John, Paul, George & Ben by Lane Smith

Title: John, Paul, George & Ben
Author: Lane Smith
Series: N/A
Publisher: Hyperion
Release Date: 2/28/2006
Length: 40 pages
Format: Hardcover
Genres: Childrens, History, Picture Books
Challenges: 2012 Support Your Local Library Challenge
Source: Library
Purchase: Hardcover
Rating: ★★★★★

A legendary artist has created a totally fresh and funny way to learn about America’s founding fathers with this “Revolutionary” new picture book.

So cute and funny! This is one that I will definitely come back to when I have kids. I think learning is something kids should start doing young. And I don’t think that only applies to reading. Of course, it’s fun to read cute books that make you laugh, but it’s nice to come across one that actually teaches something. This book is educational and fun. It teaches about the founding fathers and the early history of the United States with small bouts of hilarity. I loved the part about Paul Revere yelling about wigs and panties. That had me giggling and I’m twenty-four! Lane Smith has seriously won me over. I need to go on my library’s catalog and make sure I’ve read all of his books.

I think one of the best parts of this book is the section in the back where he fleshes out the facts from the funny fiction. I learned a few things reading that part (I was never much of an American history buff). Even in that section I saw Lane’s sense of humor shine through. Seriously, if you have some kiddies that like to be read to at night, you need to check out Lane Smith’s stuff. It’s so adorable and funny! And who doesn’t love a good Beatles reference?

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Marie Antoinette: The Journey

Marie Antoinette: The Journey
by Antonia Fraser
read by Donada Peters
Published 2006 by Random House Audio
20 hours, 26 minutes. Unabridged.
Rating: 5/5

France’s iconic queen, Marie Antoinette, wrongly accused of uttering the infamous “Let them eat cake”, was alternately revered and reviled during her lifetime. For centuries since, she has been the object of debate, speculation, and the fascination so often accorded illustrious figures in history. Married in mere girlhood, this essentially lighthearted child was thrust onto the royal stage and commanded by circumstance to play a significant role in European history. Antonia Fraser’s lavish and engaging portrait excites compassion and regard for all aspects of the queen, immersing the listener not only in the coming-of-age of a graceful woman, but in the culture of an unparalleled time and place.

Whoa! I feel like my brain is overloaded, and I love it. I picked this book up on a whim. I needed to go by the post office during my lunch break, which is in the opposite direction of the library I usually go to. Since we have a library cooperative, I can use my card at any library in the county so I decided I would just drop by the library down the street from the post office. It was my first time to go to that library, and it was very nice. While I was browsing I saw an audiobook about Marie Antoinette, and I thought “that would be interesting.” Ever since I read Revolution, I’ve been very interested with anything having to do with the French Revolution. So I picked it up, and I’ve spent the past two weeks listening to it. Every time I told someone what I was listening to, they couldn’t understand how on earth I could stay interested in it. Trust me, I had no problem.

The story of Marie Antoinette is tragic, but incredibly interesting. It follows her birth in Vienna, her marriage at the age of fifteen, her ascent to Queen of France at the age of twenty (though she was never crowned, she was considered a queen consort), the birth of her four children, and her mounting unpopularity with the people in the wake of the French Revolution. It paints a picture of a caring (though not entirely faithful) wife, a fiercely loving mother, and a queen who—despite her lack of political influence—repeatedly sought what she thought was best for France. She was unfailingly compassionate, giving to charities for the young mothers and orphaned children. Though French libelles often accused her of affairs, lesbianism, and economic extravagance, Marie Antoinette ignored the rumors and set her mind to more important things (like seducing her husband so that they could finally produce and heir). Antonia Fraser, after much research, dispels the myths from the facts. She shows us a different Marie Antoinette than the one so often linked with that infamous line, “let them eat cake.” She really digs in, explaining how on earth the people came to hate her so much, and how she and Louis XVI ended up at the guillotine. She also gives some info on the revolution, though mostly because it’s a vital part of Marie Antoinette’s later life and death. She does well to name her sources and debate those things that are less concrete. I learned a lot, but I still don’t have my fill on the revolution. I’ve already started another book, focusing specifically on the revolution. So far, in all my study of this period in France, I’ve been completely horrified by some of the things the French people did. It’s astonishing what angry, starving people are capable of.

Donada Peters did a terrific job with this. Her voice is well-suited to this kind of book, and she makes things even more interesting by putting on a pretty good French accent when reading for quotes. I think audio is definitely the way to go when delving into some heavy nonfiction. This one is highly recommended. If you have any interest, this is the book to read.

