12 Days of Giveaways – Day 7 – Irish America by Maureen Dezell

iamdFor the nonfiction lover we have Maureen Dezell’s Irish America: Coming into Clover. If you’ve ever wondered about the history of one of the earliest immigrant groups to the US, or perhaps your own ancestry if you are Irish-American, this is a great place to start. It traces Irish-American history and beliefs from the early days of immigration to today’s most famous Irish-Americans. Instructions on how you can win a copy follow the book blurb below. Good luck!

From Goodreads:

A dazzling and bracingly honest look at a great people in a great land.

For many people in this country, Irish American culture conjures up thoughts of raucous pubs, St. Patrick’s Day parades, memoirs peopled with an array of saints and sinners, and such quasi-Celtic extravaganzas as Riverdance. But there is much more to this rich and influential culture, as Maureen Dezell proves in this insightful, unsentimental reexamination of Irish American identity.

Skillfully weaving history and reporting, observation and opinion, Dezell traces the changing makeup of the Irish population in this country, from the early immigrants to today’s affluent, educated Irish Americans. With sensitivity and humor, she pinpoints what unites them: the traditions (if not the practices) of the Catholic Church; a sense of social duty; humor, often self-directed; and the deep-seated, apparently unshakable belief that any achievement is accidental and could easily be taken away tomorrow.

From her exploration of the Church in Irish American life to her rediscovery of strong, culture-building women, to her historical and sociological look at the role alcohol plays in the Irish identity (here and abroad), to her discussion on the “New Irish,” Dezell does not shy away from the central, uniting myths and methods of this proud heritage. Irish America is more than an enlightening look at a group of Americans masked by their own stereotypes. It is a long-overdue tribute to one of the building blocks of America itself.


One lucky winner will have the opportunity to win a hardcover copy of Irish America by Maureen Dezell!  For your chance to win simply leave a comment below.  Comments will be accepted through midnight on Wednesday, December 31, 2014.  Winner will be picked at random and announced on Thursday, January 1, 2015.  Open to US residents only.  Good luck!


Charlie’s Review of The Geek’s Guide to Dating By Eric Smith

17568806When I was given The Geek’s Guide to Dating by Eric Smith to read, I was intrigued by the concept as I identify myself as a 21st century geek. We all know that this is a cool thing these days, even though I have had these interests long before they were cool. As far as dating advice goes, anyone who knows me knows I don’t need that. I was quite the ladies’ man before I found the love of my life. So, I read this book solely based on the entertainment factor as I have no need for help in my love life. However, for all you out there looking for that special someone, The Geek’s Guide to Dating is not just entertaining, but may actually help you succeed!

From the publisher:

Boldly Go Where No Geek Has Gone Before! You keep your action figures in their original packaging. Your closets are full of officially licensed Star Wars merchandise. You’re hooked on Elder Scrolls and Metal Gear, but now you’ve discovered an even bigger obsession: the new girl who just moved in down the hall. What’s a geek to do? Take some tips from The Geek’s Guide to Dating. This hilarious primer is jam-packed with cheat codes, walkthroughs, and power-ups for navigating the perils and pitfalls of your love life with ease. Geeks of all ages will find answers to the ultimate questions of life, the universe, and everything romantic, from First Contact to The Fellowship of the Ring and beyond. The Geek’s Guide to Dating will teach fanboys everywhere to love long and prosper.

This guide is a geek reference bible. From Star Wars to Star Trek to Doctor Who, the list goes on and on. It’s very heavy on the video games references as well (just look at the cover.) All of these witty references have a purpose, though, and they apply themselves towards being useful knowledge. Whether you need help meeting someone in the real world or in cyber space, there is something here for you!

