Review: The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett

Sunday, July 20, 2014

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The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett


Release Date: September 2007
Publisher: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux
Age Group: Adult
Pages: 120
Source: Borrowed from the Library

Summary (goodreads.com): A deliciously funny novella that celebrates the pleasure of reading.
When the Queen in pursuit of her wandering corgis stumbles upon a mobile library she feels duty bound to borrow a book. Aided by Norman, a young man from the palace kitchen who frequents the library, Bennett describes the Queen's transformation as she discovers the liberating pleasures of the written word.
With the poignant and mischievous wit of The History Boys, England's best loved author revels in the power of literature to change even the most uncommon reader's life.



My Review:


I first found out about this book in a Bas Bleu catalog several years ago and checked it out from the library. For some reason, despite its small size I couldn’t get through it, I just couldn’t get into it, and returned it. By chance I found it again and decided to give it another shot. This time I couldn’t put it down. With a degree in Literature I feel like I understand the Queen’s view points on reading better now than I would have before. The Queen was new to reading and was exploring the classics much like a college student must. Every time I recognized an author or title that the Queen was reading I would get excited. At one point she quotes Dickinson’s poem “Tell the truth but tell it slant” and almost misnames the author, but catches herself. Before she did, however, I caught her mistake right off because I had read the poem not a week before for my seminar class. The plot of The Uncommon Reader was incredibly intriguing to me because I myself am a reading anglophile so the fact that the Queen of England is the title character alone had my interest. The depth Bennett gave to the Queen was extremely well done and very convincing. She is understandably wise while also being short sighted when it comes to dealing with commoners. After reading this I had a hard time fighting the temptation to search for video of the Queen sneaking out of public events with a book in hand!


~Laura!

My Ideal Bookshelf

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

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I got the idea for this post from the book, My Ideal Bookshelf. It asks readers to think about the books that shaped their lives. Each contributor writes a few paragraphs about why the books they chose mean so much to them. The writing is accompanied by amazing drawings of the spines of the books. I cannot do that. I tried and failed so instead I took a photo of them. 

I had to think about this for months. Finally, I decided on these 6 (I count HP as one) because without them I wouldn't be me. I decided to keep my reasons short because it seems more powerful, if that makes sense. 

P&P was the first “classic” I ever read. I love everything about it.

84CCR is everything I want in life.

Before I read 13LBE I never wanted to travel.

Inkheart's main plot is that characters come out of books; it is my imagination in book form. 

TFIOS is the only book that has simultaneously made me laugh and cry hysterically in the same sentence.

Harry Potter is the reason I am the person I am today.
~Laura!

Review: Fly by Night by Frances Hardinge

Sunday, July 6, 2014

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Fly by Night by Frances Hardinge



Release Date: October 7th, 2005
Publisher: HarpersCollins
Age Group: Children’s Middle Grade
Pages: 512
Source: Bought at a Used Bookstore
Series: Fly by Night (#1)
Other Titles in the Series: Fly Trap (#2)

Summary (goodreads.com): Twelve-year-old Mosca Mye hasn't got much. Her parents are dead, her cruel uncle keeps her locked away, and her only friend is her pet goose. But she does have one small, rare thing: the ability to read. In a world where books are dangerous things, this gift will change her life—but it may also be the death of her.



My Review:

First off, this book isn’t exactly what is advertised. The summary makes it seem as if the fact that Mosca can read is what will be the most important plot point and while it is pretty important it isn’t the main thing of the story. Neither is the big warning on the cover “Imagine a world in which all books have been BANNED” accurate, all books are not banned just those not printed by the Stationers Guild. Fly by Night is much more than either the summary or the cover imply.


Fly by Night is one of those children’s books that can be read at any age. There are complex plot lines and characters and politics that to a child would seem fantastical, but to adults would seem all too familiar. Fly by Night has one of the most thought out worlds that I have read and everything is important to the story and all of it is incredibly interesting. I would call it a fantasy without magic. Mosca and Clent were incredibly well-written and by the end of the book I felt as if I really knew them. Saracen the goose was a welcome addition to their little crew, too. I love when authors give pets personalities, I don’t know why but it just makes me like the whole book more if you have a funny animal. Reading this book gave me a whole new appreciation for words. Mosca loves words and by the writing I could tell that it was the author’s love that created Mosca. I recommend this to all those who love words and the complex worlds those words build!


