Everyone knows the story of the doomed Romanov family. How they were all murdered during the Bolshevik Revolution. How there were claims that Anastasia or Alexei still lived. How once the tsar fell the country became communist under Lenin and Stalin. What you might not have known were the events leading up to the revolution and the murders. Or how truly oblivious Tsar Nicholas was to what was happening around him. Candace Fleming does a wonderful job telling this story. She gives us insight into the imperial family through historical details and primary sources. She gives us details about what the common people were going through both before and during WWI. She also shows the politics behind the revolution and the rise of Lenin. What surprised me most about this book was how doomed the Romanov’s seemed from the beginning. Nicholas and Alexandra were so wrapped up in themselves and their children and Rasputin that they really had no idea what was happening in their country or how their actions set them on the path of destruction.

17. July 2014 · Write a comment · Categories: History, Inspirational, Kira, NonFiction

Unitarian Universalism: a Narrative History by David E. Bumbaugh, read by Kira, on 07/14/2014

rainbowchalice index       I read this for a class I took at my church this summer [we called it Summinary :) ].  It gives a history of liberal religion and the quest for tolerance for religious freedom.  I was amazed at how often, religious change came about due to other power struggles.  The Germans were chafing under Roman authority.  So when Luther  made his religious objections, the powers of state used the theological dispute to their advantage.

A repeatmichael-servetuseEmersond theme was reformers in one decade turning into the old guard against whom the newer thinkers rebelled in the next generation.  I was Ariussurprised at how enriching I found thisHosea_Ballou read.francisdavid

The Triple Nickles were the first black paratroopers in the American military. During WWII many Blacks joined the military; unfortunately, they were mostly relegated to labor positions and not allowed to fight for their country. This gradually changed as an all-Black tank unit and infantry units were established. Soon Blacks were being trained as pilots at Tuskegee. It wasn’t until 1944 that the Triple Nickles were established. They trained throughout the end of the war always ready to be called up to fight. However, military brass wasn’t quite as ready to integrate as the president was. The Triple Nickles never saw combat during WWII. While the white soldiers were fighting and dying they were sent to the Northwest to be the some of the first smokejumpers. It wasn’t until they were integrated into another paratrooper unit that these brave men would see combat. 

This is an important story to tell. It is amazing to me how we treated people in all walks of life just because the color of their skin was different from our own. This racism is still there today even if it might not always be targeted at Blacks. It took a lot of perseverance and courage on the part of these Black soldiers to break through the racial intolerance of the military leaders. They should be applauded.

14. July 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Children's Books, History, NonFiction

Boundaries: How the Mason-Dixon Line Settled a Family Feud and Divided a Nation by Sally M. Walker, read by Angie, on 07/13/2014

Sure everyone has heard of the Mason Dixon line. A lot of people may know that it was used to divide the country into slave and nonslave states. Few people might know that it all started because of a boundary dispute between Pennsylvania and Maryland. I had some vague knowledge about the Mason Dixon line before reading this book, but I really had no idea about its true origins. Mason and Dixon were hired to survey the true boundaries between Pennsylvania and Maryland because no one really knew what they were. It took them years to do the survey, but the border lines are still those used today. 

Obviously the information in this book was really interesting and I am a big fan of Sally Walker; however, I felt the execution of this book fell short. The first big issue is the side bars. Children’s nonfiction always has sidebar information which is usually little tidbits about different aspects of the subject discussed. I love them and wholeheartedly think they should be in children’s nonfiction. They generally add a depth to the information that was missing. However, the sidebars in this book are terrible. Instead of being nicely separated by a box or off in the margins they are just big block paragraphs in italics. To make things even worse they are always placed in the middle of text; sometimes in the middle of a paragraph that splits between pages. It was horribly distracting and a terrible way to set up a book. 

