Saturday, November 30, 2013

Year Of Wonders

Anna Firth is a widow in the village of Eyem. She works at the Rectory as a maid, but lodges a tailor for extra money. In 1666 he receives an infected bolt of cloth from London, and plague comes to Eyem. When the villagers are faced with the choice to flee the plague or stay in quarantine to prevent the plague from spreading, they make the surprising choice to stay.

The story is told from Anna's perspective about what happens to the villagers as they succumb to the plague. They start looking for someone to blame. Here we see the best and worst of humanity. Some people help their neighbors by nursing them while they are ill, sharing food, and helping with various chores. Others swindle their dying neighbors, accuse people of witchcraft, and some resort to killing their neighbors.

The theme of what fear does to us was prevalent throughout the book. Fear and misunderstanding was just as much a plague to these villagers as the black death. It was interesting to read what people did when faced with fear and death. It is the making and the destruction of the village.

I reread this book for my Historical Fiction course. I have conflicting feelings about this book. I like that the story is based on real people and their experience with the plague. I really liked the examination of humanity. Brooks does not shy away from the depths the villagers were plunged to. I did think there was too much prose. While it was sometimes beautiful and perfect for the moment, it would go on too long and occur too often for my preference. I would find in these moments that my attention would start to wander, which is a shame because there is a lot of interesting material in this book. I would recommend trying this book, and seeing if it works for you. It should definitely be read at least once.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Nick & Tesla's High Voltage Danger Lab

Nick and Tesla are eleven year old twins that go to stay with their Uncle Newt, who is a scientist, for the summer. They find an abandoned house with a mysterious girl in the window. There is also a black SUV that keeps following them. To solve these mysteries they use their Uncle Newt's lab to experiment with regular objects to help them figure out these mysteries.

I thought this book was a great way to show kids that science can be fun, and can be part of a normal day. It was an excellent idea to include instructions for experiments that are mentioned in the book. It helps bring the book alive and get kids interested in science.

I won this in a Quirk Books Promotion event*. I was very excited about winning this book because I immediately thought that my nephew Alejandro would like it. He and I read it together via video chat. I liked reading the book together and discussing it.

Q&A with Alejandro

Did you like the book?
I did like it!

Was the book serious or funny?
Funny! Because Uncle Newt did funny stuff like singing in the shower. He was singing Christmas songs, but it was not close to Christmas. It was summer. Nick and Tesla thought he would stay in there until Christmas. They kept telling him to get out!

What was your favorite part?
I liked it when they made Robo-Squirrel and distracted the guard dogs because they were creative. It was a good way to distract the dogs.

Who are the main characters?
Nick and Tesla and Uncle Newt. And some of Nick and Tesla's friends.

Who was your favorite character?
Uncle Newt because he was a crazy scientist guy. And because he does cool stuff like letting them (Nick and Tesla) use his lab. If my Dad was a scientist I would ask "could I use your lab?" because it would be fun to make things.

Did the book have illustrations?
Yes, it had some. I liked them. They showed the experiments.

Did the story turn out how you expected it to?
I was expecting more a Scientist guy and kids doing experiments and they would turn crazy. It was not how I expected because there was more playing with their science and friends.

Would you tell other people to read this book?
I would tell my friends "you should read this first book, it is really good!"

Did you do any of the experiments?
Not yet. But I will soon.

We will update this when Alejandro has a chance to do some of the experiments. He is very excited to try some of them. There are instruction for five experiments that Nick and Tesla use in their adventures.

Are you excited to read the next book Robot Army Rampage?
Yes, because it has robots and Uncle Newt. I wonder what he'll do in this book.

Did you like reading over videochat?
Yep! It was fun to read together.

Thank you Alejandro for your review, and for reading this book with me. I'm looking forward to reading the next book together.

*Quirk Books does not require a review or stipulate what kind of review should be given if you are inclined to review the book. It was simply part of a promotional event for their book. Winning this book does not change my review. It merely provides me with a book I would not have read, or gotten to as soon.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Troubled Waters

Zoe Ardelay's father has just died. She has barely had time to mourn his passing when a stranger arrives in the village and tells her she is to come with him to marry the king and become his fifth wife. When they arrive in the city Zoe decides to escape from the King's advisor and strike out on her own, to discover what is really going on. She camps at the river until she discovers that she is the Prime of the Lalinder family, one of the five most powerful families in the kingdom. She must figure out her new role while trying to navigate the court intrigues.

