Friday, December 28, 2012

Books Read in 2012

Posting has been sparse (again) this year, but most of the titles below are linked to my semi-monthly posts where there is usually a brief summary of my thoughts. It seemed like it wasn't a very productive reading year, but combining my own reading with what I read aloud to my kids, averages out to one book a week. That's a good goal, and seemingly an attainable one, too!

Next year, I hope to read more classics, more mysteries, and more historical fiction.

1. Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy by Eric Metaxas
2. Chronicles of Avonlea by L. M. Montgomery
3. The Help by Kathryn Stockett
4. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle
5. I Am Half Sick of Shadows: A Flavia de Luce Novel by Alan Bradley
6. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith
7. Joy Comes in the Morning by Betty Smith
8. The Kitchen Boy: A Novel of the Last Tsar by Robert Alexander
9. My Family for the War by Anne C. Voorhoeve
10. The Uncommon Reader: A Novella by Alan Bennett
11. Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh
12. Choosing to SEE: A Journey of Struggle and Hope by Mary Beth Chapman
13. Three Men and a Maid by P. G. Wodehouse
14. Growing up Amish by Ira Wagler
15. The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey
16. City of Tranquil Light by Bo Caldwell
17. Enna Burning by Shannon Hale
18. The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith
19. Royal Children of English History by Edith Nesbit
20. The Little White Horse by Elizabeth Goudge
21. The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart
22. The Distant Land of My Father by Bo Caldwell
23. Plain Truth by Jodi Picoult
24. The Penderwicks: A Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits, and a Very Interesting Boy by Jeanne Birdsall
25. Further Chronicles of Avonlea by L. M. Montgomery
26. The Extraordinary Education of Nicholas Benedict by Trenton Lee Stewart
27. The Virgin in the Ice: The Sixth Chronicle of Brother Cadfael by Ellis Peters
28. North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell
29. The Red House Mystery by A. A. Milne
30. Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K. Jerome
31. The Hobbit (or There and Back Again) by J. R. R. Tolkien
32. An Irish Country Girl by Patrick Taylor
33. To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis
34. At the Back of the North Wind by George MacDonald
35. Blackthorn Winter by Douglas Wilson
36. The Bible (NASB)

1. The Story of Rolf and the Viking Bow by Allen French
2. Son of Charlemagne by Barbara Willard
3. The Door in the Wall by Marguerite De Angeli
4. The King's Shadow by Elizabeth Alder
5. Adam of the Road by Elizabeth Janet Gray
6. Dangerous Journey by John Bunyan and Oliver Hunkin
7. The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien
8. The Beggars' Bible by Louise A. Vernon
9. Ink on His Fingers by Louise A. Vernon
10. The Fantastic Flying Journey by Gerald Durrell
11. Thunderstorm in Church by Louise A. Vernon
12. Huguenot Garden by Douglas M. Jones III
13. Tucker's Countryside by George Selden
14. Harry Cat's Pet Puppy by George Selden
15. Chester Cricket's Pigeon Ride by George Selden
16. Harry Kitten and Tucker Mouse by George Selden
17. Chester Cricket's New Home by George Selden
18. Homer Price by Robert McCloskey
19. Centerburg Tales by Robert McCloskey
20. The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson
21. The Twenty-four Days Before Christmas: An Austin Family Story by Madeleine L'Engle
22. Various and assorted picture books!

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Fall Reading - the catch-up edition

With the start of home schooling (K & 3rd grade) and various weekly church activities, I haven't had much time for reading these past few months. Additionally, I fell into a serious reading funk, which I think was due more to the mode (Kindle) than the material, although at least one title was funk-inducing in and of itself (more on that later). So, briefly (I hope), here is what has been read during the fall months (September - November).

(If you're visiting from a Read-Aloud-Thursday link, the read-alouds are at the bottom.)

