Saturday, February 17, 2018

Review: Promise Me, Dad by Joe Biden

Title: Promise Me, Dad: A Year of Hope, Hardship, and Purpose
Author: Joe Biden
Year Published: 2017


Genre: Adult non-fiction (memoir)
Pages: 258
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Location (my 2018 Google Reading map)USA (TX, DE, MA, Washington, DC)

FTC Disclosure: I borrowed this book from a friend


Summary (from the inside flap of the book): In November 2014, thirteen members of the Biden family gathered n Nantucket for Thanksgiving, a tradition they had been celebrating for the previous forty years; it was the one constant in what had become a hectic, scrutinized, and over-scheduled life. The Thanksgiving holiday was a time to connect and to reflecting on what the year had brought and what the future might hold. But this year felt different from all those that had come before. Joe and Jill Biden's eldest son, Beau, had been diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor fifteen months earlier, and his survival was uncertain. "Promise me, Dad," Beau had told his father. "Give me your word that no matter what happens, you're going to be all right." Joe Biden gave him his word.

Promise Me, Dad chronicles the year that followed, which would be the most momentous and challenging in Joe Biden's extraordinary life and career. Vice President Biden traveled more than a hundred thousand miles that year, across the world, dealing with crises in Ukraine, Central America, and Iraq. When a call came from New York, or Capitol Hill, or Kyiv, or Baghdad--"Joe, I need your help"--he responded. For twelve months, while Beau fought for and then lost his life, the vice president balanced the twin imperatives of living up to his responsibilities to his country and to his family. And never far away was the insistent and urgent question of whether he should seek the presidency in 2016.

The year brought real triumph and accomplishment, and wrenching pain. But even in the worst times, Biden was able to learn on the strength of his long, deep bonds with his family, on his faith, and on his deepening friendship with the man in the Oval Office, Barack Obama.

Review: My dad read this and said it was poignant, sad, and interesting, which was enough for me to know I wanted to read it. I also like Joe Biden; he seems like a good person. I had the pleasure of meeting the Vice President and his wife, Jill, in March 2014 when they were in Santa Barbara. A few teachers were chosen to meet them and tour Air Force 2. They were both so genuine and relaxed with us. I realize now that this visit took place in the midst of his son's treatment for brain cancer.
 

My dad was correct: this book is politically and personally interesting and it is emotional. Joe Biden really does seem like a "normal" guy; he loves his family, making time for them whenever possible and that above all else, he should remember his duty to the American people. Sometimes these two parts of his life come into conflict, which is so beautifully shown in this memoir.

As vice president Biden was given much more involvement than most in his position. He was trusted to take on a large role in our foreign policy so the book has many interesting stories of his work in the Ukraine, Central America, and Iraq. I liked how he balanced these stories with the progress of his son Beau's fight against brain cancer and how the Biden family dealt with it. When he wrote about Beau's last breath, I wept.

After Beau died, Biden had to decide if he was going to run for president or not and I found this part really fascinating. If you are a parent or at all interested in the Obama presidency, this book is a good one to read.

Challenges for which this counts:



Thursday, February 15, 2018

CYBILS Winner Review: Whydah: A Pirate Ship Feared, Wrecked, and Found by Martin W. Sandler

Title: Whydah: A Pirate Ship Feared, Wrecked, and Found
Author: Martin W. Sandler
Year Published: 2017


Genre: YA Non-fiction
Pages: 176
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Location (my 2018 Google Reading map)USA (MA)

FTC Disclosure: I borrowed this book from my school library


Summary (from the inside flap of the book): The exciting true story of the captaincy, wreck, and discovery of the Whydah — the only pirate ship ever found — and the incredible mysteries it revealed.

The 1650s to the 1730s marked the golden age of piracy, when fearsome pirates like Blackbeard ruled the waves, seeking not only treasure but also large and fast ships to carry it. The Whydah was just such a ship, built to ply the Triangular Trade route, which it did until one of the greediest pirates of all, Black Sam Bellamy, commandeered it. Filling the ship to capacity with treasure, Bellamy hoped to retire with his bounty — but in 1717 the ship sank in a storm off Cape Cod. For more than two hundred years, the wreck of the Whydah (and the riches that went down with it) eluded treasure seekers, until the ship was finally found in 1984 by marine archaeologists. The artifacts brought up from the ocean floor are priceless, both in value and in the picture they reveal of life in that much-mythologized era, changing much of what we know about pirates. 

Review: I am not all that interested in pirates or pirate ships, but this book is well done. The chapters are brief (about 5 or 6 pages) and each one has an additional two to three pages of additional information such as "life as a pirate" or "dressing like a pirate."

I found it quite interesting to learn about why people in the 1700s became pirates, how it all worked, and I am amazed at the wealth of information and documentation. The last portion of the book deals with the search for and discovery of the sunken Whydah and the riches that were found. I like that the author didn't shy away from the controversy surrounding the search for the Whydah's treasures.

