Reckless Life: Guns N’ Roses by Jim McCarthy & Marc Olivent

This post contains an affiliate link.

Title: Reckless Life: Guns N’ Roses by Jim McCarthy & Marc Olivent

Premise:

The history of the sensational hard rock band, Guns N’ Roses, told in graphic novel form.  From the early days of its band members, through their tumultuous yet successful era, to the breakup of the original band and its aftermath.

My thoughts:

I was really excited to read this book!  I grew up listening to Guns N’ Roses, though I was too young at the time to take any notice of their personal shenanigans.  That’s probably a good thing.  Sadly, this book was just so-so for me.  The beginning is really cluttered up by a lot of information that introduces us to the variety of characters who eventually come together later in the story.  It tends to jump (seemingly randomly) between the young characters and can get mighty confusing.

That brings me to my next criticism.  There is almost no overarching narration that would help tie everything together and make it more cohesive.  If there had been a narrator to introduce us to the characters and settings, it would have been clearer.  Switching the first-person narrator (sometimes in the middle of a page) without warning the reader, is just a recipe for confusion.

All of the artwork is in black and white and it has sort of a unique look to it.  It’s something you’ll either love or hate.  Personally, it’s not my favorite style for illustrating graphic novels.  It reminds me of a scrapbook with little captions or stories written to go with each image.  Some of the images literally look like snapshots arranged on the page.

The story itself was interesting once I got past the initial introduction and back story of the main characters.  This band was majorly messed up and all I can say is, “Thank God I’m not a rock star!”  Though I did learn many things about the band, I think I would have preferred learning it from a traditional chapter book.  The band’s history and interconnected stories are too complex to capture adequately in a graphic novel.  I don’t know if I’ll seek out anymore books about GNR, but if I ever feel like reading about a majorly messed up lifestyle, I’ll know where to look.

I recommend Reckless Life: Guns N’ Roses to adult fans of GNR.  I think that unless you’re a fan, the comic won’t be interesting enough to keep your attention.

Possible Objections:

  • Lots of profanity
  • Lots of drug use
  • A bit of sexuality

Rating: 3 Stars

Until next time…

Lori

Advertisements

Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales: Big Bad Ironclad! by Nathan Hale

This post contains an affiliate link.

Title: Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales: Big Bad Ironclad! by Nathan Hale

Notable: Book #2 in the Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales series

Premise:

In this book, Nathan Hale tells the Hangman and the British Soldier a tale about ironclad ships which fought during the American Civil War.  Both the North and South experimented with covering wooden ships with thick iron, both to make them impervious to enemy fire and to use as a formidable offensive weapon.

My thoughts:

This is a really fun way to teach kids about a lesser known aspect of the Civil War.  When I was a kid I never heard anything about the iron-covered ships that were used during the Civil War.  The designs were ingenious and, unfortunately, caused a lot of destruction.

We also learn about the exploits of Will Cushing, a young man who enjoyed pulling pranks, was kicked out of the Navy, and later went on to do great exploits when his pranks were put to good use in the Navy.  His tale adds the personal element that I think this story would otherwise be lacking.

The way this story is told is a bit meandering and not terribly cohesive, but I think that’s because it’s talking about the concept of iron ships, rather than a specific event in history.  Also, it doesn’t cover the entire story of the Civil War.  If you want your child to understand more about the overarching story of the Civil War, you’ll have to supplement their reading.  With that being said, I still think this is a great book to teach kids about history!

I recommend Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales: Big Bad Ironclad! to kids who enjoy graphic novels and would prefer to learn about history through that medium.  Even for older folks, it’s a fun way to learn about history.

 

Rating: 4 Stars

Until next time…

Lori

Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales: One Dead Spy by Nathan Hale

This post contains an affiliate link.

Title: Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales: One Dead Spy by Nathan Hale

Notable: Book #1 in the Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales series

Premise:

Nathan Hale is a young man who has enrolled at Yale to become a teacher, however, the Revolutionary War sends him down a different life path.  Hale enlists in the army and is promoted within a short period of time.  Though he commands other troops, Hale doesn’t see a lot of action.  In a bid to prove himself, he volunteers to be Washington’s first spy–to learn what he can about the plans of the British army.  Unfortunately, things take at turn for the worse for this promising young man once he enters enemy territory.

