All in Book Reviews

The Ten-Year Nap Review

Wolizter eases you into The Ten-Year Nap slowly but artfully before introducing her protagonist, Amy Lamb. After ten years of being a stay-at-home mom, Amy doesn’t know what to do with herself. Her son doesn’t need her anymore, but she has little desire to go back to work as a lawyer. To quell her insecurity, Amy starts spending time with Penny Ramsey who works “in a full-time, real and powerful way, not in one of these vague ‘consulting’ jobs some women held, where the hours were flexible to the point of nonexistence.” (p. 36)

Father Divine's Bikes Review and History

 Father Divine’s Bikes introduced me to a historical figure I had never heard of, Father Divine (though Father Divine is more of a character in spirit). Father Divine was an African-American religious figure who rose to prominence in the 1930s. PBS calls his International Peace Mission Movement, “one of the most unorthodox religious movements in America.”

La Befana and 'Beyond the Wicked Willow: Chronicles of a Teenage Witchslayer': A Book Review

Rocissono uses Italian folklore and some Italian literature as inspiration for the Beyond the Wicked Willow. Rocissono’s reference to La Befana was my favorite reference though. In Beyond the Wicked Willow, the Frankie and his friends pay a visit to Befana. She is a good witch who opens her home and provides respite to the group on their journey. She also bestows parting gifts upon each character, which they eventually use against Strega.

In Italian culture La Befana is also a good, broomstick riding witch who delivers gifts to children while they sleep on Epiphany eve. Like Santa, she gives gifts to the “good” children and coal to the “bad” children. 

Thematic Profundity in ‘Precept’ by Matthew de Lacey Davidson

I fear that people think that a three-star book is a bad book. If you read my review of Precept you know that I gave it three stars, and it’s not a bad book. A three-star book is a decent book, as good as most other books out there. It has pluses and minuses, but it’s still a worthwhile book. And although I didn’t give Precept four or five stars, it did get a star for thematic profundity, which is what most books lack. So, to illustrate Precept’s profundity, I’m sharing three of my favorite quotes from Precept.

‘Precept’: A Short Book About Frederick Douglass’s Visit to Ireland

Precept by Matthew de Lacey Davidson is about Frederick Douglass’s 1845 visit to Ireland where he went on a two-year lecture tour to avoid recapture and a torrent of death threats.[1][2] Though a thin volume, Precept deals with two big issues: slavery in the United States and the Great Famine. So, how did Douglass find himself in Ireland? And what does that have to do with the Great Famine in Ireland? 

'Destroying Their God' by Wallace Jeffs: A Book Review

Warren Jeffs is the current and infamous leader of Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (FLDS). He is also the half-brother of Wallace Jeffs, the author of Destroying Their God. FLDS is an offshoot of Mormonism, though the Mormon Church does not recognize it. Polygamist Mormons formed FLDS after the Mormon Church renounced polygamy in 1890.[1]

Warren Jeffs is currently serving a life sentence for child sexual assault. He married and raped young girls, forced his wives to have sex with each other, and built a creepy ranch to keep his followers from having any contact with the outside world. Destroying Their God is a fascinating glimpse into the insular FLDS community and how Warren Jeffs used fear, exploitation, and isolation to consolidate power and commit loathsome crimes in the name of God.

'In The Shadow of 10,000 Hills’ Review and History

In her introduction to In the Shadow of 10,000 Hills, Michelle Halket admits that she was never one to follow the news. But the news about Rwanda in 1994 consumed her. She writes, “A few years later, I was working at a large firm and met a woman from Rwanda. My face dropped and she said to me in surprise, ‘You know?’ I told her that of course I do, doesn’t everyone? She looked immensely sad, lowered her face and said, ‘No, they don’t.’ I’ve carried her face and words with me since then: the world didn’t know (or care) about Rwanda.”

This sentiment is Picking Books’ raison d'être, fostering the urge to learn about the people who have both bolstered society and sought to destroy it. So, because my biggest concern in 1994 was how I was finally going to stop biting my nails and not what was happening halfway around the world, In the Shadow of 10,000 Hills by Jennifer Haupt opened my eyes to the 1994 Rwanda genocide.

‘Your Creative Career’ by Anna Sabino: A Book Review

In my review of Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk, I cited a 2014 Freelancers Union study that found that 53 million Americans, or 34% of the U.S. workforce, are independent workers. [1] A report by Mckinsey Global Institute puts that number at 68 million Americans in 2016. [2] In an Entrepreneur article, Martin Konrad says that half of the U.S. workforce will be independent workers by 2020. [3] It’s obvious that the gig economy isn’t just growing. It’s making history. It’s also leaving a lot of freelancers wondering about benefits, taxes, and how to manage volatile income. Your Creative Career by Anna Sabino is about how to be a successful, full-time gig worker. Sabino’s book won’t help you find health insurance or do your taxes, but she does provide some insight on how to let your creativity flourish while managing a business.

'Alias Grace' by Margaret Atwood: Summary, Analysis, and Canadian History!

Alias Grace is a novel by Margaret Atwood based on the real-life 1843 murders of Thomas Kinnear and Nancy Montgomery. Grace Marks and James McDermott were convicted of the crime. McDermott was hanged, and Marks had her sentence commuted and ended up in the Kingston Penitentiary. No one knows for sure whether or to what degree Grace Marks was involved in the murders.  Alias Grace gives readers a chance to decide for themselves whether this “celebrated murderess” was guilty or not.

