Thursday, January 30, 2014

The Last Policeman

Detective Hank Palace is trying to solve a murder. Even his fellow detectives have a hard time understanding why he would go through the trouble when the world is ending in six months. An asteroid is going to hit the earth, and life will cease to exist. What do you do when you know when you will die? Do you continue to work, or try to finish your bucket list before the world ends?

Detective Palace is called in on an open and shut case. It looks like a suicide, which has become very common since news that the asteroid Maia is going to hit the earth and destroy all life. Something about this case bothers him. It doesn't seem like the typical suicide they keep seeing. He insists on continuing the investigation. When people ask him why he is bothering with this case, his response is: why not?

The first in a trilogy, this pre-apocalypse story combined with a mystery makes for an interesting read. It gives new motivations to the characters that make the mystery portion much more intriguing. The pre-apocalyptic portion of the story was well balanced with the mystery portion.

I won a copy of this book in a Quirk Books promotional event*. It was a premise that interested me. Not only is there a murder mystery, but we get to examine some philosophical questions as well. When I started this book, I was immediately hooked. I appreciate it when an author brings a new twist to what can be a predictable storyline. I also liked reading a pre-apocalyptic book, as post-apocalyptic is very popular right now. Another good thing about this book is, there are two more books to come.

If you like mysteries, I would recommend giving this book a try.

*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.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Lady Catherine, The Earl, And The Real Downton Abbey

Catherine Wendell was an American from New England. Her family was very wealthy until her father lost most of their money investing in one railroad company that went under. After her father's death, her mother moved the family to England where her sister lived. Catherine married Lord Porchester, son of Almina and the fifth Earl of Carnarvon. In 1922 she became Lady Carnarvon after the fifth earl's death. Her marriage to the sixth Earl of Carnarvon ended in divorce in 1936. She remarried in 1938, and her second husband died in World War II.

I won a copy of this book from the LibraryThing Early Reviewer's Program*. I was excited to read this because I enjoyed the first book Lady Almina And The Real Downton Abbey, and I am also a fan of the show Downton Abbey. The main part of this book starts when the fifth earl dies in Egypt. It goes on to tell about the family's life, and major family events. A large focus of the book is what the family did during World War II. There are a lot of facts about World War II included, and sometimes the facts take over Catherine's story. Using letters, diaries, scrapbooks, and other resources the author draws us into Catherine's life.

Fans will notice some parts that were used in the Downton Abbey story, a show that is loosely based off this family's experiences. I find it fascinating to see where some of the ideas for the show come from. There are death taxes that have to be paid that threaten the family with the loss of Highclere castle. One of the family's servants goes off to war, and has a hasty wedding while on leave. The loss of money due to bad investments in one railroad company. We also see how the culture changes in the 1920's and 1930's effect the castle and the inhabitants.

I liked reading the parts about Catherine's story. I did think the book got weighed down in all the facts about World War II. While some background was useful, there was more about the war than was necessary. I liked the end where the author discusses how important each individual has been to the survival of Highclere castle. From Almina selling family treasures to clauses in Catherine's divorce, and the author writing about their stories we come to understand how the survival of Highclere castle is the work of generations.

If you enjoyed the first book, and if you are a fan of Downton Abbey I recommend reading this book.

LibraryThing does not require a review of the books won in their program. If a winner is inclined to review a book, a positive or negative review is not stipulated, only an honest review. Winning this book does not change my review. It merely provides me with the chance to read the book sooner than I would have been able to, or to read a book I might not have gotten to as quickly.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

The Last Command

The New Republic is struggling against the technology Grand Admiral Thrawn has discovered in the Emperor's secret fortress and is now using against them. Han and Chewbacca are trying to convince some smugglers to join the fight against the Empire. Leia is trying to keep the New Republic functioning while getting ready for the birth of her Jedi twins. The Dark Jedi C'baoth is trying his best to destroy Luke after a failed attempt to turn him to the dark side. Mara Jade is struggling with fulfilling the Emperor's last command.

This is the third book in the Thrawn trilogy, and the plots introduced in all three books come together in an epic finish to this gripping trilogy. There is plenty of action and intrigue in the finale. The story picks up right where Dark Force Rising left off. You will enjoy reading this trilogy. There are battle scenes, births, betrayals, and deaths. There are also quiet moments where we come to better understand the characters we have met before, and discover more about the characters that have been introduced in this trilogy.