My thoughts:

Since this is the first book in the series, it introduces readers to the three ongoing main characters: the Hangman, the British Soldier and Nathan Hale.  The premise is that while Nathan is waiting on the gallows to be hanged, he’s swallowed by a giant history book and absorbs all of the knowledge that it contains about U.S. history.  When he comes out of the book, he convinces the Hangman and Soldier to wait to hang him until he can tell them his story.  (After his story, they agree to wait so that he can tell them another interesting story from American history.)  I should also mention that the books in this series don’t really need to be read in order.

Hale’s personal story is fairly simple.  He was a young man with dreams of doing something brave for his country and that was largely denied him because he was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.  Once he volunteers to spy for Washington, it’s easy to see that he’s not exactly the ideal candidate, but it’s admirable that he is willing to give all in the service of his country.  A spy needs to be a bit more jaded and cunning than Hale was, and his naiveté worked against him in his role as spy.  It’s sad that his life was cut short at such a young age, but he certainly wasn’t the only young man to die during that time period to secure freedom for America.

At the end of the the book there’s a bit more biographical information about some of the more colorful characters in the story, and a section with the story of Crispus Attucks–both very interesting.

This book isn’t my favorite in the series, but I think that’s because the author was finding his way and experimenting with this first book.  In later books, I think he has managed to hone his style and creativity in storytelling a little more.  With that said, I still think it’s a worthwhile read.

I’ve really come to like the author’s style of illustrations.  They definitely appeal to a younger audience, but I think they’re just as engaging for older folks, too.  I love learning about history this way!  Both of my boys read the book, and they want to read the entire series.  No problem, boys!

I recommend Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales: One Dead Spy to kids who enjoy graphic novels and would prefer to learn about history through that medium.  Even for older folks, it’s a fun way to learn about history.

Possible Objections:

  • Violence (though the illustrations are not graphic)

Rating: 4 Stars

Until next time…

Lori

The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon by David Grann

This post contains an affiliate link.

Title: The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon by David Grann

Premise:

Colonel Percy Fawcett was a man with a mission–to explore the Amazon and find the lost city of “Z” or what the rest of us would call, El Dorado.  He believed that the Amazon was home to an ancient city of magnificent proportions and untold wealth.  Fawcett took several trips to the Amazon to carry out his explorations, but in 1925, he simply disappeared.  David Grann examines the mystery behind Fawcett’s disappearance and tries to discover what happened to this epic explorer.

My thoughts:

My son picked this book up at the library, but put it down after just a couple of chapters.  If the action doesn’t grab him right away, he’ll often abandon a book.  I read the synopsis and decided it looked really interesting.  I’m glad I decided to give it a go!

This is a truly dramatic story about what it was like to explore the Amazon towards the end of the era of Victorian explorers.  The unifying thread of the story is the adventures and disappearance of Colonel Fawcett, but in reality it encompasses more than just his story.  The reader gets a good overview of his contemporaries, the history of European relations with indigenous tribes, the perils of exploring the Amazon, and the state of anthropological exploration during that time period.

If you like detail and understanding a subject from many different angles, then you  will like this book.  If minutiae drives you nuts, then you will probably see much of this book as unnecessary and boring.  Personally, I enjoyed all of the background information because it gave me a greater understanding of the time period, why characters behaved in a particular manner, and other issues which had an impact on the story.

The story that specifically pertains to Fawcett left me feeling sad.  This man had amazing drive and abilities, and it seems to have been thrown away on his mad quest to find a magnificent ancient city.  Current information shows that he was correct in his assertion that the Amazon was home to an ancient, complex civilization, but during his lifetime he never had the satisfaction of finding conclusive evidence himself.  His life was consumed by this obsession to find “Z” and prove that his theory was correct.  His wife and family sacrificed for many years as he prepared for and went on his explorations.  I wondered about his children and how much time they missed out on with their dad.  That was the saddest part, to me.  While Fawcett made many contributions to the exploration of the Amazon, it came at great cost in his personal life.  I suppose that is fairly common with people who are obsessed with a greater cause.

