Category Archives: Nonfiction

Sin in the Second City (Karren Abbott) – Review

Sin in the Second City : madams, ministers, playboys, and the battle for America's soulSin in the Second City: Madams, Ministers, Playboys, and the Battle for America’s Soul by Karen Abbott
Age: Adult
Genre: History
Publisher: Random House, 2007
ISBN 9780812975994
343 pages

Back Cover Synopsis

Step into the perfumed parlors of Chicago’s Everleigh Club, the most famous brothel in American history — and the catalyst for a culture war that rocked the nation.

The Everleigh Sister, Ada and Minna, tried to elevate the brothel culture in the early 1900’s Chicago by making sure their girls were treated with respect, fed gourmet food and listened to literary lectures on a regular basis. Despite their attempts, the progressive era reformers wanted to take down all brothels in Chicago and eventually in the nation. Stating claims of “white slavery” reformers were able to enact laws of Congress to bolster their actions.

I found this historical narrative to be incredibly mesmerizing and well written. Abbott states in the introduction that any and all dialogue is taken directly from transcripts and there are a number of footnotes to back-up her claims. The book is well researched and is really an interesting look into American history, particularly the sordid history of Chicago. It was in this Levee district where Alphonse Capone first stepped into a career of thuggery and crime.

One note of criticism is that it seemed like Abbott painted the Everleigh sisters in a highly glamorized light while other brothel keepers, as well as the reformers were represented as cruel and prudish. I was hoping for a more balanced look on history, but I can see how Abbott would develop a fondness for the Everleigh sisters given their formidable personalities and propensities for the outlandish and over-the-top exaggerations and embellishments of their life stories. Nonetheless, I highly recommend this book.

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Book 41 of 2011

 

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Fog City Mavericks – Movie Review

Fog City Mavericks – Directed by Gary Leva
Genre: Documentary
119 Minutes

Fog City mavericks : the filmmakers of San Francisco

Although San Francisco isn’t usually the first city to pop-up when it comes to major movie players, it has played an incredibly powerful role in the start and progress of cinema.

Fog City Mavericks is definitely a must-see documentary on Bay Area cinema and celebrities. The film starts with a brief introduction of the start of cinema by a Eadweard Muybridge based on a challenge by Leland Stanford (founder of Stanford University). Leland and a friend wanted to know if at any point in time, a racehorse had all four legs up in the air. From this challenge, Muybridge created what can be considered the first film.

Through a series of interviews centered around George Lucas and Francis Ford Coppola, we learn about various directors, actors and creators of independent cinematic films that have reached high levels of success and have helped shape the movie industry. While the majority of the documentary focuses on Coppola and Lucas, we do learn about Sofia Coppola’s contribution to cinema, Chris Columbus, Clint Eastwood, John Lassister (best known for Pixar) Steve Jobs’ involvement with Pixar, and Saul Zaentz.

The documentary includes clips of iconic American films such as: American Graffiti, the Star Wars film series, the Indiana Jones film series, The Godfather trilogy, Apocalypse Now, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Amadeus, Toy Story, The Incredibles, Lost in Translation, Flags of Our Fathers and many others.

The documentary also includes interviews with those who have worked with the Bay Area mavericks: Steven Spielberg, Michael Douglas, Anthony Minghella, Milos Forman and Robin Williams. I am sad to say that there was no mention of Alfred Hitchcock in this documentary. Many of his films are based in San Francisco and the surrounding Bay Area, Vertigo, being perhaps one of the more famous of the films.

Who knew that Francis Ford Coppola owned the Centinnal Building for his American Zeotrope Production company? I didn’t. I didn’t know that Chris Columbus, although raised in Ohio, came to San Francisco to start his career. The film offers a unique look at the history of San Francisco and its bohemian culture and acceptance for the off-beat, anti-mainstream, and the fostering of individual creativity.

I would also recommend watching The Pixar Story to learn about Pixar productions headquartered in Emeryville, CA.

Parisians (Graham Robb) – Review

Parisians : an adventure history of ParisParisians by Graham Robb
Age: Adult
Genre: History
Publisher: W.W. Norton, 2010
ISBN 9780393339734
462 pages

This is the Paris you never knew. From the revolution to the present, Graham Robb has distilled a series of astonishing true narratives, all stranger than fiction, of the lives of the great, the near-great, and the forgotten.

