Brenna B. (demiducky25) - Reviews

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1776
1776
Author: David McCullough
Book Type: Paperback
  • Currently 4/5 Stars.
 132
Review Date: 8/28/2010
Helpful Score: 1


This book presents a detailed narrative profiling the year 1776 during the American Revolution. I've read McCullough's "John Adams" and found that to be a much more intriguing read. I don't know why I didn't like this book as much, perhaps because I'm not much into military history or perhaps because I couldn't read this one as continuously as I did John Adams and therefore kept picking this up after long breaks, causing me to forget what I already read. At any rate, McCullough's writing is very accessible, he doesn't assume that the person reading it is a big history buff, and he includes details and background that make it easy for the casual history reader to understand what's happening. He really tried to make sure that he was presenting each event from as many angles as possible, but that might have been what caused it to be a bit of a "sloggy" read. I understand wanting to present both the British and American POVs in something like this, but sometimes it got ridiculously bogged down because EVERYONE's POV was presented- bystanders, the average soldier, the upper-class, etc. Yes, this also makes it very interesting, but it just seemed like a bit much in spots. Still, it is a very worthwhile read for anyone interested in the birth of America.


1984
1984
Author: George Orwell
Book Type: Paperback
  • Currently 4.1/5 Stars.
 119
Review Date: 12/22/2008


Although I did enjoy this book and found it to be a very good portrayal of a possible future if the government controlled everything, it felt like it got "bogged down" in spots, particularly in the middle. George Orwell's language in this book, Newspeak, reminds me of instant messaging or text-messaging language as it is a way to get points across by using the least amount of words possible. The point of eliminating language in the novel was to eliminate independent thought and I can sort of see that with my students (and how they write things and lack certain critical & independent thinking skills, not saying there is a direct correlation, but reading this book made me think of that). There are a few other things that Orwell touches upon that makes you wonder how he knew that writing this in the 1940s. All in all, this book is one that everyone should make a point of reading at some point in their lives as it does contain so many themes and ideas that are ingrained into our culture.


The Abstinence Teacher
The Abstinence Teacher
Author: Tom Perrotta
Book Type: Paperback
  • Currently 3/5 Stars.
 17
Review Date: 11/3/2008
Helpful Score: 3


The story fluctuates between two characters: 1)Ruth, the high school Sex Ed. teacher who is forced to teach an abstinence only program after the school is pressured to change its curriculum due to a growing faction of religious fanatics and 2) Tim, a former drug addict and alcoholic who is a member of this religious faction (also the coach for Ruth's daughter's soccer team) and his internal struggle with the demons from his former life and coping with the disconnection he is feeling with the religion he feels saved his life. All in all, it was an interesting commentary on sex, religion, and (to a degree) how they mix with public education. This story did pose many interesting points without seeming too preachy or critical, just some interesting things to consider while reading. The downside to this book was the ending. It pretty much just stopped. At first I thought I was missing pages (a recent book I read was missing pages, so it wasn't entirely unlikely), but alas, Perrotta just ends the book mid-scene. As a side-note, although the location of the town is never explicitly mentioned, I figure it is in NJ since all the colleges he refers to are NJ colleges or former names of NJ colleges and since I'm from NJ, I liked that (after finishing the book I GOOGLED Perrotta and he grew up in NJ so it's plausible)! :-P


Across the Wide and Lonesome Prairie : The Oregon Trail Diary of Hattie Campbell, 1847 (Dear America)
Review Date: 3/2/2009


This books tells the story of a young, teenage girl, Hattie, as she travels across the Oregon Trail with her family. As with all the "Dear America" books, it is told in the format of a diary from Hattie's point of view. As her aunt in the story tells her to record "the good & the bad" she does just that, recounting the wonders of travel, as well as the hardships. I enjoyed how the dates of the diary entries began getting question marks next to them as Hattie begins to lose track of time, and eventually gives up keeping track of the days entirely. It gave it a more realistic feel.

I am impressed by how this story handled various aspects of history. It makes the concept of Manifest Destiny easy for younger readers to understand, briefly introduces some historical figures, and covers less-than-pleasant topics like the Donner Party with tact, but doesn't gloss over it either. I am currently teaching my 6th graders our unit on Westward Expansion, and I look forward to reading a few excerpts to them before I put this book on the classroom bookshelf (where it will hopefully be snapped up quickly)!