The second issue was how technical this book got which made it boring! I really enjoy history and this was a story I wasn’t aware of. The bits about William Penn and George Calvert and why they founded their colonies was interesting. The story of Mason and Dixon was interesting. The long paragraphs about how you measure by the stars and what the instruments did was boring. It got so technical that my eyes glazed over. I found myself skimming long paragraphs of technical crap until the story picked up again. If I can’t take it then I am sure the intended audience of kids won’t be able to either. 

I had high hopes for this book and was soundly disappointed. Thankfully I did learn something from it.

12. July 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, History, NonFiction

Wine and War: The French, the Nazis, and the Battle for France's Greatest Treasure by Don Kladstrup, Petie Kladstrup, read by Angie, on 07/10/2014

I, like many people, have a fascination for the horrible things the Nazis did in Europe during WWII. I am especially fascinated by their large-scale looting operations. I knew about the looting of art throughout Europe but had no idea just how far their pillaging went. This book looks at how the wine makers of France were subject to just as much Nazi attention as the art collections of Europe. Millions of bottles of wine were sent to Germany. The vignerons and négociants throughout France had to either sacrifice their wine to the Germans or find ways to hide it and fool the Nazis. Many buried their wines behind false walls in their caves or truly buried it under gardens and ponds. Others hid the good stuff in plain site by mislabeling it and labeling the crap as the good stuff. This book was full of fascinating information about the wine industry in France both before and during the war and the major players on both the French and German sides of the struggle. I admit to getting a bit lost in all the French names, but didn’t let that detract from my enjoyment of the story. I think my favorite part came at the end when the French and American armies were liberating France. The French Army made sure to send the Americans through secondary vineyards so that the prime ones would not be destroyed. The French Army went slow and carefully forward making sure to preserve their heritage whereas the American army simply went through the vines. I thought it said a lot about a culture that prized wine so much it was sent to the soldiers on the front and the lack of it and its destruction helped bring the French Resistance to power. Very powerful story that I would recommend to any history lovers out there.

08. July 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Children's Books, History, NonFiction

They Called Themselves the K.K.K.: The Birth of an American Terrorist Group by Susan Campbell Bartoletti, read by Angie, on 07/07/2014

The KKK was set up after the Civil War by white Southerners who felt they needed to protect their way of life from the Northern Reconstructionists and the uppity Blacks. They used intimidation, fear, beatings and murder to try and get what they wanted, which was for blacks to go back to being subservient to whites. Bartoletti takes a hard look at how the KKK was started, what precipitated its creation, how they grew to include so many members and what those members did. She also details the reaction to the KKK by Southern Blacks, Northern Whites and the governments of both the North and the South. President Grant was successful in disbanding the KKK, but he was not successful in creating equality in the South. It is sad that the same practices of the KKK during Reconstruction existed for many up until the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. The KKK was truly a terrorist group and it is pretty scary that some people today don’t see them that way. 

08. July 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Children's Books, History, NonFiction

The World Made New: Why the Age of Exploration Happened and How It Changed the World by Marc Aronson, John W. Glenn, read by Angie, on 07/07/2014

The Age of Exploration began with Columbus “discovering” America in 1492. After his trip many other explorers set out to discover the riches America had to offer. Their expeditions brought many things to Europe: the potato and tomato, spices, gold and silver and new ways of life. These explorers changed the world in both good and bad ways. They opened up trade routes and new lands for exploration, but the native peoples suffered greatly as their way of life came to an end. The explorers were generally not friendly to the natives. They saw them as savages to be tamed with riches to be taken. They brought death and disease and destruction to the natives. This book provides a good overview of why these explorations took place, what they found and the consequences of their discoveries. 

07. July 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, History, Informational Book, NonFiction

The Jesuits: A History from Ignatius to the Present by John W. O'Malley S.J., read by Angie, on 07/04/2014

This book covers the history of the Society of Jesus (Jesuits) from its inception to the present day pope. The history of the Jesuits is an interesting and controversial one. They were disbanded by the Catholic Church at one time and made many enemies throughout history. They also did a lot of good as their missions spread throughout the world and they opened thousands of schools and universities. The book is written by a Jesuit priest and his bias does show through. The Jesuits are never shown in anything but a positive light and their controversies are always glossed over. The book was interesting but I think a more unbiased look at the Jesuits would have been just as interesting if not more so. 

