Tag: history

Must Read Monday: Girl at War

Posted 18 May, 2015 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Reading, Reviews

Must Read Monday: Girl at WarGirl at War by Sara Novic
Published by Random House Publishing Group on May 12th 2015
Genres: Coming of Age, Cultural Heritage, Fiction, Literary, War & Military
Pages: 336

I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange honest review consideration. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Zagreb, 1991. Ana Jurić is a carefree ten-year-old, living with her family in a small apartment in Croatia’s capital. But that year, civil war breaks out across Yugoslavia, splintering Ana’s idyllic childhood. Daily life is altered by food rations and air raid drills, and soccer matches are replaced by sniper fire. Neighbors grow suspicious of one another, and Ana’s sense of safety starts to fray. When the war arrives at her doorstep, Ana must find her way in a dangerous world.   New York, 2001. Ana is now a college student in Manhattan. Though she’s tried to move on from her past, she can’t escape her memories of war—secrets she keeps even from those closest to her. Haunted by the events that forever changed her family, Ana returns to Croatia after a decade away, hoping to make peace with the place she once called home. As she faces her ghosts, she must come to terms with her country’s difficult history and the events that interrupted her childhood years before.

This is another one of those books that I will forever be indebted for other people pushing me to read (specifially – at least- Monika and Shannon). I’m in a funky place right now with my reading and my blogging but Girl at War pierced through that place, quite easily, and took me away from my own difficulties.

The first thing that I really appreciated and liked about this book is that the Yugoslavian civil war, which for Americans, even in collegiate level world history courses is glossed over like it’s no big deal. This book made me feel small as an American — in a good way. I want to know more now about the massacres that took place. Because honestly, there were scenes in Girl at War that felt like they were straight out of a WWII novel/non-fiction book. This was a lesson for me, something that I knew, but that this novel really pounded home for me — that even in a post Nazi world, there are still atrocities taking place. The Yugoslavian civil war happened in Europe, in my lifetime. Why don’t I know more about it?

Another thing that I really enjoyed about this novel was Ana’s desperation and journey to fit in to American society as a refugee, along with the juxtaposition of her sister, who had been sent to America as an infant with no memories of the horrors that happened at home.

The writing in this novel is excellent, like I said I’m in a slump caused by reasons I can pinpoint, and this still was able to awaken me out of my slumpiness and propel me through it in a mere few days. It leaves me to consider what other genocidal atrocities do I know about only for passing conversation.

Compelling, well written, and absolutely readable. This is your must read book for the summer.

Do you feel uneducated about wars that your country hasn’t been affected by, Reader? I also think of all the genocide and civil wars in Africa when I speak of this. Have you read Girl at War yet? Does it sound like your bag?


April @ The Steadfast Reader



Monday Mysteries: Lives in Ruins

Posted 15 December, 2014 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Reviews

Monday Mysteries: Lives in RuinsLives in Ruins by Marilyn Johnson
Published by HarperCollins on November 11th 2014
Genres: Archaeology, General, Social Science
Pages: 288

I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange honest review consideration. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Jump into a battered Indiana Jones–style Jeep with the intrepid Marilyn Johnson and head down bone-rattling roads in search of those who dig up the past. Johnson, the author of two acclaimed books about quirky subcultures–The Dead Beat (about obituary writers) and This Book Is Overdue! (about librarians)–brings her irrepressible wit and curiosity to bear on yet another strange world, that of archaeologists. Who chooses to work in ruins? What's the allure of sifting through layers of dirt under a hot sun? Why do archaeologists care so passionately about what's dead and buried–and why should we?Johnson tracks archaeologists around the globe from the Caribbean to the Mediterranean, from Newport, Rhode Island to Machu Picchu. She digs alongside experts on an eighteenth-century sugar plantation and in a first-century temple to Apollo. She hunts for bodies with forensics archaeologists in the vast and creepy Pine Barrens of New Jersey, drinks beer with an archaeologist of ancient beverages, and makes stone tools like a caveman. By turns amusing and profound, Lives in Ruins and its wild cast of characters find new ways to consider what is worth salvaging from our past.Archaeologists are driven by the love of history and the race to secure its evidence ahead of floods and bombs, looters and thieves, and before the bulldozers move in. Why spend your life in ruins? To uncover our hidden stories before they disappear.

