Sunday, January 27, 2013

Review-Race-Baiter by Eric Deggans



by Eric Deggans

Palgrave Macmillan(2012), Hardcover
288 pages, 0230341829.

Eric Deggans' social commentary is a worthy and important book for all. As an educator in the field of media literacy,  it is a valuable book with current analysis of what the author calls "media ecology". He defines media ecology as "the constellation of websites, social media spaces, radio and TV outlets, print publication, and even music platform that each person regularly consults each day. What I found interesting is how he points out that if as a media entity, your news, your delivery happens outside of any person's media ecology, it doesn't exist to them.

The author's purpose “is an attempt to decode the ways media outlets profit by segmenting Americans.”  He shows how the reporting of journalists can influence, persuade its audience to the left or right. His focus through most of the book is on racial bias and the consistency of managing the news with untruths and misleading reporting. Is there anyone who really believes that television and all media in our purview is not biased?  Deggan outlines his argument with countless examples of the ways media alters dialog, images and general news gathering to suit a specific audience or slant the news left or right. in reporting. He shows the irony of the term "Reality Shows" and how they are chiseled to each a specific audience.  

He offers solutions to breaking down the race-baiting of our modern media and how we must work to break down segregation that still exists. A phrase that tells so much...Deggan says, "we have to learn to sit together." This may sound preachy...but he is not.

In his view,  racial equality is looked at differently by whites and African Americans. Here is an example, in Eric Deggans' words:

“Whenever someone tells me in a well meaning voice, that they don't see color, I always respond, What's wrong with seeing my color?" The key is that when you see my skin color, you don't think it's a bad thing."

As I witnessed this personally in an interracial marriage, his observation is accurate. There is "the look", an experience that is repeated often when you are in public. Anyone who has been given "the look" understands what I mean. It's better to talk about racial difference than to pretend it doesn't exist.

Race Baiter is a candid and necessary book that should provoke a deeper awareness of the powerful messages that try to perpetuate fear or confirmation of your beliefs through any media possible.  

 Disclosure: Library Thing sent me a copy of Race-Baiter to review for the Early Reviewer program.

© [Wisteria Leigh] and [Bookworm's Dinner], [2012].

© [Wisteria Leigh] and [Bookworm's Dinner], [2008-2013].

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Review-Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo



Katherine Boo

Random House,
February 12, 2012
$28.00, Hardcover
288 pp, 978-1400067558
Genre: Non-fiction

Sixteen year old Abdul is a collector of garbage, an astute teenager who makes a success of his trade. He deals and competes for small economic gains in the Annadawi slum. Located just beyond the financial capital of Mumbai, it is owned by the Airports Authority of India, yet travelers heading toward the international terminal are greeted by a concrete wall of sunny yellow. A corporate slogan weaves along the wall, “Beautiful Forever Beautiful Forever Beautiful Forever, yet the irony is what is just on the other side. 

Abdul’s younger brother Mirchi says it best: 

“Everything around us is roses, and we’re the shit in between.” 

Katherine Boo reports the uncomfortable truth that several families must endure in the Undercity. The three thousand residents belong to all castes and sub-castes, Muslims, Hindus and the untouchables. They live in 335 huts that sit atop a landscape of slushy waste, toxic debris, unimaginable combinations of obnoxious odors, offal and filth laden with disease. Despite the pervasive dangers and keen competition, Abdul has acquired more than most, and his family’s future appears to be on the rise, but will this trend continue?

Survival is key with the hope that one day life will be better. Abdul has a theory for prosperity that speaks more to the randomness of his fate.

 “It seemed to him fortunes derived not just from what people did, or how well they did it, but from the accidents and catastrophes they dodged. A decent life was the train that hadn’t hit you, the slumlord you hadn’t offended, the malaria you hadn’t caught.” 

Katherine Boo details everyday life, the repulsiveness, squirmy truth and the desperation of those who live in the Mumbai Undercity.  She shares what she has witnessed in her book as she follows the lives of several families.   Imagine living in this environment, let alone having to pay rent to a slumlord who oversees the residents small space carved out amid the detritus. The author manages to show the sorrowful sadness that divides the squalor of slum against the economic gains India has acquired as part of our borderless global community.  She is sensitive and frank with objectivity, although I imagine her subjectivity was hard to curtail. Without hiding behind the airport wall of shining yellow, Katherine Boo reveals the inhumanity and suffering that the people endure and despite the odds, somehow survive. Katherine Boo has received meritorious praise and notable awards, which as readers will discover, are well deserved Thanks to the author for writing an unforgettable book. BEHIND THE BEAUTIFUL FOREVERS,  is a reflective book with global appeal, heartfelt and insightful with a promise to linger long after the end. 