~Laura!

HPA's Esther Day Project

Saturday, July 5, 2014

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Llama George sees TFIOS
On June 5th, I received an email from the Harry Potter Alliance about the Esther Day Project. The main idea was "if you’re seeing The Fault in Our Stars, take a selfie or a picture with your friends making the shape of a heart with your hands. Tag your photos #EstherDay wherever you upload them." So when my cousin Kelly and I went to see the movie later that day we took a photo in front of the poster outside the theater. I also took a picture of Llama George, as well.

Who is Esther and why are you doing this? Well, Esther was a nerdfighter who semi-inspired John Green to finish writing his book about a girl with cancer. Why would she inspire him to do so? Because she had cancer. In fact, she died from it in 2010 at the age of 16. Before her passing, however, John told her that he and his army of nerds would celebrate her birthday (August 3rd) every year. John asked her what she wished the holiday to be about and she suggested a day devoted to telling those you love in a non-romantic way that you love them (ie: family and friends).

Kelly and I before TFIOS!
I am particularly felt that the Esther Day Project surrounding TFIOS was appropriate on a personal level because I was seeing the movie with someone I don't necessary express my love of her all the time (mostly because we are very awkward people. Um, hi Kelly! I love you lots just so you know!). I am so glad that I got to experience the movie premiere with her. She is the only fellow nerdfighter I know (because I forced it upon her) so she was the only one who understood how important it was that we stand in front of a poster and figure out how to do heart hands while also taking a picture of ourselves.

I decided to post this in July, instead of June because I figured that most people would be but I believe that the Esther Day Project shouldn't just be concentrated in June, but for as long as people are going to see TFIOS.  I hope this reminds people who haven't seen it yet or those who didn't know about it to add their own photos!
~Laura!

Thoughts From Places Spotlight: Smithsonians (2010)

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

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My Trip to (some of the) Smithsonian Museum 

during my trip to DC!

Elephant at the Natural History Museum
The main purpose of our trip to DC was so that we could see some of the Smithsonian Museums. We saw 3: Natural History, American History, and Air & Space. We probably would have seen more except that we took 2 days to go to Manassas and Mount Vernon.

Easter Island Head
Natural History Smithsonian Museum:

            I suck at museums. I love them a lot but I am a horrible museum goer. I spend 99% of the time going around, ignoring signs and taking pictures of things that look cool. That’s pretty much what I did at the Natural History Museum. The only thing I knew about this is that it was the setting of the Night at the Museum movie so after I saw the Easter Island head I went a bit stir crazy. So needless to say I didn’t learn much. I saw a lot of stuffed animals and that was it. They did have an aquarium though and I found a Dory near a Marlin so I imagined how those Finding Nemo characters would have felt if they suddenly turned up in a museum across the world. My favorite thing though was the Elephant in the Atrium. He was just so big and cool.

Edith and Archie Bunker's chairs (All in the Family)

American History Smithsonian Museum:

            Even though I still took a lot of pictures in this museum this is an experience I remember better because I was so excited to be around the artifacts that I had studied for as long as I could remember. Here’s a little back story: I had never heard of the Smithsonians until I was watching that episode of Gilmore Girls when Rory is in DC for the summer because she was elected class VP. In passing she said, “Well, I got to see Archie Bunker’s chair at the Smithsonian Museum, so it was a big thumbs up for me” and Jamie replies, “Yes, there are times when this country’s priorities are exactly right.” I immediately knew two things: that I needed to see that chair and that I needed to see what else this “Smithsonian” thing had if they had cool stuff like the chair!
Ruby's Ruby Slippers
(If you don’t know who Archie Bunker is I am very disappointed in you.) Once I did more research into it I realized that Archie’s chair was in American History Smithsonian and that the majority of the museum’s collection was not pop culture memorabilia, but very important artifacts from our history.