I received this book from Netgalley.

This is an excellent overview of the history of women serving in Congress. It begins with Jeannette Rankin in 1917 and goes through the present day roster of women in the House and the Senate. It’s interesting that the majority of the women who broke ground in Congress came into their positions through a husband or father dying. The congressman died and the women were able to fill the seat. I like the fact that the book also give the political and social background of what was happening at the time of each woman entering Congress. This book is very readable and entertaining. There is not a lot of information on the different congresswomen, but it is a good starting point. 

03. July 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Children's Books, History, NonFiction

Pure Grit: How WWII Nurses in the Pacific Survived Combat and Prison Camp by Mary Cronk Farrell, read by Angie, on 07/02/2014

Pure Grit tells the story of the American nurses in the Philippines during WWII. These nurses join the Army and the Navy because there were a lot of opportunities, but they never expected to actually be part of the war. We are taught a lot about WWII and the battles that took place in Europe. Unfortunately, a lot of history books minimize the war in the Pacific, which was just as deadly as the European front. I had no idea that hours after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor they attacked the Philippines. I had no idea that American forces were forced to surrender and became prisoners of war. The nurses that were on the island were also forced to surrender and be placed in internment camps. The nurses continued to care for their patients both before and after the surrender with dwindling supplies of both medication and food. They agonized over leaving gravely injured patients to the mercies of the Japanese. Once the war was over the nurses received little to no recognition for their efforts and suffered life-long physical and mental disabilities. It wasn’t until recent years that their history has come to light and they have been recognized for their heroics. This was a very readable book, in fact it was hard to put down. The story is gripping and because it is true very moving. I would definitely recommend it. 

23. June 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: History, NonFiction, Tammy

City of Falling Angels by John Berendt, read by Tammy, on 06/09/2014

city of fallingBy the author of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil comes another splendidly written history of a city and it’s people. Here he turns his skills to the story of Venice and explores it’s mystery and opulence. Using a cast of real characters he weaves an atmospheric tale centering around a fire that destroyed the historic opera house.

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.

29. May 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Children's Books, History, NonFiction

Buried Beneath Us: Discovering the Ancient Cities of the Americas by Anthony Aveni, Katherine Roy, read by Angie, on 05/28/2014

This book takes a look at the cities of four American cultures: Cahokia, Inca, Aztec, and Maya. The author goes over what cities are, how they developed, what life was like and the religions of these cultures. I really wanted to like this book more than I did. The author gives us a lot of good information, but unfortunately the organization of the book makes it very difficult to distinguish when the city changes. I think it might have better served the reader to perhaps do a chapter on each culture and its cities instead of breaking the chapters up like they were. I also thought the illustrations were horrible. There are no actual pictures of the ruins of these cities or their artifacts instead all the illustrations are a horrible gray block type that is a bit too abstract for the audience to appreciate. This is a fascinating subject that wasn’t served well by this book.

27. May 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Children's Books, History, NonFiction

The Notorious Benedict Arnold: A True Story of Adventure, Heroism & Treachery by Steve Sheinkin, read by Angie, on 05/24/2014

What did I know about Benedict Arnold before reading this book? Very little. I knew he was a traitor, but I had no idea what he had actually done or who he was other than that. Turns out Benedict Arnold was a hero before he was a traitor and if he had been treated a little better history may have remembered him as the former instead of the latter. Benedict Arnold was a successful business man before the Revolutionary War. When the colonies decided to rebel against Britain he was one of the first to sign up and fight. He became a general in the army and led many successful campaigns. However, he was not well liked by some of the military authorities or by the colonial government. He was passed over for promotions, accused of crimes and even forced to stand trial. This was all partially his own fault as he was reckless and went against authority. He became embroiled in the plot to give Westpoint to the British because of the poor treatment he received. While his accomplices may have been caught, Arnold made it to British territory and eventually to England. His treatment was not all that much better however and his treachery may have been for naught. This book reads like an action/adventure novel. It is a bit long, so younger readers might find its size daunting. However, I think they would enjoy it once they get into it. Fans of history and adventure will enjoy this nonfiction work.

