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

Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar by Simon Sebag Montefiore, 785 pages, 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 , 332 pages, 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, 612 pages, 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, 364 pages, 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.

19. December 2012 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Biographies, Informational Book, NonFiction

Who the Hell Is Pansy O'Hara?: The Fascinating Stories Behind 50 of the World's Best-Loved Books by Jenny Bond, Chris Sheedy, 336 pages, read by Angie, on 12/19/2012

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, 240 pages, 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, 152 pages, 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.

28. August 2012 · Comments Off · Categories: Andrea, Biographies, NonFiction · Tags: , ,

Zeitoun by Dave Eggers, 342 pages, read by Andrea, on 08/27/2012

I had randomly selected this book to read and, since it was nonfiction, decided to find out a little more about Mr. Zeitoun and his family and see how nonfiction it really was. After reading Greg Mortenson’s Three Cups of Tea, I have been skeptical of nonfiction books. I stumbled upon a news article about Abdulrahman Zeitoun stating he is no longer the man portrayed in the book. Zeitoun was convicted earlier last week of abusing his wife. However, that did not really interest me. What intrigued me was the controversy surrounding this man and the book Zeitoun by Dave Eggers about Zeitoun’s experiences during Katrina in Louisiana.  Although the book was well written, I found myself annoyed by Zeitoun throughout the entire story. Eggers portrays Zeitoun as a God-like man who helps out people (and even dogs) in need who is the victim throughout the entire book. The way Eggers wrote the book almost seems as if he is sugar coating the story, so it makes it pretty hard for me to believe all the events happened exactly as they were represented in this nonfiction book.

Overall, I like that it was written in story form, not stuffy like some autobiographies and biographies can sometimes get. However, making it in story form may have taken away from the realness of it all and made the nonfiction story seem just a little bit fictitious and exaggeratory. Will never look up a person if I don’t know his or her story before reading his or her biography ever again. I think that maybe I was biased since I already thought Zeitoun was a bad man for his crimes.I have not read any other books by Eggers, but he seems like a good writer.

28. August 2012 · Comments Off · Categories: Biographies, Janet

Charles Darwin, The Life of a Revolutionary Thinker by Dorothy Hinshaw Patent, 144 pages, read by Janet, on 08/28/2012

Charles Darwin had great interest in science, but he was expected to become a pastor.  Before going into this field, he had an opportunity to go on a trip around the world on a government-sponsored survey ship, the Beagle.  The sailing ship didn’t give anyone much room, but wherever they stopped, Charles gathered many items of interest that he wanted to study.  Most things were skinned or dried and sent back to England after careful notes and drawings were made.  He noted all changes in plants, birds, and animals in different regions and habitats and theorized on what caused these changes.  He spent most of his life reading, writing, experimenting and working on understanding the functions of the changes.  He documented the importance of Natural Selection.  He was also a loving family man who had great sadness in the loss of children and siblings and often suffered from illness himself.  Through it all, he was a dedicated scientist.

23. August 2012 · Comments Off · Categories: Biographies, Janet

The Woman Warrior, Memiors of a Girlhood Among Ghosts by Maxine Hong Kingston, 209 pages, read by Janet, on 08/16/2012

This is the story of Brave Orchid, a Chinese girl raised among the old ways, where sons were appreciated in a family, but daughters were usually to be sold or married as soon as possible.  There were many deaths mentioned in the story – the background of ghosts that were always with the people.  Many warnings about life were usually told as stories to children about how the gods expected certain actions and gifts.  Her mother sliced the frenum under her tongue when whe was a baby, which caused her great difficulty in speaking clearly, so as a child, she rarely spoke at all. The Chinese say “a ready tongue is an evil.”  There are actually many stories of the women in the family.  Brave Orchid attended college and got her medical degree.  She treated many people in China before coming to America, but when she and her husband moved to California, they made their living with the hard work of a laundromat in the Chinese quarter.

