Sunday, July 22, 2018

Lighting the Fires of Freedom: African American Women in the Civil Rights Movement


I received a free digital ARC from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 4 Stars

I loved this book. I could not put it down, for a number of reasons. First and foremost, it is a beautiful living history of so many women who did so much of the hard work to keep the movement going. That does not mean women like Coretta Scott King and Rosa Parks are unimportant, it simply means that we are finally learning the names of so many other women who made great contributions to the Civil Rights Movement, who are often overlooked because they did the everyday grunt work, doing what needed to be done.

A second reason why I loved this book so much is that I teach in a school that is predominantly African American. Specifically I teach in a Behavior Skills classroom, which means my class size is smaller and comprised of students who have been diagnosed with an emotional disturbance, sometimes among other disorders as well. These students especially need to see others who look like them, achieving and being successful. I am a firm believer, and research supports this, that children need to see members of both their gender and their race in positions of success as role models, to see just what is possible for someone who looks like them to achieve. HERE is a great article from a couple years ago explaining some of the research. So when I have in my hands a book that showcases some very exceptional women, I know already that it will be useful in my classroom.

To ensure that I am doing what I can to pass on the names of these brave and inspirational woman, I want to list them before delving into the text a little further. Commit them to memory, and learn all you can. Their unique stories are endlessly fascinating not only as African Americans fighting for equal rights regardless of race, but as powerful women making their mark on the movement to show that gender would also not be a factor in holding anyone back. Female leadership was key and it is about time that these women, and I'm sure countless others, were given their due recognition:

Aileen Hernandez

Diane Nash

Gloria Richardson

Leah Chase

Myrlie Evers

Judy Richardson

Dr. June Jackson Christmas

Gay McDougall

Kathleen Cleaver

The author chose these nine women whose experiences in that turbulent time are remarkable for both how similar and different they were. Most of the women are in their 90s now, and to read their stories felt like I was there, part of the conversation. The events they described were so vivid, the fear and the exhilaration all at once, I felt it as I read every single word. Each voice was clear and authentic, it did not feel like the same person speaking, over and over.

I have read my fair share of history told in this format and compiling an oral history seems easy enough on the surface: interview some people and record exactly what they say. Easy, no? Well, not really. The Civil Rights Movement was so huge, with so many working parts, sometimes trying to get everyone to work together so that the movement would 'keep moving' so to speak, could be difficult. The same goes for attempts at oral histories. The parts of the whole have to flow to keep the narrative moving. I think the author has done a fantastic job in piecing together this important history. For me personally there were no lulls, or places where I wished the stories were longer or shorter. It flows well, even as we are given such widely varying perspectives of the time. Though their accomplishments were not the same, the impact of their hard work and dedication will still be felt for many years to come.

The Assassination of Robert F. Kennedy: Crime, Conspiracy and Cover-Up - A New Investigation


I received a free digital ARC from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 4 Stars

Prior to reading this I knew next to nothing about Bobby's assassination, aside from the fact that he was shot in Los Angeles by a man whose last name is the same as his first. I can tell you nearly every last detail of JFK's assassination a few years earlier, but am the exact opposite when it comes to my knowledge of RFK - yet another example of Bobby living in Jack's shadow. Given the timing of the book's release to coincide with the 50th anniversary, now was as good a time as any to start learning.

By nature I am not much into conspiracy theories, but there has always been something about the Kennedy family that has drawn me in. The glitz and glamour, the perfect family photos, lots of easy explanations for the attention they have garnered over the decades. So for me, the idea that two sons from this powerful family just happened to be assassinated within five years of one another, one as president and one as a presidential hopeful...there's something bigger at work. Tragedy befell the family often, but two assassinations, and by random lone gunman? Sorry not sorry, but I don't buy it. Especially after reading this one and exploring Bobby's death, the mishandling of the investigation, and the odd journey of the supposed assassin. That being said, I do not doubt that Sirhan Sirhan shot at Bobby, wounding others surrounding Kennedy as he exited that night. I just don't think he was the only one to do so.

It is clear from the start that the authors put blood, sweat, and tears into this book. The research is there, the pouring over of documents time and time again from the days and weeks and months after Bobby died. Not to mention the uncovering of additional evidence that had, prior to now, been unknown to the public. I also appreciated the fact that the authors took the time to go back and conduct new interviews with relevant people, instead of relying solely on interviews from the time that the assassination happened.