© [Wisteria Leigh] and [Bookworm's Dinner], [2012].

Tuesday, January 22, 2013




Guy Gugliotta
Hill and Wang
Hardcover, $35.00
February 28, 2012

FREEDOM'S CAP is a remarkable historical narrative about the building of the nation’s capitol with a simultaneous counterpoint to the tearing down of the Union. Gugliotta outlines the political parties and their platforms with clear prose. As 1850 unfolds, the divisions that exist among the North and South are complex, yet Gugliotta crafts a unique package of history and intrigue that shows this writer’s artistry.
Personalities step out and breathe as he captures the political battles in Congress. The subterfuge among the three key men responsible for the magnificent building would make an ideal movie. Montgomery Meigs and Thomas Walter battled for credit and control. Until Jefferson Davis left Washington to lead the Confederacy, he was the most steadfast supporter of the project. It was an ongoing battle of wills and wit that encompassed many years. My one complaint is that readers may be misled by its title.  FREEDOM'S CAP is a page-turner, despite its lackluster title. Gugliotta has blown the dust off American Civil War history shelves to make room for his exceptional addition.

January 22, 2013
Wisteria Leigh

The copy of this book was provided by HNR for review and publication. The review is submitted without bias. 

As it appeared in Historical Novels Review:August 2012 Issue 61 available at

© [Wisteria Leigh] and [Bookworm's Dinner], [2008-2013].

Monday, January 21, 2013

Review: Cascade by Maryanne O'Hara


Maryanne O'Hara
Viking 2012
ISBN 9780670026029
Hardback,  378 pages

It is 1935, the country is in the chokehold of the Great Depression, and Desdemona Hart would do just about anything to help her father. William Hart, actor and owner of the Cascade Shakespeare Theater, is in failing health and close to bankruptcy. With her tuition unpaid, she must return home to Cascade, Massachusetts, leaving her budding career as an artist behind. She marries Asa Spaulding in order to provide stability and shelter for her father.

Desdemona appears to settle for a less-than-perfect marriage. She honestly cares for Asa, but his desire to start a family immediately makes her shudder, and so she secretly tracks her fertile ovulation days each morning. Even though William Hart adores his daughter, he reveals that he changed his will to make Asa the beneficiary of his theater. To make matters worse, legislation may pass to allow Cascade to be flooded to create a reservoir. Dez then meets Jacob Solomon, a talented artist who sparks an instantaneous allure that is almost too great to ignore.

Dez is a conflicted character who faces life-changing decisions. Her situation is complex, and her choices are anything but straightforward. Jacob Solomon is Jewish, and the reader becomes a witness to the hostile prejudice that often impinges on innocent lives. The author also deftly looks at the social norms of this time period. Women’s rights and expectations regarding marriage, divorce, children, birth control and property rights were vastly different 80 years ago. CASCADE  is an insightful, sensitive, and important novel of our social history which reads with clarity and authenticity. Maryanne O’Hara shares the difficult, limited freedom and choices that women were raised to accept but which they frequently challenged. 

July, 2012
Wisteria Leigh

I was sent a free copy of this book from HNR for review and publication. The review is submitted without bias. 

This review originally appeared in Historical Novels Society Issue 61, August 2012.

© [Wisteria Leigh] and [Bookworm's Dinner], [2008-2013].

Wednesday, January 9, 2013



Thomas Nelson
July 2012
pb, 320pp 

History is often controversial whether sacred or secular. THIS SCARLET CORD will generate debates as well.  It is biblical Ffiction and Wolf adheres close to the history of what is gleaned from the Old Testament and research of ancient manuscripts found written in Canaanite. She uses five paragraphs from the Book of Joshua in the Old Testament to cleverly create a memorable adventurous historical novel.
Rahab arrives in Jericho with her father. Alluringly beautiful and she captures the eye of the degenerate old king, who lusts to make her his ritual bride during the annual pagan New Year festivities.  Rahab, being female, has no rights and must acquiesce to the offensive king’s will. Sala, a young Israelite accompanied by his father is a spy for Joshua’s army. He is in love with Rahab. Rahab is portrayed as a devoted daughter, self-determined heroine who embraces the One True God theory. With brave confidence yet high risk of death she aids Sala and Joshua in their mission to destroy Jericho.
Readers will discover a beautiful love story and learn about Rahab, a brave woman heroine who will inspire all.

