"A book, too, can be a star, a living fire to lighten the darkness, leading out into the expanding universe.” ― Madeleine L'Engle
Saturday, February 28, 2009
Product Description(from Amazon.Com)
In the third of the best-selling Cape Refuge series, mayoral candidate Ben Jackson seems to have the election locked. But when Jackson's wife turns up murdered, things begin to shift. Was this the act of a jealous lover? A dangerous client? Or is this all about the election?
This book kept me reading to find out who done it. And of course I had no idea. Miss Blackstock kept me guessing clear to the end. And what a shock it was!! You'll have to read this book to find out who killed Lisa Jackson. All the charcters from the beginning book are there. All the turmoil in their lives, the mystery of who killed Lisa Jackson, and some romance thrown in. Wonderful book!
Week 1 The Book Thief - Markus Zusak
Week 2 The Martian Chronicles - Ray Bradbury
Week 3 In Defense of Food - Michael Pollan
Week 4 The Lovely Bones - Alice Sebold
Week 5 High Noon - Nora Roberts
Week 6 The Good Earth - Pearl S. Buck
Week 7 The Secret Life of Bees - Sue Monk Kidd
Week 8 River's Edge - Terri Blackstock
Thursday, February 26, 2009
Week 5 (I think): The Foxfire Book
I grew up on the eastern edge of Appalachia (properly pronounced apple-at-cha, as in "I'm gonna throw an apple at ya") and learned all sorts of useful things like how to make apple cider with a press, which types of trees make good fence posts (locust) and what sassafras root (recently discovered to be a carcinogen) looks like and how to make it into tea.
Now I can say that I also know how to make soap, build a log cabin correctly, and skin various animals, not that I am likely to try that. The mountain people of Appalachia fascinate me. Their self-sufficiency and artistry is amazing. Sitting down with this book is almost like having a long conversation with my great-grandparents and reminds me that people once made/did all these things as a matter of course, a matter of survival.
These books have a little bit of everything, cooking, building cabins and stills, dressing a hog, hunting stories and interviews. Entertaining and informative at the same time, and for me, comforting. All those people who forgot to ask their great-grandparents about the proper way to hide a still have a place to turn.
Sunday, February 22, 2009
Week 7's book: Pattern Recognition
When my brother found out I was doing the “52 Books in 52 Weeks” challenge, he sent me a list of novels he thought I’d enjoy. This was at the top of the stack.
I’ve read Neuromancer, of course, and appreciated (as opposed to “enjoyed”) it. Gibson’s other books have frustrated me. Have you ever had a serious conversation with someone whose accent is difficult to follow, or tried to listen to a dinner-party companion in the middle of a very noisy restaurant? You can follow the gist of what’s being said; you get the main points; but there are large stretches of time when you just keep smiling and nodding, waiting for the next audible words. Islands of meaning rise up out of the inaudible fog that obscures the rest. You’re mostly adrift in the mist.
That’s my experience when I read Gibson. Usually I have to reread two or three times before I can follow him. I don’t like this. It makes me feel stupid.
That sense was present but muted during my reading of Pattern Recognition. The book isn’t cyberpunk (a genre I don’t think I really have an affinity for), but Gibson’s still got his allusive, present-tense, real-time, proper-name thing going, and it doesn’t take much of that before I start struggling. (”Still doing heels, she checks her watch, a Korean clone of an old-school Casio G-Shock, its plastic case sanded free of logos with a scrap of Japanese micro-abrasive. She is due in Blue Ant’s Soho offices in fifty minutes.”)
Plus, I have absolutely no idea why Gibson decided to drag 9/11 into his plot. It didn’t fit when he introduced it; it still wasn’t fitting at the book’s end. It was totally extraneous to the novel’s world.
Despite that I was drawn into the plot (eventually; it helped that I got stuck this week on an airplane to Indianapolis with nothing else to read). To put this in a spoiler-free fashion: Gibson’s writing, in a way that strikes me as very personal to him, about the impossibility of existing in today’s world as a solitary, independent artist. You can create all you want; you can lock yourself in your lair, your studio, your retreat, your chicken-shed, and turn out the most innovative, beautiful, gripping stuff in the world; but if you don’t have an enormous, powerful, and very rich publicity machine behind you, no one will ever see/hear/read what you do. And the most effective publicity machines of all are those with enough money and clout to disguise marketing ploys as spontaneous interest.
Which I know to be true. It was a true and heart-felt and very depressing read.
THE SECRET LIFE OF BEES
Product Description(from Amazon.com)
"The bees came the summer of 1964, the summer I turned fourteen and my life went spinning off into a whole new orbit, and I mean whole new orbit. Looking back on it now, I want to say the bees were sent to me. I want to say they showed up like the angel Gabriel appearing to the Virgin Mary, setting events in motion I could never have guessed." So begins the story of Lily Melissa Owens, a plucky girl, rich in humor despite heart wrenching circumstances. Living on a peach farm in South Carolina with her harsh, unyielding father, her entire life has been shaped around one devastating, though blurred, memory- the afternoon her mother was killed. Four at the time, she remembers innocently picking up the gun. And, she has her father's eyewitness account of the gun firing. People remind her it was an accident, yet she's inhabited by a torturous guilt. Lily's only real companion is Rosaleen, a tender, but fierce-hearted black woman who cooks, cleans and acts as her "stand-in mother."
South Carolina in 1964 is a place and time of seething racial divides. When violence explodes one summer afternoon, and Rosaleen is arrested and beaten, Lily is desperate, not only to save Rosaleen, but to flee a life she can no longer endure. Calling upon her colorful wits and uncommon daring, she breaks Rosaleen out of jail and the two of them take off, runaway-fugitives conjoined in an escape that quickly turns into Lily's quest for the truth about her mother's life.
Following a trail left ten years earlier, Lily and Rosaleen end up in the home of three bee-keeping sisters. No ordinary women, the sisters revere a Black Madonna and tend a unique brand of female spirituality that reaches back to the time of slavery. As Lily's life becomes deeply entwined with theirs, she is irrevocably altered. In a mesmerizing world of bees and honey, amid the strength and power of wise women, Lily journeys through painful secrets and shattering betrayals, finding her way to the single thing her heart longs for most.