This museum might be my favorite museum in the world BECAUSE of our priorities. This museum honors everything from Dorothy’s Ruby Slippers from Wizard of Oz and Disney World rides to Lincoln’s Top Hat and the famous “Teddy” Roosevelt bear! The museum represents American’s diverse, often misplaced interests. They just had so much STUFF! I really cannot give you an accurate description of even a percent of the coolest items but I am adding 6 photos of my very favorite ones.
Dumbo Disney ride!
Lincoln's Hat!
I had so much fun at this museum. I also realized that my dad is not to be trusted near anything because as soon as you put a “don’t touch” sign my dad is there poking it. He put his finger up all of the mannequins’ noses (I am not kidding, he is pretty much a huge kid). There was also a great moment when my mom was leaning over a train display and her sunglasses fell in. So my dad CLIMBED into it and got them out. Alarms went off, but my dad was able to climb out and look innocent before the guards could surround him. (Where was I through all this? Well, as soon as I saw the glasses fall I skedaddled to the next exhibit in case my parents got arrested I wouldn’t be associated with them so I could bail them out.)  I could have spent at least a full day just there but after a while my parents were getting tired and we needed to move on. However, one day I will go back to DC and spend as much time as it takes from me to see everything!

Greenough's Washington
 Air & Space Smithsonian Museum:


Famous Teddy Bear!
Dad was the one who really wanted to see this one. I could not have cared less about it and yet the few cool things I found were SO COOL that it made the whole experience worth it. I saw the Wright’s Brothers’ plane, vehicles that went to the moon, and I touched a MOON ROCK. My favorite bit of this trip happened in an empty display room with my dad. We were alone and looking up at some plane or another and then when we looked down we were SURROUNDED by about 20 or 30 little kids all wearing bright yellow. They were in a single file line holding hands. The chain of kids was turning around and the kid at the end looked exasperated as he said, “WHAT?! We’re turning around AGAIN?! HOW BIG IS THIS PLACE? I like planes as much as the next kid but this is too much!” I connected with that kid. That museum was huge and seemed endless if you aren’t a fan of planes, or space. 

If you want to read more about my week long trip to the DC area, click here!
~Laura!

Review: Rare Finds: A Guide to Book Collecting by David and Natalie Bauman

Sunday, June 22, 2014

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Rare Finds: A Guide to Book Collecting by David and Natalie Bauman


Release Date: June 2007
Publisher: Bauman Rare Books
Age Group: Adult Non-Fiction
Pages: 106
Source: Borrowed from Library

Summary (goodreads.com): Rare Finds is a friendly, wide-ranging introduction to the world of rare book collecting. It is intended for those with a budding interest in this exciting field rather than simply professional booksellers and librarians. The guide contains an easy-to-use Glossary as well as sections devoted to Frequently Asked Questions, Book Production, and Format. Lavishly illustrated, it includes chapters on all major collecting areas.




My Review:


I think this is a must have for book collectors and people who might not collect but still love books. I borrowed this from the library and found it so useful that I’m going to buy my own copy. It’s a good introduction to the terms used by book collectors. It offers several categories that are popular among collectors, ranging from Americana to Music and everything in between. I was most interested in the Children’s and regular Literature categories. It has photos of the most prized first editions in the world, many of which I have had the honor of seeing and in some cases holding (for more on this see here). It’s a surreal feeling reading a book about the rarest books in the world and knowing that you’ve actually held it and leafed through its pages and are one of the few in the book world who have had that privilege. 

~Laura!

Llama Extraordinaire

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

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It all started with the simple, but strange message: 


"*insert of scary music, Llama George peaks around the corner of a wall during the night, spying on a girl with dark hair and glasses, sitting in her room, waiting for his chance to attack*"


Meet Sir Llama George, my travelling companion.

