I do not think that there can ever be enough books about anything and I say that knowing that some of them are going to be about Pilates.The more knowledge the better seems like a solid rule of thumb, even though I have watched enough science fiction films to accept that humanity’s unchecked pursuit of learning will end with robots taking over the world.-Sarah Vowell

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Star Wars: Moving Target: A Princess Leia Adventure by Cecil Castellucci and Jason Fry

The Rebels have just barely escaped the disaster at Hoth and the fleet is split up in pieces around the galaxy for its protection. Leia is on a ship, whose main objective is to protect her, which she understands, but frustrates her when they come under attack and are forced to flee leaving men behind because of her. Walking on the ship she sees a seriously wounded rebel who struggles to salute her.  She knows that it would be a dishonor to the woman to tell her not to.  She is then told that, thankfully, she is being sent to Zastiga.  Her friend, an old smuggler pilot, Niem, is taking her there along with C-3PO.

When she arrives she meets Luke, who still does not have lightsaber, and seems different somehow.  They are both worried about Han and have been trying to track down where Bobba Fett has him now.  As soon as they find him, they will launch a rescue mission.  Lando is in Hutt's place seeing what he can find out.  Luke is sticking around for now, though he tells her he has "a promise to keep to an old friend".  He is now flying, but has left the red squadron with Wedge in control.

Leia goes into a secret room where the "top brass" are meeting.  Mon Mothma, the leader of the rebellion tells them that they have word that the Empire has already begun construction on a new Death Star, even more deadlier that the last, and it is being built above the moon of Endor. The problem is getting all those ships over there to this secret hyperspace route without the Empire knowing.  Leia has a plan.  She will take a ship to the other side of the galaxy on a 'recruiting mission' and place space buoys in the area to lure ships.  The rebels will use codes they know the Empire has figured out, but don't know they know, so the Empire will be able to listen.  Word about this mission will be leaked to send more Empire troops to the area and divert their attention.  Unfortunately, any ships that show up will probably be destroyed by the Empire, if they show up to the rendezvous location.  The operation is called Yellow Moon.

Mon Monthma, who knew her father, does not want to send Leia on this mission. She tells Leia that it has been in her plans to help with Solo's escape.  Leia explains why she wants to go on this mission.  How impotent she feels.  Others are fighting and dying for the cause, and for her, while she stands by and watches.  She can't do that anymore.  If the Empire gets word that she is out there, they will more readily come and take the bait and the mission will be more of a success.  The plan moves forward.

Niem is the pilot of his ship, the Mellcrawler.  There is also: Kidi, the Cerean communications operator; Antrot, the tinkerer, who was a demolitions expert; and Lokmarcha, the Dressellian commando, who was to protect her.  She tells them they are on a recruitment mission to three planets and then meet up at a star system they are calling yellow moon.  However, it turns out that Leia isn't the only one who knows their true mission.  Lok was part of the briefing, as he was going to be sent to Endor, but was sent to Leia at he last moment. But like Leia, he knows his duty, even if he is a brute.

 With the first stop they quickly discover that the rebels have done their work too well.  A Star Destroyer is after them with a highly dedicated Captain Khione in charge (a rare female officer).  Kidi is upset and believes it is her fault because of the codes and Leia quickly lies to her and tells her she has to use those codes because the planets don't know the new ones yet.  This is when they find out that Kidi has memorized all the rebel codes.  Which means if she is captured and tortured, this would be disastrous for the Alliance.  The same thing pretty much happens at the next planet (with a different story and cool characters) and leaves them feeling guilty (especially Leia) for what they are doing.  Now Leia faces a dilemma.  Does she tell the crew the truth and let them decide what to do, or continue the mission as planned. What she is doing here will ultimately save hundreds of millions of lives.  What is that compared to those few lost here?  And what happens if they, especially Leia, get caught?

They set off on a difficult mission that is even more difficult than most of them know.  Not all of them will make it back alive.  At the beginning of this book it shows General Leia dictating this story to a droid as the beginning of the memoirs she has been putting off writing.  At the end, she hopes to show it to the pilot Poe Dammeron to help him understand what duty really means.  I guess this book is really about doing your duty, no matter what the cost, when all is said and done.  This was a really good read and a neat introduction to how the transition from Empire to Jedi was made behind closed doors. 

Note: There are illustrations in this book and I think it is important to note who did them.  The artist is Paul Noto who got his start at D.C., various independent comics, and Marvel, where he did work such comics as The Uncanny X-Men, The Avengers, and Black Widow.  He also did work for Disney on such epic works as The Lion King, Mulan, Pocahontas, and Lilo and Stitch.   


‘Adventures’ is just a different name for ‘terrible ideas’.
--Cecil Castellucci and Jason Fry (Star Wars: Moving Target: A Princess Leia Adventure)
 Our mission has had difficulties, but suicide seems like an overreaction.

