31. May 2013 · Comments Off · Categories: Biographies, Courtney, Graphic Book

The Carter Family: Don't Forget This Song by Frank M. Young and David Lasky, read by Courtney, on 05/19/2013

If you’ve never heard of the Carter Family, you’re missing a huge part of American music history. Countless acts have professed influence from the timeless melodies crafted by the Carters. This graphic novel seeks to tell their story. It is, by turns, a love story, an all-American rags-to-riches tale, and an homage to traditional music. It’s a great story, but I’m not sure if the graphic novel format is ideal. Granted, it does make for a very accessible introduction to the Carter Family (and even includes a CD, though the CD didn’t have many of the songs most frequently mentioned, which would have been nice), but it feels like it glosses over a lot of details. The artwork is decent, but not outstanding. I suppose the purpose is really to distill what would otherwise be an unwieldy family biography, so in that sense, the graphic format works. Perhaps not for those who already know quite a bit about the Carter Family, but definitely a decent introduction to a new fan.

31. May 2013 · Comments Off · Categories: Biographies, Lisa, NonFiction

The Lemon Tree: An Arab, A Jew, and the Heart of the Middle East by Sandy Tolan, read by Lisa, on 05/03/2013

The tale of a simple act of faith between two young people – one Israeli, one Palestinian – that symbolizes the hope for peace in the Middle East. In 1967, not long after the Six-Day War, three young Arab men ventured into the town of Ramle, in what is now Jewish Israel. They were cousins, on a pilgrimage to see their childhood homes; their families had been driven out of Palestine nearly twenty years earlier. One cousin had a door slammed in his face, and another found his old house had been converted into a school. But the third, Bashir Al-Khairi, was met at the door by a young woman called Dalia, who invited them in. This act of faith in the face of many years of animosity is the starting point for a true story of a remarkable relationship between two families, one Arab, one Jewish, amid the fraught modern history of the regio. In his childhood home, in the lemon tree his father planted in the backyard, Bashir sees dispossession and occupation; Dalia, who arrived as an infant in 1948 with her family from Bulgaria, sees hope for a people devastated by the Holocaust. As both are swept up in the fates of their people, and Bashir is jailed for his alleged part in a supermarket bombing, the friends do not speak for years. They finally reconcile and convert the house in Ramle into a day-care centre for Arab children of Israel, and a center for dialogue between Arabs and Jews. Now the dialogue they started seems more threatened than ever; the lemon tree died in 1998, and Bashir was jailed again, without charge. The Lemon Tree grew out of a forty-three minute radio documentary that Sandy Tolan produced for Fresh Air. With this book, he pursues the story into the homes and histories of the two families at its center, and up to the present day. Their stories form a personal microcosm of the last seventy years of Israeli-Palestinian history. In a region that seems ever more divided, The Lemon Tree is a reminder of all that is at stake, and of all that is still possible. Sandy Tolanis the author ofMe & Hank:A Boy and His Hero, Twenty-five Years Later. He has written for theNew York Times Magazineand for more than 40 other magazines and newspapers.As cofounder of Homelands Productions, Tolan has produced dozens of radio documentaries for National Public Radio and Public Radio International. His work has won numerous awards, and he was a 1993 Nieman Fellow at Harvard University and an I. F. Stone Fellow at the UC-Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism, where he directs the school’s Project on International Reporting. A National Book Critics Circle Award Finalist   In 1967, not long after the Six-Day War, three young Arab men ventured into the town of Ramla, in what is now Jewish Israel. They were cousins, on a pilgrimage to see their childhood homes; their families had been driven out of Palestine nearly twenty years earlier. One cousin had a door slammed in his face, and another found his old house had been converted into a school. But the third, Bashir, was met at the door by a young woman called Dalia, who invited them in. This poignant encounter is the starting point for a true story of two families, one Arab, one Jewish, amid the fraught modern history of the region. In Bashir’s childhood home, in the lemon tree his father planted in the backyard, he sees dispossession and occupation; Dalia, who arrived as an infant in 1948 with her family from Bulgaria, sees hope for a people devastated by the Holocaust. Both are swept up in the fates of their people, and and their lives form a personal microcosm of more than half a century of Israeli-Palestinian history. “This truly remarkable book presents a powerful account of Palestinians and Israelis who try to break the seemingly endless chain of hatred and violence.