Power and religion is based around the elements. While each person identifies with a particular element, there is emphasis on being in balance with all of the elements. I liked when people needed guidance, or at important life moments, they would go to one of the temples and draw a random blessing; a coin with a glyph of a certain blessing on it. This is not a definite foretelling of the future, but it gives people general guidance. 

Sharon Shinn is one of my favorite authors, and does not disappoint with the first book of this series: The Elemental Blessings. I felt immersed in this world. I loved all the details that are given. There are traits and blessings that determine each person's personality and partly reveal their fate. It was a different approach to a fantasy world that was well done and absorbing to read. I very much enjoyed rereading this book, and cannot wait to read the next book in the series Royal Airs.  

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

The Physick Book Of Deliverance Dane

Connie is a graduate student in American History. She is searching for an unique primary source for her dissertation. She finds it in her grandmother's house. A key wrapped in paper with the name Deliverance Dane written on it. She sets off on her quest to find out more about Deliverance Dane, and find her physick book. Along the way we learn more about who Deliverance Dane was, and what her role in the Salem Witch Trials was.

This was one of the books I read for my Historical Fiction course. I really liked the idea for this book, that perhaps someone accused of witchcraft during the Salem Witch Trials was actually guilty of witchcraft. I did not think this story was conveyed in the best way. I did not like the dual story--Connie's in the 1990's and Deliverance's in the 1690's. I found it jarring to go back and forth between the eras, and for me, it interrupted the flow of the story. I would have liked it better if it had only been Deliverance Dane's story.

Because I was distracted with going back and forth in time, I didn't feel engaged in this story. It didn't feel like it was real with some of the fantastical elements, and moving between the two stories prevented immersion in the world, which would have made some of the fantastical parts more believable. It also prevented the level of character development I would have hoped for. I would recommend reading different stories about the Salem Witch Trials. I am interested to try Howe's Historical Fiction book: The House of Velvet and Glass, because I want to try her writing when it focuses on one story, in one time period, and find out if that helps me enjoy her writing.

Saturday, November 16, 2013


Set in dystopian Chicago, members of the five factions (Abnegation, Amity, Candor, Dauntless, and Erudite) are trying to avoid the violent conflicts that have always plagued human society. At sixteen, each person must choose which faction they belong to. This is where we find our protagonist Beatrice Prior. She must choose her faction, and make it through the initiation phase, or become factionless. The factionless live on the edge of society, poor and outcast.

I started reading this series because it has recently received some controversial attention. I was curious to see what was stirring up such strong emotions in people. Unfortunately, the controversial part was focused on the last book in the trilogy that just released, so I will have to wait until I get that far in the series to satisfy my curiosity.

Divergent focuses on the initiation of Beatrice into her chosen faction. There is some suspense as you wait to se if she will survive the tests. I thought it was an easy and entertaining read. It is a coming of age story about self discovery while trying to do your part for society. I am hoping that the second and third book give more details about the world, and how their insular society truly survives in relation to the rest of the world. The first book caught my attention, and now I have to see if the story delivers in the second and third book.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

We Band Of Angels

This is the account of Navy nurses deployed to the Philippines during World War II. It seemed like an assignment in paradise, until December 8, 1941 when the Japanese began dropping bombs. The nurses served in a field hospital they set up in the Jungle of Bataan to care for the wounded soldiers. The nurses were sent to the tunnels of Corregidor when it became inevitable that the Army would be overrun. When Corregidor fell, the nurses were sent to an internment camp for Prisoners of War, where they would be kept until 1944.

The nurses served in deplorable conditions. They had to deal with bombs, starvation, imprisonment, diseases, lack of resources, and so much more. What was impressive to me was that even while they were starving and ill, they would report for duty to care for the sick and wounded soldiers and prisoners. To the point where they had to rest between changing bandages because they were so weak.