More than anything else, the forensics prove that Sirhan was not the only shooter in the pantry that night. I don't just mean because there were allegedly thirteen shots fired, which were accidentally captured on audio, or 'possible' bullet holes were identified in numerous locations within the pantry signifying that there must have been a second shooter, because how could a gun that could only hold eight bullets make thirteen holes? No, it comes down to the autopsy, plain and simple, as well as eyewitness statements and photographic evidence that Sirhan was in front of Bobby the entire time in the pantry. Not only that, but he was several feet away when he began firing. How is it then, that Thomas Noguchi, LA County's Chief Medical Examiner-Corornor, concluded that Robert F. Kennedy Jr died from a bullet fired into the back of his head? Noguchi's report was detailed and very specific in recounting the fatal shot, determining this based on his expert opinion, that it came from that back of Bobby's head at an upward angle. And even if one were to argue that maybe witnesses are mis-remembering, and Sirhan DID take a shot at Bobby from behind him, the distance calculated swiftly crushes that idea. Noguchi further determined that the fatal shot was fired from no father than three inches away from Bobby's head, perhaps as close to half an inch. Time and again witnesses made statements that Sirhan was in front of Bobby the entire time, and that he never got that close to him. There is simply no way for Sirhan to have fired that shot. Even Paul Schrade, one of Kennedy's aides, believes Sirhan did not assassinate Bobby. Schade was walking behind Bobby into the pantry and has stated to Sirhan directly, as quoted in the book, "You were never behind Bob, nor was Bob's back ever exposed to you."

The book addresses several other points that seem to create the aura of assassination conspiracy and further fan those flames. There is discussion of Sirham being hypnotized or brainwashed, Manchurian Candidate style. Much is also made of witness statements about a man in a gold sweater and the Girl in the Polka Dot Dress. I don't draw more attention to her in jest, she is a very real piece of the puzzle latched onto by so many who claim it was a big murder conspiracy. This is all small potatoes to me when compared to the physical evidence, which might seem to be too dismissive, but the proof is there that Kennedy was killed by someone other than Sirhan. Unfortunately I do not think we will ever be able to answer the questions of 'who' and 'why'.

And perhaps there was no conspiracy to kill Bobby at all, which I know deviates from what I said in the opening paragraph. Perhaps a cover-up became mandatory when the investigators realized that the evidence there were recovering from the scene did not fit their initial assumptions and statements about Sirhan acting alone. Maybe they did destroy evidence and bully witnesses into recanting. But for what reason? The investigators didn't want to look incompetent? They did not want to bungle the case and have a re-play of the investigation surrounding Jack's assassination just five years earlier, where so many doubted then and still do today that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone? Unfortunately for those in power, whatever their reasons for the cover-up, that is exactly what happened anyway. Fifty years later, it is more than clear that there were two shooters that night. I don't think anyone is denying that Sirhan was in the pantry, that he had a gun, or that he fired it. He simply was not the only one.

Not too long ago Robert F. Kennedy, Jr met with Sirhan in prison, for several hours, presumably discussing every last detail of that night. RFK Jr came away from that time spent believing that the man before him had not murdered his father. Surely that alone merits re-opening the investigation.

Top Hoodlum: Frank Costello, Prime Minister of the Mafia


I received a free digital ARC from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 4 Stars

I love The Godfather and it is my all-time favorite movie. As a result I will read pretty much anything written about the Mafia, particularly during the 'glory days' so to speak. I realize how dangerous that can be, romanticizing such brutality. You can tell me about while I sit here playing The Godfather: Black Hand Edition on my Wii.

But in all seriousness, this is an excellent, well-researched biography of arguably the most important man to ever run the show. He got his start during Prohibition, making a fortune on that and various illegal gambling operations. For all that he made though, it was never really the money that was the end game. What Costello wanted more than anything else was to be accepted a legitimate business man who was a contributing member of society. He almost made it, but was never quite legit enough. Unfortunately, it was never to be, both because of his bootlegging days and those he kept company with later in life. Those ties to illegal activities in his earlier years would come back to haunt him, as it was all dredged up time and again when he was called to testify at various hearings.

One of the key takeaways from Costello's life was the way he operated. He moved in circles that included some very unsavory people who did some very unsavory things. Yet Costello was called the 'Prime Minister' for a reason. He recognized that violence and wars between the families was bad for business. It is no secret that muscle was often called in to take care of a multitude of jobs. But Costello does not appear to have been an advocate for violence. Even so, he was still the head of one of the Five Families. Death and destruction was part of the life and as a result, Costello could never be considered legitimate.