North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell
This was an enjoyable classic, and I'm glad I gave Gaskell another chance after reading Cranford a few years ago. I wouldn't say she's one of my favorite British authors, but it was a well-paced, period piece in which the characters brought the distinctions of industrialized England into sharp focus. Aside from a few melodramatic scenes, which seemed out of place for the very reserved characters, it had none of the silly pettiness of Cranford.

The Red House Mystery by A. A. Milne
Did you know A. A. Milne wrote more than Winnie-the-Pooh? Murder mysteries, to be exact? Well, this was a fun diversion, if not a very complex plot, and I'd recommend it.

Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K. Jerome
(Who names their child Jerome Jerome?) This is described as a comic travelogue, but for some reason I just wasn't in the mood for such humor. I think (I hope) it was intended as a parody on idle young gentleman who think too highly of themselves, but I had my fill of that with Brideshead Revisited. Now Three Men in a Boat was not so disheartening as Brideshead, but for some reason it put me in a real reading funk, perhaps because I didn't have a real grasp for it's size on the Kindle and it seemed rather interminable. I found it soooo tedious, yet I kept reading thinking it would surely get better. There were, in fact, a few interesting historical divergences in a vast sea of stream of consciousness rabbit trails, but it still took me more than a month - a month! - for me to read this relatively short book. I persevered, mostly because I thought it would be helpful to have the background before reading To Say Nothing of the Dog. This more recent time-travel story sounds fascinating, but the original was so disappointing that I'm almost afraid to start it.

The Hobbit (or There and Back Again) by J. R. R. Tolkien
If I had nothing better to do, I'd spend a year or so reading Tolkien's entire corpus. I find that his idea of "true myth" gives me much to ponder, though it's all too easy to get caught up in the adventure and miss the broader truths. I appreciated the read-along posts on Redeemed Reader this November, particularly this one which explores his true myth concept in more detail.

Yes, we've seen the movie. I loved parts of it and was really irritated by other parts. That almost always happens with books adapted to screen, especially when I've just read the book before seeing the movie. With more distance I might be able to appreciate the movie for its own merits, but not this time.

Harry Cat's Pet Puppy
Chester Cricket's Pigeon Ride
Harry Kitten and Tucker Mouse
Chester Cricket's New Home
by George Selden
Yes, we've read them all, and if there are more I don't want to know! While it was a pleasant journey, the sequels aren't as good as the original Cricket in Times Square. I think E. B. White knew what he was doing when he brought Charlotte's Web and The Trumpet of the Swan to a satisfying close and didn't try to capitalize on whatever success they gained. If your children are voracious readers, I'm sure they would enjoy these continuing tales of unlikely animal friends. However, I'm a little sorry that we spent so much time on these read-alouds when there are so many other wonderful children's classics to read.

Such as Homer Price and Centerburg Tales by Robert McCloskey!
These books are just downright fun bits of Americana. Since I grew up in a small Ohio town not far from Robert McCloskey's own hometown, these stories just ring true to me. I'm afraid I might even pick up the dialect a little too well! My kids love them, too! They are funny enough to appeal to kids, but there's some subtle humor for the grown-ups, too.

Our home school co-op of 6 families read Homer Price for a book club week, and each family acted out one chapter, which was loads of fun! While the older kids did some art and map projects, the younger children then did activities related to Make Way for Ducklings - another favorite of mine!

Monday, September 17, 2012

Summertime and the Reading is Easy, Part III

August was a very busy month, so my reading was rather limited and still on the lighter side. On a positive note, we have returned to a more normal home schooling schedule, so the kids and I are making better progress with our read-aloud titles, even fitting in some just for fun, not merely those that complement our history studies, which are usually fun, too, of course.

Further Chronicles of Avonlea by L. M. Montgomery
This was more therapeutic reading after the Jodi Picoult novel I read in July, but then any excuse to read Montgomery will do! I read this on my Kindle, so I didn't get to enjoy that pretty cover. I do find the Kindle to be a very good format for short stories, however, since it's easy to take along with me and read when I have a few minutes here or there. Of course, reading Montgomery is delightful, and I heartily recommend these stories for refreshment from modern novels!