In the wee hours of a forgotten day at the end of July in 2009 my best friend Ariel and I were Instant Messaging. This was not unusual. It was summer and as such we were allowed to be night owls if we wanted to be. No, what makes that particular conversation important is the semi-imaginary llama that sprung from it. This llama, Llama George to be exact, has been an amazing inside joke between the two of us ever since. I have told others about him (my mom for one understands the Llama just as much as Ariel and I), I have named my personal tumblr after him, I have started writing the adventures of Llama George, I love llamas (and alpacas) because of him and now I shall take this little stuffed Llama George with me on all of my travels. 

The idea came to me as I was perusing my copy of The Lonely Planet Guide to Experimental Travel. It contains a chapter on "Mascot Travel" and all you need is a personal mascot, a camera, and a desire to travel. As I travel locally, nationally, and abroad I will take Llama George with me and take pictures of him in front of famous landmarks and anything else that takes our fancy. I will record my literary and historical travel experience through this extraordinary llama.

~Laura (and Llama George)!

Review: The Cat Who Could Read Backwards by Lilian Jackson Braun

Sunday, June 8, 2014

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The Cat Who Could Read Backwards by Lilian Jackson Braun


Release Date: 1966
Publisher: G. P. Putnam
Age Group: Adult
Pages: 216
Source: Borrowed from Library (will buy soon)
Series: The Cat Who… (#1)

Summary (goodreads.com): Former award winning news reporter Jim Qwilleran is assigned to the art world as his new news beat. When a murderer sticks a knife in the neck of a local gallery owner and goes berserk among the works on show, Qwilleran gets help from his Siamese cat solving the mystery.






My Review:
For as long as I can remember my mom has been reading or listening to The Cat Who… books. Braun’s death a few years ago hit my mom hard and it was like she was mourning a member of our own family, not only Braun’s death but the death of an amazing series. There won’t be any more books about Jim Qwilleran and his Siamese cats and that to my mom is still unfathomable even years later. I never really understood her sadness until I picked up The Cat Who Could Read Backwards the novel that launched an extremely successful and long running series of mysteries.


I couldn’t put this book down! The mark of a great mystery novel is, of course, that it should keep the reader guessing. Several times while reading I was convinced that I had figured out whom the murderer was and then a plot twist would happen and I was left to guess again. Qwilleran is a veteran reporter who knows how to look for something fishy and together with Koko, the cat that can read backwards they solve a mystery. It was the cat thing that made me concerned over how this book would work. I wasn’t sure I could read an adult mystery book about a strange cat. I wish I had never doubted. Koko is not a cat out of high fantasy but a normal cat that is extremely gifted. He doesn’t talk, he doesn’t do things other cats can’t do, and instead he just does what most people suspect their cats could do. Together these two should become iconic figures in literary history if they aren’t already.  They are just precious together, a great sleuthing team, and they make the book stand out.  It was a short, fast read, and I can’t recommend this book enough!


~Laura!

Thoughts From Places: Washington, DC (2010)

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

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My Trip to Washington, DC!

I consider this trip as my high school graduation gift. For as long as I could remember my dad told me that one day we would all go on a trip together and in 2010 we finally did. This is so far the only trip I have gone on with both of my parents. This might be the only one because my dad is a hellish travel partner (don’t get me wrong I was very excited to experience history with the man who made me love history, but the man is super pushy and impatient).

The White House as seen from our tour bus!

We decided it would be fun if we took the Amtrak train from Buffalo to NYC to Washington, DC. The ride there was fun! We had to get up super early and my uncle drove us to the (pathetic) train station downtown. The train wasn’t crowded so we all got our own set of seats. I had brought a couple books with me thinking I would read on the train, but my mind kept wandering. I spent a lot of time just looking out the window, imagining that I was on the Hogwarts Express. It was a lot of fun though because my dad kept getting bored and was being silly. There was also this little boy who kept running past but the first 6 or 7 times he ran by my dad DIDN’T SEE him so I was convinced he was a ghost until my dad stuck his head in the aisle to talk to my mom and was almost decapitated by the fast moving kid. The fun kind of ended once we got to New York. The thing about train travel (at least when Penn Station is concerned) is that they didn’t list where your train was located until 15-20 minutes before it was schedule to leave so if you were on the other side of the station you were probably screwed. Luckily, we were able to catch our train, but it was unnecessarily stressful. Because we didn't want to drive the 7 hours to DC we figured if we took the train (a 12 hour trip) and then used public transportation we'd be fine. Oh how foolish we were. I should have done more research. So to get to our hotel (which was supposedly REALLY close to Union Station) we would rely on the hotel’s shuttle bus. Because of this we spent at least a third of the trip in Union Station waiting, which was actually okay with me because there was this Japanese restaurant which had the single most amazing teriyaki chicken I have ever consumed and had it as a meal at least 5 times that week.
National Archives!

