02. June 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Biographies, History, Madeline, NonFiction

American Jezebel: The Uncommon Life of Anne Hutchinson, the Woman Who Defied the Puritans by Eve LaPlante, 336 pages, read by Madeline, on 05/22/2014

Anne Hutchinson, a forty-six- year-old midwife who was pregnant with her sixteenth child, stood before forty male judges of the Massachusetts General Court, charged with heresy and sedition. In a time when women could not vote, hold public office, or teach outside the home, the charismatic Hutchinson wielded remarkable political power. Her unconventional ideas had attracted a following of prominent citizens eager for social reform. Hutchinson defended herself brilliantly, but the judges, faced with a perceived threat to public order, banished her for behaving in a manner “not comely for [her] sex.”

Until now, Hutchinson has been a polarizing figure in American history and letters, attracting either disdain or exaltation. Nathaniel Hawthorne, who was haunted by the “sainted” Hutchinson, used her as a model for Hester Prynne in The Scarlet Letter. Much of the praise for her, however, is muted by a wish to domesticate the heroine: the bronze statue of Hutchinson at the Massachusetts State House depicts a prayerful mother — eyes raised to heaven, a child at her side — rather than a woman of power standing alone before humanity and God. Her detractors, starting with her neighbor John Winthrop, first governor of Massachusetts, referred to her as “the instrument of Satan,” the new Eve, the “disturber of Israel,” a witch, “more bold than a man,” and Jezebel — the ancient Israeli queen who, on account of her tremendous political power, was “the most evil woman” in the Bible.

Written by one of Hutchinson’s direct descendants, American Jezebelbrings both balance and perspective to Hutchinson’s story. It captures this American heroine’s life in all its complexity, presenting her not as a religious fanatic, a cardboard feminist, or a raging crank — as some have portrayed her — but as a flesh-and-blood wife, mother, theologian, and political leader.

Opening in a colonial courtroom, American Jezebel moves back in time to Hutchinson’s childhood in Elizabethan England, exploring intimate details of her marriage and family life. The book narrates her dramatic expulsion from Massachusetts, after which her judges, still threatened by her challenges, promptly built Harvard College to enforce religious and social orthodoxies — making her midwife to the nation’s first college. In exile, she settled Rhode Island (which later merged with Roger Williams’s Providence Plantation), becoming the only woman ever to co-found an American colony.

The seeds of the American struggle for women’s and human rights can be found in the story of this one woman’s courageous life. American Jezebelilluminates the origins of our modern concepts of religious freedom, equal rights, and free speech, and showcases an extraordinary woman whose achievements are astonishing by the standards of any era.

21. May 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Biographies, History, Informational Book, Marsha, NonFiction, Science · Tags: ,

The Lives They Left Behind: Suitcases from a State Hospital Attic by Darby Penney and Peter Stastny, 208 pages, read by Marsha, on 05/19/2014

livesThis most excellent book is both sad and fascinating at the same time.  I could hardly put it down.  In fact, I have started writing stories about each of the people featured in the book, using fiction to fill in the gaps that nonfiction couldn’t find answers for.  The authors do a wonderful job of painting ten portraits of people who spent decades of their lives in a state hospital for the mentally ill.  Using the items found in their long abandoned suitcases along with interviews from a few staff members and medical records, the authors try to piece together the life of each person before and during their stay at Willard State Hospital in New York.  Along with the chapters on the individuals, the authors provide interesting factual information about what it took to admit someone to such a place, how they were treated during their stay, and what the diagnoses were at the time.  The book focuses on the early part of the 20th century, before deinstitutionalization became a way of doing business.  The ease with which an individual could be locked away for decades of his or her life is staggering.  I hope that by writing more about these individuals I can do some justice to their lives, which would have been forgotten had it not been for Penney and Stastny.

02. April 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Biographies, Madeline, NonFiction

Julia's Cats: Julia Child's Life in the Company of Cats by Patricia Barey, Therese Burson, 145 pages, read by Madeline, on 03/22/2014

The world knows Julia Child as the charismatic woman who brought French cuisine to America and became a TV sensation, but there’s one aspect of her life that’s not so familiar. Soon after the Childs arrived in Paris in 1948, a French cat appeared on their doorstep, and Julia recalled, “Our domestic circle was completed.” Minette captured Julia’s heart, igniting a lifelong passion for cats equaled only by her love of food and her husband, Paul. All the cherished feline companions who shared Julia’s life—in Paris, Provence, and finally California—reminded her of that magical time in Paris when her life changed forever.
From Julia’s and Paul’s letters and original interviews with those who knew her best, Patricia Barey and Therese Burson have gathered fresh stories and images that offer a delightfully intimate view of a beloved icon.

