“Ugly: A memoir” Robert Hoge

Rated 4 stars **** ARC. Published September 6, 2016. Viking.

uglyRobert was born July 21, 1972 with a giant tumor covering his face, underdeveloped legs, and missing toes. His mother refused to accept him, while his father left the decision of whether or not to keep him up to her. It wasn’t until many weeks later, when his four brothers and sisters were allowed to take part in the decision, that he was finally taken home.

Using simple explanations, Robert’s many operations and “aha!” moments are documented from elementary to high school. Despite being vague on the details of why he was born this way, and what happened after age 14, he clearly documents how he worked hard to live an ordinary life despite his physical limitations. He is an inspiration to those facing similar struggles.

Recommended for ages 9-14.

“Bobby Kennedy: The making of a liberal icon” Larry Tye

Rated 5 stars ***** ARC. Ebook. To be published June 5, 2016. Random House. (Includes a Preface, Chronology, Notes, an extensive Bibliography, as well as Photos and an Author’s Note.)

BobbyKennedyTheMakingOfALiberalIconFrom his first days as campaign manager in 1952 and in 1960 for his brother John’s senatorial and presidential bids, Robert F. Kennedy was a behind-the-scenes, get it done anyway you can kind of guy. This hard nose approach made him a good candidate to work with the much-despised Senator Joe McCarthy, and played an important role in his crusades against organized crime as Attorney General when John became President.

Using an incredibly diverse set of primary and secondary sources Tye explores Bobby’s relationship with his father and brother, as well as with his own demons after Jack was assassinated. Over the years, as Bobby observed and learned from those around him, he grew both mentally and emotionally which caused alienation from former colleagues. His bid for the presidency in 1968 was a chance to try and right his own wrongs, as well as those of the tumultuous 60’s, and to set America on a better path. That he never got the chance to do so is an irrevocable sadness.

Though it made me cry at times I loved, loved, LOVED this book, and willingly took the time to read every single one of the titles in Tye’s extensive Bibliography, which covered everything from films to magazines to books to interviews and more. It took me almost 3 weeks to read because I kept stopping to go online and read more details about a section. I even spent time on YouTube watching Bobby give several amazingly heartfelt speeches described by the author in various chapters.

Bobby was always my favorite Kennedy, and reading about his losses and hurts, as well as successes, fleshed him out even more for me. The more I learned about Bobby, the more I mourned his loss to our country and those he was trying to help.

The picture painted in “Bobby Kennedy: The making of a liberal icon” is that of a man who managed to rise above his early shortcomings to one who ended up caring deeply for the poor and disenfranchised. Bobby wanted to make a difference, and his story will leave readers wishing we had someone of his caliber running for office in the upcoming November presidential elections.

Highly recommended for Adults.

I received a digital copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

“Cinderland: A Memoir” Amy Jo Burns

Rated 2 stars ** 2014. Beacon Press. 208 pp.

CinderlandAmy Jo grew up in the sleepy town of Mercury, Pennsylvania, which flourished when steel was king but was now a shadow of itself. With mills shuttered, the close-knit town’s many traditions kept it going while its young people secretly dreamed of ways to get out of town. This is the story of a small town that survived the mill closures, yet allowed its own soul to die by not supporting a group of young girls who were sexually abused by one of its own.

Through flashbacks, Amy Jo tells her story of sexual abuse along with the history of Mercury and its people. I wasn’t a fan of her wandering narrative, and found myself wanting to put the book down instead of reading it because it wasn’t holding my interest. I managed to finish, but only did so because I had to write a review for it.

Perhaps other readers will be interested in reading Amy Jo’s story, which is why I will leave it up to you to decide if you want to read it or not.

“Hidden like Anne Frank: 14 True Stories of Survival” Marcel Prins & Peter Henk Steenhuis

Rated 5 stars ***** ARC. ebook. Published March 25, 2014. Arthur A. Levine Books (Scholastic). (First published as Ondergedoken als Anne Frank in the Netherlands in 2011). Includes Foreword, Photographs of The Hidden Children Today, and a Glossary.

HiddenLikeAnneFrankSurvivors of World War II who, as children, were forced to leave their homes to live hidden, secret lives in various places in the Netherlands, tell their stories in “Hidden like Anne Frank.” While some were sent to live with friends or neighbors, many were hidden away with kind (and not-so-kind) strangers. All created a new identity, as instant deportation and death would be their fate if their Jewish identities were discovered.

Readers are told of the years of deprivation they suffered while hidden away including lack of privacy, hunger, the inability to attend school, living through the constant fear of being betrayed by Nazi sympathizers, and having their childhoods stolen from them. We read of their shock and sadness after liberation when they learned the fate of relatives who had been killed in concentration camps. We learn of the bravery of strangers who sacrificed their own freedoms to hide these Jewish children and other adults, while also learning of those who fought bravely in the Resistance Movement to save Jewish lives. Ordinary people doing extraordinary things stand out in the midst of tragedy, fear, prejudice, ignorance, suspicion, distrust and uncertainty.