Reading this book in my unemployment made me feel a little bit better about the legal job market. Lives in Ruins is an entertaining, laymen’s look behind what it is archeologists actually do, how they live, and why. 

The market is scarce and it seems that even the most talented and respected archeologists of our times are forced to live on a mere pittance and the passion for what they do. I particularly enjoyed the variety of sites and scholars that Johnson chose for this book, it gave a broad overview of the field. She states at the beginning of the book that she takes liberties with the jargon of archeologists and as a lay reader I supremely appreciated it. I feel that this probably made for a more compact and readable book, though, Lives in Ruins should not be mistaken for a scholarly analysis of archeology. 

I found Johnson’s stories to be exciting and with my own wanderlust it made me wish I could afford (personally and monetarily) to sign up for a little field school and get out on a dig. Though anyone that knows me could attest to the fact I’d be completely miserable. (I dislike the outdoors, heavy lifting, and general physical discomfort – perhaps I’ll stick to my tours.) So while Johnson does a service in de-romanticizing archeology down from the level of Indiana Jones, there is still an element of romance in her storytelling, or perhaps it could be the passion of the people whose stories that she tells which shine through the pages.

Overall a very enjoyable read. Recommended to Indiana Jones fans, those with a general interest in archeology (but little knowledge of it), and people with a love of history and travel. 

What about you, Reader? How do you like your non-fiction? Is it okay for it to be a bit casual if it makes it more readable without sacrificing facts or truth? Do you think that you’d dig this book? (Hahahaha, get it?)

April @ The Steadfast Reader



The Devil: A New Biography

Posted 11 December, 2014 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Reviews

The Devil: A New BiographyThe Devil by Philip C. Almond
Published by Cornell University Press on August 5th 2014
Genres: Angelology & Demonology, Christian Church, Christian Theology, Civilization, History, Judaism, Religion, Theology
Pages: 288

I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange honest review consideration. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

"Although the Devil still 'lives' in modern popular culture, for the past 250 years he has become marginal to the dominant concerns of Western intellectual thought. That life could not be thought or imagined without him, that he was a part of the everyday, continually present in nature and history, and active at the depths of our selves, has been all but forgotten. It is the aim of this work to bring modern readers to a deeper appreciation of how, from the early centuries of the Christian period through to the recent beginnings of the modern world, the human story could not be told and human life could not be lived apart from the ‘life’ of the Devil. With that comes the deeper recognition that, for the better part of the last two thousand years, the battle between good and evil in the hearts and minds of men and women was but the reflection of a cosmic battle between God and Satan, the divine and the diabolic, that was at the heart of history itself."—from The Devil Lucifer, Mephistopheles, Beelzebub; Ha-Satan or the Adversary; Iblis or Shaitan: no matter what name he travels under, the Devil has throughout the ages and across civilizations been a compelling and charismatic presence. In Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, the supposed reign of God has long been challenged by the fiery malice of his opponent, as contending forces of good and evil have between them weighed human souls in the balance. In The Devil, Philip C. Almond explores the figure of evil incarnate from the first centuries of the Christian era. Along the way, he describes the rise of demonology as an intellectual and theological pursuit, the persecution as witches of women believed to consort with the Devil and his minions, and the decline in the belief in Hell and in angels and demons as corporeal beings as a result of the Enlightenment. Almond shows that the Prince of Darkness remains an irresistible subject in history, religion, art, literature, and culture. Almond brilliantly locates the “life” of the Devil within the broader Christian story of which it is inextricably a part; the “demonic paradox” of the Devil as both God’s enforcer and his enemy is at the heart of Christianity. Woven throughout the account of the Christian history of the Devil is another complex and complicated history: that of the idea of the Devil in Western thought. Sorcery, witchcraft, possession, even melancholy, have all been laid at the Devil’s doorstep. Until the Enlightenment enforced a “disenchantment” with the old archetypes, even rational figures such as Thomas Aquinas were obsessed with the nature of the Devil and the specific characteristics of the orders of demons and angels. It was a significant moment both in the history of demonology and in theology when Benedict de Spinoza (1632–1677) denied the Devil’s existence; almost four hundred years later, popular fascination with the idea of the Devil has not yet dimmed.

