Monday, September 30, 2013

Smokes and Glasses Club

Had another great weekend, maybe not THE BEST WEEKEND EVER, but still not to shabby.  Helped one of my fellow EMT's out and did a little extra staffing and training with the crew.  Had ice cream with cinnamon and chocolate chips for dinner on Saturday (I love being an adult) after I got home, and even got my lazy butt out of bed to work out the next day.  Sunday was beautiful and after our workout decided to consume as many calories as possible in the form of Kraken rum, home made bacon, jalapeno, smoked cayenne cheddar bbq burgers and home made apple cider donuts.
Best part (or one of the best parts) was either curling up in my reading chair and living in my book world for two solid uninterrupted hours, or our meeting of the Smokes and Glasses club. What is a Smokes and Glasses club?  It is when you get something tasty to drink (wine, whiskey, scotch, rum) that has to be drunk from an actual glass and then light up your favorite cigar or pipe (no cigarettes) and talk about to most
random things while sitting on the porch.  Last night me and the Hubbin (founding members of the Smokes and Glasses Club) started with a discussion of Atlas Shrugged by the late Ayn Rand.  This is one of Hubbin's favorite books, and he is enjoying the movies as well.  After a bit of a talk on our favorite characters,(Fransico for him and Rearden's wife for me) we moved on to the discussion of potential utopia scenarios in books and what works, what doesn't and why it seems they can't last. In Atlas Shrugged the potential utopia happens when (SPOILER ALERT) a small group of like minded people purposely isolate themselves from the real world.  This seems to be a common theme in utopian scenarios, almost every ""perfect" society seems to be one of limited humans in an isolated condition.  Of course this works, because in general if you have a small group (compared to the rest of the world) who are all agreeing to work towards one goal and eliminate most of the outside interference then you probably have a better shot at that coveted working as one happy happy joy joy society.  In books we either see a person stumble upon one of these groups, or we see the utopia
being threatened by outside sources, or we see where there are cracks in the utopian ideals making it actually more of a controlled experiment and less of a choosing to live in perfect harmony.  In the novelette Genesis society only works for about one generation or so, as soon as a generation is born into this created peace, they don't have the fear and knowledge of the outside world to motivate them into following specific rules that were earlier agreed upon. So essentially we see any long term, wide spread perfection is almost impossible even in fiction.
Of course after this discussion, I took it upon myself to try and form, if not a perfect society, then at least a form of government that would actually be accountable for its actions, be able to respond in a timely manner and still be representative of the general populace.  I came up with a weird mix of elected monarchy, a life time elected super court (kind of like the supreme court but bigger) and general populace voting.  My Hubbin always looking to improve ideas helped my by playing devils advocate and was finding the potential strengths and weaknesses.  The biggest weakness of course is the one that essentially dooms all human run societies to potential ruin and that of course is humans themselves.  We determined that society works best when individuals are given freedoms, and those individuals use that freedom, by choice for the good of the whole. Of course that leaves us wide open to those humans who because of various reasons choose to do something that might not be in the best interest of the whole and that brings the whole thing crashing down.  Of course legislating good behavior has also never worked because then we start getting molded into faceless puppets with no individuality.  All this to say is that I have yet to read a book, watch a movie, or see a real life instance where a perfect society can or does exist in the long term.  I think this is ok for two reasons, one is we need those challenges and adversities to make life worth living, to learn and help us grow (not that I want bad things to happen, just that we can use them to grow).  Without these challenges we grow complacent and stagnant, also it makes for really bad
books and movies, I mean who really wants to read about a perfect protagonist with a perfect life where nothing arises to challenge them? The second reason I am ok with a lack of perfection is it gives us something to strive for.  Even though perfection seems impossible, we can at least try to make it better, and if we continually try and make it better, it will get a little bit better and then we can try for more better (was that thoroughly confusing?).  I think this is where books play such an important role as a way to examine and play out some of these idea's, to see where the flaws may be and to even possibly see the long term effects.  You can put crazy idea's in books because the risk to actual humanity is pretty low, but who knows we may look back on those ideas and realize, maybe they are not as crazy as they sound?  Ok so this post got really long and talky so if you made it this far, bravo and go get your self something tasty to drink. I appreciate you all letting me indulge in a little blah blah blah time.
What is your favorite Utopian book?  Have you ever read about a successful long term, wide spread Utopia? What is your idea for a more perfect government?  Should I quit watching CNN before writing these posts?