20. August 2012 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Biographies, Children's Books, History, NonFiction

Jefferson's Children: The Story of One American Family by Shannon Lanier, 144 pages, read by Angie, on 08/19/2012

This is a very interesting book about Thomas Jefferson’s legitimate and illegitimate families. It explores the controversy of the Sally Hemmings relationship through interviews with family members. Shannon Lanier is a descendant from the Sally Hemmings side of the family and wants to get to know all of his new cousins after the revelations about the relationship were announced and the family attended the reunion at Monticello. I found it fascinating to hear all the stories of this blended family, how many of them passed for white instead of black, how some have always know they were descendants of Jefferson and how some just found out. I found it sad that some of the descendants from Jefferson’s daughters deny there was any relationship between Jefferson and Hemmings. I have to admit that I believe there was a relationship between the two. It isn’t that hard to believe that Jefferson could love his slave. Her devotion to him seems indisputable. She tended his grave until she died and wouldn’t leave the area. I know some people find it hard to reconcile the Jefferson who wrote the Declaration of Independence and the Jefferson who had slaves, but he was a product of his time. Slavery was a part of life and he could not have done many of the great things he did without his slaves (build U.Va. and Monticello). He also educated his slaves and made sure they knew a trade, at least the ones that were his children. There are many twists and turns to this family’s history and it is all very interesting and fascinating to read about.

15. August 2012 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Biographies, Children's Books, History, NonFiction

Diego: Bigger Than Life by Carmen T. Bernier-Grand, 64 pages, read by Angie, on 08/14/2012

Diego: Bigger than Life tells the story of Mexican artist Diego Rivera through a series of poems and illustrations. The entirety of his life is illustrated in the poems from birth to death. I loved that the poems conveyed all the emotion and actual situations of each subject. I feel like I learned all about Diego Rivera through these few poems. Everything from his upbringing, to his art to his many wives and mistresses were covered. I really enjoyed the illustrations as well, but I do wish that more of Rivera’s actual art could have been used.

15. August 2012 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Biographies, Children's Books, History, NonFiction

Black Elk's Vision: A Lakota Story by S.D. Nelson, 48 pages, read by Angie, on 08/14/2012

Black Elk’s Vision is the true story of Lakota Medicine Man Black Elk. When he was young he had a vision of six grandfathers offering him the choice between a life of peace and a life of violence. Throughout his life he tried to tell people of his vision and bring it forth. Unfortunately, the White Men or Wha-shi-choos didn’t allow for a life of peace. Black Elk was part of many battles that wiped out the Indians and left them on reservations. He traveled with Wild Bill’s Wild West Show across the country and to Europe but he still didn’t find the peace for his people he sought. The imagery and story of this book suck you in from the very beginning. There are wonderful period photos and illustrations the highlight the story being told. Nelson does a great job of showing the freedom the Indians had and how it was taken away by the White Men. Wonderful book!

13. August 2012 · Comments Off · Categories: Biographies, Fiction, Janet

The Best Cat Ever by Cleveland Amory, 262 pages, read by Janet, on 08/10/2012

The Best Cat EverThis is another of Cleveland Amory’s humorous stories about a special cat.  He is very knowledgeable about cats and prides himself on taking good care of his pets as well as feeling personal friendship with them.  He expects his friends to appreciate them, too.  Polar Bear was a stray kitten when found and his life until the old-age problem of uremic poisoning, kidney failure, took him away was enjoyed and reviewed by the author with a great deal of humor.  Mr. Amory admits learning many things while living with Polar Bear – some of which came in handy with his associates.

13. August 2012 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Biographies, Children's Books, History, NonFiction

The Many Faces of George Washington: Remaking a Presidential Icon by Carla Killough McClafferty, 120 pages, read by Angie, on 08/10/2012

We think of George Washington as the president on the dollar bill or the quarter; little do we realize that those pictures really do not show the true face of George Washington. This book follows the progress of the creation of three statues of Washington during various phases of his life: as a surveyor, as the General during the Revolutionary War and as President. The book tells us what he was doing during those times and explains the process of recreating his face. There are some really interesting things in this book. I liked knowing more about Washington since I don’t feel like I knew a whole lot about him before the Revolution. I do have to admit that while the process of creating the statues was interesting it got a little long-winded and tedious for me. But the results were fabulous and it is nice to know what Washington really looked like.

