Special Sunday Edition: Guest Review!

“When you are standing there doing nothing remarkable, all you love can be yanked out of your open arms.” 

Welcome my guest reviewer: Ashlee Duff 

Secrets of a Charmed Life by Susan Meissner

This historical fiction piece is full of love, loss, ambition, and sacrifice. Set in 1940’s England, Emmy Downtree is a teenage girl with talent and dreams looking for a better life for her and her sister, Julia. She is sent, along with all of London’s children, to the safety of the countryside to avoid the inevitable war that is looming. There she finds the attention and stability she was missing in the comfortable rooms at Thistle House and her foster mother, Charlotte. But it is her relentless ambition and the promise of an apprenticeship with a fashion designer that takes her back to London in secret with Julia by her side. On that day, the Nazi bombs will fall destroying most of London and the lives of those Emmy holds most dear. Julia goes missing and this sets up a new life that Emmy didn’t expect to live.

This novel was well researched and well written. I enjoyed the relationship between Emmy and Julia, as it reminded me of my sister and I. After the bombing, I could not put the book down. I had to know what happened to Julia and the other beloved characters after that fateful day. The guilt, longing and feelings of heavy loss are evident in those that survived. How they reshape and rebuild their lives is by one small step at a time. My only complaint is that even after all of the relationships and storylines are brought to a close, you still feel down. The uplift of closure and a semi-happy ending wasn’t given in near the detail that was used to develop these characters. I expected and wanted more for them. This was still a lovely story and I would recommend it to all historical fiction lovers.

If you would like to be a guest reviewer on my blog, please feel free to contact me! I would love to do a read-a-long or feature your individual review.

Write About it Wednesday: Valkyrie, the Plot to Kill Hitler

“’The Nazis are destroying the heart of the true Germany! When the war is over, it will be people like us who will have to act!”

It doesn’t happen very often that I pick up a book, read the entire thing, and still have little clue of what is happening. I will be the first to admit that I do not come from a military background. Battle plans, defense tactics and flanking locations are a bit over my head. I swear I read all 170 pages and still can’t tell you with any form of certainty that I understood even half of it. Sadly, I had to look up some terms using Google to make sure I was understanding the “lingo.” Embarrassing right?

The book is written from Philipp von Boeselager’s perspective with emphasis on his and his brother’s role in the conspiracy. The first 50 pages or so detail the casualties and concerns of war that led them to join against Hitler. They both grew up with military aspirations, and their father was a member of the Nazi party. The soldier’s perspective on what was occurring versus the reality lends a different view of events. They didn’t know all of the evil going on around them until later in the war when their top priority had to be keeping their men safe and returning home. Philipp was officially tipped over to the resistance movement after reading military documents stating that special treatment was being given to Jews and gypsies. After further research the treatment was cold blooded murder and the goal was complete liquidation. The group grew to upwards of 30 committed conspirators with Philipp occupying the role of chief explosive expert. There were several failed assassination attempts, and a gradual evolution of the mission. It was no longer just an isolated assassination but the beginning of complete overthrow of the regime. Unfortunately all attempts failed.

I did not like this book, but not because it was challenging. I wanted understanding instead of battle facts, dates, locations, and additional details that take up the majority of pages. In fact, this may be the one case where the movie is actually better than the book. (Yes, I said it) I have such a heart for research but this has turned me completely away from looking into the conspiracies further. Maybe I will get a second wind eventually, but for now: Goodbye Valkyrie!

Book Review Saturday: The Great Trouble

“We don’t know enough to stop the course of the disease. I can only hope to save those who have not fallen ill.”

The Great Trouble is a young adult novel about the Cholera Epidemic of 1854 in London. It is narrated through the eyes of Eel, an orphan mudlark who is on the run from Fisheye Bill Tyler. Eel has to find odd jobs to keep him and his brother fed and sheltered because his mother has passed away. His luck seems to be turning around because he is working at Lion Brewery which provides a roof over his head, money in his pocket and the opportunity to work other side jobs as well. He manages to hide from Fisheye and continue paying for his brothers boarding until he is accused of stealing from the Lion by a bratty nephew of the owner. On his way to prove himself by locating one of his side employers he discovers that cholera has begun to pass through the neighborhood. The first victim appears to be the tailor that can vouch for him and save his job at the Lion. With the tailor on his deathbed he must turn to Dr. Snow, but the doctor is busy and his case seems hopeless to prove. Once he locates the doctor, he decides to ask him to help the neighborhood with its current cholera epidemic instead and they embark on a journey of discovery to find the root cause behind the disease. The reader can’t forget Fisheye because he makes his appearance at the most inopportune time. Will they be able to make the discovery and save lives? Will the girl he likes fall victim to cholera and survive? The story has no gaps for action and keeps the reader entertained throughout.