Friday, September 27, 2013

Horrifically Normal

I just finished reading The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls the debut novel of Claire Legrand (who has some of the coolest Pinterest boards). It is a MG book that is equal parts, creepy, disgusting and unfortunately frustrating.  I already know that I am in the minority for my lack of complete and utter love for this book, which is good, I like it when people read and love stories, even if I don't so if you read and loved this book please, please, please take note of my post No Apologies.  That being said I did not hate, or even dislike the book, I just had some issues with it, but more on that in a little bit, first the synopsis.  As always Spoilers Ahead!
Victoria Wright (which is seriously the most perfect name for this character) likes order, her room is neat as a pin and organized to the point even Martha Stewart would be proud. Victoria has the need to be perfect in all things, appearance, grades, tone, voice, everything.  Victoria only has one friend, well actually she considers him more of a project then a friend.  His name is Lawrence Prewitt and he is something of a musical genius, he is also sloppy, loud and much more relaxed then his friend "Vicky" (He is the only one
who can get away with calling her that).  One day Victoria goes to Lawrence's house as usual so that they can walk to school together.  She is informed by his parents (who are acting odd) that he has gone to visit his grandmother.  Victoria goes to school where she notices most of the teachers and some of the students are also acting oddly, kind of super smiley and stiff.  Victoria also starts to notice that certain kids are missing, Donovan who purposely downs bags of treats in flagrant violation of the school rules, and Jacqueline who is a bit of an odd duck, creative, dreamy and not at all "normal" (lot's of air quotes in this post folks).  Some feeling leads Victoria to go visit the Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls where she is greeted by a creepy gardener by the name of Mr. Alice who appears to be puffy with moving skin.  Victoria is taken to see Mrs. Cavendish who gives her some chewy butterscotch candy and assures her that her children are all very happy.  Although she can not see the children, Victoria hears talking and laughter and gets a warm fuzzy feeling that all is well.  As she leaves a paper airplane if flown to her and she takes it with her.  When she gets home she opens it and finds the words HELP US written on the inside. She decides to investigate and goes to the library where all the adults are acting weird. She goes to the archive room and tries to find out anything about the Home and does not have a whole lot of luck.  Her favorite teacher Professor Alban comes in looking frightened and tells Victoria that he is being watched, they find an old picture that looks just like Mr. Alice and Mrs. Cavendish but that is impossible because it is over 100 years old.  As soon as they find this her teacher freaks out and tells her to hide.  The room starts oozing and a ton of shiny black pincer bugs come out of the walls and take Prof. Alban away.  Victoria heads home and realizes that her parents are starting to act strange, just like the rest of the town.  She goes to a Mr. Tibbalts house who informs her that Mrs. Cavendish takes all the children who do not fit the strict standard of normal and "fixes" them...or if she can't fix them they disappear. The townsfolk are all partly bewitched or something and partly allow it to happen because of there need for normalcy.  Victoria heads to the Home where she is promptly captured and placed in a pitch black room full of the pincer bugs.  She is eventually let out and see's that all the missing children are there.  Mrs. Cavendish and Mr. Alice then proceed to do some pretty horrible things to try and make the children "normal", like
forcing Donovan to eat sweets until he is sick and then starving him, or whipping Jacqueline every time she tries to get creative with her art work.  They also punish Victoria's friends every time she stands up to them.  This all gets pretty sick and twisted for a while.  Victoria eventually figures out that the structure of the Home itself is alive and is trying to help her.  The children are served a weird mix of eggs and stinky meat for every meal and they are served by weird deformed little creatures called gofers.  She notes that they have the exact same shape and color eyes and the chewy candies she ate before...gross.  She also discovers that the children that can't be "normalized" are cut down to the hideous gofers  and the extra parts are fed to the kids.  Victoria convinces the others that they have to escape.  She goes to the garden and discovers that the adults that defied her have been turned into trees and they are the ones who have been helping her.  She goes to a hut where Mrs. Cavendish has made puppets out of the adults (I guess this is how she is controlling them) and cuts all there strings.  Mrs Cavendish turns into a giant spider and chases Victoria until she, the Home and the gardens are all swallowed up into the earth.  The epilogue shows Lawrence going to music school and Victoria heading off to college. The End.

Let's jump right into this shall we, lets start with what worked for me.  I did like the character of Victoria a lot, she was a good girl who saw the sense in following rules (which is a nice refresher from the firebrand rule breakers that have been big in heroines lately), she was a good student and wanted things to be orderly...she also found out that she had a core of steel and could use her stubbornness and sheer determination to the benefit of her new found friends.  I also liked the potential commentary on how we overlook bad things, things that just are not quit right as a community as long as we can keep our illusion of "normalcy", we have seen examples of this in the real world, and this was a creative way to comment on that.  The book was
creepy for sure, and the imagery was beautifully written.  Now on to what did not work so much for me.  I did not feel that this was a complete story, there was absolutely no explaining who, what or why Mrs. Cavendish was.  The only real thing we got was she set up shop in this particular town because of the peoples need for order.  There was no explanation given to what she got out of transforming boys and girls into shining examples of good behavior, therefor to me the villain had no real motivation which put a huge damper on it for me.  There were also parts of the book that felt like it skipped around and I found myself flipping back and forth wondering if I missed something.  I also felt (and this is a completely personal thing here) that to much of the potential creepiness turned into out and out disgusting horror.  I don't mind when certain things are put in to illustrate just how evil the situation is, but when I get inundated with them, the horror level goes down and the ew that's just gross factor sets in. The unknown noises that go bump in the night with the occasional confirmation of grotesque horror is much more effective at maintaining the the tension. The ending was abrupt with a bit of hurried resolution that did not show hardly any of the aftermath of such a huge event, most importantly what happened to all the little gofers and trees?  Overall I got a very strong Coraline vibe, all the way down to the sweet motherly figure that goes all spidery on the heroine and the ghost children voices.  I have to admit I liked Coraline much better.  Like I said earlier, I did not hate the book, it's just that all of the aforementioned issues kept taking me out of the story which made it a not so happy read.  I do think the author has potential and I will be looking at her next books because I think she is just going to keep improving with time.  I am glad to see so many people liked it, and hope it encourages her to keep writing.  I give this book 5 out of 10 butterscotch eye candies.