I loved this book!! It is so full of powerful love and family! Even though Lily lost her mother at an early age and an unfortunate accident, she has found another mother, actually several mothers. Lily also learns about a different kind of religion than her own. I was really surprised by the ending of this book. I never thought it would end that way. I am planning on watching the movie this weekend. I just hope it doesn't disappoint me as movies usually don't do the books justice.
Friday, February 20, 2009
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
Back Cover: "It is 1939. Nazi Germany. The country is holding its breath. Death has never been busier, and will become busier still. By her brother's graveside, Liesel Meminger's life is changed when she picks up a single object, partially hidden in the snow. It is The Grave Digger's Handbook, left there by accident, and it is her first act of book thievery. So begins a love affair with books and words, as Liesel, with the help of her accordion-playing foster father, learns to read. Soon she is stealing books from Nazi book-burnings, the mayor's wife's library, wherever there are books to be found. But these are dangerous times. When Liesel's foster family hides a jew in their basement, Liesel's world is both opened up and closed down."
Have you ever read a book that captures your attention and when you have read the last page, you sit there, so filled by the words, the images, the characters, you don't want to read anything else. It reminded me of Corrie Ten Boom's The Hiding Place and The Diary of Anne Frank while reading the story. I finished The Book Thief last night and have to say it was a very unusual, yet interesting book. Very powerful. I can't say it was an easy read, because the subject matter is not an easy one. It wasn't a book I would ordinarily pick to read and chose it as one of the books for Dewey's Books Reading Challenge. None of the books I chose from her archive of reviews are books I ordinarily would read. But I'm glad I did.
How to describe this story or say what hasn't already been said in numerous reviews? The story is narrated by Death and takes place during the era of Hilter. I am used to reading stories from the jewish perspective from that period such as the Zion Chronicles by Bodie Thoene. This story is not only from Death's perspective, but Liesel's, too and provides you a look into the lives of the Germans and how they suffered under Hilter's rule. When death introduces the beginning of Liesel's story, she is traveling with her mother and brother to Munich where the two kids are going to be left at a foster home. During the journey Liesel's brother dies and Death comes to take his soul. Liesel's mother leaves her with the foster car authorities and is never or heard from again. Liesel is taken to live with her new foster parents, Hans and Rose Hubermann in Molching where life for ten year Liesel is changed forever. They end up hiding a young Jewish man named Max in their basement because Max's father saved Hans life during WWI.
There are so many nuances to this story that it would be impossible to explain. Zusak manages to make an ugly storyinteresting with words that provide vivid images.
"Upon her arrival, you could still see the bite marks of snow on her hands and the frosty blood on her fingers. Everything about her was undernourished. Wirelike shins. Coat hanger arms. She did not produce it easily, but when it came, she had a starving smile." (pg 31)
"The juggling comes to an end now, but the struggling does not. I have Liesel Meminger in one hand, Max Vandenburg in the other. Soon, I will clap them together. Just give me a few pages. (pg 168
"She didn't dare to look up, but she could feel their frightened eyes hanging on to her as she hauled the words in and breathed them out. A voice played the notes inside her. This, it said, is your accordion. The sound of the turning page carved them in half. Liesel read on." (pg 381)
The Book Thief is a young adult book meant for 9th graders and above. It is an extraordinary and unique way to expose young men and women and adults too, to what life was like during the Hitler era. I highly recommend it.
Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf - Books for Young Readers
Wednesday, February 18, 2009
Hercule Poirot's Christmas by Agatha Christie
Front Cover Flap: "It's Christmas and Simon Lee has demanded that his four sons and their wives return home for the holiday. But Lee, a wealthy and tyrannical patriarch, has anything but a heartwarming family fathering in mind. He bedevils each of his sons with barbed insults, lavishes attention on his attractive, long-lost granddaughter, and finally announces he is cutting off his sons' allowances and changing his will. So when the old man is found lying in a pool of blood on Christmas Eve, there is no lack of suspects. Did Lee's taunts push one of the sons to a desperate act of murder? Or was the killer really after the fortune in uncut diamonds Lee kept locked away in his safe? And how did the murderer escape from the locked room where Lee was found dead? The intrepid Belgian detective Hercule Poirot is called in to investigate and quickly finds that nearly everyone present had a reason to kill the old man. However, Poirot is determined to solve this chilling holiday crime before more blood is spilled."
Don't all the crimes seem to take place behind a locked door?
Hercule Poirot's Christmas is an enjoyable read. Poirot is visiting Colonel Johnson, chief constable for Middleshire and is asked to provide his assistance in helping the local police solve the murder of Simon Lee. Poirot always seem to be in the right place at the right time to provide his valuable knowledge. The four sons and their wives are all acting suspicious. As poirot ferrets out who is lying and why, all he has to do is stand out in the garden. One at the time, the wives all come to him trying to protect their husbands and provide some explanation for why they all disliked Simon Lee. After all, he was a rather mean old man who loved stirring up trouble and playing one brother off the other.
As convuluted as Agatha Christie's books get, I'll just leave you with this.
"Poirot said, with a sudden ring of authority in his voice: "I have had to show you the possibilities! These are the things that might have happened! Which of them actually did happen we can only tell by passing from the outside appearance to the inside reality...."
He paused and then said slowly: We must come back, as I said before, to the character of Simeon Lee himself...." (excerpt pg 250)
Tuesday, February 17, 2009
Books 8, 9
This book was an interesting glimpse into the "what if" of seeing God face to face. For anyone who has ever asked "Why did this have to happen?" about a situation in their lives, the main character of the book, Mack, speaks your own heart as he struggles with the violent loss of his little girl. Can you imagine looking into the face of God and asking Him why? Can you imagine what that face could look like?
A friend recommended this so strongly to me, I had to try it. I saw it in the hands of many of the youth at church and heard it discussed several times. I'd heard nothing but positive things about it until after I read it. Apparently, it is a very controversial bit of literature. I was surprised that so many were opposed to it. The friend that recommended it to me said that her sister, raised with the same upbringing and truly her best friend, hated the book....that she found it offensive. I found it interesting that two gals I find so similar would disagree so strongly on it.