June 20, 2012
Wisteria Leigh

Disclosure: I was sent a free copy of this book from HNR for review and publication. The review is submitted without bias. This review originally appeared in Historical Novels Society Issue 61, August 2012.

© [Wisteria Leigh] and [Bookworm's Dinner], [2008-2013].

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Review: THE SECRET LIFE OF FRIDA KAHLO, by F.G. Haghenbeck


F.G. Haghenbeck 
Atria Books (2012)
Paperback, 368 pages

Frida Kahlo’s (1907-1954) life is immortalized in her prismatic self-portraits. F.G. Haghenbeck embraces her often outlandish and spirited personality in The THE SECRET LIFE OF FRIDA KAHLO a novel from Frida’s point of view told in an anecdotal diary format,  Based on the discovery of notebooks at her home in Mexico, The Hierba Santa Book (The Sacred Herbs Book) was never found.
Regardless of whether you have read about Kahlo, Haghenbeck has created a worthy portrayal of Frida, the artist, in this three-dimensionally tangible novel. Kahlo is an iconic figure who refused to give up on life. As a child, she recovered from life-threatening polio that left her with a withered spindly leg. She survived a near-fatal and self-described near-death experience after a horrific accident, when metal impaled her body. Kahlo believed she died that day, and Haghenbeck describes her life as haunted by two things: The Messenger (of death) and her spindly leg. She suffered unimaginable pain. To compensate, she learned to paint on her back with a mirror. She was cruelly taunted for her deformity and suffered the inability to have children.
Haghenbeck depicts the artist’s indomitable zest for life through her numerous friendships with O’Keeffe, Trotsky, Hemingway, Rockefeller, Dali, Dos Passos and Henry Miller. Frida’s legendary recipes appear at the end of each chapter, a tasty culinary bonus. Above all, her tempestuous relationship with Diego Rivera would provide a lifelong challenge of emotional complexity, a man she would always love.
Anyone who is familiar with Frida Kahlo will agree that Haghenbeck has nailed her persona. THE SECRET LIFE OF FRIDA KAHLO is a novel as alluring and mystifying as the artist herself. A highly recommended accompaniment to the existing biographical works available.

DISCLOSURE: I was sent a free copy of this book from HNR to review for their publication. The review submitted above is my unbiased honest evaluation. This review originally appeared in Historical Novels Society periodical Issue 62, November 2012.


For additional information here are a few internet sites. 

Frida Kahlo Museum Link 

© [Wisteria Leigh] and [Bookworm's Dinner], [2008-2013].

Monday, January 7, 2013

Review: Heart of a Samurai, by Margi Preus


Margi Preus
Amulet Books,  
August 27, 2012
HC, 304 pp, $15.95

HEART OF A SAMURAI  is as close to a Perfect Storm adventure for the YA audience as you can get. The Newbery Honor novel is based on the life of Manjiro, a shipwrecked and stranded fourteen year old boy who lived in Japan in the 19th century. In the story, Manjiro and four companions are stranded on an island off the coast of Japan. Desperate, scared and faced with a vague and tenuous fate, the serendipitous passing of the whaling ship, the John Howland renders their rescue possible. There is no chance that the ship will take them back home. In 1841 Japan is a closed country, the borders are sealed to all coming and going. No foreigners were allowed to enter, and returning countrymen could face harsh repercussions, imprisonment and possibly death. The boys fear the sailors are barbarians as they have never encountered western people and their behavior often shocks them. Ironically, the Americans view the Japanese boys with equal mistrust and fear. Fortunately for Manjiro, he is befriended by the captain. When Captain Whitfield witnesses the boy’s keen, savvy and quick response to an emergency, he decides to teach him the whaling trade. Upon their return to Massachusetts, he is adopted by the captain and his future looks bright. He embraces the dangerous life whaling as he journeys the high seas, but his dream of becoming a samurai appears beyond his reach. How could a fisherman’s son ever hope to be one of the chosen samurai? HEART OF A SAMURAI is full of adventure, mystery, historical facts and page turning drama. The character’s personalities are genuine, warm with a few crusty edged sailors thrown in. Preus provides historical facts, glossary and extensive bibliography for further reading. The reader becomes witness to whaling scenes including the Nantucket Sleighride guaranteed to be memorable and heart stopping. Manjiro told his story in four books that were published in 1852, a valuable resource for Margi Preus when writing her book. HEART OF A SAMURAI is a whopping whale of a tale, wrapped around the history of Japanese and American world trade and cultural relations. Suitable for upper elementary, middle school and above.

