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Saturday, December 22, 2012

Christian Liberty Nature Reader, Book 5

I read this book to my children on account of Ambleside Online's recommendation. I really enjoyed it, and my children really enjoyed it. This Nature Reader covers such topics as blood, muscles, nerves, bones, the coverings of animals, how animals think, and how man is superior to animals. Each chapter concludes with an extensive list of questions about the chapter. Some of the explanations are a bit dated (for instance, the book claims that electricity is not involved in the brain sending messages to, or receiving messages from, the nerves).

On the whole I thought this book an excellent narrative book (not a modern textbook) about scientific topics for children. I would recommend it to those looking for a science book with literary quality for children. I would like to acquire the other books in the series and read them with my children.

Perhaps even more importantly, I would recommend Ambleside Online to any parent or educator.

Starflower, by Anne Elisabeth Stengl

I was pleased when I was offered the opportunity to review Starflower, because I enjoyed reading the first book by Anne Elisabeth Stengl which I'd been given to review, Moonblood. I was even more pleased when reading it, because I believe it to be even better than Moonblood.

In Starflower we get to see some of the same characters who figured in Moonblood, but in an earlier part of their history. We get to meet Eanrin before he's blinded. Starflower explores the meaning of love, love that lays down its own life for the sake of the beloved, love that pursues the beloved even when the beloved foolishly does not recognize the love being offered.

I'm impressed by the breadth, depth, and detail of Ms. Stengl's secondary world. I'm impressed by the consistency of her characters. I'm impressed by how much she makes me care about her characters and what happens to them. I'm haunted by the picture of a land in which women are deprived of their voices right after birth.

I highly recommend Ms. Stengl's books to readers of fantasy, and can't wait to read the other two books in the Tales of Goldstone Wood series.

Thank you Netgalley and Baker Publishing Group for giving me a review copy of this book.

Raising Dragons, by Bryan Davis

In Raising Dragons, Volume One of the Dragons in Our Midst series, a young man named Billy learns that he is half dragon, half human, and befriends a young woman named Bonnie who is likewise half dragon, half human. Are dragons evil? Billy and Bonnie early on learn that they are in danger and must flee to save their lives. The book relates their attempts to stay alive, and out of the clutches of their foes.

I loved Raising Dragons, was hooked from the beginning, couldn't put it down to save my life (or, more to the point, to lay down my life by washing the dishes and fixing the dinner). It was exciting and intense, and I cared about the characters. The more I read, the more convinced I become that fantasy has to be the best fiction genre.

I would recommend Raising Dragons to readers who enjoy young adult fantasy books, especially those who might be concerned about the amount of filth on display in secular young adult fantasies. I know my 12yo daughter will enjoy it, and am looking forward to sharing it with her. I am also looking forward to getting my hands on the other three books in the series.

Thank you Netgalley and Living Ink Books for giving me a review copy in exchange for my opinion.

Squanto and the Miracle of Thanksgiving, by Eric Metaxas

I selected this title because Eric Metaxas's name has been in the news recently, on account of his recently published biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer and his remarks at the national prayer breakfast. 'Squanto and the Miracle of Thanksgiving' is a brief children's picture book biography of Squanto. It underscores how God provided for the Pilgrims by preparing Squanto to help them.

I don't really have a strong opinion about this book one way or the other. It didn't stand out to me as either wonderful or horrible. I have allowed my six-year-old daughter to read it, and she enjoyed it. And I am still hoping to read Mr. Metaxas's biography of Bonhoeffer.

I agree with Mr. Metaxas's concluding remark: "Who but the glorious God of heaven could so miraculously weave together the wandering lives of a lonely Patuxet brave and a struggling band of English Pilgrims in such a way that would bless the whole world for centuries to come?"

I read a review copy of this book, in exchange for my opinion of it freely rendered. Thanks Netgalley and Thomas Nelson publishers for giving me a review copy of this book.

The Mighty Weakness of John Knox, by Douglas Bond

Douglas Bond, author of several historical novels for young people, here offers a biography of a mighty man of faith, John Knox, leader of the reformation in Scotland. This book was a well-written, easy-to-read biography with literary flair. I profited from reading this book, and would recommend it to anyone with an interest in church history. And I will tell you what makes this book so great: while its topic was the life of Knox, its focus was the glory of God.

'Haroun and the Sea of Stories,' by Salman Rushdie

In 'Haroun and the Sea of Stories,' young Haroun's mother, Soraya, runs off with their upstairs neighbor, Mr. Sengupta, and that leaves Haroun's father, Rashid, a professional storyteller, unable to tell stories anymore. Rashid calls out that he cancels his service. Haroun is awakened in the middle of the night by strange sounds coming from his bathroom, finds a Water Genie named Iff, and learns that his father had received his stories from an invisible tap connected to the Sea of Stories. Iff has come to disconnect Rashid, per Rashid's request. This starts Haroun's adventures with the Sea of Stories.

I relished the opening paragraph, "There was once, in the country of Alifbay, a sad city, the saddest of cities, a city so ruinously sad that it had forgotten its name. It stood by a mournful sea full of glumfish, which were so miserable to eat that they made people belch with melancholy even though the skies were blue."

I valued the creativity evidenced in the story. In addition to a character named Iff, there's a character named Butt. There are plentimaw fish in the sea (a play on 'plenty more' and many mouths). I appreciated the story-plea for freedom of speech. I enjoyed the speech pattern of many of the characters (especially the mail coach driver, and Mr. Snooty Buttoo).

I did not, however, come to care deeply about the characters. I am left to wonder why. Was there something wrong with me as the reader? Something lacking in the book? Was I supposed to care deeply about the characters?

I can't exactly bring myself to recommend this book, but I would not recommend against it, and I would permit my children to read it.

Friday, November 23, 2012

The Traveling Restaurant: Jasper's Voyage in Three Parts, by Barbara Else

Jasper is about to turn 12 when the book opens, but his parents seem disappointed by this fact and attempt to hide it. Magic has been prohibited in Jasper's country for all of his life, and no one is even allowed to name it. Early in the book Jasper's parents come to believe they need to flee Lady Gall, the interim ruler of their land. In their attempt to flee, Jasper gets separated from his parents and baby sister. What follows is the tale of his adventures as he seeks to be reunited with them, escape Lady Gall's wrath, and foil her plans to name herself queen.

This was a fun, quick, middle-grade fantasy read. I found it acceptable, neither exceptionally wonderful, nor objectionable. To say I'd recommend it might put the matter too strongly, but I'll be allowing my 11yo daughter to read it.

Thank you Netgalley and Gecko Press USA for allowing me to read a review copy of this book.

The Lamb, by John R. Cross

The Lamb is a beautifully written and beautifully illustrated book for children which tells the history of redemption from creation to the resurrection, focussing on the theme of the lamb of God. It is simply and compellingly told in ten chapters, with review questions at the end of each chapter.

I only had two problems with its presentation: I believe in particular atonement, but the description of atonement in The Lamb was not a description of particular atonement; it includes pictures of Jesus. That objectionable description of atonement only arose at one place in the book, and led to a wonderful discussion with my children. Sadly, the pictures of Jesus show up on many pages.

Five of my children, ranging in age from 11yo to 3yo, listened attentively to my reading The Lamb out loud, and the 1yo's inattentiveness is not to be wondered at.

I would highly recommend this to those who are in a position to read to children.

Thank you, New Book Friend, for loaning me your copy of this lovely book.

A Gospel Primer for Christians: Learning to See the Glories of God's Love, by Milton Vincent

This is an excellent book for Christians, one which I would highly recommend to all readers. The book is short and simple, but a treasure trove for believers. It is divided into four sections: Reasons to Rehearse the Gospel Daily, a prose Gospel Narrative, a poetic Gospel Narrative, and a brief account of how the author came to write the book. This book can be life-changing.

God's grace is not only sufficient, it is beautiful and powerful and humbling.

Thank you, New Book Friend (you know who you are), for giving me a copy.

What Your Husband Isn't Telling You: A Guided Tour of a Man's Body, Soul, and Spirit, by David Murrow

The title is a bit scary, but the book is well worth the read. I can't say that I learned a whole lot, but it was good to be reminded of some of the differences between men and women, what's most important to my husband, and why it's okay for that to be most important.

I'd boil down Mr. Murrow's advice to this: a man needs plenty of food, sex, and respect from his wife.

Mr. Murrow backs up some of his claims with some reasons that smack of evolution, which I don't care for, but that doesn't mean his claims are false. I was not entirely surprised at the end to learn that Mr. Murrow is an elder in a Presbyterian Church of the USA church.

I'd recommend this book to wives.

