So, for the record, this is what my star ratings mean:
5 stars = FREAKING EPIC, gigantic story, everything works well, my mind is blown that a human being thought this up.
4 stars = love this book, it's just not as humongous in scope as a 5. But it's totally awesome and everyone should read it, it's a keeper.
3 stars = mixed feelings (this is where the "I think others might like it, it's just not for me" reviews are likely to go). Not that bad, but has some issues, or it's an okay story but nothing really stands out to me as being memorable. It was a pleasant enough read for a few days, but I'll probably just end up giving the book away rather than rereading it again.
2 stars = generally pretty terrible, but not 100% so. There was at least one thing in this book that made it not totally horrible. This book isn't really recommended to all and sundry, but you might get some value out of the one thing if you try.
1 star (rarely seen here): It's a wallbanger. Nothing is redeemable about this book, it's utter crap, and I probably only finished reading it so I could do an awesome bitchrant about it and I can't justify doing that to books I didn't finish.
"Now I'm fighting some power-crazed god who'd like to end my life altogether. I'm in love with a magician and shooting a crossbow. And I'm drinking beer when I don't even like beer." --Sasha
When Nora Roberts writes fantasy romance trilogies, they tend to go in the same sort of way: three men and three women have to team up to defeat some kind of threat and retrieve some kind of weird objects from some alternate dimension/other world or something. (See previous reviews of the Keyofseries, theCircletrilogy, and Signof Seven trilogy.) The ideas behind them can sometimes be kind of weird. The start of this trilogy (Guardians) reminds me the most of the Key series, except less well done. Here's the weird thing about this: I didn't think this was the best created start of a trilogy ever, but I'll be intrigued to see where future books go with it. Mostly I just had issues with (a) it's a little confusing to figure out this whole "search for the stars" quest, and (b) the series pretty much dives in headfirst and almost all of the characters just kinda go with the weird premise without, I dunno, any period of adjustment or anything?
Anyway: the premise behind this is that uh....three goddesses created three stars and some other evil goddess wants them and the stars get lost. I think. I never quite got this plotline at all, to be honest. (This review is the clearest description I've found on what's going on, because lord knows the back of the book isn't clear.) However many years later, an artist named Sasha starts having dreams of people she's going to know on an island she's never been to before. She draws those people and then finally decides to book it to the island of Corfu and see what happens, and what happens is that she starts running into those people. Everyone other than Sasha is from some family line or other or is otherwise assigned to be looking for the stars, so Sasha is the only one this is kinda "new" to. And it turns out that everyone has some kind of superpower skill or is of another species, so that's kewl. (Annika in particular stands out in this one because from her first appearance you are all, "Either that girl ain't from Planet Earth and is some kind of alien, or she's possibly a mermaid, because clearly she is Not From Around Here.")
Everyone except maybe Sasha just happily falls into line into this "we're a team and we're supposed to look for stars and live together" thing without really thinking it's strange or taking some time to adjust, which I thought was weird. And they all get along, even though actual team fighting skills start out as being a problem and it takes awhile for all the team members to reveal what their special skills or species are. I did appreciate that Sasha is kind of a "weak link" when it comes to fighting and they did talk about getting her up to speed.
Sasha's new lifemate or whatever is Bran Killian, the group's magician (in both senses of the word). He seems like a nice enough bloke, but I just wasn't into Sasha as a personality because other than her seer skills, she's not very interesting. You don't feel like she has a past or a backstory or anything, she just kind of showed up there as a blank slate. Which is strange when I compare her to Annika, who literally just shows up there and yet you still feel like she'd got a past and is a person, albeit an odd one. I just found Sasha to be kind of boring, especially compared to most of the other characters who have bolder personalities. I liked Sawyer's geekiness (he likens the team to the Avengers once he finds out everyone's skills), Annika is a refreshing change to read, and my favorite was archaeologist Riley, who sounds super cool and I can't wait for her book because she said she's the kind of person who'd run from true love because that would make her settle down. That should be interesting in a romance series, eh?
So in short, I really wasn't that into this first book--and the plot is still confusing--but I'd like to hang out with Annika and Riley in future books and see how that goes. I'm giving this two and a half stars, but think there's potential for this series to be better.
This book attempts to tell the story of an enigmatic fellow who was far better doing manipulations behind the scenes than being the front man himself. After reading American Lion, I was actually rather psyched to find out what was going through Van Buren's head, but apparently there's not a lot to find out. I was listening to the Presidential podcast on Van Buren and even the historians really have no sense of what the dude was like at all personally, and he didn't leave a whole lot of information behind regarding his feelings or personal life. That said, I suppose this author did the best he could on trying to cover this fellow, and this is fairly comprehensive as far as I can tell. The author starts out by saying that not too many people have bothered with a biography of the guy, but there was a slight renaissance about him in the 1980s and 1997 when a few works came out. So why write this one now? Well, there's always room for a fresh overview of his role and activities that give insights into the time. And he was an innovative practitioner of a new style of national politics.
There's not a whole lot of details about Van Buren's early life. His dad was a tavern keeper, he was Dutch, he was married and had four sons and his wife died. To quote the author: "Hannah remains an elusive figure…there is little record of her and of the nature of the relationship that existed between husband and wife over the next decade….She appears to have spent their time together firmly rooted in the conventional female roles of the day, preoccupied with her family and providing her husband with a stable and secure home environment.” (Bo-ring.) “As noted earlier, the nature and quality of the Van Burens’ domestic relationship can only be guessed at given the lack of evidence about it. He never mentioned Hannah in his published writings set down almost forty years after her death. His comments about her in personal correspondence were sparse, and usually guarded, when they happened at all.” He seemed content with not remarrying and being a devoted dad.
Van Buren started out as a Republican (well, who didn't at that point, I guess) like his daddy, but there's no real reason anyone can pinpoint as to why. He was good at being a lawyer and working on campaigns, and thought political parties were necessary and a good thing. “But there is only a little evidence one way or another as to his interests and experiences, and none as to his motivation, in the many years that followed.” There's a quote from some anonymous person saying that, “He was wary in committing himself upon any quest, until the time came for action, and when that moment arrived, he was as prompt and decided as Napoleon himself.” He was good at maneuvering, management, compromise, and party-building.
He became Secretary of State to Jackson, and while they didn't start out super close at the time, they became good friends while working together and would take horseback rides together frequently. It became a mentor/acolyte sort of relationship. The author doesn't think he was a great secretary of state because he had no overarching vision. Van Buren's friend George Bancroft who wrote a biography of him came up with this: “were distinguished by his effective industry.” (The author is all, this is the best he could come up with!) Either way, apparently there's nothing much to say about what he was doing in the job until my favorite drama, the Petticoat Affair, came up.
Van Buren actually liked the Eatons and Margaret personally, and he was fine with socializing with them along with some of his friends in the diplomatic corps. “All of them were either bachelors or widowers, and were presumably less susceptible to the kinds of social pressures being directed against others on the scene.” This gave him the advantage with Jackson.
“Looking back, all of this may seem, in retrospect, to have been a silly and demeaning matter for politically seasoned adults to be so concerned about and to fight over so viciously. But in the social culture of the time, “the Eaton malaria” clearly was a real concern to those involved, much discussed, serious and quite damaging to relations at the highest level of the administration. “If no blood was spilled” over it, Van Buren later wrote, “a sufficient quantity of ink certainly was shed upon the subject.” All of it, it was noted then, and since, was to his ultimate benefit. Van Buren’s attitudes and actions in accepting the Eatons, and consorting with them socially, stood him in good stead with the president, while, at the same time, further raising the already unusually fierce ire of their opponents.”
