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Dr. Mütter’s Marvels: Book Review

After reading a mystery story about a cabinet of curiosities, Dr. Mütter’s Marvels, A True Tale of Intrigue and Innovation at the Dawn of Modern Medicine, was a good next nonfiction read. This book is by Cristin O’Keefe Aptowicz, and not only is it a fascinating tale, but the book is very artistically designed.

Thomas Dent Mütter was a famous surgeon in Philadelphia, 1811-1859, at a time when surgery and medicine were a free-for-all. One didn’t have to have a medical license to practice, and surgery itself was positively barbaric compared to today. Mutter, who later added the umlaut affectation to his name, was quite a character, brilliant to his students, compassionate to his patients, and a true innovator, especially in the field of plastic surgery. He often worked on the poor unfortunates whose defects and deformities no one else would touch. O’Keefe Aptowicz visited his famous museum in Philadelphia as a child and became so fascinated by him that she ended up researching his life and writing this story.

What an amazing story it was too read! All the infighting between doctors and surgeons and all out in public, the dramatic and bombastic medical lectures, the competition between the University of Philadelphia (America’s first medical school) and Jefferson Medical College, the weirdness of Mütter, who often wore silk suits to surgery, and his colleagues like Charles D. Meigs, the differences in experience from Paris to Philadelphia, the amazing surgeries and cases–this story would make an awesome TV show. Meigs could even be the villain in the piece, but he’s more to be pitied than anything else. Sometimes time passes people by, sometimes people don’t change with the times when really they should.

Doctors and surgeons are not gods; neither is the medical industry infallible. In the early 1800s, perhaps the mistakes made in medicine can be excused somewhat, as everything was just getting started with regulating and licensing and all that, but in many ways doctors and medicine have not changed. Even today there are big controversies and differences of opinions in the field, and as it was then, the doctors that don’t fit the industry narrative are silenced as much as possible. It’s sad that more aren’t willing to let all opinions be heard, but that’s they way it so often is with many things. That Mütter made any change is remarkable, and it seems to me he was blessed by God in this, but also that God had him born at the right time, a time when people were willing to change and to consider change. Near the end of his life, America went through a Civil War over slavery, that’s how much things were changing. Today, it’s tempting to think we’ve figured things out medically, but it wasn’t so long ago that most did not know or did not believe that infection and disease could be transmitted by not washing ones hands. Meigs was one such surgeon and refused to change. How many died by his hand when they didn’t need to? It’s a sobering thought. How many die today at the hands of medical professionals who refuse to looks at standards of care that are doing just the opposite for their patients? Fortunately, there are always some, like Mütter, who are true forward thinkers, people with genuine smarts and common sense.

The most striking aspect to me about Mütter was his compassion for the patients–the time he took to get them used to what would happen in the surgery in a time when the only anesthesia was wine, the quickness with which he performed his cutting and stitching, and his brilliant idea of installing aftercare. He really brought the “care” into medical care. It’s mind boggling now to think that patients were given wine and held down for a surgery or amputation and forced to go through with he surgery no matter what, then dumped into a bumpy carriage to recover at home, all performed in front of hundreds of medical students. Compassionate care is more or less standard in America today, though we still have a long ways to go, too. So, so many people are sick today, especially with things like cancer and chronic illness, that it’s too easy to start treating patients like numbers. That’s what I see with vaccines and COVID, the patients are numbers and everyone wants a part of the staggering amounts of money being thrown in at both things. There are doctors who very clearly disagree with the narrative, who have tried explaining that COVID is fairly easy to treat, that it’s not the worst thing since the Black Plague, and that for most a vaccine isn’t even necessary. A step beyond that, there thankfully are many medical professionals also decrying the hasty use of the COVID experimental vaccines, calling attention to the concerning reactions and side effects. As in Mütter’s day, they are purposefully being drowned out, but not for long, I think, for the truth does will out.

Take anesthesia, a new innovation in Mütter’s time, and something that actually bypassed the need for his brand of surgery preparation, which was to meet for weeks with he patient touching and massaging the area to be cut open, so that they wouldn’t be afraid when the surgery finally happened. Instead of being angry about it, however, Mütter embraced the technology, knowing that if it was better for the patient, it would be better for the surgeons too. He also stressed that for the doctor and surgeon, a surgery should be a last and best step–most all other avenues should be tried first. This is a big way we fail today. Surgeries are recommended today so often as to make them routine. Perhaps this should not be. Perhaps there are other ways and better ways to heal. I think of the experience people have had changing their diet, going on keto or carnivore. Much of their inflammation and distress disappears. The truth is getting out there, little by little, especially as people perhaps now have less money to spend on expensive surgeries, but it’s still only a precious few doctors that really embrace these cheaper means.

This story is a great read and of course whatever one’s experience in the medical field, different aspects will resonate more keenly. What I got out of it, would not be what you get out of it. What a fun trip it would be to go to Philadelphia someday and see Mütter’s museum and all of the curiosities collected there. It is amazing that even today we really don’t know sometimes what causes odd growths and deformities on a person. God’s creation is complex and we have a long way to go.

RRR: The Grand Passion

And so, we come to another Regency Romance Review! This one is The Grand Passion by Elizabeth Mansfield. Although I didn’t like this one nearly as much as the wonderful The Fifth Kiss by Mansfield, I read the whole thing and enjoyed it. If I get any more Regency Romances from thrift stores, she is now an author I will look for. This book was published by Jove in 1986.

