Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Nellie Oleson

I bet there are more than a few of you out there who not only watched "Little House on the Prairie" but you really, really liked the show. You did not miss it. You cried from time to time. You laughed a lot and you hated Nellie Oleson and her mother. Nellie and Mrs. Oleson are two of the most evil people on television. Just when you think they are going to be nice to the Ingalls family, they turn nasty. It was a seething hatred. Just look at the book cover from Alison Arngrim's book and the feeling will come flooding back to you in an instant. I knew about this book for a while but I did not pick it up until recently. I picked it up during a sale on Amazon.com a few days ago and tore through it in hours. I really like the show and wanted to know more about her. It seems for some reason that I know about the other stars but not her.
This is a great book. It was full of the little insider bits you want about the show but the real meat of the book is about her rise to infamy. She was part of a show business family with a more famous than her brother. I did not know that. She starred in other things before Little House. I did not know that. She is a funny stand up comedienne. I did know that. She fought hard for the rights of the sick when the AIDS crisis was the hottest topic in the world. I did not know that. She fought courageously for the rights of abused children and made real changes to laws around the country. I did not know that. She had a very abusive childhood and the fact that she has not pulled a "Lohan" or Charlie Sheen is remarkable. The stories she tells about her brother are spine chilling. She clearly had enough pain and anger to drawn on for her portrayal of the ultimate villain in one of the most wholesome shows of all time.
I normally do not like biographies (even though I read quite a few of them) because I end up disliking the person a bit. This is one of those rare instances where I grew to admire someone. Arngrim has every right to be a difficult member of society but she chose not to dwell on her past. She moves forward with a calm determination and recognition of the blessings she has received. She seems like the most honest and down to earth celebrity. It makes me wish she had the chance to play a nicer role. Maybe there is time for a renaissance so she can be known for something other than Nellie. But I somehow don't think that legacy bothers her at all.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Sleepwalk With Me

One of my favorite comedians is Mike Birbiglia. Over the past two years he has performed a play about this book and filmed a movie about the play which was based on this book. If you have heard his stand-up routine you will recognize some of these stories. That does not mean they are not still funny and touching. The focus of the books it two fold. He talks about his battles with a sleep disorder and the dangers of having that problem while being a road comic. It is also about coming to grips with a pending marriage. Maybe it is really about him growing into an adult. Regardless it is very funny at times. My wife purchased this book from his website for me as a gift. It came with the movie and both are autographed so if you want to borrow it I will need it back. The movie is on Netflix and is well worth your time. It is under 90 minutes. He also has a great stand-up set that I have listened to many times. I like his delivery and his style. To give you a taste of his relaxed comic touch, check out the embedded video below.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Pass it On

We never seem to get enough good news in our news these days. I think it has always been this way. Mr. Gugliotta shares a link to a story about how the kindness of one stranger has lead one man to return the kindness several times over.


Friday, September 27, 2013

Inmate and Prisoner

Mr. Gugliotta is sharing an interesting article (complete with a few embedded videos) about a former inmate and a former corrections officer. Given the attention our own prison is getting this might be a timely reminder of the lives lead a few miles from school.


Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Lack of Posts

Sorry for the lack of posts. Now that school has started I think everyone has stopped reading. Or they are too busy to send in a review/suggestion. I know from past experience that people are not as willing to write a review so I suggest a simple alternative. Submit a book suggestion, or list of suggestions to share with the blog readers. According to Google stats the blog has over 1000 views already so that is encouraging.
Mr. Gugliotta submitted some interesting articles that I will add soon. While they are not books, they are worth reading and that is really what I want this blog to be about.
I will also share some interesting articles as well as magazine recommendations.
I have to admit that I do a lot of reading in small chunks like articles. I use an iPad app called Flipboard to access many great stories. I will discuss the Flipboard app in the near future as well.
I will try hard to keep the content fresh but I could always use some help. Feel free to join the call for increased literacy at CCS!


One of my favorite TV shows is Fringe. It is no longer on the air. It was on Fox for 5 seasons and was one of the more inventive shows I have ever seen. One of the main characters is named Walter Bishop. He is the man pictured on this book cover. The actor's portrayal of Walter was critically overlooked over the 5 year run.
While shopping at an actual book store over the summer I stumbled upon this paperback and decided to give it a try. There are no new shows to watch and this is the best way to get my fix. This story is about the character when he was much younger and an event the unfolded where he and his genius best friend accidentally opened a rift in time and a serial killer moved from his world into ours. The rest of the book is focused on returning the killer to his own time and space. It is a science fiction book to be sure and there are some funny moments. I suspect this is only for fans of the show. The book is not really well written. I think the author did not do justice to the characters but it was a fun and quick read. If you are a fan of the show this is worth your time. I will pick up a few more because I liked the show so much and sometimes a quick and fun read is just what I need from time to time.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Change of Heart

For quite a while I resisted the use of Kindles and other e-readers. I was a book snob like many others. I wanted the book in my hands. I liked have a pile of books to knock over for some reason. That all changed for me this past summer. The reason is comically simple. Wind.
I spent quite a bit of time reading near the end of the summer vacation. Most of the books I wrote about on this blog I read over the last few weeks of summer. And most of them I read on my iPad with the Kindle app. I picked up most of the books for under $5.00. Some I even found online for free. When I read a trilogy of books this summer the first one was electronic and the other two were hardcovers I bought on a clearance table. I read most of the books outside on my swing by a fire. I tend to swing a little hard and fast. Most people do not like to share the swing with me. Between the speed of my swinging and the constant wind we had this summer I realized that actual bound books are a pain to hold in the wind.
Sounds like a minor irritation I know but I also realized that holding open a book while sitting outside on a swing can be a bit tedious. I know this sounds like a first world problem and it probably is just that. But in terms in convenience an e-reader became much less of a hassle.
I also spent some of the summer bouncing from book to book as my mood dictated. All those moods were in one place - the iPad. I was also able to play some nice soft background music from the iPad. When I was done, I simply closed the case on the iPad and I was all cleaned up. One little device to handle it all.
Soon amazon.com will be offering Kindle downloads on most of the books I have already purchased. Some will be free and others may be as low as $1.99. When this happens in October I will probably realize there are some forgotten gems in the list of books I have purchased. I may not even have them any more. If I can put the whole collection on the iPad that would be nice. Since I am actually taking trips now I suspect I will want the soothing company of some of my favorite books even if they are not.....you know....actual paper bound books.
So there - I admit it. I turned the corner and have succumbed to the power of the e-reader. I will still by discount books because the Kindle prices can be too high sometimes but I think as time wears on I will most likely not have a pile of books to bring to school to share with you all and that may be the worst part of this switch. Imagine...all this from a simple breeze interrupting my summer reading.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah

Those of you of a certain vintage will know the classic novelty song "Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah". A few of you may even know who made the song popular. His name is Allan Sherman. Several years ago I was on a novelty song kick. I bought a ton of odd CDs and albums that featured novelty songs. Once of my favorites is a greatest hits CD by Sherman. I also have several actual vinyl albums by him as well. I read the liner notes to his CD and decided I had to know more about him. He wrote his own story but that book is out of print and I cannot find it at a decent price. Earlier this year Mark Cohen released "Overweight Sensation" and I grabbed it almost immediately.
I have to admit that I do not love this book but it served my purpose. I learned much about Sherman's life. The tales of his meteoric rise and fall are detailed in this book. I did not realize his impact on television and how much of a star he was when his first few albums were best sellers. His story is almost like all other celebrities. His undoing came as a result of his own excesses and behavior. But his best songs are amazingly witty. His most famous song is actually very clever if you listen to again and pay real attention to the overall tone. Many of his other hits are also very witty and show more depth than many other novelty hits of the era. The reason for this is that he wrote songs for over a decade before he hit it big. He was well known in certain circles for many years before he became a popular performer in the early 60s. He hung with Sinatra. He was a fixture on talk shows and performed for thousands in the popular venues of the time. He was a comedic force. I will not reveal why it all went away. That is for you to discover if you read this book.
So why did I say I do not love the book? Here is an except from a speaking engagement for the author:

In Overweight Sensation: The Life and Comedy of Allan Sherman(Brandeis Series in American Jewish History, Culture, and Life) author Mark Cohen presents Sherman, a television producer (I've Got a Secret) turned song parodist, as a manic, bacchanalian, and hugely creative artist whose explosively funny parodies of classic songs marked a turning point in American cultural history.

This book very thoroughly describes Sherman's impact on Jewish culture and it's place in American in the 40s through the 50s and beyond. I do mean thoroughly. I suspect that for some people this is a good thing. For me it was a little too much. There were times I bypassed some of the analysis of the lyrics so I could continue the story of his life. And while I know that the level of description is important to set the stage for his career, success and implosion, I found it to be too much detail for me. This does not mean the book it not good. It is a great way to learn about the life he lived in the era in which he lived. The author put a lot of historical context in this story that I am sure will appeal to others more than me. Maybe I was just too impatient. I really wanted to get to the highlights.
All this being said, I am glad I read this book and will gladly share it. I enjoy reading biographies about people that like Sherman. This may mean I will have to dig out the novelty songs again and find a biography about someone else. Tom Lehrer? Dr. Demento? Weird Al?

Thursday, September 12, 2013

John Carter

Last summer there was a box office bomb released entitled "John Carter". It was a movie based on books by Edgar Rice Burroughs. I did not see it because it was so universally loathed until this summer. To my surprise I thought it was pretty good. It it not a classic but it was very entertaining and inventive. So I decided to check out the source material for the book and learned that there is a series books about the character and the planter Mars written buy the same man who created Tarzan. The books are freely available online because they are so old and the copyright expired. I read the first in the series quickly and really enjoyed it. I judged the book based on the fact that it was written so long ago. The author could not have simply ripped off other author's ideas - he had to use his own  imagination and to that end I thought the book was great. The simple touches like the characters ability to jump far and have great strength due to the change in gravitational pull from Earth to Mars was a great touch. The monsters in the book were not really monsters and the humans did not really act all the humane. I remain pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoy these books and the "simple" story telling from this author. Sometimes I find the descriptions of the battle scenes a little sparse but I can add my own imagination to those sections and maybe that is what the author intended. I admit that I know little about Burroughs, but rest assured I will learn more soon. There are many books in this series, the Tarzan stories and so much more. The first book in the series is the source material for the movie. I suspect there was a plan to make more. Maybe one day they will. I think there are more great stories to tell. Maybe it was the wrong time. Maybe it would make a better TV show so there is more time to develop the stories and characters. Regardless, if you like a little science fiction, action and a dash of romance, this book and subsequent sequels are for you.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Raylan - Elmore Leonard

If you look over some of my earlier posts you will discover my fondness for the TV show "Deadwood". One of the reasons I liked the show so much was the actor Timothy Olyphant. He played the character Seth Bullock. I have since seen nearly everything he has even been in. His most recent claim to fame is the TV show "Justified" where he plays U.S. Marshall Raylan Givens. The series is based on a character created by author Elmore Leonard. I knew this name from movies like "Get Shorty" and "Out of Sight". However I had never read any of his books. A while ago I stumbled upon this book at a clearance table in a book store and gave it a try. I really liked it. Leonard writes witty dialog that is clever, acerbic and funny all at the same time. He is a no-nonsense write who does not need to dress up his prose with a lot of description yet somehow always paints a clear picture of his characters and scenes. He has written around 50 books. There are a lot of westerns and detective stories. I really like his writing style and plan on checking out more of his books. But sadly he died recently and we will no longer be able to enjoy his work. It is or loss.
In this particular book the Marshall encounters colorful characters who think they are smarter than they really are. There is a team of liver thieves (human livers), there is a hot shot female gambler, some gun play, some flirting, and so much more. If you have seen the show you will be right at home in this book. I have read that Leonard changed some of his style in these stories to match the writers on the TV show which is at times laugh out loud funny. I cannot wait to pick up more his his novels.
I will be adding this to the pile of books to borrow soon. But, as I mentioned before, I have been reading more and more on the iPad so I will not have as many books to share. But I always have a soft spot for book stores and the clearance tables so there will be more additions I am sure.