It is extraordinary that all seventy-seven of the captured nurses survived imprisonment. They would have lasting health problems from the starvation and diseases they suffered while imprisoned. After returning home, the women were at first celebrated, when needed for propaganda, then they and their achievements, were mostly forgotten. For example, I had no idea before reading this that one of the nurses became the most decorated woman in American military history.

I won this book from the Goodreads First Reads Program* I had heard good reviews about this book, and was eager to read about women deployed in the Philippines during World War II, as I didn't know anything about their service. The author uses a combination of first hand accounts, letters, and diaries to explain what happened to these women. The stunning courage of these women leaves you speechless.

I highly recommend reading this book. It is a moving account of service under the worst possible conditions. The nurses went beyond their duty when caring for their charges at great personal cost. Read this book to be reminded how humanity can succeed even at the worst moments. Even those that do not typically read history will be engrossed by this book.

*The Goodreads First Reads program does not require winners to give a review. Winners are encouraged to review the book, as the authors and publishers offering the books for free are trying to get the public interested in their book. If a review is given, it is not stipulated that it should be positive or negative, only an honest review.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

The Saga Of King Hrolf Kraki

By: Anonymous
Translated: Jesse L. Byock

This saga tells some of the tales of King Hrolf, and his twelve champions. It is full of captivating tales of beasts attacking annually on Yuletide, an evil stepmother turning her stepson into a bear and having him killed, children born half man and half beast, and epic battles. The twelve champions are drawn to serve King Hrolf as he is considered a great ruler. He is liberal with rewards and fair to those that gain his trust, so these great warriors seek to prove themselves to him.

My friends picked out this book in Iceland for me. I really like reading the sagas. This was my first time reading King Hrolf Kraki's tale in full. It was recorded in the fourteenth century in Iceland by an anonymous author. The events that take place occur in fifth century Denmark. I found it intriguing that their are references to courtesy and being chivalrous in this tale. That is not typical in the sagas. It is an indication of an outside influence. These ideas were particularly popular with courtly romances in Europe. There were also christian references, but that would have been added by the author or a scribe, as the material predates christianity in this area.

I like the supplemental material Penguin included in this edition. There are general notes on the material, family trees, and a glossary of names. I always find it helpful to have the answers to my questions in the book. It was also interesting that some of the stories included are underlying tales in Beowulf, which I hope to read again soon to examine how the tales work together. I thought this saga was an engrossing read. The only problem is it's a short tale, so it is over too soon. I highly recommend this book if you like the sagas, tales of King Arthur and his knights, or fantasy.

Friday, November 8, 2013

The Witness Wore Red

Rebecca Musser was raised in a Fundamentalist Mormon group (FLDS). At age 19 she became the 19th wife of the 85 year old prophet, Rulon Jeffs. After his death, worried for her own safety, she escaped with the help of a friend to her brother's house. It took time to adjust to living outside the FLDS community, where dress, beliefs, and language were very different from what she had been exposed to growing up.

She became a lead witness in several cases involving the FLDS church. Her eyewitness testimony, explanations of the culture, and meaning of things found at the compound in Texas were key to several trials involving FLDS leaders. Her participation in these trials came at great personal cost, but she did it to help other people maintain their rights. She has become an activist for human trafficking victims.

I liked that she was very careful to never exaggerate what happened to her. Her precise delivery of the horrific things that occurred, needed no amplification. It was clear her book was not about shocking the audience, but creating an understanding of her experiences. It was about raising awareness about what happened during her time in the FLDS church, in the trials, and the raids in Texas. I also appreciated how honest she was with her feelings and her experiences.

It was heartbreaking at times to read her story knowing that it was true. I could not help admiring the courage she showed in her actions at various points in her life, when she easily could have done nothing. I thought it was well written, and I was completely absorbed in reading it. I would highly recommend reading this book.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Queen Anne: The Politics Of Passion

Anne ruled England from 1702-1714. She had 17 pregnancies, and none of the children she gave birth to lived past age eleven. The throne passed to the Hanoverians, who were the next in line for the throne that were not Catholic, or married to a Catholic. England still lived in fear of being under Catholic rule.

