Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

This is historical fiction. 532 pages of it. It follows the life of Thomas Cromwell, adviser to first, Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, and then Henry VIII of England, as the king struggles to annul his marriage to Katherine of Spain and marry instead Anne Boleyn. It is a very sympathetic treatment of Thomas Cromwell (and consequently an unsympathetic portrayal of Thomas More, whom many consider a martyr).

General rating: 3 out of 4, with a warning for some bad language

1. Is it plausible? Yes. I found it interesting, though, that Thomas Cromwell never seemed to put a foot wrong. I was also impressed with Hilary Mantel's writing: she made an essentially cold man seem very lovable to the reader. He felt like a good man to me. Was he? I wonder.

2. Is it thought provoking? Oh yes. Particularly since I just read another book ("The Instance of the Fingerpost") that was set in England 100 years later than "Wolf Hall", after the dissolution of Oliver Cromwell's (were Thomas Cromwell and Oliver Cromwell related, I wonder?) Protectorate and during the restoration to the throne of Charles I (I think it was Charles I). So in "Wolf Hall", set in and around 1533, I read about the beginning of the transition from Catholicism in England to Anglicanism. In "Fingerpost"--100 years later--England was so firmly Anglican that Papists (Catholics) were looked upon with disdain and even persecuted and killed. Interesting how things change. AND in that mystery I read awhile ago, "Her Highness's First Murder", Henry VIII and Anne's daughter, Elizabeth, is our main character. In "Wolf Hall" Elizabeth is a newborn, and the declared heir to the throne. In "Her Highness's First Murder", Henry VIII has beheaded Anne Boleyn, declared Elizabeth illegitimate (as he did to his first daughter with Queen Katherine of Spain, the very Catholic Mary) and she, Elizabeth is our main character. Confused yet? Well, it's been very interesting to have all these fictional viewpoints of events that happened so many years ago.

3.Is it engaging? Yes, very much so.

4. Is it uplifting? Well, it's not depressing, but it's not uplifting either.

Language: There's some crude language in here. Several characters that make a brief appearance use some very foul words. They are not a regular occurrence, though.
Sex: Well, there are multiple references to it (can't write a book about Henry VIII without references to sex), but there are no descriptive scenes.

My recommendation: I really liked this book. I can see that some might find Hilary Mantel's writing style irritating--it's not always clear who is speaking or who is acting in her writing. But I liked her rather abbreviated style. I found her narrative point of view interesting also. Sometimes it seemed like first person, sometimes 3rd person omnicient, sometimes limited omnicient.... maybe it actually was a consistent narrative style, but it didn't feel like it (and I'm too lazy to look back and actually check!). And I really liked her characters. I could see they were sinners, I could see they were hypocrites too, but I liked them! Interesting. It made history come alive to me. If you like historical fiction (and if you can overlook a few scattered "f-words"), you'll like this one!

Sunday, December 26, 2010

She Walks In Beauty by Siri Mitchell

This book is about Clara Carter and her debut in New York Society in the 19th century--a time when corruption at Tammany Hall was at its apex and when a well-to-do woman's best hope of a secure future was marriage to a man of means, no love required.

General rating: 3.75 out of 4; lightweight, entertaining with a good message

1. Was it plausible? Yes, I suppose so.

2. Was it thought provoking? Yes, in a mild way. Some themes the author touched: love, corruption, gossip, fame, God, family... and in particular, being loved and accepted for who you really are.

3. Was it engaging? Yes, it was.

4. Was it uplifting? Yes, it was.

Language: none
Sex: none

My recommendation: This book felt like it was aimed at young adults. The writing was a little stilted and the whole story, while entertaining and good, felt a little juvenile to me. The serious issues are glossed over, the difficulties are miraculously solved, the bad things looked at through a veil. I actually like books like that mostly, but I like it better when I don't notice that that's what's going on. (Contradictory of me, I know). But I think the sign of a good writer is when the reader gets lost in the story without noticing writing style or writing devices. If the aim of a book is to tell a story--and in fiction I believe it is--then the "perfect" story experience is what I want to have, without distractions (and a beautifully wordy author is just as likely to create these distractions with flowery prose as is an author with a more stilted voice). Siri Mitchell's style is just a little distracting because of it's obvious soft-pedaling. Mitchell is labeled as a Christian writer too, but she does not have the heavy hand that many Christian writers do. I appreciated that. Overall I really enjoyed the book and I like that I could confidently recommend it to anyone--there is nothing offensive here and there is a very sweet message in the book as well. AND I always like to support a good Christian writer. Thank you, Siri Mitchell!

