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Sunday, May 5, 2019

Books Read Recently

(affiliate links below, including separate links for Canadian and UK readers, which is a new thing for Amazon to do, so this is an experiment)

I've been doing some extra reading this year, keeping up my goal of a book a week largely by audio books and children's fiction.  Ahem.  I'm actually ahead of my goal.  I have a nightstand full of about ten books I picked off my shelves at the beginning of the year and set forth to be the first ten books I read this year.  That stack is really spurring me on.  I look at it every day and it inspires me.....
To go read something else, anything, everything, just not those ten neglected tomes.
So here are some of the things I read instead:

Fires of Invention, the first book in the juvenile steampunk Cove series (link for UK readersLink for Canadian readers):
Girls and boys who like this kind of thing, well, will like it.  I mean, it's a 'boy book' but girls will enjoy it, too (the reverse is less often true).  I had a hard time getting into at first, though. Lots of mechanical stuff that I could not really make sense of in my head, some draggy bits, but as I kept going it got more interesting, and I was honestly surprised by one of the twists at the end.  Really surprised. In a good way- it was cool.  It's dystopian fiction, but kind of light, and there's hope.  In this dystopian world, creativity, inventing, change, doing things differently (even as an improvement) are all terrible thought crimes and they will be punished.  Everybody finishes school after about 8th grade and is assigned to their apprentice-ship in the proper field.  One small little bit that I really liked is that the main character is deliberately assigned to the wrong field, one totally outside his interest or talents.  He is sent to food production- the underground city has hydroponic gardens, fish tanks and so on.  He grips about it a lot and is very unhappy, but he discovers, and not in an overly heavy handed way, that it is more interesting than he thought, that it's worthwhile work, and that people who like it are not soft in the head.  It's still not *his* passion, but he has found things to enjoy about it.  That was a nice touch.   There are some boy-girl relationships, but not too deep, and some significant family tension which is handled well- not easily, not tidily, but realistic without being depressing.

Wuthering Heights- (link for UK readersLink for Canadian readers) A reread, of course.  The first time I read it I think I was in my early 20s and I totally didn't get it.  I had trouble keeping the characters straight, I was confused about the family trees, and I thought I was supposed to feel sorry for Heathcliff and Catherine, and for the most part I just couldn't.  I did have a bit of pity and regret for Heathcliff because he did not realize how much Catherine loved him when he left in a fit of pique and if he'd only stayed behind five minutes more, or confronted her, he would have known and it all could have been resolved.  That was sad, but it was kind of poetic justice, too.  I found Mrs. Dean seriously annoying this time.  Much could have been avoided if she wasn't such an idiot and if she would have stopped imagining that Heathcliff wasn't really a total psychopath.  She'd seen plenty of evidence otherwise.  It also makes no sense to me why Heathcliff suddenly stopped torturing everybody and just left them to themselves.  Nonetheless, I still loved this story.  The prose is powerful, the true and less selfish love of Earnshaw and Cathy is the real story, and this time through... I noticed that Earnshaw had been dearly loved and tenderly cared for by the younger Miss Dean for the first five years of his life, giving him a firmer foundation for human love and connections later that Heathcliff appears never to have really had.

The Birdwatcher, book 2 in The Smolder Series by Kathryn Judson (link for UK readersLink for Canadian readers)
Judson writes clear, enjoyable prose. Her stories have warmth and occasional chuckles. This is dystopian fiction about a world where "Thought contamination was almost never tolerated, regardless of how it was contracted." so there's sad and hard stuff, but it's also Christian, so there's hope.  The salvation message is quite preachy at times, but I understand why she does that.  The stories themselves are interesting, the plots intriguing, and the characters are real people.  This book mostly introduces entirely new characters instead of repeating the same cast from book 1, but I think there are a couple repeats it's set in the same story, and they talk about the main events in The Smolder, the characters in this story know many of the characters from the previous tale  A war is coming, and the underground rebels are going to have step up their opposition.  High school students could read this- middle schoolers too, although I am not sure they'd be interested.  Judson includes observations like this, on how one of the underground communities lost its faith and is no longer Christian or moral, “It got fashionable to be immoral, then it got unacceptable to be moral," and this comment about the value, even among difficult options of being "among people who understood the messy depths of other-centered love."  This isn't going to knock your socks off like 1984 or Brave New World, but it's a good read, and I think would make for some nice, lighter free reading for a student studying the 20th and 21st centuries and in need of something less heavy but still connected to modernity.

