From the Archive: ‘George, Nicolas, and Wilhelm: Three Royal Cousins and the Road to World War I’

So I was thinking the other day about how I used to blog on Tumblr, and how there are a lot of good books over there that none of you have ever read.  I’ll be posting a few every month, just some highlights.  :-D

This was actually my first book review I ever posted online anywhere!  It was originally published on tumblr December 1, 2011.


by Miranda Carter

published 2009

It’s ironic that this is my first book to review here.  I’ve been reading George, Nicolas, & Wilhelm: Three Royal Cousins & the Road to World War I for probably close to a month now.

The book is over 400 pages long and intensely dense.  It’s full of rambling stories and random quotes from letters and telegrams and speeches and journals.  The book constantly introduces new characters with complicated names and titles.  Just attempting to even vaguely understand the way that all the royals in Europe were related at the turn of the 20th century is ridiculously involved.

I really, really enjoyed this book.

First off, the year in Tapestry that I am using as a base history study focuses on the 1900’s.  I realized that I don’t actually know a lot about the 1900’s, not even the 1900’s in which I was alive.  (Really…  Reagan was president when I was born…  there were a couple of wars…  cell phones became really common…  ummm…)  So I jumped in and started reading and Week 3 of Tapestry is already hitting World War I and I realized I was just going too fast, because I really didn’t understand ::why:: World War I was happening.

(As a sidenote, you’ll have to realize that when I immerse myself in a time period to study, that time period becomes way more relevant to my life than current events.  I have only the vaguest ideas of what is going on in England, Germany, or Russia right now, but, by golly, I have been deeply entangled in the politics of 1905!)

This book starts with the acknowledgement that King George of England, Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany, and Tsar Nicolas of Russia are all first cousins, all grandsons of Queen Victoria.  When Nicolas would visit England, he and George were confused for each other!  The family ties ran deeply, and it was utterly fascinating to watch the way that the lives of these three very powerful men intertwined and led to World War I.

Honestly, I could go on at length about this.  But I’ll try to remain concise and simply say that I was blown away at how World War I was about virtually::nothing::.  At the end of the war, “eight and a half  million soldiers were dead … and at least another million or so civilians … a further 21 million soldiers had been wounded.”  The state of Virginia has around eight million residents.  Imagine the entire state being wiped out, and then the entire population of Texas  being injured.  The casualties in this war were monumental (not to belittle the current efforts in the Middle East, but honestly, the total deaths in this entire war have tallied up to a remarkably awesome DAY in World War I) and the gains almost nonexistent.  All of those millions died for basically nothing.  Absolutely mind-blowing.

Ennywho, getting ready to roll into some more details of World War I, hopefully in the next couple of weeks.  In the meantime, reading this book actually led me to several other questions, especially about the British Empire: seriously, what is up with the histories of India, Ireland, and Canada?  So some “brief histories” are on the stacks now, to hopefully continue to weave together a solid background for World War I, and then World War II.

All in all, I would strongly recommend this book, but only if you have a lot of spare time and a deep interest in European affairs around 1900.  :-D

Rearview Mirror: September 2015

Ah time, how swiftly you pass!

September has been a lovely month.  I got a new front porch (which I can walk on without fearing that I will fall through it!), Waylon is now six months old, our chickens started laying eggs (which I am faithfully chronicling on Instagram!), and I finished my final month of working four days a week – back to my regular three-day schedule in October – SO EXCITED.

Speaking of work…  it’s kind of been wrecking my reading schedule.  We’ve been super, super busy, and when I get home I feel like reading fluff, not good stuff.  So my reading diet has been a lot of unreviewed candy of late. ;-)  But such is life.  I did at least get a few books read and reviewed this month!

Favorite September Read:  Probably Solstice Wood.   I really enjoyed this haunting, engaging fantasy.

Most Disappointing September Read:  Definitely Quietly in Their Sleep by Donna Leon.  This installment of the Commissario Guido Brunetti series felt more like a rant on why the Catholic Church is a dangerous fable that destroys lives than it did a mystery, and she didn’t even bother providing us with a decent story to cover her hatred.

Other September Reads:

  • Acqua Alta by Donna Leon – another pretty disappointing outing in the series, if I’m honest.
  • Winter Rose by Patricia McKillip – Solstice Wood’s prequel – engaging, but not as enjoyable as Solstice Wood.
  • All Creatures Great & Small by James Herriot – audiobook narrated by Christopher Timothy – an old favorite revisited and highly recommended.
  • Dragondrums by Anne McCaffrey – third installment of the Harper Hall trilogy, sixth installment of the Pern books, all-around good fun.
  • Moreta: Dragonlady of Pern – by Anne McCaffrey – back in the mists of Pern’s time, a good adventure, but not as emotionally engaging as some of the earlier books.

Random Fun:

Added to the TBR:

Oh wow, so out of control.  I love it.  :-D

  • Lynette over at Escaping Reality read As You Wisha behind-the-scenes look at the classic movie The Princess Bride.  Written by Cary Elwes (WESTLEY), how can this book not be a fun time??
  • The Literary Sisters recommended The Joy Luck Cluband since I’m really interested in reading books that focus on foreign cultures within the U.S., the setting of a Chinese-American community in 1949 sounded quite intriguing to me.
  • Lady Fancifull waxed quite poetic about her love for Dodie Smith’s I Capture the Castlewhich is one of those books I’m always meaning to read.  Maybe I’ll have a better chance at getting to it if I actually put in on the TBR??  I have so much love for Smith’s classic The Hundred and One Dalmatians (please read, do not watch Disney), that even though this book sounds not remotely like Dalmatians, I’m still willing to give it a try.
  • I surprisingly enjoyed The Book Thief back in the day, so when RoseReadsNovels said she enjoyed another of Markus Zusak’s books, The MessengerI decided to give it a whirl.
  • FictionFan has this annoying habit of recommending books that sound really fabulous, but then it turns out that they are part of a whole series….!!!!  She reviewed the fourth book of a quartet and said that it would “undoubtedly appear” in her best of the year list!  The Voices Beyond sounds amazing.  I am endlessly fascinated by Russian history, especially in the twentieth century, and this book – the whole series, really – sounds amazing.  Then I read the descriptions for the first three books and I WANT TO READ THEM ALL.
  • Reading, Writing, & Riesling always manages to throw a mystery (or five) on the list.  This month, Deadly Messengers sounded particularly thrilling.  And if you visit her page, a note from the author says she’s giving away free ecopies of her book through September 30… hurry!!  (Not for me… so much pressure!)
  • Even though she said that she found the book to be a bit on the cold side, Books for the Trees still said she enjoyed The Bone Season enough that she’s planning to read the sequel, and the premise sounds pretty interesting to me.
  • Cleopatra’s review of Can Anybody Help Me? was fantastic, and a book that delves into some of the modern concepts of an individual’s “online presence” definitely sounds engaging.  Isn’t it funny how much of ourselves we reveal when we write?
  • I’ve definitely been on a kick where I’ve been thinking of movies that I love/loved as a kid, and then trying to find the books that inspired them.  FictionFan’s review of Vertigo inspired me to add that one…  even though I’ve never watched that most-famous of Hitchcock films!

