Sunday, December 30, 2012

BOOK REVIEW: Destiny of the Republic by Candice Millard

I don’t read a whole lot of nonfiction unless it’s for research purposes. When I do, I don’t usually choose books focused on American presidents. However, I spotted a review of Destiny of the Republic by Candice Millard over at Reading for Sanity and I was intrigued.

The book, subtitled: "A tale of Madness, Medicine, and the Murder of a President," is the story of the assassination of President James Garfield. Elected in 1880, Garfield was only four months into his presidency when an assassin tried to take his life. The gunshot wounds were not immediately fatal. In fact, they very well might not have proved fatal at all but for the medical attention Garfield received–repeated non-sterile probing of the wound–that caused him to eventually die of infection, his body riddled with abscesses.

A few years ago, I read a short history of medicine in America book that included a short account of Garfield’s murder. Knowing as little as I did about Garfield, I found it interesting that his physicians had contributed so substantially to his death. I was curious to learn more.

Millard’s account goes beyond the details of the assassination to paint a fuller picture of Garfield the man and to place him in the context of his times. Brilliant, affable, and reasonable, Garfield had been nominated at the 1880 Republican convention against his own will and had no desire to become president. However, he was very well regarded and the consensus seems to be he would have been an exceptional president.

The assassin’s life story and motivation for murder was also explored. A loner who bounced from failure to failure—spending time in a religious commune, as a lawyer, as a traveling evangelist, even a short stint in prison—Charles Guiteau had grandiose visions of his own importance. His own family members were certain he was insane. Upon Garfield’s election, Guiteau became convinced that he would be given a high position in the government. He traveled to Washington and began haunting the White House, writing numerous letters to Garfield and to other prominent men explaining his expectations. Eventually his delusions took over completely, and he decided Garfield had to be "removed." He bought a gun, looked for the opportunity, and shot him.

The record continues with the disastrous medical care Garfield received. It also includes a discussion of Alexander Graham Bell and the attempts Bell made to hurriedly invent a device to locate the bullet lodged somewhere in Garfield’s body. For more than two months, the doctors (particularly the arrogant and painfully wrongheaded Dr. Willard Bliss) hovered about, making things worse, while Garfield died a slow, painful death without ever losing his dignity or gentlemanly demeanor.

In this straight-forward, well-organized narrative, Millard blends politics, history of medicine, and a touching love story to show that Garfield’s story was a fascinating one even if his presidency was tragically short-lived.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

ESCAPE TO THE PAST WITH:Circles of Time by Phillip Rock

When I finished The Passing Bells by Phillip Rock, a WWI saga, I knew I had to read the sequel. I fell in love with the Greville family and their friends and was pleased to learn that the author had continued the tale into the years between the wars.

Blandest cover ever
Circles of Time begins in 1921. (I thought this was an interesting coincidence, having just finished Crossing on the Paris by Dana Gynther, also set in 1921.) One of the protagonists, Martin Rilke, an American cousin, who had risen to prominence as a war correspondent, now returns to England to act as bureau chief for an international news corporation.

Martin meets up with his old friends. These include Fenton Wood-Lacy, a young colonel who had not been afraid to speak the truth about the war and is now being punished for it, and Charles Greville, heir to the earl of Stanmore, an honorable soldier and commander that the war has left shell-shocked, unaware even of his own identity. The beautiful Greville daughter, Alexandra, has also returned, now a widow with a young son. The characters so familiar from The Passing Bells have all grown and changed since the war, yet they are still fundamentally the same. Circles of Time shows how they pick up the pieces and move on with their lives.

Times have changed. Morals have definitely loosened from pre-war behaviors. New music and new drinks have swept across the Atlantic from the U.S.. There are also bitter and divisive politics to contend with both in England and in Germany. In fact, Martin’s role as a journalist and Fenton’s posting to Iraq demonstrate how fragile a peace the war has left them.

Life goes on. In Phillip Rock’s inter-generational saga, it is easy to get caught up in multiple interwoven lives that do keep marching forward through the fascinating events of the history of the times. Although this book seems to skim a little bit more lightly over the surface than did The Passing Bells, it still had an emotional impact. I’m not sure though, that I would have cared about the people in this book so much if I hadn’t met them previously in book one. I’d recommend reading that one first. The characters remain compelling and the history lessons are varied and fascinating. I'm going to have to seek out the third book in the series because I'm still curious about the future of this fictional family.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

ESCAPE TO THE PAST WITH: Crossing on the Paris by Dana Gynther

In 1921, the massive luxury liner, the SS Paris, departs from the French port Le Havre for New York on its maiden voyage. There are thousands aboard and no doubt each has his own unique story to tell, an interesting reason for making the voyage, but Crossing on the Paris by Dana Gynther focuses on three women. For these three, the crossing is more than just a physical journey. It’s a time of self-examination and self-discovery.

First Class passenger Vera Sinclair is a wealthy, elderly American ex-patriot returning to New York after a lifetime in Paris. Despite a short-lived marriage, numerous love affairs, and many friendships, she is returning home to die alone. She has been diagnosed with breast cancer and her slow deterioration has frightened away the man she considered her closest friend. On the journey home, re-reading her journals, she’s left to wonder if the accumulated wisdom of old age is any wisdom at all. And what use is it to anyone?

Second Class passenger Constance Stone is a beautiful mother of three. A young woman, married to a man much her senior, she is also the daughter of a distant mother who has drifted into madness. Her father has sent her to Paris to bring home her Bohemian younger sister in hopes that the sister’s return will help restore her mother. While deep down Constance knows the hope is futile, a part of her is tired of being the responsible older sister, stuck dealing with the family woes. Seeing the romance of her sister’s life brings home for her the lack of romance in her own marriage. Her husband is admittedly dull. While on board the ship, she can invent a pretend life for herself. But how far is she willing to pretend?

Down in steerage, Julie Vernet in an employee not a passenger. She is a maid working with the lower class passengers emigrating to New York. A petite, shy girl, Julie’s life has been one of quiet despair since her four brothers were all killed in the Great War. She needs a new start. Julie’s shipboard experiences are eye-opening and ultimately appalling as she learns how to navigate the world beyond Le Havre.

The three women’s paths cross and cross again as the trans-Atlantic journey progresses. These are lovely character sketches. I found myself sympathizing with all three women and pulling for them to make the right choices. The descriptions of the luxury liner as well as the detours into the lives of the women off the boat were all beautifully detailed. When N.Y. harbor comes into sight, the book draws to a satisfying conclusion. This was a perfect pre-Holiday read.


Sarah at Sarah Reads too Much is once again hosting the Back-to-the-Classics Challenge.

