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Raisins and Almonds–even the title is a mystery

Raisins and Almonds

by Kerry Greenwood

Raisins and AlmondsRaisins and Almonds is a typical Phryne Fisher mystery, but somewhat more cerebral. Evidence of that is found in the inclusion of a bibliography reflective of the author’s research and a glossary of Yiddish words. This mystery is strongly tied into the Jewish community that settled in Australia, the politics of Zionism, and a sub-sect focused on alchemy. Phryne has to do a lot of research in addition to her usual methods of sleuthing in order to find the murderer of a young Jewish scholar and free an innocent bookseller from prison.

Greenwood excels in this book in three ways. She uses the supporting characters to good advantage in solving the mystery as she sends her adopted daughters, her assistant Dot, and friends Bert and Cec out on different missions which play to their strengths. Phryne and Jack agree on the bookseller’s innocence enabling them to cooperate in their separate missions to solve the mystery. The ending of Raisins and Almonds is a fun surprise which wraps up the mystery and the title quite satisfactorily.

I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Poisoned Pen Press for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Mystery, Historical Fiction

Notes: #9 of Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries

Publication:   June 6, 2017—Poisoned Pen Press

Memorable Lines: 

Phryne smiled guilelessly into the policeman’s face. He winced. Miss Fisher was at her most dangerous when she was smiling guilelessly. It was a sign that someone, somewhere, was about to be shaken down until their teeth rattled and the Detective Inspector was uneasily aware that he was the closest available target.

Bert was nervous because he didn’t know what to look for in this big bustling market. Neither did Cec, but his Scandinavian ancestors had bequeathed him some Viking fatalism. If they were meant to find out, they’d find out.

Kadimah was as ordinary as a church hall, and as extraordinary as a landing of Well’s Martians. It was as sane as porridge and as lunatic as singing mice.

Tightening the Threads–family secrets abound

Tightening the Threads

by Lea Wait

Tightening the ThreadsTightening the Threads is a very good cozy mystery, set in Maine and focusing on family relationships Most of the characters in the story are the product of dysfunctional to nonexistent relationships with their parents. Some emerge from childhood with pain and an inability to have meaningful connections. Others find solace and stability with extended family or build strong bonds with friends.

There are mysteries to be solved that tie into the relationship issues; these crimes center around the patriarch Ted Lawrence, son of famous artist Robert Lawrence. The novel shows us once more that money and fame do not necessarily insure happiness or wisdom.

This author obviously has an interest in needlework in general and needlepoint in particular as evidenced by her main characters belonging to a group called the Mainely Needlepointers. She displays her historical interest by starting each chapter with a quote from a child’s sampler as well as a description of the sampler and information about the creator as available. I enjoyed this book and am definitely interested in reading more by author Lea Wait.

I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Kensington Books for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 4/5

Category: Mystery

Notes: #5 in the Mainely Needlepoint Mystery Series, but works as a standalone.

Publication:   March 28, 2017–Kensington Books

Memorable Lines:

During the ten years I’d lived in the almost perpetually neutral shades of Arizona, I’d missed seeing Maine hills glowing with gold and scarlet and orange in late September.

“Love you, too. As always, for always.”

“I think all families have mysteries, and secrets, and stories. I don’t think they’re all meant to be uncovered.”

Families weren’t simple. They weren’t like television show casts where everyone supported everyone else and laughed over dinner.

Of Hats, Pockets, Ears, and Hidden Messages

I read so many fascinating tales and review them in my blog, but probably none outshine the real story of Esther found in the Bible. Here my blogging friend Dolly (KOOLKOSHERKITCHEN) shares the original tale along with traditions that have developed and are part of the celebration of Purim. Don’t miss the funny video and delicious recipe she shares as well.

koolkosherkitchen

These pastries are called Hamantaschen. We can no more imagine the holiday of Purim without them than without the graggers – noisemakers gleefully shaken by children and adults alike to drown the name of the evil villain Haman.