My husband and I listened to this on audible whenever we had to to drive more than about half an hour in the van.  It was really a good listen.  I like Francis Chan a lot .  I didn't agree with every single thing he said, but I liked the overall approach and wish for more like this.  Here's a quote: “While we can’t force people to be devoted, it may be that we have made it too easy for them not to be. By trying to keep everyone interested and excited, we’ve created a cheap substitute for devotion. Rather than busying themselves with countless endeavors, the early followers devoted themselves to a few. And it changed the world. It seems like the Church of America is constantly looking for the next new thing.” I admit he fits my pre-existing bias.  I have never been a fan of mega-churches. They have always troubled me immensely.  It's still a great read, even if you love them.

The Warden, by Trollope (link for UK readers; Link for Canadian readers) This is the prequel to Barchester Towers, which is better known, and I am reading that now.  I had some notion that this was comedy, and it really isn't.  I totally enjoyed, it though, for Trollope's insights into human nature, and Mr. Harding, the gentle soul who is so badly done by.

Contemporary fiction, and I remembered nothing about it and had to go look it up for a review. It's about the theft of priceless books, usually first editions, and the crime and uncovering of the crime and undercover operation to catch the thief.  I guess it's typical Gresham, the type of crime caper that makes a fun movie.  It was a light and easy read and nothing from it stuck, while I am still thinking about some of the things I read in the Warden and other books.

Brown Girl Dreaming: (link for UK readersLink for Canadian readers)  This seems to be on the list of everybody who wants to recommend a good book to check off the diversity box for the kids.  Maybe it is, but it's written in a sort of first person blank verse, which I don't like,  and mostly it did not stick for me.  There are some things that I particularly liked, though- when she writes of a devastating event, a death in the family, she gets that clanging moment that marks the timeline of your life with that heavy line of before and after:
"Your brother my mother heard her own mother say and then there was only a roaring in the air around her a new pain where once there wasn’t pain a hollowness where only minutes before she had been whole."
Oh, dear God, it hurt to read that.

And this was funny, later- the children are plagued by pesky neighbourhood children to use their toys.
"Let them play, for heaven’s sake, my grandmother says, when we complain about them tearing it apart. Your hearts are bigger than that! But our hearts aren’t bigger than that. Our hearts are tiny and mad. If our hearts were hands, they’d hit. If our hearts were feet, they’d surely kick somebody!"
I know that feeling. This description made me laugh.

 I shared those quotes because I particularly liked them, but also because they illustrate what bothers me about reading this book, why I don't think it stuck to me. My mind mostly glided jerkily over the words.  It's the punctuation. Or lack thereof.

This year I have read a couple other books (or listened to) a couple other things I really enjoyed that one might use to check the diversity box. These are fabulous stories, and really well done, pitch-perfect in every way.  I just really, thoroughly, totally, loved:

Feeding the Dragon by Sharon Washington (UK LinkCanadian link)- This is her own one-woman play of her childhood spent living in the New York City library where her father was the care-taker.  IT was marvelous, magical, and hard and difficult at times too, because of dysfunction in the family for reasons I do not wish to spoil. It's really well done- this story is bigger than any box, and I think of several scenes she recounted many times.  I would let a kid about grade 4 and up listen to it- maybe younger, it's just that I don't think the younger ones would follow the story that well.

Also the children's picture book Flossie and the Fox , which I purchased last week because I could not find my copy (so my copy turned up the next day, ALWAYS).  I took it with me to babysit the grandchildren (just five of them)- I read it aloud and the children all giggled uproariously in all the right places.  And delight of delights- the eldest (a boy) laughed, but then he would mutter, "What a stupid little girl," and his next two younger sisters would give him the side-eye and say, "I don't think so!", and then he had to eat humble pie at the end when the girls proved right, and he had been assuming she really did not know the fox was a fox all the way through.  I do so love this children's book with a deep love, and I also am delighted to be reading it to the children of the little girls I first read it to. Audible has a recording for less than 2 dollars, but honestly, this is worth it for the pictures.  Flossie's mischievous spirit really comes through in the illustrations. IT's a beautiful picture book (Canadian link)

Give Your Child the World: Raising Globally Minded Kids One Book at a Time : this is a valuable book, a useful book, a helpful book.  I am thankful for the booklist in the back.  I liked many of the ideas in the front and because of this book, I have plans for purchasing maps of the four countries and the 12 states I have lived in to hang on our walls.  But can I just share this small, but not insignificant twinge I kept having all the way through?  She keeps stressing the importance of raising your children to be leaders, and that is such a western-centric value to find in a book purportedly promoting global awareness and cross cultural communication.  Francis Chan said it in his book as well - leadership is a western value; submission is a biblical value (or something like that).  It was jarring to me, especially given the context.  But I really did appreciate the book. I will suggest, check it out from your library.  I feel like the book list is going to be outdated in short order, sadly, because kids books don't stay in print long enough.(link for UK readersLink for Canadian readers)-

Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes: (link for UK readers; Link for Canadian readers)- I loved this.  I didn't agree with every single conclusion they drew or scriptural insight related to culture that they shared, but I loved the overall principles and the cultural stuff.  You know me, of course I do.  I love it.  I wish I could make everybody read this, Francis Chan's book, and The Gospel Comes with a Housekey right now, this year, already.  Go forth and read.

