Tuesday, August 31, 2010

A Morbid Taste for Bones: The First Chronicle of Brother Cadfael by Ellis Peters

Where has the summer gone? Even though the temperatures are still in the 90's, we are jumping right into fall activities, and I should probably blog about the books I read in July before August escapes me. So while I was entertained, but not particularly impressed with Percy Jackson, I absolutely loved the other series that I started, thanks to the recommendation of Caniad at Dwell in Possibility.

A Morbid Taste for Bones: The First Chronicle of Brother CadfaelAs I've said before, mysteries are my preferred genre, and I think they are perfect for summer reading - engaging enough to keep my brain active, but not so heavy (literally or figuratively) that I can't breeze through one (or two) during a weekend vacation or finish one between picking and canning tomatoes! The Brother Cadfael series by Ellis Peters is near perfection, in my opinion, combining medieval history, a fairly complex mystery, theology, and even a little romance!

Since Caniad has already provided a great introduction to the author and the series, as well as a succinct summary of the plot in her post on A Morbid Taste for Bones, I'll simply give you my favorite passages and call it good. How's that for catching up?

"When you have done everything else, perfecting a conventual herb-garden is a fine and satisfying thing to do. He could not conceive of coming to this stasis having done nothing else whatever." (3)

"'Did you see?' said Brother John in Cadfael's ear, pacing beside the sumpter mule. 'Did you see how the beasts laboured towards that fellow not to escape the goad, only to go where he willed, only to please him? And such labour! That I should like to learn!'" (24)

"'In my church,' said Huw humbly, 'I have never heard that the saints desired honour for themselves, but rather to honour God rightly.'" (28)

"Well, thought Cadfael, letting them go without him, and turning to meet Sioned's steady gaze, God sort all! As doubtless he is doing, now as ever!" (85)

"'Speak out,' said the prior, not unkindly. 'You have never sought to make light of your failings, I do not think you need fear our too harsh condemnation. You have been commonly your own stearnest judge.' So he had, but that, well handled, can be one way of evading and forestalling the judgements of others." (95)

". . .great violence had been done to what he knew to be right, and great requital was due from the sinner, and great compassion due to him." (142)

"'. . .and if God aids me with some new thought - for never forget God is far more deeply offended even than you or I by this great wrong! - I'll come to you there.'" (147)

"'And leave agonising too much over your sins, black as they are, there isn't a confessor in the land who hasn't heard worse and never turned a hair. It's a kind of arrogance to be so certain you're past redemption.'" (151)

Almost all of these demonstrate what I love best about the Brother Cadfael mysteries: there is wisdom in these pages, not just a good story, and the two combined make them a joy to read!

Bloggy Friends, Birthday Fun

If it's not already obvious, my blogging has been put on the back burner the past couple of months. That doesn't mean I haven't been reading, but other things - vacation, homeschooling, gardening, canning, and cooking, to name a few - have taken priority over recording my thoughts. I'll try to remedy that soon, as we are settling into a homeschooling routine which might potentially could probably won't help me find the time to write. Well, anyway...

Whether I'm writing or not, I'm still reading my favorite blogs, and one of the best from the list on the sidebar is Reading to Know. Carrie is a thoughtful, insightful, and fun reader and writer, and I've enjoyed getting to know her through her blog and winning a few of her give-aways over the past year or so. In celebration of her birthday (and the announcement that Bookworm3 is on the way!), she's hosting a plethora of give-aways this week! So head on over to Reading to Know to wish Carrie a happy birthday and enter some great give-aways!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

That's my girl!

It seems fitting to interrupt the intermittent book reviews to share some momentous news... I think my daughter has finally caught the reading bug and is excitedly reading chapter books! Hooray!

After two years of phonics/reading instruction and her reluctantly (but capably) reading I Can Read books and Easy Readers, she's hooked on The Boxcar Children Books and finally got tired of waiting for me to read another chapter. Tonight I told her she could read in her bed, and since staying up late to read is such a grown-up thing to do (that's what Mommy does, after all), she was thrilled. I was surprised that it didn't really take her too long to read another chapter, and she came out to announce, "You don't have to read The Boxcar Children anymore, Mom. I'll read it every night! And when I'm done with this one, I'll read the first one again, and then you'll have to get more different ones from the library!" Then she told me about the chapter, as I reflected on how easy narration is when she's excited about something. Now I'll just have to figure out how to transfer this enthusiasm to our homeschooling subjects!