 The bus system had seemed so simple and yet somehow we ended up in Chinatown on the first day and walked from there to the National Mall. This worked out though because somehow I forgot that the National Archives was a thing that needed to be on my must see list. Not gonna lie, one of my all time favorite movies (and motivation for the trip and minoring in American history in college) is National Treasure. So as we walked to the National Mall the huge building on the other side of the street looked awfully familiar and when I realized what it was I took off like a rocket into the street forgetting to follow one of the first safety rules you learn in kindergarten and crossed without looking and almost got hit by a bus (I am exaggerating only slightly it was still pretty far away so my flailing run across the street was actually okay if not advisable). I obviously don't have pictures of the great, old, historic documents I saw that day because photography isn't allowed for preservation's sake (and so Nick Cage can't steal anything) but I did buy a small replica of the Declaration of Independence to memorialize my semi-recreation of my favorite movie.

The Capitol Building and James Garfield Statue!
The main point of this trip was to see some of the Smithsonian Museums (American History, Natural History, and Air & Space Museums). I have decided to separate these thoughts from this post because I have a lot to say about them. (It should be posted on BWE on 7-2-14 and will be linked here as soon as it is available.)

After the fiasco of public transportation the day before on Day 2 we decided that we should use one of those hop-on/hop-off tour bus things. By doing this we figured it would be the best option because that way we wouldn’t have to navigate ourselves and we would still get to all the monuments and stuff that we wanted to see. One of the first things we saw was the Capitol building. We didn’t go inside or anything but just seeing it was amazing (same thing goes for the White House). We saw the Willard Hotel and the National Mint and the Jefferson Monument and Ford Theatre from the outside as well.

The HUGE statue of Lincoln!
The Korean War Monument.









We got off the bus near the Lincoln Memorial. Since both mom and dad had been to Washington, DC before as a side trip from their trip to Gettysburg when I was little they decided not to climb up all those stairs again so I went by myself. I will never get over the feeling I get when I am in a historically important place. It’s an almost overwhelming surreal feeling. I was standing there looking up at that huge statue of Lincoln and just thinking about everything he did and everything I did to make sure that I was able to see this statue.I took a picture of both the statue and the Washington Monument from the Memorial. The latter picture is particularly interesting for two reasons: 1) off in the right corner near the seventh column from the end you can see my parents and 2) DO YOU SEE HOW BLUE THAT SKY IS?! SKY THAT IS THAT BLUE SHOULD NOT OPEN UP AND POUR 15 MINUTES LATER. Before we knew about the looming storm we went to see the Korean and Vietnam memorials. The Korean one was my favorite. It’s hauntingly beautiful and meant a lot to me because it meant a lot to my maternal grandfather who was in Korea. It was a peculiar time to see it too because the rain was just about to start so a mist was rolling in and it all just seemed very aproppriate. We were walking next to the refection pool on our way from these to the WWII monument, dodging geese and the copious amount of poop they left in their wake, when that beautiful blue sky opened up and BAM instant!downpour. I have never been so wet in my life. We stopped and saw the WWII monument really quickly (which was kind of sad because that’s what dad wanted to see the most) and then dad had us RUN to the bus stop so we could catch the bus back to Union Station. Only it was raining so hard that we got on the wrong tour bus, but the driver felt bad for us so he let us ride. 

(Wax) Johnny Depp and I!

