Archive for February, 2015


Unlikely Warrior

Unlikely Warrior: A Jewish Soldier in Hitler’s Army by Georg Rauch

Published: Feb 24, 2015

Austrian George Rauch was a fascinating man. He was drafted into Hitler’s army in 1944 at age seventeen, despite being one-quarter Jewish (his maternal grandmother was Jewish). He is immediately sent to the Russian or Eastern Front as a telegraphist, part of the communication department of the infantry. He manages to survive till the end of the war, despite many close shaves, only to be taken to a Russian POW camp at the end of the war. He manages to survive that and makes it home to his sister and mother. He never talks about his wartime experiences until the 1980s, while living Mexico, when he suddenly decides to write down his experiences in German to his wife, who translated the book into English. The book is told through a series of letters from Georg to his mother, with the author filling in missing parts of the story himself in-between letters.

When I first saw this book, I really wanted to read it. There are hardly any books on World War II, at least that I’ve found, on the subject of the war from the viewpoint of someone on the German side. You always hear from the Allies, so to get a book taken from the honest viewpoint a part-Jewish teenager, plus one whose parents not only disagreed with Hitler’s government but was also actively hiding Jews, is pretty intriguing. The book got a bit dense with all the battles, how the supplies were dwindling, as well as the hygiene problems of the soldiers of being without baths for long periods of time. But overall I enjoyed it. George was a very likable character. He was a smart teenager who built his own radios and a Morse code machine before he became a soldier and his ability to come up with fantastic food from scavenged materials while at the front (or near it at least) was fascinating. After returning to Austria after the war, he manages to find his family and ends up traveling the world before settling in Mexico and becoming an artist.

Disclaimer: I received this advanced reader’s copy from the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for my honest review.

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Feb 2015 Book Reviews

I honestly have not read much this month as I keep starting and stopping books after I get bored or don’t like the book. But I have mostly caught up with the majority of my previous reviews from 2014 and Jan 2015, just a bit behind on this month’s reviews, but overall I’m pretty happy with that. I’ve managed to read 50 books so far this year. Right now I am listening to the very hilarious and bawdy Shakespeare re-telling of King Lear by Christopher Moore, entitled Fool. The book does have a bit of Macbeth and Hamlet thrown in for good measure as well. I might try his brand new book about the same character named Pocket, though the new book (The Serpent of Venice) is a re-telling of Othello and The Merchant of Venice with a bit of Edgar Allan Poe’s The Cask of the Amontillado. I have heard very mixed reviews on it so far. With Fool, I actually had to wait until I could laugh properly again (without having a coughing fit because of the bronchitis I just got over). I had tried listening to Eoin Colfer’s book The Reluctant Assassin (W.A.R.P. #1), which has been on my to-read list forever, but I just couldn’t get into it (which really sucks because I loved all of his Artemis Fowl books). So that will be going back in my donated books pile. I’m about to finish up a Children’s Advanced Reader’s copy (ARC for short) mystery book entitled The Case of the Cursed Dodo, by Jake G. Panda. I’m super psyched because I finally got approval to read Prudence (The Custard Protocol #1) by Gail Carriger, the newest book and the first in the series about Alexia Maccon’s (from her Parasol Protectorate series, which I adore) daughter. I’m actually pretty good until probably the end of March set up with sounds-really-interesting ARCs. Fingers crossed that they are.

On to the book reviews. As usual I rate books on a scale of 1 – 5 stars, with one being the lowest and five the highest. I will add illustrations from picture books that I particularly liked.

Children

Hooray for Hat! written and illustrated by Brian Won

Hooray for Hat

I loved the illustrations, though the concept was a little too simplistic for my taste. Basically, Elephant wakes up grumpy and is so for the day until a surprise package arrives at his door with 6 hats inside. He puts all of them on at once and feels better. Hooray for hat! he says. Then he goes around distributing the unique hats to his grumpy friends until they are all happy. Recommended for ages 2-6, 3 stars.

Dancing with Dinosaurs written by Jane Clarke, illustrated by Lee Wildish

I picked this up as a possibility to read for my Toddler Dance Storytime, but it was really bad. The premise is the whole book is a dance contest with all sorts of dinosaurs, which is okay, until the judges start disappearing and the host is eating everyone, contestants and judges. Plus the rhyming just wasn’t funny. Recommended for ages 2-6, 1 star.

