Tuesday, February 27, 2007

The Arrow Over the Door

by Joseph Bruchac

This is a slightly fictionalized account of an event that took place during the Revolutionary War. I say "slightly" fictionalized because the story itself has been around for over 200 years now. When the author took it upon himself to retell the tale for modern audiences, he cleared away some of the inaccuracies that had crept into the earlier versions of the tale. Anyway, the core story itself is about an encounter between a group of Quakers and a band of Native American warriors. It's wartime and tensions between Colonists and the Indians (not to mention between Colonists themselves) are high. Quakers--the Society of Friends--are pacifists and desire to be friends to everybody. But when the shooting starts, few combatants would trust a pacifist's claims. Mr. Bruchac provides us with two fictional characters through whose eyes we can see the story. Samuel is a young Quaker who struggles to define his beliefs amongst neighbors who are pushing for war. Stands Straight is a young Abenaki whose people are seeking the right path through this war between the whites. All in all it's a nice little tale. Check it out.
LibraryThing link


Monday, February 26, 2007

The Dagger

by Yang Pei-chin

I found this one tucked in the corner of the campus English library. It's an English book, published by the Foreign Language Press in Beijing in 1978. It's a war story, set in Korea in 1953. The bad guys, of course, are the American Imperialists and their puppets, the army of Syngman Rhee. The heroes are the brave and noble Chinese People's Volunteers and the Korean People's Army. I was curious to read a story in which my people were the bad guys. So how did it read? Not too bad, surprisingly. It's only waiting room material, but so is most of the American military fiction I've read. The Dagger shares many of the same clichés. You have a small band of soldiers from disparate backgrounds, each with a unique skill and temperament. Yet their common mission has bound them together closer than family. The heroes are noble and determined, the villains are brutal and cowardly. The big difference that stood out (other than seeing the letters "USA" assigned to the bad guys) is that in an American tales, the heroes would draw strength from their own ideals and would triumph through their own resources. In this book, there is very much a group mindset as the scouts draw strength from their comrades' example and rely on their leaders' decisions, help and encouragement.

Oh, and reading The Dagger also shed some insight onto the crafting of a good story. There is one moment where the story stops for some philosophical musings. The main character, Liang Han-kuang, takes advantage of a brief lull in the action to work on a political speech he's planning on delivering to his fellow soldiers. As he mulls over what he's going to say, the author takes the chance to hop on his soapbox. It's nothing unique to Chinese fiction--I've read the same from Jules Verne's 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea to John Norman's Gor series. Experiencing this phenomenon once again, I have to say that taking a philosophy break is, in my experience, detrimental to the story. To my recollection, the great books don't preach at you--they get their message across through dialogue and action. Or at least they'll preach the sermon after the main story... kind of like I did here.
No LibraryThing link!


Sunday, February 25, 2007

The Kidnapped Prince

by Olaudah Equiano
(and adapted by Ann Cameron)

As I'm homeschooling my girls, I sometimes come across a book or lesson that makes me think that my own education has been lacking. That happened again as I read this book. The Kidnapped Prince is the autobiography of Olaudah Equiano, an African slave in the late 18th Century who won his freedom, got an education and published his story. (Take that, all you bozos who said that Africans were inferior to whites!) Why wasn't this book required reading back when I was in school? Well, one reason is that this is an adaption of Equiano's autobiography. Ms. Cameron edited the story down a bit and rewrote the tale in a language more understandable for us 21st Century types. Anyway, I'm a strong believer in reading first hand accounts of history, and since slavery is such an important aspect of American history, I would recommend that any parent let their child check this one out. Me, I'm going to go look for the original work, to see what I might have missed.
LibraryThing link


Saturday, February 24, 2007

A book meme

(I know, I am totally breaking format here by posting a non-review. Ah, well, I already changed things by switching the reviews to Blogger, so why stop there?)
Here's a book meme I picked up from Sherri. I backtracked the meme to try and find the criteria used in making the list, but alas the trail ended at the blog of one M. D. Benoit who simply started that the meme is "going on right now at LiveJournal." So anyway:

Instructions: in bold=have read the book; in italics=want to read the book; with crosses=own the book; with asterisks=unfamiliar with the book; with X = never want to read the book; with double XX = wish you had not read the book. I also added a new designation: ? = I think I might have read the book but I wasn't paying attention.