The plot has a good hook right at the beginning: We are introduced to the newly engaged Matthew John Lotherwood, Marquis (above a count and below a duke) of Bradbourne. He’s a party his aunt is having, and for entertainment she’s hired a fortune teller. Although he doesn’t believe in that stuff, Matt ends up getting a reading anyway, and the fortune teller says he will soon be married, but not to the woman he is engaged to. Instead, she points out a different young woman to him, tall, with short, dark hair, and blue, mesmerizing eyes. With that as his first introduction to the heroine of our story, there was no way Matt was walking away from this without falling in love with her. No way. As an aside, I didn’t like the name Lotherwood and wished all throughout to change it. It just didn’t seem fitting.

Next we are introduce to Tess Brownlow, the heroine, and a lady who lives in the country. She, too, gets engaged, though with misgivings, as she doesn’t feel as much love as she should for Jeremy Beringer. Her mother has pumped her with stories of what love and romance are all about, that a woman must have at least one “grand passion.” Tess isn’t sure what her mother means by this, but she’s sure she hasn’t experienced it yet. Sadly, she never gets to find out if what she feels for Jeremy will ever turn into a grand passion, for the night before their wedding, he is killed in an awful stagecoach accident. Months later, Tess is still stewing over this and tries to find out who the driver of the coach was. The man wasn’t a real stagecoach driver, but a member of the gentry, drunk with drink, and also part of the four-in-hand club, or FHC. Basically, the members of that club are expert drivers of horse-drawn everything. The gentlemen insisted on driving the coach that night. Tess eventually learns this man’s name was Lotherwood and she is determined to make him pay for what he did.

Tess’s idea is ridiculous, although it is very much punishment fitting the crime: Get the man to fall in love with her and then fake her death the night before their wedding. She engages the help of her friend in London to help carry out her plan, and hires the fortune teller to give a very special reading to Matt Lotherwood. Matt’s rich aunt, Lady Wetherfield is also in on the scheme, as she doesn’t like who’s he’s picked for a bride, so, yeah, no chance for the poor guy. Tess is introduced to him as Sidoney Ashburton.

Everything goes according to plan, except that it doesn’t. That is to say, Matt instantly becomes smitten by her, leaving his bride-to-be, who’s really nothing more than a placeholder to him. He’s happy that Viola Lovell is pretty and accomplished, but not a woman he can “lose his head over.” He’s proud to be a Corinthian, a man young, rich, handsome, and interested primarily in sport and gaming. Even so, because Matt is the one who proposed to Viola, society says he can’t go back on his offer: Only the girl has the choice to end the engagement. I’m trying to imagine any modern man submitting to such a rule…oh dear. But men truly are about honor, so my bet is few of them would really propose to a woman without planning to follow through. Yes, the plan works, Matt falls in love, but so does Tess! This, she doesn’t expect, and she falls in love even though she knows he must be a drunkard and murderer.

Yes, you guessed it, Matt is her grand passion. And yet she seems to not be able to put two and two together. Matt never gets drunk around her or behaves drunkenly. In fact, he saves her from a drunken lout, and mentions with some embarrassment that he himself has been drunk before. But everything about him indicates that that is something that must have happened far in the past, long before the stagecoach accident. Despite now being in love with her quarry, Tess stubbornly insists on carrying out her plan, thinking this drunken lout and murderer must be punished. Her friends relay to Matt her sudden death under the wheels of a stagecoach and she retires back to the country despondent and depressed because she doesn’t have her man. And Matt, reeling in shock and grief-stricken, becomes depressed as well. Why do people do this to themselves? Ah, but then we wouldn’t have a story.

Eventually, the truth comes out. Tess’s mother takes her abroad, hoping to cheer her spirits and who should she happen upon, but a drunken lout going by the name of Lotherwood, although it’s not Matthew. Yes, yes, Matt has a younger brother named Guy, and although he clearly hasn’t kicked his alcoholism, he is truly sorry for what he did, causing the death of Tess’s fiancee, Jeremy. Tess’s reaction to all this is revulsion. Revulsion at herself for planning out a punishment that she now realizes is worse than the crime.

It’s only through a similar chance encounter that Matt finds out the truth–and when he’s does he’s boiling mad, and I don’t blame him. His eventual confrontation with Tess is accusatory. What right had she to act as judge, jury, and sentencer without him even knowing he was accused? Without even hearing what he would have had to say? He’s right, and Tess is doubtful of ever getting him back, as she really does love him. He rightly tells her that he would never do something like that to someone he loves. True, men have honor; women often don’t. Oh, we have other good attributes, but honor isn’t really one of them. It’s a good thing Tess doesn’t have honor, for otherwise she wouldn’t get him back. And of course she gets him back, because that’s how these stories go.

This time she takes up the name Annie and becomes a servant in his large estate house, helping Matt in any way she can to be more comfortable and successful in his house and efforts to improve and protect the estate. Good thing all her suggestions are the right ones and she has a knack for knowing how to assist in what he needs, or she’d really be up a creek. When he finally realizes that “Annie” is actually Tess, Matt is boiling mad again, but not for long. He really does love Tess, too, and I think all her crazy schemes kind of excite him, despite him lecturing her to stop taking on assumed names and roles. Really, their “grand passion” is physical chemistry, which is so often what it really boils down to, isn’t it? But, the two went through a lot together, and sometimes a journey like that will cement things in a way nothing else can.