This is a story first and foremost about Costello's life on the wrong side of the law. There is very little in the way of his personal life, so if that is what you are looking for you will be disappointed. However, if you are looking for a well-researched book on the life and crimes of Frank Costello, then this is exactly what you need. I thoroughly enjoyed this one and could not put it down. Highly recommended.

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Review Bomb: Antiquity

I can't believe how quickly summer is slipping away. In just a few weeks I will have to report back to school for the new year and my baby is somehow going to be in Kindergarten. I can't even.

So, I am in the process of trying to knock out as many reviews as possible while Eleanor is at her dad's for the weekend, while also continuing my own research and writing about Eleanor of Aquitaine. We are also going home to Minnesota for a visit with family for two whole glorious weeks, and I won't be around much at all. Best to get as much done as possible now while I can.


2000647 3 Stars

I first have to say that the only reason this one is getting a full three stars is because I want so badly for Atlantis to be real. And when you take everything in the book at face value, you can almost believe it too. It is not a terrible book in that it gives the reader exactly what they are hoping for (assuming one is reading it because they, like me, want Atlantis to have been a real place with a thriving culture). Ultimately you will have to decide for yourself whether you believe or not, but the journey toward either conclusion is half the fun.

One of the main reasons that I could not rate this book any higher is due to the author's seemingly disdainful attitude toward those who dismiss Atlantis as merely a myth. In so many words, he basically alludes to those experts who study the ancient world as lacking imagination. This is troubling, because it simply is not true. There are so many discoveries that have been made explicitly because archaeologists, anthropologists, and a whole host of other -ologists DO have imagination, and seek out what they must to find what they believe is there. And truthfully, it weakens his arguments when he wants to present himself as a credible historian, traipsing all over the world to find evidence. What he appears to be saying, whether it was his intention or not, is that HE is right and every other expert in all those previously-listed fields are wrong. Can we really believe that? Not really.

Despite all of that, I still found myself enjoying much of the book, because turning the idea of Atlantis over in one's mind is a fun thing to do. You can't take the book to seriously, but you can enjoy a few hours wondering 'what if...'


7740360 4 Stars

I was pleasantly surprised by this slim volume. Covering any aspect of Ancient Rome is something that typically demands hundreds of pages. This text is simply dedicated to the facts of exactly what happened in those final days of Rome's existence as the center of the world. The author makes great use of primary sources, but I did not feel bogged down by the amount of those used, in correlation to the length of the text. It is highly readable and succinct, and makes clear Rome's downfall was their arrogance.

The author details Rome's mistreatment of the Visigoths, who were at that time seeking respite from the attacking Huns who were following them. This put the Visigoths in a terrible position, boxed in by the Romans on one side who did nothing to help, and the Huns on the other in hot pursuit. Visigoth leaders sought some land of their own to provide for their people and asked for this from Rome, offering military aid, yet no deal and Rome missed the boat. The empire would see the error of its ways only when it was burning in the aftermath of Rome's sacking.

Serious scholars or those who study Rome and the Ancient World extensively will not find anything new here. But for those who want a better understanding of a complex time and place, this would be an excellent text to start with. My own interest in Rome waxes and wanes, so I found it to be informative, with many things I knew already but more than a few new pieces of information as well.


3413181 3.5 Stars
This is kind of a weird book. The subject matter itself, and the heart of the issue - whether or not looted items should be returned to their countries of origin - is not the weird part. The author throughout made some really odd statements and assumptions that almost distracted from the main body of work and left me wondering what the purpose was. The prime example pertains to her statement when discussing the Getty and I suppose trying to illustrate the 'wild' and out-of-control behavior of acquiring stolen art by saying that it was to be expected that employees at the Getty were all having affairs with one another, because it was an elite institution with too much money...what?

Luckily the author also managed to stick to facts when discussing the main topic, and that is items that have been stolen from various countries, sold to other countries, and now reside in big fancy museums in wings dedicated to their time period, ripped completely out of context from their place of origin.