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

Irena Sendler and the Children of the Warsaw Ghetto by Susan Goldman Rubin, Bill Farnsworth (Illustrator), read by Angie, on 05/16/2013

There is just something about WWII stories that really pulls at my heart. I find the people who worked for the underground movements and helped the Jewish people fascinating. There is something about their courage and heroism that really makes you look at your own life and wander what you would have done in a similar situation. Not everyone was strong enough to stand up for what was right, but Irena Sendler was definitely one of those heroes. Her story is similar to others who rescued Jews during the Holocaust, but it is definitely worth knowing. I thought this picture book biography did a good job of showing her courage and dedication to doing what is right. She is a hero from a very dark time in our history and her story deserves to be told.

06. May 2013 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Biographies, Children's Books, NonFiction · Tags: ,

Electric Ben: The Amazing Life and Times of Benjamin Franklin by Robert Byrd, read by Angie, on 05/06/2013

It is amazing how much Ben Franklin did in his long life. I am not sure there is any part of life that he did not explore and conquer. He was an inventor, a scientist, a statesman, a diplomat, an educator, an author and so much more. Many of the things we use in every day life can be attributed to Franklin. Many of the institutions and concepts we rely on were first suggested by Franklin. If there is any man who is responsible for our way of life it might be Franklin. He is an amazing historical figure. This biography does a great job of breaking his life down into its most important eras. I loved all the information and the sidebars the author provided not just about Franklin, but life during his time period.

This book was a Sibert Honor Book and an Orbis Pictus Honor Book in 2013.

29. March 2013 · Comments Off · Categories: Biographies, NonFiction, Tracy · Tags:

Drinking with Men: A Memoir by Rosie Schaap, read by Tracy, on 03/05/2013

Rosie Schaap’s second home is a neighborhood bar. Or maybe it’s her first home since she spends a lot of time drinking and socializing at bars mostly with men. Each chapter is devoted to a bar she became a regular at. She says she isn’t an alcoholic, just likes to be with other people in a bar where everybody knows your name, as the Cheers song goes. She even got married and tried to settle down but it didn’t last. It’s a very honest and tell all book. I couldn’t imagine drinking the amount she says she drinks and not have an alcohol problem.

19. March 2013 · Comments Off · Categories: Biographies, Children's Books, History, Melody, NonFiction · Tags:

Bad Girls: Sirens, Jezebels, Murderesses, Thieves, and other Female Villains by Jane Yolen, Heidi Stemple, and Rebecca Guay, read by Melody, on 03/15/2013

Bad Girls is the perfect foil to the book I just read about women who changed the world.  While Girls who Rocked the World was about scientists, activists, and heroes who made the world a better place, Bad Girls is about women who made their mark in a different way.  There are blood baths, axe slayings, fallen women, and outlaws.   Mata Hari, Typhoid Mary, Catherine the Great, and Salome.  Yolen and her daughter and co-author Stemple debate in asides between the chapters whether the women were really as bad as history paints them or were there other circumstances to consider.  Fun read and who doesn’t love a bad girl?

15. March 2013 · Comments Off · Categories: Biographies, Kim, NonFiction · Tags:

Lenin: A New Biography by Dmitri Volkogonov, read by Kim, on 03/14/2013

I read this book because I was not very familiar with Lenin except what I knew from history classes. This book only confirmed that he was worse than what I had already known about him. It was very well written by an assistant to Boris Yelstin back in the very early1990’s, not long after the collapse of Soviet Russia and he had special access to the secret soviet archives. It was very interesting to read about Lenin from a contemporary Russian’s perspective.

13. March 2013 · Comments Off · Categories: Biographies, Children's Books, Melody, NonFiction · Tags: ,

Girls Who Rocked the World by Michelle Roehm McCann and AMelie Welden , read by Melody, on 03/11/2013

Girls Who Rocked the World is a collection of 46 short biographies of women who changed the world.  It is a great mix of famous and less famous women ranging from the ancient Egyptian pharaoh Hatshepsut to actress Natalie Portman.  It is a children’s book so it is light on the scandals and controversies of the rich and complicated lives of some of these women but it is enjoyable quick read for Women’s History Month.