That’s a story of Purim in a nutshell. Once again, the Jewish people, marked for wholesale slaughter, were saved through the good offices of the beautiful and pious Queen Esther and her uncle, the wise and righteous Mordechai. To commemorate this event, we read (or at least listen to) Megillas Esther (the Scroll of Esther) where the entire story is recorded in minute details. Every time when Haman (may his memory be erased forever) is mentioned, we make all kinds of noises, and not necessarily by using traditional graggers that look like this:

purim-gragger

…but also anything that makes loud noises. I play castanets. A friend of mine, a very reserved lady…

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Malala: Activist for Girls’ Education

Malala: Activist for Girls’ Education

by Raphaële Friermalala

illustrated by Aurélia Fronty

The youngest recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize earned this award and world-wide acclaim through her activism in support of girls’ rights to education. Starting at age eleven, she began a courageous public battle against the Taliban and their destruction of girls’ schools in Pakistan. Malala: Activist for Girls’ Education, depicts Malala’s background and family support, her bravery in the face of Taliban violence, and her continuing efforts to bring light on rights’ issues for girls and women in particular, but  including all downtrodden people.

The artwork is an essential part of this book, providing colorful symbolic images.  At the end of the book there is a helpful timeline of events in Malala’s life as well as photographs of her.  There is an added useful feature for parents and teachers who want to extend the study with information on Pakistan, education in Pakistan and the world, and Malala’s religion and inspiration.  There are also brief discussions of other peacemakers: Gandhi, Mandela, and King.  This section includes quotes from Malala as well as a listing of other sources of information about Malala including links to various important speeches she has made.

Teachers will find Malala: Activist for Girls’ Education a valuable teaching resource. It empowers both children and women to stand up for what is right and summarizes the religious and historical context in a way that is understandable and appropriate for children.  This book could be used as an integral tool in many curricular units as well as to provoke thoughtful discussion by itself.

I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Charlesbridge Publishing for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Younger Readers, Biography

Notes:  recommended for ages 6-9

10 inches X 10 inches

48 pages

originally published in French

Publication:   Charlesbridge Publishing–February 7, 2017

Memorable Lines:

One child, one teacher, one pen, and one book can change the world.

“Dear sisters and brothers, we realize the importance of light when we see darkness. We realize the importance of our voice when we are silenced. In the same way, when we were in Swat, the north of Pakistan, we realized the importance of pens and books when we saw the guns.”–Malala

“The extremists are afraid of books and pens. With guns you can kill terrorists; with education you can kill terrorism.”–Malala

McNamara’s Folly: the Use of Low-IQ Troops in the Vietnam War

by Hamilton Gregory

This is a fascinating presentation by Hamilton Gregory (author, public speaker, educator, and journalist) at a college book signing for a book he wrote about using low-IQ soldiers in war. He draws on his own experiences in the Vietnam War as well as extensive research. His goal is to give a voice to those who were not able to speak up for themselves and to their families whose warnings were not heeded. In the prologue he says:

“While I was in the Army (1967-1970), I got to know some of McNamara’s substandard soldiers, and I vowed that someday I would tell their stories and give the historical background. This book is the fulfillment of that vow.”

Rating: 5/5

Category: Military History

Notes: Hamilton Gregory is my brother. I am aware that current protocol for reviewers is that they should not review the works of relatives. I, however, do no advertising and I make no money from this blog. I am retired, and this blog is my personal space for reflection on education and on books. I feel strongly that this is an excellent book and tells a tale that needs to be shared. I do highly recommend that you read it. You don’t have to be interested in military history; you just have to care about people. For official reviews and recommendations, I suggest you visit Amazon.com where people who are experienced experts in the field and are more qualified than I am have posted reviews. From my non-military viewpoint, I am amazed at the way the author intertwines data with the stories he gathered to make a compelling argument that our country should never let this happen again.

mcnamaras-follyPublication:  Infinity Publishing–June 2015

Memorable Lines:  “Freddie’s death hit me hard.  I remembered how he was always sighing–an indication of the tremendous anxiety he experienced in Special Training.  I remembered how he lacked the mental quickness to qualify with the M-14 rifle. I felt enormous anger, which I still feel decades later.  He never should have been drafted.  He never should have been ‘administratively passed’ at Special Training.  He never should have been sent into combat.”