Thank you Netgalley and Baker Publishing Group for allowing me to read a review copy of this book. My husband thanks you, too.

Quest for Celestia: a Reimagining of The Pilgrim's Progress, by Steven James

This was a great Christian fantasy read, which kept me up late at night, and caused me to neglect my family, so I could read just another page. Or two. Or the rest of the book. As soon as I was done with it, I let my 11yo daughter read it, and she loved it just as much as I did.

The subtitle lets you know the thrust of the book. Mr. James adopts a high-epic tone throughout. In fact, my only problem with the story came in the few times when a bit of the dialog struck a more modern tone.

I would recommend this book to those who like to read fantasy and who are about 11yo and up (certainly exciting enough to keep me up at night!). It is a bit 'gritty' in places, so if you're considering this for a young reader, keep that in mind.

Thank you Netgalley and Living Ink for allowing me to read a review copy of this book.

Graceful (For Young Women): Letting Go of Your Try-Hard Life, by Emily P. Freeman

Mrs. Freeman wrote Graceful for young women of high school age who are 'good girls,' who try hard to do what is right, who try too hard and who do not rest in the grace of God. Graceful is Mrs. Freeman's plea for them to rest in God's grace.

Mrs. Freeman's style is winsome, poetical, and engaging. She tells many personal stories, of her own youth and of her friends. I especially appreciated that she did not talk down to her audience, nor dismiss their concerns as frivolous (a fault I think I would commit).

I suspect I would have some theological disagreements with Mrs. Freeman, but they would be minor and do not much impact this book. Her love for the Lord and his grace shines through in this book. I would recommend it to the 'good girls' of my acquaintance.

Thanks to Netgalley and Revell for the review copy they allowed me to read.

Escape from Camp 14, by Blaine Harden

Shin Dong-Hyuk was born in a prison camp in North Korea, a child of a 'reward marriage.' His parents were allowed to be together five nights a year. Shin Dong-Hyuk is the only person known to have been born and raised in a prison camp and to have escaped. Escape from Camp 14 tells the story of his early life, his escape, and his life now that he is a free man in the West.

His story is a chilling, disturbing, harrowing, horrifying story. He was raised to be a snitch. He was always hungry. He never knew love, but did not realize he was missing out. He was tortured. One of his fingers was cut off because he dropped a sewing machine. He ratted on his mother and older brother when he overheard their plans to escape, which led to their executions. Every facet of the prison experience worked to dehumanize Shin and the other prisoners.

He only came to realize there was a life outside the camp, a life of civilization, a life where many people are able to eat to fullness, when he became responsible to train a recently imprisoned man. The man filled Shin's ears with tales of the food available in other places. Shin eventually decided to escape with this new friend, more from hunger than from any desire for freedom.

Every part of Shin's story saddened me, but I think the saddest part of all was how his early experiences unfitted Shin to be in society. He has an extraordinarily hard time trusting anyone, or expecting them to trust him.

If you are interested in reading a behind-the-scenes, factual account of life in a North Korean prison camp, look no further. This is the book for you. However, I feel it only fair to warn you that it is so disturbing as to be stomach-turning.

Blaine Harden is to be congratulated for telling Shin's story in a straight-forward, non-histrionic manner. Shin's story is compelling enough without embellishment.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

The Big Picture Story Bible, by David Helm

I liked this book, and would recommend it to Christian parents of young children, and Christian teachers of young children. The simple, engaging text and profusion of colorful pictures won over my young listeners, and older readers. The sound theology won me over. I thought it was perfect for my 3yo and 6yo audience members.

This story Bible recounts biblical history beginning with creation, focussing on the theme of the 'forever king.' The description of Christ's death, burial, and resurrection, simple enough for a young child to grasp, was nevertheless profound enough to move me to tears.

I have only one complaint to make against the book: it pictures Christ, which I can't help but consider as a violation of the law of God. Why must story Bibles do that? This is not the only one I know of to include pictures of Christ.

I read a friend's copy, but am now desirous of owning my own copy, so's I might be able to share it with my children again and again.

The Exploits of Moominpappa, by Tove Jansson

I picked up this book with high expectations, because I had read many reviews which raved about it. Many reviews favorably compared Ms. Jansson's Moomin Family books with the Winnie-the-Pooh books. I must say I was not impressed with The Exploits of Moominpappa. I was so unimpressed with it that I decided not to finish reading past about halfway. However, I was not so unimpressed with it as to swear off of the Moomin Family books. I intend to give them one more try.

A List {SIGH}

I have been overborne by circumstances once again. Aurelius said one should not excuse one's mistakes, misdeeds, neglect on circumstances. Sorry, Aurelius. Here comes a list, instead of individual postings about each book I've finished recently.

The Heart of a Goof, by P.G. Wodehouse. Definite hit. Much better than the last Wodehouse book I read. Perhaps because it is approximately 50 years older, having been written early in the 20th century instead of late in the 20th century. If you like Wodehouse, if you might like Wodehouse, give this one a try. You don't even have to like golf.

The Sweet Dove Died, by Barbara Pym. Forget it. Not worth it. I picked it up because of Susan Hill's recommendation of Pym in her book Howard's End is on the Landing. It has some of the trappings of a novel of manners, but is too frivolous, and one of the main characters is openly bi-sexual. I found it as disappointing as I've found E.M. Forster's books. I shan't be trying any other of Pym's work.

The Various Haunts of Men, by Susan Hill. A Simon Serrailler mystery, the first, in fact. I found it unsatisfying, though not for want of skill of the author. I did not feel as though I was pitting my wits agains those of the investigator. I did not like becoming attached to a main character, only for that character to be killed near the end (I kept hoping it would turn out to be a police ploy, but, alas, no). I liked the people, and several of them, no doubt, appear in following volumes of Simon Serrailler mysteries. I intend to read another of Mrs. Hill's mysteries, unlike my intentions regarding Ms. Pym and her work.

Bookworms, edited by Laura Furman and Elinore Standard. A collection of essays, letters, excerpts by writers (and readers) about reading. I enjoyed reading it, but who's surprised by that? I thought the various pieces were of various quality, being written by various people, but who's surprised by that? I would recommend it to readers who like reading about reading (is that a bit like a meta-narrative?), but not to those who don't. Do readers who don't like reading about reading read book blogs?

Stories of the Wild West Gang, by Joy Crowley

Michael's aunt, uncle, and five cousins, the West family, move into a house just one street away from Michael. The West household couldn't be more different than Michael's household. Whereas Michael is the only child of tidy, neat-freak, proper, prosperous parents, the Wests are raucous, noisy, chaotic, dirty, and poor. For instance, the oldest West boy has a hole cut in the floor of his bedroom so he can toss his dirty clothes directly into the washing machine below. Aunt Rosie wipes her toddler's face clean with the hem of her t-shirt, the t-shirt she's wearing.

As the large mother of a large family who's not overly concerned with the tidiness and cleanliness of her house, I could certainly identify with Aunt Rosie. I appreciated that Michael appreciated the way the Wests did things, even if he was initially surprised or even disgusted.

The book is more a collection of tales about the Wild Wests than a continuous narrative, but even so there is character development, and characters introduced in one story (such as a puppy named Alexander) appear in following stories.

Michael narrates these realistic stories. I liked the pacing and plotting of these humorous tales. I thought the author did a good job of capturing the emotions of an early adolescent. The antics of the West Gang amused me.

Overall I liked and could even, with proper qualifications, recommend Stories of the Wild West Gang. I was disturbed that one four letter word made an appearance, and was referenced repeatedly afterward, and that Michael seems deceptive toward his parents (without it being condemned), and that there's a whiff of romantic feelings from Michael toward one of his female cousins.

Thank you, Gecko Publishing and Netgalley, for giving me a review copy of this book.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Winnie-the-Pooh, an excerpt

"It's just the place," he explained, "for an Ambush."

"What sort of bush?" whispered Pooh to Piglet. "A gorse-bush?"

"My dear Pooh," said Owl in his superior way, "don't you know what an Ambush is?"

"Owl," said Piglet, looking round at him severely, "Pooh's whisper was a perfectly private whisper, and there was no need--"

"An Ambush," said Owl, "is a sort of Surprise."

"So is a gorse-bush sometimes," said Pooh.

Calvin, an excerpt

I recently came across this passage in Calvin, and was undone by its beauty.

