Friday, October 30, 2009

The Lady Elizabeth

by Allison Weir

Review #2 from my written book journal for 2009.

Reading this book was like talking to an old friend. Having read so many books on the Tudors, many of them by Allison Weir, I know the history forward and back. What I liked about the fictional work is the author took many of the rumors about Lady Elizabeth and weaved them in to the story. It made for an interesting life. She also took liberties with a few of my favorite historical characters in Elizabeth's life, Kat Astley and William Cecil, both of whom I liked a great deal in this book. My one complaint is the trivial role Sir Robert Dudley played in the novel, showing up only in the last 10 pages. HOw I would love to see what Allison Weir would do with a relationship between Elizabeth and Sir Robert. Maybe in her next book...

Rating B

19 Minutes

by Jody Picoult

Before I began blogging about the books I read, I kept a written book journal. Since my goal was to review all the books I read this year, I am posting the reviews I have in my book journal for the 3 books I reviewed before my foray into the world of book blogging. This is the first of those books.

I did not expect to like this book. In fact, I resisted reading it for a long time, until a student made me promes I would read it over Winter Break. the main character, shoe does the school shooting, was bullied from the first day of Kindergarten. His only friend deserts him, joing the popular crowd, the ones who bully him. As the story unfolds, you begin to see why he felt this was his only option. As the mother of a child who was bullied at school, I lived and breathed with the mother of the main character. This book created sleepless nights for me as I explored the "what ifs" of our own situation. Upon completion of the book, I found myself empathizing with the boy and felling more than a little sympathetic for the mother. I'm not sure I would say I liked the book nor am I glad I read it, but it did have a profound effect on me.

Rating - C+

Thursday, October 29, 2009

What's On Your Nightstand - October

Eventhough I am a few days late, I just had to post because for the first time I finished everything on my nightstand! Last month I was reading 3 books and I finished them all this month. I have even reviewed two of them and expect to post the third in the next day or two.
This month I am reading -
The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
My assistant principal and I share books all the time. This one came from her with high recommendations.
The Last Queen by C. W. Gortner
The story of Juana of Castile, the last Spanish blood queen of Spain
Vive La Revolution by Mark Steel
A series of anecdotes about the French Revolution. This one is research for my AP European History class.
Stark Raving Bibliophile mentioned this book on her blog this summer and I just had to have it. My hope is it will help me explain literature and its importance better to my students as well as make me a better critical reader.
Hopefully, this time next month I can claim to have finished all these too!

Portrait of an Unknown Woman

by Vanora Bennett

Portrait of an Unknown Woman tells the story of Renaissance portrait painter Hans Holbein and Sir Thomas More through the eyes of one of More's adopted children, Meg Giggs. Taking place during the turbulent years of Henry VIII's obsession with Anne Boleyn the book protrays the uncertainty that surrounded the time. At the beginning of the book, the More family is on the rise, having recently moved to their grand country house from London. It is in this light that Hans Holbein arrives to paint a portrait of More and one of his family. Holbein is drawn to Meg and fancies himself in love with her. Meg however is blinded by the return of her one time tutor, John Clement. Meg, having been in love with John for years, quickly finds out her affections are returned and eventually they marry. John's past however is clouded in secrecy. These secrets eventually have an effect on the relationship between Meg and John.

By the end of the book, 5 years later, when Holbein returns to again paint the More family, thier fortunes are on a downward spiral. As Henry seeks a annulment of his marriage to Catherine of Aragaon and is more drawn to the new "reformed religion", More's strong Catholic beliefs and his campaign to destroy heretics puts him in a precarious situation with the King. Secrets among More's children, wards and their spouses also come to light, putting a strain on the family from within.

What I enjoyed most about the book is the liberal poetic liscence the author took with the historical facts. Amidst the very accurate timeline, social climate of the time and a very historically accurate cast of characters, she creates some very interesting twists, many of which involve they mystery of the Princes in the Tower. While I had most of them figured out , long before they were revealed in the story, it was a very interesting twist on an age old historical mystery.