Next we went to Madame Tussauds Wax museum. This was crazy creepy and amazing. My favorite was the Johnny Depp one because he’s one of my favorite actors. Some of them were so lifelike it was eerie and then others were not even close and I couldn’t help wondering if the maker had ever even seen a picture of the celebrity. They had a lot of figures and there was someone for everyone. My dad liked the historical ones like Martin Luther King, Jr and the civil war generals. Mom liked the Morgan Freeman one. I liked the presidents and the Jonas Brothers. There was such a variety it was amazing! It was here that I mockingly won my fake best actress Oscar! 


The Bonnie and Clyde car!!
After this we went to the Crime and Punishment museum which was incredibly unique. There was a made up crime scene, a guillotine, and an electric chair, all very morbid and all extremely cool. My favorite was the Bonnie and Clyde car with all the bullet holes!

For the last two days of the trip we also went to Manassas, VA and Mount Vernon. Those blogs should be posted on 7-30-14 and 8-27-14 respectively (click here and here to read them when they’re posted).

Remember when I said at the beginning that the trains were stressful because of the strange waiting thing in NYC? Well, when we got to New York on the way home my dad said he would be right back; we assumed he had to go to the bathroom or something. No, he went and found our train’s conductor and bribed him to tell us where to go. This guy led us to this seemingly abandoned part of the station and said that the train would be leaving from there. I smelled murderous plot and said so to my dad but he assured me that we could trust this guy because “he looked like Morgan Freeman and he played God in a movie once.” This is perhaps one of the weirdest things my dad has done. He never trusts anymore and he’s not religious. I decided to just go along with it and turns out he was trust worthy. It was where our train was going to be and we got on first!

The view outside my train window for 7 hours as we were stuck
between Albany and Buffalo. At least it was pretty...
However, the last leg of our journey was a semi-disaster in that the train stopped for SEVEN HOURS because of trees on the track (personally I don't believe for a second that there were TREES on the track. It doesn't take SEVEN hours to clear trees! I think it was probably a derailed train but they didn't want to alarm us). It was also surprisingly crowded and dad had to sit next to some guy. The guy was really nice though. My dad is a smoker and the hours we were stuck we weren’t allowed of the train for safety reasons and he was going crazy without nicotine but luckily the said nice guy next to him gave him some snuff. Dad didn’t do it right or something, I don’t know but it was pretty hilarious to watch. I was able to spend the rest of the train ride home thinking about all the amazing things we saw in DC and all the things we didn’t see. Already I was planning for my next trip to the capital!


~Laura!

Review: The Smithsonian Book of Books by Michael Olmert

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

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The Smithsonian Book of Books by Michael Olmert


Release Date: 1992
Publisher: Smithsonian
Age Group: Adult Non-Fiction
Pages: 320
Source: Borrowed from the Library

Summary (goodreads.com): Through more than 300 glorious illustrations from library collections around the globe, you'll discover a wealth of book lore in these pages and gain a new appreciation for the role of books in human society, from our earliest attempts at writing and recording information to the newest electronic books; from sumptuous illuminated and bejeweled medieval manuscripts to Gutenberg and the invention of movable type; from the diverse arts and crafts of bookmaking to the building of magnificent libraries for housing treasured volumes; from the ancient epic of Gilgamesh to the plays of Shakespeare and the tales of Beatrix Potter; and from the earliest illustrated books to revolutionary science texts.


My Review:


This might be the best book in print today. It is completely fascinating. If you have even the slightest interest in the history of books this is a must read. I think this would have been a great text for my history of the printed book class. It has a chapter on everything from ancient scrolls to the medieval codex, the invention of movable type to modern typography, from bookbinding to paper making, from Shakespeare to Children’s literature, and literally everything in between. Seriously, I cannot praise this book enough! The chapters are extremely informative, but not in a way that overwhelms the reader. Almost every single page has a photo, illustration, or engraving with a background under it. There is just so much in this Book of Books that to fully appreciate it has taken me 3 months. The only reason it didn’t take me longer is that I finally had to give it back to the library or they’d have had to start fining me (I will be buying a copy of this to study as soon as I can)! 