There were definitely more additions to the list, but those are some of the top ones that I got really excited about.  The TBR is out of control, people!  I LOVE IT.

Anybody else read some inspiring reviews in September??

Here’s to a happy October!

“Dragondrums” and “Moreta: Dragonlady of Pern” by Anne McCaffrey


//published 1979//

So I genuinely intended to review Dragondrums by itself, but life happened and then I already read Moreta, and so here we are!

This was my second reading of Dragondrumswhich is the third installment of McCaffrey’s Harper Hall series.  As with the other two books in that trilogy, Dragondrums made way more sense the second time around.  While the first two Harper Hall books focus on Menolly, this book is more about Piemur, another student at the Harper Hall.  When Piemur’s voice changes at the beginning of the book, he can no longer continue in his position as the main soprano in the choir.  However, the Masterharper already has plans to use Piemur’s other talents – like being able to wiggle out of any and all trouble – to the advantage of the Hall.  Piemur is sent to the drum heights as a cover, and covertly used as – more or less – a spy on certain occasions.

Set in the context of the first five books of Pern, Dragondrums makes more sense.  I was way more aware of why the Masterharper would even need a spy to begin with, and with a solid background of the political/socioeconomic complications of Pern at the time of this book, Piemur’s story and purpose became a lot more interesting.

Although published after The White Dragon, Dragondrums takes place chronologically between Dragonsinger and The White Dragon.  On McCaffrey’s author page, I am listing her books both in published order, and in my personal recommendation-for-sensible-reading order!

In Moreta, McCaffrey jumps back in Pernese time, to the end of the Sixth Pass of the Red Star (per McCaffrey, the Red Star drops its life-eating ‘thread’ for about fifty years per pass, with a usual 200-year interval between passes.  The exception was the long interval leading up to the events in her first book, Dragonflight.  The interval before Dragonflight is, I believe, 400 years.  Thus, all of the Pern books begin by explaining during which Pass or Interval the events take place.)

ANYWAY.  Point is, Moreta is set at a much earlier point in Pernese history than the first six books.  While I greatly enjoyed the story, I found it somewhat complicated simply because McCaffrey has so many characters in her books.  When I had six books in a row with many of the same people, it became easier to remember who was who and who went with what dragon, but it was starting from the beginning with Moreta, which sometimes got confusing, especially when you had paragraphs like this:

“About midmorning, our time, M’gent thought something was amiss when Lord Shadder said no one from Telgar Weyr had collected any vaccine from him or Master Balfor – so we were slightly forewarned.  Sutanith got her warning through to Oribeth, Wimmia, and Allaneth so I give Miridan full marks for courage.  But then, K’dren says she’s mating with with T’grel, and he’s determined against M’tani now.”


//published 1983//

I mean, seriously.  That was from towards the very end of the book, and I only recognized three of the names…!!!!

Yes, there are helpful little glossaries and references in the back of the book, but I am one of those impatient readers who hates stopping to look things up.

The story itself, of a terrible plague sweeping through Pern, is engaging.  Moreta is a likable and strong protagonist, but her Weyrmate, Sh’gall (and thus the Weyrleader), was thoroughly annoying to me.  It was interesting to have a different twist on the whole you-mate-with-the-rider-of-the-dragon-your-dragon-mates-with, in that Moreta didn’t really care of Sh’gall all that much, but they were bound together as Weyrmates and Weyrleaders until Moreta’s dragon’s next mating flight.  In the first six books, most of the couples bound together by their dragons are strong matches who complement and boost each other (I love the relationship between Lessa and F’lar), so it was weird, but interesting, to see how the mating ritual could also mean that you’re stuck with someone for whom you have minimal respect, at least for a time.

This was a book with a lot of tragedy.  People and animals are dying because of this plague, and no one knows how to stop it.  I loved this quote –

“When bad fortune occurs, the unresourceful, unimaginative man looks about him to attach the blame to someone else; the resolute accepts misfortune and endeavors to survive, mature, and improve because of it.”

Deep stuff, people.


Love this concept for the Runnerbeasts, even though I was unable to find a source…

A lot of the book took place completely separate from Moreta herself.  We had a lot of perspective from other characters, and frequently would go a chapter or two without even hearing what Moreta is into.  Between that and my complete dislike for Sh’gall, I felt somewhat emotionally distant from this particular story.  I wasn’t super invested in what was happening.  But still –

Okay, so BIG SPOILER HERE to end the review – because I must talk about the way this book ends – it distressed me to no end.


Moreta dies.  No seriously.  She dies.  Abruptly.  At the very end.  Kind of pointlessly in my mind.  I get really annoyed when main characters get killed off, so this definitely ticked me off.  I just really felt like her noble sacrifice could have been made without actual death at the end.  But apparently not.

Still, on the whole, the story was solid, even if I’m a little stupid about names and sometimes get confused.   I know the next couple of books also take place at different points in Pern’s earlier history, but I hope that maybe, someday, we’ll get back to the original gang from the first six books, because I kind of missed them this time around.

Solstice Wood // by Patricia A. McKillip


//published 2006//

So this book is a sequel to Winter Rosewhich I read not long ago.  I enjoyed Winter Rose, although I felt it had some weak points.  Solstice Wood was even better.  While the language wasn’t quite as poetic, the story was stronger and much faster-paced.  While I wandered in out of Winter Rose over the course of a few days, I took Solstice Wood in in huge chunks.