Referring to the reader as “Player One”, this book seems like it’s specifically made for guys, which is always a geek stereotype, but there are plenty of girl geeks out there too! With that being said, there is a little something for all of us here. This isn’t your average self-help nonsense. As I said earlier, this is more of a geek culture book, and reading all the references makes it a great read and much more than a dating book. This guide touches on not just how, but when to talk to the ladies. Something that stood out in the book was that it teaches readers that they WILL fail, and that is OK. Just as I have experienced in life, as has almost everyone else in the dating game, sometimes you fall, but you just have to pick yourself back up again. Learn from your mistakes and life just gets better. Eventually you all will be as lucky as me and find your Princess Leia (I am obviously Han Solo.)

All and all, Smith has constructed an excellent geek read, even if you aren’t looking for dating advice. It’s well written, creative, and funny (the list goes on and on.) His knack for understanding the geek culture really makes the book shine. I would love to see him write a Sci-Fi novel! While some may not agree, I really believe this book can appeal to not just guys, but girls as well. I highly recommend this book to anyone who loves all things geek because at its core, that is what it really is. In the end, it definitely can help out with some dating hints, but you are going to want to read this for all its references.

4 out of 5 Stars

The Geek’s Guide to Dating by Eric Smith
Quirk Books (2013)
Hardcover: 208 pages
ISBN: 9781594746437

Special thanks to Quirk Books for my review copy!

Todd’s Review of A Year in Food and Beer by Emily Baime and Darin Michaels

17466594Look!  A post about beer from Todd?  How unexpected?  All joking aside, I got the chance to review A Year in Food and Beer by Emily Baime and Darin Michaels and promptly took it.  I knew that the book mainly focused on beer tasting and food pairing, two subjects which I admittedly knew very little about, despite being a homebrewer for over two years.  So, with a lot to learn, I dove right in.

The book contains a general introduction to beer and tasting in general, covering the major scents and tastes that would be acceptable for different seasons, styles of beer, and foods.  The authors also describe the production of beer, and the different properties of the raw ingredients involved.  They also touch on clean glassware, which is quite important in the beer tasting process.  A main theme in the work is “seasons”, which highlights how different beers are appropriate for different seasons, as well as different foods to pair with these beers.  They then provide a large list of recipes and beer pairings, with an emphasis on the different flavors and smells that are prevalent in that particular season.

From the start, I knew this book would be a great resource for me.  As I admitted before, I had little to no experience with beer pairing, and typically whenever I drink beer with food I find that either the food ends up overpowering the beer or vice-versa.  I’ve come to realize that this is probably due to the fact that I haven’t been pairing correctly.  The authors reference a flavor wheel of sorts that basically functions as a color wheel for food.  Flavors that are in close proximity to each other on the wheel can be paired, and flavors that are completely opposite on the wheel can be paired.  For example, the sweet and rich flavor of a porter could be paired with the crunchy and salty flavor and texture of a pretzel.  On the other hand, the spicy flavors in Indian food can be easily paired with the floral and spicy flavors that are found in most IPA’s.  With this in mind, along with the copious amount of recipes provided, I should have plenty of new ideas to try out when I next pair food and beer together.  I agree with their point that adding food to beer probably increases the enjoyment of it, and it introduces new flavors that would have never existed had it not been for the addition of food.  In short, this is a great read for those of you who are interested in both beer and new foods.  It’s a quick read that definitely goes beyond just a list of recipes.  Cheers!

4 out of 5 stars

A Year in Food and Beer by Emily Baime and Darin Michaels
AltaMira Press (2013)
eBook: 148 pages
ISBN: 9780759122659

Special thanks to AltaMira Press for my review copy via Netgalley!

Todd’s Review of Born to Run by Christopher McDougall

I’ll get to the review in a second, but first, a little background.  I come from a family of runners.  My sister regularly runs and joined the running club at her university, and my Dad recently finished his first marathon earlier this year (way to go Dad!).  So, why shouldn’t I run too?  I’ll tell you why: I’m pretty lazy.  However, all that soon ended when I began running for real earlier this year.  I also began training for Ragnar, a relay race held around the country that covers 192 miles with 12 runners per team (my company put together a team).  In the midst of my training, my Dad lent me Born To Run, a book Kim and I had given him for Christmas the year before.  So, ready for inspiration and motivation to keep training, I began reading.

