Monday, January 20, 2014

The Bloodletter's Daughter (A Novel of Old Bohemia)

The Bloodletter's Daughter by Linda Lafferty

Hungary was at war with the Ottoman Empire beginning in 1526.  During the time that the Catholics were fighting the scurge of Islam, they had dissent within their own ranks, the rise of Protestantism.  in 1606 Archduke Matthias (Matthias II) managed to negotiate the Treaty of Vienna which allowed for religious freedom and united the people of Christianity against the Ottoman Empire.

In 1608, a bathmaid, Marketa Pichlerova, was butchered by the bastard son of Rudolf II.  His son, Don Julius was reportedly insane.  After this event, Rudolf II fell into a deep melancholy and dismissed his advisers and ministers, leaving his valet, Philip Lang, in charge of state affairs.  In June 1608, Matthias and his allies marched toward Prague and forced his brother Rudolf II to yield the kingdoms of Moravia, Hungary and Austria.  Rudolf II lived out his life in seclusion surrounded by his personal servants until his death in 1612.

A year after the death of Don Julius, a two-tome book Malleus Maleficarom, explaining sorcery and witchcraft was found in his possessions in Rozmberk Castle where he died.  A supposition was made that the book was purchased because he believed, like his father, that he was bewitched and he was perhaps taking steps to locate the witch.

The subsequent Thirty Years War, involving most of Europe in the struggle between Catholics and Protestants, devastated Bohemia.  Doctor Jakub Horcicky de Tenepec, a Catholic prisoner was exchanged for a Protestant prisoner, Doctor Jan Jesenius.  In 1621 Jan Jesenius was shot along with twenty-six other Protestants in Prague's Old Town Square.

Doctor Horcicky wrote a pamphlet entitled "Catholic Confession, or Description of the Right common Chrisitian Confession, about Hope Credence and Love."  He was quite successful professionally creating a medicine from the distillation of plants called "aqua sinapii" (water of mustards) that proved quite profitable.  He held the title of imperial chemist both under Rudolf II and Emperor Matthias.

In the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale University is a mysterious tome written in an indecipherable text known as the Voynich manuscript.  On the first page of the manuscript is written the name Jakub Horcicky de Tenepec, botanist and personal physician to Rudolf II.

With these historical events, Lafferty wove an engaging tale of a young girl of Krumlov who grew up in the shadows of Rozmberk Castle working in her mother's bathhouse and assisting her father, the Barber/Surgeon in his bloodletting.  Lafferty has created a great story based in the solid footings of historical events.

I highly recommend this book if you like historical fiction.

Lafferty has two other books, The Drowning Guard: A Novel of the Ottoman Empire and House of Bathory (starting in Slovakia in the early 1600's and concluding 400 years later in Colorado).  I have put them on my Kindle Wish List and I look forward to reading them both.  I just have to get through a few more of my started but not yet finished books first.

Three Cups of Deceit

Three Cups of Deceit by Jon Krakauer

So pretty much everyone has read the book Three Cups of Tea, myself included.  In Three Cups of Deceit, Jon Krakauer points out the differences between the events portrayed in TCofT and what actually happened.

Krakauer interviewed the people who were with Mortenson on his fateful K2 expedition.  In TCofT Mortenson claimed to have been separated from his guide and wandered alone and haggard into Korphe.  According to his companions, this never occurred and they all made their way safely down the mountain into Askole and then into Skardu where their two porters left them to return home.  Mortenson and his friend Scott Darsney stayed in Skardu for about a week and then traveled to Khane in the Hushe Valley to visit the home of the expedition cook, Akhmalu.  It was to Akhmalu that Mortenson made his promise to return and build a school.

Mortenson seems to be a great story-teller knowing when to bend the facts to create a more compelling story.  If bending the facts were the only issue, I don't think Krakauer would have written his book, though.  Unfortunately, it seems that Mortenson was never very keen on the checks and balances of accounting and making sure that money donated to Central Asia Institute or to Pennies for Peace were actually used for building schools and not for his personal gain.

I have had this book on my Kindle for quite some time and just haven't gotten around to reading it so I am way behind the times. After this book was published and 60 Minutes did a story on this, a lawsuit was created (of course). According to Wikipedia (citing articles from Vancouver Sun, BBC, Charity Watch, and Bozeman Chronicle), "In April 2012, after a year long investigation by the Montana attorney general, Mortenson agreed to repay $1 million to the CAI. The Montana inquiry had found that he had misspent over $6 million of the organization's money, although no criminality was found. Montana Attorney General Seve Bullock said: "Mr Mortenson may not have intentionally deceived the board or his employees, but his distregard for an attitude about basic record-keeping and accounting for his activities essentially had the same effect." In addition, under the terms of the selltement agreement, Mortenson was required to resign as executive director and could no longer serve as a voting member of CAI's board. However, he was allowed to remain with CAI as an employee. The settlement was criticized by CharityWatch, an advocacy group, for permitting the existing three-member board, including Mortenson to select the new board."

