Thursday, July 24, 2014

My Life In Middlemarch by Rebecca Mead

Publisher: Crown/Random House Publishing January 28, 2014
Genre: Non-fiction, memoir, George Eliot, Middlemarch
Format: Hardcover
Pages: 304
Rating: 4 Stars for Very Good
Source: I received this book for free from Blogging for Books in exchange for a review, and from Crown/Random House Publishing, for the purpose of review. All reviews expressed are from my own opinion. 

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Summary:
My Life in Middlemarch, is a memoir of Rebecca Mead, George Eliot, and a review of the literary novel Middlemarch. 
Rebecca Mead, reflects on her life, from late adolescence and college, to living single and working on her career in NYC. She ponders choices made, relationships, and maturity; further, she compares her life to her beloved book and heroine, George Eliot, the author of Middlemarch. 
Middlemarch, was published in serial form by George Eliot, also known as Mary Ann Evans or Marian Evans, in 1871-72. George Eliot, also wrote Adam Bede, The Mill on the Floss, Silas Marner, and Daniel Deronda. George Eliot, lived an unconventional life by Victorian standards, because she lived with a married man for several years, and later married a much younger man. 



I've read Silas Marner, and The Mill on the Floss, both books are some of my favorites. On my book shelf is Middlemarch (unread). I have a biography on George Eliot by Rosemary Ashton (unread).

My Thoughts:
It's wonderful to slow down from my hectic academic type books, by reading a book that's slow-paced and introspective. 
Mead is a writer that both thinks deeply and moves the reader to think deeply. My Life in Middlemarch, is an introverts delight.  
I thought of my own life and how books have affected it; further, how they've changed my thinking, or molded my outlook on something that before seemed demure or foreign. Books have certainly transported my mind and spirit to another place and time. Books have also disgusted me, or kindled an anger for the wretched people who harm the innocent. Books are like magic keys, that unlock doors that were formally closed. 
My Life in Middlemarch, is an observant, insightful study, of how the novel Middlemarch, changed Rebecca Mead's life. She has read the book several times, at different ages and maturity places in her life. I feel she expressed her points and feelings well, which at times propelled me to ponder books and stories which have affected me the same way. Some examples of these points, were on late adolescence and just on the brink of leaving the nest, hoping and pining "for life to start." A second example is how I see the world, my perspective, and how it is not how other people see it. 
"This notion-that we each have our own center of gravity, but must come to discover that others weigh the world differently than we do-is one that is constantly repeated in the book. The necessity of growing out of such self-centeredness is the theme of Middlemarch. In one of the most memorable editorial asides in the novel, Eliot elaborates upon this idea of how necessary it is to expand one's sympathies. 'We are all of us born in moral stupidity, taking the world as an udder to feed our supreme selves.'" Page 159.
My Life in Middlemarch, is a book for readers who are interested in a carefully paced memoir. For me, reading the book felt like a mini-vacation, a much needed one. 

Author Information:
Rebecca Mead is a staff writer for The New Yorker and the author of One Perfect Day: The Selling of the American Wedding.  She lives in Brooklyn.

Chaucer's England by Diana Childress

Publisher: Shoe String Press/Linnet Books 2000
Genre: Non-fiction, Life in England during Geoffrey Chaucer's era, England, 14th Century,
Format: Hardcover
Age: 12 and up
Pages: 136
Rating: 5 Stars
Source: Library copy

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I'm surprised there has not been any reviews at the book retail sites. It is possible this little gem has been over-looked. For a person that is heavily researching 14th century England, this book would not have enough information. But, for a reader, age twelve and up, who wants to read a short book packed with interesting tidbits about life during Geoffrey Chaucer's era, this book is a perfect choice.

