ARC Review: Earthrise

earthriseEarthrise // by James Gladstone
Release Date: October 15, 2018
Genre: Picture Book, Non-Fiction (Space)

Basic Plot: This is the story behind the photograph of the earth taken by the Apollo 8 astronauts back in 1968; and how such a photo led to a different view of our world.

WHAT’S COOL…

1) I love that the illustrations evoke the 1960s. They are wonderfully done!

2) I love photography, so I found this story particularly interesting. It’s a little behind-the-scenes “snapshot” at how one of the most famous photographs of all time came to be.

3) The story juxtaposes a tumultuous time (1968) with a photograph that is anything but tumultuous. It’s simple and beautiful and serene.

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) I feel like this could be made for older children with a little more text. Maybe explaining a few things. History-wise. This was the year that Martin Luther King was shot. And Robert Kennedy. And a war in Vietnam. They didn’t have to go into extreme detail, but maybe at least mention MLK.

FINAL THOUGHTS

My rating is 4 Stars (out of 5) – A wonderfully illustrated book about this moment in history. I’d recommend for 1st through 3rd grade. Maybe Kindergarten?

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ARC Review: Skyward

skywardSkyward // by Sally Deng
Release Date: September 4, 2018
Genre: MG Picture Book, Non-Fiction (WWII)
My 
Basic Plot: This is the story of three Allied pilots during World War II… who all happen to be women. Hazel is from the U.S., Marlene is from England, Lilya is from the Soviet Union.

WHAT’S COOL…

1) I loved the illustrations! Nicely done.

2) This is a history book that tells you the little things about history. (Like the fact that the women were given uniforms that were too big for them. Makes sense since the uniforms would have been originally made for men.) They had to use their sewing skills to make the uniforms wearable!

3) None of these women are famous. And while I like reading about famous people who did great things, I also love reading about the regular people who did their part to win the war. (According to the author’s note, Hazel from the U.S. seems to have been a real person. Not sure about the other two. But I’m sure she did her research to get their experiences.)

4) I did like that we get three different experiences with these three different women, each from a different part of the world.

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) At times I was a little confused about which woman was from where. Especially at the beginning of the story. It starts with Hazel and then moves on to Marlene and for some reason, I thought they were the same girl. I wish there had been tags or something to remind us that Hazel was from the U.S., Marlene was from England, etc.

2) Hazel is of Chinese heritage, however, this wasn’t very clear in the book. It’s only hinted at when she and her friend (who happens to be black) are thinking of  joining the WASPs (Women Airforce Service Pilots). One of them says: “A Chinese American and an African American want to join? They will think us crazy and laugh in our faces.” I’m pretty sure the term African American would not have been used in 1942-3. Little things like that do bother me, especially since it’s in dialogue of people from the era. If it had been the narrator, I’d be okay with it.

FINAL THOUGHTS

My rating is 4 Stars (out of 5) – I enjoyed this look into the history of women pilots in World War II. I’m pretty much a sucker for anything to do with WWII, so this was right up my alley. It’s a picture book, but it’s definitely meant for older kids (as there’s a lot of text).

5 Reasons Why I Loved 84, Charing Cross Road

When I finished reading this book, I was overwhelmed. I’m actually giving this book a 5-star rating. (And I NEVER give out 5 stars. Well, hardly ever.) This is definitely on the list of the Best Books I’ve Read This Year! Note: It’s an older book, originally published in 1970. But I hope that won’t stop you from reading this wonderful peek into the past.

So, in honour of those 5 stars, I’ll give 5 reasons why I loved this book…

84, Charing Cross Road // by Helene Hanff

#1 – The Letters

84-Charing-Cross-Road.jpgIf you’ve never read this book, then let me tell you that it is written in a series of letters. What makes this so unique is that the letters are between a woman writer who lives in New York City and a bookseller in post-World War II London. Why is she writing to a bookseller across an ocean? She wants books! (Yes, these are the pre-Amazon days. She apparently was ahead of her time.)

This is probably one of the best epistolary book I’ve ever read. First, because it uses the art of letter-writing so well. And second, it doesn’t fall into the trap of most epistolary books… where letter-writing characters write about things for the sake of us (the reader), thus creating unrealistic correspondence. The reason for this is probably due to the fact that the letters are indeed real. (This is a non-fiction book, after all.)