Friday, September 6, 2013

The Perks of Being a Wallflower

From - Mr. Walrath

The final book I've read this summer is called The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky.  I've wanted to read this book for a while since I saw the movie with my daughter several months ago.  It is the story of a ninth grade boy named Charlie.  Being new to the high school, he doesn't have any friends, and you get the idea that he didn't have many back in junior high either.  He meets two seniors named Patrick and Sam (a girl) who are step-brother and step-sister.  These two characters don't have a ton of friends either, so Charlie starts hanging around with their circle of people.  Patrick tells Charlie that he's a "wallflower" because he just hangs around, listens, doesn't say much, but understands a lot.  As the school year goes on, the characters' lives have a lot of ups and downs.  There is a huge twist at the end of the book where one of Charlie's secrets is revealed, that he didn't even remember because he repressed it as a child.
    My favorite line of the book and movie was when Charlie told his English teacher that his sister didn't break up with her boyfriend even after he hit her across the face.  The teacher said, "Charlie, we accept the love we think we deserve."  
    There are many adult themes in this book.  Some of them include teen drug and alcohol abuse, teen suicide, date rape, closeted homo-sexuality, and child abuse and molestation.  In fact in five of the last ten years the book has been on the American Library Association's "10 Most Frequently Challenged Books" list.  That means that there is a large movement to have it banned from school libraries and school curricula.  So much for the first amendment!  There are lots of happy parts, but just as many sad parts.  However, once I began it, it was hard to put down.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

From Mr. Walrath

A book I just finished is titled World War Z, An Oral History of the Zombie War by Max Brooks.  I had seen the movie version in the theater over the summer and decided to buy the book.  The book is incredibly different from the movie.  The movie is full of adventure, gore, death, and killing as Brad Pitt's character tries to find the cause of the infestation and discover a cure for it.  This book takes place after the Zombie War and the end of civilization as we know it.  It is written as a series of interviews of many different people who had many different roles during the war in many different countries.  I was reminded of the Lord of the Rings trilogy in that Brooks creates an entire fantasy world with many unique words and scenarios.  His creativity is pretty amazing, and if the reader isn't into the interview that he or she is reading, another interview with a different character is only a few pages away.  During the war nations were forced to work together to try to save humanity, but there were still many interesting dynamics that occurred to make things interesting to the reader.
    Without giving too many things away, here are a few interesting facts about the war:  In the United States, we pretty much retreated into the Rocky Mountains for refuge as the rest of the nation was overrun.  Japan evacuated their island nation because there was nowhere they could defend without infestation.  Cuba, because of its isolation was least effected by the epidemic and became a world power after the war.  Zombies freeze during the winter months and are not a threat to humans; however, they thaw out in spring and are as nasty as ever.  Zombies are not affected by water or the ocean's depths.  There are millions of zombies walking around on the bottom of the oceans, and they periodically emerge on beaches looking for meat to eat.
    I would highly recommend this book.  It seems we're currently in a similar stage with all the zombie stories as we were a few years ago with all the vampire stories.  I wish AMC's Walking Dead was back right now!

Monday, September 2, 2013

The Strain (trilogy)

I used to like vampires. One of my all-time favorite TV shows is Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Then Twilight took over the world. The biggest problem with Twilight is not the books and the movies. The biggest problem is that vampires turned up EVERYWHERE for a while. Such is the nature of popular culture. But there was something about this book and trilogy that caught my attention. That something is Guillermo Del Toro. One of my favorite movies is Hellboy (and the sequel). You may know him as the man who directed Pacific Rim. This was one of the big summer movies. I did not know he wrote books and I found them in a sale rack at a Barnes and Nobles store. I read the entire trilogy in just about four days. I could not put them down. He restored my faith in the vampire genre.
This story is really like a mash up of several styles. Initially the book starts like a thriller/mystery when a plane full of peope lands and then dies. The plane loses all power and sits on the runway. The CDC is called in when it is discovered that everyone on board was dead except for four people. As the investigation proceeds the CDC learns that the problem is not a disease or typical virus. Within days all the dead come back to life as vampires. Not the Dracula type. Scary and dangerous vampires who begin to take over neighborhoods, towns, cities and eventually the planet. The book then turns into a great horror book. Then it becomes a fantasy when the history is folded in. Then it becomes a science fiction book. Then it becomes a story about the power of family. Then it becomes......you get the point. This series is amazing.
There characters we well developed and you care what happens to them. When someone dies (not a spoiler) you feel bad for them and the survivors. There are some cliche moments, but they are handled so deftly that I never once felt cheated. It is not a gory book although it is very descriptive when the vampires attack.
Great books! I think it is time for me to revisit the horror genre. It was always my favorite. I have the first book on my Kindle and the others I have in hardcover. I can lend the last two but you really need the first one. Why the two formats? I bought the second two in a store and then realized they were parts two and three. I then found the first book for $1.99 on amazon.com. Total price for the trilogy? About $12.00! This is how I buy books. I like them cheap my money goes a little further.

Friday, August 30, 2013

The Dangerous Animals Club

A few weeks ago I was browsing through some sale Kindle books at amazon.com. I stumbled on this book based solely on the fact that I like the actor Stephen Tobolowsky. I suspect you may not know his name but you will know him when you see him. Don't believe me? Google his name - go ahead - I will wait.

