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Hello, my name is Valorie. I have a Master's Degree in History and a license to teach-- I have been both university professor and public school teacher. Currently, I am a middle school social studies teacher. I love horror movies and spooky things. Every day is Halloween. I am also a passionate book blogger.

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Book Review: 23:27 by H.L. Roberts

Friday, January 30, 2009

Book Review: The Last Wife of Henry VIII by Carolly Erickson

Title: The Last Wife of Henry VIII
Author: Carolly Erickson
Genre: Fiction - Historical
Finished: January 30, 2009

I picked up Erickon's The Last Wife of Henry VIII because Barnes and Noble had yet to receive that newest issue of Fangoria Magazine and I did not want to go home. I found myself at a shelf of historical fiction about the wives of kings, a simple endcap with about six books on it. I chose Erickson's after reading the backs of a few-- I went for Erickson because she had a background in history, which I felt the book would benefit from. The Last Wife of Henry VIII is about Catherine Parr, the wife of King Henry VIII. She was the only one to escape death, exile and divorce at his hand. The novel follows Catherine through her life from girlhood to death. It recounts her four marriages, not all true to life, to Ned Burgh, John Neville, King Henry VIII, and finally Tom Seymour.

Throughout the book, Catherine experiences much tragedy as she loses family, husbands, children, and homes. Always in the background is the King and his doings, told through the perspective of Catherine and other sources of information. Wives are disposed of one after the other and the King courts Catherine through the entire novel until their marriage. She does emotional battle and engages in struggles for power with relatives and other members of the court, which causes her much distress and adds to the drama of the novel. Yes, this book gives Catherine Parr and very full, very exciting, and very dramatic life.

I wasn't too long into the book that I had to apply one of the most important historical fiction rules: when reading historical fiction, keep in mind that it's not non-fiction and will, therefore, be less bound by the responsibility of accuracy and neutrality. Historical fiction may take as many liberties as it pleases to tell an interesting story, which Erickson certainly does in this novel. Historical fiction is usually based on the life of an important figure or on historical events, though not with the promise of total truth. Fiction is fiction, even with you tack on the word "historical" in front of it. To anyone unfamiliar with Tudor history, the story flows easily. For anyone who knows a little something about the Tudors, some of the inaccuracies or displays of character are a bit unsettling. For example, Catherine did not marry young Ned Burgh, though Erickson writes that he was her one true love. Also, Tom Seymour did not try to usurp the crown through starting his own army and waging a personal war. These things are added for romantic and dramatic effect only. What especially annoyed me was that when married to Henry VIII, the novel Catherine Parr was silly and stupid enough to commit adultery. Clearly, she had not been paying enough attention when other wives were executed for that very crime. It seemed out of character that such an intelligent and steady headed woman would give in to something so dangerous and, well, stupid.

Was this a good book? Yes. I couldn't put it down. The drama was great, the romances were hot, and the intrigues were very intriguing. I enjoyed the book and hope to find more of Erickson's works. Fortunately, while I enjoy picking through historical fiction and determining its accuracy, I don't get upset or overly bothered when a book is very inaccurate.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Book Review: Medicus (Medicus, #1) by Ruth Downie

Title: Medicus
Series: Medicus
Book  Number: 1
Author: Ruth Downie
Genre: Fiction - Historical
Finished: January 28, 2009

Medicus: A Novel of the Roman Empire by Ruth Downie is about a divorced and female-wary Roman doctor named Gaius Petreius Ruso who quite simply has terrible luck. First, he finds himself the owner of a very expensive and wounded female slave named Tilla who can't cook or obey any orders. Second, a dead prostitute from a local bar that sells rancid oysters is found floating in a river and Ruso somehow finds himself in the middle of the investigation. And third- yes, there is also a third- Ruso's family in Gaul is in serious debt with creditors breathing down the back of their necks. Ruso can't seem to save let alone keep any money, is behind on the concise guide to medical care that he has been attempting to write for years, and the hospital administration in his miserable military outpost in Britannia is constantly on his back. There's no hope of riches or promotion in his future. Or of having a decent hot meal.