I’m not really quite sure where to begin with this book. One, I picked this book almost entirely based on its cover, and the title of course. This is the last book I read for Paris in July, although I only finished it last week. I picked up the book because of the cover, but once I read the first couple of pages, the prologue explaining why and how Robb first ended up in Paris, I was hooked.

Robb is an incredibly gifted author, able to weave truth with fabricated dialogue and imagined scenarios of things that might have been. His work is well researched and many of the people and subjects he covers in this book would not be easily found elsewhere.

The chapters that stuck out particularly to me was the tale of Marie Antoinette, wandering lost through the city with a guard too naive or too scared to inform his queen that she took a wrong turn. There was also the haunting chapter of Hitler’s occupation of France, of his wandering the streets of a city whose map he memorized, and knew inside and out.  Although the chapters can be read on their own, they are placed in chronological covering hundreds of years of Parisian history. This is the type of book that requires either a really carefully concentrated first reading, or continual rereadings. Each chapter is packed with details, description, dates, facts and figures. I made a number of notes of people and places to look into for further research, movies to watch and philosopher and political movements to explore.  Some chapters were hard to keep track of, some were boring and I’ll admit I skimmed the last chapter because I just wanted to finish the book. My head was swimming with Parisian facts that I couldn’t quite visualize because I wasn’t in the city, walking along the canals or looking at the buildings that Haussman constructed.

Graham Robb is somewhat of an expert on France and French history. He has written a number of books or so on the subject: Balzac; Victor Hugo, Rimbaud, Strangers, The Discovery of France. With his wonderful ability of connecting the reader to the character, no matter how minor, I’m sure the rest of his books are just as descriptive, entertaining and unique as Parisians.

 Victor Hugo by Graham Robb Rimbaud by Graham Robb Strangers : homosexual love in the nineteenth... by Graham Robb The discovery of France : a historical geography... by Graham Robb

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Book 37 of 2011

Reading with the Stars (Leonard Kniffel) – Review

Reading with the stars : why they love librariesReading with the Stars: A Celebration of Books and Libraries by Leonard Kniffel
Age: Kids +
Genre: Nonfiction/Reading & Libraries
Source: SkyHorse Publishing
ISBN: 9781616082772
158 pages

Leonard Kniffel, former editor in chief of American Libraries, the national publication of the American Library Association, brings us a collection of interviews, essays, and speech transcripts from celebrated figures of American pop culture, politics, sports and media. Each chapter is devoted a different celebrity: Cokie Roberts, Garrison Keilor, Ken Burns, Laura Bush, Ralph Nader, Ron Reagan, Jamie Lee Curtis, David Mamet, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Julie Andrews, Bill Gates, Al Gore, Oprah Winfrey, and Barack Obama.

This book arrives at an opportune time as libraries are facing some of the worst and severe budget cuts across the nation. This collection, heralding the value of literacy, books and libraries as an integral part of everyday life. Each chapter offers a list of books read by the celebrity, a list of books written by that celebrity, and a quote highlighting the theme of that chapter. This book is a great for libraries, and will be a great inspiration for kids who look up to these celebrities and want to emulate them. It is a quick read, great for bibliophiles. Although each chapter has a different story for how literacy helped change a life, the book is  probably better read in portions since the I Love Books/Libraries theme can get repetitive after a few chapters.

Book 31 of 2011

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13 Rue Therese – Review

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13 Rue Therese by Elena Mauli Shapiro
Age: Adult
Genre: Historical Fiction
Location: Paris
Publisher: Little, Brown & Co.
ISBN: 9780316083287
278 pages
Source: Public Library

Back cover synopsis:

Trever Stratton is an American professor and translator, newly arrived at a Paris University. There, in his office, he discovers a box filled with letters, photographs, and antique objects – a beautiful pair of gloves, a rosary, a silk scarf. Whose life is preserved here? And who has left this mystery for him to find?