As for Viola, Matt’s former betrothed, she’s at least smart enough to know that he doesn’t really want her and that it’s better to be “married to a viscount who truly desires you than a marquis who feels trapped.” Thus, she moves on to Matt’s friend, the viscount, who admires only her and truly cares for her, too. She can also be herself around him without being belittled–Matt has always seen her as beneath him, a placeholder who is pretty and just someone to get married to because he has to get married to someone as some point. The viscount is also very rich, handsome in his way, and “more easily controlled.” Ha. If only Matt knew the controlling side of Viola, it may have actually increased his impression of her. She has calculated exactly what she wants in a man and in marriage. I do agree with her that it’s better to be with a man who wants you, who truly wants you and loves you. Like her, I don’t think it necessarily has to be a “grand passion,” but everything probably works a lot better if both parties in the couple have passion for each other.

A good read, and I look forward to reading more of Mansfield’s stories. Also, Tess is oh, so tacky. I mean, with her imagination, she could almost be a writer or something…

Up next time: A review of Dr. Mütter’s Marvels.

Half-Book Review: Unwind

Being a fan of Neal Schusterman’s Arc of a Scythe series, the third book of which I have yet to read, I wanted to try another of his series. Schusterman likes weighty moral topics and is a great writer for young adults. Not many authors are truly able to write YA. It’s a delicate balance between being too childish and too adult. He succeeds by simply treating his characters as people, and giving them introspection without navel gazing. Although teens and toddlers are the ages of humans in which we are most likely to act the most immature and the most selfish, these are stages of life, not a place where any human stays. Toddlers grow out of their tantrums and teens eventually get a handle on their hormones and emotions. Basically, I like that Schusterman doesn’t dwell so much on the kids being teens as he does on the societies in which they find themselves.

I really loved Unwind, but only got halfway through. Right now the topic is just too heavy for me. Unwind is set in an alternate America where there was a Heartland War with the pro-life people fighting the prochoice people. Yes, as in for or against abortion. Really don’t know why the abortionists get a pass with “prochoice.” The stance is really pro-death, not really about having more choices. Certainly not more choices for the babies in question. Anyway, in this war, the pro-life side basically ended up losing. A compromise was made that is a mockery of honoring life. Abortion is now illegal–unwed mothers and/or fathers, and or married/unmarried couples who conceive a child are required to complete the pregnancy and bring the baby into the world, caring for it as they should. However, once a child reaches the teenage years, their life is suddenly forfeit. The parents or guardians can sign away their lives, marking them to be “unwound,” or all of their body parts used in transplants to other younger or older people who need them.

This plot immediately brought to mind Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro, as it deals with a similar world and plot: Clones are raised to be come organ and limb donors and everyone pretends this is okay. As the teens in Unwind are not clones, and still live and interact with supposedly loving parents who decide to unwind them, Schusterman’s world strains credulity a bit more than Ishiguro’s does. However, when considering the topic of abortion and the atrocities done to those babies, not only murdering them, but murdering them for body parts and research to improve the lives of older people not denied life, Schusterman’s world could be possible if the love of most for human life continues to grow colder and colder.

The most terrifying thing about reading this book was how normal everything was, how legal, how every i of the law was dotted, how every t was crossed. But of course that’s how it works with psychos who want to take life. Psychopaths will say they talked too loud or something, psychopath abortionists will say the babies are unwanted, or won’t live full lives. Same with euthanasia advocates. And then once the abomination is sufficiently normalized, the dotting and crossing doesn’t matter so much, and Schusterman gives us evidence of that in this world, too, as pretty much any teen can be unwound for most any reason, and one can guess that things didn’t start out that way. Even religion is in on the scam, pretending some teens to be unwound are “tithes” or “offerings,” presumably to the God Creator, but it never actually said, though the religion seems nominally Christian. Could be a revival of any number of ancient religions that practiced child sacrifice. Nothing new under the sun.

The biggest legal framework still in place with this open season on human life is the age definition. You can only kill teens, not before age 13, and not after 18. And in this way the society can pretend it still values life. And, I’m getting so worked up already, which I why I just couldn’t take anymore of this story for now.

It’s a difficult topic. There are unwanted children. There just are, and what to do with them is tricky. Do other people, not their biological parents have a responsibility towards them? Does society? Unwind takes this question a step further, do legal parents have a responsibility to raise teens to full adulthood? Does society have responsibility towards unwanted teens? They get away with all this in justifying their actions due to the teens’ behavior. Many of the teens marked to be unwound are juvenile delinquents or belligerent in some way. (One would think uncooperative teenagers were a new invention). Eugenics is put into practice by trying to weed out undesirable behaviors from society, but then there’s a requirement that all body parts of the unwinds must be transplanted and/or used on a living human being. It’s just bizarre and totally fitting, for once regard for human life is thrown out the window, everything is permissible, including illogical double think. And most likely the teens are going to find that nobody’s really following the rules. That’s it’s a free-for-all.

This book hit closer to home than the Arc of a Scythe series. Scythe, for right now, seems something truly of fantasy, but Unwind…oh, boy, it’s possible. Heartbreakingly possible. There’s a great part in the book where some of these kids marked to be unwound discuss when they think life begins. Like many, they conclude they just don’t know, but people conveniently pretend not to know things when they don’t want to deal with reality. Life begins at conception. Before conception, there is no life. It’s really not that hard, but in this society, and in ours, too, we’ve fallen so far away from actual science and truth, that it’s easy to think we really just don’t know the answer to some things. But, if we truly don’t know the answer, why not err on the side of caution? Why not err on the side of life, not death? In this society they have in part, they’ve made abortion illegal, but in wanting to stop a war, they’ve made an even bigger error by allowing the mass murder of those in a certain age group. If they were smarter, they would have picked an age group that’s not so volatile. But of course, it’s really about the body part harvesting, and for that to work the best, the young must be used.

