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Thursday, May 31, 2012

Guest Post by K. Hollan Van Zandt

I had the opportunity to ask author K. Hollan Van Zandt if she would write a guest post for us at The Maiden's Court.  I was curious as to what made her write about Hypatia seeing as I had only very recently heard of her from the film Agora.  I wanted to know more about how this entire story came to be.  What you read below is the story of how she came to write the book Written in the Ashes.  Read to the bottom for a giveaway of the book as well.

How I Decided to Write About Hypatia

Guest Post by K. Hollan Van Zandt, Author of
Written in the Ashes

There is a really incredible synchronicity behind how I discovered Hypatia of Alexandria –the kind of thing that just seems impossible to believe, except that it really happened to me.

I had decided I wanted to write a novel, and my long time pen pal, author Tom Robbins, was encouraging. I was contemplating what to write about. He told me, “It will find you.” Excellent advice.

I always had an interest in the Great Library of Alexandria. At the time, I was dating an Egyptologist who was studying at UC Berkeley. I asked him how the library burned, and he said that no one really knows, which I found impossible to believe.

“You mean to tell me we know what Caesar was eating for breakfast on the morning of his battles and we don’t know when the greatest library in antiquity burned to the ground?”

He seemed to think nothing of it.

I forgot about it.

Several years later I was watching a show on Discovery about Alexandria and a young boy who knew of the catacombs that ran under the city. I began to think about how the clay jars had been unearthed full of documents in Nag Hammadi. Someone must have known these documents would be in danger. Someone had the prescience to determine not only what scrolls to save, but where to hide them.

I met my character Alizar then, sitting at my kitchen table looking out the window at our apple tree.

At this time I hadn’t written anything for over a year. This was because of a challenge I had given the Universe.

I’d had a few false starts at writing a novel. These early efforts just petered out. Nothing really grabbed me. I was writing from the limits of my own imagination, and this was simply a bore. I wanted to be part of a grand conversation. I wanted to write and feel connected to something greater than I could imagine.

So I’d challenged the Universe by saying, “I won’t write another word until something finds me. Until something grabs me by the sash and whips me around and breathes in my face and will not be ignored."

A year passed and I refused to write, even in my journal, which was very unusual for me as I had been writing in a journal daily since I was about fifteen.

But then I met Alizar and began to think of him every day. I wanted to write about him.

When I finally got the chance to sit down and write a short story it was at my mother’s house in San Diego. But for some reason I couldn’t write about Alizar at all, only this young shepherd girl and her dream.

I was a mature enough writer even then to know you never start a story with a dream. And yet, this girl was having one hell of a nightmare. This was Hannah, and her dream was of a beautiful woman being chased through the middle of a magnificent library. The scrolls all around were burning, swirling up to the heavens like a million birds on fire.

The woman’s pursuers were these terrible men in dark robes. When they caught her, they raped her and then cut her into pieces. Then they burned her.

The vision was so real I had tears flowing as I wrote. It was so violent that I was deeply disturbed by the imagery. At the time I was teaching yoga, and so non-violence was an emphasis in my life.

I decided to put away the dreadful story – for two reasons. The first was that it was too violent, and I didn’t want to write something so ugly. The other reason was that I knew Hannah’s vision had been of a woman who was running the Great Library – like a headmistress -- and I thought I was crazy for appointing a woman the head of the Great Library when of course it would certainly have been a man.

I shoved the story in my desk for another year.

By coincidence I was researching something in the college library of the town I was living in, and I got to thinking about the Great Library again. I decided it might be worthwhile to research the librarians of the Great Library.

It turned out this was an insightful tack. The librarians all around the Mediterranean were fond of writing one another – you can imagine, “I will trade you one Euripedes for one Homer”; a bit like trading baseballs cards. They all stayed in touch. So somehow I knew if I found the last known librarian of the Great Library that this would be the way to know who burned the library, and when.

Imagine my astonishment when the last known librarian of the Great Library turned out to be a she and not a he. It was Hypatia. And not only was the library being run by a woman, but she died precisely like how I had written in my short story the year before – cut to pieces, burned, and by priests no less.