The main source of argument with this book seems to be with the way the Trinity is represented. In the story, Mack meets God at an abandoned shack where his daughter was killed 3 years earlier. Not knowing what to expect, he prepares to knock on the door when it is opened.....by a large African American woman. I found this hysterical, but I can see where some might be shocked. It must be noted that God is not portrayed as a woman. In the story, Mack was severely abused by his father as a child and being angry at both his dad and God, was not likely to respond well to a father figure image of God. Later, when his relationship with God and with his father has healed, God appears as an older man with a ponytail.
No, the book is not conventional. But it offers many interesting perspectives and lots of thoughts to ponder. It isn't a book of heresy. It's a book of what-ifs. It is not gospel. It is a book asking "what do you think the gospel meant by this."
I've heard some critics say that it isn't well written. I honestly didn't find much fault with the writing. No, the author did not explore deeply into descriptions. Instead, he brought the focus straight to the dialogue. The book was all about the dialogue....thought provoking dialogue that leads people to question what they think they know and find out what God has actually said.
Last Light - A
A mind candy Christian fiction read for me, and it was delicious. The story starts right away with all electrical power going out everywhere. Everything, even watches and cars, stops without explanation. The book focuses on one family, especially the dad, and their experience. This is the first book of a series. It entertained as it blended murder & mystery with attitude adjustments and restoration of relationships....primarily a relationship with God.
Sunday, February 15, 2009
Week 6’s book: A Brief History of Pacifism: From Jesus to Tolstoy, by Peter Brock
Brock starts out with this assertion: “An unconditional rejection of war, so far as we know, arose first among the early Christians….True, the idea of peace and nonviolence can be found earlier in the history of man as well as in other cultures…for instance, among Indians and Chinese and the indigenous peoples of North America. But nowhere else do we find ‘pacifist’ ideas leading to…the refusal of military service as the ultimate expression of a principled repudiation of violence.”
Which is fascinating in a couple of ways. First: is that really true? If someone can contradict it (with proof, please), I’d be interested to hear about it. Second: the biggest question I have about principled pacifism is wrapped up right in this sentence. The “refusal of military service” can only be carried out by an individual who is rejecting a government’s demand. And this is what I continually come back to: Can there be such a thing as a pacifist government?
I tend to think not; I’ve just worked my way through centuries of military history, and it is abundantly clear that governments which do not fight for survival die. Violence–defensive violence, at the very least–is essential to survival. Brock’s book points this out, several times, in its pairing of the rejection of war with the rejection of the entire apparatus of the state. “The Czech Brethren,” he writes about one pacifist movement, “regarded the state…as an unchristian institution and renounced war as an unchristian occupation.” Pacificist are, in Brock’s history, consistently portrayed as separatists, men and women who turn away from any involvement with the structures of state and nation in order to hold to their principles.
I have no problem with this as an individual stance. But if a principle is true, won’t it apply to states and nations, as well as to individuals?
Not pacifism, according to Brock. Invariably, pacifist movements forbid their adherents to hold office, because that might require them to wage war or to enforce violent punishments on criminals.
I am drawn to this philosophy. But I can’t help wondering: Are these individual pacifists (please excuse the metaphor) moral parasites, holding to a principle which they can only assert because others–those who do not share their beliefs–are willing to fight in order to hold the framework of nations (the nations in which the pacifists live) together?
Or is pacifism, by its nature, a movement which will always exist on the fringes of the established order, forcing that order to answer for its decisions? And is it morally defensible to insist that something is 1) true and 2) incapable of being applied on a national, global scale? I am distressed by this question…as an individual, as a voter in a democratic society, as a historian.
Or is this an incredibly basic and stupid question? And if it is, can it be answered succinctly, so that I can struggle with more essential questions? And what are those?
No answers, this time around. Just questions and more questions.
Saturday, February 14, 2009
We received an Award from Think! A program designed to teach kids to think outside the box. They say "We love to read and this has been a great resource for us!" Thank you so much - it is very much appreciated.
There are rules that go with the award:
There are rules...
- *List 6 things that make you happy.
- *Pass the award on to 5 other bloggers
- *Link back to the person who gave you the award.
- *Link to the people you are passing it on to and leave them a comment to let them know.
Things that make us happy
Nakia: My daughters laughing, My husband, The beach, The smell of Crayola crayons, New books and Autumn.
Kidshappen: My hubby, my family, when my children actually listen, plenty of sleep, peace & quiet, and a clean house.
Sojourner: spending one on one time with my hubby, hearing my son pull safely into the garage after he has been out driving somewhere alone, chocolate, reading in the bath or while floating in the pool, babies laughing and browsing in a bookstore.
LadyQ: Chocolate, babies, sleeping children, my RSS feed reader, drawing with my oldest and mopped floors!
Beth in Central TX: My husband, hugs from my oldest son, listening to all of the ideas from my middle son, cuddling with my youngest son, fixing healthful meals to eat and keeping up with the laundry.
Julia: my daugher's imagination, my son's sense of humour, my youngest daughter's wacky personality, Coke (as in the beverage), chocolate and the sunset.
Rosie: Good food, markets, happy kids, kitchen gadgets, books and finishing craft projects.
Kristiana: Falling snow, dove dark chocolates, squeezy hugs from my boys, old maps, cable knit turtleneck sweaters and my dear husband doing the dishes for me.
Nan in Mass: Peacewalking with the Nipponzan Myohoji, mayors for Peace, my family, water in the wind, fur in the sunlight and my guitar.
Luann in ID: Seeing husband's car come up the driveway, spending time with my kids, reading a good book, hiking in the mountains, snuggling under a down comforter and serving a good meal to a crowd (sometimes just my family is the crowd )
Danybug: praying, everything about my children, laughing with my husband, books, delicious desserts, running ans warmth of the sun. Oops that's seven... guess I am really happy!
Instead of just 5 bloggers, I am passing this award on everyone: contributors, participants and readers. You know who you are. You all rock!
‘Napoleon’s Buttons’ by Penny Le Couteur and Jay Burreson
THE GOOD EARTH
A poignant tale about the life and labors of a Chinese farmer during the sweeping reign of the country's last emperor.