I've participated the past two years and was excited to hear the announcement of the categories for this year. I've spent a little while pondering my choices. In this wonderful challenge, readers have the opportunity to prod themselves to tackle great works of literature. These may be classics that they have been intending to read for quite some time but just haven't managed to get to yet. (I find myself combining a couple of these books with the TBR-pile challenges.) Or, sometimes the categories may inspire a choice of classic that would not otherwise have ever made it onto the TBR list. Either way, it's a challenge I have to undertake!

So, here are the rules for 2013:

  • All books must be read in 2013. Books started prior to January 1, 2013 are not eligible. Reviews must be linked by December 31, 2013.
  • E-books and audio books are eligible! Books can count for other challenges you may be working on.
  • If you do not have a blog, you may link your review from Goodreads or other publicly accessible online format.
  • Please sign up for the challenge using the linky here BEFORE SEPTEMBER 1, 2013. Please link to your sign-up announcement post (if possible/applicable)
  • You do not have to list your books prior to starting the challenge, but it is more fun that way :) You can always change your list at any time. You can read the books in any order (including mixing in the optional categories at any time)
  • You can decide to attempt the optional categories at any point (you can also bow out of the optional categories at any point as well).
  • Please identify the categories you've read in your wrap up post so that Sarah  may easily add up your entries for the prize drawing! (Check Sarah's post for an explanation of the prizes.)

  • And here are the categories with my choices. I'll be linking my reviews back to this page.

    The Required Categories:

    1. A 19th Century Classic : Middlemarch by George Elliot
    2. A 20th Century Classic : The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway
    3. A Pre-18th or 18th Century Classic : The Odyssey by Homer
    4. A Classic that relates to the African-American Experience :  Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass
    5. A Classic Adventure : The Eagle of the Ninth by Rosemary Sutcliff 
    6. A Classic that prominently features an Animal : The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis
    Optional Categories:
    A. Re-read a Classic :  Vanity Fair by William Thackeray 
    B. A Russian Classic : Crime and Punishment by Dostoevsky
    D. A Classic Children's/Young Adult title: My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George
    E. Classic Short Stories : The Collected Stories of Nikolai Gogol

    Thursday, December 20, 2012

    ESCAPE TO THE PAST WITH: The Divine Sacrifice by Tony Hays

    I don’t read a whole lot of mystery, but I do love Arthuriana. Two years ago, (I can’t believe it was that long ago!) I read Tony Hays’ The Killing Way, a political murder mystery set at King Arthur’s court. The "court" was not the typical court of Arthurian legend. It was a grittier, more brutal setting and the story was awash in political intrigue as well as the murder mystery. The hero of the story was Malgwyn, the keenly intelligent, one-armed counselor of the king who was damaged in more ways than one. I thoroughly enjoyed The Killing Way, so much so that I rushed out to buy book two in the series: The Divine Sacrifice. For no reason I can explain, that book has languished on my TBR pile.

    Thanks once again to the Mount TBR challenge, I’ve rescued a must-read from that pile, which is really more of a bottomless pit.

    In The Divine Sacrifice, we meet up with Malgwyn again, shortly after the goings-on of book one. Arthur has another task for his trusted counselor. He is making a trip to Glastonbury Abbey which is in the vicinity of a castle held by Lord Lauhiir. Arthur has some arguing (over taxes and church construction) to do with the abbot and he has even more unpleasant business with Lauhiir. The young lord is supposed to be strengthening the castle as an outpost for Arthur, but everyone knows that Lauhiir is not truly a supporter of Arthur’s kingship. So, Malgwyn is supposed to help check up on things.

    While they are on their short journey, Malgwyn learns two unpleasant facts. One: Saint Patrick will be arriving at the abbey at the same time. This highly esteemed man of the church has come to root out a heresy that has supposedly infected the abbey and its surroundings. Two: an elderly monk has been murdered.

    Malgwyn shifts to detective mode as he is asked to solve the mystery of the monk’s death. Naturally, there is more to it than a simple murder. Malgwyn finds layer upon layer of deceit, involving not only the abbot, but also Saint Patrick and another newly-arrived elderly monk in Glastonbury. How are all the lies related? And there are worse things afoot than the murdering of monks. Lauhiir has been up to something. He was involved somehow with the dead man. What is being hidden? And how will it affect the kingdom of the lord King Arthur?

    Once again, Tony Hays has woven a tale of political intrigue around a murder mystery. This book also brings in religious debate and a dash of romance (a tiny dash- Malgwyn is still working his way around to that.) As in The Killing Way, familiar Arthurian names ground the story, but this is not a tale of King Arthur. The king stays well in the background. This is Malgwyn’s story all the way. If you enjoy a good detective story with twists and turns to keep you guessing throughout, Tony Hays’ series will keep you entertained. (You can probably read The Divine Sacrifice without having read The Killing Way, but I recommend you start with book one.)

    And now, I’ve completed the Mount TBR challenge hosted by My Reader's Block, which means I’ve made it through all my 2012 challenges. Hooray!

    Tuesday, December 18, 2012


    Congratulations to DENISE!
    The winner was chosen using  I've sent Denise an email. If I don't receive a response by by the 26th, I'll move on to the runner-up.

    Thanks to everyone for entering and for participating in the hop. It was a lot of fun discovering so many other historical fiction fans!

    Thursday, December 13, 2012


    I'm ready to sign up for my second challenge for 2013-- the TBR pile challenge, hosted by Roof Beam Reader.  Since I'm at 11/12 books for this year's TBR challenge, and think/hope I'll finish off the last book before year's end, I think I'm up for the 2013 challenge also.

    This year I'm signing up for a different TBR challenge just for a little variety and because I like the idea of trying to commit to the books ahead of time. Looking at my overfull shelves, I see so many books that I was thrilled to purchase, eager to read, and yet, pass by again and again when I'm looking for "that next book to read." What a sense of accomplishment I'll feel when I finally get those pages turned. I won't have quite so much guilt about buying more books.

    Roof Beam Reader's challenge is to read 12 books in 2013. They have to be published in 2011 or earlier, so that they've been sitting on your shelf for at least a year. You have to pick them out ahead of time, but you are allowed two alternates, just in case.

    The books all have to be reviewed and then linked back to RBR. Check out THIS POST for detailed instructions and to find the linky. 