Van Buren came up with the strategic move to resign from office. According to the author, he thought it would deflect widespread public notions that Jackson was under his influence and would allow for other cabinet members to resign as well--and get people to be less suspicious about whatever Van Buren was up to. Jackson okayed this and then appointed Van Buren as the minister to England. Assuming all would be fine with that, Van Buren moved to England. However, when his nomination came up for confirmation in the Senate, there was a tie in the votes and Calhoun, the vice president who was not at all fond of him by now, voted no. “The tally had been deliberately maneuvered by the anti-Jacksonians, led by Daniel Webster and Henry Clay, so that the tie-breaking vote against confirming him could be cast by the presiding officer of the Senate, Vice President Calhoun. He did so with all the malice aforethought for which the South Carolinan was noted, ringingly declaring to another senator, “it will kill him, sir, kill him dead. He will never kick, sir, never kick.”
“Van Buren lived to kick again.” (Hahahahahah.) Despite the defeat, his friends were amused at what happened because it made Van Buren look like a martyr and would guarantee him a vice presidential nomination--which it did. He took his sweet time returning to the US and toured Europe for awhile, so he remained out of the direct line of fire while the campaign evolved at home. He got nominated for vice president while he was gone. I have to kind of admire his strategery here, somehow. The dude was pretty good at keeping his head down while getting the results he wanted most of the time. He tried to be cordial with people and come off as imperturbable in public.
When he got back, the Whig party was rising in popularity and Van Buren was getting some public snubbing about how his being good at operating politically was what was making him rise to the top rather than his own personal talents. He tried to be cordial to his enemies, but that wasn't exactly a successful strategy socially.
Van Buren's vice president was Richard M. Johnson, a fellow who'd had a long time public relationship with a black woman and had kids with her. Van Buren would have preferred someone else, but Johnson was too popular in the party. Look, I don't wish a retroactive early death on the fellow, but man, can you imagine the fun storm that would erupted if Van Buren had died and Johnson had become president?! I wanna see THAT alternate history book.
Naturally, Van Buren didn't come off as popularly as Jackson did--he wasn't bold and charismatic like Jackson, didn't really inspire anyone, and Davy Crockett's comparison was "dung to a diamond"--but basically he was running on a policy of maintaining Jackson's legacy and I guess people were fine with that. He was very into party politics and states' rights and following the values of Jefferson, and when he became president he was pretty happy with how things were going. Even though he was a Northerner (from New York), Van Buren was pretty hands off on states' rights, wasn't an abolitionist, and didn't want to upset the Southerners by arguing with them about the legality of slavery. He was dedicated to preserving what Jackson had created and didn't think he needed to come up with any agenda, because Jackson already dealt with the hard stuff, right? The bank is dead, Indians are almost out of here, the tariff/nullification drama's under control.... one historian has called his inaugural speech as president “essentially a charter for inaction.”
However...everything started falling apart pretty much right after Van Buren got into office, and an economic crisis happened. I'm not going to get into all the financial disasters that went on, I'll just leave it as English banks started having problems and tightened their credit policies, which led to a domino effect on American banks. Banks were closing, there was a slowdown, factories and cotton sales were declining. How did Van Buren deal with this? He decided to keep following the policy and ideological paths he'd decided on ages ago. He worried about the presidency being too powerful and didn't think he needed to make bold choices. He attempted to proceed cautiously and he wasn't too sympathetic about the greedy financial community having problems. He figured the nation's economic system would correct itself naturally, but he did do a few limited proposals to attempt to alleviate things. That didn't help. Senator Thomas Hart Benton said that "no President ever had a more difficult time."
“By most historians’ estimates, he was not a successful chief executive. The main reason for that evaluation lies in his inability to respond effectively to the sudden and unexpected downturn in the nation’s fortunes, that is, to find a means, consistent with his ideological commitments, to improve the situation confronting him.”
In the election of 1840, the Whigs came up with their own version of Jackson--William Henry Harrison. He was a war hero! He had a snappy theme song with the line, “Matty Van is a used up man.” And as you'll see when I get to the next presidential book, the Whigs did a knockout job of campaigning. By comparison, the Democrats tended to barely mention their candidate or discuss him, because their priority was "measures, not men." They campaigned on policies and being right and superior, which is unfortunately reminding me of this Washington Post article saying that people vote on emotion, not logic. The issues and times were against Van Buren, and he lost. People weren't excited about voting for him, and Van Buren didn't get why reason and justice didn't win and that his lack of policies brought him down. He thought he'd just run for office again in four years, but the Democrats thought he had too much baggage and not enough love. It also didn't help that he wrote a letter to a William Hammet discussing how he felt about annexing Texas. He was a middle ground guy, not against Texas joining the union eventually but didn’t want to do it right now, though certain conditions should be dealt with first. Southerners wanted Texas NOW, so that didn’t go well.
Van Buren lost the nomination, but stayed loyal enough to the party to work to get Polk into office. Van Buren reasonably assumed that when Polk won, he'd have some advantage there, and wrote him some letters of advice and cabinet suggestions. But Polk decided to do his own thing (he wasn't exactly clued in on New York politics and whose behind to kiss) instead, which ticked off Van Buren. All he got for his efforts was an offer to go back to being minister to Great Britain, which he turned down.
Van Buren and his pals decided they didn't owe the president anything at this point, and wanted to bring down their enemies and restore their political power to its TRUE pathway! Van Buren wrote a document called, no joke, "the Barnburner Manifesto" (love this) that did a lot of analysis and was designed to establish his people and their beliefs as THE Democratic Party! At the nominating convention in 1848, his people demanded that their group be recognized as THE TRUE AND ONLY DEMOCRACY from New York...and they were offended when that didn't happen. So then they quit the Democratic Party and started their own party, Free Soil. Van Buren was nominated as the independent candidate for president, which was kind of weird since Free Soil was antislavery and Van Buren was basically okay with it. In the end, the Free Soilers decided to keep him as their candidate, probably for the publicity. Of course they didn't win, and any Barnburners holding federal office got booted out of their jobs by Polk. So that went well.
At the end of his life, Van Buren attempted to write his autobiography, but then got bored and didn't bother to write in it past about the 1830's. Like everything else, it revealed very little about his personality and just mentioned events. “But the author offers few lessons or provides much evaluation, or insight, beyond the surface events comprising his life.”
I guess that sums up the guy as far as we can tell?
So ah....three stars, I guess. This book is probably doing as well with its enigmatic subject matter as can be expected!
Rowena Duncan just found out that her boyfriend's cheating on her. When she sees a very random job ad looking for a body art specialist, she decides to apply for it and finds out that it's a monthlong job at a Renaissance faire. Rowena hasn't particularly known anything about these things before, but bails on her previous summer job to work at this one so she can get away from the world for a while. As probably anyone who's ever been to a faire knows, they're fun places. Rowena enjoys getting to know people and delving into her art, getting more and more elaborate in the face paintings that she does and starting to branch out in other ways. Rowena's parents are high-powered folks who expect her to major in econ and also become high-powered someday, but this experience leads her to decide that she wants to go to art school. But however will she convince her parents?
There's not a whole lot of plot to this book, really, it's mostly about enjoying and experiencing life at the Faire. The other plot of the book is of course boy-related. Which guy will Rowena get into a fairemance with--hunky knight Christian or sweet whipcracker Will? I'll admit it's so obvious who's the Bad Boy and who's the Good Guy that there's a fair amount of waiting around for Rowena to figure that out, which got on my nerves a bit. But that said, Will is a genuinely nice and charming dude and fun to read about, as is Rowena's roomie Suze. And I enjoyed reading about Rowena's art, especially towards the end when I really wished I could physically see the costumes and the mural she worked on. Her stories of making depressed kids happier through art are very sweet and charming. And while part of me was all, "Seriously she was able to get cheap or free historically accurate costumes for this job?"* overall the rest of it is plausible and will definitely make you wish you could work at a faire too. It sounds like a very good time.