What I learned most from the book however was just how fanatical More was. He feared the rise of the reformed church so much so that he kept and tortured heretics at his country home. He actively sought out heretics and as a servant of the Crown, brought back the burning of heretics. One of the most memorable scenes from the book involves Meg witnessing a burning and being accousted by the crowd. When she realizes her own father was responsible, her world begins to fall apart, mirroring the destruction of her own family.

Rating - A

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Monday, October 12, 2009

A World Lit Only By Fire

By William Manchester

I assigned this book to my AP European History class. It is a great, interesting history of Europe’s transition from the Dark Ages through the Renaissance and Reformation.

Manchester takes the reader from what is left of European society after the Black Plague to the completion of Magellan’s circumnavigation of the globe in a story like fashion. He does not mince words or gloss over the worst part of this time period. He is especially harsh on the Borgia’s, probably with good reason. Pope Alexander VI, the Borgia pope was known for his wild Vatican parties.

“Borgia’s enjoyment of the flesh was enhanced when the woman beneath him was married, particularly if he had presided at her wedding. Breaking any commandment excited him, but he was partial to the seventh.”

Another unusual accomplisment of Pope Alexander VI was his illegitimate daughter, Lucrezia. Lucrezia was an example of the hard life a Renaissance woman faced, especially if her father held any sort of political power. She was married and divorced several times to create alliances that benefitted her father. It is also rumored that she was one of her father’s own mistresses for a time.

Manchester follows the historical path of Martin Luther as he, through his attack on the selling of indulgences, sets the fire that will create the largest schism Europe had seen to date.

“In defying the organized church, Luther had done something else. He had broken the dam of medieval discipline. By his reasoning, every man could be his own priest.”

He addresses how without the protection of Frederick of Saxony, Luther would have been burned as a heretic and the Protestant Reformation we know today would not have happened when and how it did.

He is also not complimentary of Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor, blaming a great deal of the religious wars that followed on his inability to rule Spain and the Holy Roman Empire at the same time. As he ignored the conflict between Luther and the Pope, he allowed the principalities of the Holy Roman Empire to embrace Luther’s ideas and bring a slow end to an institution that had existed since Charlemagne.

“…the political vacuum being left by the ebbing Holy Roman Empire was being filled by a new phenomenon: the rising nation-states.”

And finally, he is infatuated with the exploits of Ferdinand Magellan.

“In the long lists of history it is difficult to find another figure whose heroism matches Magellan’s.”

I agree that Magellan’s achievements were extremely important in technological advancements, globalization and human achievement; I do not believe he is the greatest hero of modern times.

I chose this book for my class because it is easy to read and Manchester writes in a conversational, interesting style. He sprinkles history with just enough “interesting” facts to hold the attention of high school seniors. But, I also chose it because there is some controversy about his writing of the book. He uses many secondary sources, rather than primary sources from the time and he sprinkles his history with his own biases at times. I really wanted to use this book to teach my students to be critical readers and not just accept whatever is written in a book, especially non-fiction books as the final authority.

Rating - B+

Fall is by far my favorite season. Cooler weather, bright blue skies, changing leaves, football, mums and pansies everywhere, just make me smile. Going to the pumpkin patch and our Halloween Hayride two of my very favorite family traditions. I don't know about everywhere else, but in Georgia, the air just smells better in the fall!

