Book Review The House of Special Purpose by Colin Falconer

Title: The House of Special Purpose

Author: Colin Falconer

Format: Kindle

Published: 2012

As an avid fan of Russian history, I am always on the lookout for more books about it, especially books involving the Romanovs. It is well known that the Romanovs were taken into custody during the revolution, ostensibly for their own protection, and that they were eventually executed. What remains a mystery is what happened to them during those months of captivity. This book is an answer to that question.

Based on eyewitness accounts, this book fills in the blanks of what the Romanovs experienced during their months of imprisonment in the little house in Ekaterinburg. The family was treated decently at first, believing the rumors that plans were in the works to save them and spirit them out of the country. They were allowed outside, and while not exactly treated as royalty, they were not treated like despots who were getting their due (how the Bolsheviks envisioned them.)

When the Bolsheviks took over, things changed. The treatment worsened, and they were treated almost as if they were criminals such as rapists and murderers. The bathroom door was removed, forcing the girls to have zero privacy.  That was just one of the many indignities the family was forced to suffer. Conditions continue to worsen the longer the Reds are in charge of the Romanov’s imprisonment.  The executions are covered in more detail than I have found in other histories of this event.

Overall, Falconer does a wonderful job of putting you in the house with the Romanovs. You feel the dread and indignation they must have felt. This is the best history of the final days of the Romanovs I have found so far. He obviously did his homework on this book. With all the books I’ve read involving the Russian royal family, I am no longer easily impressed.  The author has managed to impress me. I give this one 5/5 pages. I highly recommend this one for anyone with any interest in history.

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Books Review – Caroline, Rebecca, Kaya

Meet Caroline
Kathleen Ernst
Illustrations Robert Papp
Hardback, 2012

Meet Rebecca
Jacqueline Dembar Greene
Illustrations by Robert Hunt
Paperback, 2009

Meet Kaya
Janet Shaw
Illustrations by Bill Farnsworth
Hardback, 2002

As part of Pleasant Company/American Girl’s decision to retire Molly, Misheal and I went back and read through some of the books – Misheal tackled Molly’s six book series, but I went through and did Molly’s companion books and have now moved on to the other Meet whoever books from the American Girl catalogue.

In Meet Caroline, we’re looking at the first shots of the War of 1812, and a little girl who lives in upstate New York on the shore of a great lake.  When war breaks out, she’s in a boat that her father built with her father and two cousins.  As they go towards Upper Canada, still British owned, they get seized by the British Army, who takes the girls back to their family but hold her father and cousin, Oliver, as prisoners of war.  [Side note – if Oliver is from Upper Canada, he’s a British Citizen.  I don’t know why they took him prisoner…]

In Meet Rebecca, we’re with a Jewish family in the midst of World War I.  Her problems start with not being allowed to say the prayer to light the candles on Saturday, and end with her persecuted Jewish cousins trying to get out of Russia with their lives.

In Meet Kaya, we’re in the midst of a Native American tribe somewhere in the Oregon/Washington/Idaho area (they only show us a map of the tribal lands, they don’t really say where they are) during Salmon Fishing Season.

So now on to my feelings about the books themselves.  First of all, I am a little disappointed (no really) that they broke their format of all the dates ending in 4, but it did open them up to things like the War of 1812, which we learned sadly little about in school.  (The other one, so far, is Cecile and Marie-Grace in New Orleans in 1853.)  But it doesn’t have any bearing on what I thought about these stories, I just wanted to throw it out there.

Some of the early dolls/books were period specific but didn’t really have a lot to deal with/understand.  What I noticed in these three books is that they have gotten a little bit more serious in what they’re talking about.  Caroline is captured by troops, Rebecca is dealing with religious persecution and Kaya gets into a lot of cultural stuff that we may not be that familiar with – family/community obligation, behavior affecting everyone (at one point, something she does causes all of the children of the village to get whipped), etc.

Caroline and Rebecca feel similar, despite being 100 years apart, because they’re dealing with the same sorts of things.  They both have family in really precarious positions – Caroline’s father in a POW camp, Rebecca’s cousins trying to get here from Russia – and they’re both in New York and family centric (although that’s a common theme in all American Girl books).

