fellow). Though John has no experience with sheep his friend assures him that as long as he keeps one eye on the sheep and their shepherd he is free to explore and continue his studies of the nature around him.So with a friend's St Bernard named Carlo, John Muir spends his summer exploring these lovely landscapes.

Here's a few quotes that I liked:

-"Only spread a fern frond over a man's head and worldly cares are cast out, and freedom and beauty and peace come in".

-"Sheep, like people are ungovernable when hungry". (He also refers to the sheep as wool bundles which I thought was cute)

So John +Sierra Mountains= Enduring love affair.

I gave this book a 3 out of 5.Short and filed with lovely imagery. Makes us appreciate what we have!

"The Northern Lights: The True Story of the Man who Unlocked the Secrets of the Aurora Borealis" by Lucy Jago

Kristian Birkeland was a scientist in Norway in the late 1880s. He was incredibly gifted, but the one scientific phenomenon that really captured his attention was the aurora borealis, aka the northern lights. The mythology and local folklore that went along with this great spectacle of nature is amazing.Vikings thought that the lights were a sign from Odin marking who would die in upcoming battles Lapplanders would hid in their houses and be very quite when the northern lights happened, they thought they were the spirits of angered dead relatives. They also thought that the spirits could be vengeful, and we worried that the lights would reach down and plop of their heads to be used as balls. (The Eskimo word for aurora means "ballplayer). These people would think it crazy that people sought out these lights to watch, just for fun!

He and his team endured suspicious locals, avalanches, white out blizzards, cabin fever, and other difficulties to study these amazing lights at the top of the world. He made theories from his observations that were decades and decades ahead of their time.He is credited as the first scientist to propose an essentially correct explanation of the aurora borealis. (Though part of me really wishes that it was Odin, because that's just a great story).

In between studying the lights and being locked in his laboratory Birkeland also came up with ideas for: hearing aids for deaf people, caviar, and a very unstable sounding cannon. However, he relied on alcohol and sleeping aids more and more, which coupled with extreme paranoia, lead to a severe decline and early death.Some would say the death is suspicious. (bum bum BUM!)

Another interesting thing about this book, that doesn't really have anything to do with the lights is the relationship between Sweden and Norway.Norway wasn't always an independent country, they were managed by Sweden, and several times were on the brink of war. Birkeland was a big proponent for Norway's freedom and was thrilled when it finally happened.

I gave this book a strong 2.5 stars. It started strong, and ended strong, but towards the middle it was kind of meh. To be fair, a lot of it was because there was a lot of talk about science and patents and corporate sabotage stuff which was not as entertaining as people losing their fingers, you know?


On an unrelated note, do you remember me talking about Books and Beverages' Inkling series featuring Screwtape Letters (refresh yourself here)? Jamie is putting up the discussion questions and her review on May 21st, so if you'd like to participate get a jump on your reading and join us!

Monday, April 28, 2014

Book Review: "A Natural History of Dragons: A Memoir by Lady Trent" by Marie Brennan

Is anyone else in the mood for dragons now that "Game of Thrones" is back on? I hope so, because that's what you are getting!

Our book today is a memoir of a fake person. It's written in her later years, but the book is set from when she was a little girl to when she's about 20. For what it's worth, the places that are named are not on any map I've ever seen, and the date given is 5658.Though the descriptions make it sound medieval times-like. So just in case the fact that it's about dragons hasn't alerted you that this is a work of fiction, that should. Onward and upward...

Our narrator, and the memoir's main character is Isabella.She's the only girl in her well to do family of 6 kids. She seems to have a low tolerance of all things ladylike, but it intensely curious about the natural world and has her brother sneak books from her father's intensive library so she can learn more. A question about why birds have wishbones leads to a messy dove autopsy which gets her in trouble as an 8 year old, but her father appreciates that she has an inquisitive mind and let's her borrow a book about what bird anatomy.

After a close call with a dragon after a reckless moment her mother begs her to put aside all the crazy learning about dragons so she can concentrate on lady-like things so she might actually be able to snag a husband. Isabella realizes that this probably a good thing for her future, so she abandons her learning about nature and picks up learning how to run an estate.

2 years later it's time for her to find a husband, because she's about 17, which as we all know is prime marrying age. (sarcasm). Her dad, remembering her love of books, gives her a list of good men who have large libraries in their family estates. She takes heart that maybe she could love one of these men if at least they both love reading and learning.

She meets one of the men, Jacob, by chance at the local royalties animal menagerie. This includes three dragons, they begin to talk to each other about they are both fascinated by dragons, they start courting, they decide to get married. He doesn't do anything to discourage her dragon interest, and he even lets her breed a couple and keep them in an outbuilding on their estate.They're very small dragons, like the size of your hand. Not Toothless from "How to Train Your Dragon" size.