It is my opinion that those on the side of life should not compromise with those on the side of death. Pro-death is evil. We shouldn’t compromise with evil. Even to stop a war. War is preferable to a society like this. War is often necessary to fight evil, and it’s something we forget. Time and time again I see those who are supposedly on the side of good compromise with those on the side of evil. I’m sure I’ve done it myself–go along to get along. It is a truly cowardly sin. And society moves more and more away from God instead of towards him.

Someday I hope to come back to this series and see how it plays out. Really like the life topics that Schusterman focuses on in his stuff. It makes one thing, really think about the logic and emotions behind life and death issues and human rights. Do the characters become solidly pro-life, wanting life for all, a chance for all human beings? Some probably do and some do not. Was this truly the only way to stop the Heartland War? Likely not. Likely as it is today, the society is being lied to about what actually happened and how it happened. But, the truth will out.

One additional thing: The religious tithe kid had a party, kind of like a Bar Mitzvah, and this is an idea I had too, for my vaccine story that I was working on awhile ago. In my story those kids, too, were excited to get a one-time vaccine that promised to prevent all sickness in their lives. As reality became stranger than my fiction, I simply stopped writing the story. It’s jaw dropping to me all that has happened in recent years, the trampling of life and liberty, the outright lies from everyone, the continuing silencing of the truth, the rush to coerce people into vaccinating–even against their will–and refusing to look properly at all of the negative consequences of the experiment–and it is still an experiment, not something properly approved. The quickness to forget simple truths, like sunlight and fresh air being the best medicine for respiratory diseases. Every day, I feel like shouting the mantra I created in my story to all the vaccine zealots: The Science is Safe, the Science is Sound, the Science is Settled. Say it enough times and it’s all true, right?

Okay, okay, stepping off the soapbox again. Kudos to the writer, but I just couldn’t finish the story at this time.

Book Review: The Good Son

Spoilers ahead.

Like a lot of great thrillers, The Good Son by You-Jeong Jeong starts out with the main character waking up to a mess of some kind, one which he doesn’t understand, and one in which he spends the rest of the book putting the pieces together. Although the story started well, it became apparent far too quickly that Yu Jin was an unreliable narrator, so I couldn’t take any of his reasoning and excuses very seriously.

The mess Yu Jin wakes up to is the murder of his mother–someone has cut her throat and blood is everywhere, especially all over his own person. Throughout this story it is amazing that no one in his Seoul apartment complex seems even aware anything is amiss in his apartment, but that’s kind of how life goes sometimes. For being innocent, Yu Jin sure knows how to tidy up the mess and hide the evidence, and then later on it’s obvious he just doesn’t want to admit to himself what he is, a psychopath who will not only kill people he thinks are in his way, but kill people simply because he gets off on their fear. He also is addicted and triggered by the smell of blood, much like a shark.

Yu Jin is shocked partway through the story to find that he doesn’t have epilepsy but a psychopath tendency. But his shock isn’t real, he’s not like Ba Reum from Mouse who genuinely is surprised and remorseful at the awful person he is. People in general are really good at deluding themselves about themselves and why should psychos be any different? The one thing to admire about him is that he wants to live and to live on his own terms. He does feel a sense of obligation to his family, but not so much as to prevent him from killing them. As to him being a “good” son, he clearly was nothing of the sort, though his adopted brother might have been.

I enjoyed the read, but it’s limited in scope and Yu Jin’s is not as interesting as other fictional psychos like Ripley in The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith. Although Ripley is referenced on the cover of this book, The Good Son cannot hold a candle to that chilling masterpiece. And Yu Jin has few of the amusing and exasperating gamma thoughts and behaviors of Raskolnikov from Crime and Punishment. And the religious aspect does not ring home at all, it’s just there, but offers no food for thought unlike Mouse and C&P. So, although I made it through The Good Son, I found it to be just ok, but not holding its own against better stories of the same genre or similar plots. Maybe it’s better in Korean.

Probably the most thoughtful aspect of the book, was Yu Jin’s family, and how delusional they were about him and about what they could do for him. Clearly, he should have been under care of some kind a long time ago and kept away from society. Yes, Yu Jin maybe had no life, or at least not the life he wanted, but neither did his mother. Her sudden adoption of his friend is her grabbing what she sees as a life line. The adopted brother is someone Yu Jin views in a better light than is warranted. I think it could have to do with Yu Jin’s desire to be out in the world and that his brother goes out in the world all the time. His mother does not; his aunt does not. But, with almost all of the other characters, Yu Jin makes a number of assumptions that are either lies he’s telling both the readers and himself, or are simply flat out wrong. Even at the end of the book, it’s obvious he really doesn’t know, he’s just assuming and imagining things to be a certain way, and it’s more pitiful than chilling.

Better, more thrilling stories of this nature are: The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith, Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky, Atonement by Ian McEwan, and the Korean drama Mouse starring Lee Seung Gi.

In Search of Romance

With the dearth of romance in my own life, I often rely on stories to make up the difference. Sad to say, but as of late, whether dramas or tacky Regency Romances, nothing is really engaging me. Real life is actually more interesting for once, though no particular romance to be found, but…let’s just say God has an interesting sense of humor.