Fans will recognize some nods to the original Star Wars trilogy in this book. Some of the battle and escape scenes are clearly written to remind readers of the original story. It was a method to ease fans into reading new stories in the Star Wars universe. This is one of my favorite trilogies from Star Wars. Every time I read this book it makes me excited to read more about the characters I've grown fond of. You will want to continue adventuring in the Star Wars universe. 

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Princesses Behaving Badly

You think you know what a princess is from the fairy tales you read growing up. They might have a difficult time when they are young, but it always ends with them meeting their prince, and living happily ever after. Reality is much different from the popular stories we read, see on television, or in the movies. If you thought the Grimm brothers stories were, well, on the grim side, just wait until you read how some of these real princesses end up.

The book is divided into seven sections: Warriors, Usurpers, Schemers, Survivors, Partiers, Floozies, and Madwomen. As can be seen from the different sections, princesses were chosen for this book that did not fit the typical fairy tale. Also, these are short stories about the princesses, so be prepared to look for another book if you want more details.

I won a copy from the LibraryThing Early Reviewers Program*, which was exciting, because this was a book I was looking forward to reading. A few of my favorite tales were: Alfhild: The Princess Who Turned Pirate, Olga Of Kiev: The Princess Who Slaughtered Her Way To Sainthood, and Caraboo, The Phony Princess Who Hoodwinked England. It is unclear how much of Alfhild's story is true. From the fourth century CE, all we know about her is what the historian Saxo decided to record, and he does not explain why she turns to piracy. Olga was born in 890 CE. After her husband was killed she went and got her revenge. Caraboo aka Mary Baker was born in England in 1817. She passed herself off as a foreign princess for a few months.

I liked the messages this book gave. Life is not what we read in the fairy tales, especially for a princess. Also, rather than emulate a flat character as told in watered down children's stories, emulate the strong women that actually existed. Their lives might not be perfect, but many of them are worth learning from. Just be careful if you choose one from this book to emulate.

Princesses Behaving Badly combined my love of fairy tales with my love of history. I loved seeing which princesses would be included, and what the author would tell about them. There were some I have read about before, but there were also some I cannot wait to learn more about. If you like learning about interesting women from history, or if you want an alternative to the typical fairy tale, I highly recommend this book.

* LibraryThing does not require a review of the books won in their program. If a winner is inclined to review a book, a positive or negative review is not stipulated, only an honest review. Winning this book does not change my review. It merely provides me with the chance to read the book sooner than I would have been able to, or to read a book I might not have gotten to as quickly.

Monday, January 20, 2014

The Witch Hunt In Early Modern Europe

Levack discusses the age of witch-hunting in Europe between 1450-1750. This time period is chosen for the great number of cases that took place in such a short span of time. He examines: why the trials took place, how many trials and victims we know about, where the accusations came from, where these trials tended to take place, and what eventually made them stop.

Two conditions that made it possible for witch-hunts to get out of hand were: the type of government an area had, and religious reformation. Levack argues that countries or states that had a more centralized government were less likely to allow massive witch-hunts, or have the death sentence for people convicted as witches. Typically, the higher courts were less apt to allow cases with little or no evidence to result in a death sentence. They were also not involved personally with the convicted witch, so were less likely to let personal grudges influence their verdict. As more countries changed to centralized governments, the number of witch trials decreased, as did the severity of the punishment.

Religious reformation played a role in the number of witch trials that occurred. Witch craft was seen as a heresy. Some people thought those who practiced a different religion were being influenced by the devil--hence the leap to the person being a witch. Although heresy and witch craft were similar crimes, they were not the same thing. A person was not automatically a witch if they were a heretic.

I did like the overview for witch-hunts in Europe. I had thought there would be more information about specific cases, but that was not the focus of this book. Some of the witch-hunts that were mentioned I want to learn more about are:

The Exorcism of Ursuline nuns at Loudun Occurred in Loudun France in 1634. A case of mass possession, the nuns were exorcised, but the demon possessed the priest performing the exorcism. It was determined that the spirit possessing them was a clergyman that had been in conflict with local church authorities. He was tried for sorcery and burned alive.

Rottenburg Germany witch-hunt Occurred in 1585. After a series of wars, famines, and bad weather the community started blaming and hunting witches. The number of condemned witches was so high authorities were afraid that there would not be any women left in the village.

Waldensians A Christian movement that started in Lyon in the 1170's. The group was deemed heretical, and persecution began. In 1487 Pope Innocent VIII gave an order of extermination, and in the following years there were several massacres. Witch trials were a common part of the persecutions of this group.