"As a consequence, we may dare assure ourselves that eternal life, of which he is the heir, is ours; and that the Kingdom of Heaven, into which he has already entered, can no more be cut off from us than from him; again, that we cannot be condemned for our sins, from whose guilt he has absolved us, since he willed to take them upon himself as if they were his own. This is the wonderful exchange which, out of his measureless benevolence, he has made with us; that, by his descent to earth, he has prepared an ascent to heaven for us; that, by taking on our mortality, he has conferred his immortality upon us; that, accepting our weakness, he has strengthened us by his power; that, receiving our poverty unto himself, he has transferred his wealth to us; that, taking the weight of our iniquity upon himself (which oppressed us), he has clothed us with his righteousness." Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book IV, Chapter XVII, section 2.

Jeeves and the Tie that Binds, P.G. Wodehouse

Jeeves and the Tie that Binds offered a typical Wodehousian romp. Bertram Wooster is a lovable bumbling idiot, with a touching respect for his butler Jeeves (whose first name we learn in this installment of their story), a very wise man. Bertie is always veering towards matrimonial disaster (actually disasters of many different sorts), only to be saved in the nick of time, and often thanks to Jeeves's wisdom, and this story was no different. Wodehouse gives his characters fabulous, delicious names (like Claude Cattermole 'Catsmeat' Potter-Pirbright).

I liked it, and the other Wodehouse titles I've read, but I must admit that I have to be in the right mood in order to enjoy it. I think Wodehouse's books may be best when shared socially. I can imagine reading them out loud to my children, when they're a mite older, and dissolving in giggles with them.

I'd recommend any Bertie Wooster/Jeeves work if you're looking for a light-hearted escape.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Howard's End is on the Landing: A Year of Reading from Home, by Susan Hill

Susan Hill, an accomplished author and publisher, went looking for a particular book in her extensive personal library, but couldn't find it. Instead, she found many books she loved but hadn't read in a long while, and books she owned but had never read. She conceived the idea of challenging herself only to read books she already owned for one whole year. Howard's End is on the Landing is her account of her reading during that year.

I liked this book, as you, gentle reader, no doubt surmised from the subtitle of the book alone. And yet, and yet. Mrs. Hill personally knew, or at the least met and was acquainted with, many of the authors she discusses. On the one hand I grew a bit tired of reading such things as, 'When I met Ian Fleming at the party...' (I made that quote up), and on the other hand, I was fascinated by the sort of behind-the-scenes views of authors whose works I've read: 'The beam of light falls on a man standing leaning against a fireplace. His cocktail is on the shelf beside him. In his hand there is a cigarette holder. He has a high colour to his high cheekbones, a high forehead, too. High style. I am old enough to know that it is rude to stare but who would not stare at the craggy remains of such mesmerising good looks?' (I quoted that.)

And, I really should have learned better self-control by now, because of course my already stupendously-long TBR list has grown even longer by reading this book. Not only did I discover authors and titles I was previously unfamiliar with, not only did I gain a better understanding of titles I had perhaps disdained (and therefore never planned to read), but I also now must look into other works by Mrs. Hill herself.

So, gentle reader, beware. If you, like I am, are easily led to expand your TBR, don't pick up this book. (By which I mean to say, I recommend this book to those who like to read about books.)

The Door in the Wall, by Margeurite de Angeli

In fourteenth century England, Robin's father has left to fight with the English king in the Scottish wars. Robin's mother has left to serve the queen as a lady-in-waiting. Robin himself was supposed to be escorted to another nobleman's home to begin his training in knighthood, but the plague has ravaged London, and, as a result, his escort has not been permitted to enter London. Robin has been struck by a disease which has wasted his legs so that he is no longer able to walk, and his nurse has died of the plague. All alone, and with seemingly no one aware of his plight, the poor, fretful, frustrated, lonely child grows worried. How can he even get food for himself?

Enter Brother Luke, who brings Robin to the hospice of St. Mark's to look after him until arrangements can be made to reunite Robin with his parents, or send him off to his noble patron. Under Brother Luke's tutelage and ministrations Robin grows up, learns to swim, learns to use crutches, learns patience. Finally Robin goes to his patron, where an opportunity presents itself for him, cripple though he be, to save the whole town.

I thought very highly of this book. My girls loved it. Of the several books I'm reading out loud to them, this was everyone's favorite. It reminded me a great deal of Adam of the Road, and I would be hard-pressed to choose which of them I prefer. The language is beautiful, and the dialog carries the flavor of older English. The story is exciting, while embracing virtues and eschewing vice. Robin is a believable boy.

I highly recommend this book for children, those who read to children, and those who enjoy reading children's literature for themselves.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Loving the Little Years: Motherhood in the Trenches, by Rachel Jankovic

A new friend gave me this book last week, for which I thank him. It was fun to be able to tell him that I knew Rachel, before she was Jankovic.

Overall, I liked this book. It felt like a collection of blog posts, more than like a book. I appreciated several of her similes, and have used some of them this week in helping my children understand better what I was asking of them. Mrs. Jankovic frequently calls out parental selfishness, and promotes parental grace. Be full of grace toward your little ones (note that she does not mean to slack on the discipline), and love them for who they are.

I did disagree with some minor points (do I really have to start doing the girls's hair? Really?).

I would recommend this book to mothers of young children. It is full of encouragement.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Cure Tooth Decay, by Ramiel Nagel

I read this book because I recently received bad news at the dentist's office about my own teeth. Mr. Nagel claims, and backs up his claims with a lot of scientific evidence, that modern dentistry does not truly help teeth, but that changing one's diet in specific ways can stop the decay and can even reverse the decay. His dietary recommendations are very similar to those of the Nourishing Traditions cookbook and the Weston A. Price Foundation, but even more restrictive.

I would recommend this book to anyone looking to promote their dental health without following the methods of modern dentistry.

Gates of Excellence: On Reading and Writing Books for Children, by Katherine Paterson

Gates of Excellence collects some of Mrs. Paterson's writings on the subject of children's books, including portions of her acceptance speeches for the awards she's received, and some reviews of other authors' books. I enjoyed the book, the insights into how to read and write children's books. I enjoyed the insights into Mrs. Paterson's own character and upbringing. I would think, though, that this is not a book for many readers. If you already have a keen interest in Mrs. Paterson and would like to know her better, or you already have an interest in reading about reading and writing, then you would like this book. Otherwise, I expect you wouldn't.

"To read a great novel is to lay yourself open for a conversion experience...A great novel is a kind of conversion experience. We come away from it changed."

"Another distinction I might make as an aside is that you don't speed-read art. When I see or hear those boasts of a speed-reading-school graduate having read Jaws in an hour, I am pleased--think of all the time he's saved. But when someone brags to me that he's read War and Peace in five hours, I get sick to my stomach. You do not read War and Peace in five hours or even five days. You live for a season with Natasha and Pierre and Andre, and when at last you come to young Nicholas Bolkonski's words '...Oh, Father, Father! Yes, I will do something with which even he would be satisfied...' you are simply not the same person who weeks before opened the book..."

"And as for being the delight of logicians, it was only when it finally dawned on me that I was not dealing with rational beings, but with children, that I was able to summon the strength to survive motherhood."

"But those of us who have followed Frodo on his quest have had a vision of the true darkness. We know that we, like him, would have never gotten up the steep slope of Mount Doom had the faithful Sam not flung us on his back and carried us up, crawling at the last. We know, too, that we would never have parted with the baneful ring of power had not the piteous Gollum torn it from our bleeding finger and, in the effort, fallen screeching into the abyss, clutching his damned treasure and ours."

"I love revisions. Where else in life can spilled milk be transformed into ice cream?"

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Well, Hello There!

Long time, no see. I know. But we have officially made the big move, unpacked enough to establish housekeeping, set up a good internet connection at the house, and started the school year. Thus, I feel the freedom to attempt blogging once again.

I thought for this first-post-in-a-long-time post that I would simply list the books I've read since I last blogged, and perhaps the books I'm currently reading. Then resume writing a separate post for each book I finish with my next post.

Surprised by Oxford, by Carolyn Weber. This is a spiritual autobiography, detailing how the author found God (was found by God) at Oxford. I would recommend this, but not to just any ol' reader. I can't imagine my husband finding much for himself in it. I think that those who already like biography/autobiography, and those who are seeking for God but have unanswered questions, could find much in this book.

Why We're Not Emergent, by Two Guys Who Should Be, by Kevin DeYoung and Ted Kluck. This is an important book, deftly but sympathetically exposing the serious problems in the emergent movement. I would recommend this book to concerned Christian readers.

Vermeer's Hat: The Seventeenth Century and the Dawn of the Global World, by Timothy Brook. This book uses objects depicted in Vermeer's art as the starting-points for relating the history of global trade in the 17th century. I found it fascinating, and would recommend it to readers of history.

Boys and Girls Forever, by Alison Lurie. This book collects a series of brief biographies of the authors of children's literature. I like reading books about books and authors, so this was right up my alley. I learned of some authors I was previously unaware of, such as Tove Jansson. I would recommend it to readers who like books about books and authors.

