Famously, the story that would become the enduring classic Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland began as a tale told aloud to a young girl named Alice Liddell. The author, Charles Dodgeson, had done some writing in the past under the pen name of Lewis Carroll, but he did not dream of becoming a novelist or a children’s entertainer. Instead, he spent his pittance of a salary from his low-level position at Oxford on the new and exciting art of photography. Much of the surviving evidence of his relationship with the Liddell family comes from the photographs he took of the children. A particularly enigmatic photograph of Alice dressed as a beggar serves as the focal point for Winchester’s examination of Dodgeson’s photographic passion and his relationship with the girl whom he would immortalize in his tales of Wonderland.
Although I have enjoyed some of Winchester’s other works, I found this book underwhelming. He devotes a significant amount of time to discussing photography practices and other photographs Dodgeson took, occasionally losing the focus on Alice and the Liddell family. Furthermore, the book contains no reproductions of the many photographs it discusses–a true limitation since the comparison and contrast of Dodgeson’s relationship with the Liddell siblings and other children largely depends on the reader’s ability to imagine and mentally compare the photographs. Winchester also mentions Dodgeson’s diary frequently when discussing his relationship with the Liddells and his relationships with and attitudes toward young girls, but the book would have benefitted from more direct excerpts from these diaries to help support Winchester’s conclusions.
Overall, if you are interested in the subject matter, this is a brief and interesting read, but it lacks a certain amount of depth and supporting material which could have elevated the book to a truly engaging narrative.
How would you feel if you encountered a 12 ft. tall bird? Or a 6 ft. tall, 10 ft. long ox? As strange and potentially alarming as they might sound, these and other giant creatures ruled their ecosystems until humans hastened their extinction. In his book, Campbell describe the origins, history, role, and extinction of thirteen “giants” of nature. Each account is incredibly interesting, but detailed and written with a sophisticated, scientific style that may not appeal to all of the teen readers to whom it is marketed. Despite a few half-hearted and awkward references to social media, and an occasional break in tone for an attempt at teen-speak, the book reads like a scientific article. So while it won’t attract a broad teen audience, it is fantastic for high schoolers and adults who are interested in the subject matter and looking for a well-researched, thorough narrative about the evolution, impact, and decline of each species–as well as a glimpse into the future of possible back-breeding to restore giants into the ecosystem.
An engaging read which I recommend to older teens and adults who are interested in biology and/or history.
Clara always loved learning. But in her small Jewish community, women were not meant to be scholars. And her father was determined that not even his sons would ever learn Russian, the language of their oppressors. Still Clara dreamed of being a doctor, and taught herself in secret how to read and how to speak Russian. When a violent pogrom destroyed their community, Clara and her family moved to America, and the opportunity for her to pursue her studies seemed more real than ever. But when the need to support her family forced Clara to work in a sweatshop, she discovered the horrible plight of the working immigrant woman – and child – and her dreams of becoming a surgeon began to conflict with her desire to pursue justice for the oppressed women around her. Still a teenager, Clara formed a union, and endured terrible hardships as she pursued her new dream.
Inspired by Clara’s real life love of poetry, Crowder tells the true story of Clara Lemlich as she imagines Clara would have experienced it in beautiful poetic verse. The story is exciting, informative, and inspiring. Teen readers may see parallels between Clara’s struggle for justice and many injustice is in our world today. The book concludes with a detailed description of what is true and what is fictionalized in the novel, as well as interviews with Clara’s surviving relatives. I highly recommend this book to teen readers who enjoy historical fiction.
Nerds that we are, my husband and I enjoy watching educational television programs in the evenings. We have found this one to be particularly exceptional. Taught by one of my favorite college professors from William and Mary, this course includes 24 lectures about the early Middle Ages, or the Dark Ages. Professor Daileader has a dry sense of humor and inserts amusing historical tidbits, jokes, and anecdotes throughout his lectures, such as Diocletian’s penchant for cabbage growing or Justinian’s wife’s rumored association with geese. We have found these lectures both informative and entertaining and would highly recommend them to anyone interested in learning a little more about this period in history.