I didn't know this was a trilogy of books. My library book club selected Sons by Pearl S. Buck last month. That's when I found out about it being a trilogy by Miss Buck.
This was a very good book. I had heard of this book over the years and always wanted to read it. But never got around to it for some reason or another.
This story follows Wang Lung and his obsession with the land. Wang Lung is a farmer in China. As Wang Lung marries O-Lan, they sit up their house. The children start arriving. Then famine hits. Wang Lung and O-Lan must go to the southern cities to live and make a living some way. As the revolution starts they are lucky and find silver and jewels. They go back to their home and get their farm running again. As Wang Lung buys more land and has more food, he becomes rich. He is looked upon as a lord. Never again does Wang Lung have to worry about not having enough silver, food or the land to grow food on. His one thought is to have the land always. Land is more precious than silver to Wang Lung.
Thursday, February 12, 2009
Week 6 - Book 7
Today, Week 6 starts in the quest to read 52 books in 52 weeks and should have you starting book # 7. If you need suggestions about what to read, head on over to the Well Trained Mind forums and see what everyone else is reading
Curious about the previous weeks.
Week 0 - Book 1
Week 1 - Book 2
Week 2 - Book 3
Week 3 - Book 4
Week 4 - Book 5
Week 5 - Book 6
Wednesday, February 11, 2009
Three Cups of Tea
“If we truly want a legacy of peace for our children, we need to understand that this is a war that will ultimately be won with books, not with bombs.” - Greg Mortenson, “He Fights Terror with Books,”April 6, 2003
My 11th book of 2009 is Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson. This book describes the philanthropic efforts of an American mountain climber who was rescued and nursed back to health in 1993 by a Pakistani village after his attempt to summit K2 in the Himalayan Mountains. Upon leaving this village, he promised to return and build the village a much needed school. Not only did he return to build that school, as of 2008 he has built 78 schools in both Pakistan and Afghanistan, serving 28,000 students. To understand what he had to overcome to be so successful, reading the book is essential.
Reading this book prompted me to learn more about Islam, Pakistan and Afghanistan. Sure, in America, we hear every day how horrible it is there and how all the people are America-haters on jihad - or war against Christians, to put it very simply. This could not be farther from the truth. In Pakistan, family comes first. Well, second, I guess, after God, known as Allah. But family is much more sacred there then here. And, Pakistan citizens do not support the terrorist extremists such as the Taliban nor Al-Qadea. This is one reason why schools like Mortenson's are so critical. If not given the chance to attend schools teaching academic subjects, children in poor, rural areas can more easily be recruited by the extremist groups to attend madrassas, where terrorist training sometimes poses as education.
While I firmly believe that Mortenson is doing a good thing and helping Pakistan immensely, while reading this book I also had to question whether such modern influence is always for the best. Who says that our way is better? Even in his book, Mortenson quotes passages from a book he'd read - Ancient Futures by Helena Norberg-Hodge. "...Western develpoment workers should not blindly impose modern improvements on ancient cultures... industrialized countries have lessons to learn from people like those in the Himalayan mountains about building sustainable societies. Community and a close relationship with the land can enrich human life beyond all comparison with material wealth or technological sophistication. Another way is possible." Norberg-Hodge also writes in her book (quoting the king of Bhutan in the Himalayas) "...the true measure of a nation's success is not gross national product, but gross national happiness". (Reading things like this really makes you wonder if America is as successful as it wants to believe, doesn't it?)
I guess it all comes down to education. The modern world is here to stay. Hopefully, the small villages will be able to embrace the modern without the heartache that is often present in affluent America. If anything, America has more to learn from Pakistan then we can teach them. Thanks to Greg Mortenson for paving the way.
Other Amazing links:
The Girl Effect - don't miss this one!
Pennies for Peace
Central Asia Institute
Life of Pi by Yann Martel
Life of Pi is an oddly fascinating tale of a young man named Piscine Molitor Patel. You can well imagine what type of nicknames the boys in school called Piscine. (say it to yourself a few times) Growing tired of the teasing, when Piscine starts secondary middle school, he is determine to reinvent himself. When roll is called he marches up to the blackboard and writes.
Publisher: Harvest Books
May 1, 3003
Monday, February 9, 2009
Week 5 book, a little late....Death in Holy Orders
I spent a good bit of Week 5 in a hospital with a family member. All is well and we’re more or less back to normal now, but I’ll tell you something about hospitals–it’s impossible to read anything serious when you’re there. Even if you’re not the sick one. So I decided to take advantage of one of the “52 Books in 52 Weeks” rules and reread a mystery I first read several years ago: P. D. James’s Death in Holy Orders.
(I also read about three-quarters of an epic fantasy by George R. R. Martin. It’s been years since I wanted to read an epic fantasy, and I’m not sure why this one was so satisfying, except that it was on my Kindle, which was in my purse, and I was in the mood for. Didn’t realise until later that George R. R. Martin was one of the writers for Beauty & the Beast–does anyone remember this series? I adored it when I was eighteen because it was SO ROMANTIC. Now I just want arms like Linda Hamilton’s.)
I’m a big James fan, and I enjoyed this book, but I do have a few random observations which are less than glowing…
The Baronness’s age is showing. Every one of her sympathetic characters, no matter what age, race, or gender they are, at some point goes into an internal monologue about how 1) no one in school learns how to read or write properly any more and/or 2) all that PC stuff about racial inequality is SO overblown–there’s no such thing as prejudice any more. Even more jarring is her highly sympathic portrayal of a priest convicted of sexual abuse of choir boys (”It wasn’t really abuse,” one of the characters explains, “just fondling, nothing violent”) and her obvious disapproval of the church authorities who insisted on prosecuting him (they had a “vendetta” and ruined his life by forcing him to confess). AGGHH. Ick.