To put it simply, I loved this book. From the moment I picked it up, I didn't want to put it down. Though the mystery wasn't so much a mystery by the middle of the novel (I guessed the culprit, though perhaps Downie intended for us to get hints along the way and work this out), I still found how it unfolded very riveting. Also, Downie inserts a lot of humor into the novel and you end up feeling both sorry and amused by Ruso both in the same breath. Ruso is a very likable character because he is neither too unfortunate nor too impressive, but still charming. In the end, Ruso comes out as an average man. Because Ruso is such an interesting and likable character, he sustained the story well enough for me when the plot waned.

What about historical accuracy? In the end notes, Downie herself admits that information about Roman Britain is hard to come by and scant. She also confesses that some of her information is made up or exaggerated to move the plot along. The few books that Downie listed as sources are secondary sources, which are always to be used critically since their information may not be correct or unbiased. A few primary sources would have made her history more credible, certainly. A lot of the speech and infrastructure in Medicus was inspired by modern practices-- characters used words like "lad" and "bloody". Still, I was relieved that this book did not read like a textbook and that it did not focus on big names and big people. Yes, Julius Caesar marching on Rome was an amazing thing, but we should only have so many fiction books about it. It is nice to read about an average Roman. It was refreshing that Downie allowed me to use my own knowledge of Rome to fill in the gaps and set the scene rather than laying it all out for me in a tedious, fact rich way. Like I said, Medicus did not read like a book of facts. In a way, it was taken for granted that the reader should know a little something about the Roman way of life. I may be better off than your average reader since I do know a lot about Rome to fill in blanks with. Yet, a non-scholar can still pick out a lot about Roman life such as that slaves were property and frequently abused, Romans wrote on wax covered pages with a stylus, Romans diluted their wine with water, etc. You won't finish this book without some idea of how Romans lived.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Book Review: Dead as a Doornail (Southern Vampire Mysteries, #5) by Charlaine Harris

Title: Dead as a Doornail
Series: Southern Vampire Mysteries
Book Number: 5
Author: Charlaine Harris
Genre: Fiction - Paranormal
Finished: January 24, 2009

What's the Southern mystery this time? There is a sniper on the loose who seems to be targeting only shifters (and Sookie, but she has very poor luck). Not only that, but who tried to burn down Sookie's house with her in it? In this book five of the Southern Vampire Mysteries, Dead as a Doornail, Sookie is almost burned to death, attacked by wolves during a ceremony, shot in the shoulder, harassed by Eric who desperately wants to know what happened during his period of amnesia, and faced with Bill reentering the dating world. Her friendship is also on the fritz with Alcide. Oh, and if that's not bad enough, she is a suspect in the death of shifter Debbie Pelt, which is probably the only one thing that happens that she actually deserves. Problems don't belong to only Sookie, though. Jason is a suspect in the shifter shootings (the Stackhouses must be cursed), though he is adapting nicely to his new life as a shifter and, in fact, quite likes it. Tara Thornton, Sookie's best friend, is the unwilling girlfriend to a violent and dominating vampire named Mickey. Alcide has his worries over his father becoming pack leader. I have to say that the plots are becoming predictable. That's not to say that they're not exciting because they are. It's just that you can almost predict who will be the perpetrator by the first few chapters. I had this one pegged. Of course, it didn't have me put down the book. I still find the Southern Vampire Mysteries very fun, very exciting, and very much worth my time to read. I still love them, yes. If you are looking for a shocking twist at the end, you're not going to find it here because the formula is predictable. I am also a bit disappointed in the turn that Sookie's friendship with Alcide took. I don't think it's too much that the two of them could remain friends and get over their little crush from book three. Instead, the two of them are getting to the point where they can scant stand each the company of each other. I mean, Sookie can have a friend she's not making out with... right? You can bet as soon as I can, I am going to pick up book six.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Book Review: Dead to the World (Southern Vampire Mysteries, book 4) by Charlaine Harris

Title: Dead to the World
Series: Southern Vampire Mysteries
Book Number: 4
Author: Charlaine Harris
Genre: Fiction - Paranormal
Finished: January 19, 2009

