Friday, July 31, 2015

Hood County Library 2015 Summer Reading Challenge Book #7 - Memoir

Yes Please, written and read by Amy Poehler.

I listened to this audiobook because it won the 2015 Audie Award for Humor, and was a nominee for the awards for Autobiography/Memoir, Narration by the Author or Authors, AND Audiobook of the Year.  Oh, and because I needed a short audiobook to listen to (I have to do a re-read next for an upcoming book club meeting), and this one was available at the Hood County Library.

Review is here.

© Amanda Pape - 2015

Monday, July 27, 2015

496 (2015 #53). Exploring the Lusitania

by Robert D. Ballard,
with Spencer Dunmore

I borrowed this book from the library because I'd just finished listening to Erik Larson's Dead Wake, and reviewing the print copy of that book, and was disappointed to find only one illustration of this famous ship.  I didn't know much about the Lusitania itself and wanted to learn more.

The book does not disappoint.  It is full of period photographs and illustrations of the ship (and related materials, such as postcards, ads, and menus), and the aftermath of its sinking, as well as people on the ship.  There are also maps and diagrams to help the reader understand the layout of the ship, its final journey (and the journey of the German submarine that sunk it).

Robert Ballard is best known as the man who explored the sunken Titanic, and there are a number of pages in the last quarter of the book devoted to his expedition to the Lusitania wreck in 1993.  This narrative and the accompanying photographs are also extremely interesting, especially the "then and now" comparison photographs of parts of the ship from 1904 to 1915 with the sunken part in 1993.  Ballard's theory that coal dust in empty bins ignited and caused the second, post-torpedo explosion (not any contraband or a boiler or a conspiracy) that ultimately sunk the ship.

The book ends with a chronology of the ship, acknowledgments and photo/illustration credits, a bibliography, and an index.  Definitely recommended to anyone who wants to learn more about the Lusitania, whose sinking ultimately led to the United States entry into World War I.

© Amanda Pape - 2015

[This book was borrowed from and returned to the Hood County Library.]

495 (2015 #52). Dead Wake

by Erik Larson,
read by Scott Brick

Subtitled "The Last Crossing of the Lusitania," this book is about the ship's sinking, what led up to it, and the immediate aftermath.  Erik Larson once again takes real people and events and weaves a mesmerizing story.
In this case, he alternates between action on the ship; in Washington, DC (showing how the death of President Wilson's first wife and his subsequent wooing of Edith Galt may have distracted him); the U-20 German submarine that ultimately sunk Lusitania; "Room 40," the secret code-breaking office of the British Admirality - which had been tracking U-20 and other German submarines via their wireless transmissions; and Queenstown, London, Berlin, and the Irish Sea.  Most of the action takes place during the final voyage, between the Lusitania's departure from New York City on May 1, 1915, to its sinking in the Irish Sea on May 7.  The sinking ultimately led to the entry of the United States into World War I, albeit two years later.

The origin of the title is the maritime definition of "dead wake" — a "trail of fading disturbance" (page 241) left behind on the surface of the water by a passing ship or another object, like a torpedo.

The book has a few short preface notes to readers/listeners, where Larson reminds the reader that

I thought I knew everything there was to know about the incident, but, as so often happens when I do deep research on a subject, I quickly realized how wrong I was.  Above all, I discovered that buried in the muddled details of the affair - deliberately muddled, in certain aspects - was something simple and satisfying: a very good story.
I hasten to add, as always, that this is a work of nonfiction.  Anything between quotation marks comes from a memoir, letter, telegram, or other historical document.  My goal was to try to marshal the many nodes of real-life suspense and, yes, romance that marked the Lusitania episode, in a manner that would allow readers to experience it as did people who lived through it at the time....
Of course audiobook listeners can't see those quotation marks, but Scott Brick's excellent reading makes it pretty clear where they are.  I'd recommend, though, that anyone listening to the audio do as I did and take a look at the print or e-book as well.

The audiobook doesn't include the material at the end of the print edition: a "sources and acknowledgements" section (five pages), 50 pages of end notes, an 8-page bibliography, and a 12-page index.  Oddly, there is only one photograph and a couple maps in the print book.  I felt the need for more, so I borrowed another library book with many photos on the subject:  Robert Ballard's Exploring the Lusitania, the subject of my next review.

© Amanda Pape - 2015

[This audiobook was a gift from BOT (Books on Tape) at the Texas Library Association conference in April 2015.  It will be donated to my university library.  It is also available in print, e-book, and e-audiobook format from the Hood County Library.]

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Hood County Library 2015 Summer Reading Challenge Book #6 - You Finish Reading in a Day

Go Set a Watchman, by Harper Lee.

