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Archive for February, 2012

I am happy to write that Destiny of the Republic is yet another nonfiction book that I have had the pleasure of reading that feels like a work of fiction. The book was obviously exceptionally researched and thorough and yet it felt like I was reading a murder mystery from the eyes of the murderer and his target. Destiny of the Republic delves into the life of the 20th president, James Garfield; his improbable rise to the presidency and the political situation that existed at the time of his term; the life of his assassin, Charles Guiteau; and the medical and technological limitations that existed at the time that President Garfield was shot.

President Garfield’s term lasted only 200 days, and from what I read in Destiny of the Republic, the country lost a President that wanted to do and could have done a lot of good.  He worked as a janitor at college so that he could attend classes and soon ended up President of that college.  He was then a Civil War hero who deeply felt the loss of the soldiers he fought with. He was ultimately unwillingly nominated as the republican candidate for president when he was giving a nomination speech for another senator from his home state of Ohio.  Meanwhile, Charles Guiteau, who felt he was destined for greatness, was trying to find his way in life- moving from city to city, claiming that he was an attorney, dodging landlords, and ultimately receiving what he thought was God’s intention that he kill the President. 

Amidst all of this, doctors and surgeons were still operating on patients without the least care for sterilizing equipment and protecting from germs. The doctors who cared for President Garfield after he was shot likely killed him by probing the wound with their fingers or unsterilized probes, incorrectly assuming they knew where the bullet had lodged, and essentially dehydrating their patient. Reading this part of Destiny of the Republic was extremely maddening and I had to remember that they were simply doing what was done at that time.

What a great nonfiction read!

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It seems a bit weird to have the author listed as the Countess of Carnarvon, but after reading this book, it is clear that the curent Countess (Lady Almina was the 5th Countess in the early 20th century) is the best person to write this book. Her access to all of the documents and photos needed to tell this story must have been unrestricted, which allowed for such an intriguing and well-written tale of the real Downton Abbey.

The TV show Downton Abbey on PBS is one of my favorite shows and I was so excited to read Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey. I did not know that the story in Downton Abbey is genuinely based on real characters such as the rich heiress who became the 5th Countess, thus saving the estate from financial ruin. Lady Almina was a real tour-de-force back in her day and when WWI broke out she volunteered to turn her estate into a hospital for wounded soldiers.

In the midst of running Highclere Castle and then running the hospital when she opened it, Lady Almina also supported her husband on his excavations in Egypt and helped him to weather the publicity storm when he and his partner found the tomb of Tutankhamun.   Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey is a lovely little book that delves into the life of Lady Almina and also into the lives of those who helped run Highclere Castle.  It is a wonderful example of life in England in Victorian and Edwardian times.  I highly recommend this book to any and all fans of Downton Abbey, or to fans of works of nonfiction in general!

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I’m not even going to devote many words to this review, because the book does not deserve it. Suffice it to say – I enjoyed Dan Brown’s other books and thought this would be a fun read. No such luck. It plodded, it bored, it overdid it on the symbolism of every single thing, and it was so unreal that it was unbelievable and laughable. I hated it and would NOT recommend it to anyone!

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I have been having some of the BEST luck with books this year, because yet again I can say that I have just finished one of my favorite books of the year!! I don’t know how I went so long without reading this one, but I am so glad that I finally picked up A Discovery of Witches.  The book was amazing. I could end my review right here by just repeating that again – the book was amazing.  And then I’d add about 100 exclamation points !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!, etc.

A Discovery of Witches (LOVED*****) focuses on Diana Bishop, a scholar who is performing research in a library in Oxford.  In very small snippets we realize that Diana has a bit of witching ability, which is seen when she can’t reach a book and instead simply holds her hand out for it and the book comes to her hand.  We do not know the true power of Diana’s magic though, until she starts to learn that for herself as well. Diana came from a long line of witches, but chose to ignore her family’s powers and live a normal life, but her powers begin to show themselves at various points in time. Her life, until the point that we meet her in Oxford, was relatively normal until she met the vampire Matthew Clairmont in that library.  It was also relatively normal until she uncovered an enchanted manuscript in the library and suddenly realized that there were a multitude of vampires and witches and demons in the library as well.

The story then follows Diana as she begins to trust Matthew and needs his help and protection.  It takes us from Oxford to France to the New York countryside and leaves us as she and Matthew prepare for a time-travelling trip into the past.  Some of the best parts of the book are when we meet Matthew’s family in France and when the two travel to New York to stay at Diana’s bewitched childhood home with her aunt and her aunt’s partner – both witches.  Some of my most favorite moments happened in that house – like when the house added a room because it sensed that visitors were coming, or when it put a key in a door because it knew Diana needed privacy. I also loved that Diana could look around the house and see the ghosts of her family tree.  There were so many imaginative and wondrous parts of this book that it is hard to name only a few – the world that is created in A Discovery of Witches is a wonder in and of itself.

Once again the only reason I was disappointed with this book is that I did not want it to end, and when it did end, I was disappointed that there was not a sequel I could immediately follow-up with.  Thankfully there will be a sequel, but in my mind, it can’t be released soon enough!

As I re-read my review above of A Discovery of Witches, I remember how much I loved that first book in this All Souls Trilogy.  I wish that I could say the same about Shadow of Night (Enjoyed it!****).  While I enjoyed the second book in the series, I did not love it as much as I loved the first.

Shadow of Night follows Diana and Matthew as she time travels them back to Victorian England, under the premise that she wants to go back to learn about witch magic from some real witches, and they want to see if they can locate the book Ashmole 782 when it first was released back in history.  For me, the idea that they went back to the past, and yet their friends and family are still in the present – knowing that Diana and Matthew have travelled back to the past – was the most interesting part of the story.  I loved when Matthew’s mother would look around the castle in France to try to find some hidden clue that Matthew and Diana were doing OK back in the 1500’s.  I also enjoyed their meeting with Matthew’s father back in France – in the older version of that same castle.

I was a bit bored when reading of Diana and Matthew in London – and with the interaction of Matthew and his friends from that time, including Christopher Marlow and Sir Walter Raleigh and – oh yes, Queen Elizabeth.  It was further a bit uninteresting when Diana and Matthew travelled to Prague to follow the trail of Ashmole 782.  Their dealings with the court there all seemed unimportant, unnecessary, and made the book drag on.

I did enjoy the historical aspect of Diana and Matthew in London and my favorite parts of the book were when Diana would learn and practice her magic.  I only hope that in the third book she is truly a witch and that the sparks (literally) fly between her, the vampires, and the demons.  Although I feel like I should give Shadow of Night a “***OK” rating, I love the idea of the triology and the first book so much, that I am giving it a “****Enjoyed it!” rating.

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