One thing I’d like to warn you about if you’re thinking of reading this book, is that there are a good number of descriptions of fairly yucky things.  There are many diseases, injuries, and insect-inflicted ailments which are described candidly in the book.  If things like that bug you, you may not be able to stomach this story.  If that sort of thing intrigues you, then you’ll have a heyday!

Also, the narrative skips around between characters and time periods, so that can be a little disorienting.  Having made it to the end of the book, I think it worked in terms of showing how the past and present are intertwined.

I recommend The Lost City of Z to older teens and adults who enjoy detailed historical stories.  If you don’t appreciate a lot of detail, you might get lost in this book.

Possible Objections:

  • Violence
  • Cannibalism
  • Some discussion of sexual things
  • Frank discussion of some awful diseases and parasites

Rating: 4 Stars

Until next time…

Lori

Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales: Donner Dinner Party by Nathan Hale

This post contains an affiliate link.

Title: Donner Dinner Party by Nathan Hale

Notable: Book #3 in the Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales series

Premise:

We follow James Reed and family as they journey West to California.  Reed insists on taking a shortcut which he has read about in a book, which results in disastrous consequences.  The traveling party experiences death, illness, murder, the loss of oxen and cattle, and finally being stuck on top of a mountain in the middle of winter.  What they resort to in their efforts to survive are quite shocking.

My thoughts:

Just like the other Nathan Hale books, this one is an engaging way to learn about history.  Kids will love the playful supporting characters, quality illustrations, and interesting way that historical events are presented.  I will warn you, however, that this book is not for the faint of heart!

The story starts off well enough.  The Reed family wants to go out West to seek their fortune and they join with others to form a wagon train.  James Reed convinces others to follow Hastings cutoff, which he read about in a book (written by a lawyer, not a frontiersman).  Despite numerous warnings and indications that it is an unwise course of action, Reed persists, believing himself to be in the right.  That decision leads to horrific consequences.

I’ll give away the shocking bit here, so if you don’t want to know, stop reading.  When the Donner party find themselves stranded for the winter with very few supplies, they eventually have to resort to cannibalism to stay alive.  Thankfully, they don’t show any icky bits in the illustrations.  I still get the creeps thinking about it.  Reading this story makes you wonder what you would do if you were in their shoes.  It’s easy to say, “I would never do that.”  But then again, if you were starving, your thinking would probably be a bit skewed.

I’d say use your discretion in allowing your child to read this book.  Some will have no problem reading about cannibalism, while for others it would be traumatizing.  My 10- and 12-year-old boys read it and were fine, but my 8-year-old girl would probably hate it.

I recommend Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales: Donner Dinner Party to kids who enjoy graphic novels and would prefer to learn about history through that medium.  This particular book is best suited to mature elementary-age children up to teens, or even adults.

Possible Objections:

  • Violence (though the illustrations are not graphic)
  • Cannibalism

Rating: 4 1/2 Stars

Until next time…

Lori

Bernie Sanders Guide to Political Revolution by Bernie Sanders

This post contains an affiliate link.

A special thank-you to Macmillan and Goodreads for providing an ARC for me to review!

Title: Bernie Sanders Guide to Political Revolution by Bernie Sanders

Premise:

The focus of this book is to share Bernie Sanders’ views on the major political issues of the day and the ways he would address them.  He seeks to inform readers about the broken policies and practices in the areas of a livable wage, taxes, Wall Street, health care, higher education, immigration, climate change, and policing and criminal justice.

My thoughts:

I think that this book accomplishes exactly what it set out to do: share Bernie’s political views and solutions with a younger generation.  The text and explanations are clear and concise, breaking down the issues into language which most young people would understand.  If you’re older or looking for a particularly in-depth analysis and explanations, you’ll be disappointed, but remember that’s not the aim of this book.