Well, I think I fell on the floor between the stacks. I sat there for a long time just in shock over what I had discovered.

I knew right then that I had a window into that world. That my imagination was connecting me to something more magnificent than I could ever have dreamed up. And I made my commitment right there to make a novel of it, however long it would take me.

I thought it would take three years. The first draft was finished in three. There would be nearly thirty drafts by the time the book was finished ten years later.

I’m not the only writer this kind of thing has happened to. Tom Robbins said it happened to him when he was writing Even Cowgirls Get the Blues. Fans were asking him how he knew so much about a certain town he’d never visited, and he had just made it all up.

Isabelle Allende spoke about this kind of thing happening in one of her books about a character who was priest. In real life a priest came and found her, and he wanted to know how she knew secret things about his life she’d never told anyone.

I still don’t know what to make of this, except that it is beautiful, and shows me we are all far more connected than we think. Perhaps we are connected in the mind of God, or in the fabric of the collective unconscious. Either way, I hope that same rapturous muse continues to visit me in my work and honor me with her messages. It is a blessing.
Thank you Kaia for that wonderful post about how the muse found you!  You can follow the rest of the blog tour at the Premier Virtual Author Book Tour site.  You can visit the author at her website.

Now here is your chance to enter the giveaway for a copy of Written in the Ashes.  It is open internationally.  Residents of the USA will have the chance to choose between a paper copy or an ebook.  International residents will receive an ebook.  Fill out the form below to enter.  The last day to enter in June 9th, 2012.

Copyright © 2012 by The Maiden’s Court

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Book Review: Written in the Ashes by K. Hollan van Zandt

written in the ashes

Written in the Ashes by K. Hollan van Zandt
Kindle E-Book, 448 pages
Balboa Press
July 6, 2011
goodreads button

Genre: Historical fiction

Source: Received from author for review as part of Premier Virtual Author Book Tours

“Written in the Ashes, my debut novel about the events that led up to the burning of the Great Library of Alexandria, circa 415 AD. It focuses on the life and death of the first female mathematician/philosopher/scientist in history, Hypatia of Alexandria. As the headmistress of the Great Library, she held tremendous power, and was brutally murdered by a Christian mob led by Bishop Cyril. Her death marked the beginning of the Dark Ages as Christianity rose in power throughout the empire. It has been optioned by Academy Award-winning producer Mark Harris, and Agape Media International.”

While this book initially started out a little bit slow for me, it quickly picked up and I became instantly attached to the characters and the events that transpired. The characters were wonderfully written and I LOVED Hypatia. I had a vision of her in my head from the film Agora staring Rachel Weisz and I think my biggest issue was that I couldn’t match the Hypatia in the book with the one in the movie. But as far as looks go, that is my least concern. For someone who we don’t really know all that much about I loved getting to know her. She was a very learned woman and it was entirely unfair that people didn’t understand the difference between science and witch craft and the world lost her much too soon. In terms of the leading men, I found myself intermittently in love with Gideon and Julian – both very good and brave men.

I enjoyed all of the drama brought about by the quest given to Hannah to find the Emerald Tablet. The exchanges between the characters in these scenes were some of my favorites. The scenes at the height of the novel were so action packed that I couldn’t put it down; I felt like somehow I would miss things unfolding while the cover was closed.

I have to give high praise to the author for the atmospheric world of Alexandria and beyond that she brought to the page. For a lighthouse and library that no longer stand – and which I have never seen any images of – I could certainly picture them in my mind. We also travel to two oracles – one at Delphi and one in Egypt, whose name escapes me right now. I had not ever read about oracles before and really didn’t know what to expect, however I enjoyed how van Zandt presented them. When they left Delphi I felt sad. After the fall of the Great Library I felt like I too was standing on the shore watching as the ash fell everywhere and again I felt the sadness that I am sure engulfed many at the time.

There were two small complaints that I have about this novel. The first I am not sure was an e-book issue or actually part of the novel – this is my first e-book on my Kindle. Sections were periodically divided with “So”. Sometimes it felt like this was appropriate as in, “and then this happened” while at other times is felt like some sort of glitch in the e-book process. If anyone has read the paper copy please let me know! The other issue I had was where periodically referenced was an angel. I’m not really sure of the angel’s purpose but it was distracting to me and I didn’t feel like it was a necessary addition.

