A Review of Edgar Allen Poe: The Strange Man Standing Deep in the Shadows by Charlotte Montague

First of all, I just want to say, I’ve read everything by Poe as he was at one time my favorite author. He still is one of my favorites. I thought I knew a lot about his life through the articles I’ve read here and there over the years. I realized that I really knew not much of anything about him. His story is sad and very tragic.

Without getting into too much detail, because this is a book every Poe fan should read, one of the things that really stood out to me was how socially awkward Poe was. He fought with a good majority of his literary colleagues and was somewhat of a ladies man. Though he was fiercely loyal to Virginia, he received quite a few letters of admiration from friends, writers, and poets. He would read these letters to Virginia and they would laugh together. After her death, he couldn’t bear to be alone so began passionately pursuing several women he was acquainted with. The only thing that really stopped Poe from remarrying was his refusal and/or inability to give up drinking.

I was saddened by the circumstances of his death. He died a not very well liked man, clouded by scandals, alone, and in poverty. Though he had gained quite a bit of popularity due to his stories and poetry, he never made any money from any of it. It took him many years after his death to gain the fame and understanding of his genius that he truly deserved.

I  definitely recommend this book. It is fully illustrated. It gives a synopsis of each of his more famous stories. There are explanations for things and events happening at the time that help to shed some light on the corresponding events in Mr. Poe’s life. Charlotte Montague wrote a series of these books on different historical figures and I intend to delve into her biography of HP Lovecraft next. I hope you enjoy this one as much as I did!

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A Review of Outlander (Book 1) by Diana Gabaldon

While exploring the Scottish countryside while on a scholarly trip with her husband, Frank, Claire Randall finds herself on a hill wrapped in mystery called Craigh na Dun. After witnessing what appeared to be a pagan ritual involving possible witches she goes back to see if she could figure out what was happening. Wandering through the rocks, she somehow gets sucked through a crack and comes to amidst a skirmish of some sort. She meets a man who happens to be an english soldier of some kind. She quickly realizes this man looks exactly like her husband Frank. The man quickly attacks her and tries to rape her. She is suddenly rescued and whisked away but finds she is also now a captive to a band of cattle thieves who think her an english spy.

After awhile she puts things together and realizes she’s been spirited away to 1740s Scotland. After being taken to Castles Leoch and establishing that she is in the lands of the clan McKenzie, Claire settles into castle life while still plotting her way back to the standing stones and her husband Frank. But the ruggedly handsome Jamie Fraser is a huge distraction to that plan. Will Claire find her way back to Frank and her time or will she fall in love with the young Highlander and give up all she knows for the past?

There are many things about this book that I absolutely loved. The slow burning romance between Claire and Jamie was fascinating. The very confusing way the McKenzie and Fraser clans were related was interesting. There was a lot of mystery within the different characters and what was going on with them, like whether or not characters were good or bad. The character development was phenomenal.

But, on the flip side of that coin, I felt like the way the characters responded to each other in certain situations was outside how they would behave when you consider how they’ve been presented up to that point. I felt I got to know these characters and Claire and Jamie especially. I came to see them as friends that I was rooting for and while most of their actions were very much them, some were far too unbelievable. The other problem I had with this one is that it was far too long. I thought parts could be cut out that seemed to be more filler than actual necessary pieces to unravel the story.

I give this one a 4 out of 5. This book won’t be for everyone. It contains strong language and strong sexual content. It is also more romance than history, though there is quite a bit of action. So much happens that it seems more like an epic than a novel. I hope if you read it, that you enjoy it like I did.

A Review of Sophie’s Choice by William Styron

Stingo is a young writer trying to make his print on the writing world. He comes from a decently wealthy family and his father has options for him to become a peanut farmer in Virginia but that lifestyle is not for him. He moves to Brooklyn into an apartment building run by a Yiddish woman and filled with a conglomeration of of interesting individuals. Two of these individuals are a couple that live across the hall from Stingo, named Nathan and Sophie. Nathan is a scientist and music lover and Sophie is a polish holocaust survivor plagued by tragedy. The trio meet and their lives become intrinsically linked and their lives are forever changed. This book is Stingo’s book about the events that happened in the few months he got to know the couple and their volatile relationship.

I started this book in January and I just finished it this morning. It was an incredibly grueling read for me. It is apparent that this author loves words and the written language because he uses an over abundance of them. His sentences drag on forever and he uses so many adjectives and so much description for everything that I found my mind wandering. Not only that, but he would begin a narrative about a certain past event which would then go off on a tangent into unrelated events and personal histories on characters that are only in the narrative for a few sentences. I felt there was a lot of unnecessary information, which the author, writing as Stingo, often talked about being unnecessary but he felt compelled to write it anyway. This doesn’t always translate to good writing. In this situation, I believe the less is more rule applies.

The biggest tragedy of this book is that a really greatly tragic story is hiding beneath all the drivel. Styron talks about Sophie’s time at Auschwitz and Birkenau and how it affected her and her family and it was incredibly heart breaking. The lengths she went to and the choices she had to make were things that would kill most people mentally. But just as I became emotionally invested in what was happening then suddenly the story went into something else and I never felt totally felt fully connected or invested in the characters. I feel it is sad that I never cried during such a tragic tale.

My overall thoughts on this book is that it was just okay. I would give it a 3 out of 5. This is because of the various reasons I already listed. A wonderful story was drowned in too many words. This booked was listed under books that have previously been banned in the United States and I can only guess that at the time this was first published it was because of the content and the strong sexual situations, which I found to be quite vulgar and over the top. I would recommend this book to people who enjoy history, especially the holocaust, as more than half the book is written about Sophie’s time there. But if you don’t like an overabundance of description than this book is definitely not for you. It can get almost painful to read at times.