Here’s what hasn’t worked: Kdramas Doom at Your Service and Touch Your Heart. Not bad stories, good acting, just really slow. Touch Your Heart will probably heat up a bit as I’m not very far into it, but Doom…sometimes chemistry can’t make for a lack of action. The couple(s) are together constantly, but it’s just not exciting. And the second lead love triangle is a lot more interesting than the main romance. Even that, though, falls flat. It’s like dating someone for a long time, but you never really progress or go to the next level or whatever. The relationship is just…there. Which is fine in real life, but to watch, is so boring it’s almost painful.

As for the tacky Regencies: Tried Julianna by Judith Nelson. It was boring, boring, boring. I really did like her short story Christmas at Wickly, though, so might give her another shot if I come across one of her other books at the thrift store. Next, I tried two Candlelight Regency Specials published by Dell and authored by Lucy Phillips Stewart. Bride of a Stranger jumped around a lot and stopped making sense after awhile. The dialogue was supposed to witty, but was ridiculous, which was unfortunate, because that’s really the only place any chemistry with the leads shone through. Her Bride of Chance, again, the dialogue just was not good. It’s hard enough to write really good modern day dialogue, much less Regency talk, but whatever the author was going for, was not working. It would be amusing to finish both stories, as they are pretty tacky, but I’m not in the mood. I need some good romance, so am turning to Elizabeth Mansfield.

In the Regency surprise box I bought last summer, there is another book by Mansfield called The Grand Passion. Doubt it will be as good as The Fifth Kiss, but I’m hopeful. I’m always hopeful when it comes to romance, both in stories and real life.

As for other stories: So far The Good Son by You-Jeong Jeong is trippy, very trippy.

What Is Art?: The Emperor’s Soul, Book Review

After trying Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson and disliking it, I was sure he wasn’t the author for me, despite the fact that many I know enjoy and are fans of his work. Fortunately, I decided to take another chance on Sanderson, remembering that even the authors I do enjoy always have at least a couple of stories that I just don’t like. The Emperor’s Soul was a definite win for me, and Sanderson’s simple way of writing really shines with a shorter story like this that quickly digs into various themes and ideas.

The Emperor’s Soul could easily be either fantasy or sci-fi, as clearly as the world is drawn in some ways, it’s purposefully or necessarily vague in others, and this empire could be set way back in time or far in the future. Either way, the characters and plot would still work. The magic and culture of the world in the book are drawn largely from Asian culture, and I personally thought of China because I lived there for a time and I have a signature chop of my own that I had carved with my Chinese name on it. Sometimes I stamp it on letters, but rarely do I write letters anymore. This story takes these chops, or stamps, to a new level, making them tools of magic that can change everything about an object or person. The magician, or rather, craftsmen, who do this are called forgers. Like art forgers, rarely are they creating something new, rather they are making an alternate version of something that already exists. Not so different from actual art, when considering the painting of a flower could also be called a forgery of an actual flower.

Stamping and forgery aside, the plot of the short novel–it’s less than 200 pages–is a cat and mouse game. Shai is caught in an act of thievery and must use all her skill and wits to complete the task her captors have assigned her and also escape in one hundred days. Gaotana, a government advisor, befriends Shai and also watches her work closely. Both characters know they are trying to manipulate the other person. As a shorter story, this plot was a good choice, as is the limited time, and limited setting of just a few rooms.

The magic in this world is more like a craft or a field of art. It is something that forgers have a gift for, but something they also must study. Shai states that anyone can learn how to forge the stamp, and although this does appear true, it is apparent that one must have an instinct and skill with research in order to be successful. The Heritage Faction that currently rules the empire considers forging an abomination, yet uses it often to preserve the heritage of past cultures, making junky clay pots into Ming vases, etc. Shai is right to wrinkle her nose at this hypocrisy. Is forging an abomination or is it not? The distinct rules of forging make it easy to understand, and although there’s quite a bit of telling involved, it’s not boring, it’s fascinating.

Forging a new soul for a person isn’t done, shouldn’t be done, and can’t really be done, but that is the task that the Heritage Faction has for Shai. With little other choice, she agrees to do it and soon finds herself relishing the nearly impossible task while simultaneously planning her escape. Here is where the true artistry if forging is showcased, for as Shai works, she researches every little detail about this person, much the way a biographer might study someone whose story they would like to tell. In the process, she also forges other things, turning her hovel-like room into something grand, impressing Gaotana, who despite being suspicious of forging, endeavors to learn what he can of it. This kind of forging is contrasted as “good” against another called blood sealing, in which a person’s blood is used to stamp and imprison them or hunt them down with skeleton monsters. The picture is, of course, life versus death.

What is art? That is a central question posed in the book, mostly by Gaotana. Shai already knows the answer because she’s in the business of creating art. Interestingly, Sanderson chose to make her an actual art forger as well, which is the way in which she is first introduced to both Gaotana and the reader. He is impressed by her forged painting, and only impressed with her stamp forging much later on when he has more knowledge about it. The question then becomes, what is an artist? Initially Gaotana thinks that Shai is wasting her talents, that she could be a great painter, then he sees how great a stamp forger she is and surely thinks her talents on that score are also being wasted. Interesting, again, because to his faction stamping is supposed to be an abomination.

