Thursday, August 25, 2016

Monopolists

The Monopolists. Mary Pilon. 2015. Bloomsbury. 320 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: One day during the depths of the Great Depression, an unemployed salesman named Charles Darrow retreated to his basement.

Premise/plot: Love Monopoly? Hate Monopoly? Mary Pilon's The Monopolists is a fascinating read to be sure. Who invented Monopoly? Who did NOT invent Monopoly? Why does it matter?

The Monopolist tells the story of the woman who invented the game, a game with two very different sets of rules. She didn't call her game 'monopoly' but 'The Landlord's Game.' The general game board concept and rules of play were hers. This was in 1904. In her community, it became quite popular, even an obsession of sorts. So much so that it spread across the nation as one person--or one couple--would teach another and another and another and another. People would create their own homemade game boards. The rules were taught but not written down. For decades, people were playing this game, loving this game. It wasn't a game you could buy at the store, though. 'The Landlord's Game' wasn't the only real-estate game that predates Parker Brothers' Monopoly. The game Finance also did. It also being offspring of Lizzie Magie's original game. Though I think perhaps by that time, it had just one set of rules. Charles Darrow, the man whose name would be associated with the game MONOPOLY, was taught the game by friends. He later claimed he invented the game. The couple who taught Darrow spent a lot of time in Atlantic City with the Quakers who LOVED the game and changed their own game boards to reflect their lives. These place names would stay with the game and be the names that we come to associate with Monopoly. The rules, the layout of the game board, the place names, all were essentially handed to Darrow ready-made.

Most of this book focuses on a lawsuit in the 1970s and early 1980s. Parker Brothers was trying to stop one man--Ralph Anspach--from selling his own game, a game called ANTI-MONOPOLY. Anspach was an economics professor, I believe. It would take a lot of time, effort, stamina, and courage to stay in the fight.

My thoughts: I really enjoyed this one. I enjoyed it even more than I thought I would. I don't love playing Monopoly, but, I found the game-playing culture of the twentieth century to be FASCINATING. There is something to be said for people spending time together around a table and actually talking and having fun doing the same thing. This was written in an engaging way. I'd definitely recommend it.

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Alamo All Stars

Alamo All-Stars (Nathan Hale's Hazardous Tales #6) 2016. Abrams. 128 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: Three hundred families...land grand....Texas...almost home.

Premise/plot: Nathan Hale and his two pals (the hangman and the British Officer) are joined by Juan Seguin and his three executioners (firing squad, I believe?) to tell the story of the Alamo. It doesn't rush into the story of the Alamo though. Readers learn about Mexico declaring its independence from Spain, the setting up and deposing of several Mexican governments, the arrival, with permission, of American settlers (families) into Texas, the clashes and near-clashes of those settlers with the native tribes in Texas (all given names, I won't mention them all here) and with the Mexican government. Not all Mexican leaders welcomed the idea of settlers, some feared that the more settlers there were, the more likely they would rebel and claim Texas for their very own. Readers learn about Stephen F. Austin, Jim Bowie, Sam Houston, Davy Crockett, William Travis, etc. Some of the people we learn about center around the Alamo--lived, fought, and died at the Alamo--some not. The book explores why they were fighting, what they thought they were fighting for, and their strong personalities that certainly didn't always help in their decision making.

My thoughts: Though a Texan, Texas history has not been my strongest subject especially when I was in school! I found this book a lot more interesting than a textbook. It also helps knowing that I'll never be quizzed on the subject again. Quite the difference between reading for the story and reading to remember names, dates, and places.

There were a LOT of characters in this one. It was fun that our familiar gang was joined by four more. Juan Seguin and his executioners added something to the story. I liked how the hangman came to get along with them and wanted to have a sleepover.

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Tuesday, August 23, 2016

The Underground Abductor

The Underground Abductor. (Nathan Hale's Hazardous Tales #5) Nathan Hale. 2015. Abrams. 128 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: It is time to hang this spy! Are you sure? Can't we get one more story out of him first?

Premise/plot: Nathan Hale sets out to prove that America isn't perfectly perfect, and, that America has in fact "taken part in some truly horrible, despicable, abominable, atrocious, downright evil acts." He speaks, of course, of slavery. And in this graphic novel, he tells the story of Harriet Tubman (aka Araminta Ross). It's an intense story without a doubt. He speaks of her growing up in slavery, the abuses she faced, the challenges she overcame, her marrying a free man, her decision to run away, her decision to run back into slavery. For it became her mission to travel back and forth between North and South saving slaves--escorting slaves to safety, to Canada, in fact. All via the "underground railroad" of abolitionists. Some of this information I was familiar with, but, some was new to me. For example, I was not aware of her head injury perhaps leading to her narcolepsy. I had no idea of her visions either!