Found written and illustrated by Salina Yoon

Found

My son really likes this book and it has been a frequent repeat read lately. Bear finds a floppy bunny toy in the woods and wants to keep it, but feels it probably has a family somewhere. So he puts up “Found” flyers all over the forest but no one is claiming the bunny. Bear has fallen in love with it and spends his whole day playing with it until it is seen by Moose. Bear very reluctantly gives it back, but is pleasantly surprised when Moose gives it back, saying “special toys should be passed along for others to enjoy”. Bear goes home happy with his new toy. For those who like this author/illustrator’s work, you will notice a profusion of pinecones and an occasional penguin in this book (which refers to her other Penguin books). This would be a great book for a toy storytime. Recommended for ages 2-6, 3 stars.

Baby Bear’s Big Dreams written by Jane Yolen, illustrated by Melissa Sweet

Baby Bears Big Dreams

I found this book when I was getting ready for my Toddler Bear Storytime and just had to read it aloud. It is an adorable book about growing up, or at least what a small bear believes happens when you grow up and outlines all the things he will do. He’s going to bed late, not picking up his toys because he’s going to play all the time, living in a treehouse surrounded by honey and berries and writing his “grown up” poem. Recommended for ages 2-6, 3 stars.

If I Had a Dragon written and illustrated by Tom Ellerly

Morton does not like playing with his little baby brother, until he imagines him as a dragon. Only every time he imagines trying to play something with his dragon, it doesn’t quite work out. Morton discovers that maybe a brother isn’t so bad after all. Recommended for ages 2-6, 3 stars.

Hug Machine written and illustrated by Scott Campbell

hug+machine+spread

Me and my son thought this book was funny. The little boy on the cover is the Hug Machine. He hugs anyone and everything, from his family to dogs to blue post boxes. He refuels on pizza. He does it all day and almost never gets tired. This is a cute book to read with your little hug machine, and you will definitely get a lot reading it. Recommended for ages 3-6, 4 stars.

Dinosaur Rescue! written and illustrated by Peggy Dale

Dinosaur Rescue

Another awesome book from Penny Dale, which of course my son loved, this one is all about rescue vehicles. A group of dinosaurs in a pickup truck have broken down on the train tracks. They call Dinosaur Rescue to help them. The police car tells the Engineer Dinosaur that there is a truck on the tracks up ahead and he needs to stop. Once the train finally does stop (just in time!), there is a fire truck to help put out the pickup fire, an ambulance to make sure they are okay and a helicopter helping to monitor the scene. At the end of the day, the rescue dinosaurs go back to their compound to rest and relax. Recommended for ages 3-6, 4 stars.

Read It, Don’t Eat It! written and illustrated by Ian Schoenherr

readitdonteatit_cover

I enjoyed this cute rhyming book, which told kids about how to handle books and going to the library, though some of the terminology needed to be explained further. Book discussions are always good though, and this book got my son thinking about right and wrong, which is always a good thing. Promoting the library is always something I try to do, not only as an employee, but as a parent and lover of libraries. The illustrations were adorable, and my favorite was the one with the sweatered bunny in the magic hat with a wand and the phrase “Rips and tears won’t magically heal”. Recommended for ages 3-6, 3 stars.

A Library Book for Bear written by Bonny Becker, illustrated by Kady MacDonald Denton

Bear does not want to go the library and thinks he has all the books he could ever want at home, all seven of them. His friend Mouse convinces him to go, but he is determined not to like it. He only wants to pick books at the library on pickles, honeybees and kings and queens. That is, until he overhears a storytime told by the librarian and is enraptured by it. Soon he is changing his tune and checking out all kinds of books. This book would be great for a preschool storytime about the library and how to behave at one. Apparently this book is the sixth in a series on Bear and Mouse. Recommended for ages 3-7, 4 stars.

Speed written and illustrated by Nathan Clement

I probably would’ve liked this book more if the copy we borrowed from the library wasn’t completely torn up and I didn’t want to get charged for it. My son loved it, as it is all about stock car racing. It plays out pretty much just like a Nascar race, or in the case of my son, the movie Cars. The stock cars are lined up behind the pace car to start, then roar around the track, racing each other and even crashing. Recommended for ages 3-7, 3 stars.