Fascinating subject matter and quite festive for the season. Don’t you think? 

Anyway, a more apt name for the book might have been The Devil: A New History, but from a marketing perspective I definitely see why ‘biography’ would be more compelling. Regardless, although the book is only 270 pages it packs a lot of punch into a small space. It is an academic book published by an academic press, but I wouldn’t call it inaccessible, though it might make a good textbook for some esoteric liberal arts subject.

Indeed, while not quite inaccessible and not quite compelling, Almond’s book is definitely interesting and is well researched. I found particularly fascinating the differing Christian views on various aspects of demons and demonology, especially up through the middle ages. To me it reflected a deeper (and honestly, today more important) issue of how Biblical canon was developed. What the church ended up accepting about demonology, the devil, and witches by the end of the Salem Witch trials (which is sadly, where the history in this book ends) was a result of differing schools of thought within the church, the accepted views eventually to be remembered (and then forgotten) while the other views fade back into the miasma of superstition and scholarly works. (For my point on Biblical canon see: apocryphal gospels.)

Recommended for people interested in a non-fiction look at the development of the devil, demonology, and witches from late Judaism through Christianity during the Salem Witch Trials. 

What do you think, Reader? Do you have a penchant for weird (and sometimes weirdly grotesque) histories? What odd subject would you like to read on? 

April @ The Steadfast Reader



Guest Post: Conversations With History

Posted 31 July, 2014 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in guest post, Reviews

Conversations with History by Susan Lander, Attorney at Law
Review by: AnnaSaurus Rex
Anticipated publication: August 11, 2014
Source: Publisher. I received this book in consideration for an honest review.
Guys. I can’t even. I…I’ll start here — This book had me at its synopsis:

Channeled by a psychic medium and written in interview format, this book takes readers on a unique journey with 22 spirits who were famous (or infamous) during their time on earth. Renowned personalities from 600 b.c. to 2011 a.d.—from Charlemagne, Ben Franklin, and Gandhi to Walt Disney, Kurt Vonnegut, and Steve Jobs—have returned to share their most important messages with us. Their passing led them to understand their life lessons and the ramifications of their choices. And now, with the clear-eyed vision gained only from the Other Side, they’re taking center stage one last time to offer us insights into their lives that they didn’t possess while they were here.

Sounds AMAZEBALLSright?!  I was all…
…when I took it up. The “About the Author” section blew me a-fucking-way. She tells us she has been battling with illness since her teenage years, is a lawyer, and ultimately was in a coma, which is when some spirited friends (!!!) paid her a visit:

Four months [after the coma], the surprise my spirit guides promised appeared – Ben Franklin showed up in my kitchen. Thus began the parade of spirits clamoring for an interview…when [my book] was finished, I entered it in a contest with Hay House – and won a publishing contract. No agent, no rejections, just a book contract.