Toothless!!! A Black Philippinean Cold Fire dragon are originated in the Philippine Islands in Asia Pacific. Once it matured this dragons migrates to East Regions such Ireland. And then they came back to their birthplace to hatch their eggs.
ps I adore Toothless, I think he's so cute, like only a animated animal can be.

Anyway, Jacob is invited on a dragon research mission and Isabella begs to come along, if in no other capacity as a note taker/secretary/organizer. He reluctantly agrees and they had off on their adventure!

I don't want to give up too much but the adventure includes: dragons, smugglers, jealousy, folk tales, offending locals, surly handmaids and murder most foooooooooul.

I thought this book was fun. I liked the format. I liked that she talked about dragons like they were real and the way that she made reference to other adventures that she had I suspect/hope that their might be one or two more of these in the publishing future. And I like that the cover looks like a textbook. I give it a high 3 out of 5!

A Natural History of Dragons: A Memoir by Lady Trent

Friday, April 25, 2014

Ben Winter's Last Policeman Trilogy and Why You Should Read It

So I'm going to share with you all one of my favorite book series' today. It's the Last Policeman trilogy by Ben Winters. The first two books are available now. "The Last Policeman" is the first book and the second is "Countdown City". I'm going to tell you a little about Ben, a little about the books, and hopefully by then you will all be as jazzed to read the third book as I am when it comes out in July. Though if Quirk would like to send me an ARC so I could read it before everyone else I would be pumped. (I'm not too proud to beg.)

Let's start with Ben. First you can find him on twitter at : @BenHWinters. He's pretty active on there. These books are not his first, he also wrote "Sense & Sensibilities and Sea Monsters." (He's written others too but I just wanted to use this picture, so sue me). We all know how I feel about Jane Austen but I'm still a little tempted to read this. Mostly because of the cover. I also like Ben because he lives in Indianapolis, which is a city I have spent some time in. All my mom's family is from Indiana and I spent many a summer in backwoods, straight country Indiana so Ben gets some points for being a Hoosier.

Laughing and repulsed all at the same time.

Anyway, back to the trilogy. 

"The Last Policeman" came out in July of 2012. And it was a finalist for the Edgar Award for best original paperback. 

So here's a quick and dirty summary. Hank Palace is a newly minted police detective in Concord, New Hampshire. In early 2012 the world is given some life changing news, an asteroid will be colliding with earth within the year and it will probably wipe out all life on the planet. Maia will be making contact with earth on October 3rd. There are measures taken to keep the world from dissolving into complete chaos, but it's inevitable in some degrees in some places.

Hank copes with this news by staying on the job. It's a much depleted squad with much depleted resources but to maintain some kind of normalcy he dresses in work appropriate clothes, follows protocol and keeps doing his job. One day he is called to the scene of a suspected suicide in a McDonald's bathroom. These calls are not unusual, a lot of people are coping with their impending doom by ending their lives. What troubles Hank about this suicide is that the victim hung himself with a very expensive belt, but all of his other clothes were very cheap. He suspects murder, but everyone left on the force rolls their eyes and tells him to let it go. Everyone's going to be dead in October anyway, right?

Hank doesn't let it go. There is drugs, fraud, his weird sister and her trouble making husband, a beautiful girl and more. The deeper he digs the more dangerous it gets!

"Countdown City" was released in July of 2013.

Hank has been granted early retirement (yay?) from the police force, so he is off the crime beat, at least officially. A woman that he hasn't seen in years appears at his door begging for help to find her missing husband. There are only 77 days until the asteroid comes and Hank doesn't tell her that at this point there's nothing he can do for her or anyone else. People are going missing every day. Most of them by choice.

But because Hank and this woman have a past, and because he needs something to do to keep his mind off the fact that Maia is going to be hitting Indonesia soon, he agrees to help. The world has gotten rougher and less civilized from when we left it last. There is a very short scene with a housewife, and young boy on a skateboard, and some water that really stopped me in my tracks and gave me pause.

Nico, Hank's sister helps him with this case, which is kind of a mixed blessing. There's a lot of scenes at a college campus that has dissolved into an anarchist commune-type of place awash with drugs and conspiracy theories. As Hank works on the case he to find Brett Cavatone he founds out things about what the government is doing even he is shocked...

What I think is the greatest thing about these books is it asks the question: "You know the day of your death. What do you do? How do you act? Do you keep on? Do you end at all? Do you turn into a monster? Do you turn into a saint? How do you cope?" It's these questions that really roll around in your brain while you're reading these books.I also thought it was interesting that a lot of people go "bucket list". When you realize that you're time is numbered people suddenly decide to do the things they always wanted. Paddle the Amazon, see the Grand Canyon, live in Paris... no time like the present!

This book also just won the Philip K Dick Award for 2014 as well!

The third and final book "World of Trouble" comes out July of this year! Will everyone die? Will there be a last minute savior? Will it whiz right by earth and then all of this chaos was for nothing?!?! I have so many questions!

Are you intrigued? I hope you are! Has anyone else read these?