I'm still smiling!  (And also inwardly rubbing my hands with glee that my subtle plotting and planning payed off. If I can't put down a good mystery, I figured that eventually she wouldn't be able to either. So I planted the seeds with audio books and reading aloud, and then she finally had to find out what happens next and read it herself!)
The Woodshed Mystery (The Boxcar Children Mysteries #7)

She's currently reading The Woodshed Mystery (The Boxcar Children Mysteries #7), after we have listened to the audio version or read aloud books 1-6. The Boxcar Children books are not great literature - they're not even great mysteries, though they do promote good values, work ethic, and respect for adults - but if they can make a six year old excited about reading then I'll be glad to stock our shelves with them!
Read-Aloud Thursday at Hope Is the Word

And since this post marks a transition from read-aloud (which obviously won't stop) to read-to-oneself, I'm linking it to Read Aloud Thursday at Hope is the Word.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Percy Jackson & the Olympians: Books 1-5 by Rick Riordan

The Lightning Thief (Percy Jackson and the Olympians, Book 1)The premise of these booksThe Sea of Monsters (Percy Jackson and the Olympians, Book 2) is intriguing: the ancient Greek gods are still alive and well and still up to their usual philanderings, begetting a number of "half-blood" children with mortals. These children usually have trouble in school, have ADHD or other learning difficulties (because their brains are hard-wired for ancient Greek), and often have monsters chasing them by their early teens. Percy Jackson learns that he is a half-blood when he is twelve and is attacked by his math teacher (a monster in disguise) on a school field trip, effectively turning his life upside down as he escapes to Camp Half-Blood and takes on a dangerous quest to save the world. Each book follows the same pattern of a threat to the gods or Camp Half-Blood, with Percy and his friends encountering many fantastic dangers and tense moments as they search for the elusive unriddling of the Oracle's prophecies and save the world.

The Titan's Curse (Percy Jackson and the Olympians, Book 3)The Battle of the Labyrinth (Percy Jackson and the Olympians, Book 4)Now I understand a 30-something mother of two is not the intended audience for this series, so you'll have to bear with me when I take what The New York Times Book Review meant as a positive for a negative, describing The Lightening Thief as "perfectly paced, with electrifying moments chasing each other like heartbeats." Don't get me wrong, that's a perfect description of each book in the series, but I, for one, found it a little wearying. I'm sure that non-stop action and adventure are the perfect pacing for a pre-teen or teen boy reader, but when each book is yet another quest to save the world and almost every chapter raises and resolves yet another crises, it left me thinking the characters were more automatons than "real" people. I think a large part of this stems from the first person narration - we only get Percy's point of view, which is understandably a little scattered due to his ADHD - and I must say the author seemed to capture the thoughts and perspective of a teen boy pretty well, including a little bit of attitude. But if you contrast this writing style with the semi-omniscient narrator of the Harry Potter series, it's clear that the latter lends itself much better to character development, which is an essential quality of a great book, as far as I'm concerned.

The Last Olympian (Percy Jackson & the Olympians, Book 5)In the final assessment, I enjoyed them as quick reads with creative, if somewhat repetitive plots. For adult readers, I would recommend not reading them in quick succession, since I think both the unrelenting action and redundancy would not be so obvious or annoying with some time between each reading. 

The Story of the World: History for the Classical Child: Volume 1: Ancient Times: From the Earliest Nomads to the Last Roman Emperor, Revised EditionThey were a fun way to reacquaint myself with Greek mythology, which I'm hoping to delve into on an introductory level with my daughter as we study ancient history using The Story of the World: History for the Classical Child (Vol. 1) in our homeschooling plan for first grade this year. But I won't be adding the Percy Jackson series to our read-aloud list. 

I will be interested to see how Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lightning Thief was adapted to the screen, but as with the books, I doubt that I'll be sharing it with my three-year-old and six-year-old, There are just too many potentially frightening scenes since Percy and his friends are constantly battling monsters, and the Underworld just isn't a pleasant place, after all. I'll be sure they are ready to handle fictional accounts of false gods and many tense battle scenes before recommending the books, although I can see how these would be very engrossing for reluctant young male readers.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Narnia Reading Challenge Summary

Chronicles of Narnia
Over the past year or more, my children and I have listened to the unabridged audio versions of the Chronicles of Narnia, with frequent repeats of their favorites: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, The Magician's Nephew, and The Horse and His Boy. I had hoped to listen to them all again in chronological order this month for Carrie's Chronicles of Narnia Reading Challenge, but unfortunately we didn't quite get that much done. We revisited parts of our favorites while traveling, and I listened to The Voyage of the Dawn Treader while canning tomatoes, and I must say that audio books are a great way to keep one's mind engaged while one's hands are busy!

After hearing the story again, I am even more excited about The Voyage of the Dawn Treader movie coming out in December because I think this book and The Horse and His Boy have the best storylines of all the books, at least as far as the flow, characters, and creativity are concerned, although The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe certainly ranks up there too. I am cautiously hopeful that the movie will follow the book fairly closely in plot, but I will be surprised if it retains all the profound spiritual lessons that are so beautifully illustrated in the story. Oh well, that just makes reading (or listening to) the book all the more important!

Edmund and the White Witch (Narnia)Lucy Steps Through the Wardrobe (Narnia)Additionally, I also scoured our library for Narnia themed picture books and found Lucy Steps Through the Wardrobe and Edmund and the White Witch, which both my three-year-old and six-year-old enjoyed.

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe: Welcome to Narnia (I Can Read Book 2)
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe: Tea with Mr. Tumnus (I Can Read Book 2)We also own a couple of "I Can Read" Narnia books, and I am overjoyed to hear my daughter reading Welcome to Narnia and Tea with Mr. Tumnus! Narnia is not just for summer reading challenges at our house, though, and we will be returning by whatever means we can find throughout the year!