I have seen glowing reviews of this book scattered around the blogosphere for a while now. Luckily, the reviews that I did read did not give away anything of the plot which left me pleasantly surprised with how the story of this mysterious box unfurled in Trevor Stratton’s life. Elena Mauli Shapiro did an excellent job of weaving in two parallel stories and bringing them together in the end. The first story is of Trevor Stratton and his discovery and subsequent analysis of all contents of the box. The second story is of Louis Brunet and of her life in Paris in 1928.

I found Trevor to be a really amusing character, especially with his struggles in translating the French documents and his constant fevers and colds clouding his judgement and perception of reality. Louis Brunet is a full-bodied and complex woman. Lusty, frustrated, intelligent and witty, full of energy with no real outlet. Even her worst transgressions didn’t bother me, I wanted to know more about her life and her story.

What I really didn’t expect was to find out that the author, born and raised in Paris, actually came into possession of a box of trinkets by the real life Louis Brunet. I didn’t realize this until after I had finished the book and read the author’s biography blurb. This book is based entirely on objects that are real and dear to the author’s heart. I think its amazing that she was able to craft such a wonderful story based on a real person that she knew so little about.

Book 24 of 2011

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13 Rue Thérèse : a novel
 
 

Paris in July – Learn the language resources

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https://i0.wp.com/www.toptenreviews.com/i/rev/site/cms/category_headers/400-h_main.pngThis summer, I hope you have signed up to participate in the Paris in July celebration hosted by Book Bath and Thyme for Tea. This is a month to celebrate anything and everything French; French food, French movies, French books and, for today, the French language.

There are a number of ways to study and treasure the French language. If you are like me, and unable to actually take proper French courses at a community college or University, do not fear. There are a number of free online language learning websites in addition to audio-cds and kits.

These are a few of my favorites (I have worked on all of these sites, and they have been very beneficial, although I don’t recommend using them all at the same time!)

Live Mocha –

This is like a free version of Rosetta Stone. With a combination of photos and words, you can learn the very basics of the language. Each lesson has a listening, speaking, writing, and matching segment for 20 slides. You learn the same 20 words with each of the different methods listed above. By the end of the lesson, you will be able to recognize that word based on how its written, pronunciation, and have an image association. If you have a special computer, you can record yourself speaking and other students will evaluate your pronunciation. The same goes for the writing portion, where others will evaluate your grammar and sentence structure.

Mango –

This is a database that is offered for free through most library services. Check with your local library to see if they have subscribed to this service. If they haven’t, go in and demand for it!

Mango is a way to learn a language on your own time at your own pace. There are a number of lessons provided with visually appealing graphics and slides. There is a narrator at all times to walk you through different conversations, vocabulary and pronunciation.

BBC – Steps language programs

The BBC is not only a valuable news resource, it also has an area devoted solely to the education of European languages. Through their Steps program, you will be walked through a 12-week course of the language of your choice. If you don’t want to sign-up for the weekly schedule, you can access all the worksheets and lesson plans for free online. The site provides videos of different events and conversations, as well as a print transcript of all conversations. If you sign-up for the 12 week program, you will get a nifty completion certificate from the BBC.

Also don’t forget to check out the Pimsleur and Berlitz audio-cds that you can listen on your iPod or in your car. These along, with various workbooks, you can find at your local library.

Gilmore Girls and the Politics of Identity – Review

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Gilmore Girls and the Politics of Identity edited by Ritch Calvin
Age: Adult
Genre: Non-fiction/Essays
McFarland, 2008
ISBN 9780786437276
221 pages

Back cover synopsis:

This work examines Gilmore Girls from a post-feminist perspective, evaluating how the show’s main female characters and supporting cast fit inot the classic portrayal of feminine identity on popular television.

As an avid Gilmore Girls fan, I recently splurged and bought all 7 seasons of the show because of the massive sale on Amazon. As it is I watch the show on a regular basi on the WB.com, but I love the special features, behind the scenes and the little booklets that come with DVD set acting as an encyclopedia for all the political, musical, pop culture and literary references distributed through the fast-paced dialogue.

This book I found particularly interesting because of the post-feminist slant and the thorough examination of the characters and plotlines. Topics ranged the Utopia that is Stars Hollow, to the faux-feminism represented by Rory Gilmore’s relationships, the mother-daughter relationships, the role of food, the role of music and the theme of single motherhood as portrayed on TV.