1. The Da Vinci Code (Dan Brown)
2. Pride and Prejudice (Jane Austen)
3. To Kill A Mockingbird (Harper Lee)
4. Gone With The Wind (Margaret Mitchell)
5. †The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King (Tolkien)
6. †The Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring (Tolkien)
7. †The Lord of the Rings: Two Towers (Tolkien)
8. †Anne of Green Gables (L.M. Montgomery)
9. *Outlander (Diana Gabaldon)
10. *A Fine Balance (Rohinton Mistry)
11. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (Rowling)
12. *Angels and Demons (Dan Brown)
13. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (Rowling)
14. *A Prayer for Owen Meany (John Irving)
15. Memoirs of a Geisha (Arthur Golden)
16. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (Rowling)
17. *Fall on Your Knees (Ann-Marie MacDonald)
18. The Stand (Stephen King)
19. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (Rowling)
20. †Jane Eyre (Charlotte Bronte)
21. †The Hobbit (Tolkien)
22. †The Catcher in the Rye (J.D. Salinger)
23. †Little Women (Louisa May Alcott)
24. *The Lovely Bones (Alice Sebold)
25. *Life of Pi (Yann Martel)
26. †The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (Douglas Adams)
27. Wuthering Heights (Emily Bronte)
28. †The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe (C. S. Lewis)
29. East of Eden (John Steinbeck)
30. *Tuesdays with Morrie (Mitch Albom)
31. †Dune (Frank Herbert)
32. The Notebook (Nicholas Sparks)
33. Atlas Shrugged (Ayn Rand)
34. †1984 (Orwell)
35. The Mists of Avalon (Marion Zimmer Bradley)
36. *The Pillars of the Earth (Ken Follett)
37. *The Power of One (Bryce Courtenay)
38. *I Know This Much is True (Wally Lamb)
39. *The Red Tent (Anita Diamant)
40. *The Alchemist (Paulo Coelho)
41. The Clan of the Cave Bear (Jean M. Auel)
42. *The Kite Runner (Khaled Hosseini)
43. *Confessions of a Shopaholic (Sophie Kinsella)
44. *The Five People You Meet In Heaven (Mitch Albom)
45. †Bible
46. Anna Karenina (Tolstoy)
47. The Count of Monte Cristo (Alexandre Dumas)
48. Angela’s Ashes (Frank McCourt)
49. The Grapes of Wrath (John Steinbeck)
50. *She’s Come Undone (Wally Lamb)
51. The Poisonwood Bible (Barbara Kingsolver)
52. A Tale of Two Cities (Dickens)
53. Ender’s Game (Orson Scott Card)
54. †Great Expectations (Dickens)
55. The Great Gatsby (Fitzgerald)
56. *The Stone Angel (Margaret Laurence)
57. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (Rowling)
58. The Thorn Birds (Colleen McCullough)
59. The Handmaid’s Tale (Margaret Atwood)
60. The Time Traveller’s Wife (Audrew Niffenegger)
61. Crime and Punishment (Fyodor Dostoyevsky)
62. The Fountainhead (Ayn Rand)
63. War and Peace (Tolstoy)
64. Interview With The Vampire (Anne Rice)
65. *Fifth Business (Robertson Davies)
66. *One Hundred Years Of Solitude (Gabriel Garcia Marquez)
67. The Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants (Ann Brashares)
68. Catch-22 (Joseph Heller)
69. Les Miserables (Hugo)
70. *The Little Prince (Antoine de Saint-Exupery)
71. Bridget Jones’ Diary (Fielding)
72. *Love in the Time of Cholera (Marquez)
73. Shogun (James Clavell)
74. The English Patient (Michael Ondaatje)
75. †The Secret Garden (Frances Hodgson Burnett)
76. *The Summer Tree (Guy Gavriel Kay)
77. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (Betty Smith)
78. The World According To Garp (John Irving)
79. *The Diviners (Margaret Laurence)
80. †Charlotte’s Web (E.B. White)
81. *Not Wanted On The Voyage (Timothy Findley)
82. Of Mice And Men (Steinbeck)
83. Rebecca (Daphne DuMaurier)
84. *Wizard’s First Rule (Terry Goodkind)
85. Emma (Jane Austen)
86. †Watership Down (Richard Adams)
87. ?Brave New World (Aldous Huxley)
88. *The Stone Diaries (Carol Shields)
89. *Blindness (Jose Saramago)
90. *Kane and Abel (Jeffrey Archer)
91. *In The Skin Of A Lion (Ondaatje)
92. Lord of the Flies (Golding)
93. The Good Earth (Pearl S. Buck)
94. *The Secret Life of Bees (Sue Monk Kidd)
95. The Bourne Identity (Robert Ludlum)
96. *The Outsiders (S.E. Hinton)
97. *White Oleander (Janet Fitch)
98. *A Woman of Substance (Barbara Taylor Bradford)
99. The Celestine Prophecy (James Redfield)
100. Ulysses (James Joyce)

When I look at the number of books I haven't read and the number of books with which I'm not familiar (I was very lenient when applying that rating), I'm tempted to think that I need to go back to school or something.