The Rolling Stones, by Robert Heinlein, I listened to the audible version.  This is one of Heinlein's juvenile stories, which I prefer to his books for adults.  It's a fantastic, fabulous boy book.  Highly recommended without a single caveat.  It's just good fun, lots of laughs, very 1950s stuff.  (link for UK readers; Link for Canadian readers)-

Ghengis Khan and the Making of the Modern World,  - I have possibly mentioned this one before, it's my second time through it.  I really love this. It's engaging and thought provoking, very informative.  It doesn't just stop with Ghengis's life story- it continues tracing his Klan's history and the accomplishments- and failures- of his descendants as well.  There is some unpleasant detail about tortures, and there is the problematic question of the Mongol habits of poor men gaining wives by kidnapping them from rival klan groups. But I would assign this to a high school student without too much concern, personally.  Jack Weatherford is quite the cheerleader for Ghengis Khan and Mongolian civilization (and globalizatin in general), so some caution may be in order there.  But as a biography of Ghengis Khan himself, I don't think this can be beat.  (Link for UK readers; Link for Canadian readers)  I have heard that The Mongols, by David Morgan is more accurate when it comes to Mongolian conquests and so forth, and I have that one on order but haven't read it myself.

I also read Captain Blood, by Sabatini :
Riproaring adventure
Story is set in the days of the Monmouth rebellion up until the beginning of the reign of Prince William.
We follow the adventures and misfortunes of Peter Blood, soldier, doctor, sailor, and more.  He's caught on the wrong side of the Monmouth rebellion purely through accident and then some malice- he wasn't on either side, but was treating a wounded soldier.  He's sold into slavery and sent to an island plantation, where abuse and maltreatment abound, and everything about it is horrible.  His circumstances are somewhat mitigated by the fact that he is a doctor and the island governor likes his (free) services, but the other doctors don't work for free, not being slaves, and so... but that would be more of a spoiler.
Enjoyable read in general. With the caveat that:
Dated references to negroes and blacks as property/objects, and it's awkward and frustrating.  .  Blood is, himself a slave, but there is a dehumanizing difference.  However, the African slaves are not really a significant part of the story itself, so this is not on every page.

And I read a couple of books about life in the Philippines that were so disappointing I am not going to link them, and a couple science books that I am not going bother reviewing because they were disappointing as well.  IT's been fun to have more access to real books again!

$5.00- Education for All, vol 2- the Imagination (and more) issue!- transcript of the imagination talk from the AO Camp meeting, with additional material I had to cut to save time.  
 $5.00- Education for All, a new CM journal,   Feed Your Mind!  This issue contains several articles on handicrafts, outdoor play, nature study and science. See sidebar for purchasing options if you are in the Philippines.

 $3.00 Five Little Peppers and How They Grew Copywork (grades 2/3, carefully selected with an eye toward finely crafted sentences, lovely bits of writing pleasant to picture in the mind's eye, and practice in copying some of the mechanics of grammar and punctuation typically covered in these years.

  $3.00 Aesop's Fables Copywork for Year One!  Carefully selected with an eye toward well written sentences, memorable scenes, and some practice copying sentences that model the basics of capitalization and punctuation.   Suitable for use with children who have already mastered the strokes and letters for basic penmanship.

Picture Study!  Miguel Cabrera's beautiful, diverse families, painted in 18th century Mexico this package includes 9 downloadable prints along with directions for picture study and background information on the artist and his work. $5.00

Common Kitchen:  What's for lunch?  Isn't that a common problem in homeschooling families?  What to fix, what is quick, what is frugal, what is nourishing?  How can I accomplish all those things at once?  We homeschooled 7 children, and I was a homeschooling mom for 29 years on a single income.  I collected these recipes and snack ideas from all over the world.  These are real foods I used to feed my family, my godsons, and sometimes my grandkids.  Includes some cooking tips and suggestions for sides, and for a variety of substitutions.  I think every family will find something they can use here. $5.00

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