Gilmore girls and the politics of identity : essays on family and feminism in the television seriesEach essay was well researched (although a few could have used extra editing as some sentences did not make much sense.) Since I have been voraciously watching the show, I recognized every single episode and scene referenced throughout the book, although at times the facts as written in the essay were different than what I had witnessed on the show. Although the book was engaging, having read it all once made the essays repetitive. Most of the essayist used the same scenes and the same quotes in their examples. There wasn’t much variation in theme or points of view. It is pretty unanimous that Lorelei is the masculine, feminist who scares away the men in her life and paved the way for overly feminine Rory to demur from responsibility and instead hide behind the men in her life.

Having read this collection, I doubt I’ll be able to watch the show with the same naive enjoyment as I have in the past. I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing. Amy Shermin-Palladino is an incredibly smart and creative lady. She knew exactly what she was doing by creating a TV series based on an unwed mother who had a child at the age of 16, a much underrepresented segment of American life and society.

Although there is some talk of social class and the lack of racial diversity on the show, the main focus of the essays remained on Lorelei and Rory, their relationship, their intellect and personalities. The essay that spoke to me the most was titled “Drats! Foiled Again: A Contrast in Definitions” by Anne K. Burke Erikson. Erikson’s theme of the essay was that was the show speaks as the truth is vastly different from the actions and interactions between the characters. Lorelei claims that she and Rory never fight and are the best of friends. Yet throughout the show they are constantly bickering or not speaking to each other after a spat. Also that Rory is the “good girl” even though she is willing to drop Chilton because of Dean, she drops out of Yale, she steals a boat, she flirts with Jess while still in a relationship with Dean, etc. Rory is by no means an angel, but in comparison to her peers, she stands out as exceptional. In comparison to the other characters and other relationships on the show, Lorelei and Rory are isolated on a Utopian island of filial perfection.

Although there was an essay for Paris, for Lane and for Sookie, I still felt as if these characters were not well discussed throughout the course of the essays except to point out the perfection found in Lorelei and Rory. Very little is said of Lorelei’s relationship with Jason (Digger) and it seems as if every essayist was rooting for the Rory and Jess relationship.

When read in portions, this collection of essays is insightful, introspective and offers Gilmore Girl fans another way to attach themselves to the show and become better acquainted with the two quick-witted women that have been the foundation of a TV series that is still garnering fans and popularity no less than 5 years after the series finale.

Book 28 of 2011

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Kabul Beauty School – Review

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Kabul Beauty School by Deborah Rodriguez
Age: Adult
Genre: Memoir
Location: Afghanistan
Random House, 2007
ISBN 9780812976731
283 pages

With nothing more to offer than a desire to help a country of oppressed women and a degree in cosmetology, Deborah Rodriguez divides her time between Michigan and Kabul where she works as a teacher for the Kabul Beauty School. The school offers a resource and opportunity for the women of Afghanistan in a time following the ousting of the Taliban.

This book was both fascinating and annoying. Fascinating because I love reading about Middle Eastern culture, and I dearly loved The Bookseller of Kabul for its intimiate and thoughtful portrayal of life in Afghanistan for both men and women. This book, I felt, was lacking in those key elements. Rodriguez’s level of cultural insensitivity was frustrating throughout the entire book, as was her lack of concern for her missteps. For instance, she discussed men’s hairstyles in Kabul and how one barber dared to rebel against the regime by giving the men haircuts of long lengths. These men would hide their hair under caps so the police would not find out. Once it was uncovered that the barber had been breaking the law by giving men these haircuts, he was promptly sent to jail. Instead of discussing the horrors of a Middle Eastern jail and the injustice of being thrown in jail for such a seemingly trivial offense, Rodriguez ended the story with a quip “He was a true prisoner of fashion!” It left a very sour taste in my mouth at her brush-off of this event, and I have to admit, it left me biased and critical towards the rest of her stories. The writing style was overly floral and I feel highly embellished. The author’s ability to invoke little white lies to family about her life in Kabul had me questioning the validity of many of the episodes in the book. Overall, the book felt like a giant pat-on-the-back for the author for her ability to remain the stereotype of the “rude American” in a country and city that prides itself on its manners and sense of pride.