Summary:
Chaucer's England, explores 14th century England: from traveling to food, from housing to money, from "social hierarchy" to the religious order, from Parliament to medicine, from marriage to "leisure" activities.
Geoffrey Chaucer, was born in London, England, about 1340, and died 1400. There are "500 official documents" which contain information about Chaucer, "many of them brief records of payments made to him by his employers." Three English kings ruled during Chaucer's life. Edward III (ruled 1327-1377), and Richard II (1377-1399). Henry IV, began his reign late in 1399.
Geoffrey Chaucer's, notable work is Canterbury Tales. He also wrote Troilus and Criseyde, The Romaunt of the Rose, The Plowman's Tale, The Pilgrim's Tale, and more.
From Wikipedia

From the British Library. 
My Thoughts:
I've read The Canterbury Tales twice, once in college, and again in my early 40s. The second time I read it I fell in love with a few of the stories. A British literature professor told me, "people either love the tales, or they hate them." The tales are meant to be humorous stories, and to not take them seriously. I'm a serious girl and often I'm too serious. Reading The Canterbury Tales, requires me to put on a "different" mind-set. If you've never read The Canterbury Tales, maybe try and read one of them, for example: The Nun's Priest Tale. 

Chaucer's England, is a quick read yet packed with information.
A favorite aspect of reading history is how people lived during another era. I enjoyed reading about social customs, for example, the marriageable age for 14th century was age fourteen for boys and age twelve for girls. Marriage during this period was not considered a romantic decision (although they enjoyed reading romantic stories). It was a "economic and social arrangement." Most often boys were in their twenties when they married, girls in their teen years.
The three estates of social class were peasants, knighthood, and clergy. In more than one section in the book these classes will be expounded on.
Over-all, this is a splendid book that can be used for reference, as well as interesting reading material.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Harriet Beecher Stowe: A Spiritual Life by Nancy Koester

Publisher: Wm B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. January 13, 2014
Genre: Christian Non-fiction, biography, Civil War, Uncle Tom's Cabin
Format: Paperback
Pages: 382
Rating: 4 1/2 Stars for Very Good. 
Source: Free copy from Eerdmans in exchange for a review. All reviews are written from my own opinion and feelings. 

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Review was first posted at The Christian Manifesto

"Uncle Tom's Cabin came from the heart rather than the head. It was an outburst of deep feeling, a cry in the darkness. The writer no more thought of style or literary excellence, than the mother who rushes into the street and cries for help to save her children from a burning house thinks of the teachings of the rhetorician or the elocutionist.” Quote by Charles Stowe.

The name Harriet Beecher Stowe, is synonymous with her story Uncle Tom's Cabin. The book was published in serialized form, 1851 and 1852. She is quoted as saying she wrote it to “awaken sympathy and feeling for the African race.” Most of the white characters in the story are portrayed as desensitized to slavery, but a few characters rise above the acceptance of slavery, they are brave and defiant against its inhumane treatment. Both blacks and whites ridiculed the book. On one side they felt Stowe had not done enough; on the other side of opinion, she was an evil woman.
Harriet Beecher Stowe, was born in 1811, to a large New England family. Her father was a Congregationalist pastor. He was an intelligent and outspoken man. His children, both sons and daughters, were strong communicators and readers. Harriet's elder sister, had an independent nature that did not make room for a husband and family. The Beecher family took part in theological discussions, they conversed freely their doubts and insecurities. They were encouraged to be thinkers and to ask questions; in addition, to be involved in social justice. Harriet's penchant for being bold in how she felt did not happen when she wroteUncle Tom's Cabin, but was a natural result of her personality and upbringing. Harriet married Calvin Stowe and they had seven children. She wrote Uncle Tom's Cabin at age forty. She died in 1896, after living a remarkable life.
Although the zenith of A Spiritual Life, is Stowe's notable book, Uncle Tom's Cabin. I was given a broad range view of her life that I'd not read about in other books.
Author, Nancy Koester, explores both the shaping of Harriet Beecher Stowe's spiritual life and personality, and how it contributed to the writing of Uncle Tom's Cabin; in addition, how her own journey in life was transformed by the steady process of Christian growth.
When Stowe met William Lloyd Garrison, the editor of the Liberator, and a key leader of a anti-slavery group, she asked him if he was a Christian. The following pages in this chapter expound on the “sanctity” of the Bible, and in its “power to transform.” These pages of the book were some of my favorite. Stowe stood eye to eye in sharing her beliefs with Garrison and did not cower.
I was glad Koester explored the criticism of Uncle Tom's Cabin. The shock of the book becoming a best seller, and in its discussion among people of all races and slavery views, propelled the books strength. The book did not rise and burst, but steadily lived on without diminishing its intended aim.
I would have liked a whole chapter dedicated to the legacy of Uncle Tom's Cabin. How people through the generations have viewed the story, how modern readers are unaware of the book or make light of it, or how it is completely shoved aside as not being of importance in helping end slavery in America.
People in the Christian community had used the Bible to both reject or accept slavery.
Stowe explained: “Those who defend slavery read the Bible through the eyes of self-interest. They convert the Bible to their own use, instead of letting the Bible convert them. Who uses Scripture rightly? Those who follow Christ, like Tom and Eva. Instead of using the Scripture to lay burdens upon the backs of others, they carry the cross for others.” page 134.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