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Book Review: "Russian Roulette: A Deadly Game: How British Spies Thwarted Lenin's Global Plot" by Giles Milton

The title says it all, this is a swashbuckling story of spies trying to keep the armies of socialism from marching over the earth.There a fleet of dashing spies filled with courage and a lust for an adventure all lead from London by their head, "C".

"C"'s identity was guarded for a very long time.His real last name was Cumming and he had been a high up in the British Navy when he was recruited for the job. He was an imposing man who liked to intimidate the people who worked for him but under it all he was generous and warm. There's a sad story about him though. He was driving in his car with his son when the got into a serious accident. His son was thrown from the car and landed on his head (never good). Cumming's leg was trapped in the mangled car, but he was desperate to reach his son. He took out his pocket knife and CUT OFF HIS MANGLED LEG so he could get to his son. They were discovered 8 hours later, Cummings laying unconscious next to his dead son.

The stories of these men, who mostly spend their time in Petrogard (St Petersburg) and Russia (by way of Scandinavia often) have amazing stories. Near misses, interrogations, prison sentences, dead sources and couriers, they experienced it all. One complained about having to grow a scratchy beard for a disguise, which cracked me up. Like, all the Russians want to kill you and you're upset that you're face is scratchy? Rub in some conditioner, you'll be fine.

There was one story right at the beginning of the book that I found fascinating. Have you heard the story about how Rasputin was killed? The men gathered had a hard time killing him. They poisoned him, shot him, and finally threw him in a cold river to hide the body. He was darn near impossible to kill, which helped to cement the theory that many people had that he was in alliance with Satan. So I was under the impression that this was what actually happened, like I learned that in history class I'm pretty sure. Turns out there was a British spy amongst the men who were determined to dispatch this creepy monk.In his memoirs the real story is told. When Rasputin's body is recovered, a few days after his last ice bath, it is in bad shape. One of his ears is ripped almost completely off. (Sorry in advance) his testicles are completely crushed and his penis is flattened. He had been beaten to death by a heavy object, and tossed into the river.

The story about his insane demise was made up by the men to help cement the feeling that Rasputin was craaazy and dangerous and that even in death he was scary. The concocted story was to help keep the outrage to a minimum and to make the Russian people feel relief at his demise. I was shocked when I read this. I even read this section outloud to my husband (which I generally don't do unless it's something awesome/funny because he generally just doesn't care) and he was surprised.

India also features largely into the story. The grasp that Great Britain held onto their "jewel of the Empire" was growing more tenuous. The British army's resources were stretched to the breaking point after WWI and there wasn't very many troops in India that could put down a revolution should one arise. Lenin knew that and started to do everything he could to rally the Indian people. He knew that if Russia and India could banned together his plan of world domination would be well on it's way.

Other notes:
-I love that the person who wrote this book is named Giles. So British.
-MI6 stands for military intelligence 6. Is there a military intelligence 1-5? I don't know.
-Someone says that Lenin looks like a "Scandinavian goblin". Someone else mentions that his features are somewhat Asiatic. If you look at his picture you can kind of see both. Scandinavian goblin is my favorite though.

I really liked this book. It really held my attention, very exciting. I thought I would get confused with everyone's names and aliases but I didn't. (I can't read spy novels, too much intrigue and I can't keep everything straight so this was a legit worry). The people are interesting the times are troubled and I learned so much. Also reaffirmed that I could never be a spy: no poker face, no language skills,not beautiful. Officially out of the running, haha. 4 out of 5 stars from me!

I got this book from Netgalley in exchange for a fair and honest review

Monday, April 21, 2014

Book Review: "Burial Rites" by Hannah Kent

Hope everyone had a great weekend! On Sunday it was 70 degrees and sunny in my part of Wisconsin for the first time since probably September of last year. Everyone was outside with their faces turned up to the sunshine like flowers. So nice, it was a little slice of heaven here on earth!

Today we're going to have a little bit of a shorter review. The book is great, and worthy of a full review, but I feel like it would be easy to give things away. So I'm going to paint in broad strokes and hope that it intrigues!

Does anyone know much about Iceland? I have to confess that all I really know is that it's capital is Reykjavik and that it's really expensive, though apparently still worth a visit.Well in the book I'm talking about today we're not talking modern Iceland, we're talking early 1820s Iceland.

The book's perspective switches between two viewpoints: a narrator voice and main character Agnes. When we meet Agnes she's in rough shape.  She's been convicted of murder and has been kept in brutal captivity awaiting her execution. Instead of being kept in a jail -like setting the whole time she awaits her sentence she is transferred to stay with a family in the far northern part of Iceland. The reason given is that there is a lack of jail-like structures in this sparsely populated part of the world, but you kind of get a feeling that something else might factor in as well.