Second: It’s astounding how highly rationalised the Church of England appears to be, in the world of this book. It’s like a tightly structured corporation with a set of rituals that have to be performed at certain times and places just for the purpose of keeping things orderly…and apparently for no other purpose. James shoehorns into her plot a letter from Pontius Pilate to an underling about the arrangements to dispose of the body of Jesus, a letter which appears to be in the book solely so that her most intelligent priest can say something like, “For one who is sure of the presence of the living Christ, what difference do earthly bones make?” (Paul might have something to say about that.) When I was reading Death in Holy Orders I kept thinking about Susan Howatch’s Starbridge series–a highly enjoyable set of potboilers about the Church of England which tries, more or less unsuccessfully, to convince us that all of those weird supernatural things that happen in churches can be explained by way of Freud.
Third: I’ve always enjoyed those English-manor-house closed-circle mysteries where you have to figure out who, among a limited number of suspects, is most likely to have committed the crime. That’s essentially what Death in Holy Orders is, with the manor house transformed into a theological seminary on a remote spit of land. But this time I found myself growing a little impatient with the whole setup. I can’t even remember, now that I’ve finished it, who did the first murder, and I don’t really care. I think that James’s less conventional mysteries, like Innocent Blood with its themes of revenge and need-based love, or Original Sin, which I’ve always liked, maybe because of the whole murder-your-editor theme (no offense to any editors who may be reading this), are more engaging.
I’ll post about the next book later on; back to nonfiction for this week.
Sunday, February 8, 2009
Book 3 (for me) The High King by Lloyd Alexander
The High King is the last of The Chronicles of Prydain which tell the story of Taran, an assistant pig-keeper who may be more than he seems. There are five books in the series. The first is The Book Of Three, though many are most familiar with the second book The Black Cauldron. Others are The Castle of Llyr and Taran Wanderer. The books are loosely inspired by Welsh mythology and have maps (at least my old editions do) which is of vital importance in a work of fantasy. I read them as a child and was rereading them this week in order to decide whether to have my oldest read them for a book report or just offer them to him as "good books." I concentrated on The High King because it was the only one which takes place when the characters are adults, and I thought that might make my son disinclined to finish the series.
Alexander won the John Newbery Award for The High King and it is very good, though you get the feeling that the award is really more for the volume of work rather than the merits of The High King. The Black Cauldron was a previous Newbery runner-up.
The series is not on a par with Tolkien, Lewis or even Susan Cooper, but is very enjoyable. There are characters that grated on my nerves as an adult that I remember being favorites as a child and others, whom I had thought dull, took on new life. That seems to me to show a certain strength in the work. I was able to take a new more mature enjoyment from the books. I'll offer them up and see if my son is interested and if he isn't, I'll probably read them aloud.
Saturday, February 7, 2009
WEEK #6 - THE PAGAN STONE
From the inside flap:
BLOOD AND DEATH, FIRE AND MADNESS..........loom over the town of Hawkins Hollow. Every seven years, the seventh day of the seventh month portends seven days of violence and mayhem. This year, the darkness is stronger than ever. And only friendship and family, promise and passion can stop it.....
This is the 3rd book of a trilogy by Nora Roberts. The first book, Blood Brothers saw the beginning of the violence and mayhem that was started by 3 boys, born on the same day, same hour, same town. The second book The Hollow is about the three women who come into their lives and help with all the violence and mayhem. The third book, The Pagan Stone is the finish of the blood and death, fire and madness. Cal, Fox, Gage, Quinn, Layla, and Cybil all fight to keep their lives and the town of Hawkins Hollow alive.
Books I have read so far:
Week 1 - The Book Thief - Markus Zusak
Week 2 - The Martin Chronicles - Ray Bradbury
Week 3 - In Defense of Food - Michael Pollan
Week 4 - The Lovely Bones - Alice Sebold
Week 5 - High Noon - Nora Roberts
Week 6 - The Pagan Stone - Nora Roberts
"Find a review on your blog posted sometime this week of a book you’re reading or a book you’ve read. The review doesn’t have to be a formal sort of thing. You can just write your thoughts on a particular book, a few ideas inspired by reading the book, your evaluation, quotations, whatever. Now post a link here to the specific post where you’ve written your book review. Don’t link to your main blog page because this kind of link makes it hard to find the book review, especially when people drop in later after you’ve added new content to your blog. In parentheses after your name, add the title of the book you’re reviewing."
Give it a try! Leave a link from your review on this blog or from your own blog.
Friday, February 6, 2009
Oswald Chambers, Abandoned to God
Over the past 3 weeks I have listened to the audio-book of a biography of Oswald Chambers. It was the free resource available at Christian Audio last month. Oswald Chambers: Abandoned to God: The Life Story of the Author of My Utmost for His Highest by David McCasland is an inspiring book and the reader was great. A slight British accent for the narration and a slight Scottish burr when quoting Oswald Chambers.
I find audio-books difficult, I lose focus and forget to pay attention. This book was a great audio-book, and it kept my attention. My argument this time is that I heard things I wanted to write down and meditate on but couldn't given where I was and that the recording just kept going.
The book covers his birth, early years in Scotland, his time in London where he accepted Christ as his savior. Then the years when he struggled to understand what God would have him do. Oswald was 27 before he had a real purpose, but he was used by God even before that. I find this reassuring in a world where we should know what we want when we enter college at 18 and then do it well starting in our early 20's. Oswald studied and worked but he spent much of his time and energy growing in his walk with God, seeking His will, and patiently waiting for guidance.
Here are some of the main points I did capture. One of Oswald's sayings was that he wanted to spend and be spent only for God. His work wasn't just a job, it was his life and God was present in everything he did. Related to this was his belief that he should give to whoever asks. He knew that people would take advantage of him, but that was God's to handle. If Oswald gave when he was asked, then God would provide for Oswald. And this is how it worked every single time.
After he married (into his 30's) he and his wife often had no definite plan for the future, but they trusted that God would provide if they only followed His will. He preached around England and Scotland, then they opened a Bible College in London, and God always provided.
I learned quite a bit about his life, including his trips to the US and his time spent in Japan. Then when WWI broke out, he went to Egypt working with the YMCA providing places for the soldiers to eat, socialize, and (at Oswald's camp at least) to pray and hear the Word spoken and preached.
One way he comforted coworkers and friends, especially while in Egypt during the war, was to tell them not worry so about understanding God's ways. To know that God is love, get deep in that love, and trust God. He felt is was important to know the character of God and work from there.