Of course I finished this in one day - Sunday, July 26.  Just picked up the book late yesterday at the Hood County Library, where I'd had it on hold, and my name finally came up on the list.

All I can say is - wow.

Review is here.

© Amanda Pape - 2015

494 (2015 #51). I Am Livia

by Phyllis T. Smith

This book is a historical fiction/biographical novel of Livia Drusilla (58 BC - 29 AD), the wife of Caesar Augustus (aka Octavius), the Roman ruler from 27 BC until his death in 14 AD.

In the book, Livia is looking back from old age on her earlier years, beginning when she is 14 years old, just before Julius Caesar was assassinated - a plot in which her father was involved. It follows her life closely for the next 14 years - through her marriage to her father's ally Tiberius Nero, to her marriage to Octavius (while pregnant with Tiberius' second son), through numerous wars, to the beginning of his reign as emperor of Rome.

I'd encountered Livia as a character in a few other books (particularly in ones I've read about Cleopatra and her daughter), but really didn't know much about her beyond the rumors also mentioned by Livia herself at the beginning of this book.  Debut author Phyllis T. Smith brings the character and the period to life, and makes me see why Augustus Caesar stayed married to her for 51 years, despite the rumors about her, and their inability to have a child together.

Oh, and I just love the cover art - the mosaic style is definitely appropriate for ancient Rome.

© Amanda Pape - 2015

[I received this e-book for free through the Kindle First program.]

Hood County Library 2015 Summer Reading Challenge Book #5 - Checked Out from the Library

Exploring the Lusitania, by Robert D. Ballard with Spencer Dunmore.

I checked out this book from the Hood County Library as a companion to Dead Wake, Erik Larson's book on the Lusitania.

It's full of wonderful modern and period photographs and illustrations of the ship and of its wreck, the latter from an expedition by Ballard in 1993.

Review is here.

© Amanda Pape - 2015

493 (2015 #50). Under the Same Blue Sky

by Pamela Schoenewaldt

It is 1914 in Pittsburgh, and eighteen-year-old Hazel Renner dreams of a life where she can pursue her interest in art rather than her German immigrant parents' ambitions for her.  Hazel trains to be a teacher to please them.

Then she learns a family secret, and decides to go away to teach in a small country school.  A tragedy there sends her home, and then to Dogwood, New Jersey, to learn the truth about her background.  There she meets a mysterious German baron living in a castle, and begins working in his art dealership.  Meanwhile, world events swirl around them and her family and friends, as the war in Europe escalates and America ultimately enters it, followed by the influenza epidemic of 1918.

This book explores what life was like for German immigrants to the United States (and their American-born children) during World War I.  It was an eye-opener for me, as I imagine my German immigrant great-grandparents (and their seven American children) had similar experiences, particularly with others treating them with suspicion.  My great-grandparents owned and operated a dry goods store in north Chicago, and while both spoke English, I'm sure it was with heavy accents.  My grandfather and his three brothers joined the military (although none of them saw action overseas), and it must have been particularly hard for my great-grandparents, to think of them possibly fighting their own kin back in Germany.

The characters in this book are well-developed, especially Hazel's parents, Johannes (John) and Katarina.  The Baron, Georg von Richthofen was also interesting.  Described as a cousin of the flying ace "The Red Baron," Manfred von Richthofen, I was surprised to learn that the latter's uncle and godfather, Walter von Richthofen, actually emigrated to the United States and settled in Denver, building a castle there modeled on the Richthofen castle in Germany (just as Georg did in Dogwood).  The castle was finished in 1887 and still stands today, selling for about 3.5 million in 2012.

In a "Q&A with the Author" in the back of the book, Pamela Schoenewaldt says her castle was based on the Moldenke Castle from her high school years in Watchung, New Jersey, built by a Danish family about 1900 (burned in 1969).  She also says that some of Hazel's background is based on that of Schoenewaldt's German immigrant paternal grandmother.

© Amanda Pape - 2015

[I received this book from the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program.  Plan to hang on to it for a while and re-read it later.]

Saturday, July 25, 2015

492 (2015 #49). Rules of the Game

by Lori Wilde,
read by C. J. Critt

This book is the second in romance writer Lori Wilde's Stardust, Texas, series.  Stardust is of course a fictional town, located "two and a half hours" east of Dallas (page 4) and "thirty miles" southwest of Jefferson (page 111).  Although the distances aren't quite right, I like to think it's modeled on Gladewater, the "Antique Capital of East Texas."  Heroine Jodi Carlyle's adoptive parents own an antique store, and she runs Boxcars and Breakfast (a B&B made out of train cars), which sounds like the kind of place you might find in Gladewater.