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, 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.

21. May 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Brian, Graphic Novel, History, NonFiction

Witch Hunts by Rocky Wood, read by Brian, on 05/19/2014

witchhuntWitch Hunts is a graphic novel that follows history as people were convicted of being a witch.  This book examines the brutality put on these people and what others had to gain by portraying people as witches.  Witch Hunts has been nominated for a Bram Stoker Award in the Superior Achievement in a Graphic Novel category.

 

20. May 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, History, Informational Book, NonFiction

For the Good of Mankind?: The Shameful History of Human Medical Experimentation by Vicki O. Wittenstein, read by Angie, on 05/19/2014

How can you resist a title about human medical experimentation? This short little book was full of all kinds of information on medical experiments done on people with and without their knowledge. The majority of the experiments took place during the last century but there were a few from the 19th century mentioned. The book covers everything from Nazi concentration camps to radiation experiments during and after WWII to the Tuskegee Syphilis experiments. I think the most disturbing information however was the fact that there are still questionable experiments being done today. Regulations are much stiffer here in the United States so drug companies are outsourcing their medical experiments to 3rd world countries. I was fascinated by everything talked about here, but I did wish there had been a little bit more detail about some of the instances.

For most of human history people believed the earth was the center of the universe and the sun, planets and stars all revolved around the earth. There were many different ideas of how the universe was set up but all of them followed the Biblical teachings that the earth was the center of everything. Then came some radical thinkers who tried to reconcile what they had learned with what they observed about the universe. They couldn’t get the two to match up. Copernicus, Kepler, Galileo and Newton all used science and observation to try and understand the universe. They and others like them were also persecuted by the Church and other scientists who believed the earth-centric configuration of the universe. I thought this was a very well-organized and interesting book. It was easy to follow and understand and I think it is perfect for kids starting to learn about the universe. I did think the last chapter on groups who still believe the earth is the center of the universe was a little less scientific explanation and a little more preachy, but other than that it was a great read.

07. May 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Children's Books, History, NonFiction, Teen Books

The Freedom Summer Murders by Don Mitchell, read by Angie, on 05/06/2014

The Freedom Summer Murders covers the 1964 murders of James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Mickey Schwerner in Mississippi. The book really brings the crime and its impact to life. There is a lot of information packed into this book, but it is all stuff the reader needs to know. However, I do think it might be a little too much for some younger readers. The book first describes the murder, then introduces the three men, then details the aftermath and the trials that resulted from the murders. I did find the narration a little choppy and wished we had been introduced to James, Andrew and Mickey before we learned about their murder. I especially enjoyed the aftermath section which talked about the difficulty in getting information out of the Neshoba County residents and how much resistance there was to prosecuting the men who murdered the civil rights activists. It is strange to me to think this happened just 50 years ago. It was definitely a dark time in our history. 

I received a copy of this book from Netgalley.

05. May 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Children's Books, History, NonFiction

Bombs Over Bikini: The World's First Nuclear Disaster by Connie Goldsmith, read by Angie, on 05/05/2014

Bombs Over Bikini details the nuclear testing done in the Marshall Islands in the wake of WWII. This very informative book looks at how and why the islands were chosen and what happened during and after the tests. I found some of the sillier aspects of the tests fascinating. Putting animals in clothes or smearing them with sunscreen to test what would happen to people. Other things I found bizarre and tragic. Why islanders were not evacuated when it was clear there would be fallout. In the end I was left feeling extremely sorry for the people of the Bikini and Rongelap Atolls. They were forced to leave their homes, exposed to radiation, shuttled around and never fully compensated. It is a tragic era in the nuclear age. Hopefully one we have learned a lesson from. 

I received a copy of this book from the publishers on Netgalley.com.