Saturday, January 4, 2014

The Last Batch of Books Read in 2013


* The Secret Wife of Louis XIV: Francoise d'Aubigne, Madame de Maintenon by Veronica Buckley

* After his first wife and mother of his heirs died the king married Francoise. It would have been a scandal as she was not royal so they kept it quiet. She had an interesting life.

* The Annals of Unsolved Crime by Edward Jay Epstein

* Just a rehash of various cases, nothing worth recommending to read.

* The Skies Belong to Us: A Tale of Love and Terror from the Golden Age of Hijacking by Brendan Koerner

* This book was fascinating, especially the history of hijacking, which happened all the time in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Everyone wanted to go to Cuba it seems and Cuba welcomed the early hijackers mainly to piss off the United States (some of the hijackers are even still living there today!) but after a while they had enough and hijackers tried to go other places.

* This particular story was about a couple who planned an inept hijacking. While it was certainly interesting it paled in comparison to the history of hijacking and how it led to some of the things we do at the airport now. Until the mid-1970s there were no lines at all for security. Anyone could go to any gate. Hard to imagine in our world today!

* The Baby Name Wizard: A Magical Method for Finding the Perfect Name for Your Baby by Laura Wattenberg

* I follow this author's blog ( and she writes about baby names trends for yesterday and today. And the website also has a graph showing the popularity of names over the decades which is endlessly fascinating if you like the history of names like I do! Her book is a distillation of the website data. It's really a fun book to browse.

* CPA Boy was concerned when I was reading this book and simultaneously eating lots of dill pickles...

* Who Was Dracula?: Bram Stoker's Trail of Blood by Jim Steinmeyer

* This was a biography of Bram Stoker who worked as a personal assistant to a famous Victorian actor and as the business manager of the theater where the actor performed. He based his character on several notables of his era including his boss, the actor Henry Irving, Oscar Wilde (whose ex-fiancee Stoker married) and Walt Whitman. Interesting slice of life in late Victorian England as well as an interesting look into the book Dracula (which I have not yet read).

* Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood and the Prison of Belief by Lawrence Wright

* If you are looking for an expose' on Scientology then this book is for you.

* Sister Queens: The Noble, Tragic Lives of Katherine of Aragon and Juana, Queen of Castile by Julia Fox

* These two sisters were the children of Ferdinand and Isabella, the monarchs whose marriage united Spain. Katherine was the first wife of England's Henry VIII who set her aside for not having a son (and we know today that this was HIS fault and not hers as only men supply the X or Y to determine a baby's sex) thus sparking the Reformation of England. Juana, also called Joanna the Mad, seemed to just have had a capricious temper and bouts of depression. This made it easy for her husband and later her son to wrest control of Spain from her, imprisoning her for decades.

* Loss of Faith: The Dead Man Walking's Forgotten Victims by D.P. Smith and Michael L. Varnado

* I graduated from Mandeville High School in Louisiana on Tuesday, May 20, 1980 (two days after Mount Saint Helens erupted as it happened). One week later one of my fellow graduates, Faith Hathaway, was kidnapped, raped, tortured and murdered. Her assailant was one of the men who make up the composite character in the book and movie Dead Man Walking, a film I never plan to see.

* I didn't know Faith personally but I knew who she was. She was in the same row as mine during graduation. We sat alphabetically and her H put her on one end while my K put me on the other. I had a slight acquaintance with a friend of hers though and they were both part of our Senior Trip to Disneyworld.

* I moved to California on June 1 and I think Faith was only presumed missing at that point. It was a bad year for our class as I know there was a suicide earlier during the school year.

* The Collaboration: Hollywood's Pact with Hitler by Ben Urwand

* This was very interesting. Because Germany was a huge market for movies, second only to the United States, most of the Hollywood studios agreed to make concessions to Hitler's government (if they hadn't then their movies could not have been shown at all). This meant that Hollywood caved to censorship rather than lose money (shocking!).