After Oswald's death, the book continues with a very good description of the work his wife undertook to publish his talks and sermons from the Bible College, his traveling preaching time, and the time in Egypt. They were quite a couple and she continued his legacy even after he was gone.I like a biography that covers the facts, the thoughts, the development of the person's worldview, and how they lived out that worldview. This was a very satisfying biography about an inspiring man.
Thursday, February 5, 2009
We seek him here, we seek him there
‘The Scarlet Pimpernel’  by Baroness Orczy
‘The Scarlet Pimpernel’ opens theatrically on the ghastliness of Paris in 1792. Hundred’s of aristocrats are being arrested and guillotined every day, but somehow many escape the vengeful hoards of republicans. A group of bold Englishmen, led by a mystery man, is reputed to be behind their ingenious escapes through the gates of Paris.
Back in England, we are introduced to some of the gentlemen of this audacious band of nineteen. We are introduced too to Lady Marguerite Blakeney, a young French woman who has a shadow cast over her reputation. She is rumoured to have betrayed her friends to the guillotine and her brother is reputed to be a republican. She is married to Sir Percy Blakeney, the richest man in England who is apparently a bit of a buffoon despite his well-dressed and grand stature.
But nothing, we learn, is as it seems. The book is full of amusing irony, if you have seen through the disguises, and intrigue when you haven’t.
We seek him here, we seek him there,
Those Frenchies seek him everywhere.
Is he in heaven? – Is he in hell?
That demmed, elusive Pimpernel.
This is a fast paced novel pausing only to enjoy sumptuous scenes of the froufrou clothing and the opulence of the aristocrats.
‘Sir Percy Blakeney’s house on the river has become an historic one: palatial in its dimensions, it stands in the midst of exquisitely laid out gardens, with a picturesque terrace and frontage to the river.’
It is supposedly in Richmond overlooking the Thames near where we live and this one suits her description nicely.
Rather like Mr Darcy in 'Pride and Prejudice', Sir Percy Blakeney has a rather smouldering aloofness and, of course, lots of money and a massive house. The action and adventure are driven by a love story - Marguerite Blakeney trying to prove to her husband that she isn't the unworthy betrayer of friends and loved ones he thinks she is.
This is a book one reads for its twists and turns and less for its observations but there is a rather wonderful, clever image of a deserted supper-room after a party which will give you a good sense of the lavish feel to the book:
‘Half-empty glasses littered the table, unfolded napkins lay about, the chairs-turned towards one another in groups of twos and threes-very close to one another-in the far corners of the room, which spoke of recent whispered flirtations, over cold game-pie and champagne; there were sets of three and four chairs, that recalled pleasant, animated discussions over the latest scandal; there were chairs straight up in a row that still looked starchy, critical, acid, like antiquated dowager; there were a few isolated, single chairs, close to the table, that spoke of gourmands intent on the most recherché dishes, and others overturned on the floor, that spoke volumes on the subject of my Lord Grenville's cellars.
It was a ghostlike replica, in fact, of that fashionable gathering upstairs; a ghost that haunts every house where balls and good suppers are given; a picture drawn with white chalk on grey cardboard, dull and colourless, now that the bright silk dresses and gorgeously embroidered coats were no longer there to fill in the foreground, and now that the candles flickered sleepily in their sockets.’
I was enjoying the book enormously until a chapter near the end called ‘The Jew’. It has distressing scenes, and the language, of anti-Semitism. I had hoped this would be a wonderful book for our children to read during a study of The French Revolution and this chapter nearly killed this possibility off. However, not wishing to spoil the ending, this terrible prejudice comes back to destroy the anti-Semite in the end. As Scarlet Pimpernel says sadly:
‘I know human nature pretty well by now,’ and he uses his bitter knowledge of French anti-Semitism to trick the villain. Throughout the book Scarlet Pimpernel uses a foible of human nature known to the best magicians and tricksters. Show people what they want to believe and they will be easily fooled.
Even so, this book shouldn’t be given to a young adult without a discussion first of anti-Semitism in 19th and 20th century Europe.
‘The Scarlet Pimpernel’ is a hugely entertaining read, which, despite its dark subject matter, is lavish, funny and escapist.
Grade B (well it isn't Dickens)
I read the Hodder paperback edition 
Lorna regularly posts at Socks and Books.
Week 5 book rew.
Week 5 - Book 6
Today, Week 5 starts in the quest to read 52 books in 52 weeks and should have you starting book # 6. If you need suggestions about what to read, head on over to the Well Trained Mind forums and see what everyone else is reading.
Curious about the previous weeks.
Week 0 - Book 1
Week 1 - Book 2
Week 2 - Book 3
Week 3 - Book 4
Week 4 - Book 5
In honor of John Updike who passed away on January 27, 2009, His rules for reviewing which he wrote over 30 years ago.
"My rules," he writes, "shaped intaglio-fashion by youthful traumas at the receiving end of critical opinion, were and are:
1. Try to understand what the author wished to do, and do not blame him for not achieving what he did not attempt.
2. Give him enough direct quotation--at least one extended passage--of the book's prose so the review's reader can form his own impression, can get his own taste.
3. Confirm your description of the book with quotation from the book, if only phrase-long, rather than proceeding by fuzzy precis.
4. Go easy on plot summary, and do not give away the ending. (How astounded and indignant was I, when innocent, to find reviewers blabbing, and with the sublime inaccuracy of drunken lords reporting on a peasants' revolt, all the turns of my suspenseful and surpriseful narrative! Most ironically, the only readers who approach a book as the author intends, unpolluted by pre-knowledge of the plot, are the detested reviewers themselves. And then, years later, the blessed fool who picks the volume at random from a library shelf.)
5. If the book is judged deficient, cite a successful example along the same lines, from the author's ouevre or elsewhere. Try to understand the failure. Sure it's his and not yours?