The family that Agnes is to stay with lives in Korsna. The reason they are chosen is because the father (Jon) is on some type of council and it was decided (without his knowledge or consent) that his family should be the one to keep her. The family is marginally compensated, and that is what makes the difference for them. They have had a couple lean years on the farm and the small compensation might be enough to fend off the hardest of hard times.

The family of 4 (Mom, Dad, two daughters) don't know what to do with Agnes at first. They all live in such close quarters that just chaining her in their small house all day long isn't an option. Mom decides that if she's going to be there she's going to earn her keep and so she puts her to work on the farm. One daughter tries to befriend Agnes, the other one just constantly looks at her with disdain.

Agnes does have an occasional visitor though. Since she is to be executed the state let's her choose a pastor to work with her on the state of her soul before her dying day. She picks a young assistant reverend, Toti. It is to him that Agnes tells the story of her life and the night the murders took place. Eventually the family hears parts of the stories too and everything starts to slowly shift...

I think that it's interesting that so many crimes, no matter the crime or the place or the time have the same few themes: anger, lust, greed, jealousy, Just one or two of these can drive someone to something horrifying and this story is no different! I give this book 3 out of 5 stars. The last 10-15 pages and the emotions that they pack is worth the read.

Burial Rites
Also a beautifully simple cover

Friday, April 18, 2014

Book Review: "The Screwtape Letters" by C.S. Lewis

Here's the last of our Holy Week posts! Hope everyone has a wonderful Good Friday and Easter. Remember when picking out your Easter Sunday outfit pick something with elastic so you can eat as much as possible at brunch! (Wait, is that just me?) Our next theme week will be all about space, the final frontier!

I've talked about how much I like CS Lewis on the blog before, here and here. Of course it was my first two posts so probably only 2 of you saw it, haha. At any rate, Mr Lewis is one of my favorites and Screwtape Letters is his first book that I remember reading, that was for adults (aka not  The Chronicles of Narnia).

Screwtape Letters is made up of letters between a demon named Wormwood and his nephew Screwtape. Screwtape is a new tempter, and Wormwood is a high ranking veteran. They write letters back and forth but the only letters we see are Wormwood's letters in response.It's obvious that Screwtape is testing his patience, at one point he gets so upset while writing a response that he turns into a centipede. (Because it's hell, so giant centipede, of course).

So Screwtape is on his first assignment and has been assigned to a man we only know as "the patient". The patient has just became a new Christian. Even an inexperienced tempter like Screwtape should be able to tempt the patient into his old habits, eventually chalking his dalliance into Christianity as an "adolescent phase". But the man's new faith runs deeper than either demon expected and Screwtape is not doing a good job.

At one point the patient falls in love, and at first Screwtape is excited by this process. But then Wormwood points out that the woman is a devout Christian from a devout family and that these people will be a strong Christian influence on him. Wormwood HATES this girl. This is what he says about her:
"Not only a Christian, but such a Christian - a vile sneaking, simpering, demure, monosyllabic, mouse-like, watery, insignificant, virginal, bread-and-butter miss. The little brute. She makes me vomit". It's quite the tangent. I like the last bit, because I feel like I've gone on mean spirited tangents and ended with a similar declaration. Which is obviously not a testament to myself and my personality and temper.

During the middle of the book WWII stars, which delights Screwtape to no end. Wormwood (irritably) points out that this is not necessarily a good thing.He points out that people turn to long forgotten faith in times of trouble and danger.After all they don't want people just to die, they want people to die who are firmly in their pocket.

I'm not going to tell you how it ends for our demon story tellers and the patient. You will have to read it for yourself. But I will hint for you and say that it ends badly for someone.

Random thoughts:
-I love that the demons refer to Satan as "Our Father Below". I don't know why I like that so much but when I re-read that I was like, man that's clever.

- One of the parts that resonate the loudest with me is the story Wormwood tells about one of his charges and an incident at the British Museum. I'm so easily distracted I know that the demon who is charged with tempting me uses my short attention span to his favor.

-I think that Neil Gaiman probably writes the best villains in the business,but CS does a wonderful job of his villains. Wormwood and Screwtape are main demons but there are also demons mentioned named Scabtree, Glubose,Slumtrimpet,Toadpipe, Triptweeze. Screwtape is my favorite, but Slumptrimpet is a closed second. Doesn't it sounds like a girl demon? I don't think demons have sexes. Right?

-There's also a point where Screwtape tries to get Wormwood in trouble with the demon higher ups. Like, really Screwtape, how did you think Wormwood is not going to hear about that?

So if this book intrigues you, you should read it. If you want to read it and talk to someone while you read it, you certainly can talk to me. If you want to talk to many people when you read it may I suggest you get in on The Inklings Series over at Books and Beverages? Jamie blogs about (wait for it) books and beverages and is a devout CS Lewis and JRR Tolkien fan. The Inkling Series is a monthly feature that features a CS or JRR book. At the end of the month Jame will post her review and a discussion. Check out her post here for more information. When she first mentioned this series I was enthusiastic about it to a creepy point. I've read a lot of CS but only "The Hobbit" from Mr Tolkien so I'm looking forward to expanding my knowledge of him. Ill give you a heads up on the official kick off when we get a little closer to go time!