 

Escaping the Nazis on the Kindertransport–introduction to the Holocaust for younger students

Escaping the Nazis on the Kindertransport

by Emma Carlson Berne

escaping-the-nazisMany books have been written for middle school students about the Jews in Nazi Germany. In Escaping the Nazis on the Kindertransport, Emma Carlson Berne shares a piece of their story with children aged 8-12.  As a teacher I could certainly see this book also being used as a resource for older students who are reading below grade level as it has an interest level appropriate to them as well.

The physical book is designed with the look and feel of an aging family picture album.  There are seven chapters that focus on individual children who were part of the 10,000 children rescued from Nazi controlled areas and relocated to the United Kingdom prior to the beginning of World War II.  Their story is told in the third person but from the child’s perspective.

The first chapter begins with a poem “The Leather Suitcase” written by Tom Berman who was saved as a 5 year old child by a Kindertransport.  Some background is given as it describes what it must have been like for such a young boy to be separated from his parents for a long trip to an unfamiliar country with a different language, not knowing if he would ever see them again. This chapter captures the reader’s interest immediately.

The next chapter, “From Kristallnacht to Kindertransport,”  gives more historical details about the increasing persecution of the Jews and their limited options for survival.  Then the book returns to the stories of individual children, ending with a chapter that briefly recounts what happened to each child after the Kindertransport.  It might be specifics of their time living with another family, further emigration, or an ultimate career, depending on their circumstances and the source documents available.  There is also general statistical information about the 10,000 children of the Kindertransport.

There are study resources at the end of the book.  The “Timeline” integrates important historical dates of the war with major events related to the Kindertransport and the seven children whose rescues are detailed in the book.  The “Glossary,” of course, defines unfamiliar terms such as “haftarah” and “pogrom” which are used in the book.  Next is a page which explains The Kindertransport Association (KTA), whose president was a consultant for the book.  The KTA is comprised of the rescued Kinders, as they call themselves, and their descendants. “Read More” lists three more books on the topic for young readers. There is a page of discussion questions to evoke higher level thinking and several pages devoted to bibliography, source notes, and an index.

Escaping the Nazis on the Kindertransport is a valuable teaching resource, drawing from original sources. The length of the chapters is appropriate for this age level as well as for typical time periods in the school day. It could be used for independent reading or group study, but because of the difficult nature of the subject matter and the age of the intended reader, I definitely suggest adult support. The author handles the ugly reality of Nazi Germany with restraint without hiding the brutal truths of beatings, interments, and death.  Being drawn into their stories will be troubling for some youngsters, especially those for whom this is their introduction to Holocaust studies.

I highly recommend Escaping the Nazis on the Kindertransport as an integrative teaching tool combining reading with social studies, especially history and geography. It abounds with possibilities for discussions to stretch young thinkers to make make new connections and offers opportunities for deep enrichment of vocabulary. Even as an adult, I found the book well written, interesting, and a source of new learning.

This book is scheduled for publication on February 1, 2017.

I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Capstone Press for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Saving Graces–Review AND Reflections

Saving GracesSaving Graces

by Elizabeth Edwards

Elizabeth Edwards was the wife of John Edwards, a Democratic senator, an unsuccessful presidential primary candidate in 2004 and 2008, and running mate for John Kerry in the 2004 presidential election.  Elizabeth was a popular and sympathetic public figure because of the death of her son at age sixteen in a car accident, her courageous battle with breast cancer, and revelations of her husband’s ongoing affair during her health struggles.

Elizabeth Edwards published the book Saving Graces in 2006, two years after she was diagnosed with cancer and the same year her husband began his infamous affair with Rielle Hunter, which he did not publicly admit to until August of 2008.  I am laying out the dates carefully because I found it a bit confusing as Edwards begins telling her story at the same place in her life that she ends this book.  Also, because she was such a family-oriented person, I had to wonder at what point in her painful saga was she unknowingly being betrayed by her husband. There is no foreshadowing of the affair.