This book is a fantastic work of historical fiction for younger audiences. I thoroughly enjoyed reading about Dr. Snow and Eel’s discoveries. The book is well researched and blends fictional and historical characters together with ease. I think the narration from a younger perspective allows kids to relate to a time long ago when things were hard and children were often forced to fend for themselves. I could picture myself drinking from the Broad Street Pump or breathing in the foul air that hung over London. The descriptions and story line show a mastery of writing. I enjoyed the opening to each part containing a quote from the past, and the author’s note containing real information about the epidemic and characters. I would have done the research on my own and this saved me from another round with Google.

What is your favorite young adult book? I have been looking for more historical fiction for this age group but the choices seem to be narrow. I enjoy a book that takes me back in time and allows me to experience something on a large scale. I would never have known about the Cholera Epidemic that plagued London without this story, and that is why I read. To know everything. Maybe one day right?

Write About it Wednesday: The Race to Fingerprints

“I look forward to a time when every convict shall have prints taken of his fingers by the prison photographer, at the beginning and end of his imprisonment, and a register made of them; …”

Why do all great inventions have a battle ongoing between who invented or created something first? It’s fascinating but only extensive research leads us to the “right” answer. I have taken quite a few criminal justice classes and fingerprinting is covered quickly and without historical significance. My need to know brain can’t accept that. Every time I dive into the history of crime there are fifteen new questions or ideas to look into further.

In my opinion (aka this blog post), four people are key to the background of fingerprinting. William James Herschel was given charge of a subdivision in Bengal, India during British rule. In an attempt to prevent contract disputes, he demanded his contractors to stamp their hand on contracts to ensure the signature could not be denied. It was common in this time period for workers to declare their signatures fraudulent in order to get out of work for the British. He also introduced the idea of using two fingerprints on leases for authenticity. This was not a new concept nor widely accepted.

The second is Henry Faulds. He was a doctor, lecturer and missionary who stumbled upon ancient pottery with minute patterns of parallel lines. This peaked his interest in fingerprints and he began inking thousands of subjects’ fingers, requiring all ten for research. He used the fingerprints to prove the innocence of two of his staff members for separate crimes where a fingerprint was found at the scene. He set out to prove that fingerprints a) stay the same throughout your life and b) are unique to the individual. Fauld wrote a letter to the scientific magazine, Nature, and it was the first scientific literature to suggest the basic concepts of fingerprints for identification. It was not well received and his letters to police departments across the world were left unanswered.

Thirdly, we have Alphonse Bertillon who was eager to see his method of identification rule the world. He had a woman to impress and that seems to lend motivation to most men. He used eleven separate body measurements for identification of habitual criminals. His original proposal was refused because it was poorly written and the police had little faith in new scientific discoveries. He was given a three month window of opportunity to show that his system could work. He was successful and the success continued to grow as time went on. His identification system aided the new Relegation Law in France that focused on increasing the punishment for repeat offenders.

In walks our fourth key player, the man that takes credit for all of it. A person that I will be researching more thoroughly because I hate when men steal credit from others. I will not outright bash the man before I’ve done my research but what little I have found does not bode well for his character. Francis Galton, the cousin of Charles Darwin, wants to build a genetically superior race of men. Did this instantly make you think Hitler? Because I did. He decides to utilize Bertillon’s measurements for his new race and stumbles upon the research of Faulds to assist in identification. Instead of corresponding with Faulds (he believed him to be of lower class) he worked with Herschel to develop his lecture, “Personal Identification and Description.” He had worked with the Herschel family previously on his research of heredity, and believed him to be of the elite class of thinkers. He did mention Faulds but only in passing and after he quoted several descriptions of Herschel’s research. Galton published his comprehensive book, Finger Prints, in 1892. Galton did not relish in his success though because of the lack of relevance of prints to his eugenic studies. The promotion for identification fell to Herschel who wrote to the Chief Secretary to the Government of Bengal along with a copy of Galton’s book.

