2012 Book Bag – Archived

Daughters of the Witching HillDaughters of the Witching Hill by Mary Sharratt
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Mary Sharratt has an uncanny ability to bring the little pieces of the historical puzzle into clear view. Reading Daughters of the Witching HIll is like finding the corner piece.

Her narrative is bleak and haunting. James I is on the throne; his recent return from Denmark with their history of witch hunts, turns his focus to witches, demons and the rooting out of said. His narrative, Daemonologie is cover for some who will use these writings to build their own power and feed their ambition.

Sharratt imagines the life of one family murdered in the 1612 Pendle witch-hunt. The cunning woman, matriarch of a line of healing women, her bastard daughter, grand-daughter and grand-son are feared and needed in equal measure by the townspeople.

But for a few, the need for power and approval of the King turn into a witch hunt most brutal. Turning family against family and friend against friend, this is a beautiful and heartbreaking story. Love in the end triumphs but does not resume 13 people from the flames.

I wept.

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The Anatomist's WifeThe Anatomist’s Wife by Anna Lee Huber
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Scotland, August, 1830 — The despised widow of an Anatomist, Lady Darby is among the first on the scene of Lady Godwin’s murder. Lady Darby is the instant suspect when fear and hatred drive others around her to yell “Butcher” “Murderer” and worse. That she was a reluctant wife, and an even more reluctant illustrator of her husband’s autopsies does little to calm the irrational fears of those who think her unnatural and very, very capable of murder.

Kiera Darby must put to practice all she has learned at her husband’s side and help find the true murder both to clear her name and to stop the killing. The ripple of romance between Gage and Kiera plays out in their exasperation and frustration with each other.

Kiera is threatened in the end when she exposes the murderer and stops another.

A fun beginning to a new series with rich characters and full of women with minds of their own.

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The Case of the Deadly Butter ChickenThe Case of the Deadly Butter Chicken by Tarquin Hall
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I can’t really help myself. When a new Tarquin Hall comes out I have to read it, even though I groan with the obvious puns and the smug, self-importance in which Indian detective, Mr. Vish Puri, goes about solving crimes in his beloved country.

Called Chubby by his wife, mother and friends, Puri loves his butter chicken, warm Peshawari naan and of crisp aloo parantha. His detective work slips and slides around buffet tables, street vendors and posh parties.

In the Case of the Deadly Butter Chicken, Puri and his family are there when the father of a Pakistani cricket star is murdered. This set his mother, Mommy-ji and Puri in opposite directions to find the killer. Mommy-ji knows something about the dead man from the dark days when Pakistan and India were divided and she had to leave her homeland of Rawalpindi.

Under a veneer of light-hearted sleuthing and the cricket Howzats, this story delivers a sober reminder of the human suffering endured during the 1947 India-Pakistan Partition. Mommy-jis, Aunties and socialite women on both sides of the rift bear deep and horrific scars.

Hall uses the tongue-in-cheek investigation into cricket fraud, moustache thieving and diet pills to reveal a more powerful human story. Fantastic read.

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Illuminations: A Novel of Hildegard von BingenIlluminations: A Novel of Hildegard von Bingen by Mary Sharratt
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Traded by her mother for her sister’s dowry, Hildegard was walled into an anchorite cell at 8 years old. Trapped in a two-room cell for decades, Hildegard kept her sanity and her faith by reading, tending pots of herbs, making medicinal potions, and writing music. 8 times a day she would sing and leave the traumatic and horrific confines of her mortal life to soar and mingle with the mystic energy of her God, whom she called Mother. Her visions branded her a heretic deluded by the Devil.

Yet this imprisoned woman found her voice and her mission in life and set an example for women mystics that still resonates today.

I was captivated from the first paragraph; I wanted to know what happened to this woman and to her life. Why did she create such amazing music? How did she come to be an abbess in a time when women did not lead? Why is she still referred today?

Initially skeptical about the fictionalization of her life, I plunged in and feel humbled to have read this. Sharratt did an amazing job. I feel like I know Hildegard and I know what it was like for her to live her life and triumph over fear, stupidity and the vulnerability of being at the mercy of others.

Great read for the religious and non-religious alike.

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Princess Elizabeth's SpyPrincess Elizabeth’s Spy by Susan Elia MacNeal
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Ms. Maggie Hope is sent to protect Princess Elizabeth at Windsor Castle while Churchill tries to lead the British against Hitler. Lilibet (Pricess Elizabeth) and Princess Margaret, and of course their famous (or infamous) Corgies fill the pages with laughter, intrigue and a glimpse into the early days of the royal family.