Central to McDougall’s work is his quest to find the Tarahumara, a reclusive tribe in the Copper Canyons of Mexico that is renowned for their long distance running abilities and general good health.  To do so, McDougall sought out a man known as “Caballo Blanco”, or the “white horse” in Spanish.  McDougall learned that this man had disappeared into the Copper Canyons years ago, and had all but blended into the local culture and was rumored to be affiliated with the tribe.  However, the reason McDougall was searching out this tribe in the first place was due to a simple thing: foot pain.  Searching out relief for his pain, once McDougall learns the ways of the tribe and undoes years of learned bad running practice he is amazed to find that his pain disappears and the distance he runs increases farther and farther.  Going into detail, McDougall outlines the new running practices and places them against conventional wisdom.  He dovetails these new inspirations with his continued story to meet these Tarahumara and change his life forever.

I must say, this book was riveting.  I knew this was the case because I was reading it on the way to Mexico in a plane (which I’m not fond of), and it made me completely forget that I was flying.  Perhaps it was because I was just getting into running, or perhaps it was McDougall’s awesome ability to reel the reader in with a great story.  Either way, it was definitely an eye opening experience.  The way in which the Tarahumara are portrayed and how their lifestyle is analyzed was so interesting.  Their whole lives revolve around running, and they use it as a form of entertainment and competition that fosters a community of inclusiveness.  McDougall makes a great point in juxtaposing their culture with our own, as well as pointing out the fallacies of the running shoe industry in looking for profits over correct running form.  It was interesting to see that once McDougall realized that he could run with less cushioned shoes (or no shoes at all), his pain and fatigue problems went away.  His analysis of the history of shoe manufacturing once it was determined that a “heel strike” may be the correct way to run was very interesting.  I followed his advice and switched to a front/mid foot strike which eliminated the hip pain I had felt when running.  Sure, it could be a placebo effect, but I definitely think that I learned a lot and I definitely enjoyed the mix of history and science that McDougall offered in Born to Run.  This is definitely one to check out!

5 out of 5 stars

Born to Run by Christopher McDougall
Knopf Doubleday (2009)
Hardcover: 304 pages
ISBN: 9780307266309

Adam’s Review of Sober Identity by Lisa Neumann

This book review will definitely be the first of its kind here on Reflections of a Book Addict. As an avid reader of the website, you would know that we mostly read novels and watch movies. Recently, the opportunity arose for me to read a novel all about living soberly. For some odd reason, I thought it would be a great book for me to read because it seemed to be different than anything I have ever read and reviewed for this blog.  Sober Identity Tools for Reprogramming the Addictive Mind by Lisa Neumann is a self-help book that contains tools to help you get sober and live an active life as a sober individual. Neumann uses her own experiences as an alcoholic (and now a recovered alcoholic) to help you truly understand your life and what it can become with focus and determination.

This book is not a memoir or a story saying all alcoholics should follow these certain steps to guarantee sobriety. The book is written to help the reader with the different steps of recovery, as well as explaining how you should learn to live with your new sober self. She breaks the book down into six parts: the six tools you should use in looking at your new life. The six steps are: the observation, the process, the essentials, the competencies, the partnerships, and the basics. All of the six play an integral part in the recovery process: the observations entails that you observe your behavior and see what needs to be changed.  The process represents how you change the behavior, and the essentials instruct you on how to change your life in order to achieve happiness (and also a discussion on the science behind change). The competencies talked about the steps one must take in order to be a competent person, free from alcohol and truthful to themselves. The partnerships dives into the partnership with ourselves and our own self motivation, and lastly the basics ties everything together and gets into the basic steps one takes to get sober. All of these parts tell a separate story, but one must be aware of all the different six steps in order to get sober.