To these concrete five might be added a vaguer sixth, having to do with maintaining a chemical purity in the reaction between product and appraiser. Do not accept for review a book you are predisposed to dislike, or committed by friendship to like. Do not imagine yourself a caretaker of any tradition, an enforcer of any party standards, a warrior in an ideological battle, a corrections officer of any kind. Never, never (John Aldridge, Norman Podhoretz) try to put the author "in his place," making him a pawn in a contest with other reviewers. Review the book, not the reputation. Submit to whatever spell, weak or strong, is being cast. Better to praise and share than blame and ban. The communion between reviewer and his public is based upon the presumption of certain possible joys in reading, and all our discrimination's should curve toward that end."
Tuesday, February 3, 2009
Book 2: The Paideia Proposal: An Educational Manifesto by Mortimer Adler
In the book, Adler outlines the ideas of the Paideia Group about the reformation of American education. The work is begun with the premise that true democracy cannot be achieved as long as there is unequal education, and that the true goal of our schools must be to teach in a way so that education will continue throughout life. The proposal outlines an educational reform based on a "basic curriculum", common to all students, K-12th grade. This curriculum is to be taught using three methodologies: didactic lectures, coaching, and discussion based on Socratic questioning. In order to spend as much time as possible on the basics, all electives and vocational training are to be eliminated from the program. One can imagine how popular this made the proposal with the shop teachers!
I found I was still intrigued. This was the work that put me on the road to classical homeschooling, working with the time I spent teaching in public schools and realizing how far from Adler's ideals the schools actually were. The Paideia Proposal is a beautiful and grand picture and Adler and the rest of the Paideia Group are vague about how it can best be implemented. Its strengths are its optimism and sheer brilliance, and its weaknesses are practical ones; how to enforce equality at school, when no other area in the students' lives reflect that equality. From the perspective of a homeschooler, the didactic lecture and the coaching I can handle, but where to find the other participants for a Socratic discussion could cause some issues!
The Paideia Proposal: A
A Girl Named Zippy by Haven Kimmel
Book #3 was "A Girl Named Zippy". It is about growing up in a VERY small town (Mooreland, IN) I thought it had some really good parts and parts that were really funny...however, it was really choppy and hard to "get into". The author did write a sequel, called "She Got Up Off The Couch: And Other Heroic Tales From Mooreland, IN". I might go back and give the sequel a try but for now I am moving on to my next book.
This book is called "Justice Hall" by Laurie King. This is the 6th book in a series about a woman named Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes. These books take place after Sherlock Holmes has been retired for a good number of years. The beginning of the series takes place when Mary is 15. I found these books delightful. The author kept Sherlock Holmes like the one we would recognize from the Original books. But I found these more entertaining than the books by Sir Author Conan Doyle.
Monday, February 2, 2009
"The Three R's" by Ruth Beechick
I was most interested in the Reading and Writing sections, but found the Math to be just as enlightening. I was able to look back and see WHY my oldest struggled in Math and why what eventually worked for her did! I have also determined to use more manipulatives with my youngest, something I did not do with my oldest. I was so caught up with what "I" did when I was in school, I tourtured my oldest to tears. If I had read this book back then, I might have saved hundreds of dollars on the 5 math programs we went through before 2nd grade.
I am also excited about my youngest's progress with reading. Ms. Beechick was very encouraging and gives a whole host of ideas for working with young ones. She is very clear in explaining the different approaches and that there is no ONE way to teach a child to read. Very encouraging to Moms who are faced with hundreds of curriculum each year GUARENTEEING success in reading. The reality for most children is, practice is what makes perfect. Not phonics, not whole words, just practice and patience on the part of the parent. I saw it with my oldest and I'm rediscovering that with my youngest.
Finally, I'm MUCH more relaxed about my oldest's writing and composition. I must confess, I have been struggling all year to find that "perfect" writing program. After numerous hours on The Well Trained Mind Forums, and reading through writing programs, I had about given up. For some reason, I didn't understand how ANY of the programs worked and I am basically an English Major! She basically recommends a mix of what Charlotte Mason and Classical Education users do. I finally understand how to approach it, and I have real-life examples to use.
So, obviously (LOL!) this is a book I'd recommend. It's super cheap, and full of ideas and encouragement.
One down, 51 to go!!
Sunday, February 1, 2009
Incredible. Page turning. I dragged through the last book all week long, but this one was gone in one day. I can't tell you much about it without ruining it, but you must know that the serial killings and animal sacrifices weren't even the freaky part. I don't do horror books or movies. I really don't. This one was borderline. But it truly did have a purpose. After the story, a discussion between John Eldridge and Ted Dekker is included. It is an interesting exploration into spiritual warfare and nearly as fascinating as the story itself.
5 & 6 are mentioned here.
Prey for a Miracle by Aimee Thurlo
A Sister Agatha Mystery
Aimee and David Thurlo
Back Cover: Sister Agatha is an extern nun in the cloistered order at the Our Lady of Hope Monastery near a small New Mexican desert town. As an extern, Sister Agatha is the link between her cloistered sisters and the outside world. Usually this means running errands in the monastery's slowly dying automobile (dubbed the anti-chrysler) or their motorcycle with Pax, the order's German shepherd, in the side car. Sometimes her duties involve a bit more -- like when Father Mahoney's eight year old niece goes missing in the middle of the night. Now it's up to Sister Agatha to find the girl...and to find out whether the young Natalie was telling the truth when she claimed to have a guardian angel--or if someone in the community has something far more sinister in store....
Do you have a guardian angel? 8 year old Natalie has one that she can see and twice the angel has helped her save two people. Unfortunately Natalie told someone about it and before her mother or uncle, who is a catholic priest, can do anything, everyone is town is wanting Natalie and her guardian angel to help them and heal them. Natalie and her mom are run off the road in a mysterious accident when they try to leave town and her mom is seriously injured. Sister Agatha and the sisters agree to protect Natalie at all costs. While trying to solve the mystery of who is wants to kidnap Natalie, Sister Agatha tries to determine if Natalie really is seeing angels or just pretending. It presents the quandary for the sisters. Even though they believe in angels, are they ready to really see one?