This story is going to stay with me for quite some time. I do not understand why I’ve never heard of Galton and how this could have unfolded with so little credit to Faulds. And yet again, India is brought into the mix. India under British rule seems to be following my every move. There is a story for me to write if I will just sit down and do it. I know this is only a short overview but what are your opinions? Do you think Faulds was cheated? Would you like to hear more of the story? 

Special Sunday Edition: Where the Light Falls

“Funny, he thinks, how terror ages a man much more quickly than any passage of time.”

My first reaction to this novel is that I have never hated two antagonists so much. This novel follows the life of two men during and after the French Revolution, with two foes that want nothing more than their heads in a basket. It is an entirely new spin on the revolutionary events and doesn’t read as many of the others novels of this time period. The focus is on the trials before the guillotine and the battles being fought for independence. It shows the passion and spirit of the people who are fighting for what they believe is right and for those that are fighting for a bloodlust that can’t be tamed. You will grow to love the men with honor and hate the men who long to destroy anyone in their way. Many men used the threat of the guillotine to destroy enemies under false pretenses of treason. This shares the story of those that had the courage to fight against them and the hope to prevail.

Our first character is Jean-Luc St. Clair who has moved his family to Paris, revoking his title and lands, to do his part in the revolution. He has strong ideals and believes the revolution is for the good of the people. He works as a clerk inventorying the goods of noblemen that have been brought to justice by the guillotine. Jean-Luc is noticed for his potential and led to meet with higher officials of government. He does not realize at the time that he is challenging one of the superiors, Lazare with his intellect and arguments. This chance meeting leads to turmoil after Jean-Luc agrees to defend General Kellerman against Lazare in court. No one has challenged Lazare so openly, and it is one of the most devastating parts of the book. I wanted to scream as if everyone in the courtroom could hear me. Lucky for them, they could not. This trial shows the truth of the revolution and the many injustices that were carried out without proof or reason. His second attempt to challenge Lazare is successful but at the cost of his security. He will battle Lazare until the end, with the only outcome being one of them meeting death.

Our second character is Andre de Valiere, another deserter of his title and lands, serving in the military during the Revolution. His father was led to the guillotine and his mother sent away leaving Andre and his brother to fight and keep a low profile. He falls for Sophie, General Murat’s niece, which seems to seal his fate. He does not understand Murat’s hate for him but learns in due course that it goes well beyond Sophie. He stands as witness for the defense for General Kellerman, and is eventually tried for his own “crimes” by the same men. His trial does not go the way the accusers planned. He is not led to the guillotine and this makes him a permanent enemy of Lazare and Murat. They believe the best way to defeat an enemy is to take away everything they love and care for and they very nearly succeed in Andre’s case.

This novel was not what I expected from Pataki. I was absorbed in The Traitor’s Wife, but Where the Light Falls was a bit of an acquired taste. It took me longer to read than I would have liked, but I was captivated halfway through once my hate for Lazare and Murat was settled. I had to know who would come out on top. Would the good guys prevail? The story seems well researched and although the men are fictional they are based on real characters during the Revolution. I sadly have not researched Napoleon Bonaparte well enough, but will be adding him to my list. I find the battles toward the end of the book in Egypt intriguing, and the fact that the French people, who so longed for an outcome of a republic government, settled so easily into an empire ruled by Bonaparte.

So was the bloodshed all worth it? This book will make you take a step back and think about the Revolution in a new way. 

Write About it Wednesday: Versailles 

“It’s truly one of the wonders of Europe and a place you’ll want to explore, either in person or as an arm-chair traveler with a good book.”

I have read a tremendous amount of work on the French Revolution. I could be considered somewhat obsessed, but I have never taken the time to find out information about Versailles. I ran across this short overview that has helped answer a few questions and led me to some interactive tours online. I wanted to share a few things with you in hopes that you may become as obsessed as I am and add a visit to your bucket list. Most importantly you will get a prelude before my review of Where the Light Falls by Allison and Owen Pataki. The novel is set during the French Revolution and the prologue is an instant trip to the guillotine.

