03. February 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: History, Kira, NonFiction · Tags:

Christmas : a Candid History by Bruce David Forbes., read by Kira, on 01/17/2014

banxmas
Did you know that the Puritans banned the celebration of Christmas in the US & UK for almost 2 Centuries!  So working Christmas was the norm, when Bob Cratchit asked Scrooge for the day off.  The christmas-a-candid-historyChristmas Carol story makes it seem as if, Scrooge is being a mean person, as opposed to a law-abPURITAN-BAN-ON-CHRISTMAS-WAS-TO-PREVENT-DEMONIZATIONS-OF-CITIZENS-IN-COMMUNITYiding citizen, a shrewd business person.  The biggest reason for the revival of the winter holiday celebration in Britain & America was the book, the Christmas Carol; the 2nd reason for the revival of celebrating Christmas, was the press’ fascination with the young Queen Victoria & Prince Albert from Germany who captured the royal families’ Christmas Tree in the newspaper.  The “tradition” caught on.cmaspuritans

30. January 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: History, NonFiction, Tammy · Tags: , ,

100 Cats who Changed Civilization: History's most Influential Felines by Sam Stall, read by Tammy, on 01/09/2014

100 cats True stories about cats that created laws, inspired their owners or were present at historical moments. Each story is about a different cat and ranges from 1 to 3 pages in length. Quick fun read for cat lovers, history lovers or trivia nuts.

27. January 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, History, NonFiction

The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves, and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History by Robert M. Edsel, read by Angie, on 01/26/2014

This book has been on my “to read” list for a while, but with the movie coming out I thought I had better move it to the top of the list. It was definitely worth the read. While this is a work of nonfiction it reads like a mystery. Robert Edsel makes sure the reader connects with the men and women who were part of the Monuments Men during WWII. You get to know them and their families and their motivations.

I find it fascinating that not only did Hitler want to conquer Europe he also wanted to conquer its culture and artifacts. Hitler believed himself to be a connoisseur of art and set about acquiring as much as possible to build his collection and the collections of the museums he wanted to create. This meant the pillaging of Jewish art collections and the pillaging of museums in conquered lands. No one really knew the extent of his acquisitions and the acquisitions of his men until near the end of the war.

While the creation of the Monuments Men came from the top of the military brass, it was never fully staffed or given the materials needed to do the job properly. However, with little to help them out the Monuments Men were able to find and restore thousands of pieces of stolen art. I really enjoyed reading about how little conversations or bits of information would lead them to more bits which would lead them to a cache of stolen treasure. The Monuments Men were detectives on the trail of the biggest art heist in history. The fact that all of the stolen materials were found doesn’t not in any way diminish their acts of heroism and determination. These men and women were and went on to be some of the pillars of the museum and art world and I am glad they are finally getting the recognition they so richly deserve.

15. January 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Autobiographies, Classics, History, Rachel, Teen Books

The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank, read by Rachel, on 01/15/2014

Anne Frank, June 1929 – March 1945 Anneliesse Marie Frank was born on June 12, 1929 in Frankfurt-am-Main, Germany. She was the second daughter of Otto and Edith Frank. Anne’s father was a factory worker, who moved his family to Amsterdam in 1933 to escape the Nazi’s. There he opened up a branch of his uncle’s company and Anne and her sister Margot resumed a normal life, attending a Montessori School in Amsterdam.

The Germans attacked the Netherlands in 1940 and took control, issuing anti-Jewish decrees, and forcing the Frank sisters into a Jewish Lyceum instead of their old school. Their father Otto decided to find a place for the family to hide should the time come that the Nazi’s came to take them to a concentration camp. He chose the annex above his offices and found some trustworthy friends among his fellow workers to supply the family with food and news. On July 5, 1942, Margot received a “call up” to serve in the Nazi “work camp.” The next day, the family escaped to the annex, welcoming another family, the van Pels, which consisted of Hermann and Auguste van Pels and their son Peter. Fritz Pfeffer also came to stay with them, causing the count to come to eight people hiding in the annex.

Anne, Margot and Peter continued their studies under the tutelage of Otto, and all of the captives found ways to entertain themselves for the long years they remained hidden. On August 4, 1944, four Dutch Nazis came to arrest the eight, having discovered their hiding place through an informant. Anne’s diary was left behind and found later by one of the family’s friends. The eight were taken to prison in Amsterdam and then deported to Westerbork before being shipped to Auschwitz. At Auschwitz, the men were separated from the women and Hermann van Pels was immediately gassed. Fritz Pfeffer died at Neuenganme in 1944.