* disclaimer: never worked at a faire, but I took a Renaissance costume class and I know how much it is to get costumes and how much time and effort it takes to make them, especially a corset! It's not cheap or fast!
Anyway, it's a rather slight book with not a lot of plot, but it's a fun fast read that will make you wish you could work at a faire too. So, three and a half stars.
“I was born for a storm and a calm does not suit me.” -Andrew Jackson.
Some Presidential books cover the person’s whole life. Others just seem to pick a time period and run for it. (For example, Becoming Madison barely even mentions that the dude was president.) This book gives a brief skimming of Jackson’s earlier life and then hops right into discussing his presidency right after his wife died. Some books, like this one, like to emphasize exactly what the core belief of the president was all about.
“Jackson valued two things in life above all others: his country and his family. He saw little distinction between the two, and his instinct to fight and to defend both-to be a father twice over-drove him from his obscure birth in the Carolinas to the pinnacle of power.”
“I feel in the depths of my soul, that it is the highest, most sacred and most irreversible part of my obligation, to preserve the union of these states, although it may cost me my life.” -Jackson in a draft of his second inaugural address in 1833.
“Jackson carried an image of the Union around in his head, a vision of the United States and its people as an extension of his own clan in which he was alternately father and son. From childhood, Jackson was in search of a structure into which he could fit, find reassurance and stability, and come to control.”
“With the feelings of a father, Jackson’s familial vision had intriguing implications for the life of the nation. For General Jackson, it meant that in battle he was fighting not for a distant cause but for the survival of his own kin. For President Jackson, it meant that there was little difference between the personal and the political. His was a White House roiled by intrigue, war, and sexual scandal, and it left a permanent mark on the nation. This book is not a history of the Age of Jackson but a portrait of the man and of his complex relationships with the intimate circle that surrounded him as he transformed the presidency. The story of Jackson’s life and of his White House years is of his long, unrelenting war to keep his family and his country safe-a long, unrelenting war that helped shape the way we live now.”
So there you go. Jackson was an...interesting fellow, to say the least. To be honest, he's a problematic fave of mine because he's such a dramatic and interesting personality/character and very fun to read about...and then you're all "oh crap, the Indians" about him. He had a lot of things going on with him:
He was the first at...
expanding presidential powers more than anyone else had so far.
being a common man who got elected and championed other common men.
maintaining a "kitchen cabinet" of advisors.
insisting that he was the only official elected by ALL the people and based a lot of things on that.
He was a man of contradictions!
He championed freedom and democracy to poor whites, but at the same time was unrepentant about owning slaves.
He was the guy responsible for moving Indians (I'm just gonna use the term they used at the time, ok?) off their ancestral lands, but also rescued an Indian orphan on a battlefield that he and his wife raised as one of their various adopted kids. (For the record, they had three adopted sons, the other two being their nephews that other family members let them raise and name after Andrew. So many Andrews in that family, you guys.)
He really really really super hated the Bank of the United States and thought it was corrupt (true at the time, though), but also wanted to preserve the power and prestige of central government.
“Like us and our America, Jackson and his America achieved great things while committing grievous sins.”
Other fun things Jackson did:
Only American president to get shot in a frontier gunfight. Oh yeah, and DUELING. You thought Aaron Burr was bad for doing it as a vice president.
Only American president who tried to assault his own would-be assassin. (Badass!)
He held a ton of positions: lawyer, congressman, senator, judge, major general.
As a young man, arranged for the town prostitutes of Salisbury, North Carolina to attend the society Christmas ball.
“He was the most roaring, rollicking, game-cocking, card-playing, mischievous fellow that ever lived in Salisbury,” said somebody or other not named. Another local woman said, “Well, if Andrew Jackson can be president, anybody can!”
He's described as “commanding, shrewd, intuitive yet not especially articulate, alternately bad-tempered and well-mannered.” Basically, if he liked you you were his best pal and if you disagreed with him, things got....awkward. He wanted to be admired and in charge. He was pretty codependent after losing his entire family at an early age and clung like hell to his wife's relatives, who adored him. Life pretty much revolved around him and he had to get his way. Jackson was a charismatic dude who trusted no one until they proved they were trustworthy, but would be polite even to the two-faced.
This book doesn't talk too much about Jackson's life before the presidency (if you want to know more about that, check the review of "The President's Lady"), but pretty much launches right into Jackson's presidency and the major dramas of it. But I'll cover his early life. His dad died before he was born, his remaining family had to move in with a rich aunt and his mother had to be the lady's housekeeper, and the rest of the family wasn't too into them. Then the British invaded and captured the remaining Jackson sons. One officer ordered Andrew to polish his boots and Andrew refused and said he was a prisoner of war and demanded to be treated as such,. The officer tried to smack him in the head with his sword. Andrew blocked it, but ended up scarred from the experience. His brother got smacked on the head instead. They ended up in a prison camp and got sick. Their mother got them out but they had to hike 45 miles back home, ended up in a storm with smallpox, and the brother died. After that, his mother made the mistake of going to nurse others and died away from Andrew.
Andrew grew up to become a lawyer and rented a room from the Donelson family, which had among its number one Rachel Donelson Robards. Rachel's husband was paranoid and jealous and did classy things like constantly accusing her of cheating and throwing her out of her home a lot, and she met Andrew when she was staying with her mother. They got interested in each other, but obviously couldn't really do anything about it, and naturally this made her husband more crazy. Rachel actually had to leave America and hide out in Spanish territory for awhile to get away from him. Eventually Robards stomped off to supposedly get a divorce. Later Andrew and the entire Donelson family heard through the rumor mill that her first husband managed to petition the legislature for a divorce, so she got married to Andrew. And then found out two years later that he'd only just kinda started the process and didn't bother to finish it for another two years. So yeah, technically they had committed bigamy and had to get married again. Rachel literally never heard the end of it and got slandered all over the place for the rest of her life, and her husband got into duels with anyone who slandered her (sample quote: “Great God! Do you mention her sacred name?”), including the governor of Tennessee, and straight up killed one guy, Charles Dickinson. Amusingly enough, Jackson let Dickinson, a renowned shot, get him first (though Jackson had on a huge coat that probably threw off the man's aim) and then shot him afterwards. He later learned to chill out and not lose his temper when everyone was riling him up, and learned to be strategic about whether or not to be angry in a given situation.
Naturally, all of this bigamy stuff was fun during Jackson's presidential campaigns and she was insulted out the wazoo, but then he wasn't able to duel that many people. The first time he ran for office, well, you can read about that in the JQA book. The second time, he won. When Andrew won the election Rachel said, “Well, for Mr. Jackson’s sake I am glad; for my own part I never wished it.” Pretty soon after that she had a heart attack and died after she found out what was really being said about her. It was a huge tragedy. Remember this for later because it influences a lot about the first few years of his presidency.
After his wife died, Jackson's adopted nephew and niece (first cousins who married each other) Andrew Jackson Donelson and Emily Donelson accompanied him to the White House to be his secretary and First Lady. It was a giant family lovefest of adoration between all of them. Until...
Okay, I totally got fascinated by this story like you wouldn't believe and I went to the library and got every dang book on the topic I could find. I'm obsessed now because it's such ludicrously funny drama, known as "The Petticoat Affair." Here's what happened:
Jackson was longtime friends with John Henry Eaton, as well as his new wife Margaret. Margaret's family ran a popular boardinghouse in Washington that both men stayed at, and she was very outspoken and popular with the menfolk...but not so much with the ladies as far as I can tell. My impression is that she was kind of a Scarlett O'Hara type in that she always got on with men but not most women, and got on a lot of people's nerves even if her intentions were good, and she was probably quite blabbermouthy and forceful. (Note to women of the past: it's never good to be one of those women who can't get along with those of her own gender.)