Any normal person would have been all:
Not Susan! If that isn’t proof that there’s some crazy shit out in the universe I don’t know wha—well, maybe it’s just an indicator that Hay House may not be in business much longer. Although, the rumor mill says they ARE publishing a sequel. Anyway, here’s hoping they stay in business long enough to give yours truly a book deal!
I’m not being hateful, I promise. Like I said, I was very excited to read this. What would Gandhi think of Twitter? Would Walt Disney personally apologize to me for his company treating me as an indentured servant? Would Patrick Swayze remember that time we made eye contact in Whole Foods?? Okay, maybe that one was a dream. Anyway. TELL ME YOUR SECRETS SPIRIT WORLD!
WARNING: If you do not want your magical sense of innocence and whimsy ruined, I beg you to skip this next section!
Ruining Your Dreams
Imagine my disappointment when I actually became BORED with this book. A couple of chapters in it became apparent that Susan Lander, Esq. was using this format as an excuse to preach her own vision and values to the world.
Don’t misunderstand me! I agree heartily with her ideas. The long and the short of it is we need to love more and live in harmony. Think hippie/libertarian/psychotic break politics. Redistribute wealth! Love yourself and others! Anger is useless! War is dumb! Equality! Like I said, it’s a legit message that I can appreciate. It should be said more often. And much louder. I believe Conversations with History is an especially effective way to communicate this message because the target audience for this piece of work could probably stand to have some wisdom laid down on them.
It is now safe to return if you want to continue wearing your magical-wonderland-glasses throughout life.
Anyway, 22 dead celebrities drop in and chat about love, believing in YOU, hard work, etc. As previously discussed, all very good stuff, but it gets a trifle boring. I am a child of the 21st century and I require constant interjections of cat gifs and puns to stay engaged!
Since entertainment was lacking, I ended up letting my mind wander and re-imagine what Susan had already imagined, i.e. what these dead celebrities were really trying to say to us. Sure, Henry Ford says love and money are connected, but is the subtext that is he’s dying to hook up with Steve Jobs? Twenty-two is too many to go through in this post, so I’ll just pick out a few of my favorites.
Susan gives us the word-for-word communication. Now, I present to you the deep and important nuances of these interviews.
The Realness
Abbie Hoffman – Presented in history as an antiwar activist in the Vietnam era, his interview leads me to believe he’s most likely a double agent for The Man. All this hippie-dippy-power-to-the-people stuff is merely a smoke screen for his nefarious plots. What I glean from the interview is that there is no free will. Per Hoffman, all our current ideas are put into our heads by dead hippies:

We are putting the energy into the collective consciousness from the Other Side, and people “catch” the ideas.

Sure, he claims the ideas we catch are about peace…OR ARE THEY?! I just don’t trust this guy. As a result, I want to catch his ideas about as much as I want to catch chlamydia. He speaks in pretty general terms and my guess is he’s just letting us know that The Powers in the Spirit World can fuck with us any time they damn well please. Take my word – this is a warning shot.
Frederick Douglass– A former slave turned leader of the abolitionist movement, Susan says Fred is hella chill. When reading her description of him, one of my notes says, “So he’s Morgan Freeman. Or is Morgan Freeman him?!?” Imma just leave you with that thought.

Betsy Ross – OMFG GUYS. B. Ross is GAAAAAY! And she was totes part of the underground gay community back in the day. In fact, I’m gonna go ahead and say she was the closeted Rachel Maddow of her times. DEAL WITH IT.

Charlemagne – As history remembers him, Charley was a military leader who conquered a shit ton of the world and forcibly converted his conquered subjects to Christianity. Sounds like a baller, no? Well, apparently he’s a huge fucking wimp. If Charlemagne was alive today (and animated), he’d definitely be Milhouse Van Houten (and if you don’t know that Milhouse is a character from The Simpsons we probably won’t ever be friends). Oh, you don’t believe me? You don’t think I’m truly clairvoyant? HOW DARE YOU DOUBT ME MINIONS! Blah, alright, here’s some evidence:

“As long as I functioned within the rules, I was protected…”

 Protected from whom, Charley? From Nelson perhaps?! Your Charle-mother-fucking-magne. Get your confidence on son!

“I believe in repairing conflicts through diplomacy.”

 C’mon. Really? I call shenanigans. SAY THAT TO MY FACE CHARLEY.
Gandhi – More like Yodhi, amirite?! Oh wait, you haven’t read this book. Let me explain. It’s a reference to Yoda and Star Wars. I’m gonna be honest, this parallel is shaky at best. It’s litereally built off of one line. I read it, felt it, and couldn’t look back. Here it is:

“To me, all that matters is that I tried.”

I read that and thought, “Do, or do not. There is no try.” Maybe this is a testament to my father and him introducing Star Wars to me at a young age. Maybe it reflects my specific level of geek. Either way, I’m fine with it. The point is, I read this line and immediately thought, “He’s like Yoda, except he’s cool with you just trying.” Which I feel like is totes Gandhi.
As a bonus, there’s also this:

God is the life force. You can’t see him but you can feel him. On one level God includes our connection to others. But to me he feels huge, and his energy and life force permeate everything.