Light of Eidon (Legends of the Guardian-King), by Karen Hancock. This fantasy kept me up late at night. I had to finish it! And I'm not even a big reader of fantasy. This is the first in a series, and I am eager to gets my hands on the other books in the series. I guess you can already tell that I'd recommend this to readers of fantasy.

I'm not sure this is all I've read since I last blogged, because, not only have I read a lot less than normal these last several weeks, but I stopped logging my reading.

As for what I'm reading right now, here goes.

Loving the Little Years, by Rachel Jankovic.
Cure Tooth Decay, by Ramiel Nagel.
Gates of Excellence: On Reading and Writing Books for Children, by Katherine Paterson. (Because I like books about books. Surprised?)

To my children I am reading:
Secrets of the Universe, by Paul Fleisher.
Christian Liberty Nature Reader.
Madam How and Lady Why, by Charles Kingsley.
The Story of the World, Volume 1, by Susan Wise Bauer.
The Door in the Wall, by Marguerite de Angeli.
The Burgess Animal Book for Children, by Thornton W. Burgess.
The Winnie-the-Pooh stories.
The Exploits of Moominpappa, by Tove Jansson.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Submerged, by Dani Pettrey

I'm not normally one for 'romantic suspense,' but this one kept me up late at night so I could finish it. It was so thrilling, in fact, that I finished the book around 24 hours after I received it. What was going to happen?

Bailey Craig must return to Yancey, Alaska, a town she had vowed she'd never set foot in again, in order to be at the funeral of a beloved relative who just died in a place accident. But was it an accident? Evidence emerges that the crash was no accident, but was caused by sabotage. Why was the plane sabotaged? And by whom?

Bailey's education as a specialist in Russian History comes into play in surprising ways, as does her skill as a diver. But to complicate matters, Cole McKenna's skill as a diver must be called upon, too. This complicates matters, you see, because when Bailey lived in Yancey a decade earlier, she and Cole had had a romantic relationship, which ended sourly because of her wild partying ways.

So, if you like 'romantic suspense' and Christian fiction, you'll undoubtedly like this book. This is the first book in a new series, and Ms. Pettrey clearly left loose ends to be tied up in subsequent books. I'll be on the lookout for the subsequent books.

I received a review copy of this book in exchange for my freely-rendered opinion both here on my blog, and on a retailer's site.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Wings and the Child, or the Building of Magic Cities, by E. Nesbit

A blog I occasionally read recently touted this as a free-for-Kindle book, the title intrigued me, and I know I like Nesbit (at least as an author for children's books). I enjoyed reading this book, but then I often enjoy reading about how to raise and educate children. Nesbit's prose, however, was a delight in itself, and would render reading her work a pleasant task, no matter the subject of which she wrote. Mrs. Nesbit wrote this book because first she built magic cities with her son, then wrote a book for children in which the children build a magic city and then become small enough to enter the city (called, surprisingly enough, The Magic City), then received letters from her young readers asking if they could build magic cities, then built a magic city which was put on display, at which teachers and parents asked her to write a book to guide them in allowing their children to build magic cities. A magic city is a city made of various materials at hand. The magic is in the imagination. Mrs. Nesbit, happily, ranged far from that topic. Her descriptions of what it is like to be a child alone are worth the reading of the book, but the whole book is worthwhile. I would only edit somewhat the length of her discussion of specific, practical ideas for building a city. The philosophical section of the book is by far the best (though, of course, I do not agree with everything she asserts; she seems to dismiss teaching children to read by phonics, and she favors redistributing wealth, for two instances). I would recommend this book to parents, teachers, and anyone generally interested in reading about the best way to raise and educate children. The book is short. By the way, I do not know why, but when I write a blog post on my iPad, it shows up in separate paragraphs in the rough draft, but publishes as one paragraph. I shall have to consult my IT dept (AKA DH).

Saturday, June 9, 2012

A Jumble

Wednesday of this week marked the first anniversary of my first blog post. I had wanted to write a celebratory post about it, but I also wanted to announce some Big News, which I was hourly waiting to hear. As it turns out, I did not receive the news until Thursday, and did not have permission to share the news publicly until Friday, and then had a lot to do in connection with that news. So here I am, commenting on the first anniversary of my first blog post a few days after the fact, and preparing to share our Big News with you. I'm so happy I've blogged for a whole year now! I'm so happy to tell you that my husband has been offered, and has accepted, a job in Washington (state). We moved from there to Phoenix nearly two years ago, and have longed to return to the evergreen state and, yes, even to the rain. Now we expect to be returning to WA in July. But, that leads to a good and necessary consequence: I will almost certainly have very little, if any, time for blogging these next two months. So, do not expect to hear from me until August. Have a delightful summer!

Monday, June 4, 2012

Moonblood, by Anne Elisabeth Stengl

Moonblood is a fantasy novel, in which Prince Lionheart betrays his best friend, Rose Red. Rose Red then gets captured by her wicked goblin father, King Vahe, and held for his evil purposes: to use her to awaken the sleeping children of the Dragon, to raise them up as an army he can use to conquer the world. Will Prince Lionheart acknowledge his mistake? Will he seek to remedy the mischief he has caused? Will he succeed?

I found Moonblood a fun read. I was impressed with both the depth and the breadth of the secondary world created by Ms. Stengl. Moonblood is the third book in the Tales of Goldstone Wood series, with a fourth book due out this fall. I certainly thought that there was room for more stories in Goldstone Wood, and am excited to know that Ms. Stengl has written some of those stories already. I will be keeping my eye out for the other books in the series.

If you like to read fantasy, if you like to wander in Faerie, then give Moonblood a try. If you don't already care for fantasy, there's no hope for you.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Dubai Dreams: Inside the Kingdom of Bling, by Raymond Barrett

Mr. Barrett spent about a year in Dubai, researching to write this book. He seems no stranger to the Middle East, displaying more than a passing familiarity with other nations in that region. He observed and wrote with a sympathetic, but not with a blind, eye. I appreciated the breadth of his book; he examines many aspects of life in Dubai, as well as some of its history, and some of its expected future. I would recommend this book to readers interested in gaining a deeper insight into Dubai and the Middle East more generally.

The Lost Empire of Atlantis, by Gavin Menzies

A fun, exciting, adventurous tale of a man asking questions, seeking answers, coming to conclusions about Atlantis. Could it possibly have existed? What if it were a whole empire and not a city only? What if it stretched from the Mediterranean all the way to the Great Lakes of America? What if the Minoans actually posessed an advanced civilization, equal to the later Greeks and Romans, complete with indoor plumbing, with trade routes that covered half the globe? Mr. Menzies takes us on his own journeys to find the answers, even to suggest the questions in the first place. Believe the evidence he marshals for his case, or not, his book was a pleasant diversion. I feared at one point that he was going to launch into a plea for 'living green,' but he did not. I would recommend this book to readers interested in ancient history, archaeology, seafaring, or Atlantis. You can visit Mr. Menzies's website at: Mr. Menzies has also written other books challenging currently-held opinions about history. I would certainly be willing to read his other books.

The Namesake, by Jhumpa Lahiri

I expected more of this novel; certainly the topic is of interest to me: the immigrant experience. But the actual telling of this story was a bit lacklustre. The main character's parents move from Calcutta to New England at the start of their marriage in the 1960s. The story begins just before the birth of the main character, named Gogol in honor of the Russian author. The story follows Gogol's life into his 30s. It examines how his parents, his sister, and he integrate, or don't, with American customs and culture. I thought the idea held great promise, but the book as it is reminds me of nothing so much as of notes for a novel, instead of a novel proper. And I could have done without the casual attitude toward sex displayed by many of the American characters (and Gogol himself, for that matter). I can't recommend it.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

This was a sweet tale set in London and on Guernsey Island. The main female character is an author who decides to write a book about the Guernsey Literary and Potatoe Peel Pie Society, after one of its members starts a correspondence with her. The book takes an epistolary form, exploring timeless themes such as love, family, and home, all with a poignant but not heartbreaking look at life during the war and the German occupation of the island. The characters were interesting, and fun to read about, especially one Isola Pribby (she was a hoot, and very vivid). I really only have one complaint about the book, that being an apparently too-modern outlook on certain topics. Otherwise, and really on the whole, I would recommend this book to readers of sweet historical fiction.