I had to dive into this one right after finishing book three. After how much I enjoyed Club Dead, I couldn't wait to read Dead to the World. In this part four of the Southern Vampire Mysteries, Sookie ends up in a whole new mess despite her New Year's Resolution to stay out of trouble. But trouble follows Sookie and is to be expected and enjoyed by now, at least for us the reader. First Sookie's brother Jason goes missing. Then she finds an amnesiac Eric running down the road (shirtless) and discovers out that he has been cursed by a lustful witch/werewolf. Defeated and fearing for her resolution, Sookie is charged to take care of Eric for an ample fee until the vampires find the witch and make her lift the curse. Due to events in Club Dead, Sookie and Bill are still on the outs and he spends most of the book collecting for his vampire directory in Peru. This book was great. I won't give away any more spoilers than my vague summary already has, but I will cheer and say that the moment I've been waiting for DID happen in chapter 6. Now, if only it could have stayed that way.

In the end, as a reader, I know that Sookie and Bill will make up and get back together and continue their great love affair. The grand bulk of this story was spent working out the relationship between Sookie and Eric, investigating Jason's disappearance, and searching for the very dangerous coven of witches that cursed Eric. The final battle scene is very tense and well played out, though not in clear drawn out detail since it is from the perspective of Sookie who is understandably out of it. We have new creatures and supernatural elements, too! As I said above, witches are introduced along with fairies. Now those can be added to the growing catalog of creatures and things Sookie has to interact with on a daily (and nightly) basis. I am almost disappointed that Eric's time may be over. I feel that he certainly shines brighter and with more character than Bill. After spending an entire book with Eric, Bill's entrance at the end was bland, at best. He just seems monotonous next to the personality that Eric exudes. If Eric could just get over himself, he would be perfect. Still, I cling to hope because surely the Eric that he was when he didn't have a memory is still in him... somewhere. I am completely addicted to this series. Anne Rice might have defined the vampire in my eyes, but Charlaine Harris makes them pretty fun. This series is just one big ball of excitement for me.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Book Review: Club Dead (Southern Vampire Mysteries, #3) by Charlaine Harris

Title: Club Dead
Series: Southern Vampire Mysteries
Book Number: 3
Author: Charlaine Harris
Genre: Fiction - Paranormal
Finished: January 14, 2009

Club Dead is my favorite of the series so far. When the book begins, Bill, who has been working on a "secret" project, has been kidnapped and is being held hostage in Mississippi for his secrets. Much to Sookie's dislike, Bill had also been recently shacked up with his maker, who he subsequently planned on leaving Sookie for before he was betrayed by said maker. What a mess, right? But what else could or would a fan of the Southern Vampire Mysteries expect? Despite Bill's betrayal, Sookie, with the help of a werewolf, heads off to Mississippi to find Bill. There's a lot of drama, a lot of arguing, a lot of mystery and a lot passion. Bodies pile up and violence increases as the story goes on. Werewolves and shapeshifters are very important in this third book, which is great in making the Southern Vampire Mysteries about more than just vampires. Sookie's world is indeed full of the paranormal and supernatural. It's a wonder a girl can get any peace, which doesn't seem to bless Sookie often. The mystery that unfolds Bill and his kidnapping isn't that intricate or hard to solve. It almost seems to happen too easy, which is forgivable because the book is just so entertaining. In the end, I didn't mind that Sookie was all but able to just ease Bill out from under his captors and rescue him because there was drama and tension everywhere else. The build-up was not in her rescuing Bill, but in her finding him. The climax of tension was in her getting to the house and finding a way to save him, not the rescue. Eric makes a much larger appearance in this third book, which I feel really adds to it. You can't deny that there is some great chemistry between Eric and Sookie. Then again, it just could be because I think the two of them would make an excellent couple and have a more interesting dynamic than other couplings in the books. This book has solidified my respect for Eric. Sure, he comes on strong and hard, often times a bit cold, but he's actually quite charming and funny. If anything in this book made me laugh, it was some of what came out of his mouth.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Book Review: The Tudor Rose by Margaret Campbell Barnes