I love this book. It is dear to my heart. It's funny, it's sad. I feel like this book mirrors things that I see in myself. The flaws, the struggles, and the Redemption that is offered. Whenever I read this book I feel so full, like my cup runneth over.
This is the edition I want. It's so pretty.

This is the edition I have. The demon isn't scary enough.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Book Review and Mini- Bio - Book Review: "Ruthless Trust: A Ragamuffin's Path to God" by Brennan Manning

Today we're going to have to have 2 posts in one! This book, and a look at Brennan Manning's life are both deserving of their own post, but I thought it'd be nice to have them together. This is only the second book I've read by Brennan Manning so there wasn't quite enough to have an author highlight just yet. I'll start with a little peek at Brennan Manning's life and then you can see where he's coming from with his books.

It's impossible to sum up Brennan's life is any one word; hardship, change, variety would all apply at one point or another. He was born in New York City in 1934.He had an unpleasant home life. He served in the Marine Corps during Korea. He was ordained in the Franciscan priesthood in 1963. He served in many capacities, sometimes among the poor, sometimes as a spiritual instructor at schools.He was a part of a group of priests who established a spiritual community in Alabama, reaching out to shrimpers and their families. He struggled mightily with alcoholism at points of his life. He wrote several wonderful books, probably the most famous being "The Ragamuffin's Gospel" which, speaking from personal experience, is a wonderful, moving read. I'm anxious to read his biography, which Im sure will do his life better justice than this little blurb!

Onto the book review!

I wouldn't say that this is a sequel to "The Ragamuffin's Gospel" but they do mention some of the ideas from that book in this book. Starting with what a ragamuffin is :"The unsung assembly of saved sinners who are little in their own sight, conscious of their brokenness and powerlessness before God, and who cast themselves on His mercy."

The main theme this book is built around is trust, as you may have gathered from the title. The trust that Brennan talks about is not an easy trust to come by. This trust is "the conviction that God wants us to grow, to unfold, and to experience the fullness of life. However, this kind of trust is acquired only gradually and most often through a series of crises and trials."

Trust is obviously hard to come by when terrible things are happening to you. I know personally a question I struggle with is "Why does God allow such terrible things to happen all over the world, he could stop them." I think that's just one of those questions that we will never have an answer to that wholly satisfies us. Brennan quotes author Harriet Beecher Stowe, who wrote this in a letter to a heartbroken friend: "When the heart strings are suddenly cut, it is, I believe a physical impossibility to feel faith or resignation; there is a revolt of the instinctive and animal system, though we may submit to God, it is rather by constant painful effort than sweet attraction". Submitting our will to someone other than ourselves is not something done easily or without effort.

This was my favorite quote in the book: "On the last day, Jesus will look us over not for medals, diplomas, or honors, but for scars." (Wesley slumps into chair, with hand on heart).Thank goodness for that, because I don't have much in way of medals and diplomas. As I always like to say "God loves broken things", and this quote reminded of my saying, but in a much more eloquent way.

(This next bit is sad but I'm going to end on a high note, I promise!)

This little anecdote didn't really fit anywhere in the review but it broke my heart and I wanted to include it. So I mentioned before that Brennan didn't have a great childhood. One of these reasons was because his mom was, at best, undemonstrative. He says "I have no memory of being held, hugged or kissed by my mother as a little boy.I was called a nuisance and a pest and told to shut up and be still". He figured that this was somehow his fault and it planted the self-hate that haunted him most of his life. Isn't that just the most horribly sad thing you've ever heard? He reasons out later that it's because his mother was raised in an orphanage and never received any affection and therefore wasn't really capable of giving any.He comes to grips with all of this later in life but this really affected him in a terrible way for a big chunk of his life.

Okay ending on a high note!

Brennan tells a story that he read from a named Robert Johnson.

So there's this famous monastery full of these wise, incredibly skilled monks. But there is one little monk who doesn't have any of these lauded gifts and skills that his brothers have. He wanted to have something special to offer Mary as a form of worship but he thought he had nothing to offer.However, he was a tumbler in a circus before he became a monk. So he would sneak down in the crypt where no one would see him and perform a tumbling act in front of a statue of Mary as his offering to her. Another monk sees him and is flabbergasted and offended at this little monk. He marches right up to the abbot and tells him about these crypt shenanigans. The abbot follows this informer down to the crypt. He watches this tumbler and waits until he finishes his act. The abbot turns to the informer (who is insane with anger) and says "more real worship goes on here than takes place upstairs" (in the church). May we all use our gifts in joyful service like our little circus monk. (I love this story so much, I might be tearing up. I am tearing up. I hope that he was humming the little circus song while he was tumbling too. Do do dootle dootle do do dooooootle)

So I love this book. 4 stars out of 5. Readable, relatable, challenging, sad parts, funny parts. All good parts.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Book Review: "American Saint: The Life of Elizabeth Seton" by Joan Barthel

I received this e-book in exchange for an honest review.