What did you think of this book?  Am I way to nit picky about a children's book?  Who are some of your favorite authors that got off to a rocky start?  Does this book give a whole new meaning to the term eye candy?

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Birds Of A Feather

One of the books I finished during The Best Weekend EVER! was one that had been on my TBR pile for awhile.  The Aviary by Kathleen O'Dell was one I had bought last summer and wanted to save for a literal rainy day,  I then put it on my overstuffed book shelf and promptly forgot about it until Hubbin found it and asked me what it was.  His finding it was perfect timing to start my fall reading so off I went.  As always SPOILERS AHEAD!
The Aviary is about Clara Dooley a 12 year old girl who has spent her life in the old Glendoveer mansion with only her mother, the cook Ruby and the old widowed Mrs. Glendoveer.  Clara has been told her whole life that she has a heart condition that makes it necessary to stay at the house and avoid any strenuous activity, this has led to Clara spending the vast majority of her life inside the walls of the Glendoveer mansion.  Besides the humans there is a huge aviary full of five different birds.  A myna bird, a cockatoo, a grackle, a kiskadee and a honey creeper .  These birds have been around longer then Clara and her mother have lived at the mansion.  One day when Clara is out tending the birds (even though they frighten her) the myna bird says "Eliott" very clearly.  Clara tells this to Mrs. Glendoveer and is told that Elliot is the name of her
youngest son who was kidnapped when he was a mere 5 months old along with his five older siblings.  Sadly Mrs. Glendoveer dies and leaves the house with a small stipend to Clara's mother and Ruby with the stipulation that they keep it in the family until the end of a set 50 year period, which will be up in a few months.  This change cause Clara's mother and Ruby to run errands outside of the house, leaving Clara completely alone for the first time in her life.  Clara starts exploring the house, discovering a long locked up nursery.  While she is up there she catches sight of a girl on her way home from school.  The next day a note is pushed through the slot of the door asking telling Clara that she had been seen at the window by the little girl the day before (who's name is Daphne) and would like to be her friend.  Clara agrees but has to sneak her friend in for visits because her mother does not want her playing with any outsiders. Daphne is curious about all the mysterious bad juju the house seems to have with the local town folk, Clara being stuck inside the estate has no idea what happened.  At some point there is a huge storm and one of the birds, the small honeycreeper is injured.  Clara takes it inside and nurses it back to health, discovering along the way that it can answer yes or no questions.  Oddly enough the bird likes to dance as well.  Clara snoops around some more and finally figures out what happened to the Glendoveer children.  The nanny had helped to kidnap the children and taken them out on a boat to take them to one of the little islands when a storm came up and sank the ship.  The bodies of the nanny and the five older children were found shortly thereafter.  Nobody knows for sure what happened, but there was nasty speculation that the children's father (a magician) had done it as a stunt to revive his show.
 Eventually Clara discovers that the birds are actually the spirits of the dead children, Mr. Glendoveer had cast a spell to bind them to the bird bodies, stuck until all six children were reunited.  The problem being that the youngest Elliot was never found.  In the almost 50 years since the incident the children have been trapped as birds waiting for there baby brother to release them.  Clara's mother finally figures out everything that she has been doing and gets very upset, Clara finally puts her foot down, asking why she is stuck at home when she feels fine, and why can't she have friends, and why is her mother afraid of her finding the truth about the Glendoveer family?!?  Clara's mother tells her that her father grew up an orphan with a cruel adoptive father.  One day he found cuff links that had belonged to Mr. Glendoveer and was convinced that he was the baby Elliot that had gone missing.  He set of to discover if this was true and dissapeared.  Clara's mother having a young baby and a missing husband went to the mansion to see if he had appeared there, he was not there, but that was when she got the position of live in caretaker.  She kept Clara hidden because she was afraid she might get mixed up with all the badness too. Clara's mother allows Daphne to come over and the girls devise a trap for a hypnotist that worked with Mr. Glendoveer for his show.  The birds have become very conversant with Clara and are able to tell her everything they are able to remember, including how the nanny had "cold eyes" which leads
Clara and Daphne to realize that she had been hypnotized. The Hypnotist (who is quit old now) and his burly bodyguard Mr. Dooley are eventually trapped in the Aviary and confess to everything.  The hypnotist did it because his family had cut him off when he went on stage, turns out he did not need the money as the family took him back eventually.  Mr. Dooley was the thug who was manning the boat during the kidnapping and managed to save baby Elliot, raising him as his own. When Elliot went back to try and find the hidden money the Hypnotist hypnotized him into staying on the island for the last 10 years.  Elliot returns to his childhood home and to his beloved wife and daughter.  The money is recovered, the spirits of the children are set free and it is assumed they all live happily ever after.
Depending on how you read this book, it is either an enduring story of friendship, family and period elegance, or it is a meh mystery with some non spooky ghost elements.  I have read several reviews of this book (after I had finished it of course, didn't want to be influenced ahead of time) and most people seemed to look at it as less a mystery/ghost story and more of a period, Gothic children's story.  I think it works best if thought of in that manner.  The character of Clara is great, the author set up a believable reason for her to be isolated, which gave credibility to her almost complete naivete when it came to the family history.  It made the process of finding things out with her exciting instead of eye-rolling.  Daphne, who may be my favorite character ever is just awesome.  She is spunky and dramatic and reminds me a bit of Anne of Green Gables getting her ideas from books (especially Boys Adventure Magazine).  She is a true friend to Clara with no stupid interruptions from boys or jealousy or any annoying stuff like that.  The relationship between Clara and her mother is also wonderful and about as realistic as a book with ghosts and spirit bird children can be.  The
birds were a pretty cool addition, kind of creepy and yet not scary.  The setting was awesome, I totally want to go visit this mansion and poke around in all the rooms now. The style was a great throwback/reminiscent of the way books used to be written before they all had to be preachy or super dark or hip, when family and friendship where the most important part of life, and telling a good story is all a book needed.  The mystery itself was not that impressive, I had it all figured out in the first couple of chapters and the biggest mysteries were solved about 2/3 of the way through the book, not leaving a whole lot of tension for a dark and stormy night which I would have preferred given that it had all the elements for a bit more of a good old fashioned ghost story.  Overall it was a great little book, suitable from anybody from the 9 year old range all the through the adult who loves a good period tale.  The story is simple, sweet, fun, and with just enough supernatural to make it a bit spooky but not scary (so no nightmares for you wussypants :-) ). Also this book has one of the coolest covers ever.  I give it 7 out of 10 peacock feathers.
What sort of YA books do you like to read?  What time period is your favorite to read?  What animal would you want your soul to be trapped in for 50 years?