#2 – The Books

This is really a must-read if you love books or bookstores or … well, anything related to books. (Come to think of it, if you like books, you’ll probably like bookstores and anything related to books!) I love how Helene talks about her favourite books. And in one letter, reveals how much she despises novels. Then in a later letter, well… I’ll let her words say it all:

Favourite Quote: “You’ll be fascinated to learn (from me that hates novels) that I finally got round to Jane Austen and went out of my mind over Pride & Prejudice which I can’t bring myself to take back to the library til you find me a copy of my own.” (p.51)

#3 – The Unanswered Questions

I love that there are unanswered questions in this book. Just like in real life. People come and people go out of that life. (Often I think of a person from my past and wonder “What ever happened to them?”)

And there are missing letters in this exchange of correspondence. But I was never confused. I felt that it all gave an air of reality. Yes, I loved the reality of this book.

#4 – The Friendship

If you’re looking for a romance in this story, you won’t find it. Now, I love a good romance as well as the next person. But I LOVED that this book was about friendship. A friendship chronicled in letters.

The correspondence starts with Helene addressing a letter to the “Gentlemen” at Marks & Co. (Bookstore), 84, Charing Cross Road, London. The response is to “Dear Madam”. In subsequent letters, we see the salutations evolve to “Dear Helene” and “Dear Frank” (or sometimes, in Helene’s case, she’ll address him as “Hey, Frankie” or “SLOTH”.

Favourite Quotes: “[Letter from Helene] I hope ‘madam’ doesn’t mean over there what it does here.” (p.3)

AND

“To All at 84, Charing Cross Road: Thank you for the beautiful book… Would you believe it arrived on my birthday? I wish you hadn’t been so over-courteous about putting the inscription on a card instead of on the flyleaf… And why didn’t you sign your names? I expect Frank wouldn’t let you…” (p.27)

#5 – The History

The historian in me was in heaven as I read this… realizing that this book is written in letters by REAL people at the time in which this story is set. This book is actually categorized as non-fiction. Which means it really happened! And knowing that the book-Helene is the same as author-Helene, well, I can certainly believe she didn’t fiddle with artistic license. (With her disdain for fiction!)

While I love a well-written historical novel, there’s something wonderful about a book that actually comes out of experience of the time period. And this book has that in spades. We have the post-war rationing; the death of the King George; the re-election of Churchill; the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth…

Favourite Quote: “11th June, 1953… Dear Helene, Just a note to let you know that your parcel arrived safely on June 1, just in time for our Coronation Day celebrations…” (p.59)

Finally, after reading this book, I wanted to go to 84, Charing Cross Road! But alas, the bookstore is no longer there… (I read somewhere that it’s a MacDonald’s now??? Say it ain’t so!)


Have you read this book? Did you love it as much as me? Let me know in the comments!

Quick Pick Reviews #6

Today’s post is brought to you by the letter “B”. “B” is for Biography.

Note: Quick Pick books are always recommendations. (If I don’t recommend the book, it’s not a Quick Pick!)

Jim Henson: The Biography // by Brian Jay Jones

JimHenson-BiographyCover.jpgGenre: Adult, Biography

My Thoughts: Everything you wanted to know about the Muppets… it’s all here. Jim Henson’s creative genius is amazing and this book tells of his humble beginnings with Sam and Friends from his involvement with Sesame Street to the rise of Kermit and the whole Muppet gang. I particularly enjoyed the behind-the-scenes peek at The Muppet Show and the Muppet movies. I loved the chapters about the making of The Labyrinth. (I love that movie!)

Warning: I would not really recommend this book for kids. I don’t think it was written for kids. Also, [*SPOILER] I was saddened by all the accounts of infidelity. I can’t tell you how I hated those sections of the book. 😦 [*END SPOILER]


The Narnian // by Alan Jacobs

660367Genre: Adult, Biography

My Thoughts: I really enjoyed this biography of C.S. Lewis. From his childhood in Northern Ireland to his home at the Kilns. This is not the first biography I’ve read about Lewis, but I thought this is definitely one of the better ones.

Of course, my favourite parts dealt with the time in his life when he was writing the “Narnian” books.

P.S. I find the cover of this book a little odd. The photo of Lewis in his bathrobe with a lion prowling behind him. Well, I guess it’s certainly memorable!