The Extraordinary Education of Nicholas Benedict by Trenton Lee Stewart
It's rather convenient to start reading a series when it is mostly complete (I did that with the Harry Potter books, too). You don't have to wait months for the latest installment, and, in this case, when a prequel is released, you can read it before finishing the later books to have some better insight into the characters. Of course, you may choose to differ with my approach, but I generally prefer to take things chronologically whenever possible. Anyway, all preferences aside, this book was available from the library sooner than the 2nd volume of the Mysterious Benedict Society, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I was rather pleased with myself that I figured out the mystery very early in the book, but I won't give it away. For a much better analysis of the book, see Janet's review at Across the Page.

The Virgin in the Ice The Sixth Chronicle of Brother Cadfael by Ellis Peters
I've said before how much I enjoy the Brother Cadfael mysteries - they include almost all of my favorite things: history, theology, mystery, just a little romance in good taste (none of the too-much-information of modern novels). I'm not sure why I haven't read more than six of them in the past two years, but I guess it's kind of like saving the best for last. I want to draw out the enjoyment of this 21-book series, so I read them sparingly. I think I might need to reconsider that approach, however, since I was reminded once again how satisfying they are.

Here are a couple quotations just to tease you:

Beautiful prose: "The branches of trees sagged heavily towards the ground under their load [of snow], and by mid-afternoon the leaden sky was sagging no less heavily earthwards, in swags of blue-black cloud." (17)

Tidbits of wisdom: "It was all too easy to turn honest anxiety over someone loved into an exaltation of a man's own part and duty as protector, a manner of usurpation of the station of God. To accuse oneself of falling short of infallibility is to arrogate to oneself the godhead thus implied." (88)

Read aloud:

Huguenot Garden by Douglas M. Jones III
This is a family-centered story set in 17th century France when Louis XIV persecuted the Protestant Huguenots. It was well-written and informative, but also simple enough and suspenseful enough to keep my children captivated. Without being overly dramatic or graphic, the author conveyed the faith and sacrifices that were required of Reformed believers during dangerous times, uniquely centering the story on twin girls, two of six children in the family, so that one experiences the full effects of persecution from an innocent perspective.

One chapter focuses on the baptism of the family's new baby, so it provided a good format for discussing the differences between paedobaptism and credobaptism. (Our church is unique in that we have both paedobaptists and credobaptists on our pastoral staff. Recognizing that both views have been held by godly men throughout Church history, we do not divide on this issue, and we all love one another, too!) I only mention this since Baptists might want to be prepared to answer questions if you read this to your kids (aim for understanding, not condemnation).

Tucker's Countryside by George Selden
We also read this sequel to The Cricket in Times Square, which we had listened to on CD earlier in the summer. The sequel isn't nearly so good as the original, in this case, but the animals are cute and their adventures entertaining. There were, however, two aspects that I didn't particularly care for.

First, Tucker's Countryside has a rather overt message of saving the meadows and forests from the bad City Councilmen who want to build apartments. Now stewardship is all fine and good as long as it doesn't become a god unto itself, but this is exactly what our culture has done. I always try to temper stories like this with the caveat that God gave us the earth to use and to take care of, and that people who are made in His image are always more important than animals. Sometimes that might mean that it is better to build apartments than save the meadow.

More disturbing, however, is the situational ethics employed by the animal characters who justify lying and deception as a means to a greater end. Now obviously it's just fiction - animals don't talk or make rational decisions to lie in real life. But at the same time, I don't want to leave my children with the idea that it's OK to tell "little white lies" or intentionally deceive others just because cute animals did it in a book and everything turned out fine. So we talk about it - just brief little questions such as, "Do think that was the right thing to do?" But hopefully those questions will build discernment. I appreciate Carrie's thoughts on this topic recently, too.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Summertime and the Reading is Easy, Part II

Part 1 covered June, Part 2 July. Maybe I'll get Part 3 done (and posted) before summer is over (and you can interpret that as either the end of August or when fall starts on September 22nd). ( :

The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart
Carrie has written about her love for this series many times, and I'm glad to have finally embarked on the journey. This book is clever, intriguing, and full of adventure that any child (or adult) should enjoy. I especially liked the mind puzzles and the way the characters' strengths and weaknesses complemented one another perfectly. I think my daughter could handle the reading level now, but I'm going to wait a few more years to introduce her to this series when she should be better able to enjoy the subtleties of the narrative.