Plague Spreaders Were people accused of using witch craft to spread the plague. Usually, this was done by a special potion that included the disease. It would be smeared on a house, and the inhabitants would sicken with the plague.

Scotland under James VI Early on in his rule, James became convinced that people were trying to kill him through witchcraft. Because of his fear of witches, he started mass witch hunts.

Confessions of the Basque Witches These confessions provide us with some of the richest descriptions of the witch's sabbath in all of Europe.

There was some interesting material in this book. It will be helpful when reading about individual cases or hunts to understand how they fit in a larger picture of history. I would recommend this book if you are interested in understanding witch trials. It might be a little tedious for those that are not really interested in the topic. 

Friday, January 17, 2014

Flight Of Angels

An angel falls in the night. Seen only by a few creatures in the woods. They gather around his wounded body, and immediately begin arguing about what they should do with him. All they know for certain about this angel is: he has fallen, he is wounded, and his sword lays at his side. The hag wants to kill him, the fairy wants to save him, the halfling is uncertain, while the elf leans towards saving him, although he would like to have that sword... Arguing commences. The fox gets them all to agree to a tribunal. Any can speak, and when they have all had their say the young faun enslaved to the hag will determine the angel's fate.

As each magical creature has their say, we embark on different myths and legends about angels, with a slightly new twist. Arguing their side with tales that show angels at their best and their worst, their stories reveal the teller's perception of angels, and what they think should be done to the fallen angel in their power. We hear of wars in the sky, the angel of death, what really happened with Adam and Eve, and angels that help or trick humans.

I fell in love with this book the first time I read it. It is a delight to read and explore the stunning art that perfectly evokes the emotions portrayed in the story. It had been a while since the last time I read this book, and I had forgotten how it ended. It was as though I was reading it for the first time.

It is a short exploration of the angel myths, and is well worth reading. I liked the different perspectives of the magical creatures that colored the tales.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

The Visionist

Polly Kimball is a fifteen year old girl from the 1840's. She sets fire to her house with her abusive father inside. Her mother takes Polly and her brother to the Shaker community called the City of Hope, where they are given shelter. The Shaker community is excited to learn Polly is a Visionist. Polly struggles with her new found status as she tries to hide the secrets from her past.

I won this book in the Goodread's First Reads Program*. The premise of the book sounded very interesting to me. I was a little wary to read a fictional account of the Shakers as I did not know a lot about them, and was uncertain how they would be portrayed. I thought the author depicted them fairly as she did not glorify or vilify the Shakers. 

I really enjoyed this book. It was a moving account of people trying to discover where they belong in the world, and what they would put up with. The human emotions in the story combined with the questioning of what is good and evil makes a very compelling story. I thought it was a beautifully written book. It shows how love and acceptance can change a person's life, and how easy it is to misunderstand the people we are closest to. I did not want to put this book down!

I liked that the author included a bibliography. That is not always done with historical fiction, but it thrills me when the author includes supplemental material for the reader. I will be using it to read more about the Shakers. I already watched a documentary that was listed on the bibliography. I recommend reading this book if you like historical fiction.

*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. Winning this book does not change the nature of my review, it merely provides me with early access to this book.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Dark Force Rising

Grand Admiral Thrawn has discovered some weapons hidden away on a backwater planet. He plans to use them to wrestle control of the galaxy from the New Republic. Princess Leia is trying to elude kidnappers while bringing the Noghri, who are powerful enemies, to the side of the New Republic. Luke Skywalker is receiving summons from a new Dark Jedi, who desires to bring him over to the dark side.

This is the second book in the Thrawn trilogy, which takes place five years after Return Of The Jedi. It builds on the action and new characters introduced in Heir To The Empire. I enjoyed the development of Mara Jade, Talon Karrde, and Grand Admiral Thrawn. They are such unique characters that help balance out the characters we are already familiar with. Thrawn is incredibly good at reading people, and thinking strategically. These abilities are what make him such an excellent leader for the dwindling Empire. Talon Karrde is also intelligent. His intelligence is more about the information he gathers, knowing how to put it together, and how to benefit from selling this knowledge. Mara Jade is a powerful soldier that is working on her new role. She is conflicted about fulfilling the Emperor's dying wish that she kill Luke Skywalker.

I like the action of this series. This book continues the action and plot of the first book in a pleasing way. I like that the characters do not all rush into action all the time. Some of them are shown thinking strategically, and trying to use tactics to win, and not just relying on brute force. I did get a little annoyed at some points with Luke's naivete, but that is part of his personality, and it is balanced by the presence of more practical characters.