While this book relies a little more on luck and timing than the previous, it is a wonderful adventure and kept me reading well into the night. I thoroughly enjoy the men and women who romp through MacNeal’s stories.

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Four Queens: The Provençal Sisters Who Ruled EuropeFour Queens: The Provençal Sisters Who Ruled Europe by Nancy Goldstone
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Boy did these sisters rock their world. I learned so much from this well-written, thoughtful history of the life and times of four sisters from Provence. Born to an enlightened count and countess, Margaret, Eleanor, Sancha and Beatrice became Queens fo France, England, Holy Roman Empire and Sicily respectively. These women were active and influential in court and religious politics. They took the cross and rode to the Holy Lands on Louis VI’s failed crusade. They lived through upheaval, poverty, isolation and tragedy to influence the entire 13th Century.

Goldstone lays out both the individual accomplishments as well as the intertwined activities, alliances, loyalties and vengeance of this influential family and their husbands, uncles and cousins.

I really enjoyed this book and come away with a much fuller picture of powers that shaped France and England.

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The Beautiful Mystery A Chief Inspector Gamache NovelThe Beautiful Mystery A Chief Inspector Gamache Novel by Louise Pennny
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Fantastic. Louise Penny did a remarkable job illuminating the mystery of Gregorian Chants and the mystery of the choices we make in our own lives. Chief Inspector Armand Gamache and his Detective Beauvior cross the seaway and enter the mysterious and cloistered world of the last monastery of Gilbertine monks. Their prior has been murdered.

As they work to find the killer amongst the 23 remaining monks, soaring music and delightful chocolate covered blueberries do nothing to mask the terrible, gnawing, consuming demons behind the killing, and behind the torture of Beauvior by Gamache’s enemy, his boss.

The pace rolls, picking up speed and intensity, the writing beautiful and haunting. There is no easy ending, and no assurance that all will be right.

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Garment of Shadows (Mary Russell, #12)Garment of Shadows by Laurie R. King
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Another fantastic entry in the Mary Russell series. Russell wakes up in a strange room with blood on her hands and amnesia. With her raw intelligence and physical memory of the hands-reaching-for-knife variety, Russell slowly pieces together her whereabouts and reaches safety and Holmes, whom she doesn’t recognize.

The international battle for Morocco in the 1920’s is the canvas on which Russell and Holmes search for the the truth behind a series of abductions, murders and international incidents. Russell must face her own values as the truth is much more complicated that it appears and those who would be friends become enemies and enemies friends.

At the heart of this story is a simple question with a complicated answer: What is loyalty?

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Hangman Blind (An Abbess of Meaux Mystery, #1)Hangman Blind by Cassandra Clark

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Hangman Blind is a captivating tale set in the aftermath of the unsuccessful Peasant’s Revolt and execution of Wat Tyler. Religious schisms, failed uprisings, war and more war, and the fragile rule of Richard II are a perfect backdrop for greed, lust, pride and arrogance; the seven deadly sins rack up a few bodies in this series debut.

Clark introduces us to Sister Hildegard and the religious challenges of three Popes! She explores the raw reality of war and conflict, bringing the the trauma, fear, and treachery of the late 14th Century up close and personal.

Sister Hildegard and her religious counterpart Brother Thomas are likeable and dimensional characters, charged with bringing a murderer to justice; as the deaths mount, the plot twists and turns to a very unexpected place.

I enjoy Hildegard’s humanity as she explores her religious life in the world full of people she dare not trust.

The characters and scenes have both depth and texture. A great book for a rainy afternoon or a pool-side lounge.

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The Lady Queen: The Notorious Reign of Joanna I, Queen of Naples, Jerusalem, and SicilyThe Lady Queen: The Notorious Reign of Joanna I, Queen of Naples, Jerusalem, and Sicily by Nancy Goldstone

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Joanna of Naples ruled for her kingdom for decades, against challenges for her crown, the schism in the Catholic Church, the plague, murder attempts, deceit, failure and penury. She died a prisoner in her own kingdom, the victim of a aggression, failed alliances and an assassin’s blade.

Most of the records of Joanna’s reign over Naples, Sicily and Jerusalem were destroyed during WW2. What little we know of her comes from the scholarly works of earlier historians.