    So, here are my 12 books and 2 alternates:

    1. Private Life by Jane Smiley
    2. The Professor and the Madman by Simon Winchester
    3. The Cellist of Sarajevo by Steven Galloway
    4. Passion by Jude Morgan
    5. Soulless by Gail Carriger
    6. The Tenderness of Wolves by Stef Penney
    7. The Lady and the Poet by Maeve Haran
    8. King Hereafter by Dorothy Dunnett
    9. Mystic River by Dennis Lehane
    10. The Eagle of the Ninth by Rosemary Sutcliff
    11. The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey
    12. A Vindication of the Rights of Woman by Mary Wollstonecraft

    1. A Patchwork Planet by Anne Tyler
    2. The Transit of Venus by Shirley Hazzard


    Wednesday, December 12, 2012


    I love the Back to the Classics Challenge. (Thank you to Sarah at Sarah Reads Too Much for hosting!) It prods me to open up those books I've been meaning to get to and to actually read them. It also challenges me to put a few things on my list that I probably never would have read otherwise. I'm looking forward to picking out my books for the 2013 challenge, but in the meantime, here are the books I read for this year's challenge, with links to reviews.

    1. A 19th century classic:  Hard Times by Charles Dickens

    2. A 20th century classic: The Good Soldier by Ford Madox Ford

    3. Re-read a classic:  Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert

    4. A classic play: Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller

    5. A classic mystery/horror/crime novel: The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louise Stevenson

    6. A classic romance: Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte

    7. A translated classic: Lost Illusions by Honore de Balzac

    8. An award winning classic: Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout

    9. A classic set in a country I will not (realistically) visit: Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

    Tuesday, December 11, 2012

    BOOK REVIEW: The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman

    Two years ago, my sister recommended The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman to me. She hadn’t read it yet, but she was buying it on a recommendation from someone she knew. I was visiting her at the time, we were shopping, I was in a book buying mood, and so, the book was purchased. It has been sitting on my shelf ever since.

    Well, thanks to the Mount TBR challenge hosted by My Readers Block, and the fact that it is now December and I still had two books to go to meet my goal, I plucked the book from the shelf.

    The Imperfectionists is a collection of short stories that make up a novel. Together they cover the fifty year life span of an international English language newspaper published in Rome. The majority of the employees are American expatriates and each chapter/short story centers on a slice of life of one of these employees.

    The newspaper was founded by a millionaire entrepreneur who made a gift of its editorship and management to a husband and wife journalist/editor team. No one quite understands why. He abandoned his wife and son in Atlanta and moved to Rome to oversee the paper, so its thought to be quite mysterious. But it’s pretty clear to the reader why he did it.

    Born in the fifties, the paper went through a heydey, an expansion, and an eventual, inevitable decline.

    The characters introduced in the stories are primarily those there in the paper’s later years, although we do see some flashbacks into the history of the paper as well. The writing is crisp and the people sharply defined. Through them, we get a view of the inner workings of the newspaper and of the "family" of employees as they see themselves and each other. Rachman does a good job of drawing individuals with believable problems and true-to-life relationships.

    However, the book is rather a downer. Not only is the slow death of print journalism painful to read about, but the majority of the characters are fairly miserable. They are lonely, dissatisfied, disgruntled, and/or insecure. I understand this is what makes for good literature. Happy characters are only allowed to show up in romance. But somehow, when each chapter is a profile of a different sadsack, I start to think- ugh. Is this really supposed to be a realistic picture of modern life? Do people actually despise their friends/coworkers, cheat on their spouses, and hate their jobs with such a sickening passion? The most upbeat part of the book was the conclusion. The paper died. Life went on. I wanted to imagine life got better for each of the characters when they were no longer tied to a sinking ship. But maybe it was the people dragging down the paper rather than the other way around.

    That last paragraph sound much more negative than it should, because I read this book in two sittings, quite captivated. It really is a very good book. Sure, it made me sad and a little bit irritated, but there was no way that I was going to put the book down without finishing it.

    Monday, December 10, 2012


    Sign up for the 1st Annual Historical Holiday Blog Hop!

    Welcome to the 1st Annual Historical Holiday Blog Hop, hosted by Passages to the Past. Hop over to the host site to enter to win some amazing grand prize packages. And hop around to the other participating blogs to discover what the other historical fiction fans are offering as prizes. I'm hoping to find some great books to add to my TBR list whether I win anything or not!

    I'm offering a Medieval Historical Mini-Prize Package, including three novels to go to one winner.

    The first is: Illuminations. A Novel of Hildegard von Bingen by Mary Sharratt.

    Link to my review here.

    The second is The King's Mistress by Emma Campion.

    Link to my review here.

    And my book is: The Queen's Daughter.

    To enter (Sorry but for readers in the US only this time around): Leave a name and email address in the comment section. You don't have to be a Reading World follower, but if you are a follower (GFC or email subscriber) you'll get one extra entry. Please make a note in the comment if you are a follower so I'll know to count your extra entry.

    Thursday, December 6, 2012

    ESCAPE TO THE PAST WITH: The Passing Bells by Phillip Rock

    Here’s something I really enjoy: good old-fashioned, multi-POV, epic historical fiction. It’s what I cut my teeth on. And even though I don’t read as much of it these days (it seems to have fallen out of fashion somewhat) when I do read one of these novels, I’m hooked.

    I saw mention of The Passing Bells by Phillip Rock at Historical Tapestries, actually a guest post by The Savvy Reader, that talked about favorite WWI books. The Savvy Reader recommended the book for Downton Abbey fans. I haven’t seen the show but people have told me I would enjoy it. A book described as Downton Abbey-like sounded like the next best thing. My library had a copy so. . .

    The Passing Bells is the story of the Greville family, including Anthony Greville who is the 9th earl of Stanmore, his wife the countess, his two adult sons (Charles and William) and a daughter (Alexandra), friends of the family who are slightly lesser in rank-- Captain Fenton Wood-Lacy and Roger Wood-Lacy, an heiress whom Charles is being pushed to court, Winifred Sutton, and an exceptionally wealthy and gorgeous neighbor/childhood friend, Lydia Foxe. The boys are in love with Lydia, but her father, Archie Foxe is not a gentleman. (He’s a perfectly nice man, it’s just he’s made his money in trade and has anti-aristocratic political views.) There is also an American cousin of the Greville’s– Martin Rilke, who is a journalist come to England intent on a 6 week or so European tour. His plans are disrupted. And then there are numerous servants in the Greville’s household, Abingdon Pryory (misspelling intentional). The most significant of the servants are the chaffeur/mechanic, Jamie Ross, and an upstairs maid, Ivy Thraxton.