Title: The Tudor Rose
Author: Margaret Campbell Barnes
Genre: Fiction - Historical
Finished: January 9, 2009

Tudor Rose follows the tumultuous events of the life of Elizabeth of York, one of the Plantagenet and the rightful heir to the throne after her father dies and her uncle Richard has her two brothers murdered. Once a young girl with high hopes of being married off to French royalty, dreams that are never realized as the nature of political alliance complicates happiness, Elizabeth (Bess) is thrown into drama and intrigue when, just as her young brother Edward is to be crowned King, he is sent to the Tower of London. Not soon after, so too is her brother Richard. With both sons out of the way, presumed and then verified dead, her father's brother, the noble Richard rises to the thrown. She is caught in the middle of an uncle she fears is a murderer and may soon either murder or wish to marry her, and a political alliance with one of the Tudor family in exile. In a plot to rid herself of her uncle, she promises young Henry that she will marry him and give him the crown if he kills her uncle. Yet it is no happily ever after for them as Elizabeth soon finds that their marriage will not be one of love. After a lifetime of disappointment and fear, she must now endure a husband who is not only ambitious, but entirely awkward at ways of love. His brand of affection is vexing for her indeed. Feeling unloved, Elizabeth must find reasons and things within her life to bring her pleasure. And, as she hopes, to make the husband she gave her crown and the power over all of England to love her finally. Amidst disappointment, fear, and grief, the two of them I very much enjoyed Tudor Rose, as it is one of my first forays into the realm of Tudor fiction, which is apparently all the rage. Not knowing much about the time period or the family itself, I cannot attest to the historical accuracy of the novel besides saying that the author has taken great pains to bring life and complexity into each and every character. Whether the personalities are true to the people, I liked that each and every one was distinct and evolving, not superficial. Though of course the "everyone loves Bess, she's perfect and no one can resist her charms and adores her" was a little bit annoying. It took it to that "romance novel" level of perfect lead female characters that I just cannot stand. She was your typical tragic female character who is perfect despite all and suffers through misfortune that only makes her ever more adored by those around her. Not my type of character. I was also a bit put off by how quickly certain events moved. It seemed throughout the novel that the author was setting us up for something big and climactic, but then it would all come to an end in the beginning of the first chapter with a few sentences to explain it was taken care of. It felt rather disappointing to be set up for so much drama, only to not get to witness it being played out. This was more common in the beginning on the novel, which I suppose is understandable because to cover everything would have made the book of considerable length. There was enough to fill up the pages, and not everything was brushed over anti-climactic. I read the book in its entirely in a hotel room in San Diego and very much enjoyed every moment of the experience. I even found myself looking forward to returning to the hotel room to finish the book.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Book Review: Battle Royale by Koushun Takami

Title: Battle Royale
Author: Koushun Takami
Genre: Fiction - Dystopia
Finished: January 5, 2009

I've been eager to read this book for a while since I own both Battle Royale movies and I read the manga years ago. This book is as troubling as it is insightful-- troubling because it shows you the truth depth of human desperation and troubling because it makes the reader enjoy it. This book isn't full of thesaurus words or flowery, flowing descriptions. It's simple and to the point, and every effective. The book shows us how people, normal people, can descend into madness. How many of us would be able to kill someone? I'm sure many people would say, "not I," yet how do we know until we're put in that position? Each character in the book experiences their own personal reaction to fear, violence and the threat of death, which could come at any moment. How each handles this situation is where the insight comes in. We come to see that fear is more complex than the word describes. Some justify killing with logic, however poor, some do it out of instinct, and some do it to protect others. This isn't a book to pass over lightly because of its subject. I know that the thought of middle school students killing each other off on an island is sour, but Battle Royale is an excellent book about human nature and how humans exist in a world out of their control. There is hope, though! The main characters Shuya and Noriko fight a force far larger than themselves, which gives a glimmer of hope in the madness. Granted, there is no peaceful resolution at the end. The world as the characters know it does not crumble or end. It stays strong and in control, but the resistance of a few is only a minor shine to the possible resistance of many. Even in a world of chaos and death, there is loyalty and friendship.