Overall I thought that this was a wonderful read that I would highly recommend. Not only do we get treated to a beautiful view of Alexandria but the story is one that deserves to be told. I can’t wait for this to be brought to the screen!

If you would like to preview the story before reading it, why not try out this excerpt of the book? Also, if you have a copy of the book, be sure to check out the special extras for book owners!

You can also watch the book trailer below.

Reviews of this book by other bloggers:

Buy the Book: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | RJ Julia

Find K. Hollan van Zandt: Goodreads | Facebook

Follow the Tour!


You can follow the rest of the book tour by stopping by the Premier Author Virtual Book Tour.


Copyright © 2012 by The Maiden’s Court

Monday, May 28, 2012

Interview with Brandy Purdy

I had the opportunity to interview Brandy Purdy, author of several historical novels, the most recent release being The Queen’s Pleasure (US title) or A Court Affair (UK title under name Emily Purdy).  Read on for her answers to my questions and make sure you read all the way to the end for a giveaway!

Brandy Purdy Covers

The fate of Amy Robsart is a question that has fascinated historians, conspiracy theorists, and readers alike for years and has been debated over and over. Why take on this subject for your newest novel The Queen’s Pleasure?

This is a book I have always wanted to write ever since I was a little girl about ten years old and found a book of unsolved mysteries at the library. There was a chapter on the mysterious death of Amy Robsart, in fact I think it might even have been the first chapter. I was fascinated and after that whenever I found a new book on Elizabeth and her reign I would flip to the index and look for Amy. Over the years I was disappointed to discover how little was actually known about her. Often she was little more than a name on a page and seemed to matter only because of the way she died and the inconvenience this caused others. I wanted to write a novel that would put Amy Robsart centerstage, not the more glamorous world of the court and Elizabeth and Robert Dudley’s relationship, though that is an important part of the story too of course, and you will also find that in my book, but my main goal was to give Amy a voice, she’s been silent all these years I thought she deserved a chance to speak even if it was in fiction. I tried to find out all about her that I could, I looked at whatever household accounts and letters I could find to try to get hints about her likes and dislikes and her personality, just anything I could use, and I hope readers will like what I’ve done.

What is it about the Tudor period that calls out to you as a writer? Are there any other places or times that you would want to write about someday?

Oh yes, there are so many times and stories I want to explore, I love learning, reading a book or a magazine article, or just a tiny of mention of something, and becoming captivated and wanted to know more. There are so many books I want to write. But right now, with my current contract, I am obligated to write about the Tudors. I became interested in them when I was in third grade and read a book of ghost stories that had a chapter about the ghost of Anne Boleyn haunting the Tower of London. There are so many fascinating personalities in the Tudor era, it’s like a soap opera with all these larger than life personalities, and yet it’s a true story.

Have you had the opportunity to visit any of the places that you have written about? If so, what has been your favorite place to visit? If not, where would you like to visit most?

No, I have never visited England or Europe. I would love to visit Hever Castle and some of the other castles in England and the Tower of London of course, I would also love to see the mysterious Church at Rennes-le-Chateau in France, but I don’t think my ears could bear the plane trip. I took a two hour flight about a year ago and my ears popped and ached all the way, it was agony, so if I ever do travel abroad I think I will have to go by ship.

Have you had any input in the design of your book covers? I love how The Boleyn Wife and The Tudor Throne have the women looking right out at the viewer – something relatively rare in historical fiction these days.

Thank you, I like that as well, so many historical novels, particularly Tudor ones, have headless women I thought these full face direct gazes marvelously refreshing, but I really have no say in the matter. I have been fortunate that all my covers have been pretty, but if something is wrong or if I don’t like it, the decision whether to change it rests solely with the publishers. For instance, as many have commented, the dress on the cover of The Boleyn Wife is incorrect to the Tudor period, I have been studying fashion history since I was a child, so I knew at first glance it was wrong and was quick to say so, but the publisher was happy with it and elected not to make changes.