--Cecil Casellucci and Jason Fry (Star Wars: Moving Target: A Princess Leia Adventure)
Link to Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Moving-Target-Princess-Adventure-Journey/dp/1484724976/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1470405282&sr=1-1&keywords=star+wars+moving+target

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Our Man In Charleston: Britain's Secret Agent in the Civil War South by Christopher Dickey

I began on my journey of studying the Civil War my junior year in High School.  Mrs. Williams asked us when in U.S. history we wanted to start. We chose to begin in the middle.  We spent a month on the Civil War (To my Yankee friends, historians will tell you that the Civil War was a huge turning point in history.  Besides, all but two of the battles took place in the South, so we have a vested interest.)  Over the years I have read books (both fiction and non-fiction), seen movies, and documentaries.  I thought I had viewed the War from every possible viewpoint.  I was wrong.  Apparently the British had one.  To my knowledge, the only role the British played was that the Southerners were desperate for weapons and money and knew that England and France were dependent on them for cotton.  They believed that they could convince them to help them win the war based on this, but began losing so many battles that the countries decided not to back a losing side.  This was rather far off from the truth.

This book begins in 1853, when a man named Robert Bunch arrived in Charleston, South Carolina to be the British consul position.  The consul is a paid government job that involves doing passports, looking after British citizens and British interests, especially the Negro Seaman Act, which allowed South Carolina to take black British sailors off their ships when they dock and put them in jail as long as the ship is in port.  Now, sometimes these men did not always stay in jail.  Sometimes they ended up being sold into slavery.  The United Kingdom began, for the most part, abolishing slavery in 1833, so they took a very dim view to this practice.  Bunch's main objective, while there was to put teeth into a law stopping this.  He was also sent to spy.

Bunch and his new wife were not too happy to be in the South, but Bunch was ambitious and thought that a job involving anti-slavery acts, which the British government were fiercely against, might grant him a position as a diplomat.  The British had just finished battling Spain to end the African Slave Trade to Brazil in 1850. Morality, however, was not the only reason the British were against the African Slave Trade.  With slave work, the Spanish were able to sell sugar and coffee much cheaper than the British.  Now the British were working to stop the Slave Trade from going to Cuba.  America, who had abolished it in 1807, according to the constitution.  Though Bunch despised slavery and the people who owned them, he was able to fit in immediately, mainly because those from Charleston thought of themselves as being from Britain.  Also, he hid his feelings well.  Too well, as the case will turn out years later. 

Bunch was not the only spy.  The consul in New Orleans and New York were also spies.  The Foreign Minister was Clarendon, a cautious man, but a smart one and a man Bunch had worked with before and trusted.  Palmerston was at that time, the Prime Minister, though he would shuffle around between Home Office, Foreign Office, and Prime Minister during his lifetime.  He was also known as "Lord Cupid" for his many affairs.  He was once even named as the cause in a divorce when he was in his seventies (He was Irish.) It is rather confusing keeping track of who is in what position when what occurred.  There is also Lord Russell who also hopscotched back and forth with Palmerson as Prime Minister. The main difference between the two was that Palmerston was actually interested in the Civil War because he could see how it was going to affect Britain and Russell was busy with all the many other things Britain was involved in around the world and just wanted the whole thing over with, and quite frankly, did not know as much about America or have as much faith in Bunch as the other two. 

Anyhow,  Bunch would find that some people were actually quite nice and good, especially James Petrigru, the one man who be left standing when war began who would still be a "Unionionist".  He was a rather stubborn, well respected man who came from a nice family so no one bothered him about his views.  Bunch also was able to, after three years, get the Negro Seaman Law passed.  Things seemed to be better, but the exact opposite was true.  "Fire-eaters" were beginning to stir things up.  They wanted the South to start importing slaves from Africa again and expand west and farther.  This was something that the British were definitely against.  Soon, rumors of slave ships arriving start circulating and one does indeed get caught by the British and brought to Charleston for trial, but the jury, even though there is an abundance of evidence, refuses to even hear the case, and it is thrown out.  The remaining Africans who haven't died on the way there, or in the Fort while the trial was going on, mostly died on their way back to Africa. The Officer in charge of the Fort who had been in favor of the slave trade said that after what he had saw, changed his mind.  This would not be the last ship.  The problem was that British ships could not board a ship with an American flag. So the slaver ships (which originated from ports north, such as New York where they were financed, with captains from Boston) would fly hoist up an American flag if a British one came near and the American ships who were supposed to be stopping the slave trade ships were doing nothing. 

Soon the fire-eaters were whipping up a fervor in South Carolina, which wasn't all too hard in a state that has been threatening and trying to secede ever since it signed the Declaration of Independence and Bill of Rights.  They are quite a contrary group of people, I have to say.  This time, though, the fire-eaters succeed in convincing even the sensible people after the election that the North is out to get them and will attack them and that they need the African Slave Trade.  In a way the war was not exactly started over slavery precisely, because Lincoln said the South could keep their slaves, but they could not import slaves from Africa and they wanted to do just that.  In their constitution they would have to leave that out in order to try to court Virginia and Maryland who bred slaves to sell and  if a the slave trade was opened back up the prices of slaves would drop like a stone and they would go broke.  Of course, they had no intention of doing this.  The South would send people to Britain and France to gain support.  They readily assumed that they would have it.  They would be in for a rude awakening. As Bunch would tell one of the fire-eaters if you plan on importing slaves from Africa, this would be against British interest.  Bunch, by the way, predicted that the South would be importing slaves from Africa and that they would eventually break away from the North because the price of slaves had leaped up a few years before the War. 

