Prague Winter (bk rvw)

Prague Winter: A Personal Story of Remembrance and War, 1937-1948 by  Madeleine Albright

Prague Winter by Madeleine Albright is one of the best books IPragueWinter‘ve read in a very long time. And I’m not just saying that because I think she is one of the most fascinating women in history. It really is worth reading.

Prague Winter is more than a memoir, it’s a mix of the author’s personal remembrance of growing up in World War II, the story of her extended family, and a history of Czechoslovakia. Albright does a wonderful job of tying all three stories together.

Recalling her own memories, Albright talks about living in Prague and Belgrade before World War II because of her father’s diplomatic role in the Czechoslovakia government. She also discusses the time her family spent in England during WWII.

The story of Albright’s extended family is a tragic one. It was during Albright’s time as Secretary of State that she learned of her Jewish heritage (an event detailed in Albright’s book Madam Secretary) and that many of her family members died in the Holocaust. Prague Winter details the research Albright did on her family to learn about their movement during WWII. She tells how many of them ended up at Terezín (more commonly known as the Theresienstadt concentration camp), describes life at the camp, and explains how their life ended at the hands of the Nazis.

Woven throughout Albright’s personal and family history is the history of Czechoslovakia. The author adds the history of the country to put the personal stories in the social and political context of the time. Together, the three narratives give an in-depth look into the lives of the Czechoslovakian people during a precarious time in history.

Prague Winter is available for checkout in print and audiobook at the VC/UHV Library.

Review written by Amanda B.

Very Good Lives (bk rvw)

One of the perks of my job is that I get to see books before they go on the shelves. So when I saw a book pass through by the Harry Potter series creator, J. K. Rowling, I had to snatch it up.

Very Good Lives by J.K. RowlingI honestly didn’t even pay attention to the title or description of Very Good Lives: The Fringe Benefits of Failure and the Importance of Imagination until I cracked the book open at home one night. What I found was a commencement address delivered to the Harvard Class of 2008. I don’t remember the speech delivered at my high school or college graduations, but I found her speech very poignant and the points that she made have stuck with me over the past couple of weeks.

Like the fairies in Sleeping Beauty she wishes three things for the Class of 2008: failure, imagination, and good friendships.

Failure you say?

Rowling wrote that if she hadn’t found herself at rock bottom, she might not have realized that she could survive and thrive. She might never have reached her full potential: she’s written what could arguably called one of the best children’s series of all time, she’s richer than the Queen of England, and she is incredibly humble.


Rowling said it gives you the ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes without having to have lived through their experiences. She worked in the African research department at Amnesty International where she heard all sorts of horror stories about torture, executions, kidnappings and rape.

“The power of human empathy leading to collective action saves lives,” she wrote.

“Unlike any other creature on this planet, human beings can learn and understand without having experienced. They can think themselves into other people’s places,” she continued, saying how deeply the experience affected her and influenced her work on the Potter series.

However, some people refuse to exercise their imagination, preferring to remain comfortably ignorant.

“Without ever committing an act of outright evil ourselves, we collude with it through our own apathy.”


Her last wish to those students about to step forth into the “real world” is lasting friendships; people who will be with you in good times and bad.

After having read this short work, I admire Rowling more. Her perseverance, her humbleness, her kindness, and her imagination are all qualities that I strive to possess. And my friends? And my friendships, I can assure you that all my lasting relationships have met these criteria.

I highly recommend this quick read. I know that this is a book that I will pick up again whenever I am feeling low or need some inspiration.

Very Good Lives: The Fringe Benefits of Failure and the Importance of Imagination is available for checkout at the VC/UHV Library. You’ll find it in our Leisure Reading section on the 1st Floor.

Review written by Rebecca H.

Devil in the Grove (bk rvw)

Devil in the Grove: Thurgood Marshall, the Groveland Boys, and the Dawn of a New America by Gilbert King

Devil in the Grove is a fantastic, yet sad, story about Thurgood M13425592arshall’s defense of four young black men (known as the Groveland Boys) who were falsely accused of raping a white woman in Lake County, Florida in 1949.