All-in-all, this a very quick, but quite captivating read for any reader interested in history and a good story! I loved it! :-)


Allegiant (Divergent, Bk 3)
Allegiant (Divergent, Bk 3)
Author: Veronica Roth
Book Type: Hardcover
  • Currently 3.4/5 Stars.
 218
Review Date: 12/5/2013
Helpful Score: 5


I wanted to really like this book since I LOVE Divergent (5 stars), thought Insurgent was pretty good (4 stars), but Allegiant really dragged for me. Some parts felt drawn out and repetitive. Everything finally picked up towards the end and the last 100 pages or so were great. I was satisfied with how the series ended as a whole, but I wish I enjoyed this book more than I did.


The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream
The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream
Author: Barack Obama
Book Type: Paperback
  • Currently 3.5/5 Stars.
 200
Review Date: 2/22/2009
Helpful Score: 6


I felt it was important to read this book in order to learn a little bit more about the man who is now president of our country. I have to admit that I was pleasantly surprised! Barack Obama has a very captivating way of writing. He makes it pretty accessible to every reader and not just those interested in politics (though there were a few parts, at least in the first 2 chapters in my opinion where a working political knowledge would be helpful to make sense of names for instance). He starts each chapter with a personal story...encounters with the people he represented in Illinois, a family story, something related to the theme of the chapter. Then he goes into his beliefs or ideology on that issue...race, faith, difference between Democrats and Republicans, etc. Other personal stories are sprinkled throughout the chapter, and the end of the chapter usually wraps up the story he mentioned in the start of the chapter.

Obviously Obama is going to favor the Democrat side of things, but he avoids Republican bashing for the most part (Bush-bashing, yes, but even that is done pretty respectfully). He states that a lot of what he learned from his mother (treating people with decency & how you would want to be treated, seeing both sides of an issue in order to understand the other guy's point of view even if you don't agree with them) has served him well in his political career. As someone mentioned to him in one of the stories, they did not always agree with Obama, but they felt he would at least listen to them. That is how I feel, that at least he would be willing to consider both sides, rather than just enforce his POV without considering the other side. That is probably a really important trait in a politician, one which many seem to lack. I also got a feeling for Obama as a person, not just as a politician. It was interesting to learn about his childhood and how various life circumstances influenced decisions later in life. Hopefully he can remain as honest and as genuine as he seems in this book because the next few years will be trying for him.

I found it interesting that in one anecdote he asks an experienced politician for advice and the man tells him to enjoy his time in the Senate & that too many Senators are racing to get to the White House. So much for that one! :-P Obama does put out the outline for some policies, nothing in great detail, but a few ideas that he feels America would benefit from. I agreed with most of his plans, but not all. Hopefully he does find a way to put some of these plans out there as president, especially the ones he mentions about health care and our social responsibility to take care of all citizens. All in all, I'm glad I took the time to get to know our President a bit better, and I'm interested in reading his first book Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance.


The Baby Boon : How Family-Friendly America Cheats the Childless
Review Date: 8/14/2009
Helpful Score: 1


This was a difficult book for me to rate because I had times where I liked it and other times where I couldn't stand reading it! Elinor Burkett makes many wonderful points in this book that I had never considered before, specifically if we are offering so many benefits, tax breaks, and flex-time to people with children, isn't it then discrimination to not offer something similar to people without children. She notes that she feels that of course we should help families in need, but her real gripe is with middle to upper class families who don't really need financial help taking that help away from families living in poverty. Each chapter in the book had a different feel to it, some I found fascinating, but many I found VERY repetitive. What I really wanted to see was some sort of suggestions offered to help rectify this inequality, but that was made on a very limited basis and really only at the end of the book.