I told you that you would know who he is. Several years ago I watched a documentary about him and the movie was mostly about his ability to tell a good story. This book reaffirms that. This is a cross between an autobiography and a life lessons guide. The chapters focus on a period in his life and the lessons he learned on his way to becoming a working actor. His stories are funny and though provoking. He has lived an interesting life and seems to have taken most of it in stride and treated his experiences as a great journey. I really like his writing style. The way he turns a phrase appeals to me and this made the book a quick read. Normally when I read a biography or autobiography of someone famous I tend to be disappointed in the their private life. The tell all books seem unnecessary to me. This is a different book. He does seem to tell all (or most) but when I was done I found that I liked him more. I suspect that many actors in his position (not the big stars) are probably more like this. The character actors I see most often seem to be grounded a bit more. This was a fun and short read. I cannot loan it out because I picked it up for my Kindle. I will have a post in the future about my growing appreciation for ebooks.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Maureen McCormick titled Here's the Story

By Mr. Walrath  

 I recently finished an autobiography by Maureen McCormick titled Here's the Story.  Maureen played the character Marcia Brady on the hit 70s show The Brady Bunch.  For those young people who have never heard of The Brady Bunch, it was a TV show where a single dad with three boys falls in love with a single mom with three girls.  They get married and form a big family with their housekeeper, Alice.  Marcia was the oldest of the three girls in the "family".  I loved this show when I was a kid and thought that Marcia Brady was the greatest thing since sliced bread.  My buddies and I thought that she was the most beautiful girl on the planet.  If you haven't seen this show, you should check it out on You Tube or Nick at Night.
    In any event, Maureen is only about 12 when she gets the part on this new TV show.  It is pretty popular and goes on to last for five seasons, ending when she's about 17.  Much of the book is about the Brady "family" and the trials and tribulations of being a child star.  Maureen misses school during the filming of the show and tries to fit in back at her school during the off-season.  When the show ends, Maureen has trouble finding regular work because everyone knows her as Marcia Brady.
    Things really get interesting when Maureen enters her 20s and becomes part of the Hollywood 80s scene with wild parties that include excessive alcohol and cocaine.  She becomes a hopeless drug addict.  After quite a few wild years, Maureen finds religion and her future husband.  However, there are still many conflicts and bouts of drama as Maureen battles bulimia and finds that she's bipolar.  I would recommend this book, especially if you are a Brady Bunch fan.  I kept wondering if Maureen would ever find happiness in her life, and I won't divulge if she does or not.

Monday, August 26, 2013

No Regrets

From Mr. Walrath  

I recently finished Ace Frehley's autobiography called No Regrets that I had borrowed from Mr. Trombley many months ago.  As you may or may not know, Ace was the lead guitar player and one of the original founders of the hard rock bank Kiss.  Ace tells many interesting stories about his adolescent years of rebellion and school-skipping and of his love of music.  He played in many bands as a teenager and met has future band mates, Gene Simons, Paul Stanley, and Peter Criss, when he was very young.  Fame came pretty fast and easy for the band, and the four men were rich superstars in no time.  With the easy money came lots of drugs, women, and other decadence.  Ace has spent most of his life addicted to cocaine, alcohol, pain killers, and whatever else was available.  Many stories are included in the book including Ace smashing his Porsche into a tree after a fishing trip with his buddy, or Ace racing several police cars with his Delorean while in an inebriated state.  I got pretty angry reading this book because Ace could always get himself out of trouble by using his fame and status as a rock star.  The title of the book is also disturbing to me because he kept making a point of saying that he wasn't sorry for anything he did.  Maybe if he had killed someone during his drunken rampages, he would have felt differently.
    Ace quit the band in the late 80s and reunited with them for a while in the 2000s, but he doesn't have much good to say about his band mates, Gene and Paul.  They didn't include him in any of the big decisions and made him feel like an outsider.  In recent years Ace has found sobriety and is loving life as a semi-retired rock star.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Catching Up

Sorry for the delay in posts. Life gets in the way. I have a bunch of posts scheduled from Mr. Walrath and from me. If you want to contribute please send me a write up in an email and I will add it. I know many of you read great books all summer and you continue to read great stuff all year long. 
Keep reading and consider contributing. 
I will also try to get the book sharing shelves back up and running. Many new people took advantage of the books over the summer. I think we need a more central location to share the books and will work on doing something about that when school begins again in September. If you have any suggestions, please let me know. 
Finally - I think I am succumbing to the dark side. I have read more and more books on my Kindle and iPad. I think I like it more. I still buy books, but I read more ebooks than normal books this summer. Sorry about that. I do like a hard copy but I also like not having to find room for all the books I read. 
If you have not caught up on the previous posts I suggest you take a few moments. There are some great reviews. 
Have a great rest of the summer./ 

Quivers A Life by Robin Quivers

By Mr. Walrath

An autobiography I just finished is titled Quivers A Life by Robin Quivers, co-host of the Howard Stern Show.  As a big Howard Stern fan, I have wanted to read this book for many years, but it is out of print and difficult to find.  Amazon has used copies, but the last time I checked they were something like $60 for the hard copy and $35 for the paperback edition.  So, I constantly looked whenever I went into a used book store and finally hit the jackpot at the little used bookstore that is only open on weekends on Rt. 11 in Lawrenceville.
    In any event, this book tells of Robin's unhappy upbringing in Baltimore, MD.  Her family was very poor, and she experienced a very unhappy childhood.  Robin's mom gave her very little encouragement telling her that she'd never be more than a maid to some rich white family.  Robin's dad molested her repeatedly until she put an end to it by biting his arm so hard that she almost drew blood.  Robin could not wait to get out of her prison and studied hard in school so that she could get away from her family and her neighborhood.
    Robin's first career was in nursing, but because she saw it as a dead-end career, she decided to go into radio.  She went to broadcasting school, got a job at a small station in Carlisle, PA, and began to move up the ladder.  Within two years she was introduced to Howard Stern, and the two began their on-air relationship in Washington, DC.  Robin was still not happy, however.  She was constantly depressed and often suicidal mostly because of the memories of her father's betrayal.  Many of the topics she writes about parallel topics Howard discusses in his book, Private Parts, so it was interesting to compare the two.  Robin talks about how much she came to hate Howard, argue with him, scream at him, and blame him for things not going well in Washington and later in New York.  I've concluded that Howard is really a good guy because he never once said anything negative about Robin in his book, even though she must have been terrible to work with.
    Robin did turn her life around with the help of a devoted therapist who got her to trust others, especially Howard.  Robin eventually confronted her parents about her abuse and was able to somewhat mend fences with them after her mother and father both apologized for what they had done to her when she was young.  I really enjoyed this book.  Robin didn't hold anything back as she was very candid with all the negative thoughts running through her mind.  Thank goodness that Howard recognized her talent and didn't kick her to the curb after some of her ridiculous antics.