Annie Hoot and the Knitting Extravaganza written and illustrated by Holly Clifton-Brown

Annie Hoot

Annie Hoot loves to knit, especially for other birds. Her friends don’t appreciate her gifts though, so she travels around the world knitting for other birds and animals. Eventually she decides to come home where her friends had missed her and her knitting and finally agreed to be taught how to knit themselves. Recommended for ages 4-7, 3 stars.

Ok, first off, I love books about owls and especially children’s books that add crocheting or knitting to the story. The distance between the different animal habitats was totally off, but I’m guessing the author made them closer to move the story along. Also, penguins and polar bears do live on opposite ends of the Earth, but are two animals that kids can identify so that’s why they’re in the story together (I’m guessing). And of course there’s the whole how can knitted vessels fly and float question. Aside from all that, I thought it was a cute rather imaginative story.

Hansel & Diesel written and illustrated by David Gordon

This was a bit of an odd adaptation of the Hansel and Gretel story, with two trucks named Hansel and Diesel. They are out of fuel and stumble into the junkyard surrounding their house. Soon they are lured to a gas stop by the Wicked Winch who nearly captures them, until they are saved at the last minute by their parents who get rid of the Winch and set up shop at the gas station. Recommended for ages 4-7, 3 stars.

Maude: The-Not-So-Noticeable Shrimpton written by Lauren Child, illustrated by Trisha Krauss

All of the Shrimptons go out of their way to be noticed, whether it is with a outrageous hat, facial hair, or sense of humor. Maude is completely different. She goes out of her way to blend in, literally, to the furniture. She asks for a goldfish for her birthday, but her mother thinks that is too bland and gets her a pet tiger instead. This immediately causes chaos and everyone gets eaten except the girl who can blend in. This was a weird and kind of morbid, almost an Edward Gorey-like story. Recommended for ages 5-9, 2 stars.

Young Adult

Silverwood (Silverwood, Book 1) by Betsey Streeter

Adult

Did She Kill Him?: A Victorian Tale of Deception, Adultery, and Arsenic by Kate Colquhoun

Geez, I can’t believe it took me three weeks to read this book! Part of the reason was because the book rather dragged in the beginning as it was setting up the story before the trial. I was completely absorbed in reading about the last part of the story about the trial and its outcome. I especially enjoyed the debates for and against Florence because of her gender, outward sexuality, the feminist movement she unwittingly became part of and the changing attitudes of women in regards to marriage and family during the late Victorian era.

The book is the story of Florence Maybrick and her marriage to the significantly older Liverpudlian cotton merchant James Maybrick, and his subsequent murder trial. Death by arsenic poisoning is what she was convicted of, although they never actually proved that and really what she was being punished for was her adulterous affair with another man. The all-male jury and biased (possibly mentally deficient) judge, in addition to the inability to testify on her behalf (something that apparently wasn’t allowed in court until after her trial), in my opinion, contributed to her guilty verdict. Was she guilty of murder? I don’t think so, as the author clearly outlined James Maybrick’s addiction to poisons such as arsenic and strychnine, which were prescribed for everything in those days as they were thought beneficial to one’s health. Read the book and decide for yourself whether she was guilty or not. 4 stars.

The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery, narrated by Barbara Rosenblat and Cassandra Morris

Renee is a 54 year old concierge of a very ritzy apartment building in Paris. She maintains the aura of simple mindedness and routine that people in her profession are supposed to exhibit, but in private she is really quite brilliant. Despite only going to school till age 12 (as was common in her rural agricultural village), she has a passionate love of books, especially Russian literature. Paloma is a genius 12 year old that lives in Renee’s building. Her family is full of stupid Socialist-leaning individuals and she has decided that enough is enough. If she doesn’t find something worth living for, she will kill herself and set her apartment on fire. In the meanwhile, she has these two journals of profound thoughts that she daily adds to. One of the long-term residents has died and the family sold his apartment to a mysterious Japanese gentleman named Kakuro Ozu. Renee accidently befriends Mr. Ozu. He in term befriends Paloma, who are both convinced that Renee has “the elegance of the hedgehog”, i.e. one that is not expected but you see touches of it in unusual ways. Will Renee be able to let herself truly be friends with Mr. Ozu? To find out, read this book. 3 stars.