Margaret was married to a John Timberlake, a Navy purser who had a lot of financial difficulties and died mysteriously at sea. Eaton was a friend to the Timberlakes and married Margaret within a year of her husband's death, which scandalized everyone no end. An amazing amount of rumors went around about Margaret, basically saying she was a cheating slut who had a miscarriage when her husband had been gone for a year, her husband killed himself because he knew she was cheating, etc., etc. When Jackson chose Eaton to be his Secretary of War, that made them technically part of the Washington elite society---except most women in that society did not like Margaret. To be fair, my impression is that the men were the ones bitching about Margaret being a hobag and the women were just put off by her being off-putting. Amusingly enough, two preachers (one of them being the preacher that Jackson and the Eatons patronized) were the head rumormongers of the whole thing, and Jackson and Margaret were totally disgusted when they found that out.
Jackson, who was permanently scarred by all the slut shaming his wife went through, was firmly on the side of Margaret and spent a lot of time combing through every bad rumor and refuting them, and championing his friends out the wazoo, and insisting that everyone who loved him had to love the Eatons too. Except the problem with that was that his niece Emily was really put off by Margaret and after awhile refused to socialize with her any more, and her husband went along with that. At one point Emily was seven months pregnant and about to faint on a boat and Margaret offered her fan and bottle of cologne, but Emily refused them--she'd rather faint, thanks. John Eaton wrote an angry letter to Emily telling her not to listen to her Washington friends, she wrote an angry one back. She and Martin Van Buren (Secretary of State at the time, friend to the Eatons, and man who knew what side his bread was buttered on) got into a fight about it when she asked him how he felt about her, and her other cousin Mary overheard the whole thing and started crying. Eventually Jackson just kicked Emily out of the White House and left her home with her mother, leaving Andrew Donelson in an awkward position. He elected to stay with his uncle.
As for the menfolks: Jackson's cabinet was divided between the pro-Eatons (Eaton himself, Van Buren, and another Eaton family friend, William Berry) and the other three dudes whose wives refused to socialize with her. Jackson was blaming the whole thing on his vice president, John C. Calhoun (who incidentally looks like a non-blue version of the Muppet Sam the Eagle). Ironically, Calhoun spent most of this time in South Carolina because he and Jackson weren't getting along, and the only thing he had to really do with it was being married to his wife, and his wife refused to call on the Eatons. However, since his wife refusing to call set off the whole drama....
Van Buren got the bright idea that he could solve the problem by quitting his job. You're probably thinking what I did, which is "Wait, what?" and "Wouldn't it solve the problem by having Eaton quit his job?" You're quite right, because Van Buren announced that he'd quit because of this scandal and Eaton was all, "Wait a minute, if anyone should quit it should be me," and thus they both quit together. Jackson used their quitting as an excuse for canning/pushing for the resignations of everyone else in the Cabinet but Berry. The canned Cabinet members were not thrilled, and Eaton actually started harassing them, including actually gathering up a posse and lying in wait for one of them, forcing that guy to flee town. Meanwhile, Van Buren got appointed to be an envoy to England, but Calhoun got his revenge by making sure that his appointment was denied in Congress. Jackson's reaction to this was suitably dramatic: “By the Eternal! I’ll smash them!” which I think is something we should say to this day. Calhoun has a rare brief moment of triumph, saying, “It will kill him, sir, kill him dead. He will never kick, sir, never kick.” He was wrong, since guess who ended up quitting the vice presidency and who ended up being president next? Uh-huh. This incident also led to a crooked purser (the replacement for Margaret's dead first husband) getting booted out of the military, and he was the first man to actually attack a President--by twisting his nose. Because...that was a thing?
In short, the Petticoat Affair was about two years of ridiculosity that overshadowed pretty much everything else going on in Washington, and god knows the Eatons continued to have drama off and on even after that. But I'll get to that later. I should probably discuss some other issues that went on during that period of time....which to be honest weren't as fascinating to me as the Petticoat Affair.
Jackson believed in going to church, but refused to officially “join” the church-i.e. never made a public confession of faith in a congregation so he could take communion. He didn’t want to do that for public consumption/have it chalked up to politics, and told his wife when he was clear of politics he’d do it. I kinda admire this.
Jackson was big on filling positions with his people and booting out ones from the previous administration, but he could be swayed by emotional appeals and stories of courage. So when General Solomon Van Rensselaer was about to be fired, he went to the White House and not only begged for his job, he started stripping off his clothes to show the wounds he got fighting against the English. Jackson actually cried looking at this and let the guy keep his job. He was impressed that the man carried more than a pound of British lead in his body (note that this is coming from a guy carrying his own deathly hardware).
Jackson's feelings on the Indians: he thought that he was their "Great Father," that he knew best, and he was doing the best for everyone's interests. American people wanted their land and were going to take it, and the only hope for the Indians would be for them to move and adapt to white ways. To him that was practical, and he could not come up with any better solution than removal and submission. He thought emigration should be voluntary and acknowledged that making them move was cruel--but if they stayed, they'd be subject to state law. The Trail of Tears went on during Van Buren's term, but it was Jackson's policy that lead to 4000 of 16,000 Cherokees dying while they underwent forced migration that Jackson didn't try to mitigate.
Jackson had to deal with the state of South Carolina (and Calhoun, who was big on this) wanting to practice nullification and just not following whatever federal laws they didn't want to. Supposedly the principle behind this was that the federal government only existed at the will of the states, so if a state disagreed with a federal law, It could just not follow that law within its borders. Jackson thought single states being able to veto things would lead to civil war. Jackson was so ticked at this whole thing that he was about ready to rally troops to make them follow the law. Luckily for them all, Congress revised the tariff the South Carolinans were objecting to, so they backed down.
Sadly I wasn’t quite as captivated by the bank drama, but there’s plenty of that too. Jackson was afraid of banks, debt and lenders (he got financially screwed once upon a time) and spent the years after the Petticoat Affair at war against Nicholas Biddle, the corrupt dude running the US Bank. Admittedly, the bank was pretty corrupt at the time (later presidents agreed on that), but it probably would have been better to just reform the bank rather than straight up killing it like he did. Plus, y'know, making Hamilton roll over in his grave again. There's a moment where one fellow showed up with a petition for the president and Jackson just yelled at him and his compatriots while he ranted on about Biddle until they left. “Afterward, Jackson savored his performance. His madness had been all method. “Didn’t I manage them well?” he said, cheerily, an old warrior thinking of a battle well fought.” He would pull that trick again and again whenever pleading bankers or merchants showed up. Jackson won that battle and had the bank killed, but the Senate did censure him for exceeding his authority.
On the other hand, Jackson did get the national debt paid.
Josiah Quincy said that parents in the Northeast would sometimes invoke Jackson’s name to scare the children. According to Harriet Martineau, a New England Sunday school teacher once asked a child who killed Abel. The answer: “General Jackson.”
The first straight up attempted presidential assassination happened to Jackson in 1835, when Richard Lawrence shot two guns at him and both of them managed not to fire. Jackson instead attacked the dude with his walking stick. The author says that the damp air in the Rotunda probably helped to dampen the powder in the guns. “The odds of two guns failing to fire during the attack, it was later determined, were 125,000 to one.”
There's a recounting of the last Christmas party that Emily Donelson threw at the White House for the grandchildren. (She got to return eventually.) The kids asked Jackson if he ever saw Santa and he said no, we can only wait and see. “I once knew a little boy who not only never heard of Christmas or Santa Claus, but never had a toy in his life; and after the death of his mother, a pure, saintly woman, had neither home nor friends.” “Chorus of children: “Poor little fellow! Had he come to the White House we would have shared our playthings with him.” OMG SO SAD THAT WAS HIS LIFE.