1066: The Year of the Conquest by David Howarth

Publisher: Penguin August 1981
Genre: Non-fiction, 1066, Norman Conquest, King Harold, William the Conqueror, Medieval England
Format: Paperback
Pages: 208
Rating: 5 Stars
Source: Library copy.

Paperback @ Amazon $11.83.
Not available on Kindle.
Same price @ B&N.

Summary:
When I think about the year 1066, I become anxious all of a sudden. Yes, I know the date was over 900 years ago, but thinking about a foreign country invading the land of England, I feel a sense of foreboding, as if I should pack a small bag and run, runaway fast. Of course the right thing to do would be to defend my country and my land.
When the year 1066 began, King Edward, also known as Edward, the Confessor, was near death. An heir had not been decided. There were claimants to the throne, but Edward had not chosen one. His death came during the night of January 4th, or early morning hours of the 5th. The Witan (Anglo-Saxon council) decided to pass the crown to Harold Godwin or Godwine. The Witan were in agreement they did not want a foreign king. When William of Normandy, found out Harold had been crowned king of England he was enraged. William had been under the impression he was Edward's heir. On October 14, 1066, in a field near Hastings, East Sussex, England, King Harold and his army, met William of Normandy and his army, in defense of England. The battle lasted from dawn to dusk, by the end of the day, a gruesome scene of stripped and hacked dead men lay in a bloody field, and England had a new king, a foreign king, and not one of their own choosing.

My Thoughts:
This is an amazing book. In 208 pages I learned more than in some books that hold 300 or more pages.
From the introduction, pages 7-8.
"Immediately after 1066, there were naturally three different versions of what had happened, Norman, English and Scandinavian. The rather later writers added new stories, either from earlier versions which are lost or from oral traditions, and these already had the quality of legends when they were written. Moreover, most of the writers were monks who felt bound to draw moral conclusions, and some were writing for patrons who expected their own opinions to be confirmed. So any modern historian has to use his own judgement pretty freely. When he finds contradictory stories, he has to decide which is most probable, which writer had the best reason to know the truth - or which, on the other hand, had reason to distort it; and if he cannot decide, he has to tell all the versions. On the whole, all the early writers were more likely to be right about things in their own country, and were sometimes obviously wrong about things in other countries...I think it is fair to say that Normans were the least reliable, because they felt they had to make excuses for their invasion, and their writers were sometimes deceived by their own propaganda." 
Serious history readers expect historical fact in their non-fiction reading material, many want only minor fill-in information for historical fiction. I was glad David Howarth was honest in his intentions of the book.
1066: The Year of the Conquest, begins New Year's Day, and follows through the year with significant dates through to New Year's Eve.
The sources used for the book is listed in brief with dates and authorship and title. Examples from the list are: the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, Vita Aedwardi Regis, Bayeaux Tapestry, Domesday Book.
A battle between King Harold, and his brother Tostig who'd joined with King Harald Hardrada of Norway, happened in September 1066, at Stamford Bridge in Yorkshire, England. Before King Harold's army had time to rest, they were told of William of Normandy's arrival on the south coast of England.  
Both the Battle of Stamford Bridge in Yorkshire, and the Battle of Hastings, is written about in detail, gruesome as they were, it gave me the magnitude of the battles. Battle weaponry, organization of men, fighting style, training, are all explored.
David Howarth, has a relaxed and easy to read writing style; in addition, I enjoyed reading his analysis of the personalities of Harold and William.
One simple map is given on the Battle of Hastings.
One lineage chart is given of the "genealogy of the early Kings of England and Denmark, and the Dukes of Normandy."