The Distant Land of My Father by Bo Caldwell
After reading City of Tranquil Light, I was curious about this previous novel by the same author. To be quite honest, I think that it is hardly worth comparing the two. While they both include an insider's perspective on the changes in China throughout the 20th century, this one is told through the experiences of a very dysfunctional family, dysfunctional and disrupted mostly due to the husband and father who loved Shanghai and the easy money he could make there more than his wife and daughter. His selfishness brought many tragic consequences, and while there was a bit of redemption at the end, it really struck me as too little too late - at least in terms of making it a meaningful story for me.

On a side note, I did a bit more research about the author, and found this very interesting first-person account of her life and conversion to Roman Catholicism. I'm sad that her faith is so shaped by experience, believing as I do that the Scriptures and sound doctrine provide a much more stable foundation. But after much consideration, I've decided that it does not diminish my opinion of City of Tranquil Light, for the faith of the characters in that book is tried and genuine. It's obviously not a book that is meant to teach doctrine, but insofar as it speaks of God and the Christian life, I still think it presents a accurate picture.

Plain Truth by Jodi Picoult
I didn't like it, but it was one of those books that I had to keep reading just to see what happened. I even lost sleep over it, staying up late because it was so hard to put down. But I still didn't like it, not one little bit. Like most modern novels it included too much information about intimate relationships between unmarried men and women. And the ending - well, it was just unnecessary. At least everyone in my book club agreed with this consensus, and we're returning to 19th century classics for our next selection!

The Penderwicks: A Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits, and a Very Interesting Boy by Jeanne Birdsall
If you haven't noticed, I have to do some therapeutic reading after I've read a book that leaves a a bad taste in my mouth. So I had checked this one out from the library as an option for my daughter (I like to have a wide variety of titles for her to choose from) and decided that "a summer story about four sisters, two rabbits, and a very interesting boy" would be just the thing after the Picoult novel, not to mention that I love the cover art! It was certainly light and easy, and the characters were written so that I felt I knew them quite quickly. On the downside, one thread of the story involved a pre-teen crush on an older boy. Disobedience and lying were justified by a positive outcome or by the meanness of the adult making the rules. So I won't be handing this to my 8-year-old anytime soon. In a few more years, she can read it, and we'll talk through the issues, for there were certainly many fun and funny parts, too.

Thunderstorm in Church by Louise A. Vernon
See my earlier comments on two other books by the same author which we read aloud earlier in the summer, as this one was very similar and my opinions haven't improved any. This one was interesting for the glimpses into life in Luther's busy household, but the dialogue... {shudder}

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Summertime, and the Reading is Easy, Part I

We took a family vacation in June, which meant that I got more reading time than usual! It also meant that many of my reading selections were a little on the lighter side, but I would still highly recommend several of them.

City of Tranquil Light by Bo Caldwell
Every so often, I open a book and find a sense of quietness and purpose - perhaps holiness is the word I'm looking for - that makes me take a deep breath and settle in for refreshment, encouragement, and challenge to a greater life of faith. Most often, I think this happens with biographies, so to find a novel that evokes this deep satisfaction is truly rare (Stepping Heavenward is the only other that I can recall). But City of Tranquil Light is one of those special books, one that I borrowed from the library and then ordered two copies (one to keep and one to give away) before I was halfway through, and I've ordered eight more since then. I could tell you more, but I'd rather you just borrowed or bought your own copy and savored it yourself! I usually don't promote book purchases here, but as of this writing, Amazon has hardback copies of this book for the bargain price of $2.74, and I believe you would find that to be money well spent! (You can follow the links to Amazon from either the book's picture or title.)