Louis XIV wanted to build a palace to preserve his father’s favored hunting cottage. A grand palace and elaborate gardens were commissioned to be built surrounding the current cottage, but the land was a mosquito infested swamp. It took approximately 40,000 laborers working day and night without care for their safety to construct the palace and gardens. The king moved his entire court to live permanently in 1677 and began hosting elaborate celebrations and festivals. After Louis XIV’s death, the seat of government was moved back to Paris until Louis XV, now king, returned to Versailles at the age of 12. Louis XV ignored the advice of his great grandfather and began entering into numerous wars at the expense of the poor of his own country. The aristocracy were not required to pay taxes and the burden fell solely on the lower class. At Louis XV’s death, Louis XVI took control of a kingdom in debt and on the verge of revolution with a wife that enjoyed spending on designer fashion and elaborate parties. It was not a great combination.

Louis XVI was advised to begin taxing nobility. This was obviously not a popular solution and the massive debt reached its peak in 1778 when he agreed to help Americans in the war for their Independence. This decision led to his downfall and the seeds of their own revolution. The French wanted freedom from taxation like the Americans and a republic instead of a monarchy where their voices would be heard. Revolutionaries storm the Bastille and begin the reign of terror known as the French Revolution. Versailles is raided by an angry mob on October 6, 1789. I did not find a detailed account of the amount of damage that occurred, but it would be an interesting topic to research. Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette are executed in 1793 and France is in a mass upheaval. The bloodshed and terror that occurred are featured in numerous books and movies still being released today.

In 1833, Versailles was turned into a museum that is still open for tours. It is the 39th most popular place in the world and approximately 5.9 million people visit each year. You can tour the different rooms and gardens online at their website: http://en.chateauversailles.fr/. The Hall of Mirrors seems to be the favorite choice amongst guests boasting more than 578 mirrors. It is the site where the Treaty of Versailles was signed in 1919 ending World War One.

Have any of you visited Versailles? Is it on your bucket list? I would love to hear from you!

Book Review Saturday: Deep Storm

“Because everything, and everyone, in this facility is dispensable- except the drilling. That must continue at all costs. This work is of vital importance, and I will not allow anything or anyone to slow us down.”

Lincoln Child is a new author for me. I was checking in a recent arrival at the library, Full Wolf Moon, and was asked to read it by a patron. I do not like jumping ahead in a series and couldn’t bring myself to read it without reading book one. Deep Storm is unlike anything I have read before. I usually stick to what I know. Boring right? I am a better reader and writer for branching out on this one.

Dr. Peter Crane is notorious for solving bizarre medical conditions. He is called to an oil rig out on the North Atlantic to diagnose several patients with developing symptoms. He does not realize until he arrives that he will be descending below the ocean to a top secret research facility called the Deep Storm. First off, how did Child think of this? I think my imagination is seriously lacking. I have been around oil rigs and would never have thought of a) a dramatic, once in a lifetime discovery or b) an underwater research facility with intense scientific detail that makes the structure come to life. The details in this book seem 100% real. He must have done a tremendous amount of research or it is way past my current knowledge level. Once he descends and becomes acquainted with the medical and research staff, Dr. Crane begins to notice that things are not what they appear to be on Deep Storm. Instead of finding the lost city of Atlantis as he had been led to believe, they are uncovering something much more dangerous. Possibilities that do not seem possible begin to take hold. He finds an ally in which he confides to help solve the mysteries and keep the facility, Earth and the solar system itself, safe from destruction.

This book had my imagination spinning out of control. I do not read sci-fi and I do not typically enjoy thinking past the planet Earth. It’s shallow, I know. I have to admit though that Child has a truly special gift for storytelling. He brings the facility to life with his rich detail. His technique of bringing forth new characters at each chapter from their perspective brought a new life to my reading. Each character would describe their own symptoms and how it was affecting their daily life. Then Dr. Crane would be called to them in the next chapter to see their suffering through a more analytical standpoint. He interweaves everything into a true mystery and you are committed to finding out what the heck is happening in this place. Will they be saved in time? How many more will die? While this is happening the true story behind what lies under the facility is unfolding and the race to find a saboteur. The story is action packed and I truly enjoyed every minute of this book. I can get overwhelmed in my pile of books to read and it was nice to grab one on the recommendation of another person. It grabbed me and brought me out of my comfort zone. Well played Mr. Child.