04. March 2013 · Comments Off · Categories: Biographies, Kim, NonFiction · Tags:

Jackie After O by Tina Cassidy, read by Kim, on 02/18/2013

Defined in the public eye by her two high-profile marriages, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis faced a personal crossroads on the eve of 1975. Her relationship with Aristotle Onassis was crumbling while his health was rapidly declining. Her children were nearing adulthood, soon to leave her with an empty nest. But 1975 would also be a time of incredible growth and personal renaissance for Jackie, the year in which she reinvented herself and rediscovered talents and passions she had set aside for her roles as wife and mother.

28. February 2013 · Comments Off · Categories: Biographies, Joyce, NonFiction · Tags:

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind by William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer, read by Joyce, on 02/26/2013

This is an inspiring narrative about William Kamkwamba, an African teenager of Malawi, who used what limited resources were available to build a wind mill.  His efforts overcame crippling adversity of poverty and famine.  Many thought he was crazy, but his dream to bring his small village electricity and running water became reality. “And I try and I made it,”  applauded words William spoke at a conference, where his accomplishments were honored, became the motto for those attending.  This is an inspiring and heartwarming true story.

25. February 2013 · Comments Off · Categories: Biographies, History, Melody, NonFiction

Lilterary Rouges by Andrew Shaffer, read by Melody, on 02/23/2013

Literary Rogues is a very entertaining read about the bad boys and a few bad girls of literature.  Nothing new that we didn’t learn in Lit 101; Bryon was a sex fiend, Coleridge was an opium fiend, and suicide is a very real hazard of the writing profession.  While perhaps not groundbreaking , Shaffer, who writes for Maxim and The Huffington Post, has a breezy fast paced writing style very well suited to stories of vice and excess with a healthy dose of genius and madness thrown in.  Good fun light read.

21. February 2013 · Comments Off · Categories: Biographies, Kim · Tags:

Until the Final Hour by Traudl Junge, read by Kim, on 02/18/2013

traudl truldTraudlJungeA firsthand account of life with Hitler from 1942 until his death in the Berlin bunker in 1945, by a young woman who was his last secretary.

20. February 2013 · Comments Off · Categories: Biographies, Kim

Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar by Simon Sebag Montefiore, read by Kim, on 02/20/2013

stalinStalin the court of the Red Tsar BookFifty years after his death, Stalin remains a figure of powerful and dark fascination. The almost unfathomable scale of his crimes–as many as 20 million Soviets died in his purges and infamous Gulag–has given him the lasting distinction as a personification of evil in the twentieth century. But though the facts of Stalin’s reign are well known, this remarkable biography reveals a Stalin we have never seen before as it illuminates the vast foundation–human, psychological and physical–that supported and encouraged him, the men and women who did his bidding, lived in fear of him and, more often than not, were betrayed by him. In a seamless meshing of exhaustive research, brilliant synthesis and narrative élan, Simon Sebag Montefiore chronicles the life and lives of Stalin’s court from the time of his acclamation as “leader” in 1929, five years after Lenin’s death, until his own death in 1953 at the age of seventy-three. Through the lens of personality–Stalin’s as well as those of his most notorious henchmen, Molotov, Beria and Yezhov among them–the author sheds new light on the oligarchy that attempted to create a new world by exterminating the old. He gives us the details of their quotidian and monstrous lives: Stalin’s favorites in music, movies, literature (Hemmingway,The Forsyte Saga and The Last of the Mohicans were at the top of his list), food and history (he took Ivan the Terrible as his role model and swore by Lenin’s dictum, “A revolution without firing squads is meaningless”). We see him among his courtiers, his informal but deadly game of power played out at dinners and parties at Black Sea villas and in the apartments of the Kremlin. We see the debauchery, paranoia and cravenness that ruled the lives of Stalin’s inner court, and we see how the dictator played them one against the other in order to hone the awful efficiency of his killing machine. With stunning attention to detail, Montefiore documents the crimes, small and large, of all the members of Stalin’s court. And he traces the intricate and shifting web of their relationships as the relative warmth of Stalin’s rule in the early 1930s gives way to the Great Terror of the late 1930s, the upheaval of World War II (there has never been as acute an account of Stalin’s meeting at Yalta with Churchill and Roosevelt) and the horrific postwar years when he terrorized his closest associates as unrelentingly as he did the rest of his country. Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar gives an unprecedented understanding of Stalin’s dictatorship, and, as well, a Stalin as human and complicated as he is brutal. It is a galvanizing portrait: razor-sharp, sensitive and unforgiving.