God's Battalions, by Rodney Stark

I liked this history of and apology for the Crusades. I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys reading history, especially to those who think the Crusades were colonial in motivation, or are confused by what the rational for the Crusades could possibly be. Mr. Stark summarizes the arguments in favor of the Crusades, and then tells the history of the Crusades. I thought some of his summaries were a little too short; I would have preferred to read a more developed treatment of the arguments. I really enjoyed the telling of the history, though, and learned that I have a lot still to learn in this life. That's hardly surprising, however, as that fact stares me in the face no matter the direction I turn.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Water for Elephants, by Sara Gruen

Forget it. Don't bother, because it's not worth reading. Too much sex. I only made it about a third of the way through, hoping that each scene of sex would be the last and we could simply move on with the story, but no. I'm not even offering to send this one to an interested reader. I'm sorry I picked it up.

Monday, April 30, 2012

Girl in Hyacinth Blue, Susan Vreeland

I was blown away by this book. And yet once again reading one book has paradoxically added to my TBR list. I'll be on the lookout for more books by Ms. Vreeland. Girl in Hyacinth Blue tells the story of a painting by Vermeer. It tells the story in reverse chronological order, from the viewpoint of its various owners, tracing the story from the present-day right back to the moment the painting was inspired. I was very impressed by the rich characterization Ms. Vreeland achieved. Her characters seemed alive and real and wholly believable, and each one was unique. We see from their thoughts how the painting impacted them, how they acquired it, why they parted with it. I found a common theme running through each character: longing. Longing that put me in mind of C.S. Lewis's 'northernness,' and my own youthful longing the object of which I was then too young to identify, and my yearning of today for Glory (no, not fame, but Heaven). This book nearly broke my heart, and yet satisfied me, too. I would recommend this book to anyone who reads fiction, and who is strong enough to read a heart-breaking book. I was not strong enough when I was young. As a side note, as I am typing this it shows paragraph breaks, but when I ask to 'preview' it, it displays without paragraph breaks. I am not quite sure how it will look when published. I apologize in advance if it does not have paragraph breaks. I don't know what to do to ensure it gets the breaks when published.

Friday, April 27, 2012

The Stolen Lake, by Joan Aiken

The Stolen Lake tells us what happens to Dido Twite during her attempt to return to England. The ship she is on, being a British Navy Ship, is sent to aid Britain's oldest ally: New Cumbria in South America. It seems that someone has stolen the lake belonging to New Cumbria.

Ms. Aiken manages to weave in many bits of Arthurian legend. I chuckled when I read the names of the natives of New Cumbria, mixtures of Welsh and Spanish names, such as Jose Llewellyn (I made that example up because I no longer have the book with me).

However, I thought The Stolen Lake lacked the charm and light-heartedness of the earlier books in the series. It was hard to put my finger on it, but somehow The Stolen Lake, though resembling the earlier books, did not match their spirit and temper.  I would not, in fact, recommend this book. Though my children enjoyed it.

Prize of My Heart, by Lisa Norato

I will state at the outset that I received this as a review copy in exchange for my honest opinion of it.

And here is that opinion, in sum: it is a typical, but not notable, example of its genre.

The publisher, Bethany House, lists it as 'Historical Fiction,' which it is, but I think that leaves out the equally apt and important 'Romance.' This is the sort of book I would have loved during my misspent youth, but which I have come in my more mature years to regard with a certain mistrust.

If you read and like Christian Historical Romance, then I expect you will like Prize of My Heart. It is set in Massachusetts in 1815. Captain Brogan Talvis commissions a ship from master shipbuilder Nathaniel Huntley, whose beautiful young daughter Lorena cares as a mother for a little boy left to the Huntleys as a ward. Unbeknownst to the Huntleys, Captain Talvis is the boy's father, and intends to kidnap him at the first opportunity. But, of course, Captain Talvis and Lorena fall in love before Captain Talvis can put his plan into action.

As a work of literary fiction, I thought this book fell short of Miss Julia Takes Over (which I reviewed earlier today). Captain Talvis and Lorena are somewhat gullible in believing the wicked people who practice deceit upon them, but they are fine, upstanding people of integrity, lacking quirks and faults. As I read Prize of My Heart, I kept thinking I have skill enough to write such a story. But as I read Miss Julia Takes Over, I kept thinking I'd never be an author as good as Ms. Ross.

A Brilliant Idea

I don't know why it is, but I almost invariably calls my ideas 'brilliant.' Perhaps I'm a little vain.

But, my idea was this: I could specially label those posts of books which I own but don't intend to keep, and you, my loyal readers, could request that I send them on to you. Which I would be happy to do. First come, first serve sort of thing. So, if you notice that a particular post is labelled 'Available' and you care to read the book the post is all about, leave me a comment and I'll mail it to you. You'd have to share your address with me somehow (in the comment is fine, if you don't mind sharing your address publicly).

Kidnapped, by Robert Louis Stevenson

I'm sure there's not much I can add to what's already been said about Kidnapped. It was a fun adventure for us. I think though, on the whole, that I prefer Treasure Island to Kidnapped. Now I'll have to read Treasure Island to the girls again real soon so I can confirm that opinion.

I'd recommend Kidnapped to any one interested in reading wonderful literature.

A Perfect Mess, by Eric Abrahamson and David H. Freedman

What if complete organization of one's home or office did not deliver all it promised? What if its benefits did not outweigh its costs? What if, in fact, it stripped one of something valuable?

Mr. Abrahamson and Mr. Freedman articulate in this book about mess and organization what I have long felt about time and schedules: that too strict standards too stridently enforced cost more than they are worth. Companies, families, individuals who do not enforce or require complete organization are more resilient and more resourceful than those who do.

Some amount of mess may actually lead to connections being made which otherwise would not be. The authors talk about scientific discoveries which were made because of mess, messy offices or messy laboratories. I see this also in the way in which my children think about the books on our disorganized bookshelves: they connect books in ways which I expect they would not if I imposed something resembling the Dewey Decimal system.

The authors turn their attention to homes and to businesses and find repeatedly that some amount of mess is actually more beneficial than complete organization. They do not, however, advocate complete mess.

Any system of organizing requires resources both to develop and to maintain, and in plenty of cases developing and maintaining a system of organization use more resources than the organization is worth.

I agree with many of the authors's conclusions; however, some of their assertions were more forcefully put than their evidence and arguments for the assertions warranted.

I would recommend this book to anyone who struggles with mess, especially to those who feel shame over it. Embrace the (perfect) mess!

Miss Julia Takes Over, by Ann B. Ross

I've found a new winner. I took a chance and bought this book at the library used book sale for $1 (I know, I know, big spender). Now that I've read this Miss Julia book by Ann B. Ross, I'm headed back to the library to purchase the other one that was available.

The plot is outlandish but not to the point of unreality or fantasy. The characters are quirky and deftly drawn. I cared about them, and couldn't put the book down because I wanted to know how they fared through their difficulties. The real charm of the book lies in Miss Julia's character, the sweet but highly opinionated narrator of the book. Ms. Ross is to be commended on skillfully writing a book entirely in first-person narration which reveals more to the reader than to the narrator.

Miss Julia took in her dead husband's mistress and her child (that story apparently being told in the first Miss Julia book, which I haven't read yet). She has come to love both of them, but now their lives and happiness are endangered by the machinations of a crooked fund-raiser and a greedy television preacher. Miss Julia comes to the rescue. While some ugly topics are touched upon (such as adultery), they are not touched upon in such a way as to glorify sin or even to make a spectacle of it.

Having recently read a book (review forthcoming) in which the main characters have no faults except for being a bit gullible, it was refreshing and a pleasure to read a book in which faults abound and seem real.

I would recommend this book to those who enjoy reading contemporary fiction, and especially to those who enjoy written portraits of southern ladies.

Friday, April 20, 2012

The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher, by Kate Summerscale

Mr. Whicher was one of the first group of men to form the detective force which became Scotland Yard. He became the prototype for fictional detectives, and the setting of the mystery retold in this book became the prototype for detective fiction: the closed country estate with a limited number of suspects, all of them seemingly innocent on the surface. The case remained unsolved until one of the suspects, some years later, confessed to the deed. Mr. Whicher's career foundered on this case. But was it solved even when the confession was made?

Ms. Summerscale has done an excellent job of setting the stage, of researching the story, the setting, the details, even the weather. She wrote in an engaging manner. She takes an unflinching look at the gruesomeness of the crime, but not in a sensationalistic way. She excels especially at describing the milieu in which the crime takes place, bringing in such disparate characters as Charles Dickens (an ardent admirer of Mr. Whicher) and Charles Spurgeon (who had some things to say about the crime and the one who confessed to it), and tracing the influence of this real crime on fictional crime.

Ms. Summerscale provides her own solution to the puzzle and argues for it persuasively.

I would highly recommend this book to any lover of detective fiction.