~Laura!

Review: The King’s Hounds by Martin Jensen

Sunday, May 11, 2014

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The King’s Hounds by Martin Jensen 


Release Date: October 2013 
Publisher: AmazonCrossing 
Age Group: Adult 
Pages: 272 
Source: Bought for Kindle 
Series: King Cnud (#1) 
Other Titles in the Series: Oathbreaker (#2) 

Summary (goodreads.com): The first in the bestselling Danish series of historical mysteries

The newly crowned King Cnut of Denmark has conquered England and rules his new empire from Oxford. The year is 1018 and the war is finally over, but the unified kingdom is far from peaceful.

Halfdan’s mixed lineage—half Danish, half Saxon—has made him a pauper in the new kingdom. His father, his brother, and the land he should have inherited were all taken by the new king’s men. He lost everything to the war but his sense of humor. Once a proud nobleman, Halfdan now wanders the country aimlessly, powered only by his considerable charm and some petty theft. When he finds an unlikely ally in Winston, a former monk, he sees no reason not to accept his strange invitation to travel together to Oxford. Winston has been commissioned to paint a portrait of the king at the invitation of his new wife, and the protection of a clever man like Halfdan is well worth its price in wine and bread.

But when the pair’s arrival in court coincides with news of a murder, the king has a brilliant idea: Why not enlist the newly arrived womanizing half-Dane and the Saxon intellectual to defuse a politically explosive situation? The pair represents both sides of the conflict and seem to have crime-solving skills to boot. In their search for the killer, Halfdan and Winston find seduction, adventure, and scandal in the wild early days of Cnut’s rule.


My Review:

I decided to read this for many reason: I wanted to read a historical mystery, I wanted to read a book about the medieval England ruled by the Danes, and I am obsessed with illuminators right now. This was perfect fit. The only major thing I noticed about this that kind of threw me off was that the author was obviously not a stickler for the use of historically appropriate language. At times it seems like he's trying to remain historically accurate by using words that originated in the Middle Ages, but then veers off and uses words like "scram" which didn't become a word until the 20th century. This use of modern colloquial language makes the book enjoyable though.  

The characters are very vivid. It took me a while to like Halfdan because at times he is just so crude. After a while though I grew used to him and decided he was okay. My favorite part about Halfdan, though, is how he describes his encounters with Winston’s mule in an amusing way, reminiscent of Flynn Ryder vs. Maximus the Horse in Tangled. I appreciated that Halfdan was a former nobleman’s son with no land because as I was reading this I was taking a course on Medieval Europe and when my professor got to this part of English history and how this happened to some people I was able to have Halfdan’s experiences as a reference point. Even though his life was fictional, Halfdan’s situation was very real during the Middle Ages. Other than the language errors, Jensen did a fantastic job with his research which is evident in Halfdan.  I fell for Winston's character immediately because he was an illuminator and I've always been fascinated with those. I was also impressed with how fleshed out minor characters were in this as well. I was able to get a very complete picture of medieval England in my mind because of these minor characters.


This is a mystery and it doesn’t disappoint. Several times I was convinced I knew who the murderer was, just to be proved wrong by Winston’s amazing deductive skills. In that way I was a lot like Halfdan. I really enjoyed this and I am looking forward to more from Jensen. 


~Laura!

Thoughts From Places Spotlight: Liberty and Ellis Islands (2010)

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

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My Trip to Liberty and Ellis Islands during my trip to NYC!


Street Performer in Battery Park
After seeing Ground Zero on the second day of my first NYC trip, we went took a ferry to Liberty and Ellis Islands. My group and I were waiting in line to get onto the ferry and we came across a street performer who sang “You Are My Sunshine” and gave us wonderful advice such as “Be Responsible and get the best out of life.” He also told the girls of the group to “Enjoy living, invent something, don’t just become a dumb house wife, we have enough house wives in America already” and to the guys: “don’t marry a woman who has five babies and don’t know who the daddy is.” All in all, very sound advice coming from a man sporting bright yellow rain gear and a rainbow afro wig. As I listened to him sing and saw people stop and give him their spare change I couldn’t help but think about how he was going to forever be in my memory as the very first street performer I saw in the City. I thought about how there people like him all over NYC that are trying to make some money off their talents when they’ve hit the end of the road. About how people who live in New York probably don’t even notice him or people like him anymore because they’re all over, but that my group from Buffalo will never forget how we got to share in that unique experience of waiting for a ferry while talking to a man playing a ukulele in Battery Park. In retrospect, I wish I had asked him his name.