It's also noted that Van Buren got a mirror for Christmas as a present because he was “reputed to be on very good terms with his looking-glass.”
Supposedly someone asked a slave at the Hermitage whether he thought Jackson would go to heaven, and the response was, “If the General wants to go, who’s going to stop him?”
So what happened to everyone else in the book after Jackson's eventual death is covered at the end, which I appreciated.
John Eaton went through several jobs--president of a canal company, governor of Florida, minister to Spain--before eventually getting canned and going home to practice law. (Amusingly, the guy Eaton replaced in Spain went around saying that the Eatons drank a lot of rum and Margaret smoked cigars.) Eaton and Jackson's infamous friendship was broken up when Eaton decided to support William Henry Harrison for election, but they made up once before Jackson died.
Margaret married a 19-year-old dance instructor when she was 59 and widowed again, and he eventually ran off with her money and her granddaughter.
Emily Donelson died at age 29 and it sounds like Andrew Donelson was never the same after that. He had some jobs, his life went to hell, he moved west and was miserable and died.
Andrew Jackson Jr. accidentally shot himself in the hand and died of lockjaw.
“Jackson was a transformative president in part because he had a transcendent personality; other presidents who followed him were not transformative, and served unremarkably.”
I also liked the bit about what other presidents thought about him.
Theodore Roosevelt said: “Jackson had many faults, but he was devotedly attached to the Union, and he had no thought of fear when it came to defending his country...With the exception of Washington and Lincoln, no man has left a deeper mark on American history; and though there is much in his career to condemn, yet all true lovers of America can unite in paying hearty respect to the memory of a man who was emphatically a true American, who served his country valiantly on the field of battle against a foreign foe, and who upheld with the most staunch devotion the cause of the great Federal Union.” Also, Harry Truman used to sneak off in a corner and read books about Jackson rather than tend to the customers in their haberdashery. Hah. He also had a statue put up for him.
In the author’s note, he says:
“A figure who could be at once so brilliant and yet so bloody-minded, so tender yet so cold, merits our attention, for the virtues and vices of this single man tell us much about the virtues and vices of our country.
This book is not an academic study of his presidency. My aim was different. There are many books for those seeking full-scale accounts and assessments of Jackson’s life, or his time, or of the politics and policies of his controversial careers in business, in the military, and in government. By drawing on part on previously unavailable documents--chiefly letters of Jackson’s intimate circle that have largely been in private hands for the past 175 years--I have attempted to paint a biographical portrait of Jackson and of many of the people who lived and worked with him in his tumultuous years in power.”
And you know what? He did an excellent job of it. This is by far the most fun and interesting and enjoyable Presidential read I've come across. I downright whipped through the whole first half of the book drooling over the drama. I'm giving this 4.5 stars for near epicness and awesome.
London Police Constable Peter Grant's about to get out of his probationary period and get assigned to doing paperwork for other cops, until he discovers at a crime scene that he can see ghosts. After casually mentioning this to a fellow that turns out to be a fellow copper, he finds himself reassigned--to work with Thomas Nightingale, the London police's only working wizard. Yes, there's a police wizard, and Peter's going to be his new apprentice. The two get to work on a horrifying series of cases in which people's faces are straight up falling off or their heads are exploding (or other terrible murder goes on), and it has to be magic-related. Peter ropes in his best friend/fellow copper/unrequited crush Leslie May for assistance, along with a victim's dog and the aforementioned ghost he saw.
Peter also gets acquainted with the various anthropomorphic personifications of the various rivers of London. Most of them are friendly (especially Beverley, who seems to have a crush on Peter), but occasionally some are not (watch out for her sister Ty). Mama Thames and Father Thames are rather estranged at this point, and Peter needs to figure out a way for the two sides to work out their differences.
I enjoyed reading this book--Peter's snark factor is pretty dang high and very fun to read. Even though the main cast is kinda small, they're fun to get to know. You end up really feeling for Leslie, and in the end Peter has to do some creative thinking in order to get to the heart of what's really going on. I'd be interested in seeing what goes on later after this book. So overall I'm giving it four stars and a whopping Quote Corner just for kicks.
"Leslie was short, blond and impossibly perky even when wearing a stab vest. We'd gone through basic training at Hendon together before being transferred to Westminster for our probation. We maintained a strictly professional relationship despite my deep-seated yearning to climb into her uniform trousers."
"This is why every newly minted constable, regardless of educational background, has to spend a two-year probationary period as an ordinary plod on the streets. This is because nothing builds character like being abused, spat on and vomited at by members of the public."
"All he needed was a slightly ethnic younger boyfriend and I'd have had to call the cliche police. When he strolled over to talk to me, I thought he might be looking for that slightly ethnic boyfriend after all. "Hello," he said. He had a proper upper-class accent, like an English villain in a Hollywood movie. "What are you up to?" I thought I'd try the truth. "I'm ghost-hunting," I said. "Interesting," he said. "Any particular ghost?"
"So there I was, having just told a senior Detective Chief Inspector that I was hunting ghosts, which, if he believed me, meant he thought I was bonkers or, if he didn't believe me, meant he thought I was cruising and looking to perpetuate an obscene act contrary to public order."
'He was from Yorkshire or somewhere like that and, like many Northerners with issues, he'd moved to London as a cheap alternative to psychotherapy."
"If you find yourself talking to the police, my advice is to stay calm and look guilty; it's your safest bet."
"No one can fake a statement the way a policeman can."
"Nightingale and I did what all good coppers do when faced with a spare moment in the middle of the day--we went looking for a pub."
"I certainly wanted to scream, but I remembered right then and there Leslie and I were the only coppers on the scene and the public doesn't like it when the police start screaming; it contributes to an impression of things not being conducive to public calm."
"Everyone is always so pleased to see the police arrive, because we have to save them whether we like them or not."
"The motto of West African cooking is that if the food doesn't set fire to the tablecloth the cook is being stingy with the pepper."
For the last four years, Charlie Tracker and "Fielding Withers" (real name: Aaron Littleton) have been the teen stars of the Family Channel's hit show, "Jenna and Jonah's How to Be a Rock Star." For the last four years, the Family Channel has dictated that the two of them be in a showmance (or fauxmance, if you will) for the public. While Charlie and Aaron might have found each other cute once upon a time, four years in they're pretty well sick of each other. Aaron in particular would rather that the show end so he can stop faking everything and go to college and move on with his life already, but Charlie doesn't know what else she'd do.
Aaron has a closeted gay actor friend named James Linden, and Aaron frequently goes over to his house for Xbox parties. At one of those parties, one of the guests sends pictures of James and his boyfriend from James' computer--and "outs" "Fielding" as being part of their gay entourage. Even though Aaron's not gay, he actually enjoys people thinking he is and he isn't super inclined to be honest about that--he's kinda thrilled to have his life blow up!
The media goes into a frenzy, and Aaron and Charlie end up having to flee the set and the media. They end up hiding out in one of Aaron's rental properties, essentially just chilling out and detoxing and getting to know one another without the burdens of fame on their backs. By the time they're found out, the Jenna and Jonah show has been canceled, but their agents have arranged for them to do a stint as Beatrice and Benedick in Much Ado About Nothing at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. (Having been to that a few times, I say cool!) It may be Charlie's favorite play, but both of them have issues wondering if they can actually act and if they're good enough to pull this off, especially with a cast that's naturally a little resentful of their presence. However, Charlie finds a friendly mentor and Aaron befriends the girl playing Hero, and both of their new friends come to the conclusion that Charlie and Aaron are pretty similar in feeling to the characters they play.