 Sure, this is more of an Obi Wan quote (“Well, the Force is what gives a Jedi his power. It’s an energy field created by all living things. It surrounds us and penetrates us; it binds the galaxy together.”), but the theme remains the same.
In short, spot on Susan. Spot. On.
Albert Einstein – Self identified as Neo from The Matrix. I cannot improve upon that.
Henry Ford – Okay, so Henry has a hard-on for Steve Jobs. Totes would have a three way with him and another player, TBD. The short list includes President Obama (but not until that one day when he crosses to the Other Side of course). And I quote:

Adam and Eve and the Garden of Eden. Original sin? I don’t think so. Original beauty. The Apple logo was so inspired.


…while you’re listening, please do not be hardheaded or stubborn in your beliefs. It’s important for your growth. I wish I had been a little more open-minded. You can never be open-minded enough.


You may love it! Allow yourself to be surprised.


 Say what you mean, mean what you say, and then stand up for that. Put some backbone behind it.

I take this to mean that he is a top.
Time to Move into the Light
I have some more thoughts on the additional celebrities including a Rocky reference (please review my Twitter history to understand my true feelings on the Rocky movies) and a wannabe Cher, but, unlike our featured author, I will not drone on.
I give Conversations with History 3 ½ Overpriced Tarot Card Readings out of 5.
It’s a fun idea with a positive message that I support. The medium used (get it?!) to convey the message is a new one on me. For the record, that’s where the ½ of the 3 ½ comes from. Anyway, there’s hopefully a sequel, so someone pick it up and let me know what Jesus thinks about Tumblr!
So, Readers. Another fine review by our official psychic-medium interviews with dead guys correspondent. Whatcha thinking? Who’s going to pick up part two? Have you ever communed with the spirits? What’s the craziest book billed as non-fiction that you’ve ever read? 
AnnaSaurus Rex is no stranger to the book world. She’s the brave soul who reads the books that none of us dare to but wish we could. Hello dinosaur erotica and Christian mystery novellas! Go ahead and add psychics interviewing dead guys to the list. AnnaSaurus brings a sense of humor to all she does. You can follow her on Twitter @anna_saurus_rex where she live tweets from hospital waiting rooms, random music festivals, and during loads of bad nineties television.

April @ The Steadfast Reader



WWII Wednesday: All the Light We Cannot See (A Tournament of Books Selection)

Posted 2 July, 2014 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Reviews

WWII Wednesday: All the Light We Cannot See (A Tournament of Books Selection)All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
Published by Scribner on May 6th 2014
Genres: Historical Fiction
Pages: 371

I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange honest review consideration. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Marie Laure lives with her father in Paris within walking distance of the Museum of Natural History where he works as the master of the locks (there are thousands of locks in the museum). When she is six, she goes blind, and her father builds her a model of their neighborhood, every house, every manhole, so she can memorize it with her fingers and navigate the real streets with her feet and cane. When the Germans occupy Paris, father and daughter flee to Saint-Malo on the Brittany coast, where Marie-Laure's agoraphobic great uncle lives in a tall, narrow house by the sea wall.

In another world in Germany, an orphan boy, Werner, grows up with his younger sister, Jutta, both enchanted by a crude radio Werner finds. He becomes a master at building and fixing radios, a talent that wins him a place at an elite and brutal military academy and, ultimately, makes him a highly specialized tracker of the Resistance. Werner travels through the heart of Hitler Youth to the far-flung outskirts of Russia, and finally into Saint-Malo, where his path converges with Marie-Laure.

Let’s start with the obvious. That cover. Is it gorgeous or what? I could see this cover on my wall and weirdly, when the reading got slow – I just looked at that cover and thought, this has to pick up, I mean, look at that cover

That’s a nice segue into talking about the story. This book took me months to read, which is very unusual for me. I think that part of me was a little intimidated by it (for reasons I cannot fathom, maybe that cover). So this book was an extremely slow start. It was evident from the outset that Doerr is incredibly talented, his writing is beautiful. That’s apparent from the title and the premise, Marie-Laure is blind and Werner has an affinity for radio – how brilliant is that?