Her story is fascinating, as is the fact that hundreds of women became licensed doctors during her reign, while only 34 women were granted medical licenses over centuries in Great Britain.

The historian Nancy Goldstone posits Joanna has been inaccurately portrayed and positions Joana as a successful, but beleaguered ruler who exhibits exceptional negotiation and power-brokering and restores her kingdom.

I found the book fascinating, but difficult to listen to and at times would tune out as details and long lists of names were read. But the story is a thought-provoking one, if only to wonder why we know so little about her and her incredible reign.

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A Sunless Sea: A William Monk NovelA Sunless Sea: A William Monk Novel by Anne Perry

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Monk and Hester, with their friend Sir Olive and adopted urchin Skiff set out to find who murdered a plain, middle-aged woman with brutality and horror. Of course, to find out why, too. They enter the legal, but tainted world of opium: The Opium Wars, opium addiction and the unregulated production of opium-based over the counter medicines for children and adults to cure every ache and sooth every soul. Except sometimes it killed the one who consumed it.

Perry takes us on a searching of the British historical memory to call out the atrocities and ill-moral actions of the British in China and the aftermath of two Opium Wars. She takes on greed and the two-faced hypocrisy of some politicians and captains-of-industry and in doing so, exposes an immoral and shocking underbelly of addiction, death and hatred.

I loved it. Sir Oliver is lost in his own personal moral crisis and must rise to the occasion when Hester and Monk call on him to see justice served. Perry at her best.

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Alphabet Juice: The Energies, Gists, and Spirits of Letters, Words, and Combinations Thereof; Their Roots, Bones, Innards, Piths, Pips, and Secret Parts, Tinctures, Tonics, and Essences; With Examples of Their Usage Foul and Savory

Alphabet Juice: The Energies, Gists, and Spirits of Letters, Words, and Combinations Thereof; Their Roots, Bones, Innards, Piths, Pips, and Secret Parts, Tinctures, Tonics, and Essences; With Examples of Their Usage Foul and Savory by Roy Blount Jr.
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

LMAO in the car. People pointed and stared. If you love words, Blount will have you laughing out loud while you drive down the road. I’m not sure this would be as funny reading it as it is having Blount’s southern drawl cavorting through the car speakers. He takes umbrage at a misplaced ‘if’ and expounds on the role baby talk plays in the creation of our words. Take J for instance. Blount lists negative words that start with J: Jail, Jaundice, Jilt. Magnificent. Great for a road trip or driving too and from the office.

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To the Grave (A Genealogical Crime Mystery #2)To the Grave by Steve Robinson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Loved it. Robinson weaves his current search for the mother of JT’s client with flash-back scenes from 1944 and the events that led to his client being put up for adoption.

He captures the aura of war-time England with vivid descriptions of the recycled birthday presents and the rationing of sugar and flour for birthday cakes.

J.T.’s exploration of local records for hospitals and asylums as well as his online search for WW2 soldiers who went MIA is fascinating reading for a family historian.

Although J.T. has some very unbelievable death-defying moments, but that just means there will be a 3rd book in the series.

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The Sisters Who Would Be QueenThe Sisters Who Would Be Queen by Leanda de Lisle
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

At 15, Lady Jane Grey ascended the throne becoming the first woman to rule England in her own right. Only for nine days, but that was enough.

de Lisle’s work The Sisters Who Would Be Queen takes head on the mythology around Jane’s innocence and helplessness and puts her, along with her sisters, right in the middle of the conflict as willing and willful participates.

Caught in the wreckage of religious and political maelstroms, the Grey sisters were not innocent; they knew many of their actions– like secret marriages — were in direct conflict with the wishes of those in power and would likely lead to death or imprisonment.

de Lisle drowns the reader in names and places and it is hard for an American with minimal British History study to follow all the Lord this and Lady that. Yet the story of the Grey women as the backdrop for the rule of Elizabeth I and the fight for religious control of England is fascinating. de Lisle focuses on the Grey sisters as a way to frame and examine the political machinations and the power struggles to rule after Henry VIII’s death

Elizabeth I and Mary Queen of Scots are portrayed as complex and challenging young women fighting for the future they want and for their freedom and their lives.

Complex and challenging to read at times, The Sisters Who Would Be Queen is original and compelling.