This book reminded me a fair amount of What I Did For Love, especially when the characters talked about their memories of the show and how they relate episodes to their real life. It's a fond thing for them to recall, and rather sweet. As child stars, both of them feel kind of lost. Charlie had to get emancipated from her family and has been swept up in trying to fulfill audience expectations, and doesn't know what she'd do without a regular gig. Aaron keeps thinking, well, this is better than the crap job my dad has to work back in Ohio, and while his parents love him, they're occupied with his sister's gymnastics career. (On the other hand, they're happy to join PFLAG for him!)
I did enjoy the two of them getting to know each other, and I always love Much Ado references and parallels. I thought they could have used a bit more budding romance once they get to Oregon, and Aaron's growing up process is a bit more developed than Charlie's, but overall I really enjoyed reading this. You can get why these two would eventually pair off when not being forced into the matter. So I had a lot of fun reading it and I give it four stars.
I liked this, but man, I wish it'd been longer and more comprehensive.
Joss Aaronson lives in Australia in the future, where time travel has been invented and one can go to college to learn how to do it, people can be created out of a mix of genetics in a petri dish, and aliens (Chorians) have arrived on Earth for an exchange of knowledge. Joss is the daughter of famous media star Ingrid and she's been pretty much ignored by her mother for years--but at least the connections helped get her into time travel college. Joss is also a musician, and looks forward to using time travel skills to investigate music history. Even if the program requires partnership, which Joss isn't so much into.
However, a Chorian named Mavkel has been admitted to the program, and he needs to scan someone as to who's appropriate for him to match with. He's a match with Joss, much to their delight. Joss likes the idea of getting to know an alien, even if he has heightened security measures around him. As for Mavkel, Chorians are basically hermaphrodite twins, and he lost his twin to death fairly recently. Usually Chorians don't survive alone, so the government is trying to figure out what to do with Mavkel and if he can be saved. Can Joss help? Mavkel needs to bond--REALLY PSYCHICALLY BOND-- with Joss, but somehow he can't do that all the way without knowing who Joss's sperm donor father was. Since the evidence has been deep-sixed and destroyed in Joss's time, they'll need to do some time travel to figure out who it is.
Honestly, the one thing wrong with this is it was a little too quick and fast for me. I like Joss as a character, and I like the earnest and sweet Mavkel, and I liked Joss's parental issues with her mother and with her former stepmother Louise. When Joss goes back in time, it does fill in holes in the story and makes things in the plot work. Even if the big revelation of Joss's parentage is a little weird and vague in some ways (why that dude donated sperm, I do not know), and beats me why that's a thing for Chorians, overall it works. I also liked how Joss's music skills tied into the plot and especially with what Mavkel needed emotionally and physically. I just wish it was...a little more filled out? I just felt like some more could have been done with it, and I'm not sure I can really explain why. Maybe I just wished it was longer. But also, there's barely anything ON actual time travel until it happens (how's it going? beats me), and there's not a whole lot of candidates for who Joss's father could be, so that's not a enormous shocker to the reader, more like a "Oh, so that's why things are going like that."
"Every superhero has an origin story. Mine began with a box of cereal."
Well, this book is like several different roller coasters. At once. I've seen reviews online that said this is pretty much three books in one, and that is certainly true. Most people would have had this be a trilogy, I think.
Maisie Danger Brown--yes, that's her middle name--is a one-handed girl living in a future where there's a space elevator and the lady who built is is now running an astronaut boot camp, complete with contest to get in. Of course Maisie does, and she and her "fireteam" and her new love interest, Jonathan Ingalls Wilder (yup) end up being picked to go check out the space elevator, which is something pretty much nobody gets to do. If you're thinking, "Hey, who brings random kids from space camp up the space elevator that nobody's allowed to go up and just be a tourist on?" you're quite right. Because then the head of the space elevator and her posse let the kids check out the first proof of alien life ever discovered. These turn out to be five tokens that when touched, suck themselves into the bodies of the kids and give them superpowers. Super strength, bacterial body armor, being able to make your own bullets...Maisie develops the ability to be a technowizard, and her boyfriend Wilder ends up being the "thinker" of the operation.
You'd think this would be turning into a kewl story of kids with superpowers. You'd be wrong. Because hoo boy, do things go wrong, the tokens seem to have a bad influence on people, and Maisie ends up having to go on the run with her family. Meanwhile, some virus is sweeping the country and Maisie's fireteam members start getting in whopping trouble. Oh yeah, and eventually everyone gets to worry about an alien invasion to boot. And then there's Wilder, who bounces back and forth from being a good guy to a bad guy to a who-the-heck-knows-what guy. In the end, the girl whose middle name is Danger definitely has to live up to it.
I don't know what to make of this book. Mostly it's just...huge and too fast to have crammed into one story. I probably would have been really into it had it been a trilogy, with some time to build, to get us attached to the fireteam characters, to make us wonder who's good and who's bad and what's going on longer. Plus you wonder about the sanity and/or lack thereof of Howell a lot, even though her actions are explained later on. Maisie's an interesting girl, but somehow even during the slowest parts of the book it kind of feels like there's not enough time to breathe, to get used to the latest changes she has going on, or to just keep the hell up. The book gives you a case of whiplash. It's an interesting story overall to read, but somehow I didn't find it satisfying to finish.
As for the love interest....well, I suspect a fair number of people won't like how it works out. I didn't have as much objection to it as I probably should have--by the end, they've all been through a damn lot and I guess one can forgive, and the dude certainly had some other influences as to why he was doing what he was going. But also, it wasn't nearly as bad to me as, say, the love interest of Spy Glass. So...I could live with it, but other folks will probably have issues.
On the other hand: we've got a multicultural differently abled heroine and a multicultural cast, lots of kickassery, a secret in Maisie's family she didn't know about, and saving the world. So there's that.
I guess I'm going to give it three starts overall.
As you know, I've been obsessed with Hamilton, the musical, enough to read up on all of the people in it and then started reading books about the presidents (good god, I'm so far behind in writing that up). So of course I had to get the Hamiltome and it's awesome and comprehensive and huge. In addition to lovely photographs and reprintings of the lyrics (with new footnotes by Lin-Manuel Miranda that you haven't already read on genius.com), there's short profiles on the lead actors and how they got their roles and what they do with them, profiles on the other folks who helped make the show and what they do, notes from the props department (which was really interesting), notes from the writing process, the missing lyrics to "The Adams Administration" and why it got cut, whether or not Hamiltonians still exist in government now, how to handle the duel, and the show's developmental journey over the years. Not to mention how kids and the president love it.
Four and a half stars (near-epic). Fans will love it.
"By the abjuration of Dee and the name of Claude Dansey I hereby exercise subsection D paragraph sixteen clause twelve and bind you to service from now and forevermore. Right, that's it. You're drafted, and may whatever deity you believe in have mercy on your soul." "Hey. Wait." She takes a step back. "What's going on?" There's a faint stink of burning sulphur in the air.<br< "You've just talked yourself into the Laundry," I say, shaking my head. "Just try to remember I tried to keep you out of this."
So after having read books 2 and 6 out of order, I finally came across the first book in this series. And...woe, for I did not love it. Frankly, had I come across this book first in a bookstore, I would have flipped through it, said, "WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON?" and put it down, never to have revisited the series again. Because even though I'd read two other Laundry books and however many short stories before I picked this up, I was pretty dang lost as to what was going on. It's so in medias res that I wanted to say, stop, slow down, what the hell abbreviations are you talking about? (Note: there's a guide to these at the back of the book, but I didn't know that at the time.) Because while I had some issues following things in The Jennifer Morgue, I generally got the gist of it. This book, honestly, I don't know if I ever did.