Death in Holy Orders, by P.D. James

I do believe I've read three P.D. James's books this year alone. I do enjoy reading her work. I think, of the few books by James which I've recently read, this one is my favorite. I appreciate the humanity of her characters, and the poetry of Dalgleish.

The Zookeeper's Wife, by Diane Ackerman

Jan and Antonina Zabinski were the keepers of the Warsaw zoo in the time leading up to the Second World War. Their zoo was bombed early in the war, but they managed to work matters so they were still in charge of the grounds and they successfully saved over 300 Jews over the course of the war by hiding them in the cages of the zoo.

I learned a lot about how Warsaw fared during WWII (not well), which I had previously not known at all. "Out of its prewar population of 36 million, Poland lost 22 percent, more than any other country in Europe."

The author wrote a relatively interesting story about an especially interesting topic: humanity during WWII. The story did not always seem to flow as a narrative. The author clearly strove to use unusual or creative verbs, but sometimes seemed to overreach. She also focussed a bit more on animal psychology than interested me.

On the whole I would recommend it to those who are interested in the history of WWII, and to those who like true stories of people remaining brave in the face of deadly danger and remaining humane in the face of brutality.

An Attempt to Return to Blogging

Life changes. Serendipitously the idea of blogging coincided with an immobilizing pregnancy and so I began to blog. But that baby has been born and has now reached the stage at which he requires constant supervision. Just this week he began pulling himself into a standing position and crawling up the stairs. One inattentive moment at the wrong time can mean disaster for a curious but incautious explorer, and his loving but grievously inattentive mother. Thus, what with the changes in our normal daily, and rather a lot of out-of-town company lately, I have stopped blogging. Not, I hope, permanently, but clearly for the last several weeks.

And so, here I sit at the computer, hoping and attempting to resurrect a pleasurable pastime. These changing circumstances which have conspired to keep me from blogging have merely slowed down my reading, they have not stopped it, and as a result I am several books behind as I am several weeks behind. Thankfully my oldest is proving to be a splendid and reliable 'babysitter' for me. She is caring for the little man as I type.

Once more into the breach!

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Touching the Void, Joe Simpson

Two audacious young men, Joe and Simon, set off to reach a summit that had never been reached before. Disaster struck when Joe fell and broke his knee. Simon tried to save Joe, but was forced eventually to cut the rope and leave Joe for dead. Simon returned to camp, certain that Joe was dead. A few days later he prepared to break camp, only to find Joe passed out a short distance from the camp. He had pulled himself and hopped over miles of treacherous terrain with a broken knee, no food, and limited water.

Touching the Void is the true story of their climb, their disaster, their survival, told by Joe. Joe's account is more poetic than I expected, and offers a harrowing description of going mad.

I would recommend this book to those who enjoy true survival tales. Caution: there is occasional strong language in the book.

Silent Tears: a Journey of Hope, by Kay Bratt

An American woman moved with her family to China for her husband's work. She went determined to volunteer at an orphanage and to journal about her experiences there. Silent Tears is a collection of her journal entries.

Prepare to have your heart ripped out. Consider the orphanage worker who dangled an orphan by her ankles out a third-story window to punish her for some slight disobedience. I cried my way through this book. Send those children to me! I have room in my heart for more children.

I would recommend this book to anyone who has the stomach to read it, and especially to those who might be moved to take action on behalf of defenseless victims.

Pirate King, by Laurie R. King

Could Sherlock Holmes have married? What would his wife be like? Where would Watson go and what would he do?

Pirate King answers some of these questions. Mary Russell is married to Holmes, who sends her out on a mission to infiltrate a movie production company which is suspected of being involved in illegal activities, which is just about to make a movie about a movie production company making a movie of The Pirates of Penzance, only the movie company in the movie gets involved somehow with real pirates, and then somehow the real (I mean, real in the book) movie company gets involved with real pirates, too. Is your head spinning yet? And all of this is translated by a certain Fernando Pessoa, who apparently (if one can believe the afterword) was a real poet of this time period, who has multiple heteronyms. What is a heteronym, you ask? Read the book!

In spite of the unbelievably convoluted plot, the book was a light and frolicsome read. Or maybe because of the plot? I especially enjoyed the interchanges between Mr. and Mrs. Holmes and wished for more of them. This book does not touch on Watson, but apparently it is not the first book by Ms. King about Mrs. Holmes, so perhaps an earlier book discusses Watson.

Laurie R. King is a new author to me, but has several books to her credit, which means by TBR list just grew by leaps and bounds again. Sigh.

I would recommend this to book to anyone mystery-lover who's willing to imagine Holmes married and who can try to keep several threads of a tricky plot straight.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

The Hobbit, by J.R.R. Tolkien

I fell in love with The Hobbit all over again, in reading it to my children. It is such a delightful read-aloud.  I love the love of home and simple pleasures that pervades the book. I'm sure that those few who read my blog don't need me to gush about The Hobbit, so I thought I would share a lovely quote from it instead:

"'Then the prophecies of the old songs have turned out to be true, after a fashion!' said Bilbo.

'Of course!', said Gandalf. 'And why should not they prove true? Surely you don't disbelieve the prophecies, because you had a hand in bringing them about yourself? You don't really suppose, do you, that all your adventures and escapes were managed by mere luck, just for your sole benefit? You are a very fine person, Mr. Baggins, and I am very fond of you; but you are only quite a little fellow in a wide world after all!'

'Thank goodness!' said Bilbo laughing, and handed him the tobacco-jar."

Money Saving Mom's Budget, by Crystal Paine

I won a copy of this book on a blog giveaway. This book and Crystal's blog ( have revolutionized my thinking about the money in my control. I've always tried, with more or less success, to spend within my means, but now I'm trying to spend below my means. Now I'm trying not only to spend less money by buying less expensive items, but actually to keep money in reserve.

Several of the specific, practical suggestions aren't viable for us at this point in our lives, but the impact on my thinking has been invaluable already.

I would recommend this book to anyone who needs some advice or encouragement for managing their personal finances in a better way.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Shades of Grey, Jasper Fforde

This book is neither a Thursday Next book, nor a Nursery Crimes book. It is set in a dystopia, where one's color perception determines one's place in society. I found it a more difficult secondary world to enter than either the Thursday Next books or the Nursery Crimes books, yet I found it quite thought-provoking, and in some ways a more serious work.

I was a bit disturbed by the fact that an immoral act by the main character at the end of the book was not more authorially condemned than it was.

I don't exactly recommend Fforde's books, because they're kind of bizarre, but I love them and am looking forward to reading the ones I haven't yet read (two others in the Shades of Grey series, and any in the Dragonslayers series, which I just learned about today).

The Poe Shadow, by Matthew Pearl

In The Poe Shadow, Matthew Pearl takes an historical mystery (the death of Edgar Allan Poe) and creates a fictional character who sets out to unravel the mystery. The book impressed me. I thought it was well-written, intriguing, well-researched. I thought the authorial voice and the dialog sounded like one would expect 19th century Baltimoreans to sound (not that I'm an expert). Pearl even gives his book a bit of a flavor of Poe, with the narrator occasionally seeming unhinged, possibly mad.

I was disappointed in one particular only. This book being a hybrid of fiction and non-fiction, one does not finish it with the same moral certainty that the mystery has been solved as one normally finishes a purely fictional mystery.

I would recommend this book to any fan of detective fiction or of Poe. Unlike Pearl's Dante Club, The Poe Shadow is not gruesome.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

On Going Two Weeks without Blogging about a Book

I wanted to check in, because it has now been two weeks since I blogged. Perhaps you were wondering where I've been (I'm snickering to myself as I write that). Or perhaps you've been relieved that I haven't been burdening you with even more senseless lists.

We had an extraordinarily busy week (for us), beginning with human company, a visit from the stomach bug, more human company, an unexpected date WITH my husband but WITHOUT my children (first time in many months), an infant trying (unsuccessfully so far) to break his first two teeth and who suddenly discovered that rolling over could in fact move him places, and ending with a Saturday Church event for which I had to prepare.

So maybe sometime this next week I'll actually get around to reading something, and to writing about it.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Death Comes to Pemberley by P. D. James

P. D. James on Jane Austen and Death Comes to Pemberley

Of Education, by John Milton

This is but a short tractate, the length of an essay. It was interesting, if, perhaps, a little outdated (as, for instance, his suggestion that all students should learn English, Greek, Latin, Hebrew, Italian, Chaldean, and Syrian; a too-full linguistic plate for many people). Here are some of my favorite quotes:

"The end then of learning is to repair the ruins of our first parents by regaining to know God aright, and out of that knowledge to love him, to imitate him, to be like him, as we may the nearest by possessing our souls of true virtue, which being united to the heavenly grace of faith makes up the highest perfection."