After having read this book I am shocked that I've never heard of this woman, Elizabeth Seton, before. Elizabeth Seton was the the fist American born saint in the Catholic church, and the ripple effect of her work is still felt today. Uppity women are my favorite, and this woman was uppity, in all the right ways. Before we really talk about the book, basically the story of her life I think it would helps to set the scene a bit.

We're in America, at around 1770 in the beginning. This is a time of big changes in America, obviously some big things happen in 1776. Another thing that is happening in America at this time is waves and waves of immigrants, especially in the larger cities. (Most of the story is set in New England, primarily New York City and Baltimore, though we do deviate over to Europe for a bit.)

One thing that I did not realize (and was surprised to learn) is that in many parts of America Catholicism was illegal. Catholics were barred from several things including "all public activities, including voting, serving on juries and holding hands". An American minister described Catholicism as "the ally of tyranny, the opponent of material prosperity, the foe of thrift and the enemy of the railroad!". (I included that because of the bit about the railroad, because what is that about?) One of the reasons (perchance the main reason) that Catholics were treated with such disdain was because the people in America who were Catholic were almost exclusively immigrants. By restricting Catholics and therefore immigrants people were trying to limit the influence that they had in their new country.

Also this might be a good time to also mention that this isn't a great time to be a woman either. Education was not encourage for them. Also "a wife had no legal identity separate from her husband...she is owned as a person, along with the dresses and shoes and hats she wore".

Long story short, it's not good to be Catholic, and it's not something that you would choose to become, generally. Which leads us to our story....

Elizabeth Seton was born in 1774. Her parents were prominent citizens, her dad an important doctor, her mom the daughter on an important Episcopalian minister. It didn't take long for sadness to strike her life, her mother died when she was 3. His father remarried later, and there were 5 more children. However they eventually seperated. (Her dad is a really interesting part of this book. Something is kind of amiss about him I think. In the language of the time I bet they'd say that he was prone to fits of melancholy and dark moods.)

Elizabeth grew up to be a charming young lady. She was pretty contemplative, thinking deep thoughts about nature, faith, God and she kept a journal. She was also fluent in French and very musically gifted on the piano. At 19 she married Will Seton. He worked in his families shipping business, but after the death of his father the business began to decline, shifting their fortunes to the slightly more poor scale. They had 5 children, though not all would grow to adulthood (this would not be the sum of their problems).

The 1800s did not start well for the Seton family. New York City was awash with yellow fever. Will's business declared bankruptcy, and Will himself was battling a bad case of tuberculosis.
Elizabeth set up a charitable organization to help with widows whose husbands had been victims of yellow fever. She was 22 and "helped set up the first charitable organization in the country managed by women".

Will's sickness worsened.The doctors said that maybe a change in climate would help, and so Will, Elizabeth and their daughter Anne went to Italy to stay with some business associates of Will's who offered to keep them while Will convalesced. Unfortunately, Will died shortly after arriving, after enduring a long quarantine period.

Elizabeth was understandably destroyed.The Filicchi family, with whom they were staying, were a source of comfort and support. They were Catholics, and they introduced her to their faith. This was the first time that Elizabeth had contact with Catholics who were articulate, educated, and rather well off. (Remember the poor immigrant Catholics that she was used to seeing.) Somewhere between her time with them,and the insanely long boat ride back to America, she converted to Catholicism.

In 1809 Elizabeth moved herself and her children to Emmitsburg Maryland where she established St Joseph's Academy and Free School, dedicated to educating girls.This was the first free Catholic school in the United States and the beginning of what would become a very far reaching system.She also helped to establish a branch of the Sisters of Charity, a religious community and was called "Mother Seton".
Also have you heard of Seton Hall, yeah, guess who that's named after.

Elizabeth's life was not an easy one. 2 of her daughters died, money problems plagued the school, interpersonal problems between members of Sisters of Charity and the Catholic church, and more were her constant companions before her death of tuberculosis in 1821 at the age of 46.

I gave this book a 3.5 out of 5 stars rating. It was so interesting to hear the life of this woman, who I previously didn't know existed. It doesn't sugar coat the bad things of her personality either, it seemed quite even handed. (They even include a story about when her nonreligious father was dying and she tried to deal with the Lord to take her brand new baby from her in exchange for saving her father's eternal soul.) Anyway, extraordinary life, easy read, pick it up.

As a closing thought, this little rhyme was prevalent at this time,basically about why teaching girls anything was a waste:

"Why should girls be learn'd and wise?
Books only serve to spoil their eyes.
The studious eye but faintly twinkles
And reading paves the path for wrinkles."