Wednesday, February 21, 2007


by Karen Hesse

One drawback to reading the books assigned by my daughter's curriculum is that I start to get bored with reading about the same events or the same settings. A few months back I had gotten my fill of Leonardo da Vinci, Queen Elizabeth I and the whole Renaissance. These days, as my daughter studies the age of exploration and colonization, I'm starting to tire of reading accounts of ocean voyages. If I read about seasickness, scurvy and wormy biscuits too many more times, I'm going to have to start seeking out a copy of Dune or Lawrence of Arabia or something. On the other hand, sometimes a book is so well written that one can gloss over the same old, same old and enjoy the milieu afresh. Such is the case of this book. Stowaway is the fictionalized tale of Nicholas Young, a young lad who journeyed around the world with Captain James Cook on his 1768 to 1771 voyage. Young's name suddenly appears in the ship's log eight months after the ship sailed from England, leading historians to speculate that he was a stowaway. Ms. Hesse has taken that idea, as well as the historical records of the voyage, and woven them together to make a great tale. She made the voyage come alive, allowing me to taste the joy and emotional hardships experienced by young Nick. I'll never complain about flight delays again... well, at least not often. Anyway, I'm really toying with the idea of hanging onto the book after the kids' school days have passed. One thing is certain, though, Stowaway is well worth checking out.
LibraryThing link


Saturday, February 17, 2007

The Farm

by James E. Knight

This one's another brief peek into life in Colonial America. In this case, a farm hand nearing the end of his indenture describes what it's like working for a farmer in 1766 Pennsylvania. The descriptions are to the point, aided by line drawings, and the character of the farm hand adds a nice personal touch. If your kid is studying Colonial times, this is one book to check out.
LibraryThing link


The Village

by James E. Knight

This is a small, 30-page book describing life in a village in Colonial New Jersey, about 1730 or so. It briefly touches on the different occupations you might find in such a town and shows how the folks are interrelated. But brief as it is, it still gives a good feel for how life in such a village might be. 'Tis a nice book for your child to check out for a quick read.
LibraryThing link


Friday, February 16, 2007

Common Ground

by Jordan Bajis

A while back--I forget when, exactly--my wife and I were discussing what denomination of church we'd join if we could no longer be Lutherans. I think we were specifically comparing Baptists and Roman Catholics, but the discussion touched on some of the other denominations out there. My inclination then was towards the Roman Catholic church. After reading this book, however, the Eastern Orthodox Church would definitely be the one to get my application. Common Ground is "an introduction to Eastern Christianity" geared toward the typical mainstream American Christian. Mr. Bajis does a great job explaining his church's point of view, both in pointing out Orthodox objections to Roman Catholic and Protestant doctrines and in presenting the rationale behind their own teachings. As a born, bred, baptized and confirmed Lutheran, I didn't buy all of his arguments. But I had to truly appreciate his church's take on the mystery of Christians unity with Christ and each other. He offers a challenge to the individualism that is inherent in our American culture and so affects our religious practice. Common Ground is a book I intend to keep on my shelf for further reference.
LibraryThing link


Sunday, February 04, 2007

Escape Across the Wide Sea

by Katherine Kirkpatrick

This one is the tale of the founding of the town New Rochelle, New York. Up until now, I always thought of New Rochelle as the home of Rob and Laura Petrie. Who would've thought it had a history? Okay, lame jokes aside, the book is really the story of Daniel Bonnet's family's escape from France and eventual relocation in the New World. His family are Huguenots--Protestants who are being persecuted by the Roman Catholic King Louis XIV. When the government turns up the heat, they attempt to flee the country and head to England. Things don't quite work out that way as the family first escapes to Guadeloupe via the African coast, then up to New York. Along the way, we get a peek into a variety of settings and lives of the 1680s. The book is an interesting read, though upon reflection, I think the abundance of historical information makes the story less real. I'm not entirely sure how I should rate it, but I really like the typesetting, so I suppose that I should err on the side of a "check it out".
LibraryThing link


Friday, February 02, 2007

The Ghost in the Tokaido Inn

by Dorothy and Thomas Hoobler

You've got to love Sonlight curriculum. My elder child is currently studying world history circa the 17th and 18th Centuries. We've been immersed in European attempts to colonize the New World, reading stories about Spaniards, English and French folks all seeking their fortunes. Then this week--BAM!--we get a mystery story set in 18th Century Japan. There was nary a foreigner in sight. Anyway, that in itself doesn't make this a good book. This is a good book, of course. I'd advise everybody who has a free afternoon to check it out. It's the tale of Seikei, the fourteen year old son of a tea merchant. He is traveling with his father on his way to Edo, the capital of Japan. His father is looking to open a shop there and make the big bucks. Seikei really doesn't want to be a tea merchant, like dear old Dad, but society is such that the station of life into which you are born is the station where you stay. One night during the trip, he and his father are staying at the same inn as a powerful daimyo when the latter has a priceless ruby stolen from him. The local judge--Judge Ooka--arrives on the scene and it soon comes out that Seikei had seen the thief. Of course, it was in the middle of the night, and Seikei claims that it was a horned demon, but that's no reason to doubt his testimony, right? Well, surprisingly enough, Judge Ooka accepts Seikei's story and enlists him to help track down the thief. What follows is an enjoyable tale. As far as the mystery goes, it was only fair, but the Hoobler's handling of setting and character more than makes up for it. I'm strongly tempted to seek out the sequel.
LibraryThing link


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