Going into this book, I was a firm believer in the fact that those items should be returned. After reading the book, I still stand by that, in most cases. Because, I also want that history to be cared for, and available for future generations to learn from and about. The destruction of Palmyra by ISIS weighed heavily on my mind while reading this though it was published in 2008, because instability is a huge issue when trying to care for these relics of the past. So much of Palmyra has been destroyed, beautiful ancient structures that can never be replaced. What if the same thing were to happen say, to the Rosetta Stone, one of the specific artifacts that Waxman touches on? Without the Rosetta Stone, we may still be wholly unable to decipher the Egyptian hieroglyphs that this piece of history allowed us to finally read. The stone certainly does not belong to the French or the British, despite their discovering and deciphering. It belongs to Egypt. So, do American and European museums have the right to demand that these items be cared for a certain way, before they are willing to return them? Can they even be forced to return the items? I completely understand the fears of great museums, so worried about being emptied of their treasures, but the items never belonged to the countries where they now reside.

Basically, everyone involved in this whole process is guilty of something - the source countries for creating a climate that allowed looting, the looters and smugglers for stealing the items, and the brokers and buyers for not caring too greatly that the pieces they're acquiring are likely stolen. As long as there is money to be made in this, it will continue to happen, whether the pieces are going to large museums or private collections.

The author also spends a bit of time delving into the strange case of Marion True. Her own saga is no less intriguing than the artifacts in question throughout the book. I wonder what she really knew, and why she was the only person prosecuted when it is clear she could not have been the only one guilty in that case. It hardly seems fair, especially if she was trying to do things the right way. Surely though she had to have realized how suspicious the loans for the purchase of her new home looked? What a mess.

I feel like there is a trade-off: either these stolen pieces remain where they are in these internationally renowned museums where millions of visitors get to view them each year - not in their proper context but accompanied with placards describing the very details one could witness for themselves if seeing the works of art in a museum, or historical site, in their country of origin. The downside to the latter part is, as mentioned previously, the care and upkeep of the returned pieces. What if artifacts were returned, only to be stolen again and then sold off into the hands of a private collector or worse, destroyed like so much of Palmyra and other ancient sites? In either case, those artifacts would be gone forever.

Friday, July 20, 2018

Stacking the Shelves #28

Stacking the Shelves is a weekly feature co-hosted by Tynga's Reviews and Reading Reality. It is a chance to showcase all the goodies you've collected throughout the week, whether they're bought on-line or in-store, an ARC or a final copy, borrowed from a friend or the library, physical or digital, etc. Never has my addiction been more obvious than when I am now keeping track of every single book I acquire.

Library (Withdrawn from Circulation)
13050383 1566513
21493 22557272 

I know, I know, FICTION. But seriously, I could not pass up that one for free! I read it within hours of acquiring it on Thursday. The review is HERE. I must say, it is one of my best reviews ever 🤣🤣🤣

What did you add to your stash this week?

Happy Reading!

Thursday, July 19, 2018

First Line Friday: Anglo-Saxons Round II

First Line Friday is brought to you by Hoarding Books.


"While it is not possible to produce a full biography of the Lincolnshire thegn called Hereward, the main threads of his career can be recovered, at least in outline."

I am looking forward to this one with cautious optimism. There is just so much we will never know about the period, but Hereward is a figure who I am endlessly intrigued by.

Leave a comment and let me know what you think.

Happy Reading!

The Girl on the Train


Rating: 4 Stars

A bunch of terrible people do a bunch of terrible things to each other. The end.

SPOILER AHEAD!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 
Stop reading right now if you are one of the last people on earth who has not read this book and would still like to. If you don't care and aren't going to, then by all means, read on.

I am pretty good at solving mysteries. The more complicated, the better. This one was good, without actually being all that complicated. I think the simplicity of it is what made the book really good, because even with a drunken, completely unreliable narrator who has serious boundary issues, all things became pretty clear when you remember A) The majority of murders are committed by someone who has a relationship with the victim and B) Once a cheater, always a cheater. So, I figured it out probably a bit earlier than the author intended, but it was still an interesting read.

I do have to say that I really felt for the victim by the end, getting more of her story, and seeing things from her point of view in the last hours of her life. She seemed to be the only one who realized she was terrible, and made the decision to not be terrible any more. Ultimately, her deciding to be a better person is exactly what cost her her life.

And yes I know - GASP! - FICTION! But this lonely little book without a dust jacket was sitting on the withdrawn cart today at the library and I thought I would give it a try to see what the big fuss was all about. I read it in a couple hours - part of the time while exercising even. In fact, I rode my bike longer than I intended, because I did not want to put the book down until I was finished and knew how all the terrible people ended up, going about their terrible lives, being terrible. Seriously, Evie the baby was the only not terrible person. And Cathy the acquaintance/landlord. But alas, they were secondary characters.