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Baudelaire's Revenge by Bob Van Laerhoven

Publisher: Pegasus Books April 15, 2014
Genre: France, Historical Fiction, Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours, Mystery, Crime Novel
Format: Hardcover
Pages: 272
Rating: 1 Star---did not like and do not recommend---Remember, the following review is my own feelings and opinions in regard to this book. Thank you. 
Source: Free copy from Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours


Charles Baudelaire 1821-1867
Summary:
"It is 1870, and Paris is in turmoil.
As the social and political turbulence of the Franco-Prussian War roils the city, workers starve to death while aristocrats seek refuge in orgies and seances. The Parisians are trapped like rats in their beautiful city but a series of gruesome murders captures their fascination and distracts them from the realities of war. The killer leaves lines from the recently deceased Charles Baudelaire’s controversial anthology Les Fleurs du Mal on each corpse, written in the poet’s exact handwriting. Commissioner Lefevre, a lover of poetry and a veteran of the Algerian war, is on the case, and his investigation is a thrilling, intoxicating journey into the sinister side of human nature, bringing to mind the brooding and tense atmosphere of Patrick Susskind’s Perfume. Did Baudelaire rise from the grave? Did he truly die in the first place? The plot dramatically appears to extend as far as the court of the Emperor Napoleon III. A vivid, intelligent, and intense historical crime novel that offers up some shocking revelations about sexual mores in 19th century France, this superb mystery illuminates the shadow life of one of the greatest names in poetry." Summary Courtesy of Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours.

My Thoughts: 
Charles Baudelarie was a 19th century poet in Paris, France. He was a modernist. The definition of modernity according to Wikipedia is to "capture" the "ephemeral experience" of city life in all its essence. 
The definition sounds lovely and poetic. A dark and troubling side of Baudelarie, was his views of women, Satanism, and drugs which produced hallucinations.  
I knew none of the above information about Baudelarie before reading the book. In the press release, none of this was mentioned. The word evil was used to express an element of the story, but perpetrators are evil in their crime, it is a description of the thought and action of what they've done. 
In Baudelaire's Revenge, there are no "good" characters, no redeeming qualities of kindness, nor valor, in any character, this includes the inspectors. 
It is a rarity for me to read and review a 1 star book, but if I do not, the public will not know of its dark side, and this after all is apart of why I review---for readers who may not know unless I tell them.  
I find it ironic that I'd recently read and reviewed the book, Psychopath Whisperer: The Science of Those Without Conscience by Kent A. Kiehl, PhD. 
There are characters in Baudelaire's Revenge, which describe a psychopath. These characters are on both sides of law enforcement. This gives the book a no-mans-land-feeling, where there are no fundamental humane qualities.  
I speed read the book (all 272 pages) in about an hour and a half. I read enough to understand the story, but did not care to read the details of sexual sadism, bondage, vulgar words and scenes. 
My goal was to finish the book for review, I did not care who the murderer was, and by the last page I still didn't care. 
Sexual sadism and child sexual abuse is not art, it is not poetic. There are women and children raped everyday, there is a crisis in the world of sex-trafficking. I'm sickened by the contents of this book in regards to its "merit" among those precious people who've been abused, their lives never to be the same again. 
Rape is about control, power, and dominance, over another person. 
The detective inspectors suffer from anxiety, flash-backs, and addictions, to cover-up their memories of being in Algiers during a war. Their symptoms describe Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. My eldest son has PTSD as well as other mental health problems. When a person has a mental health condition, this does not mean the person is evil or will become evil, nor does it mean they are not capable of living a valid life, nor does it mean they are going to become an sexual predator, sadist, or murderer. 
My final comment is in regards to the odd, macabre, insolent, view and portrayal, of Christ Jesus and Christianity. Although, that is Satan's tactic, to lie and steal and "try" and destroy the image of Christ Jesus. But, the final chapter has already been written in regards to this. 