Do you have anything new in the works? If so, is there anything you would like to share with us about it?

I am currently working on a novel that tells the story of the three Grey sisters through the eyes of the youngest, Mary Grey. After that, I’m not sure, I am the worst multi-tasker in the world and I have to take them one book at a time.

Brandy Purdy (Emily Purdy in the UK) is the author of the historical novels The Confession of Piers Galvaston, The Boleyn Wife(The Tudor Wife), The Tudor Throne (Mary & Elizabeth), and The Queen’s Pleasure (A Court Affair). An ardent book lover since early childhood, she first became interested in history at the age of nine or ten years old when she read a book of ghost stories which contained a chapter about Anne Boleyn haunting the Tower of London. Visit her website at www.brandypurdy.com, you can also follow her, and her cat Tabby, via her blog at http://brandypurdy.blogspot.com or on Facebook as Brandy Purdy - Emily Purdy.

The Queen's Pleasure Tour Button

You can follow along with the rest of the tour at the Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tour site or following hashtag #QueensPleasureVirtualTour on Twitter.

Now for the giveaway!  I have one copy of The Queen’s Pleasure up for grabs.  Open to the USA only.  Last day to enter is June 9th.  Just fill out the form below to enter.


Copyright © 2012 by The Maiden’s Court

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Audiobook Review: The Girl in the Blue Beret by Bobbie Ann Mason


The Girl in the Blue Beret by Bobbie Ann Mason
Unabridged, 10 hr. 44 min.
Fred Sullivan (Narrator)
July 11, 2011
goodreads button

Genre: Historical Fiction

Source: Downloaded audio from my local library

“Inspired by the wartime experiences of her late father-in-law, award-winning author Bobbie Ann Mason has written an unforgettable novel about an American World War II pilot shot down in Occupied Europe.

When Marshall Stone returns to his crash site decades later, he finds himself drawn back in time to the brave people who helped him escape from the Nazis. He especially recalls one intrepid girl guide who risked her life to help him—the girl in the blue beret.

At twenty-three, Marshall Stone was a U.S. flyboy stationed in England. Headstrong and cocksure, he had nine exhilarating bombing raids under his belt when enemy fighters forced his B-17 to crash-land in a Belgian field near the border of France. The memories of what happened next—the frantic moments right after the fiery crash, the guilt of leaving his wounded crewmates and fleeing into the woods to escape German troops, the terror of being alone in a foreign country—all come rushing back when Marshall sets foot on that Belgian field again.

Marshall was saved only by the kindness of ordinary citizens who, as part of the Resistance, moved downed Allied airmen through clandestine, often outrageous routes (over the Pyrenees to Spain) to get them back to their bases in England. Even though Marshall shared a close bond with several of the Resistance members who risked their lives for him, after the war he did not look back. But now he wants to find them again—to thank them and renew their ties. Most of all, Marshall wants to find the courageous woman who guided him through Paris. She was a mere teenager at the time, one link in the underground line to freedom.

Marshall’s search becomes a wrenching odyssey of discovery that threatens to break his heart—and also sets him on a new course for the rest of his life. In his journey, he finds astonishing revelations about the people he knew during the war—none more electrifying and inspiring than the story of the girl in the blue beret.

Intimate and haunting, The Girl in the Blue Beret is a beautiful and affecting story of love and courage, war and redemption, and the startling promise of second chances.”

I haven’t read too many WWII books and I wasn’t really sure what to expect with this one when I started it; but what I got from it was certainly not what I expected! This is not your typical historical novel. The actual present time of the novel is the 1980’s; not all that far ago and it is even a time period I have lived through, and I can’t say that for very many things!

However, what I found so interesting about this novel is that we get to relive experiences of the main character, Marshall, as well as members of the Resistance that he again meets up with from the days of WWII. Sometimes shown through flashbacks, sometimes as conversation between characters we are let into that world that increasingly becoming a distant memory today. The author makes these conversations feel seamless and not as just a way to get information to the reader. We learn not only about what it was like from Marshall’s perspective to be hidden by locals and travel an underground railroad of sorts out of France, but also what it was like to be a member of the Resistance hiding downed airmen and the risks they took every day. It is more of a memorial to these many unsung heroes – without them many of the airmen of the United States and England would not have survived.

