“Few will have the greatness to bend history itself; but each of us can work to change a small portion of events, and in the total of all those acts will be written the history of this generation.” Robert F. Kennedy

Happy Friday Everyone!

Here’s another edition of “Parker’s Picks.”

I was perusing my extensive record of books I’ve read and contemplating what to share with you today.  Numerous titles began to garner my attention.  I thought why not share several of my much loved non-fiction books.  I’ve learned a great deal from each of these factual titles.  We learn so much from history and real life experiences.  To this day I still remember a college history professor’s (I took four of his history classes!)  remark for past occurrences, “historical events were due to multiple factors of causation.”  Whenever I see him I remind him of his ever famous quote!  Thanks Mr. Schott for sharing your love of history with all of your students! As I reflected on each of these books I’m featuring today, there were many factors that determined the historical outcomes. Each is particularly unique and exceptional.

Come Back: A Mother and Daughter’s Journey Through Hell and Back – by Claire Fontaine and Mia Fontaine

It’s every parent’s frightening thought – to discover their child has been secretly living another life – taking drugs.  It is the true story of the daughter, Mia Fontaine.  What is the horrendous secret she hides from through drugs? It’s Mia’s and Claire’s journey – Mia as a runaway gets kidnapped by her own mother and is sent to the Morava Academy – in the Czech Republic.  The academy is a place where teens are supervised and reprogrammed to “come back” to their families.  I loved how the story was told by both Claire and Mia.  My book club chose this and we all agreed it was one of the best memoirs we had ever read.

Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic and Madness at the Fair That Changed America – by Erik Larson

I love when a factual book reads like a fiction book!   Winner of the Edgar Award for Best Fact Crime in 2004, Devil in the White City was like that for me.  It was coined, “White City” because of the structures which made up the Exposition. There are two alternating historical events and two men involved with each which took place in Chicago circa 1893. One being the evolving plans and preparations for the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair under the direction of Daniel H. Burnham and the other is the notorious serial killer and impersonating a doctor, H. H. Holmes. Larson does an excellent job intertwining their two stories and the impact they made during that time period. I learned a great deal about the city of Chicago during this era, the politicians and the famous people. Holmes was a calculating killer who picked his victims wisely. Holmes built a place called the World’s Fair Hotel for people to stay, preferably young single woman.  I devoured this account like I would a suspenseful crime novel! 

Evil Summer: Babe Leopold, Dickie Loeb, and the Kidnap-Murder of Bobby Frank – by John Theodore

Several years ago I saw a movie based on this true story.  When I discovered Evil Summer, I had to read it.  The crime took place in Chicago in 1924.  Bobby Frank was kidnapped, killed with a blow to his head, and his body was burned with acid.  His body was found near the Illinois-Indiana border.  Two University of Chicago students, Leopold and Loeb, were tried for kidnapping and murder.  It was one of the biggest trials to hit Chicago at that time.  This is a wonderful account of the trial and what led two young college men to think they could get away with the perfect crime.

Kabul Beauty School: An American Woman Goes Behind the Veil – by Deborah Rodriguez

I originally heard about this book while listening to WGN Radio – 720 AM – one day on my way home from work.  The advantages of a long commute!  This is Rodriguez’s first hand account of her experiences in Afghanistan as she tries to help the women in Kabul to establish a beauty school.  It is not as easy as you think as you read her account.  Her journey through this culture is purely told.  It’s the story of her own limitations, errors, and innocence with a culture so very dissimilar from her own.

The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid – by Bill Bryson

This is another favorite funny memoir of mine!  Bill Bryson recounts his boyhood growing up in Des Moines, Iowa during the late 1950’s and into the early 1960’s.  I took pleasure in reading his stories of his family, friends, the times, and his funny take on life itself. Growing up as a child during those years and also being from the Midwest, I could genuinely connect to his life story.  This is a must read for all baby boomers!

Manhunt:  The 12-Day Chase for Lincoln’s Killer – by James L. Swanson

This is possibly one of the best books I read a couple of summers ago! I had just finished, Team of Rivals, which I’m also reviewing today.  It was the obvious choice to pick up and read. I thought, Manhunt, read like a fictional thriller!  Manhunt follows the story of the plan to assassinate President Lincoln, Vice-President Johnson, and Secretary of State Seward – all in the same evening.  Lincoln’s death was the conspirators’ only successful killing.  The book follows the search for John Wilkes Booth and his co-conspirators through the 12 days following Lincoln’s death.  This is truly a superb narrative and very well researched work.  Since Manhunt was published, James Swanson has now written an easier version for younger readers entitled, Chasing Lincoln’s Killer.  The students have checked it out numerous times throughout the school year.  It would make a nice choice for you and your child to share over the summer.

Reading Lolita in Tehran – by Azar Nafisi

This was one of my book clubs selections a few years ago.  What if you lived in a country which prevented you from reading?! Unfortunately, that was the case for teacher, Azar Nafisi and many like her. This is the true account of life during the Islamic Republic of Iran. Nafisi secretly gathers even of her most devoted and faithful students.  Collectively they read forbidden Western classics.  Their own lives are revealed as they read these novels.  This was an excellent book club choice because of the discussion it generated.

Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln – by Doris Kearns Goodwin

I read this very informative work in 2009 to celebrate the bicentennial birthday of Abraham Lincoln. Goodwin is an expert historian.  It is a truly phenomenal book!  The phrase, “keep your friends close and your enemies closer,” was truly accomplished by Lincoln as he joins William Seward, Salmon Chase, and Edward Bates to his cabinet once he is elected to his first term in office.  Lincoln and “his team of rivals” worked together to keep the Union strong.  In my opinion it’s one of the most accurate and well researched accounts of Lincoln’s increased strength, his presidency, and also his family life.  In the end you’ll completely comprehend Stanton’s famous quote about Abraham Lincoln, “he belongs to the ages.”

Thunderstruck – by Erik Larson

I picked this up because I really took pleasure in reading Larson’s, Devil in the White City!  Once again, Larson uses the winning formula he utilized in his previous book.  Thunderstruck is a suspenseful book which connects Guglielmo Marconi, the inventor of the wireless telegraph, with Hawley Crippen.  Crippen is a doctor in turn-of-the-century London who murders his first wife.  Hawley and his lover escape on an ocean liner bound for Quebec.  The authorities enlist Marconi and his wireless to capture the runaway fugitives.  Definitely a page turning true account and one you will find difficult to put down.

The Zookeeper’s Wife: A War Story – by Diane Ackerman

My interest in World War II and the Nazi occupation led me to this interesting memoir.  This book is on several reading lists for young adults as well as adults.  Jan Zabinski is the director of the Warsaw Zoo and along with his wife, Antonina, they create a safe haven for over 300 Jews from the Warsaw Ghetto.  This is indeed an astounding story of courage.  The tragedies and atrocities Antonina shares continue to illustrate the immoral and wickedness of Hitler’s plan.


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