Yeah.So I guess my eyes should be twinkling more if I read less...

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Special posts this week...

Hi everyone, just wanted to let you know that this week on the blog is going to be a unique one.
For Christians all around the world this week is Holy Week, where the death and resurrection of Christ is celebrated/observed. I'm a Christian so I am also celebrating/observing this week. I thought I'd take the opportunity to make my celebrations/observation reach to the blog too. The posts this week are all going to be Christian books. One is about a woman who became the first American born saint and encourage education for girls (true story!). One is about how trust is an incredibly important part of faith. One is going to be a personal favorite written by CS Lewis (written from the perspective of demons, so that's crazy).

Whatever your religious views, if any, I hope you stick around with the blog this week and see what these books can offer you.I am not even remotely close to a perfect person. There are (frequent) days that I'm not even a good person, or a likeable person.So please don't think I'm preaching at you from my perfection pulpit. (Perfection Pulpit is another name for my all girl metal band,btw.)

I'm a broken sinner and God saved me. As simple and as complicated as all of that!

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Excerpt and Giveaway for "Who Killed Tom Jones?" by Gale Martin and Giveaway!

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I bring you a book excerpt from a book that Closed the Cover is promoting: "Who Killed Tom Jones?" by Gale Martin.  If the excerpt below tickles your fancy head on over to Closed the Cover and get in on the giveaway for one of 30 ebook copies and a $25 gift card.

In Gale Martin's newest novel, Ellie Overton is a 28-year-old rest home receptionist with a pussycat nose who also happens to be gaga for the pop singer Tom Jones. Regrettably single, she is desperate to have a white-hot love relationship, like those she's read about in romance novels. Following an astrological hunch, she attends a Tom Jones Festival and meets an available young impersonator with more looks and personality than talent. Though he's knocked out of the contest, he's still in the running to become Ellie's blue-eyed soul mate--until he's accused of killing off the competition. It's not unusual that the handsome police detective working the case is spending more time pursuing Ellie than collaring suspects. So, she enlists some wily and witty rest home residents to help find the real murderer. 

Here be the excerpt (caution, underwear sniffing ahead!)

A resonant male voice—Stan McCann’s, she presumed—began belting out “Delilah,” one of Tom Jones’ biggest hits, and the crowd cheered him and the fact that the show had finally taken off.

I saw the light on the night that I passed by her window,” McCann sang as he proceeded down the stage-right steps and strutted through the aisle, approaching Ellie’s row. All decked out in a black bolero jacket with a sequined lapel, starched white shirt, and satin cummerbund, he could have doubled for a bullfighter on a dude ranch. He looked yummy. Good enough to nibble on.
“Stan? Oh, Stan?” Dorothy Hamill called in a high-pitched squeal. Dorothy hurled her panties towards him, and they sailed past Ellie’s face, landing in the middle of the aisle at his feet. “For you, honey,” she cried.

Between stanzas, McCann retrieved the panties, rewarding Dorothy with the attention she craved. Then he mopped his brow with them, causing a fresh round of squeals. Like a toreador, he bowed theatrically to the smitten panty-chucker. “Thank you, darlin’,” he purred, in a rich lilt that sounded like he’d been weaned in Wales instead of the U.S.A. Then he aped sniffing her panties. “We’ve met before, haven’t we?”

Dorothy screamed louder than the lovesick teenagers at the first (and last) Hanson concert Ellie had attended in junior high school. If Dorothy howled in her ear like that again, Ellie might have to stomp on her brown suede boots.

She groaned out loud at Dorothy’s antics, which caught McCann’s attention. He met her gaze, then cut his eyes to Dorothy’s face, giving her outfit a onceover. “Sisters?” he asked.
As if! Ellie thought.

Embarrassed, Ellie shook her head no, but Dorothy cried out, “Yes, yes!

That one would say anything McCann wanted to hear.

As McCann strutted down the aisle toward stage left, Dorothy turned on Ellie. “Why didn’t you tell him we were sisters?”

“Why do you think?”

Dorothy pouted. “But he was looking for sisters.”

I’ll bet he was. Ellie thought. Or at least the persona he’d adopted was. But it was best not to scold Dorothy. If she wanted to behave like a fawning groupie, that was on her. But Ellie didn’t want to be sucked into that scene. It was common knowledge that in his prime, Tom Jones slept with 250 groupies a year. If one of his impersonators behaved like that as well, she wanted nothing to do with him. Nor did the situation require launching into an explanation of why Ellie was in the audience to begin with. Certainly not for a one night stand with a Tom Jones impersonator, no matter how good he was.

No, Ellie clung to a thread of hope that she might find (dare she even think it?) her soul mate here, not someone pawing at her between the sheets for a quickie with the very next quickie waiting in the wings.