"And seeing every nation affords not experience and tradition enough for all kind of learning, therefore we are chiefly taught the languages of those people who have at any time been most industrious after wisdom; so that language is but the instrument conveying to us things useful to be known. And though a linguist should pride himself to have all the tongues that Babel cleft the world into, yet if he have not studied the solid things in them as well as the words and lexicons, he were nothing so much to be esteemed a learned man, as any yoeman or tradesman competently wise in his mother dialect only."

"I call therefore a complete and generous education that which fits a man to perform justly, skilfully and magnanimously all the offices both private and public, of peace and war."

"...first we do amiss to spend seven or eight years merely in scraping together so much miserable Latin and Greek, as might be learned other wise easily and delightfully in one year. And that which casts our proficiency therein so much in a preposterous exaction, forcing the empty wits of children to compose themes, verses and orations, which are the acts of ripest judgment and the final work of a head filled by long reading and observing, with elegant maxims, and copious inventions. These are not matters to be wrung from poor striplings, like blood out of the nose, or the plucking of untimely fruit: besides the ill habit which they get of wretched barbarizing against the Latin and Greek idiom, with their untutored Anglicisms, odious to be read, yet not to be avoided without a well continued and judicious conversing among pure authors digested, which they scarce taste..."

"Only I believe that this is not a bow for every man to shoot in that counts himself a teacher; but will require sinews almost equal to those which Homer gave Ulysses, yet I am withal persuaded that it may prove much more easy in the assay, than it now seems at distance, and much more illustrious..."

Areopagitica, by John Milton

Milton's great plea for a free press in England. I found his argument quite persuasive, but I started his work already persuaded of the importance and value of a free press. Milton argues that governmental licensing of the press seldom achieves its goal, and in fact often incites revolt; that licensing of the press would result in the loss of valuable books and hence of learning, which could only lead to the diminution of the influence of England; that the men best suited to determining what should be printed would be wasting their efforts in that position and could serve the country better elsewhere; that licensing the press is tyrannous; that the truth is strong enough not to require the support of suppressing falsehood.

This is my favorite of the works I've yet read in the Harvard Classics. I'd say everyone should read Areopagitica.

Pantagruel, by Rabelais

Rabelais's humor is more than a bit ribald, and this book certainly is not for every reader, though he is quite funny in places.

Here is his apology for writing:
"If you say to me, master, it would seem, that you were not very wise in writing to us these flimflam stories, and pleasant fooleries; I answer you , that you are not much wiser to spend your time in reading them. Nevertheless, if you read them to make yourselves merry, as in manner of pastime I wrote them, you and I both are far more worthy of pardon, than a great rabble of...dissembling and counterfeit saints, demure lookers, hypocrites, pretended zealots, tough friars, buskin monks, and other such sects of men, who disguise themselves like maskers to deceive the world...Wherein they are like unto the poor rogues of a village, that are busy in stirring up and scraping in the ordure and filth of little children, in the season of cherries and guinds, and that only to find the kernels, that they may sell them to the druggists, to make thereof pomander oil. Fly from these men, abhor and hate them as much as I do, and upon my faith you will find yourselves the better for it."

The Armitage Family Stories, by Joan Aiken

I was excited to read these stories because my children and I very much enjoyed Aiken's first three books in The Wolves of Willoughby Chase series. I was disappointed in these, however. So disappointed, in fact, that I have decided not to finish reading them to the girls. Instead we have embarked on The Hobbit. Why read anything less than the best, when there are already too many 'best' books to read? I will allow my children to read the stories of the Armitage family, but when it comes to what I read out loud to them, I'd rather pick something more enchanting.

Death Comes to Pemberley, by P.D. James

Six years after the close of Pride and Prejudice, the Bingleys have three children and a happy marriage, while the Darcys have two children and a happy marriage. On the eve of a ball to be held at Pemberley, Lydia Wickham bursts into Pemberley hysterical, screaming that someone has murdered her husband. What follows is a classic whodunit, hewing to the guideline that James herself set forth in her other recent book, Talking About Detective Fiction: the reader is privy to all the clues which can solve the problem.

I read this book with delight. I thought James did an excellent job of keeping each Pride and Prejudice character in character, but I thought the narrator's voice sounded a bit different, rather likes James in the other books I've read by her (but not exactly like that), in fact.

I would recommend this book to those who like Pride and Prejudice, and who can stand the thought of reading a book by another author using the P&P characters, and who enjoy murder mysteries.

Friday, January 20, 2012

The Bruised Reed, by Richard Sibbes

A truly excellent volume for bruised reeds to read. Christ will not break you, nor quench the smoking flax. If you are a believer and in need of gospel comfort, look no farther. This book stands equal with Glorious Freedom, in my estimation.

Nightbirds in Nantucket, by Joan Aiken

Ms. Aiken sure is an inventive writer. In this book we follow Dido Twite in even more wildly improbable adventures than in the previous book. There are hints of Moby-Dick in this book, but with a pink tint. Definite winner for those who enjoy reading adventurous tales for children.

One of Our Thursdays Is Missing, Jasper Fforde

This Thursday Next book was a bit slow to begin with. I had the horrid feeling that I was going to be sorely disappointed in it. About halfway through, when the written Thursday crosses into the real world, the pace picked up considerably. The first half felt like an extended effort to set the scene for jokes. The second half felt like a normal Thursday Next book.

I shake my head in awe at Mr. Fforde's cleverness.

I'd recommend this to those who are already fans of the Next series, but not to those new to his work.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Black Hearts in Battersea, by Joan Aiken

The sequel to Wolves of Willoughby Chase, and even better than Wolves. We galloped through this book, because we all loved it. A few of my girls (I think each literate one) read ahead, in spite of strict warnings not to.

I know now why I knew the name Dido Twite even though I hadn't read the book. She's quite the character.

The adventures in Black Hearts are more wildly improbable than the adventures in Wolves. I think we liked the book better because there's an element of mystery added to the adventures.

I must be sure to speak to my husband about adding a large tapestry to our survival kit. ;-)

I highly recommend this book to YA or juvenile fiction readers. I think it would appeal to boys as well as girls, though I only tested it on girls.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

The Miseducation of Women, by James Tooley

Mr. Tooley is a professor in England. He takes issue with the way in which feminists have steered education policies in the Western world for the past 30+ years. He distinguishes between those feminists, whom he calls 'equality' feminists, who believe there are no differences between men and women and therefore seek to make everything equal between men and women, and 'liberation' feminists who believe there are differences between men and women and that these differences ought to be celebrated. It is the 'equality' feminists who have had their way with education.

Mr. Tooley believes this educational direction is fundamentally wrong and helps lead to the Bridget Jones Syndrome: women reaching their thirties and realizing that they're not happy with the path they followed, that of career first and family second, and longing to get married and have children. Mr. Tooley argues that women aren't being prepared when they are young students for the fact that when they become women they might not want to have a high-flying career, or at any rate not at the expense of having a family.

Mr. Tooley analyzes the writings of prominent early feminists, such as Simone de Beauvoir, Betty Freidan, and Germaine Greer. He suggests that Mrs. Freidan and Ms. Greer have altered their original positions significantly, and that de Beauvoir wrote as she did in order to please Sartre.

He examines scientific evidence through the lens of evolutionary psychology, and concludes that there are biological differences between men and women, and that these differences ought to be celebrated.

I largely agree with the position he argues for, but find the idea of evolutionary psychology to be highly amusing. Mr. Tooley actually suggests that women have evolved an adaptation which suppresses their children's resemblance to mom and maximizes their children's resemblance to dad in order to 'enmesh' the fathers of their children, so the father will hang around and support mom and child.

I was most interested in this book in light of my interest in demography, in particular the reasons why birth rates are dropping around the world, and as it relates to such books as Manning Up.

My friend, who loaned this book to me months ago, will be pleased to receive it back shortly.

Talking About Detective Fiction, P.D. James

The queen of crime here writes a book about crime writing.

She discusses the history of detective fiction. Was The Moonstone the first mystery? She discusses the practitioners of detective fiction, from Dorothy L. Sayers to Sara Paretsky, from Arthur Conan Doyle to Dashiell Hammet. She discusses the processes of writing detective fiction.

I thoroughly enjoyed surveying the field of mystery novels with James.

But I really must stop reading books about books, or I'll never shorten my TBR list.

The New Atlantis, by Francis Bacon

Bacon's attempt at Utopia. A ship loses its way and winds up sighting land who knows where. The citizens of this land treat the sailors kindly and generously, and relate an account of their land. In the land is a House of Salomon, where experiments are carried out. In his list of experiments Bacon was apparently prescient (thus says the introduction; I know not enough science or history of science to make such a determination).