I had heard Bernie’s views leading up to the election of course, but this is a quick and easy way to learn about his political views.  The problems he talks about in each area are enlightening and it’s good to be informed about the problems our country is facing and why.  Quite frankly, I got angry and/or depressed after reading each chapter.  There is so much injustice in this country, especially being perpetuated by corrupt big business and political powers.  The rich really do have a racket going on in this country and the little people are at a major disadvantage in righting those wrongs.  So, I wouldn’t recommend reading this right before bed because you’ll probably get angry and sit there fuming in bed while you should be sleeping.

I think Bernie’s aim is not to get people depressed and feeling helpless, but to encourage them (especially young people) to get involved in politics.  While it may seem overwhelming because there are so many areas of corruption, we can each choose one area that we feel strongly about and focus our energies and efforts there.  One person cannot do everything, but each one of us can do something.  A lot of little people working to make change will add up to large changes in our society and political system.  I think Bernie Sanders is a politician with heart who keeps the well-being of everyday people in mind.  That’s a rare thing today.

I recommend Bernie Sanders Guide to Political Revolution to young people who would like to learn more about the major political issues of the day, and see how Sanders would address those issues.  It’s also appropriate for adults who are looking for a basic, concise book about Sanders’ views.

A favorite quote:

“I believe that the government has a moral responsibility to provide for the vulnerable–the children, the elderly, the sick, and the disabled.  But I do not believe that the government should burden taxpayers with financially supporting profitable corporations owned by some of the wealthiest people in this country.  That’s absurd.”  (p. 10)

Rating: 3 1/2 Stars

Until next time…

Lori

The Story of My Life by Helen Keller

This post contains an affiliate link.

Title: The Story of My Life by Helen Keller

Premise:

This is Helen Keller’s autobiographical work covering the first 22 years of her life.  Before her teacher, Anne Sullivan, came to unlock the door to the outside world for Helen, hers was a very isolated and joyless existence.  Learning the manual alphabet opened up the wonders of the world to Helen and she went on to get a college education.  The last part of the book shows a progression of Helen’s thoughts, expressions and skill, as expressed in her letters.

My thoughts:

I finished reading this book a couple of days ago, and for some reason I’ve been struggling to record my thoughts about it.  I first read it as a kid, and I remember enjoying it back then.  Now that I’ve read it as an adult, I’ve developed a new appreciation for the book and probably come away with a bit more understanding.

Helen’s story is so encouraging and touching.  Her early years must have been steeped in frustration and confusion, but her life slowly blossomed as she learned to communicate and learn through the help of her teacher.  She must have had a remarkable mind to forge ahead through so many obstacles and to pursue her dream of going to college.

One thing which really stood out to me was that Helen got to rub shoulders with some pretty famous people.  She enjoyed the company of several famous authors, as well as regular interactions with Dr. Alexander Graham Bell.  It’s neat to hear about their interactions from her perspective.  Helen seems to have had a natural gift for winning people’s hearts with her fresh, novel way of looking at the world and expressing herself.  I’ll confess that I’m just a wee bit jealous that she got to meet Mark Twain.

Helen helped many people both during her lifetime and in succeeding generations.  Her academic achievements helped pave the way for those in the deaf and blind community who would come after.  Not only that, but through her writing, we get a glimpse into the mind of someone who has encountered great adversity and come out victorious on the other side.  That’s an encouragement to anyone who is feeling inadequate, discouraged, or overwhelmed.

I recommend The Story of My Life to teens through adults who would like to know more about this remarkable woman’s life.  It’s an enlightening read which will help you to better understand those who are deaf and blind, and the obstacles they face in everyday life.  Plus, it’s just a really interesting biography.

A favorite quote:

“Gradually I began to find that there were disadvantages to going to college.  The one I felt and still feel most is lack of time.  I used to have time to think, to reflect, my mind and I.  We would sit together of an evening and listen to the inner melodies of the spirit, which one hears only in leisure moments when the words of some loved poet touch a deep, sweet chord in the soul that until then had been silent.  But in college there is no time to commune with one’s thoughts.  One goes to college to learn, it seems, not to think.  When one enters the portals of learning, one leaves the dearest pleasures–solitude, books and imagination–outside with the whistling pines.”  (p. 72-73)

Possible Objections:

  • some outdated references to African Americans & glossed over issue of racial inequities (“crowds of laughing negroes,” etc.)