Monday, July 29, 2013

The Devil in the White City

Review by Art Trombley

This is hands down one of my all time favorite books. In fact I have purchased it four times. I have given away three copies and kept one for myself. It is really two great stories in one book. The first is about the World's Fair in 1893. I learned a lot about the process of staging the event as well as all the new technology created just for the event. The Ferris Wheel was a modern engineering marvel in it's time. There many foods introduced to Americans, many new inventions and the world indeed came to see the White City. The story about the architects making the buildings was fascinating to me. There were details I never considered like landscaping well in advance to assure trees would be in place as well as special plants, ponds and more. But then the time came to open the Fair the people flocked to the spectacle and it gave America some credibility as a world presence.
The second story is one I never heard before. It is about H.H. Holmes. He was perhaps the first and most prolific serial killer in American history. I never heard his name before this book. I did not know this story. Jack the Ripper is historically one of the most famous because his crimes were so viscous for their times but Holmes not only murdered more people, but in perhaps more gruesome ways. He was a charming person who leveraged his charm to buy his way into people's lives and then take those lives from them. He ended up building an elaborate hotel around the same time the White City was being built. The influx of naive young woman coming the area meant and endless flow of victims. He was a brilliant charlatan who never really admitted to all the crimes he committed. A determined detective brought him down and when the hotel was searched there were many odd features, including a room whose sole purpose was to be airtight except the gas that was pumped in to kill the person trapped in the room.
The two stories bounce back and forth seamlessly and the book reads like a great thriller. Even the mundane stories about the architecture are thrilling in this author's hands.
I believe there is a movie in the works about this book so I suspect there will be more attention paid to this menace as well as the the heroes who brought the White City to life.
I have purchase nearly all of Erik Larson's other books and will add reviews from time to time. They are all historical thrillers like this but this remains one of my all time favorites.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

From Mr. Seymour

I just finished a new and definitive biography of Simon Bolivar by Marie Arana called "
Bolivar: American Liberator".  At first the size of the book looked a little daunting, but I soon realized that Bolivar's life was so interesting and had such an impact on the World that anything less would be a disservice to his name.  If you like biographies or are even remotely intrigued about how South America became the continent we know today, then this book is for you.  Bolivar's story is incredible; he was born into one of the wealthiest families in Venezuela, educated in Spain and France, and exposed to Napoleonic Europe before returning to Venezuela and Colombia.  He used his wealth and influence to try to start rebellions throughout Spain's colonies ( Spain controlled all of South America save Brazil prior to Bolivar's successful revolution of the 1820's).  He attempted to bring the people together against Spain but realized after two failed revolutions ( that nearly cost him his life and forced him to flee to the safety of the Caribbean islands) that the racial and economic differences in South America were so pervasive that a united front against Spain would be nearly impossible.  However, Bolivar used his dynamic personality to free Colombia, then Venezuela, and parts of today's Ecuador.  He marched his army over the Andes mountains on impossible journeys, traveled through the crocodile infested Amazon river, and rode thousands of miles throughout his career.  His ability to ride hundreds of miles at a time earned him the nickname "iron ass" from his men.  He was a lover of liberty but equally of women.  Bolivar's wife died young and he vowed to never marry again...but he played the field better than any other historical figure I have read about (except perhaps Alexander Hamilton or the Marquis de Sade).  Every city he liberated sent the prettiest women of the village to greet him and place laurels around his neck; the governors of such places served as the perfect wing man for Bolivar when he was on the prowl.  Not content with his incredible feats, Bolivar took his army into Peru, the gilded Capitol of New Spain and liberated all of Northern Peru and Southern Peru ( which today is the nation of Bolivia).  He recognized the opportunity for a canal at Panama earlier then most leaders of the time and repeatedly tried to create democracies in the areas he  liberated.  However, Bolivar felt that the people of South America were so uneducated that a stronger governing hand was needed and he set himself up as a dictator in nearly all of the places he liberated.  Ultimately, the man who liberated 6 countries and rode over ten thousand miles on horseback to glory died without a cent to his name and more than a few enemies.  It may seem like I have given the whole story away in this review, but believe me there is so much more to this book that I have left for anyone interested to discover for themselves.  I picked this book up at the Wead Library's new arrivals section in Malone- the price was right and the story was great.