Anne had little education, leaving her unprepared in that aspect to be queen. She was more reclusive, preferring to spend time with those few she was close to and felt she could trust. Despite this, she made an effort to do her duty, appearing at social functions she had no desire to attend. Anne was not an admired queen like Elizabeth I. Perhaps that is why we hear so little about her, even though she was part of the Glorious Revolution, The Act of Union, and The War of Spanish Succession.

I received this copy from the Goodreads First Reads Program.* I was very pleased to win a copy as it was a book I wanted to read, and I really enjoy Anne Somerset's books. She seems to have written a different perspective of Queen Anne than the Duchess of Marlborough, who was a close friend of Anne's until she became queen and they grew apart because of the Duchess' behavior. She wrote terrible things in her memoirs about the queen that Somerset often contradicts in her book. Somerset does not try to make Anne perfect, but appears to be more balanced than the Duchess of Marlborough. I look forward to reading the Duchess' memoirs to form my own opinion of them.

I really like Somerset's style of writing. She portrays the numerous facts in an engaging manner. I was excited to learn more about this period, which leads to the change of dynasty from Stuart to Hanoverian. I knew very little about the change in dynasty, and was interested to see Anne's role in and perspective of the change. I enjoyed this book. I would recommend it to people interested in women rulers, or that period in history.

* Goodreads does not require a review or stipulate what kind of review should be given if you are inclined to review the book. It was simply part of a promotional event for their book. Winning this book does not change my review. It merely provides me with a book I would not have read, or gotten to as soon.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

The Love Artist

We follow Ovid as he writes some of his most popular works. He travels to the Black Sea, and encounters the witch Xenia. He takes her back to Rome, and their relationship influences his current work Medea. The very real emotions of love, jealousy, hatred, fear of failure, the desperate need to succeed, and the need to be remembered after death are examined in this portrayal of Ovid.

I found it compelling that Alison, when writing about these emotions uses very limited dialogue to convey them. Written from the character's perspectives, many of these emotions are felt, but are not communicated. The lack of communication is what drives their feelings and actions, pushing them towards their dramatic end.

Two of the great mysteries surrounding Ovid are the content of his tragedy Medea, and why he was exiled from Rome in AD 8. All that has survived from his work Medea, are two lines. We know the myth of Medea, but it would be fascinating to have Ovid's rendition of the tale. Alison also explores one possibility for his exile from Rome -- that he has offended the Emperor with his actions after already being in a tenuous position because of his writing. All we really know is that Ovid was exiled from Rome, but not why.

I read this book for a Historical Fiction course I'm taking. I liked the real emotions that were portrayed in the story. I found the human side to these characters to be relatable, and an interesting motivation for some timeless work. I thought there was a little too much description at some points, but if you can move through that, you will be open to some interesting thoughts on human nature.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Stella Bain

Stella Bain is an American woman serving as a nurse in World War I. She has no memory of who she is. She was wounded on a French battlefield where she was working as a nurse. She is dependent on strangers to help her discover her memory again.

I won this book in the Goodreads First Read Program*. I thought it was an interesting idea for a book to focus on a woman's role in the war, and the suffering they would have also endured on the battlefield. Unfortunately, this was not the main focus of the book, which was rather disappointing. The book was less about her role as a nurse, and more about her struggles with her husband and children. That is an important issue, but not what I thought I would be reading about. 

This is an uncorrected proof advanced reading version of the book. I note this because there were some issues with spelling, grammar, and choppiness that I thought interrupted the flow of the story, and was quite distracting, particularly at the beginning of the book, which prevented me from really getting into the story.

I was disappointed in this book. It brings up some important issues, but they are not covered well, and left me unsatisfied. There is a lack of plausibility when you read this book that prevented me from engaging in the story. It was easy to read, but lacked the depth I wanted. I would recommend looking for a different book if you are interested in women's roles in World War I.

*The Goodreads First Reads program does not require winners to give a review. They are encouraged to review the book, as the authors and publishers offering the books for free are trying to get the public interested in their book. If a review is given, it is not stipulated that it should be positive or negative, only an honest review.