Anne, Margot and Mrs. van Pels were taken to Bergen-Belson, leaving behind Anne’s mother, Edith, who died at Auschwitz of starvation and exhaustion in 1945. At Bergen-Belson, Anne and Margot contracted typhus and died of the disease in March of 1945. Anne was 15 and Margot was 17. The exact date and the place they were buried is unknown. Otto Frank was the only one of the original group of eight who were hidden in the annex to survive. He was left for dead at Auschwitz when the Russian Army came to liberate the camp. It is due to him that Anne’s diary was published and became the success it is.

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, 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.

02. December 2013 · Comments Off · Categories: Bryan, History, NonFiction

Washington's secret six: the spy ring that saved the American Revolution by Brian Kilmeade, read by Bryan, on 11/26/2013

WashingtonIf you were to mention the American’s attempt to spy on the British, most people could come up with Nathan Hale.  Unfortunately, he was caught before he did much spying.  Kilmeade examines the lives and work of Washington’s spy ring in New York that was so secretive, that even today some of the actual names are not known.  They are credited with capturing a British Navy signal book that helped the French fleet stop the British from evacuating Cornwallis at Yorktown, uncovering the plot by Benedict Arnold, and many other acts of bravery — all while living in British occupied New York.  Many of the techniques that they used are still used today — yet most Americans have never heard of the Culper ring.

I don’t normally read nonfiction, but this one is a keeper.  It is short, informative and well-written.  I highly recommend this to any history buff.

02. December 2013 · Comments Off · Categories: Autobiographies, History, Memoirs, NonFiction, Pamela

I, Toto by Willard Carroll, read by Pamela, on 11/27/2013

I totoDuring the expansion of the Ventura Freeway in Los Angeles, Willard Carroll unearthed a leatherbound scrapbook from a site that was once a pet cemetery. To his amazement, its yellowing pages contained the rags-to-riches story of Terry, the cairn terrier who played Toto in the enduring film The Wizard of Oz. Reprinted here in its entirety, I, Toto traces the canine star’s tragic beginnings, her exhilarating film career, and her happy retirement in Southern California. Best of all, it offers the inside scoop on Toto’s signature role, her costars, and the making of The Wizard of Oz.

There are also some endearing passages about Terry’s (a.k.a. Toto) interaction with Clark Gable, Shirley Temple, and Spencer Tracy.  A book written from a dog’s point of view is not unique, but from this famous dog’s point of view it is unique.

Children and adults alike will like this book.  There are plenty of pictures to entertain the young ones while an adult reads the story.  It’s a very quick read and packed with lots of entertainment about a very special little dog.

19. November 2013 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, History, NonFiction

The Lost Museum: The Nazi Conspiracy To Steal The World's Greatest Works Of Art by Hector Feliciano, Tim Bent (translator), read by Angie, on 11/18/2013

Hitler loved art and it was one of his goals to return many of the masters to Germany and to set up one of the best museums in the world. In order to do that he pillaged and plundered Europe. This book covers Paris and its stolen art and is based on an article written in France. I knew about the Nazi’s agenda to steal art, but I didn’t realize how systematic it was. Hitler and Goering were determined to find and send to Germany as much art as possible, most of which was taken from wealthy Parisian Jews. As in other areas during WWII, there was a lot of collaboration from the Paris art dealers. In fact the Paris art world was booming during this period. Art was going for outrageous prices (both high and low) and dealers were becoming really wealthy. None of the activities during the war really surprised me. What surprised me most was what happened after the war when the owners tried to get their possessions back. Barely half of the art stolen by the Nazis has been found and returned. There was a great deal of effort immediately after the war, but there was also a lot of stonewalling and dead ends. If the art ended up in Eastern Europe, it became the spoils of war or reparations for the Soviet Union. Most of that art has never been seen. If it ended up in Switzerland, a supposed neutral country, there was no recourse to get it back. Swiss law was such that it was almost impossible to claim stolen goods there even if you knew where they were. I think what really surprised me was the French museums and the auction houses. There are some 2000 pieces in French museums that are Nazi contraband and have never been claimed; however, the museums have made almost no effort to find the owners. The auctions houses are even worse. Places like Christie’s and Sotheby’s have sold stolen art repeatedly with little or no investigation into their provenances.

Of course all this information is from The Lost Museum. While I found the information really interesting, the book was not. It was not well written or easily readable. Part of this may be the translation, but that does not explain how boring it was in parts. I found myself skimming probably half of the book just to get through it. There are paragraphs long lists of paintings. The author also gives biographies of the Jews whose art was stolen, but spends very little time on the actual story of the theft. Instead of a laundry list of paintings, I would have preferred more on the actual story about the journey the art took and what happened to it after the war. There is some of this but not enough.