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Banned Book Soapbox

It is Banned Book Week here in the States. There are many aspects to this week, highlighting books that have been banned for various reasons, authors and individuals who may be black balled, and most importantly enjoying the fact that here in the USA nobody goes to jail for what they read.  To me that is the
most important part of this week is to remember that while certain organizations might try and "ban" a book from their own particular shelves, one can rest easy knowing that you will not be raided, arrested and jailed just because you choose to read a book that is on somebodies naughty list.  We also have to remember that this freedom needs to be constantly monitored and not taken for granted, we need to ensure that while
parents and certain institutions may have the right to keep an eye on their minor's reading material on the whole everybody should have a way to access every word ever written down. No person should ever have the right to read taken away in any way shape or form, we need to promote literacy in every language, we need to ensure access to every type of book, story, report, manuscript and article is pervasive, we need to encourage reading of various authors, genre's and ideas.  This is what will hopefully keep us able to think for ourselves and be aware of what is going on outside of our little homes. This access to ideas and information will enable us to not only keep, but enjoy the freedoms that other people do not have.  Please remember that every time you walk into a book store and have shelves and shelves of books to choose from, or go online and have your pick of pretty much anything you can think of that it is a freedom many others in the world do not have.  The fact that we don't even think about being in any more trouble then "if mom catches me reading this book she will ground me for life" (which we all know is only about 2 weeks max) instead of having to be fearful of your neighbor catching you reading it which would result in a possible life sentence in jail is a wonderful wonderful thing and we need to try and not take it for granted.  Ok so this has totally turned into a school essay so I will get off my soap box now and go read a book of my choosing, happy to know that I will not be jailed for it (only slightly ridiculed by certain folks with no imagination )

What banned books have you read?  Do you ever stop and think how awesome it is that you can pick up any book from the Bible to 50 Shades of Grey without fear of imprisonment?  What books have you personally banned from your own shelves?

Monday, September 23, 2013

Best Weekend EVER!