15. February 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Biographies, Courtney, NonFiction, Teen Books

My Friend Dahmer by Derf Backderf, 224 pages, read by Courtney, on 07/19/2013

When it comes to serial killers, few are as well-known as Jeffrey Dahmer. To the author, “Jeff”, was much more than a face on the news. Backderf grew up in the same town and went to the same school as Dahmer. Long before the name “Dahmer” entered public consciousness, he was an awkward and troubled kid. Through the eyes of a friendly acquaintance (Backderf never genuinely appears to consider Dahmer a true “friend”, but more of kid on the periphery of his social circle), we meet a boy who was certainly unusual and somewhat anti-social. Readers will follow Dahmer from childhood to his teen years and, while it paints a slightly more sympathetic version of Dahmer, it never explains or excuses the actions he eventually takes. In hindsight, the signs were there, but it was clear that, at the time, Dahmer was simply regarded as the resident odd-ball and few thought little else about him.
What makes this graphic novel particularly interesting is the inclusion of both photos and documents from Backderf and Dahmer’s school years, as well as the detailed, page-by-page annotations provided by Backderf. This graphic novel is morbidly fascinating. Readers with any interest whatsoever on the topic will find themselves sucked in with no chance of escape until the end of the book. I was intrigued, horrified and even occasionally amused by Backderf’s story.

11. February 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Biographies, Helen, Memoirs, NonFiction

Most Talkative by Andy Cohen, 288 pages, read by Helen, on 09/30/2012

The man behind the Real Housewives writes about his lifelong love affair with pop culture that brought him from the suburbs of St. Louis to his own television show

From a young age, Andy Cohen knew one thing: He loved television. Not in the way that most kids do, but in an irrepressible, all-consuming, I-want-to-climb-inside-the-tube kind of way. And climb inside he did. Now presiding over Bravo’s reality TV empire, he started out as an overly talkative pop culture obsessive, devoted to Charlie’s Angels and All My Children and to his mother, who received daily letters from Andy at summer camp, usually reminding her to tape the soaps. In retrospect, it’s hard to believe that everyone didn’t know that Andy was gay; still, he remained in the closet until college. Finally out, he embarked on making a career out of his passion for television.

The journey begins with Andy interviewing his all-time idol Susan Lucci for his college newspaper and ends with him in a job where he has a hand in creating today’s celebrity icons. In the witty, no-holds-barred style of his show Watch What Happens Live, Andy tells tales of absurd mishaps during his ten years at CBS News, hilarious encounters with the heroes and heroines of his youth, and the real stories behind The Real Housewives. Dishy, funny, and full of heart, Most Talkative provides a one-of-a-kind glimpse into the world of television, from a fan who grew up watching the screen and is now inside it, both making shows and hosting his own.

11. February 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Biographies, Helen, History, NonFiction

Ghosty Men by Franz Lidz, 161 pages, read by Helen, on 05/30/2012

A true tale of changing New York by Franz Lidz, whose Unstrung Heroesis a classic of hoarder lore.

Homer and Langley Collyer moved into their handsome brownstone in white, upper-class Harlem in 1909. By 1947, however, when the fire department had to carry Homer’s body out of the house he hadn’t left in twenty years, the neighborhood had degentrified, and their house was a fortress of junk: in an attempt to preserve the past, Homer and Langley held on to everything they touched.

The scandal of Homer’s discovery, the story of his life, and the search for Langley, who was missing at the time, rocked the city; the story was on the front page of every newspaper for weeks. A quintessential New York story of quintessential New York characters.

11. February 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Biographies, Children's Books, Graphic Book, NonFiction

Smile by Raina Telgemeier, 224 pages, read by Angie, on 11/14/2012

Smile is the true story of Raina Telgemeier’s journey through orthodontia. It was not a pleasant or a short journey. It began with an overbite and a fall resulting in the loss of her two front teeth. The journey consisted of false teeth, braces, surgeries, headgear, and four years worth of visits to various dental professionals…all during junior and high school. Poor Raina! Throughout it all Raina is also dealing with boys, pimples, friends, mean girls, and all the other trials and tribulations of high school. She comes through it stronger and happier, but it is not an easy journey.