The book details life in Florida during the 1940s when the citrus industry was booming and white men were making large profits by paying African-American laborers low wages. White supremacists groups also took the law into their own hands, and Jim Crow laws were enforced.

King describes the night of the alleged rape, the accusation, and the county sheriff’s determination to make a quick arrest. The author also tells of how the Ku Klux Klan began burning the homes of black families in the area and led a mob to the jail where the Groveland Boys were being held.

Devil in the Grove explains the chain of events that led Thurgood Marshall to lead a team from the NAACP’s Legal Defense Fund to defend the Groveland Boys. The book reveals Marshall’s defense strategy and his reasons for taking on the case. It also illustrates the enormous challenges faced by an African-American lawyer in the Jim Crow era and enumerates the racial injustice of the time.

This is a captivating story and I would recommend it to anyone interested in civil rights. Devil in the Grove was the winner of the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction. The book is available for checkout at the VC/UHV Library.

Review written by Amanda B.

VRHC: Back to School…

Say “Cheese!” at the Victoria Regional History Center’s new display, “Back to School From Years Past.”  View school photos from Victoria, Lavaca, and Goliad counties takenBackToSchool between 1920 and 1930.  See photos of student lunches outside, and notice the hand water pumps, horses, and bare feet.

Learn answers:  How much were textbooks in 1928?  What does a blueprint for a one room schoolhouse look like?  Who made the honor roll at Cottage Normal School in 1898?

Make a connection with Victoria’s past at the Victoria Regional History Center, located on the 2nd floor of the VC/UHV Library.

Movies Based on Books

There are a lot movies coming out this fall and winter- and many of them are based on books. So if you are looking for something to read, here are some suggestions of great reads that you’ll see in theaters in the upcoming months.

  • The Devil in the White City by Eric Larson (audiobook)
  • The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
  • Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell
  • Far From the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy
  • Looking For Alaska by John Greenbooks-vs-movies
  • The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey
  • East of Eden by John Steinbeck
  • The Lost City of Z by David Grann
  • Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs
  • Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter
  • A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson (audiobook)
  • Inferno by Dan Brown
  • Brooklyn by Colm Tóibín
  • In the Heart of the Sea by Nathaniel Philbrick
  • Left For Dead by Beck Weathers
  • Still Alice by Lisa Genova
  • The Zookeeper’s Wife by Diane Ackerman

All of these titles are available in print or audiobook at the VC/UHV Library.

The Round House (bk rvw)

The Round House by Louise Erdrich

I would recommend The Round House by Louise Erdrich to anyone. It is a story of survival, love, resentment, duty, and sympathy.13602426

The Round House is a fantastic novel that opens in the spring on a North Dakota reservation. You quickly learn a woman, Geraldine Coutts, has been attacked and raped but she is unable to provide any details causing the police investigation to go cold.

In the aftermath of the rape, Geraldine sinks into a deep depression. At times she refuses to leave her room or talk to anyone, even her husband Antone or their son Joe. The once tight-knit family begins to fall apart as Geraldine seeks comfort in her solitude, Antone (a tribal judge) looks for justice through the legal system, and Joe is forced to grow up quickly.

As the days pass by, Joe becomes frustrated by the investigation into his mother’s rape and decides to take matters into his own hands. Joe enlists his friends Cappy, Zack, and Angus to help him find answers. Their hunt for justice leads them all over the reservation and with the help of a few others, the boys attempt to solve the case.

The Round House is available for checkout at the VC/UHV Library. It is in our Leisure Reading collection on the 1st Floor.

Review written by Amanda B.

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: the Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondo

51Kz4zmXqbL._SX345_BO1,204,203,200_One of my goals this year is to get my apartment organized, so when “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: the Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing” by Marie Kondo passed across my desk at work, I had to read it (especially since she claims that once you tidy, you’ll never have too again).

Kondo is supposedly a guru on getting rid of clutter, having developed the KonMari Method, a category-by-category system to get rid of your junk. You go through your things following the order of clothes, books, paper, komono (miscellaneous), and photos. You gather, say, all of your clothes in one room, pick up each item and ask yourself if it inspires joy. If the item doesn’t give you a thrill, you toss it.