As it turned out, a barrage of panties and one or two bras chased McCann all the way to a set of wooden steps flanking the stage. The stairs hadn’t been painted yet. In fact, the entire stage unit must have gone up hastily, from the slapdash look of it.
McCann picked up one of the brassieres and swung it over his head as if preparing to lasso some lucky Double-D cup in the crowd.

“Oh, oh, oh,” Dorothy cried, as if pained again.

This was some serious fan crush, bordering on groupie pathology. Ellie was equally as enthusiastic a Tom Jones fan but prided herself on showing more restraint.

McCann swayed back and forth in front of the stair unit, in three-quarter time. Though his head and broad shoulders dipped right and left, his crisp white shirt barely moved. Extra starch, she supposed.

My, my, my, Delilah,” he sang, his unrequited love for the two-timing Delilah infusing every grand gesture. As Ellie let the familiar refrain in a pitch-perfect imitation wash over her, she recalled a particular video of Tom Jones himself singing this song on some British version of “American Bandstand,” while hundreds of young people struggled to fast dance to a waltz-time ballad. Tom Jones warbled like a champ, but the crowd’s attempts at dancing put her in mind of gooney birds doing the time step.

McCann had cultivated the singer’s signature mannerisms—punching the air rhythmically, sliding from one note to the next in a dramatic portamento—and every bit of the swagger.

“He’s a great impersonator,” Ellie said.

“Tribute artist,” Dorothy scolded. “These days, they like to be called tribute artists.”

Ellie nodded sheepishly. Between the chorus and the next verse, McCann started up the stairs to the stage. As he ascended the third step, it was as if the show switched to slow motion. McCann lifted his left leg, poised to land on the next stair. Ellie watched in horror as it crashed through the plywood plank, tearing McCann’s perfectly creased pants and reducing his left leg to an unsightly stump, at least from the audience’s perspective.
Festival-goers gasped. McCann stopped singing and clutched first at his thigh and then at his groin, unable to extract himself from the jagged plank.

“Help,” the baritone trilled in an agonizing register that rang out almost an octave higher. “Somebody . . . help!”

The piped-in accompaniment stuttered to silence.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Excerpt of "Holding Paradise" brought to you by Closed the Cover!

Today I have an excerpt of a very interesting sounding book brought to you by closed the cover! (Just thinking about nice warm Caribbean is an appealing thought!) Read on, and if the book sounds good to you find it at your local retailer. No giveaway this time, sorry!

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On a grey and miserable morning in 2008, London businesswoman, Angelica Ford boards a plane and flies off to the blues and greens of her mother’s island in the Caribbean. Angelica is desperate. She is looking for a way to save her marriage and win back her daughter. A web of lies has torn a hole into her seemingly perfect world and she is convinced that only her mother, Josephine Dennis, can help her turn her life around.Josephine Dennis arrived in England by ship on a cold winter’s morning as a young mother joining her husband. She weathers a lifetime of secrets and betrayal, as she raises her family in 1960s London. A matriarch with strong family values, she told her children colourful stories to guide them through life. It is the wisdom of one of these stories that Angelica seeks. Josephine has one last story to tell – the story that could change both of their lives.
Fran Clark was born and currently lives in West London. Her first novel, Holding Paradise, is published in 2014 by Indigo Dreams Publishing. Fran is studying for a Creative Writing MA at Brunel University. A professional-singer songwriter and vocal coach, she recently released her second album of original songs. She is now working towards the completion of her second novel. 


    They placed his body carefully into the back seat of the old car. Thomas got into the passenger seat and looked over his shoulder at his old friend lying still, as if asleep. One woman from the crowd of onlookers wailed. The rest of the party watched in silence as the old car disappeared. The last trace of daylight was engulfed by the night sky as Raphael’s body was carried along in the dark toward the island’s only hospital.

When darkness fell on the Douglas house, Rose was standing in the kitchen cursing her husband for not observing her specific instructions about travelling the roads by night. She replaced the supper utensils purposefully as she cursed.

Rose finished her work in the kitchen, stopped, and looked up at the house where she saw Josephine sitting by the open door looking down at her feet, a solitary figure hunched on the top step. Rose felt a cold shiver sweep over her body. She had gone about her day not wanting to hear anything about her daughter’s dream. She’d packed the oldest off to school, washed and changed into a simple dress, entertained the young ones, swept the yard, tidied the house and adjusted her favoured red headscarf several times. Even during dinner, Rose had avoided remarking on Josephine’s distant stare.

Looking out of the little kitchen window toward the road, Rose saw the light of a torch and could identify the figures of a small group of people walking toward the house. Their voices were low at first, muffled. As she stepped, tentatively, into the yard, she could hear someone crying. The group of people closed in on her. Her children, now aware of the stirring of the crowd, gathered at the front door to see what was going on. Josephine rose from her seat.

    Spilling from the mouths of the people surrounding Rose came a million words, some in English, some in their other language – simultaneous, jumbled. Rose struggled to find her breath when she finally and clearly heard the words, ‘Ma Douglas, your husband dead.’