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Grandad, There's A Head On The Beach (Jimm Juree, #2)Grandad, There’s A Head On The Beach by Colin Cotterill
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Get ready to spit out your milk. Cotterill has done it again with a laugh-out loud mystery featuring former crime reporter, Jimm Juree. And her former traffic cop grandfather, her slightly crazy mother, her transsexual computer hacker sister/brother and a host of zany locals in southern Thailand.

Oh. And a head washed up on the beach by the last monsoon. Yes. A real head.

Juree and her posse take on slavery, kidnapping, corrupt charities and police as they hunt down the fiends and bring them to justice.

It’s hysterical and touching and a grand reminder of our capacity to love.

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The Maid and the Queen: The Secret History of Joan of ArcThe Maid and the Queen: The Secret History of Joan of Arc by Nancy Goldstone

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Yolande of Aragon features prominently in this book, as she did in setting Joan of Arc on a path to an historic victory at Orleans, a searing death at the stake and later the course of French history. The story of the 100 Year’s war cannot be told without telling the story of Yolande of Aragon and Joan of Arc. This book dives into the political intricacies of the struggle for control of France, as well as the personal courage of each of these women. Goldstone also picks up the thread of Joan of Arc’s triumphant restoration as the Maid of Orlean and her ultimate canonization.

At times I was lost with the names of people and places I did not know. It is through substantial and intricate details, though, that the story of Joan of Arc and the course of French history unfolds. A worthwhile read for anyone wanting to know more about this time in history and about these women in particular.

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Marco Polo: From Venice to Xanadu

Marco Polo: From Venice to Xanadu by Laurence Bergreen

Listening to Marco Polo as I drive to and from work makes me want to head straight to the airport and fly to the Mediterranean. It’s delightful to hear Bergreen describle cities I have walked in like — Jerusalem, Acre — using original texts from the 13th and 14th century. So much to learn here and it’s a fun divergence from the rain and rain and rain of June in Seattle.

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The Heretics Daughter The Heretics Daughter by Kathleen Kent
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Haunting and hopeful, ths book is well researched and well written. Though factionalized, the characters are real, and this makes the telling more important: the suffering, fear and death surrounding those imprisoned and murdered during the hysteria of the Salem Witch trials is laid bare in all its ugliness.

I read this book in one sitting, often pacing the room with saddness and despair at man’s inhumanity to man. There is hope here, too, and a fierce reminder that we must always chose.


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American Jezebel: The Uncommon Life of Anne Hutchinson, the Woman Who Defied the PuritansAmerican Jezebel: The Uncommon Life of Anne Hutchinson, the Woman Who Defied the Puritans by Eve LaPlante
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Fantastic exploration of the political and religious issues of Anne Hutchinson and the Massachusetts Bay Colony. LaPlante delves into the religious conflict between the emerging Protestants and the Anglican Church in England and then continues the story in America, with the conflict between the different beliefs and values of the men in power. Anne Hutchinson’s story is a remarkable story about faith in oneself and living by your conviction. It’s also a fantastic exploration of the not-so-nice realities of living in Massachusetts in the 1640’s.

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The Bedlam Detective: A NovelThe Bedlam Detective: A Novel by Stephen Gallagher

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Talk about a tough case; our detective is put to test trying to assess the mental health of a Peer of the Realm. Two girls are murdered on the Peer’s estate and the Peer is suffering a break with reality following a harrowing journey down an Amazon tributary.

The story is compelling and the characters are rich and dimensional, but at times the random breaks into fantasy are a bit hard to follow. I like the former Pinkerton man turned investigator for the Office of Lunacy and I like his son Robert, a savant that appears to suffer from some form of autism, although that’s not spelled out.

It feels like the author is pushing too much into this first book, but I am game for another in the series.

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Midnight Rising: John Brown and the Raid That Sparked the Civil WarMidnight Rising: John Brown and the Raid That Sparked the Civil War by Tony Horwitz

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Though at times I found my mind wandering as I listened to the tale of John Brown and The Raid That Sparked the Civil War, Horwitz provides the context and color so important to understanding why one man decided to raid the armory at Harper’s Ferry.

Horwitz knits together the threads of strain between the North and South that plagued the country for decades before erupting at Fort Sumter. A devout Calvinist and strident abolitionist, Brown plots and plans his attack for years before utterly failing and causing the loss of all his men, save one.

But did Brown really fail? What was his true intent? Horwitz explores these larger questions in an attempt to provide a richer, more complex view of the Brown’s raid.