A Review of In the Kingdom’s Name by Amy Jarecki

I was gifted this ebook from Netgalley in exchange for a fair and honest review. I received this one awhile back but upon finding it was a sequel, I purchased the first book in the series and read it first. You can find the review for that book in this blog as well.

In the Kingdom’s Name finds Eva still in medieval Scotland, during the war to free themselves from English rule. Andrew Murray is on the brink of death and William all but forces Eva to use her newfangled healing to save him, something time does not want her to interfere with. Because of this, she is spirited away back to modern day and is desperate to get back. Will fate let her go back? Can she change time to save William Wallace’s fate.

This was a really good follow up as it helped to further develop Eva and William’s relationship but aside from the historical aspects of where the story had to go in order to still be true, the rest was kind of a let down. Jarecki explains her decision in the author’s notes and it makes sense but it didn’t feel right to me. I thought there were many things that could’ve happened to make the outcome more enjoyable. The last chapter of the book felt very forced to me and I never gained any real emotional connection to the resolution.

Another thing that bothered me, is that William Wallace is an extremely pious man. He had decided that he was going to take his vows into the priesthood until he decided to take up arms to fight the cause of his country. That being said, he very quickly jumped into a sexual relationship with Eva from the very beginning. While men can change their minds, he continued to read his psalter and to quote scripture all while this is taking place. So for me, I don’t feel like his character stayed true to himself and the whole sexual relationship was contrived to help the story further along.

This was a decent read but I liked the first installment of this saga better. I give it a 3 out of 5. This decision was mainly based on the fact that the ending was completely lost for me. I felt the author couldn’t figure out a way to make her original ending work and so this was plan B and everyone, including Eva, got the second best option.  This book has strong sexual scenes so reader discretion is advised.

A Review of Death by Petticoat by Mary Miley Theobald

Death by Petticoat is a collection of myths that people have been led to believe over the years about our colonial ancestors. These myths, though one time thought true, have since been proven wrong. This book was put together with the help of The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation.

Its not categorized in subject matter or chapter, but rather, numbered by myth. There are 62 different ones. Some of them I remember learning, while some I thought were fairly obscure and may have only been known by history buffs. This book even goes so far as to explain where these myths may have originated.

I really enjoyed reading Death by Petticoat. It was a fairly quick read, only taking about an hour. It had some great photography to accompany each myth. I give this a 5 out of 5. Its a great little trivia book that you can use to impress your history loving friends. I definitely recommend it.

A Review of The Simpson’s Family History by Matt Groening

I am a huge Simpsons freak. This book came out last year some time and I had been eyeballing it at Barnes and Noble every since. But it was $35 and I just couldn’t justify spending that much at the time. Low and behold, I went browsing in the Barnes and Noble bargain section a few days ago and what should happen to be sitting their glowing as if calling me to buy it? You guessed it! It was now only $9.99 and I had to get it.

This is a visual history of 25 years of The Simpsons. With some explanatory text and the occasional bit of trivia, it is mostly screenshots pulled from the show. What I like about it, is that they’ve put it together in chronological order using the flashbacks from the series and current plots. It starts from Grandpa Abe simpson as a child moving to America and goes through how Homer and Marge meet, their early life together, how Homer got on at the Nuclear Power Plant, all the way to the birth of Maggie.

This is a must have for any true Simpsons fan. Going through the history and seeing the screen shots had me reliving some of my favorite episodes. It made me want to go back and start watching the series all over again. Good thing I have every season that is currently on DVD. I give this book an easy 5 out of 5. It isn’t any kind of profound reading but it will scratch that Simpsons itch in a very satisfactory way.

A Review of Rise of a Legend by Amy Jarecki

Eva MacKay is an archeological journalist fascinated by the legend of William Wallace. After he husband is brutally murdered she takes a job on a historical dig at the battleground of Loudoun Hill. One early morning, her professor gives her a necklace without telling her much about it. She falls asleep at Fail Monastery only to wake up amidst a historical battle in 1297 Scotland. Right as she thinks she’s going to die, she is rescued by a man of great size. After introductions, she realizes her savior is none other than William Wallace himself. Their chemistry is instant and so begins a tumultuous relationship during some of Scotland’s greatest massacres and battles.

This book caught my attention from the very first pages. Eva has known a lot of tragedy in her 27 years and you begin to feel for her right away. There is a lot of history in these pages the author went to great lengths researching the history of William Wallace that we know, while still injecting her own twist to what happens. This era in Scotland’s histories has quite a few holes so the author used multiple sources to weave her tale. William was a battle hardened man with a chip on his shoulder about the English monarchy. Jarecki gave a nice contrast between a man bent on taking back Scotland for his people and a  softer man falling in love with a woman he doesn’t completely understand.

My one criticism is the numerous sex scenes. I, personally, don’t enjoy reading about extremely graphic sex. I would have enjoyed something a little more subtle to characterize their budding romance instead of gratuitous sex. The relationship between Eva and William starts out very carnal and this is shown throughout the book. I did, however, greatly enjoy the slow transition between lovers blowing off the steam of tragedy and the deeper love their grew to have for one another.

I give this book a 5 out of 5. Despite the graphic sexual content, the history and character development was amazing. I love time travel of any kind and historical romance is one of my favorite sub genres of this. There’s something so intriguing about someone from our own time finding themselves in way earlier time periods and falling in love with icons I’ve only read about in history books. To be front and center to histories battles would be incredible. I recommend this book to fans of historical romances. Definitely keep in mind that there is a lot of sex and very graphic depictions of death and battle of the period.