I had the most incredible weekend, it was everything I could have hoped for, in fact it was so great that I will have to spread out it's awesomeness over several posts...and then hopefully it will be the weekend again :-).  It started with a cup of coffee in bed while I finished a book, got some chores done, made the whole house smell like cinnamon and apples and then curled up to start a book I have been saving for the perfect weekend...but more on that later.  I watched an amazing episode of Sherlock, played a little Lego Harry Potter, went to bed to read some more and woke up to most glorious of mornings.  You see not only was it the official first day of fall, but it was the day I was going to the 2013 National Book Festival!!!!!! So I pulled on my new bookworm socks, stocked my backpack full of books and embarked on this new adventure!
This was my first time at the festival and I have to tell you I was not disappointed.  It is one of the best organized events I have been to in a really long time.  The main point of the festival is to go and listen to various authors, librarians, and other bookies as I like to call them.  Everybody seemed to be in a good mood, all the speakers were well attended, the bookstore was a little sparse and crowded, but that was to be expected.  I again have to mention the weather, because if I could have ordered it, I could not have done a better job, it was a breezy 70ish degrees with just enough puffy clouds to keep one from being blinded by the sun.
There was an amazing variety of authors and topics to choose from, Science Fiction and Teens and Children were where I spent most of my time.  We got to hear Lynda Barry who is not only hilarious but totally shares my views on the arts and her talk on imagery was very interesting, I am now hooked on all her comics/books.  We then moved on to Elizabeth Moon who I was originally interested in for her connection to the late Anne McCaffery (they co-authored some books when Ms. Moon was a young author), but have
come to love her in her own right as well. Her talk on her journey to becoming a recognized and published author was informative and entertaining, I love an author who can look back at there younger self and chuckle.  She also seems to be embracing aging (not that she looks a day over 30 ;-) ) and uses it to write more experienced characters in her newer books.  We then rushed over to the crowded Teens and Children tent to hear Tamora Pierce who informed us right off the bat she is not a nice person...and then proceeded to prove herself wrong.  She spent a lot of time answering as many questions as she could, even going over and waving off the moderator to try and squeeze in one more question, a very nice gesture for her myriads of fans.  Ms. Pierce also has a wicked awesome sense of humor, especially about her self which makes me a very happy fan.
The conclusion to this trip was racing all of the teeny-boppers to get in line to get my book signed by Ms. Pierce, there were a couple signatures I wanted, but they were all signing at the same time and the lines were ridiculous (which is totally awesome because it shows that books are alive and kicking, and that we still honor authors as important people in our society).  I decided to wait for Ms. Pierce's autograph because of all the authors there, her books meant the most to me.  The wait ended up being 2 hours, but it did not feel that long for a couple reasons.  The first being that the event staff cheerfully, helpfully and efficiently kept the lines orderly and informed.  It is amazing how much patience a giant crowd can have when they know what it going on and what is expected (good job event staff).  The second reason was again the weather, it was
perfect reading weather and all zillion of us, just sat down and read while we waited our turn, in fact it did not even feel like waiting, it felt like a giant readers picnic (it helped that Hubbin was amazing and kept me supplied in food and drink during the wait, actually Hubbin was amazing the whole day, schlepping my books around, getting me nourishment, waiting not only patiently, but happily with me in line for the whole time LOVE YOU HUBBIN!), it would probably not have been so enjoyable had the weather been crappy.  The best part about waiting in line is that we got to make friends with other people while we waited (Hi to the world traveling, Danish girl, and tall stripey shirt girl, both of you have excellent taste in books!).  It was fun to talk to other people about books, where they were from, the longest they have waited in line to see a beloved author, it was really cool.  In the end I could only get one book signed with no personlization, but we all agreed to that so that everybody in line would get a chance to see Ms. Pierce.
I am already excited for next year, though now that I now how it works I will try and plan it a little better so that I can see more authors.  I might even volunteer, we will have to see. Also big thanks to the Library of Congress for putting on such an amazing event! (Also Harry Potter works at the Library of Congress I know because I saw him)

Finished off the day with homemade chili and my favorite red wine, drifting off to sleep, book in hand, happily relieving the best weekend ever!
Oh yeah and the Ravens totaled the Texans which was the yummy cherry on this perfect Sunday (get it Sunday/sundae?!?!?  OK I'm gonna go drink my coffee now)
What is your idea of the perfect weekend? Have you been to a major book festival?  I wonder if would frown upon me stealing a staff shirt and sneaking into all the authors tents to talk with them one on one?

Friday, September 20, 2013

Falling For Books

One of my many favorite things about fall is the colors, the reds, oranges, yellows and browns make the whole world look like somebody took a fire colored paintbrush to it.  I could wander around looking at fall leaves forever.  Fall is also a great time for reading, you have your crisp fall days to read adventure stories, your stormy nights to scare your self silly with a good ghost story, those rainy heavy days to delve into some long forgotten alternative history, its all right there.  Here are some ways to prep your reading space with some awesome bookish fall goodness.
Autumn Book Page Bunting
Quick and easy DIY project using pages, found leaves and twine.
Leaf Garland
I like the idea of adding little bookish touches to pre-existing decor
Leaf Printed Books
These would be pretty lined up on a decorative shelf
Maple Leaf Page
This handed painted leaf is beautiful...especially if it was hanging up in my front hall
Leaf Man
Of course the best solution is to buy pretty books that feature fall leaves and then display them when you are not reading them :-)

Happy Reading Everybody!