    The novel introduces us to all these people, letting us know their backgrounds and their desires and what is keeping them from obtaining their desires. The rigid class system appears to be the driving force in each of their lives, whether they are reluctantly accepting of their positions or trying to clamber above their station (or marry below it.) The characters and their dilemmas are well-developed and were interesting enough to keep me reading, but the pace was pretty slow starting out. I had to keep reading because it’s the kind of book that if I put it down for too long, I might not have picked it back up--not at first. And yet, I didn't exactly want to put it down either. I was quietly sucked in.

    This book has been around awhile. It’s copyright is 1978. It’s a WWI novel, but here’s the thing. It’s 433 pages long, and it wasn’t until page 108 that a passing reference to the assassination of the Archduke of Austria appeared. The war did not begin until page 150. Before the men rushed off to battle, the author makes certain you are emotionally invested in the characters. And not just in the characters, but in what is happening to the home front. You understand the way of life, warts and all. The amount of time spent on character development is well worth it.

    Before the war, men are discussing the Serbia situation with little understanding and less interest. Once the war begins, they fight dutifully and patriotically, but there is little sense, from the novel at least, that winning will accomplish anything but the end of horrific, meaningless slaughter. In the meantime, the way of life that they knew was unraveling behind them.

    With the beginning of the war, the pace of the narrative picks up. By then, I was fully committed to the characters and I was quite deeply immersed in the war-time plots. With so many characters to follow, it did have a bit of a soap opera quality, moving from one storyline to another. Yet their lives were intricately intertwined so the overall story flowed well. As the war draws to its close, the book also drew to its devastating end. I didn’t realize just how addicted I was until I found myself requesting Book Two in the Greville saga, Circles of Time from the library. I want to know how they (the ones left) move on after the war.

    Friday, November 30, 2012


    Book Blogger Hop

    Welcome to the Book Blogger Hop!

    Hashtag: #BookBloggerHop

    Book Blogger Hop is the creation of Jen from Crazy for Books. Since October, the weekly hop has been hosted by a variety of book bloggers all across the globe and for the next two weeks, the hop is visiting Anglers Rest!

    So, without further ado....

    Question - Apart from being readers, many of us collect books on a specific subject or by a particular author. What books or which author do you collect?

    It's been quite some time since I've participated in the book blogger hop. Somehow, Friday always seems to slip away from me and then I'm thinking about other things. But I keep meaning to get back to hopping. So, my answer:
    There are a couple of authors whose books I collect, mainly favorite historical fiction writers. Oddly enough, the books I collect most avidly are historical mysteries- even though I don't very often read mysteries. But I am addicted to Margaret Frazer. In particular, I love the Joliffe series, but I read the Dame Frevisse books too (partly because I'm hoping Joliffe will show up.)  I also have been following Lindsey Davis's Falco series for years and years.

    I collect other books too. Medieval history is one topic. I'll stop there. My collections get pretty random after that.

    If you want to join in the hop, visit Anglers Rest to link up your own post.  Link back YOUR Friday Book Blogger post and then try to visit at least 3 other sites and comment - hops are a great opportunity to meet new bloggers!

    Thursday, November 29, 2012

    ESCAPE TO THE PAST WITH: Illuminations. A Novel of Hildegard von Bingen by Mary Sharratt

    When I saw that a novel of the life of Hildegard von Bingen was being released, I knew I would have to read it. She is one of those famous, strong medieval women whose name always pops up in medieval history texts. Hildegard was an abbess, a woman known throughout the Christian world for her visions and her writings. She had such stature in her day, she even got away with occasionally defying the men of the Church.

    Even so, I approached Illuminations. A Novel of Hildegard von Bingen by Mary Sharratt somewhat warily. Hildegard started off as an anchorite–actually, as a companion/servant to a young noblewoman, Jutta, who was an anchorite. So, not only was Hildegard a nun, dedicated to the church from childhood, but she was walled up, secluded, in a small room alongside an abbey. She was supposed to live out her days with her magistra, allowed no other human contact except a few whispered words through a hole in the wall that served as a portal for the delivery of their meager rations of food. She lived like this for thirty years.

    That Hildegard could survive this and maintain her sanity is impressive and inspiring, but could it be an interesting novel?

    In fact, in Mary Sharratt’s skillful hands, it is fascinating.

    Hildegard eventually emerges after Jutta’s death. Inspired by her own visions and reinforced by the strength of her personality, supported by a few well-placed friends, she goes on to leave the anchorage and start a house for Benedictine nuns. There are obstacles in her path that she must overcome, some external and some internal.

    I don’t want to give away too much of the plot/life story, although the outline of Hildegard’s life is easily available if that’s all you want--google her. The pleasure of reading Illuminations is that is historical fiction. Sharratt reinvents the lives of these medieval people, giving them back an emotional life. She manages to make the life story of a medieval nun very interesting indeed.

    Wednesday, November 28, 2012

    2013 CHALLENGE #1- The Historical Fiction Challenge and Giveaway Hop

    UPDATE:  A list of the books I've read for the challenge and links to my reviews can be found at the bottom of the page.

    It's that time of year again- time to start choosing challenges for next year. Historical Tapestries is once again hosting the historical fiction challenge. The details are:

    The challenge will run in the same way as it has over the last couple of years that H.T. has hosted the challenge. The only thing that has changed is the names of the categories.

    Each month, a new post dedicated to the HF Challenge will be created. To participate, you only have to follow the rules:

    • everyone can participate, even those who don't have a blog (you can add your book title and thoughts in the comment section at H.T. if you wish)
    • add the link(s) of your review(s) including your name and book title to the Mister Linky they’ll be adding to their monthly post (please, do not add your blog link, but the correct address that will guide readers directly to your review)
    • any kind of historical fiction is accepted (HF fantasy, HF young adult,...)
    During these following 12 months you can choose one of the different reading levels:

    20th century reader - 2 books
    Victorian reader - 5 books
    Renaissance Reader - 10 books
    Medieval - 15 books
    Ancient History -25+ books

    In most challenges, I shoot for the lowest level because I don't want it to become a chore, but I tend to aim high on the historical fiction challenge since I'm reading this genre anyway. Last year I aimed for 15 books. I finished the challenge early and kept on going (although I didn't keep counting.) I'm not sure if I made it over 25, but that doesn't sound like an unreasonable number to use as a goal. So I'm going for Ancient History!

    Head on over to Historical Tapestry and join us for the challenge!