This was a pretty pretentious book. I would consider myself pretty educated but discussing philosophy is something I have just never been able to wrap my head around. And there was a lot of it in the beginning of the book, almost enough to put me off. However, thanks to Barbara Rosenblat’s excellent narration (really I think I would listen to her read anything, she’s that good), I decided to keep listening to the story. I rather enjoyed the middle and up to the very end of it, but not the ending (though I can see why the author ended it like she did). Renee was my favorite character, although I liked Kakuro as well. The whole scene with the bathroom toilet and the Mozart Requiem was so hilarious, and definitely my favorite one in the book. The book was all about class warfare, philosophy, beauty, life and death, and other complex material. All in all an interesting read.

Silverwood

Silverwood

Silverwood (Silverwood, Book 1) by Betsy Streeter

To be published: March 11, 2015

 

Fourteen-year-old Helen realizes that she is not normal. For one, she’s moved so many times since she was a baby she can’t keep track anymore. Secondly, she can hack literally anything and turn it into something useful. Also her mother is definitely lying about her real job and her little brother Henry can predict the future in drawings. Oh yeah, and there is her father who has been missing since she was four but they occasionally hear from with vague garbled phone calls. She is about to figure out the truth really quickly though, through a series of events out of her control. Her family, the Silverwoods have been protecting the earth forever from the Tromindox, a shape-shifting race of creatures that consume humans and subsist on their brain waves. Suddenly they are moving again, to the small town of Brokeneck, California and things are about to come to a head. Will the entire Silverwood clan be able to find each other and figure out just what the Tromindox are really planning? To find out, read the great first book of this series. Recommended for ages 13+,  4 stars.

The author has obviously had this story brewing for a long time, as evidence by her storyline comics on Slideshare and the collection of images on her Pinterest board. I was a little lost in the beginning of the book with all the jumping back and forth between characters (Helen, her father Gabriel, her mother Kate, the Chairman, and the Tromindox) and timelines (past and future), but eventually got the hang of it. In my head, the Tromindox reminded me of a rage demon from the video game Dragon Age, but that looked more inky black with tentacles. The author gave you tantilizing glimpses into the Silverwood family’s past without telling you the whole story, so you had to keep reading to find out. And the ending, wow it was good! Now I am very curious to read the second book in the series, which is supposed to come out next year.

Disclaimer: I received this advanced reader’s copy from the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for my honest review.

I need a vacation from being ill

My last couple of weeks have been fairly eventful and have prevented me from working my regular work schedule, which sucks because I need all the hours I can get. Last week I was got viral conjunctivitis (pink eye) and was quickly followed by a bad case of bronchitis this week. Therefore I have not gotten very much sleep for the past 2 weeks and being sick and stressed out is no fun. It did, weirdly enough, inspire me to write some poetry. It’s probably not my best work, but it made me feel a little better at the time.

Bronchitis

I hate all this coughing,
it makes my head throb
like it will explode
from all the pressure inside.
Then there’s the several minutes,
or so it seems,
later before I can finally get my breath back.
It’s like having a panic attack,
and I have force myself to breathe slower.
Afterwards,
it feels like the elephant in the room
is sitting on my chest
squeezing all of the air out of me.

 

My lower back and ribs
feel as though
I have been stuck in a corset all day,
and not one I am wearing for kicks.
Then of course there’s the block of mucus
that has camped between my sinuses
and my lungs,
refusing to budge,
which is of course
the reason why I can’t stop coughing.
I also have the death rattle,
which sounds almost like
the a needle on a record player
before and after a song ends,
all scratchy and alone.

For some reason,
the coughing is worse at home.
Maybe it’s because my husband
has the same affliction.
Maybe it’s because
Misery loves company,
or because my body knows
I’m trying to go to sleep soon
and it wants to give me the finger again –
the way it does every time I sneeze or cough,
and my bladder is suddenly doing its impression
of Victoria Falls.
Buggery, Buggery, Buggery.
This is the second year in a row
that I’ve gotten this.
Maybe I should’ve sprung for the Albuterol after all,
least then I would have been able to breathe properly.

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