I'll attempt to explain: Bob Howard did something warped enough with computers involving Nylarlathotep once upon a time that let him in on the creepiest secrets of the magical universe. If you find out enough about that sort of thing, you are forcibly recruited into a British secret agency called the Library that deals with the weirdest things ever (mostly some kind of demon incursions into our universe). If you're not useful or wanting to get involved, you can basically ride a desk for your entire career and get a pension. But Bob decides he wants to be involved, and since he's apparently a tech geek/necromancer, that works out. His Dilbert-esque life ends when he has to kill a possessed guy during a training session, and he becomes an active agent, sent to Santa Cruz to work on an extraction for a Dominique "Mo" O'Brien, a British subject who hasn't been allowed to leave the country for some reason. While Bob's extraction goes terribly wrong--she's nabbed, he's coshed over the head--somehow both of them make it back to England, with Mo as a new Laundry inductee whether she likes it or not.
Bob is definitely interested in Mo, which is good because the girl he's been seeing off and on, Mhari, makes it pretty clear that he's her sidepiece while she looks for someone better. So that'll work out! Anyway, Mo is eventually moved into Bob's flatshare and he's put on duty to watch her while she's treated as a Judas goat to lure whatever Nazi bad guys (yup, I said Nazis) are going after her. This leads to a lovely visit to the title location, which will creep you out, and later everyone goes into some creepy alternate universe or dimension or something. Frankly, I'm still not sure what the hell was going on with this at all. But everyone comes out fine. I found a better explanation of the plot here that you can check out.
There's a second novella included in this book after the title one, "The Concrete Jungle," in which Bob gets called in to deal with concrete cows and a whoooooole lot of things to do with being able to turn people into stone. Also, at this point in time his job has been divided into working for big shot Angleton doing dangerous agent work, and doing tech support in the Dilbertesque office when not in the field, and the supervisors in the office are Not Happy With Him doing that.
Anyway, my issues with this pretty much boiled down to my being very confused the whole time. I fear I am just not smart enough to comprehend this novel, because looking around on the Internet, it seems to be just me going, "Whaaaat?" a whole lot. The characters all talk about very complicated things like they're commonplace and I could just never figure out a way to get what they were talking about it.
Though on the plus side, I did like Mo in the first book and Josephine, a cop who gets forcibly recruited into the Library, in the second. There is also a very long afterword by the author that does a better job of explaining the overall concept of the series in general than I got while reading the book. I wish I could give it a higher review, but my lack of comprehension ruined the book for me. I am just not smart enough to read it, I think. Hopefully you are smart enough to get it, but in the end I can only conclude that it was two stars to me.
Okay, so so far I've only read the first book in this series, but I came across this prequel in the library and figured eh, what the hell, it's a prequel, probably not gonna spoil me too much.
This is the origin story of the evil Queen Levana of Luna, who you may be shocked to find out isn't the worst person in her gene pool. Indeed, her parents (who are murdered at the start of the book, but definitely not mourned by their children) and her sister Queen Channary are horrible, horrible people. Levana at least has some awareness of politics and how royalty should do something about that, unlike her older sister. But other than that, she's emotionally stunted/lacking/clueless, and rather heartless. This quote sums the Blackburn family up:
"Levana had not seen the bodies, but she had seen the bedrooms the next morning, and her first thought was that all the blood would make for a very pretty rouge on her lips. She knew it was not the proper thing to think, but she also did not think her parents would have thought anything better had it been her murdered instead of them."
Levana desperately wants to be beautiful and loved and spends her whole life forcing that issue upon everyone else. As a child, her sister threw her into a fire and she's nastily, permanently scarred and damaged beneath the glamours she wears all the time. As a teenager, Levana falls in love with handsome, kind, married palace guard Evret, and becomes a bit fascinated with his pregnant wife. When the wife dies in childbirth, Levana takes it as a sign from God that Evret is intended for her, and uses her mind control powers to force him into marrying her. Poor Evret basically has to stay alive to attempt to protect his daughter Winter, as best he can under the horrifying circumstances, pretending love for a girl who really just doesn't get how the concept works at all. Meanwhile, she's doing all kinds of evil plots such as spreading disease and creating supersoldiers. Gee, who wouldn't love a queen like that? Not to mention setting up her baby niece to die, of course.
Eventually Levana realizes that (a) her husband doesn't love her and can't, and (b) it'd be much more expedient to get rid of him so she can marry the Emperor and take over Earth. She's that kind of girl.
I don't know how to review this book. It isn't badly written, but Levana is so noxious (okay, obviously that's intentional) that I have a hard time feeling for her, if that's what I'm supposed to be doing. I can't say I enjoyed my reading experience or felt sympathy for the devil. Well, I tried, but hoo boy, I could not feel sorry for her for very long. I don't know how to rank this because I did not enjoy my reading experience (I'm not the sort of person who wants to read stuff like Gone Girl), but it's not badly written either. I guess I am going to go with three stars.
This one is the story of Kateryn* Parr, the last wife of the infamous Henry VIII. As the book starts out, she’s just been widowed for a second time and has finally found true love with Thomas Seymour-but she’s the prettiest at court right now and when the king proposes, YOU CANNOT SAY NO UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES OR YOU WILL DIE. Of course, everyone knows by now that if you marry him, you die too….just a few years later. Kateryn has to suck it up and give up her love, knowing darned well that the last queen died for cheating. She also has to give up being honest, and take on well….sex with a guy who’s nearly immobile and smells whoppingly bad due to his various illnesses and oozing permanent unhealing leg wound. FUN. Not to mention being draped in various things belonging to dead queens and being up all night listening to Henry snore.
* That’s apparently how she spelled her own name.
There’s a honeymoon period. Henry is surprisingly sweet and loving to her from the getgo, and at one point Kateryn even finds herself saying she loves him. She’s never felt loved by a husband before and really enjoys it. She feels for the dude’s pain. Sure, he’s gross and smells really bad, but he is suffering and he seems to have good intentions at least some of the time. She also really hits it off with all of her stepchildren and manages to reunite all of them with Henry and even get his daughters back their royal titles. Henry also lets her be regent while he’s off at war. Pretty cool, eh? She’s a darned good queen. Though Henry does have a tendency to revere the lone wife he didn’t kill or divorce-there’s one particularly painful moment when Kateryn realizes that the family portrait she sat for isn’t what she thought-that’s her body, but Jane Seymour’s face on it. Ugh, dude.
Unfortunately, Henry is of a mercurial temperament and holy damn, do I think the author nailed what he’s like. Even though I already knew how the story ends--this is the one wife who outlives Henry, after all--I of course had to go raid the Internet in the middle of the night at some point JUST TO MAKE SURE, because the author is great at creating the utter creeping fear and doom at court. Henry likes to set people against each other and change his mind about people and beliefs at the drop of a hat for his own amusement, and he loves having people killed. Kateryn’s a natural religious scholar and Henry encouraged this, but then the winds and tides and Henry’s mood change and suddenly he’s got a witch hunt out for her and her friends and allies. Will she survive? Again, I already knew the ending to that, but how she survives….Well, the author takes a bit of liberty imagining the private moments between the two, but let’s just say this goes a bit worse than it did for Katerina and Petruchio when it comes to taming a lady who used to inspire her stepdaughters to have their own thoughts.
But in the end, she lived long enough to marry again (even if the author cuts out before the ending of her life, which was pretty short and not that happy), so you gotta give her credit for being the only one who could turn Henry back from hatred and wishing death upon her. And I have to give the author credit for doing really well at dealing with the psychology of Kateryn and Henry, especially why Henry is the ever-changing monster that he is. You feel sorry for him in his pain, but you really feel sorry and scared for everyone around him. In the end, clearly his professional fool is the wisest man at court for surviving so damn long.
Anyway, this was a very powerful book to read. Four stars.
Kateryn and her sister Nan, discussing the queen’s new motto: “To Be Useful in All That I Do,” I repeat without much enthusiasm. “It’s not very inspiring.” “The Most Happy” (Boleyn) “was dead in three and a half years,” Nan says harshly. “No Other Will But His” (Howard) “had her lover in the jakes. These are mottoes: they aren’t predictions.”