However, I felt like the whole element of the myth behind the ‘Sea of Flames’ diamond was extraneous and kind of took away from the main narrative. That being said, I did find Werner’s time with the Hitler youth and then consequentially his time on the front lines of the war to be absolutely fascinating. 

The chapters are short and told mainly from alternating perspectives of Marie-Laure and Werner, in addition to Hitler youth training we get some perspective of the French resistance in Saint-Malo, I would have also liked to hear more from Jutta’s perspective – she’s a huge part of Werner’s thoughts and I often found myself wondering what she was up to, all alone at the orphanage. 

By the end of the book I became more involved with the characters and fascinated by what was going on in the world. I generally prefer my history to be in non-fiction format, so perhaps that’s why this was a bit of a slow start for me. 

Overall, highly recommended to historical fiction lovers – especially those with an interest in WWII. People who have a strong interest in literary fiction will enjoy this book as well as it is extremely well written. 

Have you read this one yet, Reader? I know there was tons of love for it. What was the last book that you almost DNFed, but powered through and ended up glad you did?


April @ The Steadfast Reader

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WWII Wednesday: The Complete Maus

Posted 2 April, 2014 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Reviews

WWII Wednesday: The Complete MausThe Complete Maus by Art Spiegelman
Published by Pantheon Books on 1986
Genres: Biography & Autobiography, Comics & Graphic Novels, History, Holocaust, Jewish, Literary, Military, Personal Memoirs, World War II
Pages: 159

Combined for the first time here are Maus I: A Survivor's Tale and Maus II - the complete story of Vladek Spiegelman and his wife, living and surviving in Hitler's Europe. By addressing the horror of the Holocaust through cartoons, the author captures the everyday reality of fear and is able to explore the guilt, relief and extraordinary sensation of survival - and how the children of survivors are in their own way affected by the trials of their parents. A contemporary classic of immeasurable significance.

I inhaled this book. Ever since reading about its existence about a year ago I knew that I had to read these. Harrowing is a word that comes to mind, as is, ‘painful’. But I am in agreement with the significance that the synopsis places on these works.

To tackle the Holocaust and Auschwitz in a graphic novel seems like a crazy idea. In fact, it sounds flat out impossible. Yet, Spiegelman does just this. He manages to disarm the reader of any preconceived notions that she might have about the legitimacy of the graphic novel format in dealing with such a grim topic.

I usually don’t focus too much on the artwork in graphic novels, as long as it doesn’t hinder the flow of the story or isn’t overwhelmingly beautiful it’s usually just a medium for me. This work is different. Stylistically I didn’t care for the grittiness of the artwork at first, but as the story unwound itself it became clear that the grittiness and was for a reason… and it only goes to make to story so much more powerful. 

Spiegelman makes the story even more personal by framing his father’s Auschwitz with the story of Spiegelman trying to relate to his father and heal old hurts. It’s truly an incredible piece and wholly deserving of the Pulitzer that it one.

Guys, if you read one book on the Holocaust this year, let this be it. 


April @ The Steadfast Reader



World War Two Wednesday: Hidden

Posted 5 February, 2014 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Reviews

World War Two Wednesday: HiddenHidden: A Child's Story of the Holocaust by Loic Dauvillier
Published by Macmillan on April 1st 2014
Genres: Comics & Graphic Novels, Family, General, Historical, Holocaust, Multigenerational, Young Adult
Pages: 80

I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange honest review consideration. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

In this gentle, poetic young graphic novel, Dounia, a grandmother, tells her granddaughter the story even her son has never heard: how, as a young Jewish girl in Paris, she was hidden away from the Nazis by a series of neighbors and friends who risked their lives to keep her alive when her parents had been taken to concentration camps. Hidden ends on a tender note, with Dounia and her mother rediscovering each other as World War II ends . . . and a young girl in present-day France becoming closer to her grandmother, who can finally, after all those years, tell her story. With words by Loïc Dauvillier and art by Marc Lizano and Greg Salsedo, this picture book-style comic for young readers is a touching read.

