Thursday, April 26, 2007
Ben Franklin of Old Philadelphia
This one's a simple biography of Benjamin Franklin. Like most juvenile bios, it's pretty simplistic and positive. In the case of Ben Franklin, I think that causes the work to suffer. Franklin was a very accomplished man. Since he did so many things and space in the book is limited, the book occasionally degenerates into a list of his accomplishments, with only the most minimal story to carry it along. That alone makes the story of this most interesting man into mere waiting room material.
Monday, April 23, 2007
Ah, what a nice stretch of the mental muscles to read a nice, thick book with big honkin' words. I've come to equate Dickens with big honkin' words. (Well, actually I equate any 19th Century writing with big honkin' words.) I also equate him with intricate plots and memorable characters. This book quite fulfilled my, er, expectations. Overall, it's a satisfying book, though I really didn't get into it until the last third of the book. 'Tis one of those classics that every well read person should have checked out back in their school days. It's the story of Pip--Philip Pirrip--an orphaned lad being raised by his sister and her blacksmith husband. The poor kid gets abused a lot, both by his sister and other folks in his community. An odd relationship with a rich recluse, Miss Havisham, gives Pip a peek into the lifestyles of the rich and famous and makes him dissatisfied with his humble station in life. When a mysterious benefactor gives him the opportunity to become a gentleman, Pip heads to London with hardly a look back. Of course, what one expects isn't always what one gets...
Tuesday, April 17, 2007
First read in the Winter of 2002.
My opinions on this book haven't changed much, though I think I enjoyed it a tad better than I did the first time through. Still worth checking out.
Thursday, April 12, 2007
This is a tale of a young girl from a traditional Indian family, Koly, who is subjected to an arranged marriage. (What date this story is set, I don't know. I'm assuming it's a modern day setting as the book mentions color photographs and computers) As you might guess from the title, it doesn't quite work out very well. How it doesn't work out, I won't reveal. It was an interesting tale, well worth checking out. The characters are done quite well, with a bit of depth to them. Koly especially is likable--I couldn't do anything but root for her as she faced the challenges ahead of her. I think the book also does a fine job of respecting the traditional culture. Ms. Whelan doesn't hesitate to point out its failings, but neither does she present it at as some horrible monstrosity which smothers any possibility of happiness. 'Twas well done.
Wednesday, April 11, 2007
The Cabin Faced West
This one's another pioneer girl tale. I'm getting tired of pioneer girl tales, so I probably won't rate this as high as it may deserve. I suppose that's the burden I must bear, being the father of daughters and reading their books and all. I suppose I could wish I had sons, but with my luck, they would have taken after their mother and liked baseball. But I digress. We were talking about this little pioneer girl, Anne Hamilton, whose family has moved to the Western frontier. In this case, the frontier is western Pennsylvania, in the 1780s. One unique thing about Anne, as a pioneer girl character is that she doesn't like being a pioneer. She's longing for the good ol' days back in Gettysburg, where she had things like a friend her own age (and gender) and windows in her home. Beyond that, and a surprise at the end of the story, the tale is pretty standard pioneer girl stuff. Overall it's well written with likable characters. Ms. Fritz's writing does draw one into the story. The story is based on a real person, so there is also the nice touch of finding out what eventually happened to the characters after the end of the tale. Anyway, I would rate this one as waiting room material but as I said, I'm kind of biased against the genre, so take my opinions with a grain of salt.
Tuesday, April 10, 2007
This one is a biography of George Washington, written and colorfully illustrated for children. It's short, easy to read and has lots of pictures. If that's not waiting room material, what is?
Mary Jones & Her Bible
This book is one of the Children's Victorian Classics. What this means, I don't know, because surprisingly enough, there is no advertisement in the book listing the other "classics". I have a suspicion that the series is not comprised of true classics that have continued to be published through the decades, but rather tales of strong moral character that certain Christian groups have decided to resurrect. Anyway, I'm not inclined to find out. Mary Jones & Her Bible isn't a horrible story, but it's nothing better than waiting room material. It's the tale of a girl who was born and raised in Wales around the turn of the 19th Century. She was a pious girl, of pious stock, who developed an intense desire to own her own Bible. The story details her nascent interest in scripture, then goes through her endeavors to save up enough money and purchase her own Bible. There are a couple of interesting folks involved in this story, but it's one of those tales where the good guys are all perfect and the bad guys... well, there aren't really any bad guys in here. I don't know if that's typical of "Victorian" literature, or it's just the style that appeals to this particular publisher. Whatever it is, it makes for a story that's morally uplifting, but a tad boring.