The first minister to the U.S. from the U.K. (today seen as an Ambassador) was much more interested in Washington society than in this job. When he was  replaced by a little known man named Lord Lyon, a man Bunch gets off on the wrong foot with but who becomes fast friends, quickly turns things around.  He supports Bunch and gives him all the help he can.  By this time the mail is compromised, even mail marked with a foreign government seal, so Bunch has to depend on some not quite so upstanding characters to carry the mail north to Lyon.  They also use code when they can.  The funny thing is that eventually Bunch will come under scrutiny by Secretary of State Seward, who really is an idiot, that I am grateful he went on a nine month trip to Europe right before the election, which gave the Presidency to Lincoln.  Lincoln was forced to give Seward his position because of his high appeal in the Republican Party, but the truth he did more harm that good.  Lincoln really should have sent him to China.  All Seward did was to keep threatening to go to war with Britain and France.  He pushed things with Britain so far that we came within a  hairs breath of being at war with both the South and the U.K. at the same time, if it had not been for a sad quirk of fate.  South Carolina, however, firmly believed Bunch to be one of their own, even though he had a Yankee wife and his sister-in-law, though married to a South Carolina plantation owner, was very vocal about her anti-slavery views.  I guess you really can be too good at your job.

This book will tell you things about the War that you never learned in Ken Burns great documentary.  It also gives you a look into England during this time in history.  I have to say, I've always meant to look up the Crimean War and learn more and this book discusses it  and what its resolution has to do with the Civil War.  Britain was in a delicate position.  It did get most of its cotton from the South.  It also abhorred slavery and was looking for other places to get its cotton. When the War began it had a surplus of cotton so they were not concerned with needing the South.  But as the War waged, people began to lose jobs and the government began to question if maybe they should sacrifice their principles.  But people like Bunch and Lyon kept reminding them what was at stake and that eventually good would win out and not give in.  Its something worth remembering.

In the 1840s, after Charles Dickens toured the United States, he linked the American inclination to bloodshed with the barbarity of slavery.  It was no surprise, he said, that in a country where humans were branded, whipped, and maimed, where men “learn to write with pens of red-hot iron on the human face,” they grew to be bullies and, “carrying cowards’ weapons hidden in their breast, will shoot men down and stab them” when they quarrel.
--Christopher Dickey (Our Man In Charleston: Britain’s Secret Agent in the Civil War South p 75)
But Bunch allowed himself a bit of wishful thinking. He did not believe the Union would disintegrate immediately, he said, and clearly hoped that it would last a good long time. “A great Republic like this—the evolution of a great thought—of a great experiment, is not to be broken to pieces by one, or half a dozen blows,” he wrote, “It has immense vitality and will, in my humble judgment, stand a good deal more knocking about than it has yet had.  Besides which, are the South prepared to organize a government which shall take its place?  Why, I do not believe that any three Southern States could be found to agree upon one simple point, except perhaps that every man has an inalienable right to ‘wallop his own nigger.’”
----Christopher Dickey (Our Man In Charleston: Britain’s Secret Agent in the Civil War South p 129)
Senator Wigfall may have been elected from Texas, Bunch wrote, but, in truth, he was “from and of South Carolina,” He is  “a drunken blackguard.  He is what is called a Southern ‘fire-eater’, has fought one or two duels, and also killed a man named Bird in cold blood.”  Then  Bunch added with his usual acidic irony, “He has richly deserved his place in the U.S. Senate.”
--      --Christopher Dickey (Our Man In Charleston: Britain’s Secret Agent in the Civil War South p 140)
Other nations, especially those enlightened and more old-fashioned in their notions, rebel, fight, and die for Liberty, while South Carolina is prepared to do the same for slavery.
--     --Christopher Dickey (Our Man In Charleston: Britain’s Secret Agent in the Civil War South p 193)

Link to Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Our-Man-Charleston-Britains-Secret/dp/0307887278/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1464358767&sr=1-1&keywords=our+man+in+charleston+britain%27s+secret+agent+in+the+civil+war+south

Monday, September 21, 2015

Star Wars Rebel Force #2: Hostage by Alex Wheeler

Ok, first off you may wonder why I'm reviewing a Juvenile book.  I checked it out and read it to Shelby and became quite obsessed with the story.  Some of you may even wonder why I read a 188 page Juvenile book to my five-year-old daughter.  The reason is simple.  We have read every easy and beginning reader book the library has on Star Wars and she wanted to read more.  It took me six weeks to get through the book and convince her to finish it, but I did because I wanted to know how it ended. 

This book, which I found out after I read it, is the second book in a series called Rebel Force (yes, its part of the "old canon") and takes place sometime after New Hope.  Princess Leia, Luke, Han, and Chewie go to the sister (really more of an ugly step-sister) planet of Alderaan, Delaya.  Delaya is the opposite of the beautiful, glorious Alderaan.  It was where Alderaan kept it's factories and it was not a pretty place, but it was the only place for the refugees from Alderaan to go to once their planet had been blown up by the Empire. 