The synopsis uses the best word for this graphic novel, that’s gentle. Hidden is intended for younger readers, I’d say seven to twelve or so. It is sad and a little gloomy but I still think that this is probably an excellent read for this age demographic. It manages to convey both the hurt and the horror of the holocaust without being too graphic. This is a fine line to walk and Dauvillier and his artists walk it perfectly. 

The story is couched in a frame, with the main story being told to a little girl by her grandmother. This helps to give it a feel of tenderness and also to make the story more personal. Dounia’s (the grandmother) story beings at the rise of the Vichy government in France. The alienation and persecution of Jews in public life is shown through the way that both children and teachers treat Dounia after government edicts are passed requiring Jews to wear the Star of David. 

Dounia is hidden away in a false bottom of a bureau while her parents are arrested and taken away to concentration camps. The bravery of her neighbors in caring for her and continuing to keep her safe is touching and believable. 

The art is so-so. Nothing to write home about, but appropriately done considering the intended age and the subject matter. It’s not distracting and the story flows well around it. 

Hidden ends with a one page typed afterword, giving context and further explanation of what exactly was going on in the story. The afterword is also geared towards young readers, though not glaringly so. It informs me that 11,400 French children were murdered during the Holocaust. Children.

The members of the French Resistance movement are often underrepresented in my Holocaust reading. On my many visits to Paris (and throughout France) I have neglected looking for monuments to the French Resistance. That changes next time I go. 

Great resource to open doors to talk to your children about the historical significance of the Holocaust and the importance of standing up against injustice in our own lives. I think this book has the potential to start some great conversations on why neither bullying nor pretending not to notice bullying are okay.

If you’re wondering about the three-star rating, it’s a combination of the art, the projected price-tag, and the scope. If you’re an adult without kids, unless you have an exceptional interest in the holocaust, skip this one, or at least get it from the library or read it in a single sitting in the bookstore, if you have kids in the middle grade age range – it’s absolutely worth it.


April @ The Steadfast Reader



Super Tuesday: John Adams

Posted 12 November, 2013 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Reviews

Super Tuesday: John AdamsJohn Adams by David McCullough
Published by Simon and Schuster on December 11th 2012
Genres: Biography & Autobiography, General
Pages: 752

A huge bestseller in America, David McCullough's JOHN ADAMS tells the extraordinary story of the brilliant, fiercely independent, often irascible, always honest Yankee patriot -- 'the colossus of independence', as Thomas Jefferson called him -- who spared nothing in his zeal for the American Revolution and who rose to become the second President of the United States.Both a riveting portrait of an abundantly human man and a vivid evocation of his time, JOHN ADAMS has the sweep and vitality of a great novel, taking us from the Boston Massacre to Philadelphia in 1776 to the Versailles of Louis XVI, from Spain to Amsterdam to London, where Adams was the first American to stand before King George III as a representative of the new nation.This is history on a grand scale -- a book about politics and war, but also about human nature, love, faith, virtue, ambition, friendship and betrayal, and the far-reaching consequences of noble ideas. Above all, it is an enthralling, often surprising story of one of the most important and fascinating Americans who ever lived.

This fits in nicely with Non-fiction November being hosted by Sophisticated Dorkiness and Regular Rumination. This week it’s Be/Ask/Become the expert. I’ve read widely on George Washington (personal hero) but I’m working on expanding that body of knowledge to other U.S. Presidents and Revolutionary War heroes. So, I bring you John Adams!

I hate that it’s an abridged edition – alas it was all the library had. I found the contrast between Washington (who will always be my hero) and Adams very interesting. The fact that Adams seems to have expressed many of the basic rights that were put into the Constitution long before the Constitution was ever written is amazing.

Also interesting is the contrast between Washington’s youthful desire (and many attempts) to be commissioned fully by the British Army (instead of just a colonial commission). Adams on the other hand turned down a lucrative royal appointment because he disagreed so vehemently with the British on taxation without representation.