Crossovers-1 cover

The two volumes of this book are a fascinating and highly enjoyable read for anyone interested in the interactions between various pulp, mystery, adventure, and science fiction characters with real people throughout history.  The premise of this book is inspired by SF writer Philip José Farmer’s “Wold Newton” concept which he developed in the 1970s:  a “radioactive” meteorite crashed near Wold Newton, England in 1795 and affected several carriages full of people who were passing by.  Their descendants became highly intelligent and powerful heroes (or villains) such as Sherlock Holmes, Professor Moriarty, Dr. Fu Manchu, Doc Savage, Lord Greystoke (aka Tarzan), and many more.  Farmer wrote popular and detailed biographies of Tarzan and Doc Savage in which he detailed the family trees of many “Wold Newton Family” characters.  Over time, the concept has been expanded and continued by others into the Crossover Universe.  Win Scott Eckert has done a fantastic job of compiling references to literary heroes who have met each other (or “crossed over”) and had adventures together, and thus co-exist in the same fictional universe.  Volume 1 covers the dawn of time up through 1939, and Volume 2 covers 1940 into the far future.  Reading these two books is a fun and highly addictive experience!


31. January 2013 · Comments Off · Categories: Biographies, NonFiction, Tammy · Tags: , ,

The Wives: The Women Behind Russia's Literary Giants by Alexandra Popoff , read by Tammy, on 01/31/2013

wivesA collection of brief biographys of six Russian women who made great contributions to literature through supporting their husbands writing careers. Some are well-known authors such as Tolstoy and Dostevsky while others are lesser known authors and poets. Sophia Tolstoy, Vera Nabokov, Elena Bulgakov, Nadezdha Mandelstam, Anna Dostevsky, and Natalya Solzhenitsyn all assisted in a variety of ways including being stenographers, typists, editors, researchers, translators and even publishers. These brave ladies also faced adversity in financial circumstances and often under a restrictive government many of them battled censorship and even risked their lives to preserve her husbands writings, documents and important papers for the future.

This seems to be a unique trait among Russian women to so completely throw themselves into their husbands work. Often these ladies were the writers’ intellectual match and often made invaluable contributions and suggestions during the creative process as well as serving as an example of women’s thoughts and feelings. At Dostevsky’s request Anna kept a daily journal of her activities, thoughts and feelings and he read these to gain a better understanding of a female perspective.

They established a tradition all their own, unmatched in the West. Sometimes they were celebrated for their contributions during their lifetime and sometimes they were ridiculed and popularly believed to be holding their husband back. Here are the stories of the writing of some of the world’s greatest literature through the wives’ eyes.

31. December 2012 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Biographies, History, NonFiction

The Tudors: The Complete Story of England's Most Notorious Dynasty by G.J. Meyer, read by Angie, on 12/28/2012

There is something so interesting and compelling about the Tudors. It seems like we can’t get enough of them. There are tons of books, movies and tv shows about the family or set in that time period. Henry VIII and Elizabeth I will forever be at the forefront of interesting historical characters. The Tudors: The Complete Story of England’s Most Notorious Dynasty is a truly fascinating book. It takes us through the entire history of the Tudor dynasty from Henry VII to James I taking the throne. This family did not rule that long in the grand scheme of things, but their rule was turbulent, bloody and full of changes for the people of England.

The rule of Henry VIII takes up the majority of this book. His rule might not have been the longest (that was Elizabeth), but it definitely brought about the most change and the most bloodshed. Henry is probably best known for his wives, but that is not his true legacy. His true legacy is the Church of England. Henry systematically destroyed the Catholic church in England and remade it into the church of his heart. He stripped monasteries, abbeys and churches of their wealth and lands. He remade the clergy to follow his beliefs and persecuted and killed those that didn’t follow him.