**Note to self - I really need to get back into the library and save some $$

Thursday, July 25, 2013

It's Not Us Against Them

Review by Art Trombley

I purchased three books at the Model Schools Conference in Washington D.C.. This is the second one I am reviewing. It was written by Ray McNulty who is one of the fellows in the ICLE (International Center for Educational Leadership in Education). He works with Bill Dagget, the man who spoke to us all in May this past year.
This book is about how we look at our own schools and decide if we are all heading in the same direction. To see if we are unified in our goals. To see if as a staff we have a vision. There are examples from many schools around the country and their focus was not the same but what made them special to the author was that some careful consideration was given to having a clear plan for their school.
He talks often about the 21st century learner and the skills our students need for a future we are not sure about. He describes the rapid change in our culture over the past few years and the fact that jobs that never existed before are now not being filled because schools are not training students for those jobs.
But mostly he focused on 5 Cs of school leadership - communication, clarity, consistency, conviction and cohesiveness. At times his examples seem simple yet complicated. Schools in trouble really had to reinvent themselves in creative ways and in some cases those changes lead to some teachers quitting the profession. He is very clear however that the school making the most significant changes are the ones willing to take risks when they know things are not working.
I am going to say that our school is not in the same boat as the ones described in the book. We tend to be among the better performing schools in the area. But we know we can be better and this book gives some outlines about how we can create a plan. We need a leadership team to decide a direction to take. We need a concrete plan that we ALL follow. We need a vision and perhaps a more direct mission statement if we want to move forward. The new tests and curriculum changes are going to make us move in a new direction anyway so it is a good time to revisit the goals we have for our future.
There are some answers in this book but more importantly there are questions to guide us to make decisions. This book is inspiring in that it reminds us that we are doing many things quite well already and that simple changes may be all we need to turn our school from one of the best in the area to one of the best period.
I do have this book to loan out. I did have it signed by the author so I will want it back. It is a quick and inspiring read.
McNulty was a speaker in D.C. and was as engaging on stage as he is in this book. If nothing else this company is really selling motivation and I have to admit I bought into it all. I am already redesigning my class, my lessons and my approach to teaching for when we get back to work in September. I have also committed to being part of the leadership team and hope that maybe you will as well.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Born Standing Up - Steve Martin

Book review by Art Trombley

Those of you of a certain ago know Steve Martin as one of the all time greatest stand up comedians. Some of a different age know him from his movies (The Jerk and for even younger readers "Cheaper by the Dozen). He is a prolific author, actor and recently has turned his attention to his phenomenal banjo playing. He has released several music CDs over the past few years. He is simply the definition of an artist. This book is all about his life as a stand up. If you say his stand up material you know he was a "wild and crazy guy". His act was goofy fun without traditional punchlines. He was not a story teller. He was not a prop comic. He was not a joke teller even. He was something more. His act looked like a man who took to the stage with manic energy and simply made up a performance on the spot. When you read this book you will realize nothing could be further from the truth.
Steve Martin worked at Disney Land in various jobs. He worked in a magic shop. He worked at Knox Berry Farms. He worked everywhere. His act was made from "stolen" and borrowed bit of silliness performed for years in front of people who never laughed  because they never understood what he was doing. He was not even sure. And when I say stole I mean to say he used some lines he picked up from performers he met throughout his career who though they were throw away lines. Martin knew there was something more to those simple jokes. He toiled for years and years before he became an overnight success. The book describes in detail the path he took to become famous and how that fame drove him away from stand up and into movies, books and music.
What I took away from this book is something we should always be doing as teachers. He took notes of all his performances. He meticulously studied his act. He tweaked it when it was not working and he recognized that a different audience might need different material. He reordered his act on a cheap cassette player to refine his timing to find the better punchline or awkward moment. In the end his act was not as random and silly as it seemed. It was carefully planned to work. Carefully planned to work. Something I know I do not always do as a teacher. I do make changes from time to time but I do not tape myself. I do not critique the lesson in any method other than in my head. Maybe I need to take meticulous notes. Find out where the gaps and correct beats are. Change my delivery for a different audience. In other words - be prepared. Be more prepared. The prepare again.
I think our upcoming challenges with the new curriculum and testing will require us to become a little wild and crazy. We may not need arrows through the head or bunny ears, but we will need a new set of tools. Or maybe we will just need to take a hard look at the ones we have and sharpen them a bit. Retool our "act" for today's student.
Regardless of the rant at the end, this is a GREAT book about an extremely funny man who worked very hard to ear his success. It is a quick read because he is also a great writer.
Sadly I cannot lend it because it is a Kindle book (but it was only $2.99).

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine, and the Murder of a President

Today's book comes from Mr. Seymour. 

I just finished a great book by Candace Millard called Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine, and the Murder of a President.  The book discusses the assassination of President James Garfield by a glorified lunatic named Charles Guiteau, an office seeker who badgered the President incessantly prior to committing the deed.  Guiteau's story alone is so bizarre that it bears recounting-  at first, Guiteau  joined a sort of utopian polygamist colony setup in Western New York but was promptly kicked out after repeatedly harassing the women and claiming that he himself was a prophet.  Then, he managed to read a few law books and pass the bar exam; setting up law offices he couldn't afford to maintain in Chicago and New York.  The highlight of his legal career was in one trial where he jumped on top of a table In the middle of his opening arguments (in a case where he was the primary defense attorney) and began throwing things and screaming at the judge and jury. After that, he moved to Washington, D.C. and put all of his  efforts towards receiving a presidential appointment from Garfield to be the American ambassador to France.  Eventually, Guiteau felt he wasn't getting what he deserved and shot the president at a train station after receiving a message from God to do so.  The president died only after weeks of suffering in the White House, and the nation followed his health reports from hour to hour.

Although, this book is an assassination story it also discusses the rise of Garfield to the Presidency, as well as the influence of two men on America during this time period: Alexander Graham Bell and Joseph Lister.  Bell, in addition to inventing the telephone, created an early version of a metal detector to find the bullet lodged in the President.  Lister was the English scientist who realized the need for sterilization during medical procedures...before his work was endorsed, Doctors used dirty medical utensils and diseases were rampant.  The book clearly shows that if the ideas of these men were followed, the President would most certainly have lived and American society would have benefited greatly by the President's example.

Millard is also the author of another book called The River of Doubt, which was also outstanding.  That book tells the story of how Theodore Roosevelt traveled deep into the Amazon river basin after serving as President.  Roosevelt nearly died on his quest to charter a new route through the Amazon...he fought off cannibals  crocodiles, Mosquitoes, hunger, and disease.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Issachar Bates a Shaker's Journey by Carol Medlicott

This is the last book review from Mr. Walrath about his experience learning about Shakers. Thanks Mr. Walrath!