Leia is given a warm greeting and shown the nice places that the refugees have been set up in.  As they are walking through the city, Luke is kidnapped by an Alderaanian refugee who shows him the truth: they are being put in a warehouse and given little to eat or any kind of real care.  The Delayans have hated them and now they can do to the Alderaans what they want with no interference.  Luke convinces this man that if Leia knew, she would never allow it, and Leia is quite upset to find out this is going on.  However, she is also there recruiting for the Rebel Alliance and this is causing some of the Alderaans to take her hostage and give her to the Empire in exchange for a planet of their own.  They hate Leia for destroying their peaceful planet and bringing them into a war against the Empire. 

One of the most interesting characters in this book is a man who Leia knows as Fess Ilee, a toadie who hung out at his father's palace on Alderaan when she was growing up.  She despises him for being the kind of man who schmoozes and kisses up to power.  She has no idea who he really is.  Everyone knows that Luke had Obi-Wan on Tatoonie to look after him as he grew up and to make sure Vader never found him, but no one ever thinks about whether there was someone looking after Leia.  His name is Ferus Olin and he was once a Jedi Master who left the order at some point.  Obi-Wan and probably Yoda find him and have him watch over Leia.  He finds himself feeling as though she is his own daughter, but must never let her know who he really is, so he endures her hatred of him.  Once she grew up and became a Senator, he pretty much left her alone.  She was rather capable of taking care of herself, until the word comes that her ship was destroyed by the Empire and Bail Organa sends him to find out, so he's away when the planet blows up.

When Fess meets Luke and shakes his hand for the first time, they both are startled by sensing the Force in the other, even if Luke has no idea.  From Luke he finds out what he knew, but did not want to accept: that Obi-Wan is dead.  He realizes that these two offspring of Vader, possibly the last of the Jedi, must be trained in the ways of the Force and begins to wonder if he should say something, when he sees a vision of Obi-Wan telling him that it isn't time for them to know and if they were to begin to learn how to use the Force now, Vader might discover them.  So he keeps quiet.  If you want to read more about Ferus, the book Jedi Quest #1: The Way of the Apprentice by Jude Watson, tells more.  In this book, also a Juvenile book, is about an adventure Anakin as a Padawan to Obi-Wan has with Ferus and other Padawans on a mission.

After reading this book, I now know I need to read the first one to find out what everyone was doing before this book and to perhaps discover more about the elusive character X-7, whom when Ferus shakes his hand, notices that there is something off about him in the Force.  This character seems to be working for the Empire who wants to know who the pilot was that destroyed the Death Star and to kill him. 

This really is an excellent book to read, even if you are an adult, especially if you are a Star Wars fan.  You get a glimpse into Leia's childhood through both her eyes and Ferus's.  Its rather funny that Ferus sees Leia as being stronger in the Force than Luke who knows he is a Jedi and has had a bit of training from Obi-Wan.  She is just naturally a strong person, probably because of how and where she grew up and from being a Senator.  Its also interesting to find out what happened to the lost people of Alderaan and how they feel about their Princess and Senator.  I fully intend to read the rest of the books in this series, with or without, my daughter's ear.   

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Confessions of a Sociopath: A Life Spent Hiding in Plain Sight by M.E. Thomas

As a psychology major, I have to admit that I assumed that sociopaths were listed in the DSM (Diagnostic Statistical Manual), which is what psychologist/psychiatrists use to diagnose mental illnesses.  To be fair, when I took Abnormal Psychology, at the beginning of the semester, the professor had a heart attack and was absent for most of the class.  Instead we watched dated and boring tapes, which if you are up at 4 or 5 am and watch PBS, you can sometimes still see them.  I learned nothing about Abnormal Psychology, except what I already knew from my high school Psychology class.  So this book was a real eye-opener.  Sociopaths (they have been historically called psychopaths, but they prefer sociopath) are the polar opposite of manic depressives, who feel everything and are the roller coaster of mental diseases. 

Here are the factors used to diagnose sociopaths: superficial charm and intelligence, absence of delusions, absence of nervousness, unreliability, untruthfulness and insincerity, lack of remorse and shame, poor judgment and failure to learn by experience, pathologic egocentricity, general poverty in major affective reactions, specific loss of insight, unresponsiveness in general interpersonal relations and failure to follow any life plan.  Now most important to know, is that not all sociopaths are criminals, much less killers, like the famous Hannibal Lector.  Although, those that are, have a very high recidivism rate.  Many sociopaths make excellent lawyers, CEOs, politicians, doctors, and other jobs that can be cut-throat and require someone who thinks rationally.  She herself had already made her retirement on the market. She earns 9.2% on her investments.  Fortune 500 companies only have 3.5%.  One in five financial managers will be able to come close to her, but not for the seven years in a row she has consistently done, and no, she is no business or Wall Street wunderkind, but a very good reader of people and a predictor of what they will do.

The author, M, went to law school, but is also a musician.  She studied percussion because it gave her four instruments to play and she bores easily.  That's a problem with sociopaths: they bore easily and begin to play games of manipulation with other people around them for no reason except as a power trip.  This is one of the things she has worked on over the years (she's in her thirties now).  After leaving behind a string of broken relationships and jobs, she eventually learned that if she wanted to have a more satisfying and successful life, she would have to try to curb her impulses to manipulate.