    The books I've read (with links to reviews) are:

    1. The Forever Queen by Helen Hollick
    2. Trapeze by Simon Mawer
    3. The Painted Girls by Cathy Marie Buchanan
    4. The Sign of the Weeping Virgin by Alana White
    5. Gillespie and I by Jane Harris
    6. Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel
    7. Shadow on the Crown by Patricia Bracewell
    8. Z. A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald by Therese Anne Fowler
    9. The Winter Palace by Eva Stachniak
    10. Out of the Easy by Ruta Sepetys
    11. The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman
    12. The Eagle of the Ninth by Rosemary Sutcliff
    13. A Little Folly by Jude Morgan
    14. The Berlin Boxing Club by Robert Sharenow
    15. Call Me Zelda by Erika Robuck
    16. The Typewriter Girl by Alison Atlee
    17. House of Earth by Woodie Guthrie
    18. Tulip Fever by Deborah Moggach
    19. The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey
    20. The Golden Dice by Elisabeth Storrs
    21. The Ides of April by Lindsey Davis
    22. Passion by Jude Morgan
    23. Bitter Greens by Kate Forsyth
    24. The Lady and the Poet by Maeve Haran
    25. Rules of Civility by Amor Towles
    26. The Anatomist's Wife by Anna Lee Huber
    27. Letters from Skye by Jessica Brockmole
    28. Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein
    29. Mortal Arts by Anna Lee Huber
    30. Mrs. Lincoln's Dressmaker by Jennifer Chiaverini
    31. Venetia by Georgette Heyer
    32. The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance by Dorothy M. Johnson
    33. Burial Rites by Hannah Kent
    34. A Hundred Summers by Beatriz Williams
    35. The Tenderness of Wolves by Stef Penney
    36. Longbourn by Jo Baker

    Saturday, November 24, 2012

    CLASSICS CHALLENGE: The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson

    I finished the 2012 Back-to-the-Classics Challenge! Although this selection, the classic horror novel, would probably have been better suited to Halloween than to Thanksgiving, the important thing is, I had one category to go and I got it done.

    The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson is another one of those classics that is so deeply embedded in our collective consciousness that we all sort of know the story without really knowing it. Even kids know Jekyll and Hyde–it was an Arthur episode!  But how well do we know it?

    There are spoilers here, so be forewarned. The worst spoiler is the big reveal that comes at the end of the book, but that’s the part that everyone already knows. Jekyll and Hyde are one and the same person: good and evil sides of the same man. While this came as no surprise to me, I can’t imagine what it must have been like to be one of the first exposed to the story. The novel must have been full of suspense for those earliest unsuspecting readers. It’s a different sort of experience now. What surprised me was not the outcome, but the structure of the book.

    The story is told from the point of view of a friend of Dr. Jekyll’s, the lawyer, Mr. Utterson. We hardly even see Dr. Jekyll or Mr. Hyde. We hear about them from a distance. The dilemma unfolds slowly, but it is gripping nevertheless.

    Utterson and a kinsman, Mr. Enfield, were on a stroll one day when they came upon a door. The door was–as Utterson knew–the back entrance to Dr. Jekyll’s home, his laboratory. Mr. Enfield was unaware of this and related a story about the door. He had seen a horrible man go in that door, one Mr. Hyde. Mr. Hyde had run down a child in the street, incurring the wrath of many witnesses, and had retreated to that door to retrieve a check to pay off the child’s parents. The check was endorsed by. . .Dr. Jekyll.

    Dr. Jekyll was a well-known and much beloved man of science in the town. No one knew why he would befriend such a fiend as this Mr. Hyde. Utterson could shed no light on the mystery, but he had more reason to be concerned. Dr. Jekyll was one of his clients and he was aware of the man’s will which left everything to the nasty Mr. Hyde.

    Time passed. My Hyde’s reputation for ill-doings increased. Jekyll seemed to be avoiding his old friends. Utterson worried about him more and more. And then, one night, Hyde commits a murder and disappears.

    The town considers itself well rid of him. For awhile, it seems as though Jekyll is more his old self again. But this period does not last. Jekyll retreats from society and Utterson suspects Hyde has returned. When he is forced at last to confront Hyde, fearing for Jekyll’s safety, he finds Hyde dead. A letter is left for him explaining all.

    The "Jekyll and Hyde" story that I thought I had known is really all contained in this short summary letter. It explains about the sinister potion Jekyll mixed up in his laboratory to allow him to separate his evil self from his good self. It explains how Hyde began to gain control and eventually took over. It’s oddly anticlimactic since the revelation comes too late and since that’s the part of the story that is so well known. And yet, I can appreciate the sensation it might have made when the tale was new.

    There is also, of course, reason to read the book for its strength as a literary novel. If you care to pick apart the dual nature of man, good versus evil, Victorian mores, etc, its all in there. Stevenson is none too subtle with his symbolism.

    I think I had been expecting something a bit more horrifying. I think I expected to suffer more with Jekyll as he spiraled out of control. But if the original intent was to keep the reader in the dark as to the identity of Mr. Hyde, I can see why this was Utterson’s story. It is, overall, a quick, enjoyable read and a classic I can heartily recommend.

    This (like many of my want-to-read classics) has also been on my shelf for awhile so it also goes toward my Mount TBR challenge. We’re getting awfully close to the end of the year. I’ve got a few books to go toward that challenge, but my others are done!

    Wednesday, November 21, 2012

    BOOK REVIEW: Open Wound. The Tragic Obsession of Dr. William Beaumont by Jason Karlawish

    I recall that way back in medical school little tidbits of history of medicine were sometimes dropped into our lectures to make things interesting. When we were learning about digestion, an anecdote was related to us about an army surgeon who studied the stomach thanks to a fortuitous abdominal wound in one of his patients. The wound never fully healed, leaving a gastric fistula–an opening from the skin directly into the stomach. The surgeon could put food in on a string and pull it out after a time, allowing him to visualize the digestive process.

    It’s a story that is at once repellent and fascinating. Moreover, there’s something ethically uncomfortable about the surgeon experimenting on his patient. But it’s one of the many medical curiosities that get thrown at you in medical school as you are busily trying to memorize too many facts. That little piece of information gets filed away and forgotten.

    And yet, precisely because of that ethical discomfort, this piece of medical history deserves more attention. Dr. Jason Karlawish, a professor of medicine and bioethics, has written a fictionalized account of the interwoven lives of the army surgeon, Dr. William Beaumont, and the patient, Alexis St. Martin. In Open Wound, The Tragic Obsession of Dr. William Beaumont, Karlawish delves into the psychology of the surgeon, exploring his reasons for pursuing the experiments and his fascination with his patient. It also lays bare the clear ethical transgressions, a problem evident to everyone except the tragically obsessed doctor.