Enna Burning by Shannon Hale
This second installment in the "Books of Bayern" series from Shannon Hale was much darker than The Goose Girl, and I didn't enjoy it nearly as much. I suppose it's a story of friendship, a coming of age story laced with a great deal of pride and lack of self-control, and there is really nothing unusual in those themes in young-adult literature, though the fact that something is common does not mean I should condone it. I'm not sure if the author intended for there to be any moral lessons or analogies, but when I started trying to think through the implications of some of the imagery, it seemed far too pantheistic for me to even want to explore those trains of thought. Maybe that's why it left me with such an unsettled feeling, and why I finished it simply to be done, not because I enjoyed it.

The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith
I've seen recommendations for this series by Alexander McCall Smith on many blogs, and my daughter has enjoyed listening to his mysteries for kids. So when I found this at a children's consignment store (of all places!), I added it to my summer vacation reading bag. I've said before that mysteries are my favorite genre, but I do prefer full-length novels to short stories. I like a very well-developed plot, though I will make an exception for Sherlock Holmes (who wouldn't!). At any rate, this initially seemed very disjointed, as the chapters jumped back and forth between Mma Ramotswe's family history and various cases she'd solved more recently. Eventually, a case develops that somewhat ties everything together, but overall it just wasn't my cup of tea. I'll stick with Lord Peter Wimsey and Brother Cadfael when I need my mystery fix.

Royal Children of English History by Edith Nesbit
Have I mentioned that I have a Kindle? It will never replace real books for me, but the free classics and public domain works are lots of fun to explore. (All of L. M. Montgomery's short stories for free? Yes, please!) So this was a short little book that I read as a bonus for our book club's "British Royalty" theme in June. I expected it to be stories from the childhoods of various kings & queens, but it was more a children's history, a simple retelling of the most common anecdotes or deeds of valor of notable English princes or kings. I'm sure my children would enjoy this as a read-aloud if I could fit it into the schedule.

The Little White Horse by Elizabeth Goudge
This is a very sweet fairy tale set in a secluded valley of Victorian England with good guys, bad guys, and some highly intelligent and helpful animals. There is a very large "dog," who turns out to be a lion, but that is the extent of any parallels to Narnia, I think. There is not much grace or redemption, but only trying very hard to be good, which I would consider a bit overly idealistic if I were reading this only for instruction in morality. That is not the only purpose of a good story, however, and I appreciated the beautiful descriptions and gentle blend of fantasy and reality. I must say that I find an old-fashioned morality tale to be much more enjoyable than many modern novels that include too little morals and too much information, so you can read this one without regrets.

The Beggars' Bible and Ink on His Fingers by Louise A. Vernon
These are interesting for their historical perspective, but the story line is extremely repetitive - a young boy is distressed (obsessed) about what he will do when he grows up then crosses paths with a historical figure (John Wycliffe and Johann Gutenberg, in these books) and finds direction for his life. They are heavy on dialogue, and that dialogue is often forced and stilted. The author seems to have done her research thoroughly, but her use of anecdotes and dialogue is extremely awkward. I'm glad we read them aloud, as my kids probably learned more than reading them on their own, but all of us found it challenging to stay interested at times.

The Fantastic Flying Journey by Gerald Durrell
This is an imaginative story about an eccentric uncle who takes his niece and twin nephews on a trip around the world in an amazing and well-equipped hot air balloon. The purpose of the trip is to find Uncle Lancelot's brother, a naturalist, so they follow his trail and meet many animals in their natural habitats around the world. This one is both fun and educational, and my daughter finished it ahead of my reading it aloud, so I know she liked it a lot. I was pleased that it did not have an overt evolutionary slant. In fact, I can't recall if there were any allusions to evolution, but that could be my faulty memory. We found this at our library book sale, and we highly recommend it!