I would recommend continuing to read this series if you liked the first book. The second book keeps the plot moving, and will make you excited to read the last book in the trilogy.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Royal Airs

Josetta is a Princess in Welce. Because she is not next in line for the throne she has more freedom to pursue her interests. She chooses to work in the poorest part of the city helping those in need. While working in the slums, she encounters the gambler Rafe as he saves her sister's life. Josetta is intrigued by his lack of elemental blessings that mark everyone from Welce. During their adventures, she discovers how his lack of blessings is part of the reason people are trying to kill him.

Royal Airs is the second book in the Elemental Blessings series. This was one of the books I had wanted to read from the moment I heard about it. I love Sharon Shinn's books. Consequently, this was one of the biggest disappointments I've had reading in a while. It barely felt like it was part of the same series. Shinn usually draws you into the fantasy world she creates. I could not engage in this book as it did not seem a natural part of this world. It seemed forced.

Normally, the characters Shinn creates are much more interesting. They have flaws, they change and grow. They have clear motivations that fit with their character. It was strange to encounter such bland characters in one of her worlds. There was a distinct shallowness to the characters that is not typical of Shinn's work. Also, the world is transitioning to the use of technology, and it was not well handled in this book. This was also strange, because Shinn has done this in her Archangel series and handled it well.

I felt bewildered reading this book. It is not indicative of Shinn's capabilities as an author. There were a few parts that seemed to fit with the series, but they never lasted long. I do not know what happened with this book. I hope with the next part of the series she writes will return to her usual captivating work. 

Wednesday, January 8, 2014


Beatrice Prior is haunted by grief. Grief from her own decisions, and grief from the consequences of her and the city's actions. Her survival, and many other's depends on her accepting her Divergence--being able to fit into more than one faction. War is looming, and she must decide quickly what side she is on, and what role she will play in the conflicts ahead.

This is the second book of the Divergent series, and I liked this one much more than the first. I found some of the holes in the story were filled, and many of the questions I was asking after the first book, were answered. The first book was all action, and did little to develop the plot. This book explained why we care about everything that occurs in the series. It answered enough of my concerns to continue reading.

It is a quick read, and I liked that there was some growth of the characters and more real situations they have to deal with. I found this one to be much more interesting, and it gives me hope for the third book.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

The Partly Cloudy Patriot

The Partly Cloudy Patriot is an amusing collection of essays from journalist Sarah Vowell. Covering parts of American history from the Gettysburg Address to Eisenhower we get a witty version of these historical events. There are also essays on holidays, her travels to historical places such as: Salem and Gettysburg, and her thoughts on actors and German films.

My husband and I read this together while traveling for the holidays. We made sure to read The First Thanksgiving as we drove to our Thanksgiving celebration. It was an enjoyable way to prepare to celebrate with family. It is really easy to identify with Vowell's writing. I really like her presentation of history combined with her own experiences. She entertains you without trying too hard, or loosing the feeling of authenticity.

Vowell's wit is a big draw to reading her books, but I also appreciate the insights she presents about history and life. I highly recommend reading this book. If you want a diverting look at American history, that doesn't skimp on facts this is an excellent collection of essays.  

Friday, January 3, 2014

Stiff: The Curious Lives Of Human Cadavers

Have you decided what to do with your body after you die? If you have not, this book can help. It lays out a lot of different options, and explains what happens to your body for each scenario. If you have decided what to do, you might change your mind after reading more about what actually happens to your body.

I read this book with one of my book clubs. I am glad they chose this book because I do not think I would have discovered or read it on my own. I am interested in the subject of the Resurrectionists, which are mentioned in this book, so I was pleased about that. Among all the facts and humor you are forced to face the reality of death. A lot of the topics were about how you have a chance to benefit mankind with your corpse through donating it for scientific research or organ donation.

Roach takes a humorous approach to death as she explores what it means to donate your body to science, cremation, burial, corpse medicine, cannibalism, and more. Most of the book is attention grabbing. You experience a lot of different emotions while reading, such as: horror, amusement, and respect. Even the lighthearted parts leave you contemplating what you want to do with your body after you have died. Personally, I think the best option is donating your bones to an osteological collection in New Mexico. I could be part of a museum collection and help science. It seemed more dignified than many of the options explained in the book.

I thought it was an important book to read. It is a reminder that we all think of and deal with death differently. If you are squeamish about the body or death this might be a challenging book for you to read. If you are not, you should read this book to understand what you can do with your body after you die.