The beginning of the novel was a little plodding for me. There felt like there was too much about the present day life that Marshall was leading. His life was, quite frankly, boring and I didn’t care about him much until he made it back to France and to the crash site. He started to feel like a character that I could care about at that point. The characters were very well rendered and I loved them all. You could easily visualize what they all looked like and what they were doing. When they would flashback it was like a movie was playing in my mind. The emotions seeped from the characters and their responses to the events felt so real.

By the time I reached the end of the novel I didn’t want to put it down. The ending does definitively end at any sort of event or revelation either – it just sort of…ends. While it felt a little weird where it ended on my initial reading, as I have had some time to think about it I actually like the ending. You don’t know all the answers but you feel closure for the characters.

I enthusiastically recommend this book.



Overall this was a good audio presentation. The narrator carried off the French language nuances well, but also played a perfect character that doesn’t completely grasp the language. The only time that the audio presented a problem for me that I don’t think would have been an issue in physical form was sometimes a chapter would begin with a flashback and I would be lost as to when we were. I couldn’t always tell past from present.

If you would like to preview the story before reading it, why not try out this excerpt of the book?   You can also check out an audio sample below:

 Play symbol 85x85

Reviews of this book by other bloggers:

Buy the Book: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | RJ Julia

Also by Bobbie Ann Mason:

nancy culpepper
Nancy Culpepper

love life
Love Life

an atomic romance
An Atomic Romance

feather crowns
Feather Crowns

Shiloh and Other Stories
Shiloh and Other Stories

in country
In Country

Find Bobbie Ann Mason: Website | Facebook

Copyright © 2012 by The Maiden’s Court

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Book Alert - The Gallows Curse by Karen Maitland

I recently came across this book and thought that it sounded interesting and was something that I hadn't seen popping up on every blog around.  From a couple of the reviews I have read it sounds very dark and gothic, but sometimes you are in the mood for one of those reads.

The Gallows Curse by Karen Maitland
Paperback, 592 pages
Penguin UK
ISBN: 9780141047447
March 15, 2012

Book Blurb:

The thirteenth-century is just begun and King John has fallen out with the Pope, leaving babies to lie unbaptized in their cradles and corpses in unconsecrated ground. Across a fear-ravaged England, the people are dying in sin.
In the village of Gastmere, this has shocking consequences for servant girl Elena. Unwittingly drawn into a macabre scheme to absolve dying Lord Gerard of his crimes, death and betrayal haunt her dreams like a curse. 
And when Elena is threatened with hanging for a murder she did not commit, it is certain that unnatural conspiracy lies behind these dark deeds. But where can she turn? For in every face lies wickedness and in every shadow lurks treachery . . .
You can read a sample of the book here.

Penguin UK has also created a series of short videos with the author speaking about different areas of medieval life that you might find interesting:

Has anyone read this book yet?  I don't know if it is available in the US yet or not; Amazon has it listed but there are none available.

Copyright © 2012 by The Maiden’s Court

Monday, May 21, 2012

Mailbox Monday #108

Another decent mailbox for me this week:

I received 2 audio books as part of the Audio Book Jukebox Solid Gold Reviewer program.  I received Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel and A Night to Remember by Walter Lord (about the Titanic).  I think I'm starting the Mantel book tomorrow.

Then I received 3 of the 4 textbooks I need for my next class - which is starting July 2nd.  It is going to be on Seminar in World History.  Stay tuned in a few weeks for a summary of how my Historiography class went.  So anyway, I received:

  • French Historical Revolution: the Annales School, 1929-89 by Peter Burke from Half.com - not looking forward to this one at all!
  • Navigating World History: Historians Create a Global Past by Patrick Manning from Half.com
  • A Short History of the World by J. M. Roberts from Half.com
I have an interesting sounding one that should be coming this week that I can't wait to read.

So what arrived in your mailbox this week?