    Alexis St. Martin was a young indentured servant employed by the American Fur Company in 1822 when he was accidentally shot in the abdomen at the company’s store. At first, the company employees send for the local doctor, U.S. Army Assistant Surgeon William Beaumont. But as it quickly becomes clear that his injuries must be lethal, the head of the company suggests/insists that Alexis be made comfortable in the storeroom and there be allowed to die. No one wants to be responsible for paying for his treatment if he is going to die shortly anyway. Beaumont can’t do it. He is unable to abandon a patient without attempting to provide better care. Therefore, he carts him off to the army hospital, against orders. Beaumont is firmly on the right side of this moral dilemma.

    The course is difficult and prolonged, but eventually Alexis recovers...almost. The fistula remains–a window into his stomach. Beaumont realizes that this is a perfect opportunity for studying the physiology of gastric digestion. And here is where things go awry.

    William Beaumont is an ambitious man. Throughout the course of the book, the roots of his own insecurities are explained. He needs to rise above his humble beginnings. He wants to support his wife (and eventually his children) in finer style than is possible as an assistant army surgeon. He wants to be recognized for his accomplishments. Alexis’s stomach is the means to Beaumont’s end. Alexis’s suffering, physical and psychological, are immaterial. After all, Beaumont saved his life and was prepared to support him as a charity case. Alexis owes him.

    The novel traces the remainder of Beaumont’s career, with and without Alexis, and relates the culmination of the experiments as well as the aftermath. We are nearly always following Beaumont’s point of view, only rarely Alexis’s. And while Beaumont tries very hard to make his own case, it’s all too easy to look back from a modern vantage point and see his error. He manipulates and belittles Alexis, rationalizing the need to do so because of the importance of the scientific contribution. It may be easy to judge Beaumont and dismiss this as an error of early 19th century medicine, except that we have to remember how often in the past, and sometimes the not-so-distant past, patients were exploited in the name of scientific and medical advancement.

    For anyone interested in the history of medicine or anyone who loved The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks and didn’t get quite enough immersion into medical ethics, you might want to give Open Wound a try. It’s a thought-provoking read.

    Tuesday, November 13, 2012

    BOOK REVIEW: Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton

    When I finished The Age of Desire by Jennie Fields, a novel of the life of Edith Wharton, I knew I’d have to move one of Wharton’s classics to the top of my list. The Age of Innocence has been sitting on my shelf for a good while, but for some reason I felt compelled to re-read the novella Ethan Frome instead. I read it in high school, and while I couldn’t remember it in too much detail, I vaguely remembered the plot. I recalled the impression of it being the bleakest, most depressing novel I’d ever read. Was it really that bad? I had to read it again.

    It is a downer. However, since my high school days, I’ve been exposed to a great deal of bleak reading material--not all of it fiction--so Ethan Frome didn’t retain quite the power to depress that it had back then.

    Set in a fictional New England town in the dead of winter, an unnamed narrator tells the story of a mysterious local figure, the partially paralyzed, physically arresting Ethan Frome.

    The story tells of three people trapped by extreme poverty and by cruel Fate. Ethan Frome, the "hero," married a woman he does not love. He proposed to Zeena, his mother’s caretaker, after the death of his mother, without quite understanding the significance of the commitment he was making. Ethan and Zeena both wanted something other than the poor farming life ahead of them in cold, isolated Starkfield. When it became apparent they were not going to escape, Zeena retreated into the self-absorption of chronic physical ailments, real or imaginary. Ethan, worn down by the demands of the farm and the demands of her illness, tried to turn a deaf ear to her complaints. She grew more and more bitter. He grew more and more withdrawn. And then, Zeena’s cousin, Mattie Silver entered the picture. A lively, pretty young girl, Mattie’s economic circumstances were even worse than Ethan and Zeena’s. Completely destitute, she was grateful to accept an unpaid position as Zeena’s live-in housekeeper and nurse.

    Of course, Ethan and Mattie fall in love. Zeena senses their growing attraction and attempts to banish Mattie. But everyone’s plans go awry and the three are trapped even more cruelly.

    The story is told in such a way that everything is seen from Ethan’s perspective. Zeena is a sour, scheming, hypochondriac whose only joy in life seems to be making other people miserable. Mattie is sweet, innocent, and tragically unlucky. And Ethan is stoic and accursed.

    However, there is more than one side to every story and this time around I had a bit more sympathy for Zeena’s position. Young Ethan seemed more pitiably weak. And I found Mattie to be a bit stupid. There is plenty of tragedy to go around in Ethan Frome, but I’m not so sure that it is as inevitable a tragedy as I believed it to be the first time I read it. Fate is certainly cruel to Ethan, Zeena and Mattie but their own poor decisions are just as much to blame.

    Saturday, November 10, 2012

    BOOK REVIEW: The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

    John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars has been on my must read list all year. I took it out of the library just after its release when the first burst of great reviews caught my attention, but I had to return the book before I could read it. Luckily, my son caught the Vlogbrothers bug and announced he wanted to read the novel so I bought it. I hesitated to read a book about kids with cancer just after a book about a woman with chronic renal failure, but I’m glad I decided to go ahead.

    The Fault in Our Stars deserves its accolades. Hazel Grace Lancaster is a seventeen-year-old girl dying of metastatic thyroid cancer. Her physicians have put her on an experimental drug that has temporarily arrested the growth of the nodules in her lungs, but everyone knows the reprieve will not last. Her lung capacity is reduced so she needs to use supplemental oxygen during the day and a breathing machine at night. As the book opens, she is depressed and thinking a lot about death. She has very supportive parents but she worries about what will happen to them when she’s gone. In the meantime, she attends community college part-time and reluctantly goes to a weekly cancer support group for teens at her local church.

    Then, one night at her support group, she meets Augustus Waters, a cancer survivor. Augustus had "a touch of osteosarcoma." He was treated and now has a prosthetic leg. His survival chances are 85%, so he doesn't really need to be there for himself. He’s attending to support a friend, Isaac, who has a rare eye tumor.

    Augustus and Hazel discover that they have a lot more in common than cancer. They are kindred spirits. They think alike, talk alike. They enjoy the same books, music, philosophy. They have the same sense of humor. It is inevitable that they fall in love. But there is an urgency to their relationship because they feel their mortality with a frightening intensity. They want to live life to the fullest. Augustus, in particular, wants to leave his mark. Hazel, on the other hand, wants to do no harm.

    This is a beautiful story about intelligent, kind, funny kids coping with pain, loss, and death. It’s realistically sad, without being depressing. It was good to spend time with people who truly appreciate the wonder of life.

    Saturday, November 3, 2012

    BOOK REVIEW: The Care and Handling of Roses with Thorns by Margaret Dilloway

    The Care and Handling of Roses with Thorns by Margaret Dilloway is a captivating piece of realistic contemporary fiction. Galilee Garner (Gal) is a thirty-six-year old biology teacher at a small Catholic school. Her life is defined by two things: chronic renal disease and a passion for roses.