My thoughts: I am so glad I discovered this series. I really have enjoyed reading these books practically back to back. I would definitely recommend all of the books in the series. I hope it is a very LONG series.


© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Monday, August 22, 2016

Treaties, Trenches, Mud, and Blood

Treaties, Trenches, Mud, and Blood. (Nathan Hale's Hazardous Tales #4) Nathan Hale. 2014. Abrams. 128 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: This prologue is brought to you by E Pluribus Hangman.

Premise/plot: Nathan Hale shares with the British soldier (Provost) and hangman a story of when England and America will no longer be fighting each other but best friends and allies. This graphic novel is about World War I. It selectively, yet descriptively, tells of the war, year by year. It is action-packed, and yet one knows it's not exhaustive in its coverage.

Each country mentioned (both those fighting and those holding onto their neutral status) gets an animal assigned to it. So most of the illustrations are of animals at war with one another. Serbia is a Wolf. The Austro-Hungarian Empire is a Griffin. Russia is a Bear. Germany is an Eagle. France is a Gallic Rooster. Belgium is a Lion. England is a Bulldog (since Lion was already taken). America is a Bunny (since Eagle is already taken). Australia is a Kangaroo. Canada is a Beaver. New Zealand is a Kiwi. India is a Tiger. Ottoman Empire is an Otter. Japan is a Raccoon Dog. Those are the countries I can remember.

World War I is a complex subject, there is a lot to digest. There are hundreds--if not thousands--of books written by adults for adults seeking to explain the war and exhaustively cover every battle, every victory, every loss. So it is an ambitious project to condense the war into a middle grade graphic novel.
Nathan Hale: War is built and controlled by human hands--humans start it, humans stop it.
Hangman: Then WHY DIDN'T THEY STOP IT EARLIER--BEFORE IT KILLED EVERYBODY?! WHY DID THEY LET IT OUT IN THE FIRST PLACE!? THEY SHOULD LOCK IT UP AND NEVER EVER LET IT OUT!!!
Provost: Calm down, Hangman! There are times when war is a necessity. Tell him it is so, Captain Hale.
Nathan Hale: I'm not here to judge which wars were necessary and which wars weren't. I just tell the story. World War I is best summed up by those who experienced it.
All war is a symptom of man's failure as a thinking animal. ~ John Steinbeck
My thoughts: I really thought this book was well done. Yes, it's a bit text heavy. Yes, there is a LOT of information packed into it, perhaps too much information to actually absorb and digest. But it's well-crafted and well-organized. I'm impressed by how Nathan Hale (the author) was able to break down all the information and present it in such a concise way. War is never glorified, yes, the Provost and Hangman sometimes get carried away with BATTLES, but, by the end, Nathan Hale (the spy) has moved them both with his story.

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Sunday, August 21, 2016

Salt to the Sea

Salt to the Sea. Ruta Sepetys. 2016. 391 pages. [Source: Library]

First Sentence: Guilt is a hunter.

Premise/plot: Salt to the Sea is a historical novel set during the last part of World War II alternately narrated by four teenagers: Joana, Emelia, Florian, and Alfred. Though the book may seem excessively mysterious and difficult to follow--at the beginning especially--I want to encourage readers to keep going, to keep reading. The BIG PICTURE story of this one is so worth it.

Joana's first sentence: Guilt is a hunter.
Florian's first sentence: Fate is a hunter.
Emilia's first sentence: Shame is a hunter.
Alfred's first sentence: Fear is a hunter.

So what might be nice to know: The end is fast coming. Danger is everywhere--depending on your nationality, your paperwork, your secrets. The 'liberation' coming from the Russian side is just as troubling and disturbing and good cause for fear as accidentally bumping into German Nazis. Three of our four narrators are slowly but surely making their ways to the Baltic Sea, to a port where they may luck into finding an escape aboard a ship. The fourth narrator is already there, a German already assigned to a ship. (That would be Alfred. He will actually be one of the people responsible for registering refugees to the ships and assigning who goes where, who gets on board and who is left behind.) All four seem destined to be aboard Wilhelm Gustloff.

My thoughts: If I had to pick just a handful of words to describe this one: compelling, mysterious, intense, bittersweet. It was a WONDERFUL read. One of those books that remind you WHY you like to read in the first place. I was swept into this story, and, though it took me days to make it through the first fifty or sixty pages, I soon found it impossible to put down. The key to this one, I think, is just going for it: reading it in big chunks. You'll probably still have a few questions here and there, but, just keep going. The more you read, the more will ultimately be revealed.


© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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