Interesting, though, was that even though Rebecca’s book starts in 1914, there’s absolutely no discussion about WWI.  For now, I give it the benefit of the doubt, as the assassination of Frans Ferdinand didn’t happen until the end of July, but the way the series starts out, it doesn’t feel like they’re planning to talk about it at all, and that’s my interest in the era.  What I did find curious was that the Russians were persecuting the Jews way back then and that’s not something I’ve *ever* learned in history class.  Public Education Fail for sure.  America seriously needs to stop being so selfish and start teaching about the world.

Kaya’s book, on the other hand, was so totally different.  Her story takes place in 1764, and aside from the Small Pox epidemic being a fleeting comment (her grandmother has the scars and the story to tell), her family doesn’t really have much to do with anything outside her tribe.  What I did like, however, was how close the tribe was.  Even the ones who weren’t blood relation were considered cousins and part of the extended family.  When Kaya’s actions (leaving her little brothers in the care of a blind person so she can go off and race her horse) cause the Whipping Woman to come out and punish all the children of the village, Kaya learns humility and to be a team player.  I have to say, I kind of like the Nimiipuu (nee-MEE-poo aka Nez Perce) culture.  I like how the focus is for the greater good and having a group of people that are family even when they’re not; too often in modern culture, we have families who don’t speak to each other, people who move apart and then let distance cause an emotional separation as well, etc.  Kaya’s motivation was to be a citizen that her tribe was proud of.  If only we had that today.

In all, I love that these books deal with serious topics, but do so in a way that kids (well, girls anyway) can relate to.  In all of these books, we get to see that girls, even if they’re expected to do submit to the female roles of society, can be strong, courageous, and awesome.  Women are more than the cooking and the cleaning, and even if that’s what’s expected of them, they can rise to any occasion, and that is a lesson that I hope every girl gets – you can be amazing, you just have to do it.

I’m going to give these books a 4/5.  I know they’re geared towards 10-year-olds (all the characters turn 10 in their birthday books), but I think they have a broader range than that (easily 7-12, but beyond that), and they’re great as topics of conversation.

Book Review – Boneshaker by Cherie Priest

Boneshaker

Cherie Priest

2009

Trade Paperback

 

Oh.  So *that’s* what all the hype was about. 

I’ve heard about Boneshaker for quite a while now, and it’s always been somewhere over there on my reading list.  From what I heard, I knew it as one of the better known books in the Steampunk movement, but I didn’t really understand what that meant. And now that the trend is to slap a few gears on something and decide that it counts, I decided that I’d wait until I was in the mood for that, or just gave in and read the darn thing already.  What I ended up doing was a little bit of both.

Anyway, I picked the book up from the library, and didn’t really know anything about it other than it was Steampunk.   When I started reading, I realized that merely calling it that doesn’t do it justice, because there’s just so much involved with the story, and Priest does an incredible job of putting us right in the middle of it.

The story switches back and forth between two main characters – Briar and Zeke.  Briar is the daughter of the infamous Maynard Wilkes and the widow of the criminal Levi Blue.  Blue was responsible for the blight that tore Seattle apart.  Briar spent her life trying to get away from the stigma of the men in her past while saving the last person in her life that mattered worth a damn, her son.

Except for one problem.  While the Blight has been running off unchecked for sixteen years, merely walled off and ignored by the untouched parts of the city, Ezekiel – Zeke – has been growing up without a history and has now run off unchecked right under the wall and into the mess.  Totally unschooled and thus unprepared for whatever he would find on the other side.

You can’t fault the boy, really.  His father single-handedly destroyed half the city, and his grandfather was the legend of a jailbreak.  All he wanted to do was clear his father’s name and understand his past.  He thought he’d be gone for ten hours – that’s how long his gas mask would last.  He was wrong.

Actually, he was gone for so long that his momma had to come save him.  There are some interesting characters they meet along the way, too.  Minnericht (is he or isn’t he Levi Blue?), Lucy, the half-armed (and I’m not talking weaponry) barkeep, Chinamen, airboat captains and crew, the rotters…

But in the end, this is a story about love and perseverance.

For those of you who are shaking your heads, saying you won’t read Steampunk, no matter what I say, really, you need to.  Because this is the type of story where you can strip away a few details and your story works in any world.  You could easily change the airships and some of the visuals and set this story in a modern world.  This is why I like it – the essence of any good genre piece is that it stands away from the genre as well.

No wonder this is one of the go-to Steampunk pieces.  No wonder it’s said to be the best book Priest has ever written.  No wonder I’m giving it the full five page rating.

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