The Battle of the Labyrinth (Percy Jackson & the Olympians, Bk 4)
The Battle of the Labyrinth (Percy Jackson & the Olympians, Bk 4)
Author: Rick Riordan
Book Type: Hardcover
  • Currently 4.4/5 Stars.
 168
Review Date: 7/27/2010


This is the 4th book in the Percy Jackson & the Olympians series. As the title suggests, the central myth that is the focus of this story is the concept of the Labyrinth. That doesn't mean there aren't other myths in here (a personal favorite was the standardized testing Sphinx). Anyway, Annabeth and Percy find an opening to the Labyrinth at Camp Half-Blood and they know that they need to find Daedalus so they can get Ariadne's string from him before Luke does. Meanwhile, Grover needs to find Pan before it's too late. Will the heroes succeed in time or will Luke and Kronos succeed? Of all the books in this series, this one might be my favorite, in part because I enjoyed the story of Calypso and how her myth was incorporated here. Don't know the myth? Read this book to get an idea of what her story is about!


Bee Season
Bee Season
Author: Myla Goldberg
Book Type: Paperback
  • Currently 3.5/5 Stars.
 339
Review Date: 5/26/2010


This book tells the story of Eliza Naumann, a young girl who is not academically gifted, but finds that she has an unnatural knack for spelling. She easily wins her class spelling bee, then the school spelling bee, and continues to move forward. She is both thrilled and apprehensive about her father's new-found interest in helping her achieve her goal of winning the nation spelling bee: she's thrilled because her father never seemed to have time for her before, but she's apprehensive because she is now taking away from the time her brother Aaron used to spend studying with their father. She's also originally unsettled by the fact that her father seems to use her spelling as a means to propel her into a soul-searching quest for religious enlightenment, though Eliza slowly sees this as an attainable goal herself. Aaron, meanwhile, deals with his own religious awakening, one that is vastly different from the future rabbi goals his father set for him. During all this, Eliza's mother, Miriam, sinks deeper into a dark secret that's she's been hiding from her family for many, many years.

I wanted to like this book more than I did. It's not to say that this is a bad book. It's just OK. I found myself able to connect with Eliza and Aaron, but I found it much harder to connect, or even like their parents throughout the story. As other reviewers have said, this book seems a bit disjointed and everything doesn't quite feel resolved at the end. I was left feeling a bit unfulfilled at the end. It's still an OK read, but just not what I expected going into it.


Beyond The Rim: From Slavery to Redemption in Rappahannock County, Virginia
Review Date: 11/22/2008
Helpful Score: 1


At under 100 pages, this book is a very quick read. Although there are some mix-ups with dates (either confusion describing the timeline of certain events or discrepancies of dates given in two different spots in the book) and a few editing errors, this book was an interesting read, probably meant to be of local interest (I live nowhere near VA, but had ordered the book from another PBS member because it intrigued me). Mr. Russell's book is essentially 3 separate stories. The first account (the first few chapters) concerns Caroline Terry's life (his great-grandmother), both as a slave and as a free woman. This amazing woman lived to be 108 years old and didn't seem to lose the feisty spirit she had throughout her whole life. Mr. Russell also explains certain historical events such as the Civil War and the publishing of "Uncle Tom's Cabin" to give a better sense of what was going on in the country to give greater depth to what he is trying to convey from his great-grandmother's life. The second part of the book focuses on Mr. Russell's grandfather (son-in-law of Caroline) and how he built a life for himself and his family as a successful black man during the time of segregation. The final section of the book deals with Mr. Russell's own life, what it was like to grow up in a segregated world, his experiences in WWII, and other aspects of his life.


Big Wig
Big Wig
Author: Kathleen Krull
Book Type: Hardcover
  • Currently 3/5 Stars.
 1
Review Date: 6/28/2012


Overall an informative read for kids (and adults too), though there are some historical inconsistencies.


The Book Thief
The Book Thief
Author: Markus Zusak
Book Type: Paperback
  • Currently 4.3/5 Stars.
 1025
Review Date: 7/4/2010


This book will haunt you in many ways. Told from the perspective of Death, we are brought into the WWII world of Liesel, a young girl living with her foster parents in Germany. We meet a number of people in her life: her friend Rudy who is made fun of because of his admiration of Jesse Owens, her foster parents Hans and Rosa who show their love for Liesel in different ways, Max who is a Jewish fist-fighter for whom life will never be the same once Hitler rises to power & finds himself hiding in Liesel's foster parents' basement, and the mayor's wife who witnesses Liesel's first act of stealing. Liesel arrives at Hans and Rosa's house illiterate and haunted by the death of her brother. When Hans teaches her to read from the book she stole at the gravesite, Liesel finds her world opened up to words and begins to steal them whenever they call to her. We also witness the changes in Liesel's world as WWII progresses, and the reader really gets the sense that the average person in Germany was just trying to survive the war. Too often, people lump all Germans into the Nazi category, but Markus Zusak does a fantastic job portraying life in Liesel's poor village, where survival is the bigger concern, and that there were people who wanted to do the right thing, even if it wasn't safe to do.