Rating: 4 1/2 Stars

Until next time…

Lori

Methland: The Death and Life of an American Small Town by Nick Reding

This post contains an affiliate link.

Title: Methland: The Death and Life of an American Small Town by Nick Reding

Premise:

The author seeks to shed light on the meth epidemic and the effect that it has on small-town American life, following the fortunes of the small town of Oelwein which is gripped in the clutches of methamphetamines.  Through interviews, research, shadowing, and by reaching out to others for their wisdom, Nick weaves a complex and disturbing tale of how meth became an epidemic in the United States, how it is affecting small towns, and why it just won’t go away.

My thoughts:

If you ever wanted to learn about methamphetamine and the way it impacts peoples’ lives, this is the book for you.  I thought this would be a mostly anecdotal book, but it turns out that the author shares a lot of background information about meth, as well.  Of course it makes sense to educate readers about how meth affects the brain, the effects it has on the rest of your body, and how it changes your brain functions even after you have stopped using, but for some reason I wasn’t expecting to get so much background information.  I really appreciated getting to know more about the drug and what it does physiologically to a person.  That knowledge makes it all the more scary, but it’s better to be well-informed than ignorant.

It’s rather disturbing to learn that the spread of meth could have been prevented were it not for powerful lobbyists and the interference of a pharmaceutical industry who was looking out for the bottom line.  It’s hard to understand how they could feel justified in blocking legislation that would prevent illegal drugs from being made so easily, but then again, when has big business ever shown itself to have a conscience?

The unfortunate result of the government not taking stronger steps to crack down on the drug problem is that thousands of small town police officers, social workers, mayors, and doctors have to continually put out fires (sometimes quite literally).  They are on the front-lines and have to deal with the day-to-day consequences of a lax system which allows meth to proliferate.  In my neck of the woods (the Midwest), meth is a huge problem.  Kids are entering into the foster care system all the time because their parents are addicted and/or cooking up meth at home and the children are being exposed to the toxins (not to mention the neglect and sometimes abuse that accompany it).  Our social worker told us that they really can’t keep up with the increased need for foster families.

One thing that I find highly satisfying about Methland is that the author looks at the problem from so many angles and really tries to get to the root of the problem.  He doesn’t take the easy way out and blame it on a couple of factors, but shows readers how it is really a complex weaving-together of many factors: drug distribution routes, illegal immigration, Mexican DTOs, lax laws, pharmaceutical lobbying, loss of living-wage employment, the profits to be made from meth, and the mental impact the drug has on its users.  There is no easy answer to the meth epidemic and it would require many different agencies working in tandem and putting forth their strongest efforts to make a dent in the problem.

The author did an admirable job of tying together all of the different threads of the story, though the anecdotal stories were not always strictly related.  For that reason it sometimes felt like I was picking up with a soap opera, revisiting a scene which had been left off during the previous week’s episode.  I suppose that couldn’t really be avoided, though.  I enjoyed getting to know the characters in the book.  They were real people, just like the rest of us, trying to make a difference in a world gone mad.

I recommend Methland to adults who would like to learn more about the meth epidemic.  It’s a fascinating and enlightening exploration of a terrible problem that we are facing in the United States right now.

A favorite quote:

“In 2005, when I called Dr. Clay Hallberg, the Oelwein general practitioner, and asked him to characterize the meth epidemic in his hometown, Clay had told me that meth was ‘a sociocultural cancer.’  What he meant, he said, was that, as with the disease, meth’s particular danger lay in its ability to metastisize throughout the body, in this case the body politic, and to weaken the social fabric of a place, be it a region, a town, a neighborhood, or a home.  Just as brain cancer often spreads to the lungs, said Clay, meth often spreads between classes, families, and friends.  Meth’s associated rigors affect the school, the police, the mayor, the hospital, and the town businesses.  As a result, said Clay, there is a kind of collective low self-esteem that sets in once a town’s culture must react solely to a singular–and singularly negative–stimulus.”  (p. 73)

Possible Objections:

  • some disturbing descriptions of violence, injuries, bodily functions & sexual stuff
  • some adult language

Rating: 4 Stars

Until next time…

Lori