While Winter Rose was set at a vague time far in the past, and possibly not even in our world, Solstice Wood, which was published ten years after Winter Rose, is set in modern times and firmly in upstate New York (which, if I’m honest, was not the feeling I got from Winter Rose, but we’ll get to that in a minute).  The death of her dearly-loved grandfather means that Sylvia has to return home, a place she’s avoided ever since she reached adulthood and began to build a life for herself.

While this story starts with that feeling of “angsty teen leaves home then returns and becomes the heroine and realizes her family isn’t so bad after all”, it swiftly improves as the reader begins to suspect that Sylvia’s reasons for leaving home were not the usual ones given in YA novels.  The story is told from several viewpoints, mostly Sylvia, her grandmother, and Sylvia’s cousin, but there are a few other one-off chapters thrown in to keep things interesting, as well.  I really prefer first-person  narratives that are from multiple perspectives, as we get multiple takes on the same story.

I was completely engaged in this story and enjoyed every page.  It wasn’t until later that I found myself realizing that there were some definitely continuity issues (both within the story and connecting this book with its predecessor) and still plenty of answered questions, especially about the fairy queen herself.  But the truth is, if a story can make me not realize those things while I’m in the throes of reading, I can’t really dock it too hard.

One big thing, though, was just the fact that Winter Rose did not at all feel like it took place in upstate New York.  It had a definite European feel to it, especially because it felt like anything taking place in upstate New York as long ago as Winter Rose was supposed to be happening – well, upstate New York would probably have been a tad more rustic??  (Considering that Corbet was returning to an “ancient” family home??)  It was small things like, most likely because McKillip wrote this sequel a decade after Winter Rose; she probably wasn’t thinking about a sequel when she wrote the original story!

But on the whole, I found Solstice Wood to be a wonderful story.  I really liked the characters and I also loved the contrast of this story being set in high summer versus the deep winter of Winter Rose.  Creative and fast-paced, this is a story that kept me involved from the beginning, and earned some of McKillip’s other books a place on the TBR.

All Creatures Great & Small // by James Herriot // narrated by Christopher Timothy


//published 1972//

So this review is a bit behind, as we actually listened to most of this book back in July when we drove to Colorado and back.  Tom had never read All Creatures Great & Small, but it is a long-time favorite of mine, possibly one of the earliest pieces of British literature that I ever read.  Since then, I’ve realized that the vast majority of my favorite authors are British (Herriot, Agatha Christie, C.S. Lewis, P.G. Wodehouse…  the list goes on!), but I do believe that Herriot was the first.  I have so, so much love for his absolutely delightful books.  All Creatures and its sequel, All Things Bright & Beautiful, are probably my two favorites, as most of the stories in those two focus on the bachelor days of Skeldale House.

In case there is some outside chance that you have been completely deprived of the absolute joy that is James Herriot, a brief synopsis – Herriot’s books are loosely autobiographical (Herriot is actually a pen name for James Wight, and, as they say, the names have been changed to protect the innocent).  A newly licensed veterinarian (a word I still cannot spell), in 1930’s Britain, Herriot takes a position as an assistant in the Yorkshire Dales.  Jobs were hard to come by at the time, and it is with some trepidation that Herriot sets off for his interview.  In the end, however, he gets the position and finds himself engulfed in his new life as a true country vet.

Siegfried Farnon, his boss, isn’t much older than Herriot, and Siefried’s younger  brother, Tristan, is a little younger than Herriot.  The three of them work together at the practice (although Tristan is technically still in school).  Herriot’s stories are those of his everyday life, traveling about the practice, living with the Farnons (each a character in his own right), and eventually falling in love.

Somehow, Herriot manages to weave stories that are incredibly personable, bringing his clients to life.  Each chapter is usually a somewhat independent story, although as the book proceeds, many characters reappear.  Despite the fact that there are so many different people in his book, each one comes through as an individual, even if they only have a few lines or only appear for a paragraph or two.  You never know, at the beginning of a chapter, whether it’s one that will make you laugh or cry, but it is almost guaranteed to do one or the other (or both).

Herriot was a vet during a truly engaging period of time, when so much was changing in the industry, as antibiotics and other medicines are arriving on the scene, while at the same time, agriculture is transitioning from using horses and other draft animals to reliance on tractors and other mechanical devices.  Throughout the books, it is interesting to watch the practice as a whole take on much more small animal/pet work, as people’s attitudes (and finances) change from regarding animals as work/production value only to pets/companions as well.


//Siegfried, James, and Tristan//aka Hardy, Timothy, and Davidson//

These are people and tales that are a permanent part of my family’s vernacular, and I was excited to introduce Tom to them.  Christopher Timothy played the part of James Herriot in the 1970’s BBC television show.  While most book-to-movie/TV adaptations are somewhat (or a LOT) dreadful, I actually love this series and highly recommend it, in part because the casting of Herriot, Siegfried (Robert Hardy), and Tristan (Peter Davidson), is brilliant.  Timothy did a great job narrating the book, managing to pull off the various accents most of the time.  It was also nice to have a familiar voice telling the tales – in many ways, Christopher Timothy feels more like James Herriot than the real James Herriot!

One thing I really noticed was that I think I have read these books so often that I sometimes tend to skim over Herriot’s descriptions of the landscape or locations.  I couldn’t do that with the audio version, and I was struck afresh at how Herriot’s writing is actually quite beautiful.  He takes the time to paint a beautiful word picture, a genuine love of the Dales, the outdoors, and nature comes through strongly.  Herriot also has an obvious respect and love for the men and women who work this harsh and unforgiving (though beautiful) land.  It was a life of difficultly and, generally, poverty.  Herriot has nothing but respect and honor for these hardworking individuals.

I put off reviewing this book because I really hoped that we were actually going to finish it!  But we only got about 2/3 through before needing to return it.  However, Tom is finishing the story in the actual written form, so it all works out.


//audiobook cover// can’t seem to find when it was recorded// ah well//

All Creatures is a book that I will frequently pull off the shelf and open at random to enjoy whatever story falls open.  Every one is a gem.  I hadn’t read the book straight through in several years, so it was really enjoyable to hear the story from the beginning.  Timothy’s narration was great, and Tom and I now refer to Waylon’s wild running about periods (Waylon is our border collie, for those of you who are new) as going “crackerdog”, thanks to Mrs. Pumphrey and Tricki-Woo.