Bob Van Laerhoven became a full-time author in 1991 and has written more than thirty books in Holland and Belgium. The context of his stories isn’t invented behind his desk, rather it is rooted in personal experience. As a freelance travel writer, for example, he explored conflicts and trouble-spots across the globe from the early 1990s to 2005. Echoes of his experiences on the road also trickle through in his novels. Somalia, Liberia, Sudan, Gaza, Iran, Iraq, Myanmar… to name but a few.
During the Bosnian war, Van Laerhoven spent part of 1992 in the besieged city of Sarajevo. Three years later he was working for MSF – Doctors without frontiers – in the Bosnian city of Tuzla during the NATO bombings. At that moment the refugees arrived from the Muslim enclave of Srebrenica. Van Laerhoven was the first writer from the Low Countries to be given the chance to speak to the refugees. His conversations resulted in a travel book: Srebrenica. Getuigen van massamoord – Srebrenica. Testimony to a Mass Murder. The book denounces the rape and torture of the Muslim population of this Bosnian-Serbian enclave and is based on first-hand testimonies. He also concludes that mass murders took place, an idea that was questioned at the time but later proven accurate.
All these experiences contribute to Bob Van Laerhoven’s rich and commendable oeuvre, an oeuvre that typifies him as the versatile author of novels, travel stories, books for young adults, theatre pieces, biographies, poetry, non-fiction, letters, columns, articles… He is also a prize-winning author:  in 2007 he won the Hercule Poirot Prize for best thriller of the year with his novel De Wraak van Baudelaire – Baudelaire’s Revenge.
For more information please visit Bob Van Laerhoven’s website. You can also connect with him on Facebook and Twitter.

Link for tour

Tour Schedule:
Monday, June 9
Review at Book Nerd
Tuesday, June 10
Review at Ageless Pages Reviews
Thursday, June 12
Review & Giveaway at Words & Peace
Monday, June 16
Review at Oh, For the Hook of a Book
Tuesday, June 17
Interview at Oh, For the Hook of a Book
Wednesday, June 18
Guest Post & Giveaway at Historical Fiction Connection
Thursday, June 19
Review at A Bookish Girl
Review at Turning the Pages
Friday, June 20
Interview & Giveaway at A Bookish Girl
Monday, June 23
Review at Flashlight Commentary
Interview at Layered Pages
Tuesday, June 24
Interview at Flashlight Commentary
Wednesday, June 25
Review & Giveaway at 100 Pages a Day
Thursday, June 26
Review at A Book Geek
Review at The Lit Bitch
Friday, June 27
Review at A Bibliotaph’s Reviews
Monday, June 30
Review at Reading the Past
Tuesday, July 1
Review & Giveaway at A Bookish Affair
Wednesday, July 2
Review at Layers of Thought
Spotlight & Giveaway at Books and Movies
Thursday, July 3
Review at Impressions in Ink
Review, Interview, and Giveaway at Mina’s Bookshelf
Feature & Giveaway at bookworm2bookworm’s Blog