I strongly recommend this book, and wish that it was required reading for any middle/ high school course that teaches WWII. For a book that is considered "young adult," it is quite long at 550 pages. The writing style with interludes from the narrator takes a little getting used it, but I love the fact that the chapters are very short because it makes you feel like you're making progress in the book quickly. Once you finish this book, you will find that it sticks with you for a long time!


Brothers and Sisters
Brothers and Sisters
Author: Bebe Moore Campbell
Book Type: Mass Market Paperback
  • Currently 3.7/5 Stars.
 23
Review Date: 6/26/2008


I had to read this book for a college class (I was lucky, nearly every book I had to read for college was good). Since that was a few years ago, I don't quite remember everything about the book, but I remember liking it quite a bit and reading it rather quickly.


A Child Called 'It': One Child's Courage to Survive
A Child Called 'It': One Child's Courage to Survive
Author: Dave Pelzer
Book Type: Paperback
  • Currently 4/5 Stars.
 1949
Review Date: 7/5/2008


A very sad, but compelling, book about Dave Pelzer's struggle as a severely abused child in the 1970s. I read it in two nights and wanted to scream at so many of the peripheral characters for not stepping in and doing something sooner (especially his dad who didn't do anything about what Dave's mother was doing to him).


A Christmas Carol
A Christmas Carol
Author: Kareen Taylerson, Charles Dickens
Book Type: Paperback
  • Currently 3.9/5 Stars.
 6
Review Date: 12/6/2009


This story is truly a classic. I doubt there are many people who don't know the story of the miserly Ebenezer Scrooge and how visits from his deceased business partner Jacob Marley and the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Yet to Come help put him on the path to changing his life. Dickens does go off on a few tangents where he examines the social maladies of his time, and although it may be distracting to the modern reader because it isn't directly related to Scrooge, it does help give you a sense as to why Dickens may have written the story in the first place. The ultimate message of this story is one that I think still resonates all these years later, perhaps even more so today with the current economic situation (I read a news article earlier today that said people are being "Scrooge-like" in their holiday shopping, not spending much and not buying as much for toy drives or spending as much on charities than in years past). If that's the case, then the message that Dickens gives us in this story about cheerfully helping others if you are in a position to do so still rings true. All-in-all it is a great read, and a short one too. It's easy enough for a younger reader looking to start something a bit more "grown up," and can certainly be read-aloud to the entire family in the spirit of the holidays.


A Christmas Visitor  (Henry Rathbone)
A Christmas Visitor (Henry Rathbone)
Author: Anne Perry
Book Type: Hardcover
  • Currently 3.8/5 Stars.
 39
Review Date: 12/12/2009
Helpful Score: 2


This story is about the Dreghorn family trying to resolve the suspicious death of one of its members. Henry Rathbone is called by his goddaughter Antonia to help her break the news of her husband Judah's death to his family members as they are on their way for a family reunion. Henry learns that a man Judah put in jail, Ashton Gower, was recently released and trying to blacken Judah's name by saying he knew all along that Gower was innocent and framed him so he could buy Gower's estate. Henry and the Dreghorns must find out if Judah was murdered and why.

All-in-all, it's a very basic story to follow...a light read. I did find though that the plot did drag for quite a bit in the middle, then was wrapped up much too swiftly at the end. The pacing just seemed off. Still, it is an enjoyable read if you are looking for a mystery that you don't have to put too much thought into to fill an afternoon.


Cleopatra VII: Daughter of the Nile: Egypt, 57 B.C. (The Royal Diaries)
Review Date: 2/28/2009
Helpful Score: 3


This story is about a young Cleopatra (12 at the start, 14 by the end), who is forced to flee Egypt with her father and had to live in Rome for a short time until it was possible for them to return. Also, we meet various historical figures through Cleopatra's eyes (Marc Antony, Cicero, etc).

