Friday, December 19, 2014

Book Review: Escape from Sobibor by Richard Rashke

Escape from Sobi­bor by Richard Rashke is a non-fiction book which details the biggest escape from a Nazi con­cen­tra­tion camp in Poland dur­ing World War II.  The book was first pub­lished in 1982 and won acclaim world wide.Escape from Sobibor by Richard Rashke is an excit­ing his­tory book, told as a novel. The book is divided into three sec­tions which intro­duce the peo­ple, tell about the escape from a top secret Nazi death camp, and the after war years. 

Mr. Rashke knows that the strength of any book, non-fiction or oth­er­wise, is the per­sonal sto­ries which make up the big pic­ture, and does a great job intro­duc­ing us to them. The peo­ple which the author chose to focus on were non-military Jews and a Russ­ian offi­cer, some were pulled out of the lines for the gas cham­bers due to spe­cial skills and some just by pure luck.

The author engages the reader from the start with per­sonal pre-war sto­ries. This is not just a his­tory book about the escape itself, but about peo­ple we care about and the heart wrench­ing deci­sion they had to make in order to survive.

The cru­elty and bar­bar­ity of the Nazis is also talked about, con­trasted by the strength of char­ac­ter of the pris­on­ers, as well as their men­tal anguish. Unfor­tu­nately, many of the Nazi crim­i­nals were never pun­ished for the their actions and brutality.

Once the pris­on­ers escaped, the author details their strug­gle to sur­vive in a hos­tile envi­ron­ment, either hid­ing from the Nazis, being take advan­tage of by the local pop­u­la­tion or the par­ti­sans. Some of the escapees hap­pened upon brave peo­ple who helped them, some were not so lucky.

Some of the sur­vivors were still liv­ing at the time the book was pub­lished, a few even took up arms and went back to fight the Nazis. This book has many themes about sur­vival, free­dom and more.

A must read for any his­tory buff or World War II enthu­si­ast. This mov­ing book might be grim, it is also inspir­ing and vividly recounts an event which most of the world has never known before it was published.

Originally published as  Book Review: Escape from Sobibor by Richard Rashke on

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Thursday, December 18, 2014

Hey Y'all, Comics!

In middle school, I used to take all my allowance and blow it on a fist full of comics. Every week or so, I'd bum a ride to the local comic book store and load up on anything that looked interesting, then pore over the fat stack of magazines all afternoon. It was a pretty good time to get into comics. Not only were the big superhero publishers putting out some pretty good stories, but there was a burst of weird, amazing, and fantastic independent and art comics appearing on the shelves those days. Over the years, as graphic novels have come along, I've drifted away from the thrills of "comic book day," but there's a bunch of really great comics titles out right now, so I figured I'd talk about some that really excite me!

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Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Templar by Jordan Mechner. Illustrated by LeUyen Pham & Alex Puvilland

"Much nonsense has been written about the Knights Templar over the years," writes Jordan Mechner, creator of the awesome graphic novel, "Templar." He's right, there has been a lot of nonsense written about them. One of my favourites is that they stole un-published works of Shakespeare and hid them on Oak Island, Nova Scotia. Then there's the myth that they were all arrested on a Friday the 13th, forever marking it as an unlucky day, a day that would spawn countless terrible campfire stories and movies. I'm looking at you, Jason Takes Manhattan.

There's no nonsense in Mechner's Templar. He uses actual speeches from the Templar's leaders, members and detractors. Mechner re-creates 14th century Paris as meticulously as he can. We see both sides of the human experience, the gold-lined palaces, the poor wretches living in their own filth and the people who are just trying their best to survive.
This is probably what I loved the most from this book, Mechner doesn't gloss over anything, but he doesn't exaggerate either. Don't get me wrong, the book gets pretty dark at times, especially when depicting the Siege of Acre and the resulting massacre of the prisoners.

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Tuesday, December 16, 2014

How It Went Down by Kekla Magoon

Sometimes when an incident occurs eyewitnesses have a different take on what exactly occurred. What they see is often colored by their experiences and prejudices. That is the case in Kekla Magoon's fantastic book for teens called How It Went Down which deals with the fall out from the killing of an unarmed black teenager called Tariq by a man named Jack Franklin. As (bad) luck would have it Franklin just happens to be white.

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Friday, December 12, 2014

Let's Get Lost

Let's Get Lost
LET'S GET LOST is the debut contemporary coming-of-age novel by Adi Alsaid, and he really gets it right the first time. This is a strong story that I highly recommend to anyone wanting a good contemporary story about love, friendship, family, and adventure. LET'S GET LOST is told in 5 parts, each one from a different character's point of view. I absolutely loved having multiple points of view in a single story - this is something that doesn't happen enough in YA fiction.

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Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Off the Radar Gift Ideas

Some guys - bless 'em - know exactly what they want and can articulate it when it comes to books. I was not one of those guys, and that inability to express my general interests ended up in some, er, interesting book selections when I was a teen. I suppose that year I got a book on identifying rocks and gems came from the haphazard collection of stones I had picked up while camping, but that was an earnest mistake; to this day I have no idea what to make of my getting Jonathan Livingston Seagull when I was 13.