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Not So Good To Be Queen

Being inspired by my trip to the Renaissance Festival I read the book The Wild Queen by Carolyn Meyer. This book would probably be considered historical fiction by most folks and follows the life of Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots .  This book is part of the authors Young Royals series, of which I have read several and have enjoyed the mix of history and fiction.  The books are about real life people, and contain their real history that has been embellished with what author has written to fill in the day to day conversations and such (does that make sense).  As always SPOILERS AHEAD (well only if you don't know your history).
The plot of this one is interesting because it is based on the actual recorded life of an actual person, with just certain details added in.  I do not know enough to distinguish the facts from the fiction, but from what I do know the major events are all real and recorded.  A young Mary Stuart is crowned Queen of Scotland at just six days old.  She is sent to France at the age of five to live in the household of the French monarchy where she is eventually to marry the eldest son and heir to the throne Francis.   Mary or Marie as she is now called has much family in France as her mother was from a noble house of France before she moved to Scotland to marry the King.  Mary learns much of court life and the power and lack there of a woman can wield in it. At the age of 16 she married Francis, who was a small and sickly boy who never attained his manhood.  According to the book, Mary and Francis never consummated their marriage as Francis was too delicate and child like.  Mary is named Queen Consort alongside Francis when he gains the throne after the death of his father. During this time Mary Queen of England has died and her half sister Elizabeth has claimed the throne.  Several of Mary's family feel she has a better claim to the English throne, but it all falls to naught.   Alas Francis falls ill and dies leaving Mary a widow at the age of 18 and with no power whatsoever in the country of France.  Mary returns to Scotland amid treaty discussions with England to claim her throne.
 Mary does not want to sign a treaty with England until Elizabeth names her heir in the case of Elizabeth dying with no children.  Elizabeth does not want this because she feels it will cause people to try and depose her to put Mary on the throne.  Mary is welcomed back to Scotland where against the will of almost all her advisers she marries her cousin Henry, giving in to his every wish and whim out of  a desire to please him.  This union quickly sours and other then her precious son James, no good comes from this marriage.  More arguing, fighting, treating and such occur and one fateful night the lodging where Henry is staying is blown up.  Henry is found dead and Mary is blamed for plotting to kill him.  Mary is captured by Lord Bothwell and forced to marry him (making this Mary's third husband in her young life).  They attempt to put the divided kingdom back together with John Knox pushing for a Protestant only kingdom and the devoutly Catholic Mary decreeing a policy of tolerance.  Knox has also persuaded several important people (including her bastard half brother James) that a woman will never be fit to rule a country.  Mary is captured by her brothers people who force her to abdicate in favor of her son with her brother as regent.  Mary escapes and flees to England hoping Elizabeth will help her regain her throne, even though they still have not resolved there own issues.  Mary is taken captive in England and held as prisoner for 18 years before being placed on trial for plotting Elizabeth's death.  Mary is sentenced to death and is beheaded.  Ironically her son James does ascend the throne of Scotland and later England when Elizabeth dies leaving no heirs.  All of the subsequent monarchs of England and Scotland came down through the Stuart line.
I like books like this because it makes history a bit more interesting.  I know that a lot of it is speculation or filling in the gaps, but the basic history is still present.  It get's frustrating to read these stories sometimes and realize just how powerless even a sovereign monarch can be, especially if you were female.  The reader also has the advantage of hindsight which makes you cringe at the inevitability of some of the choices these characters make.  I think the best part about this book, and books like it is that it makes me want to go find out more about the real history of these people and places.  It is a great jumping of point to see where your historical interests lie, or to discover something that never even occurred to you before.  Most people know about the big events and people in history, but a lot has been documented and discovered about other less known players and events which add an even richer layer to already known history.  This isn't really making any sense because it is hard to review just the book instead of the whole learning/discovery process so I will just let you read it for yourself.  An interesting side note if you will, I actually played Mary Stuart in the play Mary Stuart with my best friend playing Elizabeth in a meeting that never took place in real life, but in the play she took great pleasure in condemning me to death :-)  We won a couple of awards for our performance so this era will always hold a special place in my heart.  I recommend this book for anybody interested in history, historical fiction, or a way to get kids started on history in a more palatable story form.  I give this book 7 out of 10 coats of arms.
What is your favorite period in history? Do you like the fictionalized versions as a way to learn history or are you a purist history buff?  What about alternative histories where the death of Kings and Queens is really an alien plot to seed the world with pod people? 