17. November 2013 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Children's Books, History, NonFiction · Tags:

Secrets of a Civil War Submarine: Solving the Mysteries of the H.L. Hunley by Sally M. Walker, read by Angie, on 11/17/2013

The H.L. Hunley was the first submarine to sink a ship in wartime. It was built during the Civil War and actually sank twice before completely a mission successfully. On February 17, 1864 the Hunley sank the USS Housatonic off the Charleston Harbor. Unfortunately, the Hunley never made it back to shore nor was it ever seen again. The Hunley was found buried in the mud in 1995. It took several years and lots of work before the Hunley revealed its secrets. Scientists still don’t know exactly why the Hunley sank with all eight crewmen aboard. However, the crew have now been put to rest while the investigation into the Hunley continues.

16. November 2013 · Comments Off · Categories: Children's Books, History, Madeline, NonFiction

Sugar changed the world : a story of magic, spice, slavery, freedom, and science by Marc Aronson, Marina Budhos, read by Madeline, on 11/06/2013

When this award-winning husband-and-wife team discovered that they each had sugar in their family history, they were inspired to trace the globe-spanning story of the sweet substance and to seek out the voices of those who led bitter sugar lives. The trail ran like a bright band from religious ceremonies in India to Europe’s Middle Ages, then on to Columbus, who brought the first cane cuttings to the Americas. Sugar was the substance that drove the bloody slave trade and caused the loss of countless lives but it also planted the seeds of revolution that led to freedom in the American colonies, Haiti, and France. With songs, oral histories, maps, and over 80 archival illustrations, here is the story of how one product allows us to see the grand currents of world history in new ways. Time line, source notes, bibliography, index.

16. November 2013 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Autobiographies, Children's Books, History, NonFiction · Tags: ,

The Boy on the Wooden Box by Leon Leyson, read by Angie, on 11/14/2013

I couldn’t put this book down; I didn’t want to put it down. Leon Leyson captured my attention and held it throughout his entire story. We learn a lot about the Holocaust and what happened during those years, but I haven’t ever really read an autobiography about it. Leon Leyson was just a young boy when Germany invaded Poland. He and his family lived in Krakow and quickly began to feel the effects of the Nazi machine. Because his father had a job, most of his family was protected, but they were never really safe. His father worked for Oskar Schindler at his enamel factor and was one of the first on “the list”. Leon, his mother and his brother David also had their names added to the list. Unfortunately, two of his brothers did not; one fled to the country and one was rounded up during one of the ghetto cleansings. His sister worked for another factory and was protected until the end. Being on Schindler’s list did not necessarily mean full protection however. The family was still subjected to the ghetto and the guards who terrorized it. They were also all sent to concentration camps during the move from Krakow to Brunnlitz. This is a very compelling story of one family’s survival during the atrocities of WWII. Leon didn’t die horribly like so many others during that time. He survived, moved to America and became a teacher. It wasn’t until the release of Schindler’s List that he started to speak about his experiences. Leon Leyson was the youngest person on the list, but he was not the only one. Oskar Schindler’s bravery and dedication to saving his Jews was amazing. Reading this book made me want to learn more about Schindler (beyond what I remember from the movie!).

13. November 2013 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, History, Informational Book, NonFiction, Teen Books

Unsettled: The Problem of Loving Israel by Marc Aronson, read by Angie, on 11/12/2013

Marc Aronson takes a look at the history of Israel and what it means to be Jewish in Israel. This is not a straight-forward historical book, but a personal soul-searching by the author. He does a lot of back and forth between the ideal Israel and the actual Israel. He also compares Israel to America and American Jews to Israeli Jews. Even though he does touch on some controversial topics in this book, it is still more of a personal journey about why Aronson does not live in Israel and what he wishes it was. It wasn’t exactly what I thought it was going to be and was a little difficult to read. Aronson never really comes to any conclusions, just back and forth on the topics he discusses.

08. November 2013 · Comments Off · Categories: Children's Books, History, Kristin

An Illustrated Timeline of Inventions and Inventors by Kremena Spengler, read by Kristin, on 11/05/2013

From controlling fire to the debut of the ipad, this book highlights the biggest advances in history.  The book is a 32 page timeline with illustrations and one or two sentence descriptions of the events.

I read this book with my 5 year old who was enthralled.  I found the illustrations to be clever and the descriptions gave just enough information that the reader didn’t get bogged down in the details, but still provided the necessary information.  It took us approximately 30 minutes over two evenings to read the book–that’s with many interruptions for side stories and questions.

I think this book serves as an excellent introduction to a number of topics.  Once the reader’s interest is peaked, he/she can delve into a specific subject more thoroughly through other books.

I would say this book would be good for a 8-10 year old as a read alone or as young as five if the child is being read to.

I just found that MRRL has a transportation timeline book by the same author, so look forward to that review soon.

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

The Hypo: The Melancholic Young Lincoln by Noah Van Sciver, 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.