This book was fantastic. I feel like Adams’ life and presidency are overshadowed with the likes of men like Washington, Madison, and Jefferson (ironically, all from Virginia). But Adams is truly one of the unsung heroes of the revolution. If Jefferson was the pen behind the ‘Declaration of Independence’ then Adams was the voice.

Narration was good. 

April @ The Steadfast Reader



Mental Health Monday: Gracefully Insane: The Rise and Fall of America’s Premier Mental Hospital

Posted 28 October, 2013 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Reviews

Mental Health Monday: Gracefully Insane: The Rise and Fall of America’s Premier Mental HospitalGracefully Insane by Alex Beam
Published by PublicAffairs on 2009
Genres: General, Health Care Delivery, History, Hospital Administration & Care, Medical, Mental Health, Mental Illness, Psychiatry
Pages: 297

Its landscaped ground, chosen by Frederick Law Olmsted and dotted with Tudor mansions, could belong to a New England prep school. There are no fences, no guards, no locked gates. But McLean Hospital is a mental institution-one of the most famous, most elite, and once most luxurious in America. McLean "alumni" include Olmsted himself, Robert Lowell, Sylvia Plath, James Taylor and Ray Charles, as well as (more secretly) other notables from among the rich and famous. In its "golden age," McLean provided as genteel an environment for the treatment of mental illness as one could imagine. But the golden age is over, and a downsized, downscale McLean-despite its affiliation with Harvard University-is struggling to stay afloat. Gracefully Insane, by Boston Globe columnist Alex Beam, is a fascinating and emotional biography of McLean Hospital from its founding in 1817 through today. It is filled with stories about patients and doctors: the Ralph Waldo Emerson protégé whose brilliance disappeared along with his madness; Anne Sexton's poetry seminar, and many more. The story of McLean is also the story of the hopes and failures of psychology and psychotherapy; of the evolution of attitudes about mental illness, of approaches to treatment, and of the economic pressures that are making McLean-and other institutions like it-relics of a bygone age. This is a compelling and often oddly poignant reading for fans of books like Plath's The Bell Jar and Susanna Kaysen's Girl, Interrupted (both inspired by their author's stays at McLean) and for anyone interested in the history of medicine or psychotherapy, or the social history of New England.

Tedious. This book would be better described as the history of an elite mental health institution, the likes of which most of us will never see. Indeed, at the end the only remnant left of ‘the old days’ is a ‘ward’ for the super-rich. 

It’s also painfully apparent that the author has no understanding or serious conception what mental illness (or for that matter being in a ‘standard’ 21st century mental ward) is actually like. 

Decent if you’re looking for a historical perspective of McLean, rubbish if you’re looking at empathy or understanding or destigmatization of mental illness. 


April @ The Steadfast Reader



World War II Wednesday: Auschwitz: A Doctor’s Eyewitness Account

Posted 9 October, 2013 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Reviews

World War II Wednesday: Auschwitz: A Doctor’s Eyewitness AccountAuschwitz by Miklós Nyiszli
Published by Arcade Publishing on 1960
Genres: General, History
Pages: 222

When the Nazis invaded Hungary in 1944, they sent virtually the entire Jewish population to Auschwitz. A Jew and a medical doctor, the prisoner Dr. Miklos Nyiszli was spared death for a grimmer fate: to perform "scientific research" on his fellow inmates under the supervision of the man who became known as the infamous "Angel of Death" - Dr. Josef Mengele. Nyiszli was named Mengele's personal research pathologist. In that capactity he also served as physician to the Sonderkommando, the Jewish prisoners who worked exclusively in the crematoriums and were routinely executed after four months. Miraculously, Nyiszli survived to give this horrifying and sobering account.

This is a fabulous book. I’ve read a lot on the Holocaust and the Nazi death camps. This is the only first hand account on Mengele and the way the crematoriums functioned that I’ve ever seen. The writing is simplistic but clear — and horrifying.

I didn’t particularly appreciate the forward in this volume as I found it to be a bit … sanctimonious. Demanding to know why the only Sonderkommando that ever attempted to rebel was the 12th? Seriously? You’re going there?

This is a must read for everyone with any interest at all of WWII and should be a must read for everyone.


April @ The Steadfast Reader

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