Prey for a Miracle is an excellent mystery story that also gives you a look inside a cloistered convent and the life of the nuns. Highly recommended. Next in the series: Thief in Retreat
Phoebe MacNamara found her calling early, when a violently unstable man broke into her family's home, terrorizing them for hours. Now she's Savannah's top hostage negotiator. Phoebe also deals with her agoraphobic mother and her precocious daughter, Carly. Phoebe's steely courage and sensitivity attracted Duncan Swift. When she's grabbed by a man who throws a hood over her head and brutally assaults her, Phoebe is deepley shaken. And when threatening messages appear on her doorstep, she's alarmed and frustrated. With Duncan backing her, she must establish contact with the faceless tormentor.
Great book! The trouble that plague's Phoebe is more than most normal people could take. But she keeps on going and discovers who is tormenting her with all kinds of messages. She also finds love in all this tragedy!
The Love of Reading - Virginia Woolf
The love of reading
In a rare version of her essay, Virginia Woolf muses on the complex pleasure and art of being a reader
- The Guardian, Saturday 17 January 2009
At this late hour of the world's history books are to be found in every room of the house - in the nursery, in the drawing room, in the dining room, in the kitchen. And in some houses they have collected so that they have to be accommodated with a room of their own. Novels, poems, histories, memoirs, valuable books in leather, cheap books in paper - one stops sometimes before them and asks in a transient amazement what is the pleasure I get, or the good I create, from passing my eyes up and down these innumerable lines of print? Reading is a very complex art - the hastiest examination of our sensations as a reader will show us that much. And our duties as readers are many and various. But perhaps it may be said that our first duty to a book is that one should read it for the first time as if one were writing it.
One should begin by sitting in the dock with the criminal, not by mounting the bench to sit among the Judges. One should be an accomplice with the writer in his act, whether good or bad, of creation. For each of these books, however it may differ in kind and quality, is an attempt to make something. And our first duty as readers is to try and understand what the writer is making from the first word with which he builds his first sentence to the last with which he ends his book. We must not impose our design upon him; we must not try to make him conform his will to ours. We must allow Defoe to be Defoe and Jane Austen to be Jane Austen as freely as we allow the tiger to have his fur and the tortoise to have his shell. And this is very difficult. For it is one of the qualities of greatness that it brings Heaven and earth and human nature into conformity with its own vision.
The great writers thus often require us to make heroic efforts in order to read them rightly. They bend us and break us. To go from Defoe to Jane Austen, from Hardy to Peacock, from Trollope to Meredith, from Richardson to Rudyard Kipling, is to be wrenched and distorted, to be thrown violently this way and that. And so, too, with the lesser writers. Each is singular; each has a view, a temperament, an experience of his own which may conflict with ours but must be allowed to express itself fully if we are to do him justice. And the writers who have most to give us often do most violence to our prejudices, particularly if they are our own contemporaries, so that we have need of all our imagination and understanding if we are to get the utmost that they can give us. But reading, as we have suggested, is a complex art. It does not merely consist in sympathising and understanding. It consists, too, in criticising and in judging.
The reader must leave the dock and mount the bench. He must cease to be the friend; he must become the judge. And this second process, which we may call the process of after-reading, for it is often done without the book before us, yields an even more solid pleasure than that which we receive when we are actually turning the pages. During the actual reading new impressions are always cancelling or completing the old. Delight, anger, boredom, laughter succeed each other incessantly as we read. Judgment is suspended, for we cannot know what may come next. But now the book is completed. It has taken a definite shape. And the book as a whole is different from the book received currently in several different parts. It has a shape, it has a being. And this shape, this being, can be held in the mind and compared with the shapes the essays of other books and given its own size and smallness by comparison with theirs.
But if this process of judging and deciding is full of pleasure it is also full of difficulty. Not much help can be looked for from outside. Critics and criticism abound, but it does not help us greatly to read the views of another mind when our own is still hot from a book that we have just read. It is after one has made up one's own opinion that the opinions of others are most illuminating. It is when we can defend our own judgment that we get most from the judgment of the great critics - the Johnsons, the Drydens and the Arnolds.
To make up our own minds we can best help ourselves first by realising the impression that the book has left as fully and sharply as possible, and then by comparing this impression with the impressions that we have formulated in the past. There they hang in the wardrobe of the mind - the shapes of the books we have read, like clothes that we have taken off and hung up to wait their season. Thus, if we have just read, say, Clarissa Harlowe for the first time we take it and let it show itself against the shape that remains in our minds after reading Anna Karenina. We place them side by side and at once the outlines of the two books are cut out against each other as the angle of a house (to change the figure) is cut out against the fullness of the harvest moon. We contrast Richardson's prominent qualities with Tolstoi's. We contrast his indirectness and verbosity with Tolstoi's brevity and directness. We ask ourselves why it is that each writer has chosen so different an angle of approach. We compare the emotion that we felt at different crises of their books. We speculate as to the difference between the 18th century in England and the 19th century in Russia - but there is no end to the questions that at once suggest themselves as we place the books together. Thus by degrees, by asking questions and answering them, we find that we have decided that the book we have just read is of this kind or that, has this degree of merit or that, takes its station at this point or at that in the literature as a whole. And if we are good readers we thus judge not only the classics and the masterpieces of the dead, but we pay the living writers the compliment of comparing them as they should be compared with the pattern of the great books of the past.
Thus, then, when the moralists ask us what good we do by running our eyes over these many printed pages, we can reply that we are doing our part as readers to help masterpieces into the world. We are fulfilling our share of the creative task - we are stimulating, encouraging, rejecting, making our approval and disapproval felt; and are thus acting as a check and a spur upon the writer. That is one reason for reading books - we are helping to bring good books into the world and to make bad books impossible. But it is not the true reason. The true reason remains the inscrutable one - we get pleasure from reading. It is a complex pleasure and a difficult pleasure; it varies from age to age and from book to book. But that pleasure is enough. Indeed that pleasure is so great that one cannot doubt that without it the world would be a far different and a far inferior place from what it is. Reading has changed the world and continues to change it. When the day of judgment comes therefore and all secrets are laid bare, we shall not be surprised to learn that the reason why we have grown from apes to men, and left our caves and dropped our bows and arrows and sat round the fire and talked and given to the poor and helped the sick - the reason why we have made shelter and society out of the wastes of the desert and the tangle of the jungle is simply this - we have loved reading.