As someone who has had braces and retainers (thankfully not four years worth) I completely sympathized with Raina. They are an invented torture to make our teeth look perfect. They work but are definitely not pleasant. I winced with her when her braces were being tightened and when all she could eat was mashed potatoes. I think Raina definitely remembers this time of her life perfectly and she really captured it on the pages of Smile. The story and illustrations embody the torture of braces and the agony of middle and high school. I would recommend this to just about anyone.

11. February 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Biographies, Brian, History, NonFiction · Tags: ,

Isaac's Storm: A Man, a Time, and the Deadliest Hurricane in History by Erik Larson, 323 pages, read by Brian, on 02/07/2014

stormI am a weather freak and I love to read Erik Larson, it’s almost like a perfect storm.  The book talks about oddities in weather but more importantly Isaac Cline and is ill fated hurricane prediction that destroyed Galveston, Texas.  This was one of the worst natural disasters in America’s history.  Nature beats arrogance every time.

 

11. February 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Biographies, Children's Books, Lisa, NonFiction

Lost Boy: The Story of the Man Who Created Peter Pan by Jane Yolen, 35 pages, read by Lisa, on 02/28/2013

   People around the world know the story of Peter Pan, the boy who would not grow up, but not many know the story of his creator, J. M. Barrie. Barrie’s young childhood was marked by sorrow, but also held great adventure. His adult life and relationship with the Davies family brought about a second childhood that helped him to create his lasting triumph. Masterfully illustrated by Steve Adams and using Barrie’s own words, Jane Yolen tells the story of the author and the boys who changed his life.

08. January 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Biographies, Courtney, Graphic Book, History, NonFiction, Teen Books

A Game for Swallows: To Die, to Leave, to Return by Zeina Abirached, 188 pages, read by Courtney, on 12/30/2013

A Game for Swallows is a graphic memoir of life in Lebanon during their civil war in the ’80’s. Zeina and her family live in an apartment building that is situated right next to the dividing line. One night, Zeina’s parents leave home to check on family members across town, risking their lives to pass through various security checkpoints and sniper territory. While the parents are out, the neighbors drop in to check on Zeina and her little brother. As time passes, more and more of the apartment’s inhabitants make their way down to Zeina’s apartment because the foyer there is the safest room in the building. Before long, everyone they live with is grouped together in the small room. As the bombs start falling, the adults tell the children stories and fix them food to help them keep their mind off of their absent parents. The reader learns a bit about each character and how the war has affected them.
It’s a sweet story and it gives the reader a bit of perspective on how everyday citizens dealt with an ongoing civil war in their own backyards. The artwork will definitely draw comparisons to the now-classic graphic memoir, Persepolis, with its bold, black-and-white illustrations. It is, however, stylistically different and well-suited to the story it tells. I wish there were more to the story. Readers not familiar with the region’s troubled history will probably be left with more questions than answers. The ending feels very abrupt and anti-climatic, which is probably best for the real-life individuals involved, but not as exciting or compelling for the reader.

04. December 2013 · Comments Off · Categories: Biographies, Courtney, Graphic Book, Informational Book, NonFiction

Army of God: Joseph Kony's War in Central Africa by David Axe, Tim Hamilton, 128 pages, read by Courtney, on 11/25/2013

Joseph Kony is the most dangerous guerilla leader in modern African history.

It started with a visit from spirits. In 1991, Kony claimed that spiritual beings had come to him with instructions: he was to lead his group of rebels, the Lord’s Resistance Army, in a series of brutal raids against ordinary Ugandan civilians. Decades later, Kony has sown chaos throughout Central Africa, kidnapping and terrorizing countless innocents—especially children. Yet despite an enormous global outcry, the Kony 2012 movement, and an international military intervention, the carnage has continued. Drawn from on-the-ground reporting by war correspondent David Axe and starkly illustrated by Tim Hamilton, Army of God is the first-ever graphic account of the global phenomenon surrounding Kony—from the devastation he has left behind to the long campaign to defeat him for good.

22. November 2013 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Biographies, NonFiction

The Butler: A Witness to History by Wil Haygood, 112 pages, read by Angie, on 11/22/2013

Eugene Allen was a butler in the White House for eight (8) presidents from Harry Truman to Ronald Reagan. He was a witness to some of the biggest historical events of the 20th century. He lived a fascinating life and his story deserves to be told. However, it is not really told in this book. Unfortunately, this book is more the story of how Wil Haygood found out about Allen and how he wrote his article about him at the time of Obama’s election. We get snippets of Allen’s life, but the full story is not told here. The first half of this audiobook is Haygood’s story really. It is about his instincts about the election, his meeting Allen and its aftermath. The second half is a history of African Americans in cinema, which while fascinating really doesn’t fit in this story. The only link is the fact that a movie called The Butler was made about Eugene Allen’s life.