My favorite part of this book by far was the inner dialogue that Neumann had between two distinct voices in her head. In the introduction when Neumann was explaining how the book was written, she said that everybody has two voices in their head. Voice A is their lower self, the one who struggles and questions whether or not they could get and stay sober, and then there’s voice B, who represents the way they were meant to be in the eyes of the creator. I thought by adding these conversations Neumann added a personal level to the self-help book without turning it to an autobiography. I really enjoyed reading the progression of these dialogues because they go from pre-sobriety to complete sobriety over almost seven years. You got to see how her voices changed through the different stages. Voice A tried to drag her down and tell her she’s not strong enough and that she should go back to drinking, and on the other hand voice B was always her voice of reason even at the pre-sobriety stage. Voice B always said what she didn’t want to hear, yet needed to hear. For example, in the early stages of her sobriety when voice A was questioning whether or not it could or stay sober or why it even got sober in the first place, B was telling her that she should just focus on today. Not tomorrow, not a month from now, focus on your recovery today and then when tomorrow or next month comes focus on it then. Even though I am not a recovering alcoholic, I think this is a good mantra to have for life. Don’t focus on problems or bumps in the road that may occur tomorrow or a month from now, focus on today, then move to tomorrow, and next Friday only when it’s actually next Friday.  My favorite of the inner dialogues was definitely dialogue six (out of seven), in which she had been sober for 367 days. In this particular dialogue her voice A was telling her that since she had been sober for one year, she could go back to drinking (something her voice A had mentioned in an earlier dialogue), but her voice B was so strong and confident that it didn’t even want to drink. It really showed the progress of her recovery and how strong she really was when she wasn’t dependent on alcohol. It made me smile because it was one of the dialogues where she truly seemed happy, and happy people are always better than sad people!

In all, I really enjoyed reading this book. I thought it was an interesting tool to read as a non-addict because it made me understand the mindset of the addict without telling one’s personal story. I think this is a great tool which should be read by recovering and recovered addicts, as well as those who are going through the journey with them. It also made me question my voice A and voice B, not from the perspective of an addict, but from the perspective of my own self-doubt.  Voice A is telling me I can’t do something and my sometime too quiet Voice B telling me I can do anything I want to do.  Overall, it’s an awesome read that everyone should pick up when they have a chance.

4 out of 5 Stars

Sober Identity by Lisa Neumann
Balboa Press (2011)
Paperback: 156 pages
ISBN: 9781452539188

Special thanks to Jessie from Author Solutions for sending over my review copy!

Jess’s Review of The Big Fun Sexy Sex Book by Lisa Rinna & Ian Kerner PhD

When the good people at Gallery Books offered Reflections of a Book Addict a free advance copy of The Big Fun Sexy Sex Book, Kim sent the offer right to me. The offer came not because of my particular expertise on the topic, but because I am not afraid to tackle uncomfortable topics in a candid way (I think). After reading Fifty Shades of Grey, I was hoping authors Lisa Rinna and Ian Kerner could offer me some more realistic and less frightening ideas for spicing things up in the bedroom. Not only does The Big Fun Sexy Sex Book offer advice for couples looking to liven up their sex lives, but it also gives interesting insight into the science of sex.

I will admit, as a 25-year old in a serious dating relationship, I do not think this book was written with my demographic in mind. Lisa Rinna, an actress who has been married for over twenty years and Ian Kerner, a sex therapist, really speak to couples who have been together for many years and have maybe lost some of the magic in that time. Reading like a step by step manual, the authors offer a very in-depth look at the science behind sex and attraction, and offer ways to improve your relationship outside of the bedroom before taking it into the bedroom. The book suggests that the brain is one’s most powerful sexual organ and the key to making others happy is to make yourself happy first. Rinna even includes a diet and wellness plan aimed at making females readers feel fabulous in order to head home and make someone else feel fabulous.