Art is thought of, mostly by Gaotana, as something precious, not to be destroyed no matter what. It is something for future generations to benefit from, but he learns from Shai that sometimes it is necessary to destroy even the best art. From Shai’s perspective, it is clear that although she may be a primo painter, she doesn’t consider that her art. Forging the stamps is her art and she is a master at that. This forging of a soul is her best and definitive piece and it becomes so important to her that she risks losing her chance at escape to complete it. Her bond with Gaotana is such that she leaves the blueprints in his hands. Only he will know and marvel at the great piece of art that she’s forged. Marvel he does.

In the real world, the idea of forging or rewriting another’s soul sounds evil. In this world, it can only be done by those who know people well. This is the true artistry of Shai, knowing people. She has a natural talent that on some level just cannot be learned, much like a musical prodigy has a talent for music that studying music can’t quite match. In this story, the soul she must rewrite is someone who is otherwise gone. He in essence has no soul. Subtle connection is made between Shai’s gift at forging and also her faith. She prays to the Unknown God, which struck me as a reference to the Christian God, the Creator of the World. Paul refers to the Greeks’ worship of the Unknown God in Acts, and says, well, let me tell you about him. I’m not sure if that was the intended reference or not, but I liked it. I think that all art and craftsmanship and our desire to create and build things is much due to our Creator. He likes to create things and He made us in His image: We also like to create things, and there’s something fulfilling about working hard with all one’s skills and talents to make a work that truly reflects the beauty, love, and hope that God built into the world. It is satisfying, and is a reflection of the Creator.

The story doesn’t really tell us whether what Shai did in forging a soul was ultimately right or wrong. A wrong way of doing it was addressed, but that wrong way the forger ultimately dismissed. It is also unclear just how enduring this stamp Shai made will be, and if it will stand up to the test of time. In a way, she’s been playing God, but in another way, she’s healed a man. I really like the different ideas, questions, and possibilities in this story. It’s a story that makes one think about things and gives answers that fit into the story world, but leaves the real world implications and answers for the reader to ponder.

Did I mentioned I really like this book? The simple, almost mundane writing was perfect here, it really let the themes and ideas shine for themselves. It was vastly better than the flowery, longwinded, and tedious writing in The Goblin Emperor. Sometimes it’s better to simply be a storyteller instead of a Writer. I will definitely check out more of Sanderson’s books, but if this is the only one that resonates with me, that’s ok.

One last thing: On some level Shai is a thief and a con artist. Although she perhaps only learns how to invoke a better con job throughout this story, she learns from Gaotana that the best way to manipulate a person is with sincerity. Sincerity cannot be faked, or it wouldn’t be sincerity; it is a “stamp” that will stick and takes time to both implement and to master. Is sincerity necessary to make great art? In this story, yes. In the real world, it depends. There’s probably lots of things considered great art out there that the artist just made for money or without much thought. The implication in the story, though, is that a truly great artist doesn’t operate that way. This is why Shai cares little for painting and much for forging. Forging is where she puts all her effort and thought. Manipulating with sincerity. It’s just another way of saying, be yourself, everyone else is already taken.

Thursday, time allowing, I plan to have a review up of the Kdrama Extra-ordinary You, and the week after that something to say about the first three Narnia books. Enjoying the drama Doom at Your Service so far, and I’m trying out an ok Japanese drama called One Page Love. As for summer reading, my list changes by the day. I definitely plan to continue with the Narnia books and also continue with The Bowers Files serial killer series. Beyond that, much depends on whether I delve into my still-have-to-read bookshelves or visit the library frequently. Have a great week, everyone, and happy reading!

Book Review: The Murder of Napoleon

One would think that a reader obsessed with Jane Austen and romances from the Regency time period would know a great deal about Napoleon Bonaparte. Alas, that would not be me, so the book The Murder of Napoleon by Ben Weider and David Hapgood, told me many interesting things about the man. Now I must add a proper biography of the infamous emperor to my stack of books to read.

So, first of all, did I mention I don’t really know much about Napoleon? I figured he died in battle or something, so was surprised to learn he was exiled to the island of St. Helena off the west coast of Africa in the years before his death. Contrast that with the authors of this book and especially the other central figure in it, one Sten Forshufvod, a Swede who followed in his father’s footsteps by obsessing over Napoleon. Obsessing is the wrong word–passionate, Forshufvod was passionate about Napoleon, and how it paid off, for back in the 1950s-60s he discovered the possibility that Napoleon didn’t die of natural causes on the island, but was murdered.

The Murder of Napoleon is a great nonfiction read. It bounces back between detailing Napoleon Bonaparte’s surrender to the British and his last years of exile on St. Helena (1815-1921) and and the efforts of Forshufvod to figure out the truth about his death during the time period of 1955-1975. Some of it’s a lot of dry information, but mostly it’s a riveting read, not only the details and quirks about Napolean’s habits and character, but also about the fields of science dealing with poison and poison detection. The book is originally from 1982, so I don’t know if Forshufvod’s findings and speculations have been officially determined and listed by France, but even if not, it’s fascinating. I was particularly struck by just how charismatic Napoleon was with almost everyone, and how enthralled even the British soldiers were with him. It was sad to see, too, how scholars and scientists get stuck in their ways and can’t look at the evidence objectively. I’m sure that science and scholarship isn’t much different today. Sometimes people just don’t want to know the truth. They prefer to believe their own version of it. I’m the same with some things, and I get how painful it can be to deal with the truth, but it’s still sad, a sad part of humanity.