“He would rather believe that he was cuckolded ten times over than admit there is anything wrong with him.” -Nan
“He has to be perfect, in every way. He cannot bear that anyone should think, even for a moment, that he is in the wrong. He cannot be seen as less than perfect. His wife has to be perfect too.” -Nan
“Sometimes, at court, a woman has to do anything to survive.” -Nan
“You will be my last and dearest wife.” -Henry VIII
“What people will tell you about my marriages is completely wrong. I’ll tell you the truth. Only I know the truth, and I never speak of it.”-Henry
“I am a fool for love.” -Henry
“You will learn what every clever woman has to learn: how to adopt the power and courage of a man and yet to know that you are a woman.” -Kateryn to Elizabeth
Kateryn spots Will Somers, the Fool, lying on the floor like a dog. “You’re lying very low, Will,” I remark. “I am,” he says, “I think it best.”
“I am at play. And I alone understand the game.” -Henry
“You displeased the king and then you won his forgiveness. You are a clever woman, Your Majesty. Your experience is unique.” -Edward Seymour to Kateryn.
“He failed to observe that the only person ever to recover from the king’s hatred is me. He does not know what I had to do. He does not know the price I paid. Nobody will ever know. I don’t acknowledge it to myself.” -Kateryn
“Women’s lives do not matter to anyone at this court. Before every queen stands her pretty successor, behind her a ghost.” -Kateryn
“No one is ever faithful until death. If anyone tells you anything different, they are playing you for a fool. I will never be a fool again.” -Henry
“Who loved me as a child? No one.” -Henry
“If you are a wife, can you not think for yourself?” “You can think for yourself,” I say carefully. “But you need not speak. If you are wise, you will agree with your husband. Your husband has power over you. YOu have to find ways to think your own thoughts and live your own life without always telling of it.” “Then I had better not marry,” she says without a glimmer of a smile. “If to be a wife is to give up your own opinion, I had better never marry.” --Elizabeth and Kateryn.
“I have lost my husband and I have survived my jailer. I will mourn a man who loved me, in his way, and celebrate my escape from a man who would have killed me. When I undertook this marriage, against my will, I knew that it would only end in death: his or mine. There were times when I thought that he would have me killed, that I would never be able to survive him. There were times when I thought that his passion to be the one to say the last word would persuade him to silence me forever. But I have survived his abuse, and I have survived his threats. This marriage cost me my happiness, my love, and my pride. The worst price was betraying Anne and letting her go to her death. But this, too, I shall endure; this, too, I shall forgive.” -Kateryn
This story tells the “star-crossed” romance of Rachel and Andy, who first meet in a hospital as kids, reunite as teenagers doing a Habitat for Humanity-esque project, and then they date off and on through their adult lives. Eventually they break up for usual young fool reasons. She marries a fellow Jew and settles down with kids and then he cheats on her. He dates a model, wins an Olympic gold medal, takes up doping when he starts to get older and loses everything, while dealing with finding out the truth about his missing father. Will they reconnect again for good someday? Yeah, most likely.
The story cuts back and forth between various snippets of the two’s lives, with Rachel told in a more immediate first person and Andy in a distant third. This book reminded me of why I vastly prefer first person to third person narration because it is just plain hard to get into third when you’re not in the person’s head and are watching them from afar. I rather wish the author had just written Andy in first person as well, in a differing voice from Rachel’s. It probably doesn’t help much that he’s not a super talker.
I wanted to love this because this is usually the sort of thing I love, but I just didn’t feel that passionately about either character or their love. I kinda breezed through it at jury duty and was all, “eh….” It’s okay but I wasn’t blown away either. Three stars.
"Then she asked the question--the same question I have gotten dozens, nay, hundreds of times in my life, always with that same air of faint disbelief. "You are here for...dragons?"
This is part 2 of the continuing memoirs of Lady Trent, a.k.a. Isabella Camhurst, dragon expert, and it takes place a few years after the end of the last book. At the start Isabella hints that this isn't quite the most gossip-ridden part of her life compared to a future book in which she has "interactions with my future husband" (whoever that is), but says these were the years that she found herself "accused of fornication, high treason, and status as the worst mother in all of Scirland." Sadly, that promise doesn't quite play out as scandalously in this book as you'd think, or at least it wasn't super shocking to me.
Isabella's now traveling independently with Tom Wilker from her last expedition (they're on better terms now) and her friend Natalie Oscott, her patron's niece. Natalie's not in the slightest bit interested in marriage and partnership, but is interested in work and adventure, so Isabella helps sneak her out and along on her latest voyage to Eriga (Africa, I think). They deal with politics, consort with the ruler, get sick and injured, have a few brief moments of romantic awkward, and get to know the locals and their customs. Eventually Isabella is presented with the opportunity/challenge to figure out how to get herself to an island in the middle of some falls to prove herself worthy of dragon contact, which is rather cool in how she does it. Then upon her return, she finds some hidden forest troops and has to warn everyone else about what's going on.
I wasn't quite as much into this one because it's a bit more "fun fluff" adventure than having any choice meatiness like the first one did--then again, there's not so much in the way of personal drama here and perhaps that's why. Anyway, it was a nice read but not super memorable like the first, somehow. I did enjoy Isabella's friendships in this one and especially how they figured out how to use dragonbone as gliders (there's also a bit about someone stealing her scientist's notes on dragonbone, but it doesn't really finish out here), but overall I'm giving it three and a half stars.
"I promise I will say this only once," she remarked, "but good Lord, the heat." (With all due respect to Natalie, whom I love as my own self, she lied. If I took a sip of gin every time she said that during the expedition, my liver would be foie gras.")
"Only reflecting on how fortunate I am, that I should not be alone in my madness."
I wasn't quite as into this book as I was the previous one. I'm not sure why, other than maybe it's been pretty long since I read the first one and only just found book 2. It's not a bad book, but I guess it took longer for me to get into what was going on.
Anyway....Dancia's been asked to join The Program, a secret organization of kids at Delcroix, where she can work on training her earth talent skills. Which happens, but she also starts finding out about a "street gang from Seattle" that's doing various attacks on the school. Turns out there's a rival organization that works in sleeper cells called the Irin, who are rogue talents that got rejected from the Program and have a grudge against it. Of course Dancia's friend Jack has joined up and he calls her periodically to tell her things he's found out that are decidedly hinky about the Program. Dancia is committed to The Program and not going with Jack on these things, but it doesn't mean she won't try to look into what he says. And when her boyfriend Cam and their leader go off to Washington D.C. during spring break to kill a cell that was going to attack the President....well, let's just say she starts to wonder about that particular story. And when your leader is a guy who can manipulate your thoughts, well....At any rate, Dancia deduces that there's something wrong when both groups keep getting stronger after altercations with each other, and she figures out who the real enemy is.
In other news, Dancia's roommate Catherine starts to become more human and nice, and Dancia's best friends Esther and Hennie have some boy trouble. Esther's desperate to get a boyfriend and Hennie can't tell her parents about hers because they want to marry her off to someone else. Esther's real target is Cam's best friend Trevor, a guy who worries Dancia. And then there's Anna, Cam's ex, who obviously doesn't like Dancia, but they end up having to team up at school.
For whatever reason (I think it's just me though) I was having a hard time getting into this book, but by the end I was pretty impressed at how the plot is going. Dancia may be young, but she's sensible and listens to both sides and learns who to trust. So that's a yay. So....three and a half stars.
Is there going to be a third book? Well...I went looking and found this explanation from the author from a few years ago. Technically no, there isn't going to be a third book, but you can find some information on what would have been in a third book if you want to sign up for WattPad.