Once again, Wilde has woven a number of romance tropes (which I've italicized) into this story.  Jodi is a New Years Day jilted bride, and her therapist recommends crashing a wedding one year later, which is also a couple days after she turns 30. (Thus the epigraphs at the beginning of each chapter that start out "Jodi Carlyle's Wedding Crasher Rules.")  At the high-profile wedding in Dallas, she nearly gets kicked out, but is saved by widower athlete Jake Coronado.  Jodi uses a bit of disguise or mistaken identity by not telling him her real name, but decides a one-night fling with him would be good therapy too.  Hot sex ensues.

Naturally they run into each other again in Stardust - turns out Jake is the last-minute best man for Jodi's sister's intended! (The romance of Jodi's sister Breeanne Carlyle and Jake's Dallas Gunslingers baseball team manager Rowdy Blanton is the subject of the first book in the series, Back in the Game.  Jodi and Breeanne have two more sisters, also adoptees, and Wilde typically has four books as the core of each of her small-town Texas series.  It's not necessary to have read the first book to enjoy this one, though.)

Jake and Jodi will be seeing a lot of each other since Jodi is the maid of honor for the Valentine's Day wedding.  Of course, they both have scars to deal with before they can live happily ever after.

I enjoyed this somewhat-predictable story because Lori Wilde is a master of setting and description.  I started out listening to the audio version performed by actress C. J. Critt.  Her reading was fine, and I enjoyed her giving characters appropriate Texas accents.  However, it was a bit slow, and given that I need to read 24 books in the same period of time where I've only been able to read just 10-14 in the past, I switched to the e-book when it became available at one of my libraries.

© Amanda Pape - 2015

[The audiobook and e-book were borrowed from and returned to local public libraries.]

Hood County Library 2015 Summer Reading Challenge Book #4 - Your Choice of Nonfiction

Dead Wake by Erik Larson, audiobook read by Scott Brick.

This is the fifth of Erik Larson's narrative nonfiction about historical subjects - I've read them all, they're all bestsellers.

I received a copy of the audiobook as a gift from BOT (Books on Tape) at the Texas Library Association conference in April 2015, and finally got around to listening to it.  I also borrowed a print copy from the Hood County Library.

My review is here.

© Amanda Pape - 2015

Friday, July 24, 2015

Hood County Library 2015 Summer Reading Challenge Book #3 - Set Somewhere You've Always Wanted to Visit

I Am Livia by Phyllis T. Smith.

Set in (Ancient) Rome - I've never been anywhere in Italy.

This was an e-book I obtained over a year ago through Amazon's Kindle First program.

Review is here.

© Amanda Pape - 2015

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Hood County Library 2015 Summer Reading Challenge Book #2 - Recommended by a Friend

Under the Same Blue Sky by Pamela Schoenewaldt

This category is kind of tricky, as usually I'm the one recommending books to others.  However, the blurb on the cover of this book is by Ann Weisgarber, who wrote the historical fiction The Promise and who I have befriended and met in person at the Texas Library Association conference back in April in Austin.  I respect Ann's opinion, especially when it comes to my favorite genre, historical fiction.  She says of this book:

"Absorbing and layered...a tender and, at times, heartbreaking story about German Americans during World War I. With remarkable compassion, the author skillfully portrays conflicted loyalties, the search for belonging, the cruelty of war, and the resilience of the human spirit. "

Review is here.

© Amanda Pape - 2015

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Hood County Library 2015 Summer Reading Challenge Book #1 - Local Author

Rules of the Game by Lori Wilde, who lives just north of my town.

Finished July 22, 2015

Review is here.

Below is a photo of Lori Wilde with her editor Lucia Macro of Morrow/Avon Books at a meet-and-greet during the Twilight Texas weekend in Granbury in December 2014.

© Amanda Pape - 2015

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Hood County Library 2015 Summer Reading Challenge!

Going to participate in this!  Whenever possible, I'm going to try to use books available from the Hood County Library, in either print, audio, or e-book format.  Stay tuned for more!
© Amanda Pape - 2015

Thursday, July 16, 2015

489-491 (2015 #46-48). Three Christian Fiction Picture Books

To be fair and balanced - here are three picture books from my local public library with the subject heading of "Christian fiction."

God Gave Us You, by Lisa Tawn Bergren, is the first of a series of "God Gave Us..." books featuring a family of polar bears.  It provides a way to answer the "where did I come from" question of a very young child with a God-centered answer.  Illustrator Laura J. Bryant used watercolors to produce her soft yet color-filled images.
Just in Case You Ever Wonder is by San Antonio minister Max Lucado.  In it, a parent tells a child how special she is, both to the parent and to God.  I wasn't particularly impressed with the style of illustrations by Toni Goffe.  However, this book won the Gold Medallion Award (now the Christian Book Award) "in recognition of excellence in evangelical Christian literature presented by ECPA" - the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association.