So what follows are a short collection of books that I have found nifty recently that, if not perfect gift selections for some guy you know, may at least provide potential book ideas for that mumbly, mopey dude over there hoping no one asks him what he's into.

Lonely Planet’s Instant Expert:
A Visual Guide to the Skills You’ve Always Wanted
By Nigel Holmes
Lonely Planet 2014

I can’t speak to the idea that I have ever wanted to be an expert in half of the skills listed inside this book, but the teen know-it-all inside me loves this visual compendium of high-end trivia and how-to guides. Just a random page test can yield startling results: how cheese chemically can be as addictive as opiates; what the little pictographs on clothing tags mean in terms of how to wash items (especially when the print is so tiny you can’t read it); things you need to know to be a dog walker… or a gondolier; even how to be a blogger! It’s a rather tongue-in-cheek approach to becoming a jack of all trades but makes an informative jumping off point for conversations about possible careers, or just a jumping off point for conversations in general!

please click for full effect!

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Tuesday, December 9, 2014

WHY DO I CHASE THEE from Elizabeth Basset Browning & Other Canine Masters

Ever wonder why dogs don't write more poetry? Well, if you have (or if you have now that I've framed that question), this book is for you. Jessica Swaim has come up with a bookful of parody poems, in which celebrated dog poets explain lots of things . . . why they chase their tails, how fish compares to meat ("thou art more flaccid and more apt to spoil"), the horror of being neutered, and more.

Each of the sixteen canine poets is introduced with a "bio" page that looks something like this one, for "Rover Frost", with terrific artwork done by Chet Phillips:

It's followed by two parody poems: a short version of "Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening" entitled "Sizing Up Shoes on a Soulful Evening", and a parody of Frost's "Rose" entitled "Nose". Here's that poem:

by Jessica Swaim, writing as Rover Frost

A nose is a nose,
And was always a nose.
And a dog licks his nose
When the nose overflows,
And the slicker it grows,
'Til it glistens and glows.
You can bet your sweet toes,
Nothing's nice as a nose,
Unless it's a tongue,
Or a tail, I suppose.

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Monday, December 8, 2014

Dirt Bikes, Drones, and Other Ways to Fly

We are told not to judge books by their covers. We should also not judge books by their titles: Dirt Bikes, Drones, And Other Ways To Fly is neither Twitter- nor acronym-friendly (DBDAOWTF?). Based on the title, I didn’t expect a moving study of how we respond to grief. Based on the title, I didn’t expect a thoughtful exploration of the morality of military drone use and how our nation’s military engagements affect small-town America. And, based on the title, I didn’t expect the novel to explicitly incorporate the Emersonian concept of the Over-Soul either. But Conrad Wesselhoeft addresses all these and more in his young adult novel.

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Friday, December 5, 2014

Clay's Way, by Blair Mastbaum

A blurb on the back of Clay's Way calls it "a gay Catcher in the Rye," and that was almost enough to make me not read the book. Mind you, I love both those things - Catcher in the Rye, and... gayness... but I've seen so many weak books flogged as "the next Catcher in the Rye" that it's become a code word for "book that tries too hard to do something that's already been done."

Fortunately, I got over myself. And read Clay's Way. And it was amazing. And in the end, I thought to myself, yeah, wow, it does kind of hit the same emotional sweet spot as Catcher in the Rye. Not because it's imitative, or even because it treads similar ground, but because it has the same dark cynical strong compelling gorgeous voice that the best young adult fiction has (and what is Catcher in the Rye but a great YA novel?).

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Zombies & Calculus by Colin Adams

I saw Zombies & Calculus by Colin Adams in the Princeton University Press catalog and it caught my eye (for obvious reasons). I have no idea how it reads but the premise is so unique that I had to share it. If you're teaching Calculus, it seems like this might be worth taking a look at and then sharing with your students.

Adams is the humor columnist for the Mathematical Intelligencer and a professor of mathematics at Williams College.  

From the catalog copy:

Zombies & Calculus is the account of Craig Williams, a math professor at a small liberal arts college in New England, who, in the middle of a calculus class, finds himself suddenly confronted by a late-arriving student whose hunger is not for knowledge. As the zombie virus spreads and civilization crumbles, Williams uses calculus to help his small band of survivors defeat the hordes of the undead. Along the way, readers learn how to avoid being eaten by taking advantage of the fact that zombies always point their tangent vector toward their target, and how to use exponential growth to determine the rate at which the virus is spreading. Williams also covers topics such as logistic growth, gravitational acceleration, predator-prey models, pursuit problems, the physics of combat, and more. With the aid of his story, you too can survive the zombie onslaught.

I had a brutal time in calculus and anything I could have done to make sense of it all would have been welcome. Zombies? Might as well!

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