If You Love Television Dramas, You'll Delight in ‘Full Circle’ by Regina Timothy

From the prologue, which takes us inside the collapsing World Trade Center on 9/11, to the end, Full Circle lays bare many of the political and social issues the United States has been grappling with since before the 9/11 attacks. Despite its seriousness, Full Circle reads like a television drama. The cast includes Samia, an Iraqi refugee; Melissa, a faltering fashion mogul; and Susan, Samia's hapless friend who also happens to be Melissa's assistant.

Samia, Melisa, and Susan all have leading roles as well as their own plotlines, but Full Circle pays the closet attention to Samia. Samia fled Iraq to save both her life and the life of her unborn son. When Full Circle begins, her son is ivy-league bound but struggles with bullying at school.

A Story of Romance and Espionage in World War II

Searching for Gertrude by D.E. Haggerty follows two characters, Rudolf and Rosalyn in their attempt to find Rudolf’s lost love, Gertrude. Gertrude’s family leaves Germany in 1933 after Germany appoints Adolf Hitler as chancellor. According to the United State Holocaust Memorial Museum, it didn’t take long for the Third Reich to strip German citizens of their human rights and open its first concentration camps.[1]

Gertrude’s family was Jewish. Rudolf was not. Consequently, Gertrude’s father chooses to move his family to Turkey, favoring his family’s safety over his daughter’s love for Rudolf. Rudolf is devastated. He assuages his hurt and anger by openly opposing the Nazis, but his father points out: “’I didn’t say you should stop opposing [the Nazis]. I said you can’t continue with your current activities. Activities, may I remind you, which have gotten you noticed at college.’” Rudolf’s father asks, “’Have you ever considered you can do more damage from within than from without?’”

Rudolf heeds his father’s advice and studies Oriental history and culture, which gets him a job with the German consulate in Turkey where he hopes he can finally find his Gertrude. In his quest for Gertrude, Rudolf enlists the help of Rosalyn, an altruistic Jewish-American nanny, and Malcolm, a British spy.

'White Houses' Review

Eleanor Roosevelt had an affair with a woman, who knew? Apparently, it’s not so common, common knowledge. In White Houses, Amy Bloom tells a fictional story about the real-lif romance between Eleanor Roosevelt and Lorena Hickok. White Houses fascinated me, but not it the way you might guess.

'Carnegie's Maid' Review and Discussion Questions

Pam Jenoff’s quote on the front of Carnegie’s Maid says it all: “Downton Abbey fans should flock to this charming tale.” I’m a Downton Abby fan, and I loved this book. Like pretty much every book here on Picking Books, Carnegie’s Maid contains a wealth of accurate historical information. And within its pages you get a good sense of who Andrew Carnegie was and a loose outline of his rise to prominence.  Benedict also touches on the struggles Irish people continued to face after the famine in 1840 and the difficulties immigrants faced both on their way to America and once they got here. What I love most about Carnegie’s Maid, however, is how Benedict delves into Pittsburgh’s rich cultural history.

'The Nightingale' Review

“What’s wrong?” my husband asked after my sobbing woke him. After wiping away my snotty tears, I answered, “This book,” referring to The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah. As I lay there crying in the middle of the night, I wondered why I do this to myself. I read to escape, not to feel! I also started to think that Hannah’s story was too perceptive. Hannah must have based The Nightingale on something real. So, let’s talk about Hannah’s inspiration for The Nightingale.

I Learned More about World War II from 'When My Name Was Keoko' Than I Learned in School

I have no recollection of learning about World War II in high school. I took AP U.S. History, so you’d think it would have come up, and it might have, but I don’t remember it. So, before I read When My Name Was Keoko, all I knew about Japan during World War II was that we dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. I knew nothing about Korea. 

When My Name Was Keoko by Linda Sue Park came out in 2002. The book follows a young Korean girl, Sun-hee (Keoko), and her older brother, Tea-yul (Nobuo), during World War II. By the time we get to Sun-hee’s story, the Japanese have occupied Korea for thirty years. When My Name Was Keoko begins with Sun-hee having to choose a Japanese name. “Graciously allowing”—as the Japanese Emperor’s official order phrased it—Korean's to choose Japanese names was one tactic Japan used to indoctrinate the population of Korea.

'Lillian Boxfish Takes A Walk' Review and Women’s History

It’s 1931  and The New York World-Telegram declares Lillian “the highest paid advertising woman in America” (p. 24). Lillian, though proud of her achievement, confronts her boss: “But woman, Chester. It says woman. Why not person? I’ve come in here to ask for a raise. We both know I bring R.H. Macy’s more business than anyone else on the thirteenth floor, woman or man. Why not pay me what I’m worth?” Of course, it’s 1931 and Lillian doesn’t get the raise, “…this is just how it is,” Chester says (p. 27). In Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk, author Kathleen Rooney explores women's issues. She explains the state of maternity leave and the glass ceiling in the 1930s and 1940s with historical accuracy.

So You'd Like to Learn More about History, but Reading Isn't Your Thing

In my first post, I said that reading is a privilege that too many of us take for granted. Reading is hard. Like exercise, and most other habits that are good for us, the urge to procrastinate too often prevails. Add to that our overwhelming schedules, and reading never happens. I get it. I do. And I'm not going to sit here and judge you for not reading. There have been points in my life where I've gotten out of the habit of reading for a while, but I always get back to it the same way: by reading children's books. This isn’t some great new idea that I came up with. Many people encourage would-be readers to pick up easy, fun books. Children’s books are entertaining because kids are harsh critics. Reading children's books, whether they are novels or picture books, fiction or nonfiction, is a good way to ease yourself into a reading habit. Give it a try.