* This also meant that a German embassy consul reviewed all scripts and dictated to the (mainly Jewish) studio heads what they could film or not film. Jewish characters virtually disappeared from the screen because of it. It all ended with the start of World War II.

* The Astronaut Wives Club: A True Story by Lily Koppel

* I had such high hopes for this book but I ultimately was very disappointed. It wasn't scholarly at all. I mean it was based on interviews with some of the surviving wives and some of the information was fascinating. But then you get comments on how perfect and saintly Annie Glenn was (she and John are still with us, both in their 90s) but no real backup as Mrs. Glenn declined to be interviewed herself.

* And after the next set of wives join the original Mercury Seven it got much harder to keep track of them all. You do come away with great admiration for Marge Slayton (the defacto leader of the wives) and Betty Grissom (whose husband died in the Apollo 1 fire).

* Since many of the wives were married to test pilots they had a reasonable amount of experience with tragedy. They were expected to remain stoic and perfectly coiffed and dressed in 1950s style while their husband's risked their lives.

* Someone needs to write a scholarly book about the wives! With lots of footnotes!

* Coming Clean: A Memoir by Kimberly Rae Miller

* The story of Miller's parents and their struggles with hoarding. She grew up in a hoarding environment back before anyone even really knew what hoarding was. Very interesting but what a sad illness for those that struggle with it!

* The Tudors: The History of England Volume II by Peter Ackroyd

* Just what the title says. I adore British history and I know a lot about the Tudor dynasty (even if I always confuse Cromwell, Cranmer and Wolsey). I am looking forward to the next volume.


* Thorns of Truth by Eileen Goudge

* This was a sequel to Garden of Lies where a woman basically trades babies so her husband doesn't figure out that their daughter is really the result of her affair with their handyman. This story covers the two woman as adults and how their children's lives are affected by the original switch.

* My pet peeve about this book (CPA Boy is tired of hearing me complain about it) is that both woman were born on the same day in the same hospital. Never once does this come up in all the years they know each other. Obviously people aren't as obsessed with their birthdays as I am but really?! Not even a snippet of "Hey! We share a birthday! Isn't that a stunning coincidence?" It just seems like something that would be cleared up in a sentence or two.

* All Our Yesterdays by Cristin Terrill

* I really liked this book when I read it but my memory of it has slipped away. It is a young adult novel with time travel and an interesting twist.

* Down a Dark Hall by Lois Duncan

* A very quick read. Lois Duncan's books are not so much young adult as they are young teenagers. It's a good story with slender details.

* The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker

* I really liked this book, where the Earth mysteriously begins to slow down its rotation, first by adding a few minutes to each day and then eventually causing days to last for weeks and then months. It doesn't commit to the bitter end but that's okay.

* Alanna: The First Adventure by Tamora Pierce

* In the Hand of the Goddess by Tamora Pierce

* The Woman Who Rides Like a Man by Tamora Pierce

* Lioness Rampant by Tamora Pierce

* A four book series where an 11-year-old girl switches places with her twin brother. He goes to school to learn sorcery; she goes to the capitol and pretends to be a boy to learn to be a knight.

* A great series that would have been great to read when I was a girl (not enough adventure books featuring girls in my day!).

* Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein

* Not quite a sequel to Code Name Verity but set in the same time period during World War II with a small overlap of characters. This one involves a young female pilot who ends up in a concentration camp. Wonderful in its own way though not as great as Code Name Verity (a book hard to top!).

* Champion by Marie Lu

* The final book in the Legend trilogy. I am always glad to finish a series and this one ended in a satisfying manner. So many of the books with teenage protagonists end with them living together in true love buy the end. This one has a twist on that ending which is just perfect for the story.

* The Returned by Jason Mott

* People start returning from the dead all over the world but no one understands why. An elderly couple who lost their 8-year-old son to drowning in the 1960s get him back. Then the "returned" are rounded up and placed in camps to keep them away from the "living".

* There will be a ABC TV series based on this book starting in March. I may need to check it out.
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