I also love foods associated with fall so when My Friend Amy announced she was hosting a Fall Recipe Challenge I knew I had to participate, not only to share my favorite recipes, but to steal some from others. I just could not decide between a pumpkin recipe or an apple recipe, so I am including both.
The first is an OLD family favorite that my mom made when we were kids. It is an easier take on old fashioned apple dumplings wrapped in pastry.
1 c sugar
1/8 t nutmeg
2 T margarine
2 t baking powder
2/3 c shortening
6 apples, peeled and sliced
1 c water
1/4 c cinnamon red hots
2 c sifted flour
1 t salt
1/2 c milk

Combine sugar, water, nutmeg and cinnamon candy; cook over low heat until candy dissolves. Make dough of flour, baking powder, salt, shortening and milk. Roll to 1/4 inch thickness and cut into strips. Cover bottom of 13 x 9 pan with dough strips. Add apples and sprinkle with more sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg. Dot with butter. Cover with dough strips. Pour cinnamon syrup over all. Bake at 375 for about 35 minutes. Serve warm, with vanilla ice cream if desired.

The second recipe is from a 1998 issue of Bon Appetit magazine. It is easy and makes enough to share, so I take to school quite often.

2 c all purpose flour
2 c sugar
1 T ground cinnamon
2 t baking powder
1 t baking soda
1 t salt
1/2 t ground nutmeg
1/2 t ground cloves
1 15oz can pumpkin
4 large eggs
3/4 c vegetable oil
1 c raisins (good with dried cranberries too)
8 ounces cream cheese, softened
1 c powdered sugar
1/3 c butter, softened

Preheat oven to 350. Grease a 15 x 10 1/2 inch baking sheet. Stir first 8 ingredients in a large bowl. Add pumpkin, eggs, and oil and beat until blended. Mix in raisins. Spread batter in prepared pan. Bake about 25 minutes. Cool in pan on wire rack.

Beat cream cheese, powdered sugar and butter in medium bowl to blend. Spread frosting on cake in thin layer.

Must be refrigerated. Makes 24 bars.
To add your own favorite fall recipe, link your post here.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

The Sunday Salon - October 11th

This Sunday brings a beautiful, sunny fall day to my corner of the world. The perfect day to sit out on my porch and read. I plan on reading Sex with Kings by Eleanor Herman today. I am about 1/3 of the way through this entertaining book about the various mistresses of the kings of Europe over the past 500 years. My one complaint with this book so far is the fact this it is not chronological, but organized by themes, types of mistresses for example. With the number of King Henrys, Charles and Philips through out history, I am having a difficult time keeping track sometimes, and I teach European History, I can imagine that this book would frustrate someone with little knowledge of the chronology behind the book.

This week, I finished Portrait of an Unknown Woman by Verona Bennett. I thoroughly enjoyed this one. It follows the family of Sir Thomas More during his rise and eventual fall from grace through the eyes of one of his adopted daughters, Meg Giggs. Not having read much on More, I was very interested in how much actual history was intertwined with the fictional story. Look for my review later this week.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

THe Healthiest Kid in the Neighborhood

By Dr. William Sears et all

My children have food sensitivities. They are not diagnosed and their pediatrician and psychologist think I am nuts, but when my kids eat certain things, they act a bit crazy. They are short tempered and emotional and family life is not all that much fun sometimes. Couple that with the fact that my 10 year old son is on medication that makes him have almost no appetite at all and you have a mother that is going crazy trying to get her kids to eat all the right things.

Enter Dr. Sears…. This is one of those books I found just browsing the book store and it seemed like an answer to my prayers and in a way it was. Dr. Sears bases his nutritional advice on his own battle with cancer as well as many, many years as one of the most successful pediatricians in the United States. While all of his strategies do not fit with our way of life, eating styles or preferences, I have made many positive changes in our eating habits that have made a huge difference.

Substituting ½ whole wheat flour for white in recipes
Serving “colorful” vegetables
Protein smoothies for breakfast
Less processed foods
Grazing is healthy
How to read labels correctly

These are just a few of the changes we have made since June and I can tell a difference. With our crazy schedules we sometimes get off track and end up eating out several times a week. When this happens, I can tell a difference in how my kids behave.

My kids are great eaters. They always have been. They love fresh fish, vegetables like asparagus and broccoli and every fresh fruit known to man. The problem was me, not taking the time to feed my family like I should. This book showed me it really is not that hard to feed them food that is healthy.

Rating - A+