Henry’s reign was followed by his son Edward who was even more evangelical. Then came Bloody Mary, who actually wasn’t as bloody as some. She brought back the Catholic Church and persecuted the Protestants. Her reign was a short five years however. It was Elizabeth that was the longest lasting of the Tudors. She reigned for 45 years. It appears that her turbulent childhood made her reign one of survival. She resurrected the Protestant church and continued the persecution of the Catholics; however, she was not as zealous as her father and brother. Together this family remade England into something different. They created and church without wealth, an aristocracy that became extremely wealthy off the spoils of the Catholic church and a population that was poorer and less taken care of then at any time in history.

24. December 2012 · Comments Off · Categories: Biographies, Tracy

Rod the Autobiography by Rod Stewart, read by Tracy, on 12/24/2012

I’m not a big Rod Stewart fan, Maggie May was a big hit overplayed in my day, but when he was on a talk show recently promoting this book I was curious. I really enjoyed his casual and honest journey through his career. In the early days it was about hair, clothes, drinking, cars and women. I was surprised to learn about his model railroad hobby but not about his football obsession. He admits his voice is very frog like but when he released his solo albums they sold really well. All rumors and gossip are discussed and the truth is revealed. Lots of pictures and a discography is included. With the internet full of music I was able to listen to his early songs while reading about them.

Have you ever wondered about the lives of some of your favorite authors or how they came up with the ideas for their books. Well then this book is for you. Who the Hell is Pansy O’Hara? is a fascinating look at 50 of the best loved books. Chapter range from Pride and Prejudice to The War of the Worlds to Harry Potter. We get short bios of all the authors and then the story behind their most popular and known books. What I found fascinating was how small a world it is. A lot of these authors interacted with each other or other great writers of their day. Many went to school with, taught or were taught by big names in the literary world. This is a great book for book lovers. It really made me want to read/reread some of the books listed.

17. September 2012 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Biographies, Children's Books, Graphic Book, NonFiction

Around the World by Matt Phelan, read by Angie, on 09/16/2012

Jules Verne’s Around the World in Eighty Days inspired many adventurous souls to take up the challenge and circumnavigate the globe. Matt Phelan tells the stories of three of these adventurers.

First we have Thomas Stevens, former minor, who decides to travel around the world on a high wheeler, the predecessor of the bicycle. It takes him two years, but he travels the world and introduces the bicycle to many who had never seen it.

Next is intrepid reporter Nelly Bly, who with the support of her newspaper decides to travel the world in less than 80 days. She meets Jules Verne, has several delays, but manages to make it home in 72 days.

Finally is Joshua Slocum, a retired sea captain, who fixes up an old boat and sails around the world alone. He has storms and pirates to contend with but in three years he makes it back home.

These were all real people and their stories were interesting to read and see. I thought Phelan did a particularly good job on the Stevens chapters. The illustrations really brought the story to life. I wasn’t as impressed by the Slocum section. I guess it was much darker and more introspective than the previous chapters; it had a lot of flashbacks to his previous journeys. I guess I didn’t feel it had the same feeling of joyous adventure as the others. But this is a great graphic read on people who have traveled the world.

15. September 2012 · Comments Off · Categories: Biographies, Graphic Novel, History, Memoirs, NonFiction, Tammy · Tags: ,

Anne Frank: The Anne Frank House Authorized Graphic Biography by Sid Jacobson and Ernie Colon, read by Tammy, on 09/14/2012

Drawing on the unique historical sites, archives, expertise, and unquestioned authority of the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam, New York Times bestselling authors Sid Jacobson and Ernie Colón have created the first authorized and exhaustive graphic biography of Anne Frank. This is a concise introduction to not only Anne Frank and her family but history of Nazism, concentration camps, general history of WWII and how the conflict spread as well as the years immediately after the war. I had not realized prior to reading this the first concentration camp built and opened in Germany was to house German citizens who opposed the Nazi parties new policies.