Using first person accounts, along with period photographs and maps, Prins and Henk Steelhuis take readers through their memories, fears, hopes and dreams. While they survived, many of their parents, brothers and sisters did not leaving them with guilt that remains to this day.

“Hidden like Anne Frank” deserves a place in every middle, high school and public library so their stories, as well as the acts of kindness and bravery from members of the Resistance and total strangers striving to save some of the Jewish population of the Netherlands, will be remembered forever.

Recommended for ages 12 and up.

NOTE: I am sure “Hidden like Anne Frank” will be in the running for the 2015 Mildred L. Batchelder Award. It has my vote!

“The Reappearing Act: Coming out as Gay on a College Basketball Team let by Born-Again Christians” Kate Fagan

Rated 4 stars **** To be published May 6, 2014. ebook. ARC. Skyhorse Publishing.

TheReappearingActKate Fagan, former women’s basketball player for the University of Colorado, tells her story in “The Reappearing Act.” As she grew up she didn’t think she was gay, assuming feelings she’d had for girls over the years were just excited thoughts for possible friendships.

With her life revolving around basketball, Kate thought college life was great. During her sophomore year everything changed when her teammates invited her to join them at a Bible study. These Bible studies became weekly meetings where homosexuality and other topics were discussed. Kate had just begun to realize she might be gay, and these times served to further confuse and frighten her.

Kate was afraid of the feelings she kept having for other women. These feelings, combined with the fear of telling her parents, losing her best friend and of her teammates’ reactions caused Kate to retreat further into herself. As a result, during her college years, she led a double life constantly feeling guilty and confused as she tried to reconcile the Bible with her own feelings and beliefs. This pattern of telling lies and half-truths carried over into her adult working life, until she could finally admit to the world that she was gay.

Fagan’s honest account of her insecurities and internal battles will ring true with readers struggling with their own similar reality. “The Reappearing Act” will serve as a testimony that there is light at the end of their dark tunnels of uncertainty and fear.

Recommended for readers 18 years old and older.


“Yoko Ono: Collector of Skies” Nell Beram & Carolyn Boriss-Krimsky

ARC (Advance Reading Copy). Published January 1, 2013. (Abrams). 178 pp. (Includes a Timeline, Bibliography, Image Credits and Index.)

YokoOnoCollectorofSkiesIn this biography of Yoko Ono’s life, released on the eve of her 80th birthday, authors Beram & Boriss-Krimsky strive to show her as an unusual and unique artist misunderstood by her own generation, not fully accepted by her peers, yet finally accepted by all later in life. They try to put to death the many rumors that claim she was responsible for the Beatles breakup after she met John Lennon, showing John’s love for her creativity and willingness to explore new things, while also shedding background information on her life in Japan, her creative genius,” and various marriages.

“Yoko Ono: Collector of Skies” is not filled with Beatles nostalgia, but with Yoko’s unique form of creativity. Some of what she attempted to share over the years is quite obscure and “deep,” leaving the typical art critic and reader/viewer to scratch their heads in disbelief. “Yoko Ono: Collector of Skies” tries to explain, through Yoko’s thoughts and own words, what she really was thinking when creating her work while the rest of us were wondering “what was she thinking?!”

Her deepest desire was to be a creative artist, and to be recognized for her work. This biography is aimed to educate those who previously may just have thought of her as “John Lennon’s wife.” It shows that she was his wife, but was so much more in her own right.

For readers aged 14 and older.

“Panther Baby: A life of Rebellion & Reinvention” by Jamal Joseph

Algonquin Books (Workman Publishing), 2012. 280 pp.

Panther BabyI was floored while reading Jamal Joseph’s biography of his life growing up in Harlem as a Black Panther in the late 60’s. The Panthers have long been depicted as a revolutionary group intent on killing cops, but Jamal’s biographical life as a Panther enlightens and educates readers in a completely different way.

The Panthers perform community service and break up drug dens, while protecting and empowering The People to rise above their circumstances. Their ties to the community are strong, along with their attempts to educate young and old to be more than what circumstances have made of them. It’s true that weapons and fights against The Establishment were part of Panther life due to the way Blacks and Panthers were treated, but Jamal puts a humanity to them and their work allowing readers to understand why they were an important part of life for impoverished Black Americans.

“Panther Baby” pulls no punches, depicting biographical accounts of the police brutality of the times, the race struggles of poor Blacks in Harlem and other urban cities, street warfare, and prison life. Jamal was smack in the middle of it all, and brings readers along for the rides of their lives. As a true Panther who once believed in educating the masses, he continues that belief today as he educates readers through writing “Panther Baby.” I won’t be surprised to see it earn some sort of literary award at the upcoming ALA Media Awards in Seattle. In fact, I really hope it does.

Recommended for ages 17 and older.