I found Eugene Allen to be a fascinating character and I am sure he has tons of stories to tell about his years in the White House. I think it is a missed opportunity on the part of the author not to tell more of those stories and a more complete story of Allen’s life.

06. November 2013 · Comments Off · Categories: Biographies, Courtney, Graphic Book, History, NonFiction · Tags:

The Hypo: The Melancholic Young Lincoln by Noah Van Sciver, 192 pages, read by Courtney, on 10/26/2013

This graphic novel tells of a lesser-known chapter of Abraham Lincoln’s life. It begins well before his presidency, before his marriage to Mary Todd. It follows a young Lincoln through his early days as a struggling lawyer. Set-back after set-back drive Lincoln into a deep, dark depression that nearly kills him.
I must confess I did not know a whole lot about Lincoln’s early life as most historical documents focus on his presidency and the years leading up to it. This graphic novel presents a less-than-glamorous tale of a man trying to find his way in the world. The stylized artwork may not be to everyone’s liking, but this is still a very accessible book that adds an extra dimension to the life of one of America’s greatest historical figures.

08. October 2013 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Biographies, Children's Books, History, NonFiction

The Fairy Ring: Or Elsie and Frances Fool the World by Mary Losure, 192 pages, read by Angie, on 10/08/2013

Frances and her parents move in with Elsie’s family in Yorkshire during the Great War. Behind the house, in the beck (creek), Frances starts seeing fairies. One day she tells her family what she sees and Elsie says she sees them too. The adults want proof so the girls create fairy cutouts and take pictures with the fairies. Somehow word gets out and none other than Sir Arthur Conan Doyle starts corresponding with the girls to learn more about the fairies. Edward Garner starts lecturing around the country on the Cottingly fairies. The girls are forced to keep up their charade in order to avoid getting into trouble. They take another set of photos, but even that doesn’t stop the attention. They kept their secrets about doctoring the photos until almost the end of their lives; finally coming clean as elderly women. Mary Losure does a great job of telling Frances and Elsie’s stories. This was a very interesting and entertaining little book.

07. October 2013 · Comments Off · Categories: Biographies, Children's Books, History, Joyce, NonFiction

The Fairy Ring: Or Elsie and Frances Fool the World by Mary Losure, 184 pages, read by Joyce, on 09/12/2013

The enchanting true story of a girl who saw fairies, and another with a gift for art, who concocted a story to stay out of trouble and ended up fooling the world.

Frances was nine when she first saw the fairies. They were tiny men, dressed all in green. Nobody but Frances saw them, so her cousin Elsie painted paper fairies and took photographs of them “dancing” around Frances to make the grown-ups stop teasing. The girls promised each other they would never, ever tell that the photos weren’t real. But how were Frances and Elsie supposed to know that their photographs would fall into the hands of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle? And who would have dreamed that the man who created the famous detective Sherlock Holmes believed ardently in fairies — and wanted very much to see one? Mary Losure presents this enthralling true story as a fanciful narrative featuring the original Cottingley fairy photos and previously unpublished drawings and images from the family’s archives. A delight for everyone with a fondness for fairies, and for anyone who has ever started something that spun out of control.

03. October 2013 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Biographies, Children's Books, History, NonFiction

Bad Guys and Gals of the Wild West by Dona Herweck Rice, 64 pages, read by Angie, on 10/01/2013

This book gives us the biographies of some of the Wild West’s most notorious bad guys and gals. People like Billy the Kid, Belle Star, Doc Holliday are featured. We learn their history and how they became outlaws (in most cases). The book also asks what it truly means to be bad. It was an interesting look at the topic and the people in the book are all ones that kids would like to know more about. I do think the word “bad” is overused, but other than that it was a nice offering.

I did receive a copy of this book free from the publisher after attending a Booklist webinar.