02. November 2013 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Children's Books, History, NonFiction, Science

Sugar Changed the World: A Story of Magic, Spice, Slavery, Freedom, and Science by Marc Aronson, Marina Budhos, read by Angie, on 11/02/2013

Sugar is something we take for granted. It is always available at the store. It isn’t very expensive. We can add it to anything we want and it is in a lot of what we eat. And there are alternatives to regular brown or white sugar. This was not always the case. Sugar was an unknown until around a thousand years ago. However, once people got a taste of it they wanted more. It started out as a spice added to foods like any other spice, but then it separated itself from others and became a sweetener. As the demand for sugar grew, production also had to grow. Huge sugar plantations sprouted up throughout the Caribbean and South America. Millions of slaves were brought from Africa to work in the brutal plantations. More slaves actually than were brought to America. Sugar was a time sensitive crop the required back-breaking labor, hot fires, and lots of slaves.

This book starts with the stories of how Marc Aronson and Marina Budhos were connected to sugar and how they decided to write this book. Then we go into the history of sugar and the sugar/slavery connections. Next we see how sugar helped shape the world and abolish slavery. France, England, America, the Caribbean, India, Africa, Asia: slavery and sugar helped mold these places into what they are today. Slavery was abolished in many countries because of the sugar slaves. Gandhi started his peaceful resistance movement because of sugar slaves. It is amazing how many connections you can draw throughout history and the world all because of sugar. Aronson and Budhos did an excellent job highlighting these connection and writing a very readable nonfiction book.

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

Mammoths and Mastodons: Titans of the Ice Age by Cheryl Bardoe, read by Angie, on 10/29/2013

Mammoths, mastodons and elephants are all cousins. They all appeared around the same time, but for some reason 10,000 years ago mammoths and mastadons went extinct. Scientists don’t know why they disappeared. The two leading theories are global warming or over hunting by humans. It is hoped that by studying mammoths and mastodons and why they went extinct a way can be found to help elephants who are endangered. This is a very informative, interesting and well-researched read.

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

Written in Bone: Buried Lives of Jamestown and Colonial Maryland by Sally M. Walker, read by Angie, on 10/26/2013

Dead people are fascinating. Long dead people are a puzzle. Figuring out who skeletons were is a fascinating puzzle. This book by Sally Walker investigates the graves in and around the Chesapeake Bay. All the graves date from the 17th century and were some of the first people in the Jamestown colony. It is amazing what scientists can find out about people just from looking at their bones. Teeth have ridges: must have used some corrosive materials to clean them. Buried in a trash pit under a house: must have been an indentured servant who died. Small holes in bones: must have had rickets. Archaeologists are even able to figure out who exactly a person was just by where and how they were buried. This book highlights how graves are found and excavated, the steps taken to preserve the remains and what is learned from them. If you are a fan of CSI or Bones, you will definitely appreciate the science of this book.

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

Anubis Speaks! A Guide to the Afterlife by the Egyptian God of the Dead by Vicky Alvear Shecter , read by Angie, on 10/22/2013

Anubis finally gets to tell his story, or rather Ra’s story, in this entertaining and highly readable nonfiction book. The book details Ra’s journey through the underworld each night, what each hour of the journey entails and how Apophis tries to stop Ra. Along the way, Anubis also gives the reader a lot of detail on ancient Egyptian life, who the gods are and how they came to be and Egyptian myths and stories. Anubis must have been a pretty entertaining god because he is funny! I loved how he speaks directly to his audience and even includes them in the journey through the underworld. I thought his asides were hilarious. Books on Egyptian mythology are always popular and I think kids will respond really well to this one. I hope there is an entire series like this!

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

Blizzard of Glass: The Halifax Explosion of 1917 by Sally M. Walker, read by Angie, on 10/20/2013

On December 6, 1917, the city of Halifax, Nova Scotia was devastated by the largest man-made explosion. Two ships collided in the harbor, one carrying explosives. The shockwave and tsunami destroyed most of the town and left thousands dead, injured and homeless. Sally Walker takes us through the events leading up to the explosion, the aftermath and the recovery. She introduces us to several families whose lives were devastated and irrevocably changed that day. This is the kind of nonfiction I like to read. Walker gives us all the facts, but she includes personal accounts and writes in a narrative style that is extremely easy to read. I loved all the photos of the destruction that she included in this book. They really help illustrate just how destructive the explosion was. What really got me though was the stories of help from near and far, the doctors and nurses who worked around the clock, the soldiers and sailors who tirelessly searched for survivors, the workers who collected the dead and carefully cataloged them. All of these stories break your heart, but they also help you realize just how wonderful human beings can be when they see someone in need.

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

Terracotta Army and Other Lost Treasures by John Malam, read by Angie, on 10/13/2013

Another great offering in the Lost and Found series. This one deals with lost treasurers such as the terracotta army and the dead sea scrolls. We also learn about the Mildenhall Treasure found in a Suffolk field. A chest of Roman silver hidden under the ground was unearthed by a farmer. It was a rare hoard of highly decorated silver that was 2000 years old.