My only reservation for the audio version is that each disc ends with music kicking on in the background. While this worked if the disc happened to be ending at the same time as a chapter, it felt really weird if we were in the middle of a story about someone’s horse dying and all of the sudden this happy music comes on in the background while Herriot is gravely informing someone of the animal’s imminent demise.  Simply saying “end of disc three” seems like it would have worked a little better!  Other than that, though, the audio version was really enjoyable, and I highly recommend getting a hold of Herriot’s stories in some form, be it print, audio, or even the TV series!

Winter Rose // by Patricia A. McKillip


//published 1996//

This is one of those books that mysterious made its way onto the TBR with no notes as to how this occurred.  Although I have never read Tam Lin, my understanding is that this is a retelling of that tale.  It is a fairy-tale-esq story about a young woman named Rois.  (Aside:  How does one pronounce ‘Rois’?  Is it French?  Spanish?  Portuguese?  The implication is that it means “rose,” but I was unable to figure this out, probably because I am not super clever.)  Rois lives with her older sister, Laurel, and their father.  They own a prosperous farm near a small village.  Despite the fact that Rois has always been rather wild, preferring to roam the nearby forest without any shoes over sitting about sewing and cooking (who wouldn’t?!), everyone in her life seems to accept her for who she is, and to love her.  Our story begins when a mysterious stranger moves into the closest holding to Rois’s.  Corbet is handsome and mysterious, returning to his family’s home – abandoned by his father on the night that Corbet’s grandfather was murdered (presumably by Corbet’s father).

This book is described (on the back cover) as a “lyrical book,” and McKillip definitely weaves together some beautiful language –

…[he] sat with us on the stone porch, as we always did, watching the day slowly bloom into night.  That’s how it always seemed to me: not the fading of a withered flower, but the opening of some dark, rich blossom, with unexpected hues and heady scents.

Or –

She lies like the moon lies, a different face every night, all but one of them false, and the one true face as barren and hard as stone.

The story itself was engaging, but somewhat complicated, and I felt that the world-building was a bit weak, as it often is when stories take place here, but involve the concept of there being a parallel fairy world.  This book ended up being a pretty solid mid-ground read for me, as I really enjoyed the language and Rois’s voice, but found myself frequently having to flip back a few pages to reread and try to capture the thread of what was happening, as McKillip would use her flowery language to sort of gloss over what was actually happening, or even whether what was happening was actually happening, or if it was just a dream or vision.

The only big part of the story I had trouble believing was the love story between Corbet and Rois.  That aspect felt really underdeveloped to me, and so it sometimes made the actions of those two characters seem a little forced, as I wasn’t really convinced that they sincerely loved each other.

The witch/evil fairy part was also a bit complicated and hard to follow; her motivations also seemed super vague to me.

There is depth to this story that I liked.  Much of it was just incredibly beautiful and evocative, and there were glimpses of beautiful humanity that I just loved, but while this was a pleasant read, with language that was magical enough that I sometimes forgot that it the story didn’t really fit together all that well, it still landed as a 3/5.  There is a sequel, Solstice Wood, which is actually my next read, so we will see how that goes.

Acqua Alta & Quietly in Their Sleep // by Donna Leon

#5 & #6 – Commissario Guido Brunetti mystery

download (2)

//published 1996//

Okay, so originally I wasn’t going to review Acqua Alta at all because it was just a very meh read for me, and the entire mystery was based on the villain doing something that made absolutely no sense, and there was never any effort made for it to actually make sense, so in the end I was still a little annoyed about the whole thing.

But then I read Quietly in Their Sleep, and, well, I’ll go into a lot more detail below, but I definitely felt like I wanted to talk about this book.  The problem is, I had issues with Quietly in Their Sleep that were beyond the obvious plotting weaknesses.  And basically, there are a lot of things about this series I am enjoying (and the first four books were quite good), but I’m at a point where I’m going to read one more in the series, and then not continue if the mystery is as weak as these two have been.  But because I spend most of my review of Quietly discussing Leon’s completely imbalanced and vicious method of discussing Christians/Catholics/the church, I felt like I needed to talk about Acqua Alta also, so that my whole “she gets one more chance thing” doesn’t come across as a babyish response to me disagreeing with her religious views.

Because while yes, if all of her books were as savagely anti-church as Quietly, I wouldn’t continue reading the series; but the reason that I’m waffling about pressing on isn’t because one book spent the entire time dissing every person who has ever been a Christian, but because she couldn’t even back it up with a decent mystery.  And that, on top of the completely weak plot of Acqua, is why I’m not sure I’m going to bother reading another twenty or so of these books, simply in hopes of finding a few more good ones.

Okay.  So that was super long-winded, and I apologize!  On to Acqua Alta – 

*****This review contains spoilers. However, I thought both of these mysteries contained very weak plotting, so they don’t really feel like spoilers… *****

This book reintroduces us to a lesbian couple whom we met earlier in the series, either the first or second book, I can’t remember.  One of them is a famous opera singer (who is also married – or possibly divorced –  to a man and has two children), while the other is a well-known archaeologist who specializes in ancient Chinese history.  Leon really has a thing about homosexuals, every single one of her books is absolutely chock-full of them, and I’m not really sure why.  I mean, I go with it because I don’t really care that much, but at the same time, it sometimes feels as though she is rather desperately trying to normalize homosexual behavior in a sense that “No, seriously, everyone is into this.”  I don’t know how to explain it.  I think she’s trying to make the homosexuality of her characters not be a big deal, like they’re people and they also happen to be homosexual, but she tries just a little too hard.  It’s additionally confusing because she consistently gives one person in the pair a name that sounds like it ought to belong to the opposite sex.  Part of the reason I wasn’t going to review this book is because I had to return it to the library, so I can’t provide you with an exact quote, but the book starts with something to effect of, “Flavia was in the kitchen making dinner while her lover, Brett, listened to an opera in the living room.”  We then go about three pages or so more before Leon uses any pronouns to inform us that Brett is, in fact, female.  For some reason, this kind of annoys me, and I can’t explain why.  It’s like she’s trying to trick us into thinking that they’re a heterosexual couple so that we will accept them, and then does a sort of bait and switch – “Surprise!  I had to get you to like them as a couple first, and then tell you they were gay!”  But you know, whatever.  I just would like it better if she really went with the gay thing instead of acting like she’s being sneaky and clever with it.

