Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Book Review: Solomon's Song

February 27, 2007

This is the second book in the trilogy by Roberta Kells Dorr, which starts with Bathsheba and ends with the Queen of Sheba. Since reading Bathsheba a couple of weeks ago, my mom discovered that the author actually lives here in Maryville. Then our friend Tammy tells us that Dorr was a friend of her mother's and that she used to go play at her house as a child. Small world! Anyway, I enjoyed this fictional account of Solomon and Shulamit (Abishag) tremendously. I love to read the Biblical account and then see how Dorr takes those few lines and creates this living history. I'm looking forward to starting Queen of Sheba tonight.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Book Review: Arctic Son

February 20, 2007

This book had the potential to be rivetting because of its subject matter; unfortunately, Jean Aspen is not a great writer. This is a narrative of 14 months that the author, her husband, and their 6-year-old son spent living in Alaska's interior wilderness. The author always seemed to be whining to me. She often describes herself as brusque, seething and angry. I'd about had enough when she discusses with her husband what she'll do with his body if he were to die in the middle of winter. She seems to always be bossy and irritated. Maybe she is, but I didn't really want to read about that for 300 pages. On top of this, the dialogue is completely stilted and unbelievable, especially when it comes to her six-year-old. (What six year old says "regrouping" is stressful or "I feel like you're hurting me when I'm vulnerable"?) But when she actually writes about Alaska itself, she can be lyrical and display some really good writing. My endorsement: Skip this one unless you have an insatiable desire to live for a year in the Alaskan wilderness. This will cure you. Also, the title is misleading. This has very little to do with her son, although I suspect that the reality of their day-to-day life in interaction and conversation was much different than is portrayed in the book.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Book Review: Water for Elephants

February 17, 2007

I have to say that usually I don't like books about circus life. Two that jump out are John Irving's Son of the Circus and someone's Geek Love. Both of those left me feeling like I do when I come out of Walmart--somewhat nauseated and needing to wash my hands. I'm not even sure I like circuses that much, although I am going to Ringling Brothers/B&B next week. But I found this book by Sara Gruen to be an exception to my circus-book dislike. This is the story, told from the perspective of the 93-year-old narrator, of his first year as a circus veterinarian. He has just about graduated from Cornell's vet school when his life changes abruptly, leaving him with nothing. He ends up jumping a circus train, and the story takes off from there. I always appreciate books in which the main character is likeable, and Jacob certainly is. I could have done without a few of the somewhat graphic scenes, but otherwise, it's an excellent and fast read. Extremely satisfying ending, as well.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Book Review: Understood Betsy

February 13, 2007

I'm reading Understood Betsy (Dorothy Canfield Fisher) to Laurel right now. It's been a few years since I read this to Jesse, maybe six years, so it's all new and fresh to me. I just love this scene in which Betsy, who until now has been in a huge public school in a large city, spends her first day in her tiny one-room schoolhouse with a dozen other students. Her teacher moves her--gasp!--where she needs to be! She reads very well, so she gets the seventh-grade reader. Her math is slightly lacking, so she is told to do second grade work:

Elizabeth Ann fell back on the bench with her mouth open. She felt really dizzy. What crazy things the teacher said! She felt as though she was being pulled limb from limb.
"What's the matter?" asked the teacher, seeing her bewildered face.
"Why....why," said Elizabeth Ann. "I don't know what I am at all. If I'm second-grade arithmetic and seventh-grade reading and third-grade spelling, what grade
am I?"
The teacher laughed. "
You aren't any grade at all, no matter where you are in school. You're just yourself, aren't you? What difference does it make what grade you're in? And what's the use of your reading little baby things too easy for you just because you don't know your multiplication tables?...What's the matter?" the teacher asked again.
This time Elizabeth Ann didn't answer, because she herself didn't know what the matter was. But I do, and I'll tell you. The matter was that never before had she known what she was doing in school. She had always thought she was there to pass from one grade to another, and she was ever so startled to get a glimpse of the fact that she was there to learn how to read and write and cipher and generally use her mind, so she could take care of herself when she came to be a grown up.

I love that moment of enlightenment. I love Betsy's teacher. Just imagine what our public education system would be like if students were actually allowed to learn and excel according to their potential and if teachers actually had the freedom to encourage them to do so--if teachers actually had the time to really know each student and her capabilities.

And I chuckle at that universal homeschoolers' experience of not having a clue what grade they are in! I've pointed out to my kids before that it's easiest just to give a pat answer ("I'm in 4th grade") rather than saying, "Well, I'm doing middle-school history, and I read at a 6th grade level, but I'm doing 3rd grade math, but this is actually equivalent to 4th grade programs in American schools...." As Betsy's teacher says, "You're just yourself, aren't you?" Great book. Another of those pleasures of homeschooling: getting to re-read fabulous children's books.

Book Review: Crow Lake

February 13, 2007

Crow Lake (by Mary Lawson) is one of those books that is impossible to put down. This story takes place in Northern Canada, in a remote and timeless town. The narrator is now a young zoology professor, but the story centers mostly on the life-changing year when she and her siblings were suddenly orphaned. It’s a beautiful and engrossing story of love, struggle, and misperceptions, of family and aching and reconciling one’s childhood in adulthood. Really excellent read; I'm glad this is our book club's choice for this month. I've put her other novel, The Other Side of the Bridge, on my reading list.

Tuesday, February 6, 2007

Book Review: The Garden at the Edge of Beyond

February 6, 2007

This book by Michael Phillips brought back nice memories to me of when I used to read a lot of George MacDonald. I should re-visit George MacDonald as often as I've revisted C.S. Lewis. In this very short book, in fact, the two authors are the 2nd and 3rd people that the young man sees when he awakes in Heaven (or in the Garden before Heaven). (He encounters Jesus first, of course.) As is explained to the narrator, everyone encounters a different "garden" upon death, where they learn of many mysteries. For the narrator, flowers speak his language; for another, it might be a library full of book-treasures. Here, the narrator meets various guides--including Matthew and Mary, the mother of Jesus--who teach him the heart of true spirituality: the giving up of self in the daily choices of life. This was a nice little book. I always feel enlightened and somewhat wise when reading anything involving Lewis and MacDonald.

Monday, February 5, 2007

Book Review: Bathsheba

February 5, 2007

Subtitled The Love Story that Changed History, this book by Roberta Kells Dorr is the fictional retelling of the David and Bathsheba story. I love historical novels, and I am rivetted especially by Biblical history stories. I've enjoyed all of Francine Rivers' "Lineage of Grace" series (including Unashamed: Bathsheba), "Sons of Encouragement" series, and "Mark of the Lion" trilogy. I also enjoyed Orson Scott Card's "Women of Genesis" series (although I haven't read all of them), and The Red Tent. One of the aspects I love best about Sonlight history is that we read so much historical fiction of Biblical characters and times. All of these renderings, while liberties are often taken, give a broader perspective of life in "Bible times" and flesh out the key people. Bathsheba was definitely a good read. Great details and believable characters.