The book reads like good advice from a friend and maintains a very conversational tone, despite the fact that it reads like a science textbook at times. I recommend this book to anyone who is interested in learning about sex from the ground up as a means of repairing a worthwhile relationship that has lost its spark over time. Rinna and Kerner leave no stone unturned from understanding anatomy (in serious detail), to toys, sexual issues, and maintaining your sex life while also being a parent (a chapter which would be better to read if you are an actual parent). Overall, I think this book is an expansive and detailed manual for everything sex that you’ve always been afraid to ask, offered in a friendly and conversational way.

3 out of 5 Stars

The Big Fun Sexy Sex Book by Lisa Rinna & Ian Kerner PhD
Gallery Books (2012)
Hardcover 336 pages
ISBN: 9781451661231

Special thanks to Gallery books for my review copy!

#39 A Review of A Thousand Days in Venice by Marlena de Blasi

In recent years I’ve become a voracious reader of the memoir genre.  I love learning about the interesting lives of other people!  In some instances I want to be them and in others I’m glad I’m not them!  When I saw that Barnes and Noble was having a travel themed eBook sale I quickly grabbed some of the memoirs.  A Thousand Days in Venice by Marlena de Blasi happened to be one of these selections!

In this autobiographical tale of food and romance, Marlena De Blasi first takes us to Venice, Italy in the late 1980’s.  She is a food journalist and chef, and is on her first trip to Venice.  In the Piazza San Marco, a man, whom she affectionately calls “the stranger”, spots her from across the Piazza and instantly falls in love with her from afar.  When he sees her again, this time a year later, he decides that it is fate and that they must be together.  Marlena, fresh from a divorce, politely declines the man’s affections, thinking herself too damaged and hurt to be of any use in a relationship.  However, as luck would have it, only a few short months later she finds herself packing up her life in America to move to Venice and marry this “stranger”.  Although the culture shock is enormous, Marlena finds herself embracing the new and exciting smells, sounds, and life that this exciting city has to offer.  She cooks traditional American dishes for her new Italian friends to try, while they teach her to dance in the candlelight.  Complete with numerous recipes of her own creation, Marlena tells her tale of life and love in one of the most romantic cities in the world.

At the end of this novel, I had very mixed emotions.  I’ll start with some of the areas of the work that could use some improvement, then work towards its strengths.  Initially, I thought the book was very hectic – I kept reading and felt like I was being thrown all over the place.  The concept/true story element is what kept me reading, but the flow of the book was rough.  The best way to describe what I mean is it felt like I was reading something that had been translated oddly.  It’s extremely difficult to try to explain what I mean here, it wasn’t poor word choices or the story proper, more the way it was structured and pieced together.

Additionally, the relationship between Marlena and “the stranger” seemed really odd at times.  He wanted a marriage, yet it was completely one-sided (when he quits his job at the bank, he just does it, even though they discussed waiting till they got their affairs in order).  She up and leaves her life and her children in America, moves to Venice for this man, and yet she feels restricted in the things that she can do and say to him.  One example is her cooking.  Obviously, cooking and food are HUGE parts of her life, having been a chef and restaurateur.  She becomes ashamed of this at certain points, and she writes of having to hide her trips to the market.  It’s almost as if she has an alternative life outside of her marriage, creating an entirely different life out there with the merchants and market people.

What was great?  Her descriptions of Venice and food are astounding.  Having been to Italy before (see my recaps here, here, here, here, here, and here) I know that it generates strong feelings in a person.  The landscape and buildings are stunning to see.  To read her words and thoughts so eloquently put was very rewarding.  I found myself at a loss for words on many of the things during my trip to Italy/Spain, so it was rewarding to find someone who could write about the beauty of it all so well.  In all, this beautiful imagery that de Blasi is able to conjure up in her book was enough to keep me from becoming too upset over the odd flow of the book.  It’s still definitely a worthwhile read for the recipes alone!  I can’t wait to try some of them out, they look quite delicious!  So, if you’re in the mood for a book that will take you on a mini-tour of all the sights and sounds that Venice has to offer, as well as a personal back story, give A Thousand Days in Venice a try.