But my actual problem with this book is the fact that the entire mystery starts when Brett, in the first chapter, is brutally attacked and beaten by a couple of thugs who get her to let them into the apartment by pretending they are bringing her important papers from the museum.  They tell her this is to prevent her from meeting with this other important guy and then they leave.  Then we go with the entire rest of the mystery with these stolen antiquities, etc., and it’s a perfectly good mystery.  The premise of these stolen artifacts is really good, the method in which they are stolen and sold is good, she pulls together various strands really well.  Throughout, the book is full of humor and wonderful dialogue, which is what has really drawn me into this series on the whole. Even these two books, that quite annoyed me, made me smile on multiple occasions as Brunetti converses with the wonderful secondary characters Leon has created.  In this story, the whole background of the acqua alta was quite engaging as well.

HOWEVER, the point of all of this is that it made no sense for Brett to not to  be murdered in chapter one.  Why in the world did the villain send thugs to beat her, but not actually kill her?  Because at the end of the book, when Brett is kidnapped and held captive by the villain, he says that he’s brought her here to kill her, and is ready to do so.  Nothing had changed between chapter one and the end of the story, and there is absolutely no explanation given as to why he had her beaten instead of killed.  Consequently, the whole mystery just felt really weak to me, like Leon had to force her villain to act out of character just so she could have a story, because it’s Brett testimony – alive – that makes the whole story move.  If she had been killed, the mystery would have been finding her killer, and they would never had made the connection to the antiquities or theft – which even more emphasizes the point that, in the real world, she would have been killed, not “warned.”

There were definitely other little weak points throughout that had me looking at the book a bit askance, but I can’t remember them and, like I said, decidedly early on I wasn’t going to bother reviewing this one, so I didn’t really take any notes.  So.

As I have been working my way through this series, I have greatly enjoyed Leon’s ability to make everyone feel human.  Most of the time, she manages to avoid those cliches of characterization, instead allowing people to have depth – as a reader, the people feel real because they are not entirely good or entirely bad.  Even the villains frequently have motives that make sense.  Brunetti is a man of strong morals, but is still not perfect – and he doesn’t think he is, either.  All of the secondary characters are intriguing in their own way, because they each possess layers.  They are not defined by a single aspect of their self.

download (1)

//published 1997//

But all of the character-depth skill from her earlier books seemed to abandon Leon in Quietly in Their Sleep.  I do not actually know Leon’s personal views of Christianity or the Catholic church, but if this book is any indication, she violently loathes them.  This book was, honestly, a difficult read for me because of the vindictive passion with which Leon used to make sure that every single individual who claimed to be a Christian was also hypocritical, greedy, sneaky, and, for the vast the majority of them, sexual perverts as well.  Out of the many priests, nuns, friars, and parishioners Leon introduces to us, none of them – not a single one – was even an almost-decent person, much less someone who was kind.  None of them had a single virtue.  Uniformly, they were disgusting sleeze-balls, driven by a lust for power (or young boys), which they hid behind religious platitudes.  At best, they were stupid, blind believers in whatever they were told.  Per Leon, only two types of people are Christians:  those who know that it is a lie, but use the lie to obtain power; and those who are so stupid and weak that they don’t realize that religion is a lie, and are too stupid to find the true way to enlightenment (that is, atheism).

The basic story is that Brunetti is visited, at work, by a young woman who used to be a nun.  Maria worked as a nurse’s aide (when she was a nun) in a nursing home where Brunetti’s mother, who has Alzheimer’s, lives.  Maria was always very kind and patient with his mother, and Brunetti is willing to listen to her story, even though it sounds a bit fantastical.  Maria has left the Order because she believes that several of her elderly patients did not die naturally, but were, in fact, murdered in their sleep.  She believes that it was because they were going to leave money to the Church, or possibly the nursing home, or maybe to the Order.  (Leon is a bit vague, so long as we realize that it is Christians that were going to get the money.)  Although Brunetti believes her story may be a bit far-fetched, he is also instinctively suspicious of anything related to the Church, so he begins to investigate.

Meanwhile, at home he finds out that his daughter, who is taking a not-required religion class at school, has gotten a poor grade in said religion class.  Why?  Because she asked questions, of course!  And no self-respecting Christian leader would ever tolerate questions.  Questions may lead to him having to actually admit that he is wrong or that he doesn’t know the answer, and NO Christian EVER would do those things, which is why questions are completely forbidden by ALL Christians EVERYWHERE.  Oh, and P.S. he also molests girls.  Duh.  Like she pretty much only had to write that because otherwise we would assume he was molesting boys.

Back to the mystery, nothing is showing up in the investigation, so Brunetti reluctantly decides that maybe Maria imagined or misinterpreted it.  Except then one of the people he questioned dies, and then Maria is almost killed by a hit-and-run driver; the accident puts her in a coma.  So Brunetti, reinspired, begins nosing about, and what does he discover???  A top-secret, very  mysterious religious sect that everyone hates and fears even though no one knows what they do because, you know, they’re secret.

And, as soon as Brunetti considered what he knew about Opus Dei and how he knew it, he was aware that he could not be sure of the truth of any of it. …

The Masons, with their rings and trowels and tiny cocktail waitress aprons, had always charmed Brunetti.  He had little real information about them, but had always considered them more harmless than menacing … But Opus Dei was a different matter altogether.  He knew less about them – had to admit that he knew almost nothing about them – but even the sound of the name was a cold breath on the back of his neck.

From this point forward, despite the fact that Brunetti has admitted that he knows nothing about this organization, we continue on with the assumption that they are, in fact, all of the things that Leon tells us we should assume all Christians are – to wit, hypocritical, greedy, sneaky, power-hungry, and sexually perverted.  The only “proof” of Opus Dei’s evil doings is in the form of a letter found by the ever-well-connected secretary, a letter written by an elderly man who says he is giving his money to the organization because they have helped him realize his family is actually a bunch of heathens who don’t deserve earthly rewards.  Of course, this shouldn’t surprise us –

Brunetti looked up.  “What do you make of these, Signorina?”

“Spiritual blackmail.  Not much different from what they’ve been doing for centuries, just a little shabbier and on a smaller scale.”