As a child, she grew up in a strict home, but not an abusive one, exactly.  Though her parents were more interested in themselves, even once leaving her and her brother at the park and driving home, making them walk home on their own.  As a Mormon, she was lucky in that they have a set of rules already set out for you to follow.  Sociopaths do not know how to relate to people or how to react in society.  Being Mormon (she's a Sunday school teacher) also gave her a way out if she makes a gaffe that would make anyone else seem odd, but others just put it down to her religion.  As a child she got into lots of fights and did not understand why the other party would be upset by her hitting them.  In high school, she began to study people and their actions in order to fit in.  But she could not stop playing games with people.  She lists numerous accounts of how she pitted one person against another or how she got to play at the closing ceremonies of the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City because she had accused her teacher of sexual harassment. 

After two failed jobs in prestigious law offices where she was bored working at a desk all day and managed creative ways to take time off for vacation, since the offices had no vacation policy.  She eventually, after being on unemployment for two years, went to work for the district attorney's office in the misdemeanors department.  This is where she excelled.  She knew how to pick a jury and manipulate them during the trial by giving them a look that said "you're not hearing the whole story" and if she failed to manipulate by normal means, she used to old stand-by: fear.  But then, eventually she got bored and became a professor at a small law school, where she gets by only teaching six hours a week and eight months a year.  She is very popular with her students, because she knows how to pour on the charm and make you look either really smart or dumb, depending on her mood.  As of this publication, 2013, that was what she was doing, but she says that she is getting bored, so she has probably moved on to something else. 

Sociopaths, by the way, do not have a sexual preference.  She has dated both men and women and is in a relationship with a man and has paramours on the side.  She wants to get married, and as a Mormon, is dictated to do so and have children.  She worries about having children and would she be able to raise an "empath" (what she calls those who are non-sociopaths and can react to feelings) child or pass on her sociopathy to them.  However, her longest relationship yet, has been eight months. 

It has taken her years to better understand empaths and try to be like them, but she does not always succeed.  She does, however, have a small group of people who know her, understand her, and care for her, and she treats them very well.  At first, her friendships were based on what she could get out of them.  As long there was an equal exchange, she would continue the friendship.  When her close friend's father got cancer and her friend was sad all the time and needy, she broke off the friendship, because her needs were not being met.  They have since reunited. 

She values her sociopathy.  While others panic, she is perfectly calm and rational.  In a crisis, honestly, you'd want to a sociopath in charge.  Rationality, she believes is a highly underrated trait.  She also knows she tries to get away with doing as little as possible to get by and she has trouble multi-tasking, especially if she is in a meeting with many people whose emotions and thoughts she must try to read all at once; but she is learning.  That is the main thing about this book.  She is very charming and compelling.  You easily get sucked into her world; but what a fascinating one it is.  If you would like to see her blog and learn more from her and other sociopaths, go to www.SociopathWorld.com.  She would like to be the face of the sociopath and lead to a better understanding that would end the stigma associated with it, but for now, she must remain in the shadows, as others do, because if she does not, she could lose her job and the life she has worked so hard to have.  Hopefully someday, there will be a time when she can come out into the light.

Link to Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Confessions-Sociopath-Spent-Hiding-Plain/dp/0307956652/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1465572799&sr=1-1&keywords=confessions+of+a+sociopath

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

The Tidal Pool by Karen Harper

In this second in the Elizabeth I mystery series, twenty-five-year-old Elizabeth Tudor has just been made Queen and goes to visit her mother's grave on the eve of her procession down the streets of London and is greeted by Jane Seymour's nephew, Edward, whose father, once Lord Protector to the boy King Edward and eventually killed, was with Jack St. Maur, who is a relative of the Seymour's, and whose father, Thomas, died trying to get Elizabeth I on the throne and was once romantically entangled with her in an innocent, young way.  St. Maur grew up in the household of John and Bella Harrington, close family friends of Elizabeth's.  The Seymour family believe that Edward will be the natural heir to the throne.

During her procession, a high-born lady, Penelope Whyte, Bella Harrington's sister, and a known "light skirt" who died pregnantly is murdered, it is believed, accidentally in Elizabeth's stead.  Elizabeth's unusual band of helpers: Meg (the herbalist), Ned Topside (the actor), Kat (her maid), Jenks (her horseman), Lord Cecil (now her Lord Protector and advisor in all things) and her cousin Lord Harry are all here to help her solve the mystery as well as two new people: a former thief named Bett and her deaf son.

Meg runs into someone from her old life who remembers her as Sarah, and some of Meg's memories come back to her.  She knows she has a husband and that she does not want to go back to that life.  She wants to stay working for the Queen and with Ned, with whom she is in love.  So now she spends her time trying to avoid anyone who might recognize her.

There are many suspects, such as Robin, who is the Head of her Stables and a close friend, John Harrington, who confesses to the crime, but whom Elizabeth has a hard time believing did the deed, even Lord Harry, her cousin seems to be a suspect.  Elizabeth feels she can only trust her close circle of advisers who helped her solve the previous murderous plot.