Mailbox Monday is on a monthly blog tour and for the month of May it is being hosted by Martha’s Bookshelf

Copyright © 2012 by The Maiden’s Court

Sunday, May 20, 2012

The 4 Month Challenge: Part 9

The Four Month Challenge Part 9
May 1, 2012 - August 30, 2012
Hosted by Book Drunkard

I have been a fan of this challenge since Martina started hosting this 2 years ago now!  I love how there are so many different categories.  I have only completed the challenge once, the first one, but I still have fun doing it anyway.

The goal is to read one book for each category.

The categories are as follows:

5 Point Challenges
A book with a vehicle in the title (ship, train, car) - Complete - The Car Thief by Theodore Weesner
A book set in a small town
A book about a Southern Belle
A book with a one word title that is NOT a proper noun
A book whose author begins with M – first or last - Complete - The Girl in the Blue Beret by Bobbie Ann Mason.

10 Point Challenges
A book with a child/teenager as a main character - Complete - The Magician's Nephew by C.S. Lewis
A book published in the last ten years - Complete - A Little Bit Wicked by Kristin Chenoweth
A book described as the ‘perfect summer read’
A book about sports
A book whose author begins with J – first or last - Complete - Jefferson's War by Joseph Wheelan

15 Point Challenges
A borrowed book
A book on the top 100 for 2010 - use this list
A nonfiction book - Complete - Rothstein by David Pietrusza
A book set in a big city
A book whose author begins with A – first or last - Complete - Winnie the Pooh by A.A. Milne

20 Point Challenges
A book that’s been adapted for television/movie screens - Complete - A Night to Remember by Walter Lord (movie from 1956 by same name)
A book with a birthstone, birth flower or zodiac sign in the title
A book with a person in old fashioned clothes on the cover - Complete - The Queen's Vow by C.W. Gortner
A book with 3 or more people on the cover
A book about a real person written in fiction form (non bio) - Complete - Madame Tussaud by Michelle Moran

I will update as I go.

130/250 points

Complete 9/12/12

Copyright © 2012 by The Maiden’s Court

Round up of Winners

In what is becoming a typical Sunday routine, I have a couple of winners to share with you today.

The winner of The Deathly Portent by Elizabeth Bailey is...Marie Burton!!!

The winner of The Flower Reader by Elizabeth Loupas is...Colleen Turner!!!

Congrats ladies I'm sure you will enjoy these books.  I will be sending emails out shortly to verify mailing information.  Please respond within the next 7 days, or I will choose a new winner.

Thanks to all that entered!

Copyright © 2012 by The Maiden’s Court

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Weekend Cooking: Artichoke and Asiago Phyllo Cups

Weekend Cooking

I haven’t posted a Weekend Cooking in quite a few weeks.  We sort of fell of the bandwagon here with our historical cooking.  It has been so crazy busy with both of us having finals for school, working on papers, going to work, etc.  But we did manage to make a little appetizer this week that I got from the Entertaining Newport cookbook. 

This recipe, Artichoke and Asiago Phyllo Cups, comes from the menu section on Wine Tasting in the Garden from The Elms.  The Newport Mansions host a Wine and Food Festival every year this year it is September 21-23, 2012 on the grounds of Marble House.  There will be a tasting of over 100 wines, appetizers, and appearances by famous chefs including Emeril.  I might think of taking a trip out here because it is the week after my birthday.  If you want more information here is the website for the Newport Food and Wine Festival.

newport food and winePhoto Credit

Artichoke and Asiago Phyllo Cups
Makes 30 Appetizers

18 oz. marinated artichoke hearts, drained
¾ cup freshly grated asiago cheese
½ teaspoon garlic salt
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
3 oz cream cheese, softened
2 (15 count) packages of mini phyllo shells
¼ cup freshly grated asiago cheese
Fresh thyme for garnish

1) Combine the artichokes, ¾ cup asiago cheese, garlic salt, and lemon juice in a food processor or blender.  Process until the artichokes are finely chopped.  Add the cream cheese and process until blended.
2) Fill the pyllo shells with the artichoke mixture.  Arrange on a baking sheet.  Sprinkle with the remaining asiago cheese.  Bake at 350 degrees F for 15-20 minutes. 
3) Arranges the cups on a platter and garnish cups with thyme sprig.  Serve hot.