    Gal lost her kidneys to relux when she was twelve, and two kidney transplants have failed. She has been on dialysis for eight years. Aside from feeling rotten most of the time, and spending half of her life shuttling to the dialysis center to be hooked up to a machine, she knows her days are numbered unless she can get another transplant.

    Life is unfair. She pushes ahead nevertheless, but she has little patience for the petty concerns of the healthy. This includes pretty much everyone else: the students who don’t put in the effort to succeed, the head of school who pities her but wants her to cut the students some slack, the parents who think she should coddle their babies, and, most of all, the older sister who threw away her health choosing a lifestyle of drugs, alcohol and parties. The irresponsible sister’s worst sin was neglecting a daughter, Riley, who is now fifteen, shunting her between an ex-husband, grandparents, and an unstable household where God-knows-what was taking place.

    The one bright spot in Gal’s life is a fascination with breeding roses. She wants to create a new rose that combines beauty, hardiness, and fragrance–one that will win competitions and earn her respect from breeders with greater resources than her small greenhouse and lawn patch. She wants to create a commercially viable rose. She’s an amateur up against the professionals. But it is the one thing that gives her hope and reason to live.

    And then, enter Riley. Gal’s sister has a job opportunity that takes her overseas. Presumably to get her life back on track, she dumps her daughter on Gal. The last thing Gal needs is a messed-up teenager to deal with, to care for, to care about.

    I had a hard time putting this book down. The details were remarkable and the character development was spot-on. I read the book because I have an interest in kidney disease and this showed the human toll. Gal was "prickly" – the adjective used by a friend in the book. She refused to believe she was ever wrong. She was used to being deferred to. She was manipulative. Her closest friend finally called her on her self-centeredness and Gal was, at first, resistant to admitting it. She’s sick! She could, in fact, be dying. She is entitled to think of herself. But over the course of the book, a change comes over Gal. She opens her eyes to where she has been wrong and this softens her edges to possibilities to other things in life. It’s not a 180 degree change. The book is realistic. But it’s a beautiful story about personal growth under extraordinarily difficult circumstances.

    The storyline also wraps itself around Gal’s attention to her roses. The metaphor is obviously there, but it works as plot, too, and is interesting in its own right. I never thought I’d find details about flower breeding and flower show/competitions so interesting.

    Margaret Dilloway is the author of How to Be an American Housewife, a book I haven’t read but may have to!

    Wednesday, October 31, 2012

    ESCAPE TO THE PAST WITH: Wilderness by Lance Weller

    Holly at Bippity Boppity Books gave Wilderness by Lance Weller such a strong review that I knew I had to read it. I’ve been trying to use my library more, partly because I tend to READ the books I take out of the library. They have to be returned. When I buy books I tend to toss them onto the pile and who knows when they’ll ever get read. To my delight, I got my hands on a copy of Wilderness fairly quickly.

    The book pieces together a narrative from the perspective of several different characters, but the main protagonist is Abel Truman, a Civil War veteran who fought for the Confederacy. He was a New Yorker by birth, but personal tragedy set him to wandering and he happened to be in the south at the time the war broke out. Moreover, he more or less believed in the southern cause. If not that, he believed in his friendships with the men he fought beside.

    Thirty-five years later, living a solitary life (solitary except for his well-loved dog) in a shack on the Pacific coast, Abel comes to understand that he is dying from a slowly progressive illness. One morning he decides to return home to die and he begins the long dangerous trek, taking only a few provisions, his rifle, and his dog.

    Along the way he runs into two evil men who want to steal his dog and who would have no qualms about killing him to do so. But Abel is a tough old man. And surprisingly lucky. Abel’s path crosses that of the would-be thieves more than once during the course of his journey with increasingly violent results. Other settlers and wanderers are also caught up in the crossfire. As Abel interacts with them, the reader is given deeper and deeper insight into the type of man he is.

    Interspersed with the story of Abel’s current day journey are chapters detailing memories of his past–his wartime experiences. The war is what shaped him, physically, emotionally, and psychologically. And then, going even farther back, Abel is forced to dredge up thoughts of the tragic loss that preceded the war.

    Wilderness is a moving story. Abel’s life is portrayed with sensitivity and depth. He’s a good man but flawed, and journeying with him is time well spent.

    This is a debut novel by an author who has previously published award-winning short stories. So read it with the expectation of literary historical fiction. At times, I found the writing style overwhelmed the story–as if the point had drifted away from what was being said to how prettily it was being said, and I found myself skimming ahead to where it would get back on track again. But most of the time there is a good balance between fine writing and a compelling story-line. I had to keep reading to see where Abel was going.

    Monday, October 29, 2012

    BACK TO THE CLASSICS CHALLENGE: Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

    I was beginning to worry that I wouldn’t complete the Back-to-the-Classics Challenge this year. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy is my choice for a classic set in a country that I will not realistically visit during my lifetime. The book has been on my bookshelf for many years (along with War and Peace) and I’ve always intended to read it, but I’ve been procrastinating. Not only is it long, but I’ve been afraid that it would be a slow read. To be honest, I was daunted by its Russian-ness.

    Still, a challenge is a challenge. I finally picked it up and got started. And guess what? My fears were totally unfounded. The book sucked me in right from the start.

    The book opens with one unhappy married couple, Stepan Arkadyevitch Oblonsky and his wife, Dolly. Dolly has just discovered her husband’s adultery and is devastated. She doesn’t believe she can go on with her life as it is but doesn’t know how to change things either. Stepan is miserable to have been caught but doesn’t feel any actual remorse for his affair. Hoping to patch things up, he has sent for his sister, Anna Karenina, to speak with Dolly.

    At the same time, another relationship is in the works. Dolly’s younger sister, Kitty, is being courted by two men, Count Vronsky and Konstantin Dmitrievitch Levin. Vronsky is a handsome young rake, a military man of sorts, considered a good catch by all the enamored women. Levin is an older, steady man. Kitty has known him for many years and is fond of him, but he’s rather dull in comparison. Vronsky flirts but has no intention of marrying. Levin is utterly devoted.

    The stage is set. Anna is a beautiful, lively, married young woman who does manage to reconcile her brother and his wife. She also meets Kitty, who adores her. They all go to a ball (supposed to have been Kitty’s triumph, but that was before Anna showed up.) Anna and Vronsky (who have briefly met at the train station) meet again at the ball and all is lost. Vronsky determines to pursue her and Anna, who previously was known to all as morally upstanding, decides to fall.