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Chalk It Up To Awesomeness

Now that we are all back to school and breathing in that chalk dust (do schools still use chalk?), I thought I would put up some examples of chalky amazingness.
Eduardo Kobra
This top view library is so cute
Jenny McCracken
This is the size of book I need
Tracy Lee Stum
Books can take you anywhere
Rudy Kistler and Anton Pulvirenti
I want a permanent one of these on my non existent patio
Julian Beever
This one has nothing to do with books, I just think it looks really really cool!
Make sure to click on the links that I have put with the artists names to see other really amazing works of art, there are so many of these out there it is just mind boggling!
Do you remember drawing all over your driveway with sidewalk chalk as a kid?  Did you ever have to ask your Mamma to quit showing you up? How cool would it be to put chalk artist on your resume?

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Stupid Scarlet Mote

ITS FALLLLLLLL!!!!! Sorry, got a little excited there, but the weather has finally started to cooperate along with the rest of my life.  Not only has the weather gotten cooler, but I have actually been able to enjoy it while sipping cider, curled up in my reading chair with ample blankets and pillows READING!  Yep finally got to finish (and start) my books! One of the first ones is a book I feel like I have been reading forever, it is called Kushiel's Dart by Jacqueline Carey and it is the first in a series.  As always SPOILERS AHEAD!
How does one go about rambling about a 901 page book?  How does one classify a book such as this?  Is it political? Is it fantasy? Is it erotica? Is it historical fiction?  Is it EPIC?  The answer to all of those in some way would have to be yes...kind of... Hmmm  I will sum up what I can, just know there are huge parts missing 'cause I want this post to be less then 27 pages long.
Our story is narrated in the first person by Phedre.  Phedre is unique because she was born with a scarlet mote in one eye, initially thought to be an imperfection it turns out that it is actually the mark of a deity called Kushiel, the lord of punishment in this pantheon.  Because of this special marking our Phedre is for lack of a better term a masochist or in the book terms an anguissette, now before you all freak out decide I have turned to a life of reading erotica, this is just one small portion of the book, and it actually serves a purpose.  See in this land of Terre D'Ange (which feels a lot like France) an alternate history of sort happened. An angel like deity was born and was turned away by Yeshua (the equivalent of the Judeo/Christian God) his name was Eula and he and his companions wandered the earth until they settled in Terre D'Ange with the phrase Love as thou wilt as there creed.  In this society Naamah's Servants or professional courtesans (both male and female) are revered for there practice of free love (well it is paid for...but you get the idea).  Phedre's marque is bought by a man named Delaunay who trains her to use her arts as an anguissette for hire to spy on important people. Delaunay has another ward, Alcuin, who while not an anguissette also chooses to enter into the services of Naamah to help gather information.  A whole bunch of stuff happens, among them a young Phedre meets a Tsingani (a gypsy type race) boy named Hyacinth who becomes an invaluable friend through out her life.  Eventually Delaunay procures the services of a Cassiline Brother by the name of Joscelin, a guard trained since he was 10 in the arts of protection who swears an oath to do anything to protect his charge.  In the land of Love as thou wilt, the Cassiline swear a vow of chastity making them a bit odd in a realm where free love is the norm. One of Phedre's clients is the beautiful Melisande, a brilliant, crafty noble woman who loves to play games.  Phedre has a love/hate relationship with Melisande, especially because she is the one of the few who know how best to utilize the plain/pleasure dichotomy that is Phedre. Confused yet?  Hang in there it keeps going.  Eventually Delaunay's spying gets him and Alcuin killed and Phedre and Joscelin get sold as slaves to the Skaldi (a Viking like race). Phedre learns from Melisande
herself that she is behind it all, but she cannot bear to have Phedre killed.  In slavery Phedre finds out what it is like to be forced to serve as a bed slave with no say in the matter, before she could always choose, always say no, and this lack of choice is unbearable to her.  She learns of a plot to overthrow the ruling family of Terre D'Ange by betrayal of one noble family (this gets really complicated, interesting but the book for more details).  Phedre and Joscelin escape by him breaking certain vows (such as to only kill for protection)and make there way through a bitter winter to Terre D'Ange. Upon there arrival they are told by Hyacinth that they have been tried and convicted in absentia for the death of Deluany and Alcuin.  They make contact with the new Queen who believes there story and tell them that if they can find a way to Alba (an Ireland/Scottish hybrid) and help Drustan regain his throne, maybe he will bring his warriors to help secure the throne of Terre D'Ange (oh yeah Drustan and the young Queen are also in love and wish to marry which helps the cause).  Of they set to find this Drustan.  Along the way they meet up with a band of Tsingani which contains Hyacinths grandfather.  They are thrilled to see him return until they learn that he practices the dromande which is a seer like ability that is only used by women.  Saddened Hyacinth continues on with Phedre and Joscelin to secure a ship to Alba.  The biggest obstetrical is crossing the Master of the Straits, a man of great power who makes the sea rise up against them until Phedre sings for him.  They arrive in Alba, find Drustan, win the battle and head back to Terre D'Ange with Drustan and his warriors in tow. They make it back and have an epic three way battle, eventually winning and restoring the Queen and her new husband to the throne. Melisandre is captured, taunts Phedre and then escapes.  Phedre is named Deluany's heir (as she and Joscelin are now cleared of his murder) and inherits a decent piece of land.  In the end she decides to go back into the service of Naamah to see what other information she can find.  And thus ends this epic tome, the first in a series, none of which would have ever happened if she had not been born with that damned scarlet mote.