When Bett gets caught looking for information at the Dowager Duchess's house for her diary, which she does not get a chance to look at, but is able to grab a letter with sensitive information in it, she is sent to prison, and because she is a former thief, she will hang.  Elizabeth has no knowledge of this and is looking for her.

Even though Elizabeth is a first a little frightened by the thought that someone near and dear is a traitor to her and to England, she gathers her strength and goes out to find the killer in the night and becomes captured herself.  This is really a good book, but perhaps I am just saying that because one of my favorite historical figures is Elizabeth I.  She had her father's red-headed temper, her mother's cunning in politics, and an intelligence all her own to not only lead an empire but to solve any complex murder that may fall upon her doorstep.

Link to Amazon:

Thursday, May 14, 2015

All Clear by Connie Willis

This is the spectacular sequel to Black Out, the story of three historians from 2060 who have gone back to World War II to observe events.  Eileen, on her first mission, is sent to the country to be a maid at an estate that takes in children sent from London to stay in the country for their safety.  There she meets the poor, dirty, demon children, the Hobbins.  After she finds out her drop to take her back to 2060 is closed, she heads to London to try to find Polly, whom she knows was spending the Blitz working as a shop girl.

Mike, who thought he missed his chance to witness the evacuation of Dunkirk in 1939, goes to sleep on an unseaworthy vessel and finds himself halfway there, with a teen and his great-grandfather going there to do their bit.  While there he saves the boy, the boat, and a soldier who would later save over 500 men, and Mike damages his foot.  His drop is now not working either, so once he gets out of the hospital, he heads to London to also find Polly, hoping that her drop will work.

Each of these historians had slippage during their drop.  The scientists have always believed that this was due to being unable to land in the designated area at that time due to such things as a person being in the vicinity who might see them.  But the slippage has become a real problem.  They are losing days instead of hours.  By the time Polly arrives in London, the Blitz has been going on for a week.  At first, she receives a frosty welcome from those at the air raid shelter, but a kind gentleman, Sir Geoffrey, an older man, and famous stage actor, who develops a crush on her and sees her as Violet from Twelfth Night.  Soon the group begins to put on performances for those avoiding the bombs in the subways.  Polly knows where the attacks are coming up until the end of 1942 and in December of 1943, she has already been in England elsewhere working as an ambulance driver.  If she does not get out before this date, a paradox will occur and she will die.

The group remembers that another historian is supposed to be there around the time of St. Paul's bombing on December 29, 1942.  When they arrive, they are immediately swept up in the events happening around them.  Mike finds himself helping the fire brigade and saving two men from a collapsing building.  Eileen takes over an ambulance when the driver is hurt and with the help of the Hobbins' kids takes the wounded to various hospitals and saves many lives.  Somehow, however, they miss the historian and his drop.  Not knowing what else to do, they fall back on the time-honored way of communicating with the future historians who may be looking for them by placing ads in the personals of the papers with secret messages letting them know where they are.

In a surprise twist, it turns out that Mr. Humphries, the man in charge of the historians was the last person to be able to make a drop where they were, but his drop no longer works.  Worse, he has news from the future.  The time slippages are likely the historical time line trying to correct itself.  Everyone these historians have met is in danger of being killed just for having come into contact with them.  It seems that they may have changed history and the Allies might not win the war.  Their only hope is the young man Collin, who as a teenager had a crush on Polly and swore to her that he would rescue her if she ever needed it.  Mr. Humphries also has a deadline and it's only a few months away.

Not all of them live or make it out of London.  This book is truly fascinating in its details of the time of the Blitz of London during World War II and the effects it had on the British people.  It also makes you think of the impact you have on others in this life and how everything can change on a dime and turn out differently than planned.  These are the dangers of playing with time travel and how it can cause a whole world to unravel.

Link to Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/All-Clear-Connie-Willis/dp/0553592882/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1473426620&sr=1-1&keywords=all+clear

Thursday, April 16, 2015

As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales From The Making Of The Princess Bride by Carey Elwes with Joe Layden

First and foremost, I am a huge fan of the Princess Bride.  I discovered it in 1988 when it came out on VHS, like most people.  I can quote entire passages to this movie, which is totally faithful to the book, probably since Goldman wrote the script.  After the book came out there was a demand for a movie, so Goldman, a screenwriter of such hits as Marathon Man and All the President's Men calls this work his best and favorite.  Many famous names tried to make a movie out of it, including Robert Redford, but none succeeded until Rob Reiner came along and got backing from Norman Lear.  This was early in his career, but he was a hot ticket and this book was near and dear to his heart.

Reiner wanted a mostly English cast and automatically signed up his friends Christopher Guest to play Count Rogan and Billy Chrystal to play Miracle Max.  Someone suggested this unknown actor, Carey Elwes who had just been in a movie called Lady Jane Gray, about the ill-fated Queen of England.  Elwes, who had loved the book, himself, for years, was thrilled but scared of screwing up the audition.  He had nothing to worry about, though, Rob loved him.  Robin Wright, whose step-father is British, raised her on British comedy, and she developed a natural English accent.  Luckily they were able to borrow her from the soap Santa Barbara to play the part.