The last book that was assigned was titled Issachar Bates a Shaker's Journey by Carol Medlicott.  Dr. Medlicott was also a guest lecturer at a few sessions I attended.  This was my favorite of the three books.  It is a biography of Issachar Bates, a Revolutionary War hero and future Shaker recruiter and preacher.  Issachar played the fife during the Revolution and was involved in many bloody engagements.  After the war he married and was one of the first settlers of Hartford, NY, Mr. B's hometown.  He had a huge family of nine children and became an alcoholic.  Maybe having that many children can drive a man to drink!  In any event, he became disgruntled with his lack of spirituality and happened to hear Mother Ann Lee preach.  That was all it took to convince him that salvation could be found with the Shakers.  He and his entire family joined the community at New Lebanon, NY when he was 41 years old.  I guess after having nine children his wife was happy to live the celibate life.  However, the adventure doesn't end there.  In 1805, after being a Shaker for about five years, the leader at the time, Mother Lucy Wright, decides that it's time to expand Shakerism in the West.  She sends Issachar and two other Shakers in the middle of winter on a several hundred mile journey to preach the Shaker way and try to win converts in Kentucky, Ohio, and Indiana.  The story becomes one of danger and survival as the men face hunger, the elements, confrontations with Indians, and eventually danger from the British when the War of 1812 breaks out.  I would recommend this book, but it is not a quick read.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Faith Shaker Women and Equality of the Sexes by Glendyne Wergland

 This is the second review from Mr. Walrath from books he needed to read for his summer program learning about Shakers.

The second book was titled Sisters in the Faith Shaker Women and Equality of the Sexes by Glendyne Wergland.  Dr. Wergland was a guest speaker at some of the lectures I attended.  Her book was about the almost unheard of status that women had in the Shaker community.  There was a definite equal partnership between men and women in the communities.  Men did not impose their will on women and had no rights that a woman did not have.  Maybe the fact that the Shaker founder was a woman was the cause of this.  This made Shakerism very attractive to women.  In the non-Shaker world women had very few rights, but in the Shaker community they had all rights except the right to vote.  This book also taught me much good information, but I probably wouldn't read it if I didn't have to.

Monday, July 15, 2013

The Shaker Experience in America by Stephen Stein

Today's post comes from Mr. Walrath.

This spring and early summer I have had to read three books for a week long workshop for the National Endowment for the Arts program on the Shakers held at Siena College.  Some of the books were better than others.

    The first book was titled The Shaker Experience in America by Stephen Stein.  It tells the history of the Shaker religion, and it reads almost like a textbook.  The Shaker religion started in America in 1774 when Ann Lee and eight followers landed in New York City from England.  They quickly bought some land near what is today the Albany Airport and formed a community.  They preached the gospel around New England trying to form more communities and then in the early 1800s spread into the states of Kentucky, Indiana, and Ohio.  At the height of Shakerism there were probably 5-6 thousand practicing Shakers within about 20 communities.  Today there are three practicing Shakers in one community in the state of Maine. 

    The term "Shaker" comes from the phenomenon of often shaking and sometimes rolling around on the floor while speaking or yelling in strange languages during times of intense religious worship.  Shakers have some interesting beliefs.  They are a communal society meaning they all live together in large dormitory style buildings.  They work together and put the community ahead of their own well-being.  Sounds good, but another aspect of Shakerism is that celibacy is a must.  You can only become Christlike by living like Christ, and he never married.  Sometimes families became Shakers, but the husband and wife had to become like brother and sister when they joined the community.  In the communities men ate at one end of the dining hall while women ate at the other.  Also, in the all important worship service, men and women faced each other from opposite ends of the meeting hall.  These customs help explain why Shakerism has almost died out.  Shakers cannot have any children after they join.  It also explains why the number of men became fewer and fewer as the 1800s progressed.

    I learned a lot from this book, but I cannot say that I enjoyed reading it.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Wild Bill Hickok & Calamity Jane: Deadwood Legends (South Dakota Biography Series)

The second of the Deadwood books featured Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane. The two have been joined in history despite never really having much to do with each other. In the the TV show the characters are played as legendary (Hickok) and vagrant (Jane). The real story is (as is often the case) much different. I will start with Jane. She was a woman who really was wild, tough and perhaps more than a little loose morally speaking. But she wanted to be more. She earned money as a tracker, did get involved with more traditional forms of employment but mostly earned her money the way many women had to back those time. She worked in local brothels. She was a hard drinker, a decent shot and for some reason a local writer cleaned up has story and she became a bit of a local legend in her own time. She used that status to make a better life for herself but she could never seem to get out of her own way. She is buried near Hickcok, again despite the fact they we never really a couple.
Hickok's legend is harder to pin down. It appears that he became a legendary figure mostly because people thought he was a legendary figure. His exploits were featured in dime store books at the time and each time his story was told he became faster with his pistols, better at gambling and more of a draw for the ladies. He used his fame to secure special favors in small towns where salons would give his preferential treatment just to play cards in their bars. Some of the stories have bits of truth in them, like all good stories.
When I read this book I decided that most of our legendary figures are just like these two people. They did some good thing, some bad things, maybe even some remarkable things. The fact that someone wrote about them and make them famous had more to do with luck than anything. We live in an era where that is very much happening. We have far too many celebrities who are famous only for being famous. At least as written in these books Hickok and Jane seem much more interesting and worth a little fame than most of today's reality "stars" who will most likely not rate their own historical society books.

Saturday, July 13, 2013


Already I have received 4 book reviews from other staff members. I will be putting them all up on a schedule. I want to do a better job spreading out the material so there is always something new every few days. Please send your reviews to me. Thanks to Mr. Seymour and Mr. Walrath for getting the ball rolling.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Seth Bullock, Black Hills Lawman