The book I liked best was Making Memories, by Janette Oke, a well-known writer of Christian fiction.  A grandfather answers his grandson's question about making memories by giving examples using four of five senses (sight, smell, sound, and touch - although it would have been easy enough to add taste).  This one is a bit heavy on text, but that is offset by the gorgeous glowing illustrations by Cheri Bladholm (who, sadly, does not seem to have a website).

Unfortunately this book is out of print and I could not get a good cover image (just the small one at left), but above is one of the illustrations from inside the book. The lovely farm settings were inspired by Bladholm's home in upstate New York.

© Amanda Pape - 2015

[These books were borrowed from and returned to my local public library.]

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

487-488 (2015 #44-45). Two Picture Books About Acceptance

Recently - I'm ashamed to say - so-called "Christians" in my community called for two books to be pulled from the children's section of our local public library.  It's a long story, and ultimately they lost, but it will probably have long-term repercussions on the collection development policy.

The reason?  These two books are about acceptance and tolerance - but of the LGBT community and young boys who like to dress up.  Coming right after the Supreme Court decision on same sex marriage didn't help this controversy.

I'd already ordered one of the books for my university library because it won an award earlier this year, but I ordered the other with the last bit of funding I had for the year.  Here are my brief reviews of each.

My Princess Boy, written by Cheryl Kilodavis, is subtitled "a mom's story about a young boy who loves to dress up" -- in this case, her four-year-old son.  The narrative is a bit pedantic, but there's an important message about compassion and tolerance. Suzanne DeSimone's illustrations are notable for the lack of features on the faces.  I like to think that is so the reader or listener can imagine anyone's and everyone's faces on the characters - further promoting acceptance of others and one's own uniqueness.
This Day in June, written by Gayle E. Pitman, Ph.D., a professor of psychology, won the 2015 Stonewall Book Award - Mike Morgan & Larry Romans Children’s & Young Adult Literature Award, given annually to "English-language works of exceptional merit for children or teens relating to the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender experience.'
This was the first time in the award's 44-year-history that a picture book won (or was even named an honor book).

The book portrays the sights, sounds, and emotions of a colorful gay pride parade with short rhyming text and intricate illustrations by Kristyna Litten.  Young children who look at this book will see a fun parade; older children and parents will see some of the subtler messages in the shirts and signs of parade participants and watchers (the latter generally rendered in simple outlines and pastels).  Pitman also included an interesting four-page reading guide that provides more background for the images in each of the double-page-spread illustrations, as well as a four-page "note to parents and caregivers" with ideas on using the book and talking to children of various ages about the issues it might bring up.  I would definitely recommend this book.

© Amanda Pape - 2015

[These books were borrowed from and returned to my university library's collection.]

Sunday, July 12, 2015

486 (2015 #43). The Martian

by Andy Weir

I was a little leery of this book based on its title (with little green men or some other aliens, I thought) - science fiction fantasy is NOT my thing.

Instead, this book is old-fashioned pure science fiction, and rather credible at that.  Mark Watney, an engineer and botanist, has been accidentally left behind on Mars when his crewmates think he is dead.  Told mainly by Watney through log entries, he has to overcome one crisis after another in order to survive - and hopefully be rescued.

I rather liked it, even though I didn't always understand the science or math behind it.  It was enough for me for it to SEEM believable.  You could predict what was going to happen in the end, but the journey getting there is pretty interesting.

Mark is a likable character with quite a sense of humor, and the story is often funny.  Sometimes the humor falls flat, though, as if Mark is trying too hard.  Also, I found it puzzling that someone facing possible death all alone on another planet wouldn't have been a bit more introspective at times.

Minor characters include his crewmates from his Martian voyage, and members of NASA and other agencies back on Earth who are trying to get him home.  None of these are very well-developed, but that didn't really lessen my (surprisingly) enjoyment of this thrilling book.

Andy Weir originally self-published the story as an e-book, but it generated enough interest that a major publisher brought it out in print.  A movie is supposedly being made of the book.

© Amanda Pape - 2015

[This book was borrowed from and returned to my local public library.]

Saturday, July 11, 2015

485 (2015 #42). Fur, Fins, and Feathers

story and pictures by Cassandre Maxwell

Subtitled "Abraham Dee Bartlett and the Invention of the Modern Zoo," that's exactly what this picture book biography is about.  Author/illustrator Cassandre Maxwell's mixed media and cut paper collage illustrations have a three-dimensional, old-timey feel to them fitting for the 1800s setting.  With the topics of zoos and animals (including Jumbo the elephant, the source for the word jumbo in the English language), this book should appeal to many ages, from a read-aloud for younger children (and their parents) to an engrossing biography for older youth.

© Amanda Pape - 2015

[I received an advance reader edition through the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program. I'll be purchasing it for my university library.]