To a degree, this was like reading a junior version prequel of "When We Were Gods" because the author makes you feel connected to this Egyptian princess who feels like she has no real control over her future, but must put on a royal appearance at all times. Cleopatra knows that she must be "the future Queen" at all times, not allowing herself to act like the 12 to 14 year old girl that she really is over the course of the story. This story lets to reader in on Cleopatra's thoughts and fears for both herself and her Egypt. I'm glad that Kristiana Gregory does not gloss over certain less-than-pleasant details (either in the reading or in the historical notes at the end) that actually did happen (such as the story of Cleopatra's death in the note at the end). She makes sure to treat historical details with tact, and make it accessible to younger readers. Of course, there are a number of fictional elements, but overall, I'd say Gregory did a great job of being true to life of Cleopatra!


A Coal Miner's Bride: the Diary of Anetka Kaminska, Latimer, Pennsylvania 1896 (Dear America)
Review Date: 12/27/2008
Helpful Score: 2


This one is about a young woman (teenager) in 1896 whose father arranges for her to marry an older man and become the stepmother to his children. It really illustrates the dangerous lives of workers in coal mines as well as how immigrants were treated. This one I think is my favorite Dear America book so far because it is just written so well (I think it's also longer than the others and a bit more adult in terms of needing some maturity when reading it). This one also made me realize how much I enjoy the epilogues to these books that tell what happens to the characters after the young women stop keeping these diaries.


The Confession  (Heritage of Lancaster County, Bk 2)
The Confession (Heritage of Lancaster County, Bk 2)
Author: Beverly Lewis
Book Type: Paperback
  • Currently 3.9/5 Stars.
 41
Review Date: 8/5/2010


This is the second book in the "Heritage of Lancaster County" trilogy by Beverly Lewis, and it's a good companion to the first book. We find that Katie Lapp is now calling herself Katherine Mayfield since that was her birth name. She has to learn how to make her way in the "fancy" world since she has been shunning from the Amish community and isn't allowed to contact her friends and loved ones. She is determined to find her birth mother and create a new family connection before it's too late (she does know from the last book that her birth mother is dying). However, connecting with her birth mother, Laura Mayfield-Bennett won't be easy since another Katie Lapp has already taken up residence at the Bennett estate. What will Katherine do? Meanwhile, as noted at the end of the first book, Katherine's first love, Daniel is found alive and well and has returned to the Amish community to find her and possibly face his own shunning for his long absence.

This book fits in well with the first book and is a fast, enjoyable read. Yes, it is a bit predictable, but in a "feel-good-by-comforting-yourself-by-eating-a-pint-of-ice-cream-but-minus-all-the-calories" kind of way. It's a great read for one of those days where you just want to escape into something a little simpler.


Confessions of a Shopaholic (Shopaholic, Bk 1)
Confessions of a Shopaholic (Shopaholic, Bk 1)
Author: Sophie Kinsella
Book Type: Paperback
  • Currently 3.8/5 Stars.
 1989
Review Date: 4/21/2010
Helpful Score: 3


This book tells the story of Becky Bloomwood, a writer for Successful Savings, who harbors a terrible secret...she's addicted to shopping and is in tons of debt. Ok, it's really not that secret, but it's nothing that anyone who knows her in the finance world is aware of. This story details her wild and wacky adventures as she tries to limit her spending, avoid her bank manager, and figure out why she feels sort of attracted to Luke Brandon, a big head honcho in the world of finance and PR who she typically tries to avoid at PR functions because she's afraid he'll ask her questions that will reveal how little she knows about her profession.

If nothing else, this story will make you laugh. Yes, it's unrealistic at times. Yes, the main character is shallow and pretty unaware of the fact (but she has a good heart...think Legally Blonde and you'll get the idea). I think you end up caring for Becky because everyone has their own vice (in the case of many of us on PBS that vice would be reading and acquiring books), and that vice helps you to relate a little to Becky's often bizarre rationalizations for her behavior. But this is the first book in the series, and I did not expect to enjoy it as much as I did, so much so that I read the rest of the series and quite liked it! It's a nice light read if you are looking for something to entertain you.


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