A few years ago HBO Has a hit show on their hands. It was called "Deadwood" and it was about life in that town. The story had many historical facts in it but also took some dramatic license. The show is definitely not for children. It is filled with rough language, sex, and violence but I liked it for a few reasons. The main reason was Timothy Olyphant as Seth Bullock.
The character as played in the show was intense, tough and very complicated. I wanted to learn more so I ordered many books about the characters I liked the most and about the town in general. Turns out Bullock was not quite the same in real like (no surprise) but he was an interesting man. Like many of his era he went west to make his fortune during the gold rush and he did make some money along the way. He lost some as well. He established a few businesses that ultimately failed. He was a lawman and he was perhaps the most successful as that. He was also tied into regional and then national politics. It seemed however that he always reached for things a little his ability. He was a dreamer and he tried to make his way in a tough world.
This is a by the number biography. Nothing flashy but very interesting if you want to learn more about the gold rush and towns like the ones depicted in Deadwood. There is a South Dakota Biography Series that feature more of the characters from the show. I will admit I did like the show and I did enjoy reading a little about the era. Seth was the least famous of the characters (I will post more about the other books at other times) but the way Olyphant portrayed him made him the most magnetic for me while I watched the show.
If you are a fan of westerns and can handle some pretty raw dialog and scenes, you should check out Deadwood some time. I may even watch it again sometime.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Promoting Writing

I know as much as anything that writing is tough. I have tried to keep a blog going once or twice about books and writing in general with full knowledge that I am not even a writer. But I put these thoughts out there anyway.
There is a former student doing the same thing with her poetry and short essays. She is a graduate of CCS from a few years back. I will not give her identity away but I will invite you to check out her work.
Her blog can be found at http://pizzashopphilosophy.wordpress.com/.
Give her some feedback as she continues her journey to becoming a writer. All artists need feedback and support.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Transforming Brockton High School

From June 30 to July 3rd six teachers and administrators attended a Model Schools Conference in Washington D.C.. Attending the conference were Mrs. Boyea, Mrs. Cartier, Mrs. Fowler, Mrs. Tourville, Mrs, Breault and Mr. Trombley (that would be me). We were initially inspired by a speech from Bill Daggett who came to Malone in May to speak to the public and staff about the changes coming with the new curriculum and the new tests. We decided the school needed to act and we committed to this conference. While just about every speaker and presentation was amazing I cam away with the utmost respect and awe of Susan Szachowicz. She was the principal of Brockton High School. Her school was once heralded as the worst high school in Massachusetts. It has since been transformed into one the best high schools in the country. Listening to he speak you have to wonder if she created this all on her own. Reading the book she wrote about her experience tells a different story.
Her book describes the tedious and difficult process it took to turn the school around. She talks about tough staff meetings, resistance from great teachers unwilling to try something different and the outright defiance from those who wanted nothing to do with change. The process was long but on one year their score improved so dramatically that it did not take long for the most of the staff to buy into the process.
That process is as "simple" as a return to literacy and rigor. It required dedication, determination and documentation and the involvement of EVERYONE. Teachers and students were all going to take the same trip. The book explains in great detail some of the scripts and training the school district used.  She has clearly given away the secrets to any school that wants them. And I think CCS wants them. We do quite well against regional schools and quite well when stacked up against state results, but we can and must do better. I think this book will help up lead he way.
I purchased my own copy and had it signed by her. The district also purchased a copy for people to share but I am willing to share as well. (But I will want it back please.)
This really is a must read for the staff. I know that Mrs. Tourville and Mrs. Fowler have already determined that this is a path we will be taking There will be discussions about how to implement these methods as well as training and input from all people. But if a school of 4,000 students can make a dramatic turnaround, imagine what we can do. We already work fairly well together but we can and will do better.
Take a few moments to read this book when you get time. You will be inspired. I just wish we could bottle her up and bring her spirit with us. Maybe we would could secure her for a training in the future.
Great book - great person - highly recommended.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Ghost Rider - Neil Peart

Over the past year I "discovered" the band Rush. I know they have been a force in rock for decades but I never really knew anything about them. I watched a documentary about the band and decided that I needed to learn more. As is my custom when I get into to something new I bought all of their CDs and their concert DVDs. Then I decided to get even more information. The drummer for the band is Neil Peart. He also writes the lyrics for the band. If you have listened to a Rush song you know the lyrics can be very intense and difficult. This made me decide to pick up this book. (He has written many books). The reason I chose this book was that it focused on his recovery from two sudden and stunning losses. In less than a year his only child died in a car accident and then his wife died of cancer (but he makes it seem like it was also from a broken heart and soul). To recover he left everything he knew behind. The music, the family home, his friends...everything. He loaded up his motorcycle and began driving with no plan in mind. He stopped when he felt like stopping and drove where he wanted to drive. He covered thousands of miles and this book is about that trip. There so many great nuggets buried in the descriptions of small towns and meals eaten that you can almost see him heal as he rides and writes. This is an older book so I am not spoiling anything here. All of this story is public knowledge but the specifics of the book is where the enjoyment lies. He is back with the band. He is remarried. But in his speech at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame he made mention about those who were lost. The crowd knew what he meant. Those losses still live in him much like all of our losses live within each of us. There is some adult language in the book but it is used the way it should be. It is not written to be shocking. The language is plain speak about feelings experienced in a real way. It is a healing book for Peart and could be a healing book for you. Do yourself a favor. Get some Rush music, read the book and find out something you. Not a bad way to spend a few hours.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

It is Back

In early July Mrs. Fower, Mrs. Tourville, Mrs. Cartier, Mrs. Boyea, Mrs. Breault and I (Mr. Trombley) attended a Model Schools conference. We learned many ways to make our great school even better. One of those ways is to increase literacy. To increase the desire in all students to read and write more.
While on a metro we discusses the possibility of bringing back the book blog. That is what this is. A place to share our books with everyone else. Big books, small books, important books, books of any style. If you like it, write about it.
I will make every effort to post at least once or twice per week. I will also ask YOU to post your own reviews or stories about books. Send me an email about the book you read and want to recommend.
I hope to hear from ANYONE at CCS who loves books. We will tag the books by age appropriateness and level as much as we can.
We also plan on many other book activities when we get back to school in September.
So please, consider sharing the books you have read with the rest of the world. Do not be afraid to write a review. One of the lessons we learned is that the best way to learn to write is to keep writing. And the best way to read is to keep reading.
Thanks to the Mr. Breault for giving us a chance to attend this amazing conference and to help ignite the spirit within us that made us want to teach in the first place.