Simple enough! I can do that.

However, at times Kondo starts to get a bit hippie-dippie. She assigns feelings to items (spare change is sad when we just leave it laying around the house), and suggests that we should thank them for helping us (i.e. “Thank you sweater for keeping me warm today”).

Also, she doesn’t promise it, but Kondo does mention that lots of her clients have lost weight or found a new job after following her tidying procedure. Imagine me rolling my eyes here.

It’s an easy read, and I definitely got some good tips… I don’t think I’ll start talking to all my appliances though.

You’ll find The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: the Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing in our Leisure Reading section on the 1st Floor of the Library.

Review written by Rebecca H.

Alex (bk rvw)

Alex by Pierre Lemaitre

Alex is a page-turning crime thriller is the first book of a trilogy written by French author Lemaitre.Alex

The story takes place in France and focuses on the story of Alex, a woman suddenly kidnapped late at night from a deserted Paris street. She is taken to an abandoned warehouse and suspended from the ceiling in a cage. Alex’s kidnapper doesn’t say anything except that he wants to watch her die.

Shortly after Alex’s kidnapping, French police are on the scene led by Police Commandant Camille Verhoeven. Commandant Verhoeven and his team must race against the clock to find Alex. As the investigation moves along, the police learn more about Alex and discover she is no ordinary victim.

If you enjoy crime thrillers, you should read this book. The twists and turns keep coming until the very end.

Alex is available for check out at the VC/UHV Library. You’ll find it in our Leisure Reading area on the 1st Floor.

Review written by Amanda B.

Hitler’s Furies (bk rvw)

Hitler’s Furies: German Women in the Nazi Killing Fields by Wendy Lower provides an interesting new way to look at German women who lived during the time of Hitler. In 17612712her book, Lower scrutinizes the German women who were born in the wake of World War I and grew up under the Nazi regime.

In Hitler’s Furies, Lower examines young German women who grew up with the rise of Nazism. She describes how these young women were full of nationalistic pride and wanted to do their part to support the Reich.

So, with German pride, a desire for adventure, romance and a steady paycheck, many young German women moved East into Nazi-occupied territory like Poland, Ukraine and Belarus. Once there, many committed violent acts.

Hitler’s Furies is all about how ordinary German women – nurses, secretaries, schoolteachers, wives of SS officers – committed and participated in the genocide of Jews. Some women, like the nurses, participated in the “Euthanasia Program” and killed countless innocent victims. Other women, like the secretaries, schoolteachers and wives of SS officers went out to the killing fields (sites of mass graves) or participated in the liquidation of the Jewish ghettos.

Lower’s book presents evidence to show German women in the East were not innocent victims of Nazism, but were willing participants in the violence and genocide against the Jews. I can honestly say that I will not look at Holocaust or its perpetrators in the same way again.

Hiler’s Furies is available for checkout at the VC/UHV Library. You’ll find it in our Main Collection on the 3rd Floor.

Review written by Amanda B.

March: Book One (bk rvw)

March: Book One by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin and Nate Powell is a fantastic graphic novel about the start of the civil rights movement. The images of the graphic novel are black and white, which I think, makes the story more powerful. March-Book-One-cover-hi-res

Rooted in John Lewis’ personal experiences and involvement in the civil rights movement, March: Book One begins with Lewis’ life in rural Alabama. The authors explain how Lewis’ upbringing led him to a life-changing meeting with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

March: Book One also recounts the birth of the Nashville Student Movement along with their training for passive resistance and non-violent action as tools for desegregation. The graphic novel shows the struggle to desegregate the lunch counters in Nashville through sit-ins.

I highly recommend this book to anyone – youth or adult – interested in learning more about the civil rights movement. March: Book One is short (just over 100 pages) so you can read it in one sitting. Plus, the illustrations are amazing and add a lot to the story.

March: Book One is available for checkout at the VC/UHV Library. You’ll find it in our Leisure Reading section on the 1st Floor.

Review written by Amanda B.


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