If you’re looking for a great summer read, I highly recommend this engaging book that delves into the history of one of the most remarkable men who ever lived. In it, Napoleon is alternately brilliant, infuriating, and often lovable. If it’s true that he was murdered in such an awful way, I am sorry that he suffered so horribly. How awful, too, for those around him to witness his suffering and to be unable or unwilling to do anything. I’m not sure if an emperor Napoleon was better for the people than proper royalty, and I’ve read books like The Scarlet Pimpernel in which the “good” side is the aristocrats and the royals, but it would have been interesting to see what life in Europe would have been like today had Napoleon remained emperor. One thing was definite about Napoleon: he was a born leader.

RRRS: The Silent Governess and A Castaway in Cornwall

For contemporary writers of Regency Romance, Julie Klassen is my favorite. Borrowed The Silent Governess from the library. Not too bad of a read, but it ended with me wishing it had been set at the girl’s school her mother runs in the end. As with many of her books, I was more into a lot of the minor characters, like Croome, than the leads, but the leads weren’t bad, either. Olivia Keene is the governess in question, and through a series of coincidences ends up working at Brightwell Manor where Lord Bradley lives. Bradley alternates between being cruel and kind, fighting a constant chip on his shoulder, a fear that people will find out a family secret. Because the story begins with Olivia’s great talent in mathematics, I expected that to be fleshed further, but that wasn’t the case. Only in parts where the plot needed it, was attention called to her skills. Lord Brightwell, Bradley’s father, really impressed me at the end and now I want a whole story about him and Bradley’s cousin Felix and how he’s made into a proper lord. Would be a good tale.

As for A Castaway in Corwall, again my expectations just didn’t match the book. Unfortunately, I have read Jamaica Inn by Daphne du Maurier in the past few years, which deals with Cornwall, wreckers, shipwrecks and the like, and although that story was mostly dreadful, few can beat the atmospheric writing of du Maurier, and so I was constantly comparing the two and thought it could have used more wreckers and smugglers. It was very interesting, though, to have a different perspective on the Nalopeonic wars and having characters be on the side of the new republic rather than on the side of the British or the royalists, per say. As the island of Jersey is brought up right away, I was hoping the tale would take us there, and it did, but then I just had the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society in my head, so again, comparing the books. Again, more of the minor characters caught my attention, but there was something a bit reckless about both Laura and Alexander, and they had rather good kissing scenes.

Now I am learning more about Napoleon by reading The Murder of Napoleon by Ben Weider and David Hapgood.

My favorites by Klassen still are: The Innkeepers of Ivy Hill series, The Girl in the Gatehouse, and The Apothecary’s Daughter.

RRR: The Fifth Kiss

Sometimes everything in stories comes together to make a great “show,” if you will, and The Fifth Kiss did just that. I found it highly entertaining, and alternating between being infuriating and delightful, which is what a good romance should be. Yes, yes, we women like the drama. It’s exciting, it’s where we often find our adventure. This was a standout among what I’ve read from the mystery box last summer so far. I’ve got about fifteen novels left. This one is written by Elizabeth Mansfield, who had a short story in the Christmas compilation with somewhat similar characters. She likes bookish girls, or Bluestockings, as they were called back then.

First and foremost, The Fifth Kiss would be easily adapted to TV, a show or a miniseries. That was the appeal to me, I could see it as a show, a successful one at that. Not only does it start out with our heroine, Olivia, shocked–shocked I tell you!–but throughout the tale we get to be upset and exasperated along with her as she finds out that the hero, Miles Strickland, Earl of Langley, is all too often right. We meet many other interesting characters, and have a really cool second romance later in the book. Several characters are there waiting to be further developed, and there could be several subplots added to the main story. Olivia is at first someone we like, and then don’t like, as we realize that Miles is correct, she interferes when she should not, but then we, along with him, come to love her again, as she’s such a dear with her niece and nephew and is really very good at running a household. Many relationships abound throughout the book, not just romantic ones, but those of father to daughter, brother to sister, father to son, masters to servants, and the like. Social and political commentary is also woven throughout the story and could be expanded upon in a show.

I was pleasantly surprised to find I liked our hero by the end. So many of these stories seem to think it’s a desirable thing for a man of that time to have a lot of experience sleeping around before he finds “the one” and gets married. In this one, we are shown a different view of infidelity and just what that means. It is sobering to remember that two people are always involved. We so often think a man or wife just goes out to cheat on their own, and sometimes that is the case, but sometimes it is that their spouses have left them or retreated from them in some way. Doesn’t make cheating or infidelity right, of course, but it puts things into perspective: Neither is it right for spouses to cut their partners out of a piece or pieces of their lives. A marriage is two lives wholly shared, much more than any other relationship. Someday I hope to experience that also, but, for now I have the tacky romances.

This one wasn’t so tacky, really, the cringiest part was when Olivia Matthews takes it upon herself to get some kissing experience and it was just hard to believe she’s quite that dumb, but some people are. Mansfield got the descriptions right, the strange experience when someone has more emotion or ardor than you do. It’s sort of a disembodying thing, and of course sad for the other person to be kissing you so ardently with no response, but it happens. Unrequited love, unrequited attraction, such a great disappointment, not evil exactly, but it’s always something that seems like it should not be, a great wrongness in the world. However, a couple of the men in this story press on when they should not, forcing their physical attentions on the hapless Miss Matthews. No matter how sorry I may be for them, it just isn’t right. Olivia bears up well, though really doesn’t seem to understand the danger she sometimes puts herself in.