3 out of 5 Stars

This is my eleventh completed review for the Around The Stack In How Many Ways Challenge

A Thousand Days in Venice by Marlena de Blasi
Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill (2002)
eBook: 288 pages
ISBN: 9781565125896

#8 A Review of The Night Sky by Maria Sutton

The Night Sky: A Journey from Dachau to Denver and BackAnyone who has ever been curious about his or her roots and delved into family genealogy knows they’re bound to find a few surprises.  My own husband’s genealogy search has produced information on countless relatives from the past with some of the most fascinating stories.  Maria Sutton, author of The Night Sky, had other reasons for beginning her genealogy research.  Her mother Julia’s family was torn apart by the horrors and atrocities that occurred both during and after World War II.  As a product of displaced persons camps in her early life before coming to America, Maria is content with her new life in Colorado, far from the postwar entanglements that she and her family suffered.  However, all of this past is brought back into sharp focus as she overhears her mother mentioning a man from her past in a conversation to her friend.  Maria discovers that this man is in fact her biological father, and the man who has raised her for the majority of her life is her stepfather.  Although her mother strongly advises against it, Maria embarks on a journey to meet him and discover the history of how she and her mother came to America.

Upon finishing this novel I was amazed at how much of the Holocaust and WWII is still a mystery to me.  What really appealed to me about The Night Sky was that it gave an account of the war from Eastern Europe’s viewpoint.  When I took a Holocaust history course in college it mostly focused on the war in England, Germany, and France, and didn’t discuss much of Stalin’s invasions through Poland, Ukraine, etc.  Learning new facts (to me) about the war was both heartbreaking and eye-opening.  The one that stands out the most for me was the Katyn Massacre.  Sutton writes:

Stalin had committed one of his most heinous crimes in Katyn Forest, near Smolensk, Russia.  During Russia’s invasion of Poland, 180,000 Polish soldiers were captured.  Of those, 15,000 Polish officers and intellectuals were segregated by the Red Army into different detention centers and transported to the same area used by the Bolsheviks in 1919 for murdering Tsar Nicholas’s officers.  The 15,000 captured officers and intellectuals were loaded into truckers and told they were going home.  But the truckers stopped in Katyn Forest and, one by one, each officer was executed with a bullet to the head and buried in a mass grave.

The novel is packed with facts like these that really do an excellent job on getting Eastern Europe’s story out there.  Often there is a great amount of focus on Hitler’s terrible quest to create a master race, and the atrocities and history of Russia, Poland, the Ukraine, and many other Eastern Bloc countries is buried in the past.  Sutton brings this past to light by telling the story shared by millions as they were touched by the horrors of WWII.

The other portion of the novel, Sutton’s search for her family, is a heart wrenching story filled with lies, betrayal, and fortunately an eventual happy ending.  Sutton’s main goal in the novel is to search for her biological father, Jozef.  My heart broke each time her searches hit a dead-end.  Finding Jozef became as important to me as it did for Sutton.  Her writing skills are fantastic and really pulled me into this search, making me giddy with anticipation every time she found a lead.  Sutton is one tenacious women, using all possible resources (including hiring an ex-KGB officer) to find her family.  Her gripping forty-plus year search is the backbone of this novel, making it one of the most memorable memoirs I’ve ever read.  Harrowing, brutal, and painfully honest, The Night Sky is one novel you MUST add to your to-read pile this year.

5 out of 5 Stars

This is my fourth completed review for the Around The Stack In How Many Ways Challenge

The Night Sky by Maria Sutton
Johnson Books (2011)
Hardcover 240 pages
ISBN: 9781555664466
Special thanks to Maria for sending over a review copy!