Sunday, April 08, 2007
The Winter of Red Snow
This is the fictional diary of a girl who was living in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania in the winter of 1777-78. That was the winter, of course, when George Washington and the Continental Army spent a harsh winter without enough food, clothing or shelter to go around. The girl, Abigail, is able to see many of the conditions suffered by the soldiers as well as giving a "first person" account of what it was like to have all these guys descend upon your community. The writing is pretty good, but like a lot of historical fiction for kids, it tends to have a little bit more information than you would expect from a kid's diary. Ah, well, it's still a tome worth checking out.
Saturday, April 07, 2007
The Story of Paul Revere: Messenger of Liberty
This one's a pretty straightforward biography for kids about Paul Revere--famed silversmith, patriot and horseman. What more can I say? It's well written (and includes Longfellow's poem about Revere's famous ride), but since it's for kids, I only found it to be waiting room material quality. Your child might rate it higher.
Friday, April 06, 2007
Dr. Jenner and the Speckled Monster
This is one icky book. It's a history of the smallpox vaccine, so it's always talking about diseases and blisters and pus and... well, icky stuff. As far as readability, the book is only waiting room material. But it is chock full of historical information. It tells a story that I never got in history class--one that is as significant to our modern age as the Boston Tea Party or the arrival of the Pilgrims.
This one's the second of the Lineage of Grace series--five novellas based on the women mentioned in the lineage of Jesus Christ. Unashamed is the story of Rahab, the prostitute of Jericho who hid the Israelite spies and so ensured the survival of herself and her family. The tale is not as good as Unveiled, the first in the series, but it's still worth checking out. Its main weakness, I think, is that it's a tad overdone. Rahab is supposed to be the woman of faith, and with the faith she displays, she should be out moving mountains. She also seems to have had a sneak preview of the New Testament. But I suppose I shouldn't be complaining. Instead, I should be asking myself why I don't have faith like that...
Wednesday, April 04, 2007
Betsy and the Emperor
The problem with a lot of our history lessons is that you learn a lot of names, but you never get introduced to the people. I suppose that's one reason why I enjoy reading biographies. Anyway, this is a kind of biography. Technically, it's historical fiction, but a lot of it is based on source materials.* The book tells the tale of a few years in the life of Betsy Balcombe. During her teens, she was living on the island of St. Helena when the deposed emperor Napoleon Bonaparte was exiled there. Napoleon and Betsy became friends of sorts and years later she wrote a memoir of that time. This isn't that book however. Ms. Rabin admits that she refrained from reading Betsy's work in order that she might craft her own take on Miss Balcombe's character.* Since I haven't read the memoir, either, I can't comment on whether Ms. Rabin made a mistake or not. I do know, however, that Betsy and the Emperor is an enjoyable piece of historical fiction. One of those good books that makes one want to delve into some of the real history behind it. So check this one out first, just in case the real story isn't as entertaining.
*If you check the comments, you'll find that Ms. Rabin has provided some more details regarding the extent of her research. Is that cool, or what?
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
First read in the Autumn of 2000.
When I watched the latest movie version of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, I told myself I should reread the series. Well, now it's over a year later and I'm finally getting around to it. (In my defense, I can't just go and fetch it from my shelf, as my shelf is packed up with most of my books.) This time around, I noticed the English-ness of the tale, with its knights and kings and all that. I wonder what an American version would be like. It would probably have to contain cowboys and trains. Anyway, I still love it.
Monday, April 02, 2007
Abraham Lincoln's World
I really enjoyed this volume of the World of... series. I don't know if it is just an interesting period of time or its the legacy of growing up in Illinois, where Abe Lincoln is our patron saint. Like the other books, it takes the life of an influential man--in this case Abraham Lincoln--and weaves in the current events of the world. Then it's all decorated with nice little illustrations. This one also carries on the tradition of being enjoyable to read and offering a nice all around view of world history. I'm glad I checked it out. It makes me eager to get back to the States and pick up my perusal of Presidential biographies. Of course, I still have to slog through the era between Jackson and Lincoln....
Sunday, April 01, 2007
I'll give this one a grudging "check it out" rating. It's the tale of a lawyer, Patrick Lanigan, who had faked his death and then swiped ninety million dollars that his law firm had gathered in a settlement. As the book opens, it is four years later and Patrick is discovered. The rest of the book details how he attempts to escape the civil and criminal cases against him, intertwined with the details of how he pulled off the scam in the first place. Like the other Grisham novels I've read, the characters are well done. This is the first novel, though, where the hero of the tale is an honest-to-Ghandi bad guy. Well, mostly bad guy. Mr. Grisham does a good job of gaining sympathy for the character. Throughout the book, I found myself rooting for Patrick, feeling guilty all the while. Anyway, though it is an entertaining read, this has to be my least favorite of the Grisham novels I've read. While the caper is intricate, it's a bit too flawless. At the end, I have a hard time believing that it could really happen.
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