Obviously that is super bare bones basic basic basic plot line. There is a lot of really great, rich, detail that I just cannot capture in a summary.  Lets get to discussion now shall we?  I guess the first question is did I like the book and the answer is yes I did.  This book has been on my radar for years and I am pleased that I finally got to read it.  I enjoyed it for the most part.  Next Question, what did I like about it?  I liked the world building, the quasi historical setting was nice, it gave a reason to have a lot of familiar things, especially the different races while still giving some wiggle room for creativity. As weird as it sounds a society based on Love as thou wilt actually made sense in this story.  The Court of the Night Blooming Flowers as the 13 main houses were called were well written and gave some credence to all the sexy fun times, which oddly enough were used to the stories advantage.  A book like this, which states right off the bat that there will be explicitness through out could easily have been another fantasy smut book.  I have started (and rarely finished) books that sound like they have a good idea or premise but are just an excuse to have a vast amount of various sex scenes.  This is not only lazy writing, but actually makes sex boring!  This book actually uses its sex scenes (which for the most part are fairly tastefully portrayed) to further the plot.  They establish relationships  between various characters, information is divulged and Phedre's character is developed through these scenes.  Also for a 901 page book the percentage of pages devoted to sexy fun time is overall pretty minimal.  The plot, while a little complicated could have easily become convoluted, but stayed fairly easy to follow, at least the important parts.  I liked how each character had there flaws and there talents.  I loved how it showed that anybody could become your family, the ragtag family that Phedre eventually forms around herself is a great example of blood relations not being an essential part of family.
 Question 3 what did I not like about the book?  It was too long.  This is one of those books that you feel like you will be reading forever (I kind of wish I had this back in my poor college days when I had to make my books last as long as I could).  It wasn't a bad book, it just got tedious in certain areas.  This is a rookie mistake from a first time writer, the overly descriptive everything all the time, I don't need every detail of every house that the characters drive pass in there well described wagon.  Phedre's voice got a little irritating on occasion, this is written as a kind of recollection with Phedre constantly telling us at points early on "if I had only known" or "Later I would have wished to be at that event" almost always breaking the potential tension because you know something bad is going to happen and from her comments you can almost always figure out what.  As with most first person narratives you get stuck in there head, which in this case got a little angsty and introspective for my taste, but not near as bad as some I've read. I also was not completely sold on how EVERYBODY fell in love with our Phedre, I don't think there was a single person she could not turn, which makes it a little dull for she has no direct antagonist or even somebody to sharpen herself against. Question 4 would I recommend this book? I would most certainly recommend this book for the over 16 crowd that does not mind working through it a bit.  It is not an easy read, it takes paying attention to make sure you are up to speed on the whole storyline, but it is broken into 96 chapters that go by fairly quick individually, making it very easy to put down and pick back up. I will probably eventually pick up the next book in the series, but I am not dying to go get it right this instant.  I give this book 6 out of 10 whips and chains.
Does sexy fun times in books make you want to pick it up or put it down?  How long a book is too long? Does that term erotica make you laugh like a twelve year old boy?

Monday, September 16, 2013

The Great Harry Potter ReRead

Hello All, I am embarking on an ambitious journey.  A journey that will lead me from the depths of a lake to the peak of a turret in a castle called Hogwarts.  That's right boys and girls it is time for the GREAT HARRY POTTER REREAD!  This will be unique because not only am I going to read the books by J.K. Rowling, but I am going to watch the movies, play the games, go through Pottermore and find all the online resources that make this little geeks heart smile.
These ramblings will be different then most of the ones I do, I will probably not be rehashing the plot in the agonizing detail that I usually do for two reasons.  One I'm pretty sure most people have read them already, and two there are a zillion places to get the full plot of each and every book along with mind boggling analysis on every conceivable detail.  My ramblings will mostly be of a personal nature, what I liked, what I loved, what I didn't do it for me so on so forth.  I will also ramble about the movies, games and any other places I stumble upon that provide me with Harry Potter entertainment.
I will be starting with Harry Potter and the Philosophers (Sorcerers) Stone this week, and will be watching the movie at some point before I start the next book.  If you all want to read/watch/play along I will be giving periodic updates as to when I will be doing my ramblings.  Hopefully you will all enjoy the Harry Potter overload and not become to disturbed at my super duper geeky side.  Happy Reading Everybody!

Friday, September 13, 2013

Ah Books Books Books

Hello Readers

That is all I have to say today, have a great weekend.  Happy Reading Everybody!