No spoiler alert is needed on this review.  Edwards in this memoir is sharing very personal insights into the events of her life up through the close of her treatment for the cancer that was discovered in November of 2004.  The facts along with all the rumors of the time are readily available on the Internet.

I must warn potential readers that the first half of this book is a very difficult read.  Most of it deals with the very raw grief which Edwards and her family experienced upon the sudden and unexpected death of her sixteen year old son Wade in a car accident.  Although the distance of time helps, when she wrote the book she was still experiencing  deep sorrow over his absence.  Although Elizabeth Edwards worked as a lawyer, author and speaker, the job that was most important to her was that of mother.  She loved the presence of her children and their friends filling her home.  She loved interacting with them.  When Wade died she seemed to lose a part of herself, of her reason for living.  I hope the writing of this book proved cathartic for her.  Her grief is so real and so painful that I had to put it aside for a few days.

Upon returning to Saving Graces I was relieved to find a turn of focus away from the pain of Wade’s death and toward the future as Elizabeth and John Edwards decide to extend their family and continue to be deeply involved in political races. Even reading about her first battle with cancer was not as painful as the discussion of the aftermath of her son’s death.  Though fearful of losing to breast cancer, Edwards knew it was something she could fight. Speaking of the diagnosis she said “…it wasn’t, by a sad and huge distance, the worst news we had ever heard.  Wade’s death had spared us that…”

As the United States is currently pushing toward presidential elections, I found glimpsing the campaigns from behind the scenes to be an interesting endeavor.  It made me like Elizabeth Edwards better and most of the rest of the political players and the process even less.  That outcome was certainly not Edwards’ intention or attitude in writing, but I am too jaded to view the political process through her rose-colored glasses of “John (Edwards) just wants to help people”  (not a direct quote, but a phrase that certainly reflects her thoughts). In my opinion, based on later evidence available after this book was written, John Edwards had one goal–to enrich himself. His desires were for money, power, sex, and the flattery of younger women. During the last half of the book, I kept wanting to yell across the pages to Elizabeth that she was living in a house of cards about to collapse on her.  I wanted to warn her that her wonderful family man was going to cheat on her, destroying the family she adored so much.  I wanted to shout out a danger signal–this man you thought you could count on is going to pay you the ultimate disrespect while you are on the campaign trail telling others how wonderful he is.

Saving Graces has a very appropriate subtitle: Finding Solace and Strength from Friends and Strangers.  In the first half of the book, the solace and strength come from others who have lost children. In the second part, she shares the outpouring of love and concern she received when she publicly announced her battle with cancer.

Elizabeth Edwards wrote another book, Resilience: Reflections on the Burdens and Gifts of Facing Life’s Adversities, which continues her story including the return of cancer and the Hunter affair.  Although Edwards is a good writer and I sympathize with the tremendous pain she endured physically, mentally, and emotionally,  I just don’t know if I will choose to read her detailing of it in Resilience.  It seems bad enough that she had to live it.

Cliff Notes for American History???

 

 

Amer_HistoryEverything You Need to Ace American History in One Big Fat Notebook is geared to Middle School Students, but makes an excellent reference for adults as well.  The text is marked up with various colors of highlighter to emphasize the most important points.  Periods are outlined so students can visualize a timeline of events, but are fleshed out enough that cause and effect are included making history more understandable and thus more memorable.  Out of approximately 500 pages, I chose to read about the Civil War and Reconstruction periods because of a discussion with a colleague. I was not disappointed: I came away with answers to some questions and a better overall understanding of the events in a fairly brief amount of time.  Obviously, since it was written for middle school students, it was not an exhaustive treatise on the Civil War, but it was a great summary and beginning place for more in-depth research.  One of the difficulties of studying American History at any grade level is that is nearly impossible to cover the full history of America in one school year.  With this supporting text, one could independently study periods that are not studied in class.