Andre the Giant was an easy cast and a good one.  He was a very kind man, who suffered severely from his disease that caused him to be so tall and big.  He ate and drank alcohol (for the pain in his back) like a horse, but rarely got drunk and he always paid for others.  Wallace Shawn was told that Danny DeVito was supposed to be in the movie as the Sicilian and spent the whole movie scared to death that he was going to be replaced, no matter what Reiner said to him.  In the battle of wits scene, Reiner had to help him through it.  He says he was 40% Reiner, 40% DeVito, and 20% him.

Mandy Patikin and Carey Elwes were going to have to do all of the sword fights themselves, rather than have stunt doubles to some of the harder stuff, like most movies do.  They spent every waking moment practicing with two of the best fencers in the business: Peter Diamond (who worked with Errol Flynn and Burt Lancaster, was the stunt coordinator on the Star Wars trilogy, played the Tusken Raider that surprised Luke in New Hope, he was a German soldier in the Raiders, as well as stunt coordinator in that movie, and worked on Highlander) and Bob Anderson (Olympic winner, coached Errol Flynn, choreographed scenes for several Bond movies and the Star Wars trilogy, as well as playing Vader during his fight scenes and working on the Lord of the Rings trilogy).  The book describes the Sword Fight as the "Greatest Swordfight in Modern Times". Peter and Bob intended to do their best to make this so and train them hard to not only fight but fight both handed.  I'll leave the story of the filming of the swordfight for you to discover.

Elwes got injured twice during the filming of this movie and both were his fault.  He broke his toe on the day they were to spend one day at the site of the giant hill where Wesley talks about being the Dred Pirate Roberts and what happened to Wesley, which contains one of my favorite lines: Life is pain.  Anyone who tells you differently is trying to sell you something.  If you watch as they walk across the top of the hill you can tell he is careful about his left foot.  Also, after they reach the bottom of the hill and run off, he is more hopping than running.

The second time, was when Christopher Guest was supposed to hit him over the head with his sword, which was a real medieval sword hilt and knock him out.  Guest, the nicest guy ever, was scared of hurting him, so he came nowhere near Elwes' head when he struck, which meant that Elwes was falling at the wrong time.  Finally, Elwes tells him to just tap him on the head with it.  Guest does more than tap it on his head.  When Wesley falls down unconscious, he really was unconscious.  He woke up in the hospital with stitches in his head.  Later on, when he has to knock out Patinkin with his sword, he does it from the back, so the camera does not show him not touching his head.

In the fire swamp, they have to do a stunt, where Buttercup falls into Lightening Sand and Wesley goes in to save her.  For safety sake, they wanted him to jump in feet first.  There was a hidden trap door and a short drop onto Styrofoam and two people to help catch you.  Cary was not satisfied with this.  It was not heroic enough.  Flynn would not do it this way.  No hero would.  He wanted to dive head first.  After a very lengthy discussion, Cary finally convinced Reiner.  After carefully practicing it with stunt doubles who showed Cary how to do it, it was done in one take.

This book is one of the best I've read all year.  I could go on and on about all of its hidden secrets, but that would spoil it for you, the reader.  Making this movie, was a great highlight to many who worked on this film.  Sadly, when it came out, Fox did not know how to market it.  The poster pictured Fred Savage and Peter Faulk on it, leading people to think it was a kiddie movie, which it was not, really.  They had no trailer, no print ads, and no TV ads.  If the internet had been around, perhaps it would have been more successful in theaters.  Everyone was disappointed in the response.

Later, when people started catching it on VHS, everyone, including President Clinton, who told him it was his and Chelsea's favorite movie and Pope John Paul II who, in a chance meeting, told him how much he loved it.  People began to quote lines to the actors on the street.  Reiner tells the tale of when he went out to a restaurant Gotti went to, who happened to show up that night.  When Reiner stepped outside for a moment, one of Gotti's men looked at him and said "You killed my father. Prepare to die."  For a moment Reiner froze and was scared out of his mind before he realized what the man was talking about.  It has become a phenomenon and a classic that will be loved down through the ages, even without CGI special effects that might have made the ROUSs look more real, but would have ruined the movie.  Beware, after reading this book, you will want to immediately grab the movie and watch it again with new eyes as you look for the secrets hidden within.

Link to Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/As-You-Wish-Inconceivable-Princess/dp/1476764026/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1467033088&sr=1-1&keywords=as+you+wish+inconceivable+tales+from+the+making+of+the+princess+bride

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Monday Mourning by Kathy Reichs

Unlike the Bones in the TV series, this forensic anthropologist, Tempe Brennan, has a college-aged daughter, is a recovering alcoholic (a fallout from the end of a twenty-year marriage), and spends her time between working in Charlotte, North Carolina and Quebec.  This is an excellent series.  I have loved ever book I have read so far, but I don't know if I can tell you to read this one or not, because, even though I only read it maybe a month ago, I remember very little of the book.  This does not say much for the book, or my memory.  So you're on your own.

Monday, February 23, 2015

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

First of all, let me say that this book has been lauded in many reviews as a great book and is still on the New York Times best-seller list.  That said, I have to confess, that after two weeks and only getting through half of it, I gave up.  That is not to say that I will not try to read this book again.  I just might give it another chance later on.  That is what I did when I did not like Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone and see how that turned out.