Okay, so the fact that Mortenson was legally called on the carpet makes me feel a bit better but reading this book made me really mad.  I, like so many others, had donated to the CAI after reading Three Cups of Tea. I was not only mad about the lies and the apparent misappropriation of funds, I was mad about the mismanagement of the schools. The fact that schools were being built in places where they weren't needed (being called ghost schools by the locals) and those that were being used and run didn't necessarily have adequate supplies or trained teachers.  It's one thing to have lofty goals and ideals but another thing entirely to pull it all off and reach fruition. 

In researching the aftermath of Three Cups of Deceit I found a couple more things that are saddening. So to start off, in the book writing world, if there are two authors on a book (usually the first name is the famous person and the second is either someone you've never heard of or only heard of slightly), the second is generally the writer of the book and the first either dictated their story and expected the second name to make it into a legible and coherent story or, in the case of many novels, the first person gave the second person a general outline of a story and had the second person write the book.  This is how many authors get their start in publishing, by the way, being ghost writers and then second names on a book.  So anyway, the second name on Three Cups of Tea was David Oliver Relin and on November 14, 2012 he committed suicide.  He had, reportedly had his own difficulties with Greg Mortenson and when the lawsuit against Mortenson was raised, Relin hired a lawyer to protect himself and separate himself from the apparent inaccuracies of the book that had been dictated to him.  Since he didn't leave a suicide epistle, one can only assume that the scandal surrounding his book had something to do with his decision to end his life.

I was hoping that with all the over-haul required of CAI after the 2012 resolution to the investigation, the CAI would be performing with transparency and working toward the lofty goals of not only creating schools but providing teachers and supplies for the teachers.  Unfortunately in April 2013 at article on the Nonprofit Imperative blog, says that the new executive director Anne Beyersdorfer is operating in much the same manner.  She has been giving "full transparency" lip service to the press and anyone else who asks but in reality, she is doing her best to shield Mortensons misdeeds from the world.  Mortenson is no longer on the board but seems to hold much sway over the organization anyway.  He is still an employee of CAI and very much still the public face of the organization.  Here's the link to the blog in case you care to read it.

I have decided that any organization that Greg Mortenson is involved with, does not get a penny of my money no matter how lofty their goals.  Too bad.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Happy New Year!!

Counting up the books I reviewed for 2013, I read only 33 books.  That's a far cry from the 80 or so books I read in 2012.

My work schedule definitely changed in 2013 making it so I had less free time to read.  I read several other books but they were junk books not worth reviewing.  I found myself reading more junk books because I only had 5 minutes here and there rather than 15-20 minutes to actually get more out of my book at each setting.  My schedule has made it so I understand the magazine readers more.  It's easier to read something quick and easy if you only have 5 or 10 minutes in a setting.  It's much harder to get through an involved plot line if you don't have 30 minutes or more to invest to get into a book.

In the new year, I am hoping to finish the 13 books that I started in my Kindle but haven't finished.  I also have a few books (you know, the old-fashioned paper kind) that I have started but not finished.  I would also like to work on reading through the Authors card game.  I have all the books and poems from the game on my Kindle.

After Dead: What Came Next in the World of Sookie Stackhouse

After Dead: What Came Next in the World of Sookie Stackhouse by Charlaine Harris

In an attempt to wrap up the long series of Sookie Stackhouse, Charlaine Harris lists all her characters in alphabetical order and lets us know what happened after the series ended.

If you are hoping for a wrap-up novel like I was, you will be disappointed.  Had I realized what the book was to begin with, I would have been very satisfied.  It was interesting to see what Charlaine Harris envisioned for her various characters.

If you have read all the Sookie Stackhouse books, this one is a must-read.

The Garden of Evening Mists

The Garden of Evening Mists by Tan Twan Eng

This book was beautifully written.  It is the kind of prose that feels poetic because it is so descriptive.

Set in Malay before World War II and Malaysia after the War, this book weaves a story of many lives that overlap and intertwine.

Enemies become allies thanks to the beauty and magic of the Garden up in the mountains of Malaysia.  Through the work of the Garden, the philosophy of the enemy is understood.  Later, reconnecting with the garden, secrets are discovered and revealed.

The weaving of the story, unravels the threads of the many lives that were enmeshed both knowingly and not.

I highly recommend this book.

The One You Love

The One You Love by Paul Pilkington

This was a pretty good thriller.  The protagonist, Emma Holden, has a tendency to make stupid decisions which are really annoying but it seems that this is a requirement for most thrillers.

It was a super bargain at $1 on the Kindle so I figured I'd give it a try.  There are more books by this author and I would be willing to read them.  Not a rousing thumbs up but not a thumbs down either.

Life After Life

Life After Life: A Novel by Kate Atkinson

At this point pretty much everyone has seen the movie Groundhog Day.

This book has a slight similarity but isn't quite the comedic event of the film.

Ursula is born on a snowy night and then she promptly dies.  Then she's born again and lives for awhile only to die shortly after.  Once again she's born but this time she lives for awhile.  Her story goes on like this over and over again.  She has no real memory of her lives lived before only an eerie sense of deja vu.  In large part, the people all around Ursula make the same choices in their lives over and over again but Ursula changes events by making a different decision when she  has a feeling of foreboding.

Until you read a bit into the story, it is a little disorienting.  Once you get a feel for the flow of the book, it is highly enjoyable to live life with Ursula over and over again.

I highly recommend this book.