LONE SURVIVOR: THE EYEWITNESS ACCOUNT OF OPERATION REDWING AND THE LOST HEROES OF SEAL TEAM 10 by Marcus Luttrell with Patrick Robinson
In 2005, Marcus Luttrell and three other members of SEAL Team 10 began tracking a Taliban leader in the mountains of Afghanistan, a mission called Operation Redwing. But when several Afghan goat herders stumbled upon the SEALs, Marcus and his teammates made a decision that would cost them their lives. Unsure of whether the goat herders had allegiance to the Taliban, and unwilling to execute them for fear of being prosecuted for war crimes upon their return to the States, the SEALs released them. The goat herders immediately reported the SEALs to the Taliban, who had them surrounded within hours. In the bloodbath that followed, Marcus’ three teammates on the ground—as well as every SEAL in the rescue copter that came to help them—were killed. Marcus survived (barely) and struggled to evade the Taliban warriors who were tracking him through the wilderness, hoping for a rescue he wasn’t sure would ever come. But ironically given the source of the SEALs’ betrayal, Marcus’ salvation would also come in the form of Afghan goat herders.
Lone Survivor is part biography, part military history, and part survival narrative. As far as the writing/storytelling goes, it took me a really long time to get into the book. The first half was a bit scattered and confusing as it jumped back and forth in time and in and out of story and political commentary; it took me a really long time to get into it, and I almost gave up. But about halfway through, beginning with Luttrell’s description of SEAL BUD/S training, the narrative got more straightforward, and it became very engaging. The account of the battle is gruesome, horrifying, and heartbreaking. I have not seen the movie yet, but my brother, who is in the Navy, has this to say, “The movie was better, even though I know the book was more accurate. The movie was more believable, because it was simplified, and when you hear everything those SEALs went through it is so crazy it’s hard to believe.” He also says the storytelling in the movie flows better, which does not surprise me now that I have read the book. I do hope to see the film someday, but it will have to be at a time when it doesn’t matter if I have a few sleepless nights. A horrifying and thought-provoking account of the reality of war, and a heartfelt tribute to the friends Marcus lost.
Commissioned by the Mattatuck Museum in Connecticut, The Manumission Requiem mourns the death and celebrates the life of a man named Fortune, a slave owned by Dr. Preserved Porter who—after Fortune’s death—dissected his body and hung his skeleton for display in his office. Fortune’s bones passed through many hands, finally coming to rest in the Mattatuck Museum, and Fortune’s identity was only recently rediscovered. The collection poems with which Marilyn Nelson remembers Fortune is short but powerful; it is a Coretta Scott King Award Honor book. I would recommend Fortune’s Bones to teens and adults who are interested in reading stories about slavery or who enjoy thought-provoking poetry.
On April 15, 1912, the RMS Titanic struck an iceberg and sank, resulting in the deaths almost 1500 people (over 2/3 of those on board). Deborah Hopkinson brings the Titanic’s tragic story to life by focusing on the stories of individual survivors. Using their memories and words, she reconstructs the narrative of the Titanic from its initial departure to its sinking and the aftermath for the 700 survivors—most of them women and children whose husbands and fathers perished in the wreck. Titanic: Voices From the Disaster is engaging, horrifying, and informative. Although the book is marketed to upper-elementary school-aged children, I highly recommend it to anyone (children, teen, or adult) who is interested in learning more about the Titanic or who enjoys survival stories.
If you liked Titanic: Voices From the Disaster, you might also like Revenge of the Whale.
SHADOW DIVERS: THE TRUE ADVENTURE OF TWO AMERICANS WHO RISKED EVERYTHING TO SOLVE ONE OF THE LAST MYSTERIES OF WORLD WAR II by Robert Kurson
The world of commercial diving is competitive. The minute a shipwreck’s location is leaked, dive teams will sprint to it, hoping to get their hands on some of its fascinating artifacts. The divers that received the secret coordinates to “something big” lying sixty miles off the coast of New Jersey (and 230 feet below the ocean’s surface) were excited to explore an untouched wreck. But they were not prepared for what they found: a sunken German U-Boat, undocumented in any historical record. The divers were elated with the discovery–especially John Chatterton and Richie Kohler, two experienced and adventurous divers who also shared a passion for history. Each diver hoped to be the one to discover the U-Boat’s identity and its story. But diving to 230 feet is perilous, and it wasn’t long before the wreck began to claim lives. As most of the surviving divers gradually gave up on the dangerous wreck, only Chatterton and Kohler remained, determined to discover the U-Boat’s identity–even at the risk of their own lives.
I could not put this book down! Before I began reading Shadow Divers, I knew nothing about commercial diving. The logistics and dangers of deep sea dives are fascinating, as are the stories of the people who engage in such a life-threatening activity. Between the danger and suspense of each dive and the intriguing mystery of the U-Boat, I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough! I highly recommend this book to anyone who is interested in history, who likes survival stories, or even who enjoys reading thrillers. It is wonderful–a new favorite!
Thanks for the recommendation, Sally!