My understanding is richer and deeper than I had expected when I started the book.

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Where Shadows Dance (Sebastian St. Cyr, #6)

Where Shadows Dance by C.S. Harris

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Deep characters, rich period details, complex political intrigue and compelling plots are the trademark of C.S. Harris’ Sebastian St. Cyr series. I never know where we’re going to go in pursuit of truth, honor and justice.

It’s 1812. King George III is insane and England is at war. St. Cyr and his friend Dr. Paul Gibson must find out who stuck the stiletto in the skull of a rising star in the Foreign Office. And why. Crossing continents and making political enemies, St. Cyr is also negotiating with Jarvis Hero to make her his wife but soon enough, she is drawn into the chaos and must fight to save her life and the lift of their unborn child.

I thoroughly enjoyed this story and stayed up all night, as usual, to finish it.

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My Dear I Wanted to Tell YouMy Dear I Wanted to Tell You by Louisa Young
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

My Dear, I don’t care what you want to tell me.

I’ve tried to care, really I have. But, I don’t. Your self-indulgent characters don’t interest me. Your predictable forays into the terrors of WW1 French battlefields are so, well, predictable.

I wish I could say we can still be friends; but alas, this breakup is of the permanent variety.


No longer interested.

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Good to Great and the Social Sectors: A Monograph to Accompany Good to GreatGood to Great and the Social Sectors: A Monograph to Accompany Good to Great by Jim Collins
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Be prepared to shake up your thinking! Defining your hedgehogs, priming the flywheel, and getting the right people on the bus are only part of the success equation for great companies and great social organizations.

In this monograph Collins spells out how to go for greatness by focusing on outcomes not inputs and helps clarify the challenge of defining non-monetary outcomes. What does it mean to empower middle-school girls? how do you know you’ve succeeded at being a world-class orchestra?

The insights into leadership and into the discipline around developing and leading great teams helped me 1 hour after I read this monograph to frame a critical decision that the whole team ended up saying ‘yup’ this is what we need to do.

Powerful thinking for business or social organizations.

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The Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Medicine, Madness & the Murder of a President

The Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Medicine, Madness & the Murder of a President by Candice Millard
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Terrific. I knew absolutely nothing about President Garfield, nor his 6 month term of office. This is a riveting and compelling book about the science of the 1880’s, the politics of reconstruction, and the people who shaped our republic. I was captivated by the madness of the assassin and the arrogance and desperation of Garfield’s doctor — both of them needed to actually kill President Garfield.

In this well written and illuminating account, I learned so much about the reconstruction of the south and of the 1880’s in America.

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Killed at the Whim of a HatKilled at the Whim of a Hat by Colin Cotterill

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

George Bush mis-quotes inspire this fantastic new Cotterill character, Jimm Juree. A would-be famous journalist uncovers a sinister and inhumane plot while trying to adjust to the family’s recent move to a little town in rural Thailand. Juree moves through the world with grace and humor and comes to understand both herself and her family. Cotterill uses his sense of the absurd and his knowledge that we all want to be accepted and to do something that matters to drive this book to a wonderful conclusion. I look forward to more of Jimm Juree and her sidekicks.

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American Creation: Triumphs and Tragedies in the Founding of the RepublicAmerican Creation: Triumphs and Tragedies in the Founding of the Republic by Joseph J. Ellis

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Fantastic!  The American Revolution brought to us by flawed individuals.  Joseph Eliss details the triumphs, tragedies, successes and failures of the founding fathers.  I “read” this book as an audio book and I was enthralled with each vignette as Ellis delved into the details of the Louisiana Purchase, the writing of our Declaration of Independence and the ratification of our constitution.  How close we came to not being a Republic is made clear through the letters and speeches of our founding fathers, Adams, Washington, Jefferson, Madison and Monroe.  This is a terrific look at the real men behind our country’s founding.

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8 responses to “2012 Book Bag – Archived

  1. Some of my favorite reads of 2009:

    The Help by Kathryn Stockett
    The Vitner’s Luck by Elizabeth Knox
    The Secret Scripture by Sebastian Berry
    The Last Chinese Chef by Nicole Mones
    The 19th Wife by David Ebershoff

    (Not sure why they all started with “The”)

  2. Great list, Rachelle. I have only read one of them and tried to read the 19th Wife, but just couldn’t get there. But I found ‘The Secret Scripture’ to be haunting and engaging. Things are not always what they seem to us.

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