As an independent reviewer, I usually read a book one time and then move on to the next book.  In this case I was looking forward to having Everything You Need to Ace American History in One Big Fat Notebook on my iPad as a reference and work through the various periods as a side hobby. As a tribute to the book’s usefulness, I must say I was disappointed to discover that this book has an expiration date and is no longer available to open. Who knew a book could be like a carton of milk?  I guess I will purchase a copy!

Everything You Need to Ace American History in One Big Fat Notebook has a proposed publication date of August 9, 2016. I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Workman Publishing for allowing me to read and review this book in exchange for an unbiased review.

Riveting Memoir of a Romanian Lawyer– Could be Used in Christian High School?

Saving My AssassinSaving My Assassin
by Virginia Prodan

Virginia Prodan has written a riveting memoir Saving My Assassin. It was difficult to read many parts of this book because of its troubling, torturous content, but the triumphant spirit of this tiny powerhouse of a woman kept me returning to discover how God could possibly use the evil that surrounded her for His greater purpose.

Virginia Prodan was formerly a lawyer during the cruel Communist dictatorship of Romanian leader Nicolae Ceausescu. Currently she is an international lawyer residing in the U.S. where she continues her work representing Christians who find themselves in legal difficulties because of their stand for Christ.

Saving My Assassin begins with a brief glimpse at a pivotal moment in Prodan’s life. That part of the story ends abruptly, but is repeated and continued later in the appropriate time sequence. This is a technique which could be annoying, but is used here to skillfully draw the reader into the critical nature of the happenings in Prodan’s life. Next we learn of mysteries and events in her younger years which help us understand how she became such a determined adult. She endured a cruel childhood which left her determined to discover the truth on all levels. Why was she so mistreated by her own family? Why did she look so different from them? Why were people in Romania not allowed to worship God when their laws said they could? What motivated the cold violence of the Securitate, the Communist government agents who stalked her, interrogated her, and threatened the lives of her and her children? Why were they so willing to torture and kill their own citizens, innocent of crimes, many of whom apparently disappeared into the night?

Although this book is written for adults, I think mature high school students would appreciate it as well. I taught high school English in a Christian school before I became an elementary public school teacher. This is the kind of book I would have used with my seniors. It would be particularly appropriate for reading in conjunction with a history or civics class as it deals with a Communist dictatorship during the Reagan era and shows the power and influence the U.S. can choose to wield in supporting Christians around the world. Because Saving My Assassin has a strong Biblical message, I assume it could not be assigned for reading in a public school setting, but I would be interested in feedback from teachers with more recent public high school experience than I have.

Saving My Assassin has a proposed publication date of June 7, 2016. I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to the publisher Tyndale House for allowing me to read and review this book in exchange for an unbiased review.

Interested in World War II ? Dobryd is a good read!

dobrydThe period known as the Holocaust is a frequent topic of books for both adults and young adults. The book Dobryd is different in that it does not focus on characters who are arrested or imprisoned. In fact most of the story occurs in the years following the war. Told in the first person, this story details the struggles of a five year old girl as she emerges from over two years of hiding in a space too small for a standing adult. Most of her family is dead, but she still has her mother and an aunt. The reader is soon absorbed by their relationships as they begin to integrate into a Poland that is very different from the one they hid from. Their rescuer is Yuri, a Russian soldier who plays a pivotal role in helping young Ann relate to her new world and provides stability for her. Dobryd shows us the best and the worst of people and how they have a long lasting impact on Ann and her family.

Dobryd is classified as an autobiographical novel as the author was very young when the story begins and much is retold from the memories of others. It reads like fiction, but has the authenticity of history. Dobryd would be an excellent addition to a unit on the Holocaust or World War II. It invites comparisons to books such as The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank that are typically enjoyed by students in learning about this period. Dobryd offers opportunities to feel with Ann the discrimination she experienced based on religion and her family’s former social standing. We get to learn of her rapidly disappearing Polish heritage and of the geographical struggles Poland underwent as a nation being divided by its neighbors as one of the spoils of war.

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