The part about the story that got to me was Olivia’s moral outrage, which ended up being misplaced, and her interference. Sometimes we–often, but not always, women–see a wrongness and think we have to, we must correct it. Really, we should wait and see first if anyone is asking us to interfere, yes, even if God is asking us to interfere. Most of the time not only is it not our place, but also there’s always more to story that we don’t know, and our interference will only make things worse, especially if it’s not wanted. In this case, the true moral wrongness was a wife cutting a husband out of her life, perhaps with the intention of saving him from pain, but giving him more pain in the process. Olivia is humbled and a bit bewildered. She really doesn’t understand what a marriage relationship is or means. And she really does not understand men, but fortunately, she grows up through out the story and comes to understand how to deal with them and bring out the best in them, well, at least in one of them. That was very great to read.

The Fifth Kiss is one that may stay on my shelves, though it’s no Jane Austen, so time will tell. There are actually six kisses or series of kisses in the novel, and it is the fifth one which makes our hero realize he loves Olivia. He finds it horrid to find her in the arms of another man, even if her feelings for the man are stone cold. So, nothing especially magic with a fifth kiss, just that it was the turning point in the romance of the story.

Reviews: House of Salt and Sorrows/Christmas at Wickly

What fun it is in this modern era when there are so many wonderful retellings of the old fairy tales. These books are a treat to read, though sometimes they miss the mark. House of Salt and Sorrows by Erin Craig has so much going for it, and although I really enjoyed it, I’m not sure I recommend it. The story has a maritime setting on a series of islands, the salt, the sea, etc., but it didn’t really become nautical in the sense of being really firmly set in a world of ships and sailing. The twelve girls are all daughters of a wealthy landowner/governer of the island chain and have little to do with actual sailing trips, fishing, and the like. It could have gone much farther in the world of the sea, and also the quasi-Greek mythological religion the world follows. Still, what was there was adequate for the story. Our heroine is one of the 12 sisters. She’s in the middle and her name is Annaleigh.

Twelve main characters plus any additional ones are tough to keep track of, but in this tale, four of the sisters are already dead at the beginning of the story. Wisely the author groups the rest of the sisters, making them easier to remember. The story has a lot of stops and starts and never really flowed well, but the ghostly figures in the beginning didn’t prepare me for the end. Although the story ended happy, the incident in the lighthouse was just…icky, for lack of a better word. Icky, and for no apparent reason. There was just a lot of gore and grossness at the end, which ended up being too much for me. The actual adaptation of the Grimm tale was mostly in the latter half, and it was when their father finally made the wager that whoever figured out the mystery of how his daughters wore out their shoes every night would gain his estate, that I realized how uneven the story was.

Where it went wrong was the world building, something I, too, have trouble with. The stuff on their immediate region was good, but a full description of the world was lacking, or perhaps it was too blink-and-you’ll-miss-it. The ickiness related to one of the deities in another province who was not detailed nearly enough, and that’s why it just doesn’t fit at the end. Also, I expected fairies in the story, that is, I expected them to be the villains, and was disappointed in that.

All in all it’s an adequate retelling, but it could have been so much more. I did enjoy the use of Fisher, but I also didn’t think the character really got his due, either. The romantic hero was very appealing, but we didn’t get to know him that well. Fairy tales are hard to retell in some ways, because they are short and often have very blank characters. Sometime this bleeds into the longer adaptations. Also the dancing was severely lacking. I wanted more time at the balls and there just seemed to be a lot of Annaleigh thinking, which is of course what young women often do, but it doesn’t drive stories along very well.

Craig did a good job of portraying an estate constantly in mourning. The behaviors of many characters can be excused largely due to the tragedies they’ve experienced, so it’s not a wonder in that sense that it takes people a long time to realize something is amiss. The ultimate villain at the end…meh. I suppose the lesson is you never get what you want no matter how clever a deal you make, especially if it’s a deal with a devil. Not a bad story, but I wouldn’t recommend it, and I’ve read a better adaptation of the fairy tale at some point in my life and hopefully one of these days I’ll remember the title.

A Regency Romance Review

Continuing with the A Regency Holiday book of five Regency romances, story four was actually quite good. I wish it was a longer story. Judith Nelson is the writer, and was excited to find that one of her longer novels was in the surprise bag I bought last summer. Christmas at Wickly stars the Earl of Wickham, who is in his thirties, and a twenty-eight year old heroine who believes herself firmly on the shelf. She’s not wrong, in that day and age women often married in their late teens, but Miss Worthington lives fully up to her name and her humor and capableness convince the earl that she’s the one for him. All this is planned in advance by a wily grandma who wants to see their family’s inheritance continue and not go on to lesser family members. In her eyes, it is essential the earl marry and start having children as soon as possible. She’s not wrong, but I’m also glad that she wants him to truly be in love.

The romance is quiet, just two people spending a lot of time together and falling in love while doing it. Somehow the love surprises both sexes and Nelson makes it exciting to both of them, as well as sweet to read. They are both total dorks and also snobs after a fashion. It will be great to see what she does with a longer story. The story outlines four key points for a good match: Humor, companionship, similar perspectives and/or temperament, and time together to make the relationship happen. As Wickham dismisses the other, younger women one by one, I just think of Austen’s Mr. Knightley proclaiming that “men of sense don’t want silly wives.” In this story, that’s true, although our hero quite sillily makes a habit of stealing mistletoe so he’s not forced to kiss anyone under it. It’s hard to imagine societal rules so strict one couldn’t refuse a kiss, but I suppose if a gentleman is faced with having to refuse a lady, he would just rather avoid the situation altogether. And that’s rather gentlemanly of him, even if it also makes him silly.