But I think that what really, really annoyed me was the constant sorrowful way Leon, both in her narrative and through Brunetti’s thoughts, continually referred to Maria’s years as a nun as a waste, because she had joined the Order when she was fifteen, and now, in her late 20’s, had left it.  Despite the fact that, by her own admission, Maria had enjoyed her years there, had found them purposeful and fulfilling, despite the fact that Maria says she has left the Order, not because she has left her faith, but because she was frightened of what may be happening in the nursing home, we are still treated to multiple opportunities to look upon her wasted youth with a sigh of regret, because obviously we can’t take what Maria says at her word, because she has been so brainwashed her entire life –

At any rate, they were gone, those hours, flown away in the same way that years of Maria Testa’s life had been stolen from her.

Because yes, years she spent in sincere service were obviously a waste.  You never hear those kinds of sentiments expressed about people who join the  military right out of high school and serve for ten years – no one says that they wasted their youth with misguided enthusiasm.  No, because obviously fervent patriotism that leads to shooting people for reasons unknown simply because the government tells us to is an excellent use of one’s youth.  But using those years to serve the elderly and spend time in prayer?  How dare the Church steal her youth, years poor Maria will never get back!  Poor, poor brainwashed Maria.

It was more than a little aggravating to be told, multiple times and in multiple ways, that truly intelligent people are never Christians.  Truly intelligent people have gained enlightenment and left the Church behind forever.  Christians are irrational; Christians don’t (and never could) understand science; Christians are illogical; Christians cannot actually defend any of their beliefs in a rational ways, which is why they have use the threat of hellfire to convince people to do stuff their way; in short, Christians are stupid.  And this may come as a surprise, but I found that mildly insulting, and not just because I’m a Christian, but because I don’t really feel that a book should eviscerate an entire group of people without at least providing one exception.  I read somewhere that if you are unsure if what you are saying about a people group (race, religion, nation, etc.) is prejudiced, replace the people group you are discussing with “Jews,” and if it sounds like something out of Mein Kampf, you probably need to rein it in a little.  Leon did not pass the Mein Kampf test, I can tell you that much.  Geezy.

But you know, honestly, I could have gotten over all of this – I could have gotten over 310 pages of constant, incessant, nagging mockery of Christianity – if Leon could have actually made a mystery that made sense – but she didn’t.  Absolutely none of the questions are answered.  We never find out where the money goes.  We’re left with vague indications that one of the priests has a Swiss bank account, but there is no record of the money from those originally-dead people’s money going there, or anywhere else associated with the Church.  Maria recovers and runs away from the hospital still in fear of her life, and that’s all we know about her.  No one gets accused, much less arrested.  There is no indication that, if this Opus Dei group was murdering elderly people, they are now going to stop.  The whole thing is left just as tangled as it was in the beginning.  The only thing that is certain is that the Church is only comprised of people who are stupid, hypocritical, greedy, selfish, and sexually perverted.  And, I’m sorry, but it takes a little more than that to convince me that your story has any substance.

We are supposed, I believe, to be left with this feeling that this group is SO POWERFUL and SO EVIL that they have terrified everyone so hey, we’re just going to keep murdering old people and there ain’t nothing you can do about it.  I guess?

And that completely ignores the fact that we never even find out how half the supposedly-murdered individuals were killed??  Like we found out that the one woman, who seemed 100% normal when Brunetti talked with her, is actually completely insane, unhinged (to the point that spittle is flying out of her mouth as she madly attacks Brunetti with a knife) because of, of course, a religious mania.  The vague, unnamed priest (although Brunetti “knows” who it is, she never names him) has convinced this woman to kill a couple of people, including her father.  The death certificate, by the way, said her father died of a heart attack, while in real life, apparently this woman smothered him with a pillow.  Question:  Are the symptoms of heart attack and suffocation the same…??  Or was the doctor who wrote the death certificate also paid off??  How did this completely crazy woman hide her craziness so well?  Why was she planning to come and kill Maria in a melodramatic fashion with a ridiculous knife when she could have just smothered her like she did the old man…???  The whole thing just felt like a completely cop-out.

I don’t know.  I realize that there are bad people in the church, and that there have been many scandals within the Catholic church involving sexual perversion.  But it felt like those types of things could have been addressed in a more balanced manner, because there are also many genuine, sincere Christians/Catholics, who have devoted their lives to service from a sense of true belief, not because they are secretly trying to rob people.  I mean, seriously, even Mother Teresa got a dig.

“Doesn’t matter much, does it?” Vianello asked …  “Whether Mother Teresa gets the money or it goes to crooks …  no one ever finds out where that money goes, do they?  She’s won all those prizes, and someone’s always collecting money for her, but there never seems to be anything to show for it, does there?”

“Well, at least they had a decent death, those people she takes in.”

“They’d probably rather have a decent meal, if you ask me.”

Just.  Wow.  You’re right, she was doing it for glory, power, and money.  Also, she never fed the poor people she helped, just gave them a clean bed to die in.  I can’t even.

I will try one more of Leon’s books.  I genuinely enjoyed the first four.  They had some depth and some grit that really made them engaging reads.   But Acqua had some serious plot holes, and Quietly, obviously, left a lot to be desired, as most of it felt like a vindictive explanation as to why the Catholic Church should be purged from the earth and didn’t really bother wrapping up the actual mystery, so long as we understood that it was all, like apparently every other problem in the world, the fault of the Church.  All that to say, she gets one more try to pull this series back together.  I really, really like Brunetti as a character, and I love his family and their interactions, but I can’t handle mysteries that don’t actually answer questions, and I don’t appreciate villains being villains simply based on prejudice.

Have any of you read this book?  Am I completely overreacting…????

PS Just so we’re clear, I’m not really filled with rage or anything over this.  More just like confused and moderately offended that she expected me to just be willing to overlook her complete lack of a mystery because she blamed it all on a secret, powerful club?  Really?

The TBR Book Tag

So I don’t usually do book tags, but Erika in Bookventureland completed this one, and I really thought it was interesting.  I would love to see what other people’s methods are for compiling/tracking/dealing with their TBR are??  I was just thinking about this because I know that some people try to keep their list at a manageable (haha) level, while I tend to be someone who just extravagantly adds books with absolutely no self-restraint.  So no specific tags, but I would really, really enjoy reading other people’s thoughts on this one??