Wisteria Leigh
January 6, 2013


© [Wisteria Leigh] and [Bookworm's Dinner], [2008-2013].

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Review: The Bloodletter's Daughter, by Linda Lafferty


by Linday Lafferty
Amazon PublishingAmazon Publishing
512 pages-pp. 
September 4, 2012


Born to King Rudolf’s mistress, young Giuglio believes his mother a whore. If he had been born to the queen, he would one day inherit the Hapsburg Empire. In deep contemplation at Prazsky Hrad, the royal castle in Prague, he tries to decipher the Coded Book of Wonder. It is a miserably cold day in February of 1599, but his gaze on the bare-breasted bathmaids offers warmth, for he knows they hold the secret to many mysteries and quiet the voices in his head. The king would do anything for his son. It soon becomes evident that Giuglio, called Don Julius, is mentally disturbed, frightfully so. When his father learns of his son’s continued sexually deviant and violent behavior, he is exiled to a part of Bohemia in order to protect the Hapsburg Empire from public gossip and secure his son’s safety.
Rudolf II sends for the bloodletter to treat his son. The bloodletter’s daughter, Marketa, accompanies her father, as it is her wish to become a surgeon. Her presence calms Don Julius, who refuses to allow anyone else to apply the blood-sucking leeches to his skin. Marketa’s life is in serious jeopardy when she fails to see the danger of his erratic lunacy.
Linda Lafferty writes as if she were creating a movie screenplay. She captures the essence of Don Julius’ demonic sociopathic behavior with precision and detail. He is a disturbing character; the reader will shudder while experiencing his depravity. Marketa, on the other hand, trusting and virginally pure, is the polar opposite. Based on the life of Don Julius, this debut novel by Linda Lafferty will offer readers suspenseful drama.  Highly recommended-five star rating.

DISCLOSURE: I was sent a free copy of this book from HNR to review for their publication. The review submitted above is my unbiased honest evaluation. This review originally appeared in Historical Novels Society periodical Issue 62, November 2012.

© [Wisteria Leigh] and [Bookworm's Dinner], [2008-2013].

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Owl Babies by Martin Waddell


Written by Martin Waddell
Illustrated by Patrick Benson
Candlewick Press
Picture Book: Age 2-8, Pre K-Grade 3

Themes: family, caring, feelings

Owl Babies is one of my favorite children's books to read aloud.  I teach special needs students and ELL students who have responded with enthusiasm when they hear this story.  As a media specialist I teach technology skills and information literacy skills and often use technology with the students after they have listened to a story. With Owl Babies, students have created their own Pixie slides as they recall a favorite part of the story.  Where the author uses speech bubbles, the students are able to relate the visual to the text dialogue.  I was so thrilled to discover this video slideshow that will have an even greater impact on their comprehension.  The illustrations by Patrick Benson are so vivid, they capture the adorable expressions of the three babies, most especially Little Percy.  This will be a real treat for my students. Take a look.....

Disclosure:  I own a copy of this book that I purchased.

© [Wisteria Leigh] and [Bookworm's Dinner], [2008-2013].

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

2013 Reading Challenge



Bookworms Dinner will participate this year in.......

War Through the Generations 2013 Reading Challenge

hosted by Anna and Serena



This year the challenge theme is the American RevolutionWhat a fascinating period of history. I can't wait to share some of the books I read throughout the year. I hope to read a broad and diverse selection of genre related to this war. My reviews will be listed here and posted on War Through the Generations as well. Anna and Serena have provided a recommended reading list for anyone who may want to reference their annotated bibliography.