31. August 2013 · Comments Off · Categories: Adult Books, Angie, Biographies, Contemporary Fiction, Fiction

The Rent Collector by Camron Wright , 304 pages, read by Angie, on 08/28/2013

The Rent Collector is the story of Sang Ly, a poor Cambodian woman who lives in Stung Meanchey, a municipal dump. She and her husband survive by picking out recyclables from the thousands of tons of trash that are deposited in the dump each day. Their young son lives in the shack with them and is constantly sick. Sang Ly wants a better life (or any life) for her family and her son. She convinces the rent collector to teach her to read in the hopes of improving her circumstances. In the process she learns more about herself and the rent collector.

I got this book at ALA 2013; I don’t usually pick up books for adults, but this one looked intriguing. I am so glad I did. This was a wonderful book about a young mother’s determination to change her life and of an old woman’s desire to make amends. I loved how we learned more and more about the rent collector as Sang Ly learned more and more about literature. I really enjoyed the fact that the author included excerpts from actual literature from around the world in the book. Even though parts of the book were fictionalized it is based on true people which makes it that much more amazing. I would definitely recommend this one to a lot of people.

No Crystal Stair is a mix of fiction and nonfiction. It details the life of Lewis Michaux from birth to death and everything in between. It is written by his great niece. Lewis was born the son of a fish seller in Newport News, Virginia. He was one of 11 children; his mother also had 4 babies die at birth. All the children and the hard work eventually drove her a little crazy. His father was an ambitious and driven man who worked his way up to a successful business. Lewis’s brother Lightfoot became a well-known and successful preacher, who started several churches on the East Coast. Lewis tried many things in his life, some legal some not so legal, before he moved to Harlem and decided to educate the Black community. He believed that if you were ignorant of your history you were just a negro. So he wanted to inform Blacks about who they were and where they came from. He opened his National Memorial African Bookstore in the heart of Harlem. Starting with just five books, he built the store up to a quarter of a million books. All of his books were by Black people and about Black people. The bookstore became the meeting place for people like Malcolm X and others interested in helping the Black Community. Lewis, called the Professor, thought it was his duty to help and educate those around him. His place was a sanctuary, a school, a pulpit and a store. Eventually, the state forced the closure of the store and Lewis died of cancer shortly after. But his legacy lives on in those he helped and the lives he improved.

24. August 2013 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Biographies, Children's Books, History, NonFiction

Bad Girls: Sirens, Jezebels, Murderesses, Thieves, & Other Female Villains by Jane Yolen and Heidi E.Y. Stemple, 164 pages, read by Angie, on 08/23/2013

Who doesn’t love a bad girl? Jane Yolen teams up with her daughter to give us brief glimpses of the lives of several bad girls throughout history. We learn about such bad girls as Salome, Cleopatra, Bloody Mary, Lizzie Borden, and many, many more. The information is presented in two to four page chunks that will whet your appetite for more information about each of these women. Yolen doesn’t gloss over their bad deeds but she does offer explanations for the times and for history’s retelling. Interspersed between the chapters are one page graphic novel format sessions of Jane and Heidi doing “research” and arguing over the latest bad girl. These segments are funny since a lot of their research involves eating, traveling and shoes. I think kids will enjoy these bad girls and their stories. You can read them all or just your favorites and with only a couple of pages for each lady it doesn’t take very long.

21. August 2013 · Comments Off · Categories: Biographies, Janet, NonFiction

The Man Who Loved Books Too Much by Allison Hoover Bartlett, 274 pages, read by Janet, on 08/19/2013

The Man Who Loved Books Too Much: The True Story of a Thief, a Detective, and a World of Literary Obsession     This is “The True Story of a Thief, a Detective, and a World of Literary Obsession”.  It was well told and one feels you really get to know John Charles Gilkey, who deeply loves books.  (He just doesn’t think he should pay for them.)  The author often discussed his activities with Ken Sanders, who also loved and collected books (legally) and worked as an amateur detective to catch Gilkey.  Although he was put in jail several times for thievery, it didn’t dampen his love of books and need to collect.  He agrees with the saying, “Physical artifacts carry memory and meaning, and this is as true of important historical texts as it is of cherished childhood books.”  He likes them all.  He considered himself to be an existentialist because “they can’t differentiate between right and wrong”.  He read many of the books he took and didn’t think it was wrong to have a book he enjoyed.  He did have a job occasionally (usually working in a bookstore), but made a good bit of his spending money selling stolen books.

Gilkey knew the author was writing a book about him and was both careful about how much he shared, and delighted to be considered an important subject.  At the end of the story he was known to have just stolen a book from a Canadian dealer.  He was not arrested.  “The story never ends.”