Junior high students will find this book accessible, interesting, and will learn a ton about pirate life (and life in general) in the 1700s.

Challenges for which this counts:

CYBILS Winner Review: Vincent and Theo: the Van Gogh Brothers by Deborah Heiligman

Title: Vincent and Theo: the Van Gogh Brothers
Author: Deborah Heiligman
Year Published: 2017


Genre: YA Non-fiction
Pages: 465
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Location (my 2018 Google Reading map): Netherlands

FTC Disclosure: I borrowed this book from my school library


Summary (from the inside flap of the book): The deep and enduring friendship between Vincent and Theo Van Gogh shaped both brothers' lives. Confidant, champion, sympathizer, friend—Theo supported Vincent as he struggled to find his path in life. They shared everything, swapping stories of lovers and friends, successes and disappointments, dreams and ambitions. Meticulously researched, drawing on the 658 letters Vincent wrote to Theo during his lifetime, Deborah Heiligman weaves a tale of two lives intertwined and the extraordinary love of the Van Gogh brothers.

Review: I had heard nothing but good things about this book, even before I knew it was a CYBILS finalist. But I'll confess that it's the last book I read for these awards and it's the longest so there were parts that I regrettably skimmed.

It is a beautifully written book with an interesting story. I kept reminding myself this Vincent is THE Vincent Van Gogh! Unfortunately, I don't see teenagers picking up a book that is this long about Vincent Van Gogh's life and relationship with his brother even though they should! :-)

I think, even though it's a YA book, it will appeal more to adults. I also see it making a wonderful movie or mini-series.

Challenges for which this counts:

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Cybils Book Reviews: High School Non-Fiction


I got to be a judge for round two of the CYBILS and was assigned to Junior High/Senior High Non-Fiction. I posted the junior high books that I read earlier today, but here are the senior high non-fiction books that I read. I will post longer reviews of the winners tomorrow.

Click here to see a list of all the winners in all categories.

Vincent and Theo: the Van Gogh Brothers by Deborah Heiligman
Location: Netherlands, France
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars WINNER
I have heard nothing but good things about this book, even before I knew it was a CYBILS finalist. But I'll confess that it's the last book I read for these awards and it's the longest so there were parts that I regrettably skimmed. It is a wonderfully written book with an interesting story. I kept reminding myself this Vincent is THE Vincent Van Gogh! Unfortunately, I don't see teenagers picking up a book that is this long about Vincent Van Gogh's life and relationship with his brother. I think, even though it's a YA book, it will appeal more to adults.
Alice Paul and the Fight for Women's Rights: From the Vote to the Equal Rights Amendment by Deborah Kops
Location: USA (PA, DC)
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
I had a difficult time getting a copy of this book, which is a shame since it's good. And Alice Paul is a great person for teens to learn about. Luckily the publisher sent me a copy. I liked that the book was about a person through whom the reader learns about the fight for women to vote and for the Equal Rights Amendment. Reading about one important and influential person's role in history makes it much more interesting to readers of all ages.
Uprooted: the Japanese American Experience in World War II by Albert Marrin
Location: USA (CA), China, Japan
Rating: 4.5 to 5 out of 5 stars
World War II is a particular favorite topic for me so I was really looking forward to learning more about Japanese internment. This is a well done comprehensive book not only about the experience of Japanese Americans during World War II, but of the history of the pacific region up to World War II. The photos included are wonderful and the stories tell of history, individual people, emotions, laws, and more.
How Dare the Sun Rise: Memoirs of a War Soldier by Sandra Uwiringiyana
Location: USA (NY), Democratic Republic of Congo, and Burundi
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars MY FIRST CHOICE
This is one of only two books on the finalist list that I had on my TBR list so I was really excited to read it and it grabbed me from page one. What a harrowing story of survival and discovery. I found it really interesting to read Sandra's story of arriving in America and learning what it's like to be black but not African-American, seeing the racial divide, and learning about our culture.
Queer, There, and Everywhere: 23 People Who Changed the World by Sarah Prager
Location: Multiple countries
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
I am so glad this book made it to the list of finalists and that I found it in one of our high school libraries. In California the FAIR Act passed a few years ago, which says history teachers should include the contributions of LGBTQIA people. This book is a great place to start. All 23 people had interesting stories that are important for our students to hear. The writing is "breezy" and I think students will like that. I do wish some of the statistics and quotes had direct footnotes.
The March Against Fear: the Last Great Walk of the Civil Rights Movement and the Emergence of Black Power by Ann Bausum
Location: USA (Mississippi)
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
Last year I read a number of graphic novels about the Civil Rights era that were general so I enjoyed reading this book that focused in on a particular event of the era. I had never heard of the March Against Fear, a march that began in Memphis, Tennessee and ended in Jackson, Mississippi. Every time I read about events of the Civil Rights era I am astounded at the organization, the passion, the emotion, and the hate involved. This book included great photos and quotes in addition to the main text.