While I enjoyed reading about the women in Afghanistan, the focus of the book never went farther than the doors of the beauty school. I’m hesitant to call this a memoir because of the narrow scope of focus. The chapters and storyline were choppy with no real focus or linear path. It can probably be considered a travel memoir, or a series of travel reminiscences. I stopped reading about 20 pages before the end of the book because the stories felt more like gossip than introspection about the struggles of Afghani women. Although I’m sure the author meant well, and her role in the beauty school significantly changed the lives of dozens of Afghani women, the overall feel of this book was disappointing and unfocused.

 
Book 27 of 2011
 
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Kabul Beauty School : an American woman goes behind the veil
 
 

Booklikes

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In addition to LibraryThing and Goodreads, BookLikes is another bookish website helping readers keep track of their collections on bookshelves, books to read and books liked and disliked along the way.

What makes this site so different from the other two already established and favorite options? BookLikes offers immediate recommendations based on books you “like.” For example, I liked Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen, and immediately two of her older books popped up in the recommendations box. The site is still in Beta form, so it has its flukes. I liked Petite Anglais by Catherine Sanderson and had the following books pop up on the recommendations shelf: Blog Marketing, RSS & Atom, Realty Blogging. I think the more authors liked the better the recommendations will be. At the moment, my recommendations are all technical blogging books, which are pretty wonky and not books I am looking for right now. You do have the option of hiding a recommendation, but another one will just pop up in its place. You can browse books by category or see the top recommendations from current users.

I didn’t see any space to join a community or chat in a forum, but you do have the option of starting a discussion thread, allowing other users to respond to a thought or question.

I see this primarily as a useful marketing tool for bloggers to link back to their reviews. Otherwise, I think non-bloggers would do better with LibraryThing and Goodreads. Librarians will be able to use this tool for more general readers advisory and booklist creations for various age groups and genres.

Falling Angels – Review

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Falling Angels by Tracy Chevalier
Age: Adult
Genre: Historical Fiction
Format: Audio CD

Brought together by the death of England’s Queen Victoria, the daughters of the Coleman and Waterhouse families form a strong friendship that sees them through some of the most trying, controversial and social ups and downs of the time, 1901-1910. Although on the surface this is a simple story of two girls growing up during a time of social change, there is more to the story than that. Chevalier is able to portray the larger scope of social and political thought through the ideas and voices of the two daughters, often mimicking and influenced by the views of their parents. Since the story is centered on the friendship of Maud Coleman and Lavinia Waterhouse, we see these social changes with a more sympathetic and realistic way. Despite the differences in the class status between their families, Maud’s being wealthier, the girls form a very strong friendship. This friendship usually involves the two, along with Lavinia’s younger sister Ivy May, playing around the cemetery with Simon, the son of a local gravedigger.  As social politics change, Maud’s mother becomes involved with the Suffragettes movement. The families are pushed together and pulled apart at various times in the book. The story is told through various characters: Maud, Lavinia, their parents and Maud’s cook and maid – Ms. Baker and Jenny.

In the beginning, the characters would tell their side of the same story, which had me worried that the book would be repetitious. I was pleasantly surprised that despite the overlaps, the different characters offered a completely different perspective making an event seem completely different from one an earlier character told. With each chapter the characters unfolded and developed in ways that wouldn’t be possible if the story was told through a single narrator.  I listened to the audio version of this book, and it was a wonderful production. 11 different narrators read for each of the characters. Each chapter was assigned to a different character, so there was always a different voice, mood, attitude and persona carrying the story throughout the years.

Chevalier is one of my favorite authors. I adored Girl with a Pearl Earring and Remarkable Creatures. She is very gifted at creating a definitive mood of angst, and frustration through social structure, the class system and feminist views and developments. You can really see how much care and time Chevalier spends in researching the eras that she writes about. The narrators were wonderful, fully embodied their respective characters and really carried the story. Despite the jumping around of perspectives, the story remained linear.

Falling Angels
By Tracy Chevalier
Recorded Books, 2002
ISBN 1402535066
8.75 hours / 8 discs
 Book 25 of 2011
 
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Falling angels