Adam’s Review of The Complete Maus by Art Spiegelman

Today I will be reviewing the novel that got me interested in graphic novels and really introduced me to this underrated genre of books, The Complete Maus by Art Spiegelman. With the source material coming directly from conversations Art had with his father Vladek over a period of time, Art converted this story to a graphic novel where every Jewish person is a mouse and every other ethnicity is portrayed by a different animal (Germans are cats, Poles are pigs, etc). The story paints a vivid and true picture of what it means to survive under any circumstances, and how we often don’t know the real version of our parents’ history until we hear it from them firsthand. Telling his father’s story of the events leading up to the Holocaust and how he survived his time in Auschwitz, this graphic novel somehow makes the events of the Holocaust more real than any textbook could. Maybe it’s because it’s a real story and not just a jumble of different facts and figures, but this novel really hit me in a way that other Holocaust literature hasn’t before.

As I previously stated, Maus tells the story of the author’s father and his journey during the Holocaust. Now in his 70’s, Vladek is in poor health after surviving two heart attacks. Art wants to get the full story of what actually occurred with his father and mother (who committed suicide 10 years prior to Art starting to collect his notes). The retelling of the events begin with Vladek meeting Art’s mother Anja, and details how they got married and the life they had prior to the Holocaust. Told as if we were a fly on the wall during the conversations Art had with his father, we mainly listen to Art having multiple conversations with his father, including some side notes and historical information to fill the reader in. This allows for a full experience, as you somehow feel more part of the story than if it was written in a third person narrative. Maybe it was the pictures that accompanied the dialogue, but reading this was a much more fulfilling experience for me. We can never imagine what life was like for the Jewish people and those others who were sent to concentration camps, but this book gives an accurate tale of what it was like for one person, and the pictures really help to bring that message home. The illustrations were amazing and really vivid. My favorite part of the novel’s illustrations was when the mice were hiding or were pretending to not be Jewish. Rather than drawing them as a different animal, Art put a mask on them depicting the animal they were trying to impersonate. It was an extremely creative solution to illustrating this portion of Vladek’s story

One of the most amazing parts that I was really surprised to see in the book was Art’s own thoughts about the Holocaust. Art was born after the Holocaust in Sweden and grew up in Queens, New York, but it was interesting to see that he had a lot of guilt regarding the Holocaust. His older brother, Richeu, was sent to live with an aunt when the Germans began rounding up Jews and putting them in ghettos.  (Her ghetto was deemed safer than the one Vladek and Anja lived in) As the ghettos began to be liquidated, Art’s aunt poisoned Richeu, her niece, her daughter, and herself as not to be sent to the concentration camps. It pains Art because he feels as if he isn’t as deserving to be alive because he didn’t experience it. In the beginning of the second volume, he visits with his therapist and he brings this up, which was interesting to read/see. It made me think, can we have guilt for something we don’t have any control over? We don’t have any control over what happened before we were born, but is it possible to still feel bad for it? It made me also made me wonder if any of the survivors of the Holocaust or any other tragic historical events have survivor’s guilt.

All in all, I think Maus is a great way to learn about the Holocaust. It is extremely informative, but also has a heart in the middle of this terrible story. It allows the reader to laugh at the flashbacks of Art’s conversations with his father, and really get emotional learning first hand what it was like. Art was great at drawing the reader in. Whether it was the dialogue or the illustrations, I could not put this book down. Even when the story got deeper and a lot sadder I was enthralled by it and couldn’t sleep until I was done. If you are just starting to learn about the Holocaust, know a lot about the Holocaust and are looking for another source to read, or are just in the mood to read an excellent graphic novel, I would recommend this work 1000%. Definitely a must read for anyone over the age of 14. (Note: some of the material regarding the death camps is very heavy and may not be appropriate for younger readers)