A Dog in the Cave: the Wolves Who Made Us Human by Kay Frydenborg
Location: No particular location
Rating: 4 to 4.5 out of 5 stars
I love dogs, mine in particular. I wasn't sure about this book though even though I heard good things about it from other bloggers. I just didn't know if I was going to like it. This book combines archaeology, history, and dog stories/facts that all add up to an interesting book. I enjoyed the second half of the book more than the first since it got into the science of dog emotions, smell, and more.

It was fun to read so much non-fiction in one month, but as I stated in the other post, it helped with my non-fiction challenge that I am doing this year! I really enjoyed discussing all the books with the other judges. If you are a blogger, I highly recommend trying to be a Cybils judge next year.

Cybils Book Reviews: Junior High Non-Fiction


I got to be a judge for round two of the Cybils and was assigned to Junior High/Senior High Non-Fiction. I was super excited to find out I had been chosen as a judge and anxiously awaited January to find out what books I was going to have to get to read.

Here are brief reviews of the junior high non-fiction books that made the finals. I will post longer reviews of the winners tomorrow. Click here to see a list of all the winners in all categories.

Locked Up for Freedom: Civil Rights Protestors at the Leesborg Stockade by Heather E. Schwartz.
Location: USA (AL, GA)
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
It's not so great when on the first map of the book North Carolina is labeled as Virginia. But, that aside, I thought this was a pretty good book. The story is compelling and I think teens would find it really interesting since the people who were locked up in jail were age 11 to 16! There is a side bar on pretty much every page of this book, which I found a bit distracting even though the information was useful and interesting.
Motor Girls: How Women Took the Wheel and Drive into the Twentieth Century by Sue Macy
Location: USA
Rating: 4 out of 5
This book is full of good stories and interesting facts about the advent of motor cars, racing, and the experience of women throughout it all. The graphics and images definitely add to the appeal of this book. It's so interesting to see how fragile people thought women were and to hear of funny laws that applied to driving in the beginning.
Whydah: A Pirate Ship Feared, Wrecked, and Found by Martin W. Sandler
Location: USA (MA)
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars WINNER
I am not all that interested in pirates or pirate ships, but this book is well done. The chapters are brief (about 5 or 6 pages) and each one has an additional two to three pages of additional information such as "life as a pirate" or "dressing like a pirate." I found it quite interesting to learn about why people in the 1700s became pirates, how it all worked, and I am amazed at the wealth of information and documentation. This book ends with the search for and discovery of the sunken Whydah and the riches that were found.
Poison: Deadly Deeds, Perilous Professions, and Murderous Medicines by Sarah Albee
Location: USA
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
Boy did I have a difficult time finding a copy of this book! It wasn't in our school or public libraries. I ended up finding it in Google Books. Well, some of it anyway. Enough to decide if I liked it or not. This book covers what poison is, the history of it, and interesting stories/cases of poisonings. I can totally see this book appealing to junior high students. It's got that gross but interesting factor going for it.
Undefeated: Jim Thorpe and the Carlisle Indian School Football Team by Steve Sheinkin
Location: USA (OK and PA)
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
I wanted to read this book even before I knew it was a finalist for the CYBILS so that's cool that I had an excuse to read it early in the year. I think it is a very interesting story about a man who overcame huge obstacles. Learning about how Native Americans were treated at these boarding schools, when they were on the road with the football team, and more is interesting, but difficult to read. For me, there was too much football detail, but many others will disagree with that, I'm sure.
Bound by Ice: A True North Pole Survivor Story by Sandra Neil Wallace
Location: North Pole area
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars MY FIRST CHOICE
Book number four for me in this non-fiction CYBILS readathon and that makes four centuries! I must say I wasn't really looking forward to this book since the topic isn't one I'd be drawn to, but as soon as I started reading it I was hooked. There is a sense of adventure, mystery, suspense, and I kept reading so I could find out what happened to the crew of the Jeannette. I also liked the drawings and the journal entries; it is thoroughly researched and a story well told. I think students would enjoy this one a lot.

Isaac the Alchemist: Secrets of Isaac Newton, Revealed by Mary Losure
Location: UK
Rating: 3.5 out of 5
I had no idea that Sir Isaac Newton had such humble beginnings, living in the attic of an apothecary by himself from a very young age. And that from this time he was already experimenting, theorizing, and becoming the mathematician and scientist we all know. What an inquisitive mind! This book told a good story, but there was far too much use of old English spelling of words (taken directly from Newton's notebooks); I think this would be confusing for young readers who are still learning to spell. The use of old photos, drawings, and notebook pages definitely added to the book, but the author left out basic information such as the fact that Newton lived in England. Kids don't know that basic information.

It was crazy to read so much non-fiction in one month, but boy did it help with my non-fiction challenge! And it was really fun to read these books and discuss them with the other judges. If you are a blogger, I highly recommend trying to be a Cybils judge next year.