  • How do you keep track of your TBR pile?  So I never used to have a list at all.  Then, when I started blogging over on tumblr, I got a notebook and would just sort of write down books I thought looked interesting, mostly books by authors I had already read.  When I got serious and started blogging here on WordPress, though, I suddenly started following a BUNCH of other book bloggers, and I had to deal the fact that there are SO MANY BOOKS.  Point is, now I have an Excel spreadsheet.  The main tab is the basic TBR – all books that are either stand-alones or only have one sequel.  Then there are tabs for mystery series, random series, nonfiction, books the library doesn’t have but I still want to read, and authors I look for.  I’ve gotten a lot better – now when I add a book to the list, I also put down whose review inspired me and when I added it, which means that if, someday, I get around to reading the book, I’ll know who to thank!!  :-D
  • Is your TBR mostly print or eBook?  I get almost all of the books I read from the library, so the vast majority are print.  While I like my Kindle for random chick lit or something light that I can just grab whenever and then not go back to for a few days, I prefer my daily readers to be in print.  There is just something about having the actual book.  I especially feel that way about books I own.  The books on my shelf tell a whole other story just by virtue of when and where I purchased them, where and when I’ve read them, etc.  The way they smell, the way they feel, the way the book falls open, notes in the margins, underlines with dates – some of my favorite books bring back an entire flood of memories just by taking them off the shelf.
  • How do you determine which book from your TBR to read next?  I just started using a random number generator, actually.  Fate now determines which books are next …  I use the number generator and then read that number book from the list!  It’s actually working brilliantly, and much better than periodically putting the list in alphabetical order and then reading from the top down, haha.  The other thing that I do that is probably weird but I can’t help it, is I read the books in a sort of round-robin method.  So I’m always working my way through a mystery series and a non-mystery series, and I’m also trying to read every book that I own (since there are a lot I either haven’t read in years or have never gotten around to reading).  So basically I read a mystery, then a book from my personal library, then a book from a series, and in between each of those I read a random TBR book.  That’s also why my reviews are kind of random – recently I’ve been reading Donna Leon’s Brunnetti mysteries and Anne McCaffrey’s Pern books, plus I’ve been in the “K” section of my personal library (Kjelgaard, specifically).  :-D  …sound familiar??
  • A book that’s been on your TBR longest?  This is hard to say because I didn’t start putting dates next to when they were added until very recently.  I definitely have books that I actually own that I haven’t read yet.  Someone gave me Barbara Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible like ten years ago and told me I would enjoy it, and I’ve never read it, lol.
  • A book you recently added to your TBR?  haha, if you read yesterday’s post for the August Rearview, you’ll know that I recently added way, way too many. :-D
  • A book on your TBR strictly because of its beautiful cover?  15750874The Glass Arrow.  What.  So pretty.  I’m actually super attracted to cover art, and 100% judge books by their covers with no regrets or embarrassment.  No excuse for an ugly cover. I’m way more attracted to artsy viney covers than I am ones with people on them.
  • A book on your TBR you never plan on reading?  This seems like a weird question to me, because I’m not sure why I would add a book I don’t want to read…  part of my method, though, is to add books that sound even just a little bit interesting.  Because I read them from the library, I frequently will get them, look them over, and sometimes decide to not even start them…  even though I very rarely DNF a book, it’s not at all unusual for me to just not ever start them to begin with.  Incidentally, that’s part of the reason that I don’t really try to get galleys or ARCs, even though it sounds like something I would like.  I really enjoy having the freedom to just read random books whenever I feel like it, and to not bother if I don’t.  The library has basically every book I want to read, so getting free ebooks isn’t really enough of an inspiration for me to go through the hassle of ARCs, lol.  Sooo lazy.
  • An unpublished book on your TBR that you’re excited for?  I guess this ties into the last question…  not a lot of unpublished books, unless they’re ones that are coming out really soon that someone else just reviewed.  Although it would be really, really, REALLY nice if Robin McKinley would someday get around to writing a sequel for Pegasus.  I freaking loved that book AND IT HAS NO CONCLUSION she’s just like, “Oh yeah I’ll get around to finishing this story someday; in the meantime, why don’t you enjoy the first half of the book?  Oh by the way, I’m not actually sure how this book should end so I’ll write a couple of other books in between.  Oh and I think this may actually be the first book of a trilogy so even if I ever publish the second book, you’ll still have to wait for the third one to find out how the story ends.”  NOT COOL, ROBIN MCKINLEY.  I TRUST YOU.  PUBLISH THE SEQUEL.  I NEED IT TO LIVE.
  • A book on your TBR everyone has read but you?  ha.  Like everything.  I’m always behind on new, cool books.  Probably because I add them and then their random number doesn’t crop up for two years, lol. Ah well, it just means I can get it faster from the library.  ;-)
  • A book on your TBR everyone recommends to you?  Alllllll of themmmmmmmmmmm
  • A book on your TBR you’re dying to read?  Wow, so many.  Just posting the books I added in August made me excited about them all over again. It’s pretty rare that I reserve a book at the library that I’m not excited to see.  I’m a book addict.  It’s a problem.
  • How many books are on your GoodReads TBR shelf?  I actually basically don’t use GoodReads, even though everyone else does.  I just have too much going on.  I feel like I should post my amazing reviews on GoodReads and Amazon and other places, but I’m just tooooo lazy.  My spreadsheet, however, is sitting at 517 at this exact moment, which is only the stand-alone books and does not include 71 series, 31 mystery series, 48 books that weren’t at my library so I may try to find them some other way, and a list of authors who are actually still alive so I periodically check to see if they’ve published anything new.  Did I mention I have a problem??  :-D

Seriously, I would love to see other people’s answers to these questions, so be sure to let me know if you decide to answer this one!!

Rearview Mirror: August 2015

What!?  It’s September!?!?!?  How did this happen!??!

Conveniently, I love all the seasons, and am super happy that I live someplace where each one shows up for a couple of months, because I’m totally ready for the new one when it arrives!  All that to say, another week of muggy, humid, sticky weather has left me yearning for crisp autumnal days!  I’m ready!

Not much to report.  A LOT of working (at work!) these days for both members of Team Awesome, so not a lot of adventuring, although we did manage to hit up the Carnegie Museum in Pittsburgh last weekend, so that was pretty cool!!

Book wise?  SO MANY BOOKS ON THE TBR!  For reals, people.  I have ZERO self control!

Favorite August Read:  Honestly, I didn’t read anything this month that just really wowed me.  Everything felt kind of meh.  I’ve been enjoying the Pern books, but not passionately.  I think I’m going with Ice in the Bedroom.  You just can’t go wrong with P.G. Wodehouse, and especially not when he’s writing about Freddie Widgeon!