5 out of 5 Stars

The Complete Maus by Art Spiegelman
Pantheon (1993)
ISBN: 9780679748403

Todd’s Review of Civil Rights Journey by Joseph Howell

Civil Rights JourneyI’ll admit, I’m not entirely knowledgeable when it comes to the history of the civil rights movement in America.  Perhaps it’s because I was born too late, or perhaps it’s because I had no real connection to it in my upbringing as a white, northern individual in the close of the 20th century.  In light of this, when offered a chance to review Joseph Howell’s Civil Rights Journey, I was extremely excited to get started; I wanted to increase my knowledge of this time period to really understand the tumultuous changes that our country experienced in such a short time.  It left such an indelible mark on our history that I felt that it could not be ignored, least of all when I had such an opportunity to read a firsthand account!

Howell begins his work by telling the abbreviated version of the early years of his life, growing up in Nashville, Alabama, at the close of the Jim Crow laws of the time.  He was fortunate to grow up in a family that would be considered quite liberal for the time period.  Although they had a black maid, his family was extremely respectful of her and treated her almost as a member of the family.  One memorable passage was when his mother told one of his friends (after hearing him use the N word), “Young man, you will never use that word in our home or in our yard again. Ever”.  Despite this light of progressiveness, Howell still experienced de facto segregation in his childhood.  Two experiences served to make him more sensitive to the suffering that was going on around him with racial inequality: an experience traveling to the impoverished neighborhoods around his own to collect money for charity, and a childhood bout of Polio that attacked the muscles of his stomach and arm.  Through these (especially the Polio account), Howell was able to distance himself from the cocoon that he was enveloped in while growing up.

The second portion of the work is a diary of Howell’s accounts as he traveled with his wife Embry to Baker County, Georgia to work with local civil rights leaders and the SNCC (student nonviolent coordinating committee) to increase black voter registration, promote greater local leadership, and advance the Head Start Program, a national integrated education program by the Office of Economic Opportunity.  All of these goals were initially met with distrust and sometimes outright hatred by the local civil rights workers in the county.  Some of them distrusted all whites, and wanted to make changes without any outside intervention, while others were wary and accepted help, while still others were eager to discuss and move forward with the partnership.  Overall, Howell, Embry, and the others encountered struggles, triumphs, and numerous moments of soul-searching.  While I won’t reveal the ultimate outcomes of their experience, it was an amazing journey reading all the events that Howell and Embry worked through during their time in Baker County.

Although as I admitted earlier that my civil rights knowledge was lacking, I now more than ever consider this point in our nation’s history to be pivotal to making us the people we are today.  Elegantly written and poignant, Howell’s story takes us through the struggles he faced internally and externally when encountering harsh resistance upon first entering Georgia.  He highlights the fact that too easily the country could have erupted into full-scale racial war, as has occurred many times across the globe throughout history.  Reminding us of how closely we came to this scenario, his stories show the “ground level” work that was being performed all over the country to integrate the seemingly separate and unequal races.  I consider knowledge of this part of our past critical to understand the issues of today that parallel it, such as equal rights under the law for gay individuals.  Howell writes that his son stated that he was lucky to grow up in a time when the social issues were right in your face.  Currently, it is all too common for individuals to be mislead through slander and polarizing of political views.  It is important, now more than ever, to be able to understand and sympathize with those that are being mistreated.  Howell did a wonderful job not only in teaching us this lesson, but showing us that we can be something greater than just ourselves.  We cannot rely on others to lead us and make decisions for us.  Now is not the time to be apathetic.  We all must learn to be more like Joseph and Embry Howell, and take matters in to our own hands, deciding to dive right into the fray and come out more enlightened, if a little scarred by the process.  Kudos to them both for being brave enough to do so and thoughtful enough to tell their story to future generations in the hopes that they too follow in their lead!

5 out of 5 Stars

Civil Rights Journey by Joseph Howell
AuthorHouse (2011)
Paperback 200 pages
ISBN: 9781456762087