High Society: The Life Grace Kelly // By Donald Spoto

6465776Genre: Adult, Biography

My Thoughts: I have been a long-time fan of Grace Kelly. My favourite Hitchcock movie (Rear Window) stars her. So, I particularly enjoyed finding out more about her life. I found it interesting that she (and those around her?) didn’t consider her to be a great beauty. (Really?! What planet were they living on?)

The story of how she fell in love with Prince Rainier was also very interesting. I mean, I knew the basics, but I didn’t know it was because they first became “pen pals”!

After reading this book, I just had to go to youtube to watch/re-watch a lot of the clips from her movies mentioned in the book. And considering that I have never seen High Noon (her first movie), it may to high time that I did. Or perhaps even re-watch High Society!


The Art of Forgery

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So, I’ve recently been reading Argo: How the CIA and Hollywood Pulled Off the Most Audacious Rescue in History, by Antonio Mendez and Matt Baglio. Basically, because I wanted to know how much of the movie was really “based on a true story”. (The verdict: Plenty of Hollywood in the movie. With a tiny bit of History.)

ArgoBut here’s what I found particularly fascinating about the book… All the behind-the-scenes stuff. All the description of the ways the CIA prepped for this mission. Creating the fake documents, passports, etc. etc.

I’m kind of a behind-the-scenes kind of person. Literally.

It’s what I do. I work behind-the-scenes in the world of film. (Not Hollywood, but independent film.) Oh, and theatre. In fact, my first job in theatre was in the props department.

And ever since, I’ve loved props.

I love finding the right props. I love scouring every conceivable shop for that hard-to-find prop. I love creating props. Aging props. You name it.

The best compliment of all is when a cast or crew member looks at a prop that I created and thinks it’s the real deal. I have “forged” World War II identification papers. I’ve painstakingly created mail, complete with cancelled stamps. I’ve created aged, torn newspaper articles and aged, torn photographs.

In short, part of my work in props calls for me to take part in the art of forgery.

I have gathered various tools for these tasks. All types of pens and papers. I scour the internet for photos of real documents so I make things look authentic.

And it always makes me feel a bit like a spy.

So, as I read the story of Tony Mendez and how he and his team prepped to rescue the American hostages from Iran in 1979, I felt right at home. When we have to dress a set, we have to create backstories, too. We need to have “pocket litter”. Everything on screen or stage is meant to sell the story as real. It’s not always easy, but it’s amazingly satisfying when you know you’ve pulled it off.

Did I miss my calling to be a spy?

Or maybe I really am a spy, and this is just my cover. 😉

Review: Hidden Figures

Hidden FiguresBook: Hidden Figures
Author: Margot Lee Shetterly
Genre: Adult, Non-Fiction
Rating: 4 Stars

Basic Plot: Nonfiction. This is story of the African-American women who worked behind-the-scenes at NASA during the days leading up to and including the Space Race. These women overcame the racism so ingrained in the South to become instrumental in sending American rockets to the moon and bringing the astronauts safely home again.

WHAT’S COOL…

1) I love this title. And I love how the title has so many meanings behind it.

2) History and space. These topics are a perennial favourite for me. I love the behind-the-scenes peek into what made the space program successful.

3) I love it when I learn something I didn’t already know. Like that Virginia was the original Houston?! We associate the space race with Houston and with Cape Canaveral. But who knew that it actually had its beginnings in Virginia. And of course, the story of these women who made the rockets fly.

4) I wanted to read this book after having seen the movie. Whenever I watch movies like this one, I want to know what’s real and what’s Hollywood. Okay, so there was a bit of Hollywood in the movie. Like the stuff with the “Colored Bathrooms” being a big problem for Katherine Johnson. According to the book, this was not so much a problem for her. Not that it wasn’t an issue, but the story comes from Mary Jackson. I found it interesting that they chose to switch that up a bit for the movie.

5) I loved the Star Trek Uhura story. At first, it seems like it comes out of nowhere, and yet it makes complete sense. (I also happen to like Star Trek!)

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) There are a lot of characters. And some, don’t seem quite as important as others. But, I guess they each had their own stories to tell. And sometimes the women’s stories ran together so I couldn’t remember who was who. This isn’t a major critique. Just a minor one.

2) The cover of the book isn’t the most appealing cover I’ve ever seen. It certainly doesn’t live up to the coolness of the title. (It rather looks like it was designed by a mathematician instead of a graphic designer.)