Ok, these were good, but not exactly what I expected and I would probably make a few changes the next time I make them.  First of all – WAY too much asiago cheese.  That was all you could taste and it is a strong cheese – I like this cheese but in smaller amounts.  I would cut the ¾ cup to probably ½ and make up the difference with parmesan.  Also, I think we blended too long so it was more whipped and I would have preferred it to be a little thicker – maybe a little more cream cheese.  They were good, but needed less asiago for sure.

Weekend Cooking is hosted by Beth Fish Reads. Any post remotely related to cooking can participate.


Copyright © 2012 by The Maiden’s Court

Friday, May 18, 2012

Ranking Washington

Ranking the President’s of the United States can be a very complex endeavor – however the Siena Research Institute does it every few years or so. Their most recent results came out in 2010. They typically survey a large number of historians and politicos and ask them to rate the presidents on 20 different categories on a scale of 1 to 5. They then weigh these categories to come up with the overall result and compare.

As you can imagine, as the first, and iconic, president of the United States, George Washington tends to fall near the top every time a survey is given – for 2010 he is overall ranked #4 (just behind Lincoln!), but let’s take a look at where he fell in each category:

Background (family, education, experience): 7th
Party Leadership: 18th
Communication Ability (speaking, writing): 12th
Relationship with Congress: 3rd
Court Appointments: 3rd
Handling of US Economy: 4th
Luck: 1st
Ability to Compromise: 3rd
Willing to Take Risks: 4th
Executive Appointments: 1st
Overall Ability: 4th
Imagination: 9th
Domestic Accomplishments: 4th
Integrity: 2nd
Executive Ability: 2nd
Foreign Policy Accomplishments: 3rd
Leadership Ability: 1st
Intelligence: 12th
Avoid Crucial Mistakes: 1st
Your Present Overall View: 3rd

Overall Ranking: 4th

I think that this evaluation of Washington is pretty spot on. Being the first president you are sort of a shoe in for the luck, executive appointments, leadership, and avoiding crucial mistakes categories. The only ranking that I was a little bit surprised with was communication ability. Granted, I know that many of his speeches were written for him (whose aren’t these days?) but he is always described as being a commanding speaker. I would have thought it would have been a little higher. I also might have thought background might have been a little lower. He didn’t go to college and didn’t come from the elite class of landed gentry like many believe that he did. He was more of a learn as you go from your mistakes sort of guy. To make a comparison to Lincoln, it’s not surprising to me that in the categories where he was first or second, Lincoln typically had the other position – they both seem to go hand in hand in those categories.

What do you think of these rankings – agree/disagree? Most people have a decent working knowledge of Lincoln and Washington – who would you rank higher?

Data obtained from the 2010 Siena Research Institute's 5th Presidential Expert Poll. 2010.

Copyright © 2012 by The Maiden’s Court

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

A Visit to Mount Vernon: A Virtual Tour

Mount Vernon is the iconic home of our nation’s first President, George Washington. Over the course of his lifetime, Washington added on to the original structure to create what we see today. Mount Vernon is one of the three presidential homes that I would like to visit someday -along with Monticello, Jefferson’s home, and Montpelier, Madison’s home (which I will be visiting in a few short weeks!). Let’s take a little tour around the site and see what there is to do should you drop by for a visit!

If you don’t get a chance to get to the real thing there is a virtual tour of the site you can check out.

There is much to see and do at Mount Vernon – plan to spend a whole day there or more. So much to do that they provide you with an online planner to decide what you want to make sure you do and see! As this is a real working plantation the things to do change with the seasons. Among the places you can visit include the main home (1st and 2nd floors), gardens, fields, blacksmith shop, coach house, gardener’s house, greenhouse, kitchen, salt house, servant’s hall, slave quarters, smokehouse, stable, distillery, gristmill, and storehouse. Many of these places are peopled by costumed historical interpreters to answer your every question.

Aside from the living and working quarters you can visit the final resting places of George and Martha Washington. If you are lucky you might even be able to see a wreath laying ceremony. You can also visit the memorial to the slaves that lived and worked the Mount Vernon plantation.