Most Disappointing August Read:  Oh, Zeldefinitely.  That book was whoa creepy and 100% unsuitable for its intended audience of CHILDREN.  Ugh.

Other August Reads:

  • Death and Judgment by Donna Leon – 4/5 – this is book #4 in the Commisario Brunetti series, and I also read (but didn’t review) #5, Aqua Alta.  Decent mysteries – I’ve been enjoying the series thus far.
  • Dragonsinger and The White Dragon by Anne McCaffrey – 4/5 and 3/5 – solid outings in the Pern chronicles, but The White Dragon was just trying to do a little too much.
  • The Black Fawn by Jim Kjelgaard – 4/5 – just a happy outdoorsy tail. I really liked the main character of this one.
  • Maris by Grace Livingston Hill – 3/5 – just a little too much of everything!

Random Fun:

Like I’ve said before, while I pretty much just write reviews here, I do enjoy reading other people’s bookish posts.  Here are some highlights I especially enjoyed this month!

  • Even though the BBC’s new Tommy & Tuppence adaptation isn’t a bad show, Books for the Trees says she doesn’t feel like it really catches the spirit of that indomitable duo.  Since Tommy and Tuppence are some of my all-time favorite characters in literature, I don’t think I’m brave enough to give the new show a try!  I was especially scared of the phrase “a time in their life where their marriage isn’t exactly prospering.”  What!?  I just can’t envision any point in Beresford life where the marriage didn’t prosper!  Balderdash!
  • FictionFan managed to create a poem that perfectly captures the true Pride & Prejudice spirit – bravo!
  • Even though Book Rock Betty and I read totally different books, and I consequently never really add one of her reads to my TBR, I thoroughly enjoy her reviews, especially the synopses written by her husband…  who hasn’t actually read the books!


Added to the TBR:

Guys, you don’t even want to know.  I am not even going to list all of them.  I am in FULL READING MODE and absolutely everything sounds so intriguing and fun!  I add them all!  No sense of self-restraint at all.  Here are just a couple of highlights…

  • Even though I’m a little scared about adding another 600 page (!!!) tome to the list, The Captive Reader’s review of Under Heaven just sounded absolutely fascinating to me.  She says:

Across a sprawling empire, Kay tracks the fates of his characters: an aging emperor obsessed with escaping death; his brilliant, beautiful consort, the most influential woman in the empire; an arrogant general; an honorary princess sent to wed a barbarian; a female warrior with a tongue as sharp as her swords; and, at the heart of it all, a young man emerging from the mourning period following the death of his father into a world of ambition, corruption, and near constant danger.

Can. Not. Resist.

  • While 746Books didn’t have time to devote a full review to it, even her minireview of Hawthorn & Child sounded really, really intriguing.  “Ridgeway has fashioned a crime novel with no real crime, a detective story that doesn’t really focus on the detectives and a novel that may be a short story collection or a short story collection that may be a novel.”  Doesn’t that sound unique??
  • Okay, so despite the fact that I’m a little scared of even “non-icky” sex scenes, Waiting for Sunriseas recommended by FictionFan, simply sounds like too much fun to pass up.
  • I was also pleased to add Secret Diary of PorterGirlanother FictionFan recommendation, to the list – especially since she says, “Something to read when the world feels grey and a little laughter is required to brighten the day!”  Well, who doesn’t need that??
  • Sometimes I am struck afresh by the fact that almost every movie I’ve ever watched is based on a book that is probably even more brilliant. This month, two books cropped up on the radar that are movies I have thoroughly enjoyed – so why not give the books a whirl??
    • Lady Fancifull recommended Strangers on a Trainalthough I am a bit worried that “Hitch[cock], unusually, made a much more saccharine film than Highsmith’s uncomfortably disturbing walk in the shadows.”  Gulp!
    • That’s What She Read reviewed Jurassic Park – one of those books that I didn’t even really realize was a thing.  Some movies are just so embedded in the culture that it seems almost shocking to remember that they are actually based on a book!  Creighton is one of those authors I always feel like I  should get around to reading, so what better place to start than with a classic?
  • Both Stephanie and Cleopatra recommended Black-Eyed Susans – who can resist a mystery coming from two excellent bloggers??
  • Speaking of taking recommendations, it’s always funny to come across an opposing review.  Last month, I added Little Black Lies to the TBR after reading Reading, Writing & Riesling’s review.  This month, FictionFan said that she felt that “ultimately … the flaws in this one outweighed its strengths.”  I am endlessly fascinated by the way everyone has different perspectives about every story they read.  Of course, Little Black Lies will stay on the list for now – because who knows where I will fall on the spectrum??
  • Peter Robinson is another one of those authors I’ve never gotten around to, and Reading, Writing & Riesling made me think that maybe I should start with one of his earlier novels??  She said that No Cure for Love was her first Robinson experience, and she enjoyed it so much that she added the entire rest of his works to her TBR!
  • Everyone once in a while, especially now that I’m married and don’t have to sleep alone, I enjoy reading a really good, solidly creepy kind of book, and In a Dark, Dark Wood sounds like it might fit the bill, since Cleo said it made the hairs on the back of her neck stand up!
  • For some reason, Bibliobeth’s description of She is Not Invisible definitely made me want to find this book – a story that she said she found engrossing from the first line to the final one.
  • The Literary Sisters pulled Little Boy Lost from the archive – a story about a young man returning to post-WWII France just really sounds engaging to me. I’ve really been trying to read more fiction set in the first half of the 1900’s, and this sounds like it will fit the bill!
  • I actually rather enjoyed Colleen Houck’s crazy tiger series (here’s my review for the first in the series), despite its many eye-rolling moments, and since Books for the Trees read her latest novel, ReawakenedI decided to add it to the list – who doesn’t want an ancient sun prince from Egypt for your hero??

Legit, that is maybe half the books I added this month.  I don’t know what was going on!  Every review sounded amazing!  I LOVE READING SO MUCH!

Thanks to everyone for blogging – I really, really, really love reading other people’s reviews and thoughts and discussions about books.  Even though I haven’t had as much time to be active about “liking” and commenting posts, I’m reading them – and they’re making my TBR spiral out of control!  Keep up the great work!!!  :-)