I distrust totalitarianism in its different manifestations, even when it promotes what I like, such as the honoring of those who bear and beget children. In Bacon's land every man who has at least 35 living descendants over the age of three gets publicly feted at state expense.

This work was never finished.

Crossing the Panther's Path, by Elizabeth Alder

I decided to read this because its cover picture caught my attention several times on different visits to the library. I also wanted to read it before letting my young readers loose on it, to make sure it would be worth their time, and because I was worried it might present a too-biased view of a particular period of history.

It is a juvenile, fictionalized account of historical people and events. Young Billy Calder is part Indian, part Irish, and a talented linguist. He sides with Tecumseh against the Americans, acting as interpreter, but his young man's heart wants to aid the Indians with his arms, not his tongue. He does become a warrior eventually, and a trusted ally of Tecumseh. The story follows him up until, and shortly after, Tecumseh's death.

I liked Billy as a character. I disliked the author equating, through Billy, the Roman catholic God (Billy is taught by some Jesuit missionaries) with the Great Spirit of the Indians. Tecumseh seemed both larger than life and unaccountably foolish at the same time (why did he tolerate the continued presence and influence of his treacherous brother?).

I thought the book did not live up to the promise of its cover. I will neither steer my girls toward reading it, nor deny them permission to read it.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

How Civilizations Die (And How Islam Is Dying, Too), by David P. Goldman

Wow. What a book. This is the must read of 2012. This is the book I'll be shouting about from the rooftops, "Read Goldman!"

Mr. Goldman covers so much territory in this book. The conclusions he draws are pointed. His analysis is persuasive. His evidence exhaustive. People need to read him, either to heed his warnings, or to refute his thinking.

He explains the fundamental difference between Islam on the one hand and Judaism and Christianity on the other, and why that fundamental difference has led to the rights of individuals being enshrined in and protected by the law in the West, but not in Muslim lands. He also explains how that fundamental difference has allowed Christianity and Judaism to interact with modernity without falling apart, but doesn't allow Islam to do so.

He explains that, contra to the predictions of some, most Islamic countries are in a demographic death spiral, that these Islamic countries recognize that, and that this death spiral renders them more dangerous. They have nothing to lose.

He ponders the importance of culture, and why some people give up the will to live and display that by not producing the next generation.

He discusses the Three Great Extinctions, and how we're currently witnessing the Fourth.

He outlines the history of the Thirty Years' War, and talks about the often-ignored aspect of widespread cannibalism during that time in Europe.

He suggests that America adopt a foreign policy which he calls 'Augustinian Realism.'

I cannot highly enough recommend this book. If I can influence your choice of just one book this year, it would be this book.

Adam of the Road, by Elizabeth Janet Gray

I really enjoyed reading Adam of the Road to my children. They enjoyed it as well. I was impressed with the scope of the work.

It follows Adam for about a year. It opens with Adam in school, his faithful dog Nick being cared for by a local widow woman, waiting for his father, Roger, to pick him and Nick up. His father comes and they set off on the road together. Along the way, however, Nick gets stolen and Adam and Roger get separated when searching for Nick.

Many enduring themes of literature come into play, such as the odyssey, and the centrality of home, which in this book is represented by Adam's father (being minstrels their home is the road).

The author conveyed a lot of information about life in England in the late-13th century, and she did so naturally. There were only a couple places where it seemed that the story strained a bit in order to cover that information. Several historical personages and events are woven into the tale.

Adam was a likable and believable 11-year-old boy, hopeful, boastful, kind-hearted, so pleased with his dog Nick that he can't understand that some other people prefer other animals to dogs, naive but not entirely inexperienced. This book is not full of the sort of character which I gather is a common sort in YA fiction these days: dark and full of angst.

I would highly recommend this book to anyone who reads in this genre. It well-deserved the Newberry medal it was awarded.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Essays, Civil and Moral, by Francis Bacon

I like the essay form, and when I read a collection of essays I always think to myself that I need to read more.

Bacon wrote some essays which (in my opinion) have little value, such as the one in which he sets out a rather detailed plan for the garden of a prince.

He also wrote essays which have an enduring value, such as his famous one about education, number L 'Of Studies.' "Reading maketh a full man; conference a ready man; and writing an exact man.'

I think my favorite essay was number LVI, 'Of Judicature,' which begins: "Judges ought to remember that their office is jus dicere, and not jus dare; to interpret law, and not to make law, or give law."

Many of his essays are thought-provoking and worthy of consideration.

My Favorite Reads of 2011

I'm having too much fun making lists!

In no particular order, but helpfully divided between fiction and non-fiction:

1. Penelope Wilcock's The Hawk and the Dove trilogy. This one definitely makes it onto my TBReR (To Be ReRead).

2. Sibella Giorello's mysteries. I can't wait for her next release.

3. The Winged Watchman, by Hilda van Stockum. This and the next title compete for best children's book read of the year. This book is set in Holland during WWII and follows one family for a year. I cried at the end. This is one of those books which has every listener, and the reader, begging for more.

4. The Wonder Clock, by Howard Pyle. Luxurious language for fanciful tales.

5. True Grit, by Charles Portis. A lot more fun than I anticipated, with nice antiquated language.

6. Jonathan Strange and Mister Norrell, by Susannah Clarke. A marvelous, magical story; truly remarkable for a debut novel.

7. The Three-Arched Bridge, Ismail Kadare. Also on my TBReR. Creepy, and sticks with you, but also thought-provoking. I'll be keeping my eyes open for other Kadare books.

8. The Last Dickens, by Matthew Pearl. Thrilling mystery.

1. Manning Up, by Kay Hymowitz. An important look at how feminism has harmed boys, has kept them from becoming men, and how that has affected such institutions as marriage.

2. In the Land of Invisible Women, by Qanta Ahmed, M.D. I like the insider/outsider perspective and the view into an exotic society.

3. Super Freakonomics, by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner. Explanations of human behavior, which are sometimes unexpected, sometimes humorous, and always interesting. Freakonomics is now on my TBR.

4. Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child, by Anthony Esolen. A good read for parents and teachers, and anyone who regularly influences children.

5. The Mind's Eye, by Oliver Sacks. Have you ever wondered what it's like to be blind? Or not to recognize faces?

6. Factory Girls, by Leslie T. Chang. Eye-opening account of life in modern China.

7. Glorious Freedom, by Richard Sibbes (I think I've said enough about this one.)

8. The Horse That Leaps through Clouds, by Eric Enno Tamm. Another eye-opening account of life in the China of today, but also in the China of a century ago.

9. The Long Walk, by Slavomir Rawicz. I don't know what to make of the conflicting accounts of the veracity of this story, but it does seem safe to say that even if this particular book is not actually true, that it resembles true stories of the time.

10. Ina May's Guide to Childbirth, by Ina May Gaskin. This is hands down the best book on childbirth I've ever read.

11. Dead Aid, by Dambisa Moyo. This one changed my thinking about what ails Africa.

Monday, January 2, 2012

On How I Decide What to Read

This is in response to a question a friend asked me on facebook.

I do not research bestseller lists. I eschew bestseller lists.

Many of the books I read I read because of friends. I have one friend who frequently passes on books to me which she enjoyed but doesn't have room to keep. I Dreamed of Africa, by Kuki Gallmann was one such book. This friend loaned me The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, by Oliver Sacks. Now I search out Sacks's works.

I have a couple friends who loan books to me, and make recommendations to me. Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child, by Anthony Esolen was loaned to me.

One friend (the same, actually) introduced me to the whole idea of book blogs, and I now follow a few thanks to her. This is one of them:  And this is another:  And I write one, thanks to her. :-}

Some books I read because I have set myself a course of studies. Plato's Dialogs, for instance.

Some I read because I'm familiar with the author's other work. After America comes to mind. I first read Mark Steyn on National Review Online, then I read America Alone, then I put After America on hold at the library.

Some I read because I'm in the library and something about the book calls to me. Read My Hips, both for the title and the cover picture. I judge books by their covers.

A New Road to Serfdom by Daniel Hannan came home from the library with me because I was familiar with Hannan from the clip of his speech which went viral on youtube a couple years back.

I can't visit a library without coming home laden with books I can't wait to read.

Some authors and titles come up again and again. Thus Wendell Berry is on my To Be Read list.

And for all my reading, my TBR list grows and grows and grows. In fact, reading a book seems to add other books to my list. I read Factory Girls because Manning Up mentioned it, and it sounded interesting.

How could I forget? I buy and read some books because of the Kindle Daily Deal. eye of the god by Ariel Allison was one.