I’ve seen the Sophia Coppola movie a few times. I never knew it was based on this book. I watched it again after I finished the book, and sure enough, there are words that are taken right off the page. I can understand where the sentence “the book that inspired the movie” came from, but don’t watch this expecting to understand anything about Marie Antoinette. For one thing, in her attempt to make a visually beautiful movie (the costumes are one of the only good things about it), I think she put a little too much emphasis on the extravagance. Yes, the couple were extravagant, but they were no more extravagant than the kings and queens before them, and they were brought up in that kind of decadence. Still, if you want to watch a visually appealing movie with a killer soundtrack (that is, if you like Aphex Twin, Adam & the Ants, &  The Cure, like I do), go for it. Just don’t expect much in the way of acting or direction, and keep in mind that Marie Antoinette was much more devoted to her children than her hair. It also would have been better if they’d used some French accents or something. They mispronounce names and words numerous times, which is a little annoying. Come to think of it, you should probably just read the book. I think what it comes down to is that it’s pretty hard to fit twenty hours of audio into a measly two hours of film (much of which is taken up by montages). Here is a brutal, but pretty accurate review of the movie.

Source: Vestavia Hills Public Library. Birmingham, AL.
Author’s website: http://www.antoniafraser.com/
Purchase this book: Random House Audio | Book Depository | IndieBound | Audible

Cleopatra: A Life

Cleopatra: A Life
by Stacy Schiff
read by Robin Miles
Published 2010 by Hachette Audio
14 hours, 30 minutes. Unabridged.
Rating: 5/5

Her palace shimmered with onyx, garnets, and gold, but was richer still in political and sexual intrigue. Above all else, Cleopatra was a shrewd strategist and an ingenious negotiator.

Though her life spanned fewer than forty years, it reshaped the contours of the ancient world. She was married twice, each time to a brother. She waged a brutal civil war against the first when both were teenagers. She poisoned the second. Ultimately she dispensed with an ambitious sister as well; incest and assassination were family specialties. Cleopatra appears to have had sex with only two men. They happen, however, to have been Julius Caesar and Mark Antony, among the most prominent Romans of the day. Both were married to other women. Cleopatra had a child with Caesar and–after his murder–three more with his protégé. Already she was the wealthiest ruler in the Mediterranean; the relationship with Antony confirmed her status as the most influential woman of the age. The two would together attempt to forge a new empire, in an alliance that spelled their ends. Cleopatra has lodged herself in our imaginations ever since.

Famous long before she was notorious, Cleopatra has gone down in history for all the wrong reasons. Shakespeare and Shaw put words in her mouth. Michelangelo, Tiepolo, and Elizabeth Taylor put a face to her name. Along the way, Cleopatra’s supple personality and the drama of her circumstances have been lost. In a masterly return to the classical sources, Stacy Schiff here boldly separates fact from fiction to rescue the magnetic queen whose death ushered in a new world order. Rich in detail, epic in scope, Schiff ‘s is a luminous, deeply original reconstruction of a dazzling life.

Let me say first that nonfiction is not exactly my thing. I love fiction. However, when I found out about this book I decided it was time I break out of that shell. I’ve read a little bit of nonfiction, but mostly funny memoirs. I’ve never read any biographies or histories. That’s why I was a little worried when I began this. I think I was lucky to have won the audiobook. It would have taken me much longer to finish this if had it been in print. I’m so glad I won this and got to begin my nonfiction reading. I hope to read more soon. In fact, I recently picked up a book on the French Revolution, which has always fascinated me.

Stacy Schiff is amazing. I can’t imagine the time and research that went into this project. I’ve recently been working on my senior project about the Neapolitan composer Nicola Porpora, and I’ve had to do a lot of digging. Of course, my research for a twenty minute presentation is nothing compared to her book. However, it brings out how much she really worked on this. I also love that she’s as true as she can be to Cleopatra and history. She never states that things occurred in a certain way, without doubt. She goes from the accounts, but gives the reader a context with which to base the accounts. She obviously studied the culture and time well enough that she can make an informed decision about what is probable or not. And she explains these observations and assumptions, rather than states her beliefs without cause. She never tries to pull anything on her reader. If she’s not sure about something from her sources, she says so.

It’s a truly brilliant book with so much history, not only of Cleopatra herself, but also of her culture, her surroundings, and those with which she came in contact. She really weeds out all the glamour to give a real and educated look a woman who has remained shrouded for centuries by dramatic arias, sexual prowess, and markedly inaccurate representations in theatre. I felt like I learned so much and I highly recommend this amazing history.

Source: Won at BookHounds
Author’s website: http://www.stacyschiff.com/
Purchase this book: Book Despository | IndieBound | Audible

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    Some of the books reviewed on this blog were sent to me by the author or publisher for review. I did not receive any payment in exchange for the review nor was I obligated to write a positive one. All opinions expressed here are entirely my own and may not necessarily agree with those of the author, the book's publisher and publicist or the readers of these reviews. This disclosure is in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255, Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.
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