This book is set in during World War II and involve two sixteen-year-olds, Marie-Laure, a blind French girl who lives with her father, who works at a Paris museum.  He buys her on her birthday each year a book in braille and builds a puzzle box of the city of Paris, in scale, so she can find her way around it in her mind.  The museum is home to many priceless art pieces, but one in particular is worth more that the others.  It is the Sea of Flame, a cursed gem, that is said to provide immortality to its owner.  When the Nazis invade France, the French box up the valuables and send them off to be hid.  The gem, however, they make three copies of it and send two of the copies along with the real one, off to different points to try to keep it safe.  Marie-Laure's father is one who is given a stone and they set off on a journey to find the man they are to give it to, who will get it out of the country.  By the time they arrive, he has left his home.  It is not far to her great-uncle's house in Saint-Malo.  Her uncle, an eccentric who never got over World War I, has a housekeeper who works for the underground.

Soon, Marie-Laure's father is sent back to Paris, but he leaves the stone and a puzzle box of the streets of Saint-Malo with her in the care of her Uncle and the housekeeper.  The book bounces back and forth between time periods and at one point, she is alone in the house, when a Nazi, whose purpose is to hunt down Europe's treasure's for Hitler, goes to the house to find the stone, with only Marie-Laure in the house that we know of, because she has heard from no one and is hiding with the stone.

The other teenager, is Werner, an orphaned German boy who, with his sister, Jutta, live with a sweet French woman and other children.  Werner is a self-taught intelligent young man, who figures out how to fix radios.  He learns math and mechanics from an old book, that is eventually taken from him by the Nazis, because the book was written by a Jew.  He builds a radio and the children all spend their evenings listening to it.  He can even get stations as far away as France, which how he and Jutta learn of what the Germans are doing to the French.  Jutta is against this.  But Werner does not know what to think.  His bleak future consists of working in the mines when he turns sixteen, but chance intervenes.  A Nazi official hears about his prowess and sends for him to fix his fancy radio, which he does, easily.  This official gets Werner enrolled in a Nazi boy's school where he is taught how to be a soldier as well as spending special time with a professor who is trying to make a better radio for the war.  His best friend, Fredrick, is a rich kid who, because of his position in society is sent to this school, even though he is as blind as a bat and cheats the eye exam to get in.  He is a dreamer who  loves birds and looks out for the unfortunate.  He is smart, but weak, and his ideals get him into horrific trouble that Werner cannot seem to protect him from, though he feels as though he should.  In one of the flash forwards, we see that Werner and two other soldiers are under a building with a broken radio in Saint-Malo, with the Americans coming and no way out.  It is here that his life intersects with Marie-Laure somehow.  I never got that far.

Don't let the fact that I didn't finish this book effect your idea of whether or not to read it.  Like I said before, it has garnered incredible reviews and maybe I was just not in the mood to read a book like this now.  If this overview of the book interests, by all means pick it up and give it a whirl.  I myself just might one day finish it too.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Valley of Silence: Book Three of the Circle Trilogy by Nora Roberts

This is the final book in the Circle Trilogy and I have to say they saved the best for last.  Maybe its because I can really relate to the bookish and curious nature of Moira and the cynical, sarcastic, been-there-done-it attitude of Cian.  This book will culminate in the ultimate battle against Lilith on the Valley of Shadows, where blood is soaked into the ground from when the gods battled against each other ages ago.

The people of Gael watch as Moira pulls out the sword of destiny, which determines if that person will be the ruler.  When she pulled it out, a streak of wild lightening flashed up her arm and through the sword into the sky, which heightens Moira's small amount of magical powers.  She works with Glenna to make them even stronger as the others continue to practice fighting.  At her coronation ceremony feast, one of Lilith's half-vampires shoots an arrow at her and Cian pushes her down and gets stabbed instead.  She declares, much to his discontent, that he is now Sir Cian.  It helps to cement the people to like and trust Cian more.  They decide to use the friendly dragons in the area, who have never had much to do with the people of Gael, but whom Larkin can talk to.  They plan to reign fire bombs and fire arrows from the skies.

Moira, tired of waiting for Cian to come to her goes to him and seduces him into taking her virginity, something he has refused to do, since they have no hope for a future.  He will live on after her and can not provide her with children.  They only have this short period of time together, before he will leave and go back to his world where he belongs. 

Lilith, meanwhile, sends her six-year-old vampire child, Davey, to have his first hunt.  He is protected from steel and wood by her magician's spell and goes out and convinces one of her men to leave the encampment to try to save him, only to be viciously killed.  Moira is having a hard time with her role as queen as she has to offer comfort to the families who have lost loved ones.  So, when her ladies-in-waiting demand to go and fight alongside their men, she gives in and lets them.

On a side note, there is one of the most sexy love scenes I have ever encountered in either a romance or vampire book and it involves mirrors.  I'd have never thought of it.  Hats off to you Nora Roberts for thinking outside the box.

The end of the book culminates in the battle and the secret weapon the six are planning to use to hopefully wipe out all of the vampires.  This was truly a satisfying read and a wonderfully grand ending to a very enjoyable trilogy.  These books, and this one in particular, will take you far away from your own world, into a magical one where anything is possible.