Standing at the base, looking up.
The ferry ride on the Miss Liberty was the one of the first times I was on a boat (it was when I discovered that I don’t get seasick). I really liked it. We had so much fun. Everyone was taking pictures of each other and the Manhattan Skyline and the Statue of Liberty as we got closer to the Island. Not just the kids in my group either because there were other travelers on the boat and as I stood there watching I was thinking about how amazing it was that all of the people on the boat were on it just to see a huge green statue. Everyone was excited to be so close to the Statue that represents America and the freedom she holds. The feeling was almost palpable. Being so close to the Statue of Liberty while on the Island was just very weird for me. I have seen the Statue almost every day on TV, in books or the mini versions on top of Buffalo’s Liberty Building but to actually stand at its base and stare up at the actual statue was just weird, I can’t really describe it in any other way. 

Other than seeing the actual Statue one of my favorite parts of being on the Island was seeing everyone else’s reactions to not only the Statue but the Manhattan Skyline as well. As a group we took photos in front of both, but as we were leaving the observatory area where they have the telescopes so you can see Manhattan closer I took a picture of strangers looking at the City.
Strangers looking at the Manhattan Skyline

The picture just makes me happy even though the weather is obviously miserable everyone is still smiling because of where they’re standing. (I regret that I did not get a photo of just me standing in front of the statue. I have a habit of making sure I document what everyone else is doing and forget to document what I was doing. Oh well, I won’t forget next time.)

The Registry Room at Ellis Island


We got back on the ferry which took us to Ellis Island. We only got to spend twenty minutes here because we had spent a little bit too much time on Liberty so I don’t remember much because we were so rushed. I took photos of everything I saw so that I could look at them closer later and I really regret that. I should have taken the time to really look at a few things instead of rushing everything because maybe I would remember it but I learned my lesson. Besides now I will have something to look forward to when I go back. I do remember standing in the Registry Room and imagining it as it was when my family went through there. It had to have had a lot more people in it and they must have been so nervous and excited. I also remember trying to the wall to see if I could find one of my family members. I documented every single thing I saw so that I could show my mom later because she has always wanted to go there to do genealogy research.

The Balloon the Clown of Battery Park made me!
And after all that rushing to make sure we kept to our schedule half of our group was forced to stay behind on Ellis Island because there wasn’t enough room on the ferry for all of us. This was perhaps my favorite part of the trip because, like the street performer we saw before getting on the ferry, this experience was unexpected and led to another unique experience. I was in the first group so we had to wait in Battery Park while we waited for the others to arrive. Luckily for us there was a clown there who made balloon animals for us while we waited (he wore a costume and a nose but no makeup, if he had worn makeup I probably wouldn’t have gone anywhere near him because clowns in makeup freak me out). He was ridiculously talented at balloon shaping. He made all the normal things like dogs and swords but he also made seriously complicated hats! He made me a heart with a small dog on it! Since meeting him I decided to learn how to make balloon animals and years later I still can’t figure out how he made that tiny dog go on that heart!

While in Battery Park we also saw living statues of Liberties, a live band, several vendors, and a wild turkey. I thought it was a bit strange to see a turkey in the middle of Manhattan but didn’t think much of it after that. It wasn’t until this past year, when looking through an entry for Battery Park in a travel book, that I realized that the turkey had a name and was in fact famous. Zelda the wild turkey has lived in Battery Park for at least 10 years and I was lucky enough to see her and not even realize that she was famous!

To read more from my trip to NYC click here
 ~Laura!