    Anticipating a proposal from Vronsky, Kitty refuses an offer from Levin, who then leaves town to return to his country home/farm in despair. When Vronsky leaves town soon after in pursuit of Anna, Kitty falls ill with shame and wretchedness, realizing her mistake.

    The book follows these people (and others related to them) as they live their lives. It is remarkably detailed in describing the every-day events but even more so in showing the inner thoughts of the characters. Everything is analyzed. The reader is right inside their heads. And even though its nineteenth century Russia, what Anna, Kitty, Vronsky, Levin, etc. think and feel could easily be put in the heads of contemporary characters. Their angst has a universal, timeless quality. Societal shunning of an adulterous woman might not be as complete or leave a woman with the limited options that Anna faced, but a lot of the psychological pain of the breaking up of the family is likely the same. The people, the situations– everything seemed very real. It is not entirely, or even mostly Anna’s story. Levin and Kitty get equal attention as foils to Anna and Vronsky, and the beauty of their relationship provides a lovely contrast without being too frightfully preachy.

    All in all, Anna Karenina is an engrossing novel, a surprisingly quick read. I think I’m going to have to try tackling War and Peace!

    Sunday, October 28, 2012


    The winner of my Blogoversary gift card winner is:

    I've sent Meg an email. Thanks to all who entered and left encouraging comments!

    Saturday, October 27, 2012

    Six Word Saturday


    Sending Prayers to Friends Back East
    I love Halloween. It's right up there with my favorite holidays. But this year it sounds too scary with this storm blowing in on the East Coast. I know the media overhypes weather, and I really hope it turns out to be a simple snowstorm without the fearsome impact that's being predicted. Still, I'm nervous for friends and family - and even more so for those who are more likely to be in the storm's path with fewer resources for riding it out.
    What is Six Word Saturday?  Want to play along? All that's necessary to participate is to describe your life (or something) in a phrase using just six words. For more information, try clicking here. Feel free to explain or not explain. Add an image, a video, a song, nothing.  If you play along in your blog, please add a link to the Mr. Linky at Show My Face. (see details there and links to other participating blogs there.)

    GUEST POST: Two books about Malcolm X

    The latest choice for our historical fiction/history book group was The Autobiography of Malcolm X by Malcolm X and Alex Haley. I had mixed feelings about the book. I learned quite a bit about the time period and about the man. But I found it to be slow reading, particularly the first part of the book detailing his early life and criminal past. Once he was imprisoned and began his career with the Nation of Islam, the story became more compelling. While I know that we have to understand his past in order to appreciate the path of his life, I just didn’t find the way it was narrated to be all that interesting.

    So, I thought it would be a good idea to read Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention by Manning Marable for comparison. How would a different writer present the life of this important historical figure?

    Here’s what happened. We got Marable’s book out of the library and my husband read it first. Meanwhile, I started Anna Karenina for the Back-to-the-Classics challenge. And as we both worked our way through our chunky books, I had an even better idea. A guest post!

    I introduce to you, historian Brad Asher, (author of Cecelia and Fanny: The Remarkable Friendship Between an Escaped Slave and her Former Mistress) to discuss two books on Malcolm X.

    Sue asked me to guest blog because I read both The Autobiography of Malcolm X for our history book group and then followed it up immediately with the 2010 biography Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention by Manning Marable. So I have been immersed in Malcolm X for the last few weeks, even watching on YouTube some of his old speeches and the 1959 documentary, "The Hate that Hate Produced," which first brought him wide attention outside the African American community. Despite my immersion, though, I wonder if a middle-class white guy has anything useful to say about Malcolm X.

    The Autobiography of Malcolm X, of course, is a modern classic, widely assigned in college classrooms to this day. It tells the story of Malcolm’s redemption from a life of criminality and drug abuse to national and international prominence as a spokesman for the ghetto-ized poor blacks of America’s northern cities. While Martin Luther King and other civil rights leaders were fighting legal segregation in the Jim Crow South, Malcolm and other like-minded leaders were fighting structural racism and racist exploitation in the urban North. The vehicle for Malcolm’s redemption was the Nation of Islam, a cult-like religious and social movement led by the Honorable Elijah Muhammad, who was viewed as a divine messenger sent by Allah to the black masses of America.

    From the vantage point of 2012, it is hard to read the Autobiography and not notice the wacky theology of the Nation of Islam, Malcolm’s retrograde views on women, his blanket condemnations of whites as "devils," and his offhand dismissals of civil rights leaders like King. The things that are so important in Malcolm’s life story and his ideology—his emphasis on black pride, black self-help, black self-respect—are in the 21st century ingrained in many aspects of American culture. It can be difficult—for whites, at least—to remember what a cultural shock such sentiments were in the early 1960s.

    That’s where I found Marable’s book so helpful. He is not uncritical of Malcolm or the Nation of Islam, but he puts Malcolm’s story in the context of the larger currents of civil-rights history and African American history. Whereas Malcolm’s eventual break with the Nation has a slightly incongruous feeling in the Autobiography, given all that’s come before, Marable is able to integrate the break into the larger story of Malcolm’s evolution as an activist, a leader, and a Muslim. Marable also makes clear that American culture’s domestication of Malcolm—the tendency to view him as someone who was moving toward the civil rights mainstream by the time of his assassination—is a misreading of the man’s life and legacy.

    I don’t think I would have enjoyed Marable as much if I hadn’t read the Autobiography, but I also think I "get" the Autobiography better as a result of Marable’s book.

    Saturday, October 20, 2012


    It's hard for me to believe, but I've been blogging here at Reading World for 2 years. (Actually, a little over 2 years. My first post was on October 13, 2010 and my first review was on October 14 (a review of Great Maria by Cecelia Holland- still one of my all-time favorite books.)

    Blogging has been a great way to keep track of my reading and to share the books I've enjoyed. More importantly, it has inspired me to branch out. Being part of the blogging community has introduced me to a lot of great books I might never have discovered on my own.

    I've enjoyed getting to know other bloggers by following their posts and by taking part in various memes and hops, and I hope to keep on blogging, despite some intermittent lulls.

    And now, I want to show my appreciation to my readers and followers. Cold weather is sweeping in. It's time to kick back under a blanket with a mug of coffee/cocoa/tea and read a good book. So I'm offering a choice of either 1) $15 Starbucks gift card (US only) 2) a $15 Barnes and Noble gift card (US only)  or 3) a book valued up to $15 anywhere The Book Depository ships (US or international.)

    The giveaway is open until Saturday 10/27.

    To enter, leave a comment stating which one of these you would prefer to win along with your email address so I can contact you. You don't need to be a follower to enter, but followers get one extra entry.