11. August 2012 · Comments Off · Categories: Biographies, Tracy

Behind Sad Eyes by Marc Shapiro, 235 pages, read by Tracy, on 08/11/2012

There are a lot of books and documentaries about the Beatles. I’ve read and viewed most of them. George Harrison was always my favorite Beatle so I picked this biography since the author kept it short and honest. The problem with famous people is you really don’t know what is really going on since the press’s job is to sell papers and books. George’s life is full of ups and downs but his belief was  “I don’t want to be famous but I do want to be successful” After the Beatle’s split he was free to write, record and perform his own music. Alcohol and drugs were part of the scene of musicians and George unfortunately went along with. His personal life was an open book since it involved other musicians namely his friend Eric Clapton. He recorded and produced a lot of albums, this book lists them all. I knew when I started reading this there would be parts that would change my image of George. But he was only human and that’s what made him a great musician.

06. August 2012 · Comments Off · Categories: Biographies, Brian, NonFiction · Tags:

Life as I Blow It by Sarah Colonna, 256 pages, read by Brian, on 08/06/2012

Anyone want to read a funny book?  Me too.  Unfortunately, Life as I Blow it, isn’t the funny book I’ve been looking for to cheer me up.  Sarah Colonna, a stand-up comedian from Arkansas who, on her good days can be amusing at best, writes a tale of her short life.  Having a lack of judgement, I thought maybe her book my be funnier then her stand-up.  I was wrong.  The title is a little amusing, doesn’t that count for something?  Granted, Sarah is talking about her mishaps in life, so I should give her break but I won’t because I never gave Chelsea Handler a break, so she won’t get one either.  If you are interested in a person who never really grew up and keeps making the same bad decisions over and over again…then this might be your book.  However, if you want entertainment or an interesting biography, check out my blog.

03. July 2012 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Biographies, Children's Books, History, NonFiction

Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass: The Story Behind an American Friendship by Russell Freedman, 128 pages, read by Angie, on 07/02/2012

Russell Freedman really knows how to write nonfiction for kids and he does the story of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass justice in this book. This book takes the story of their lives and shows how they intertwined to lead to a friendship. They only physically met three times, but they ended up having a lot in common. This book shows the common threads of their lives and the differences. It shows that they were not always on the same path to equality and in fact Douglass frequently criticized the pace Lincoln set in regards to the rights and freedoms of Blacks. But they had a lot in common even down to the book that changed the way they looked at things, The Columbian Orator. If I have one quibble with this book, I wish it would have spent more time with Douglass. At times it seemed more like a biography of Lincoln than a shared story of the two men. But it is an excellent glimpse into a turbulent time and the lives of two great men.

28. June 2012 · Comments Off · Categories: Biographies, History, NonFiction, Tammy · Tags: ,

Signing their Rights Away: The Fame and Misfortune of the Men who Signed the United States Constitution by Denise Kiernan & Joseph D'Agnese, 254 pages, read by Tammy, on 06/20/2012

We’ve all heard of Thomas Jefferson, George Washington and Benjamin Franklin but who were the other signers of the Constitution? This book has mini-biographies of each of the 39 signers of the Constitution. These men were just as flawed as the elected officials we have today.Hugh Williamson believed in aliens, Robert Morris went to prison, Jonathan Dayton stole $18,000 from Congress, and Thomas Mifflin was ruined by alcohol.

Also includes a complete text of the Constitution and all it’s amendments including The Bill of Rights. Very brief bios of the other men who attended the constitutional convention but didn’t sign for one reason or another.

A fun book about men who were important to the history of our country but are mostly unknown today.