FINAL THOUGHTS

My rating is 4 Stars (out of 5) – Ever since watching the movie, I’ve wanted to find out more about this part of history. I enjoyed learning the true histories of these women. And, thanks to my high school Physics class, I was able to appreciate the difficulty of their amazing work.

Quick Pick Reviews #2

I’m on a bit of a non-fiction kick at present. Below are three non-fiction books (for adults) that I finished recently.

Note: Quick Pick books are always recommendations. (If I don’t recommend the book, it’s not a Quick Pick!)

51VgMgGUWCL._SY346_Book: When Books Went to War
Author: Molly Guptill Manning

My Thoughts: If you are a book lover, than you’re in luck. If you are also a lover of history (particularly of the World War II variety), then this is the book for you! This book tells the story behind how the U.S. used books to help bolster the troops during the Second World War. I really enjoyed this book. I also love A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, and finding out that that book was one of the most sought-after books by the soldiers… well, Bonus! My heart is happy when I hear how books play an important part in people’s lives. 🙂


51XOMTe3NCL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_Book: Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void
Author: Mary Roach

My Thoughts: This is a book full of fun-filled facts about all things space. I particularly liked the historic parts that dealt with the Space Race, from the Russian cosmonauts to the Mercury and Apollo astronauts. But the modern stuff is also good. Like the origami-folding tests given to Japanese astronaut hopefuls! Origami? Really?! (How interesting!) Roach also asks questions that most people would be too afraid to ask (like detailing the challenges of using the bathroom in space). I particularly like the story she tells of her own experience to try to “pass the test” to become an astronaut. She’s told she’s going to get a phone call from Europe. The call comes in at something like 3:00 in the morning and she’s quite grumpy at being woken up from a sound sleep. But it’s only later that she realizes that that was part of the test. Oops. Obviously she’s not cut out to be an astronaut!


51+aO13QmWL._SX326_BO1,204,203,200_Book: Dead Presidents: An American Adventure into the Strange Deaths and Surprising Afterlives of Our Nation’s Leaders
Author: Brady Carlson

My Thoughts: Carlson takes us on a journey through history with a focus on the various the Presidents of the United States… but it’s all about their deaths. And considering the topic, oddly enough, his voice is quite chipper! In other words, this isn’t a morose read. It’s interesting. One of the more fascinating stories for me was of President Garfield’s death. After he was shot, the doctors couldn’t find the bullet! But they kept poking their unsanitized fingers around his wound; in fact, making him a whole lot worse. Actually, according to the book his death was not due so much to the assassin’s bullet, but due to the care given to him by his medical team! (Poor Garfield. He wasn’t even in office that long. He probably never knew that one of his greatest legacies was to have a cat named after him!)

Review: Apollo 8

Apollo-8-Cover-GalleyCat.jpgBook: Apollo 8
Author: Jeffrey Kluger
Rating: 4 Stars

Basic plot: The true story behind the space mission of Apollo 8… How astronauts Frank Borman, Jim Lovell, and Bill Anders were the first to orbit the moon in 1968.

WHAT’S COOL…

1) The subtitle of the book is: The Thrilling Story of the First Mission to the Moon. For a space mission that really had no mishaps and went off pretty much like clockwork, Kluger somehow does indeed make it a “thrilling story”. What a story-telling gift!

2) This book brought NASA in the Gemini and Apollo eras to life like no other book I’ve read. I finally understand who some of the personalities were and what they actually did during in the space program. People like Chris Kraft and Deke Slayton and Gene Kranz, in addition to the astronauts themselves and their wives. And Kluger made all of them into real people.

3) The story of the Apollo 1 disaster was heartbreaking. Very well-written.

4) I really liked how he handled the Christmas message. He was able to use story-telling to create anticipation for an event that I already knew about!

5) I also like how the tragic events of 1968 (such as the war in Vietnam and the assassinations of MLK and RFK) were juxtaposed against this amazingly optimistic achievement. Especially amazing is how the author ties it all together in the final chapter with a telegram received by one of the astronauts.

6) I loved the cover. Very sleek, yet appropriate. Especially cool is how the lettering looks like a Saturn V rocket.

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) Hmm? Anything? Radio blackout, here. Nothing to report.

FINAL THOUGHTS

My rating is 4 Stars (out of 5) – I like space books and I enjoyed this one very much! Bonus on the audio book version which has an interview with Frank Borman, the commander of Apollo 8, as well as audio soundbites from the mission itself!