There are many different tours that you can take around the different aspects of the plantation. You can take the National Treasure Tour to see where the movie National Treasure: Book of Secrets was filmed. There is a Garden and Landscape Tour, Slave Life Tour, and Mount Vernon Civil War Tour. If you want a truly unique experience you can have Dinner with the Washingtons! You not only learn about what the Washington’s ate but you get to have a tasting at the end too. There is also a Mount Vernon Inn Restaurant where you are served by costumed interpreters and dine on colonial delicacies.

This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to all of the wonderful things that you can do at Mount Vernon. You can explore more about visiting Mount Vernon or check out other various historical resources at the Mount Vernon website.

Have you ever been? Share with us you memories!

Copyright © 2012 by The Maiden’s Court

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Audiobook Review: His Excellency: George Washington by Joseph J. Ellis

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His Excellency: George Washington by Joseph J. Ellis
Unabridged, 14 hr. 13 min.
Recorded Books
Nelson Runger (Narrator)
November 3, 2004
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Genre: Non Fiction, Biography

Source: Borrowed from my local library
“To this landmark biography of our first president, Joseph J. Ellis brings the exacting scholarship, shrewd analysis, and lyric prose that have made him one of the premier historians of the Revolutionary era. Training his lens on a figure who sometimes seems as remote as his effigy on Mount Rushmore, Ellis assesses George Washington as a military and political leader and a man whose “statue-like solidity” concealed volcanic energies and emotions. 

Here is the impetuous young officer whose miraculous survival in combat half-convinced him that he could not be killed. Here is the free-spending landowner whose debts to English merchants instilled him with a prickly resentment of imperial power. We see the general who lost more battles than he won and the reluctant president who tried to float above the partisan feuding of his cabinet.”
Although there are a plethora of biographies out there on George Washington, this is the first one that I have read. I selected this particular titled primarily because I enjoyed the previous book I had read by this author, First Family: Abigail and John Adams. Ellis did justice to this great personage just as I expected that he would.

One of the things that I enjoyed most about this book was that Ellis was able to turn the myth into a man. When you think about or read about George Washington there are all of these lofty ideals and mythology that surrounds him. He is the man that made all of the right decisions and brought this country forward when it was struggling to survive. While still keeping high praise on Washington, Ellis brings to us a man who did not always know what the right answer was, lost more battles that he won, and ultimately did not want to be President of the United States. He made the first President much more approachable and someone who you could connect to in some ways – it can be hard when you can’t necessarily place yourself into his shoes.

The primary focus of this book is Washington’s military days. It was appreciated to learn about his time in the French and Indian War and the time before he became President, because you quite frankly can forget that those periods exist with all of the emphasis put on his American Revolution tenure and Presidency. His presidency was featured but not in nearly as much detail as his war days and it didn’t feel as if the author placed as much importance on it as these earlier periods in his life.

The one thing that I would have liked a little more of was his home life. I think about 2 sentences were spent on Martha and it was only really in passing. I’m sure that there was much more to their relationship. It could also be that not as much is known of their relationship as say John and Abigail Adams because Martha destroyed all of their letters to each other upon George’s death.


I found the narration to be very well done. I enjoyed the narrator’s usage of different voices for the different people that were quoted. I find it easier to discern who is talking and separate it from the narrative.

You can listen to a short sample of the audiobook below (links to Audible):

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Reviews of this book by other bloggers:

Buy the Book:
Amazon | Barnes & Noble | RJ Julia

Also by Joseph J. Ellis:

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Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation

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First Family: Abigail and John Adams
[My Review]

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American Sphinx: The Character of Thomas Jefferson

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American Creation: Triumphs and Tragedies of the Founding of the Republic

The Quartet: Orchestrating the Second American Revolution, 1783-1789

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Revolutionary Summer: The Birth of American Independence

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Passionate Sage: The Character and Legacy of John Adams

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After the Revolution: Profiles of Early American Culture

Find Joseph J. Ellis: Website | Facebook

Copyright © 2012 by The Maiden’s Court