An Instance of the Fingerpost by Iain Pears

This is a historical mystery told from 4 points of view. In 1663 England, an Oxford don is murdered. Who did it? The solution is obscured by politics and religion and the perspectives of our 4 narrators.

General rating: 3 out of 4--a neat book with great characters and a fascinating narrative style.

1. Is it plausible? Yes. Well, mostly. Except the speculation that the Savior is reborn and re-martyred in every generation. That idea was a little too edgy for me. Urgh.

2. Is it thought provoking? Not in a philosophical way, but it is full of interesting historical information. Also the characters themselves are interesting and the way their different stories dovetail is fascinating.

3. Is it engaging? Very. I am the kind of reader who has trouble engaging if I dislike the main characters, and two of the narrators are pretty unlikeable. But! By the time I was reading their stories I was hooked on the mystery. I LOVED how each person's narrative told a completely different version of the same series of events.

4. Is it uplifting? No. It's just not. Life in England in the 1660s was hard. And the Anglican church was so powerful, so stifling. Not that the Catholic church was much better at that time. Anyway, it's an interesting book, but not an uplifting one. Not depressing either, though!

Language: none
Sex: Varied references to sexual encounters (including rape), but no sex scenes. This is the 17th century, after all, when all that was hidden, and rumors of immorality could absolutely ruin a woman's reputation (and a man's if he were hoping for promotion within the church).

My recommendation: A very interesting read. I really liked the ending. It was very unexpected (and parts of it a little unbelievable). It's a long book--692 pages--but extraordinary! I don't think I've ever read a book quite like this. I recommend it.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Major Pettigrew's Last Stand by Helen Simonson

This book is a love story between a retired Major (a widower) and a Pakistani shopkeeper (a widow). It takes place in a small town in England.

General rating: 3.5 out of 4 if you can overlook a few objectionable words and a premarital sexual relationship (with no bedroom scenes included).

1. Is it plausible? Yes, except for a bit of Mrs. Ali's behavior towards the end of the book.

2. Is it thought provoking? It is, actually. The major's valuing his Churchill guns over family and friends gives one pause. Then there's also the ideas of selfishness, death, racism, grieving, family, loyalty, hypocrisy, the Pakistani culture (and plenty of other themes too) to mull over.

3. Is it engaging? Yes.

4. Is it uplifting? Well, it ends happily and our main characters make some emotional discoveries about themselves and the others that they care about. BUT! I was very disappointed that the Major and his love consummated their relationship outside of marriage. That really compromised this whole book for me.

Language: all acceptable until 3 obscenities in the last 15 pages of the book.
Sex: no descriptions, but one of the relationships that works itself out in this book is one that has produced an illegitimate child--the double standard by many Eastern Indian cultures about sex before marriage--okay for men, unacceptable for women--is part of the story. AND our two main characters make love before they are married. This bothered me because both characters were so very moral in so many other areas of their life and I was so disappointed that they took the all too common exception to sex. AND I had trouble believing that a 58-year-old Pakistani widow would invite her "boyfriend"--whom she's never even KISSED--to make love to her. It just seemed out of character and I was so bothered by it. No details, no descriptions, no titillation... just the disappointing invitation and the jubilant morning after. Sigh. Are there any modern clean books in the world anywhere (besides the "Christian" ones)??????????

My recommendation: I really liked this book. I was so disappointed by the premarital sex thing, though, that I have trouble remembering how much I was liking it up to then! There was a lot to think about in the book. I liked the Major a lot and enjoyed watching his struggles and triumphs. I didn't ever feel I got to know Mrs. Ali very well--her character was not as completely developed as his. I thought quite a bit about the ever-present disconnect between the generations when parents leave their children to the mercy of the "philosophies of the world". The Major and his son exemplified this kind of relationship. The Major and his wife had tried to pass on their ideals to Roger without giving him any framework ("framework"=religion and its principles) with which to build upon. Therefore they raised a highly motivated, hard-working, completely selfish and amoral boy. Like so many other good people do. On the other hand, the Pakistani family exemplified good religion gone bad, with unbalanced and irrational actions taken all in the name of religion. Sigh. Interesting contrast. Hm. I'm getting sidetracked. This book was a good one. Can I recommend it? Kind of.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Mud City by Deborah Ellis

This review is by Isaiah, age 12.

This book is the third in the "Breadwinner" series. It tells the story of Shauzia, Parvana's best friend, as she tries to get to France.

General rating: 3 out of 4--not uplifting, but good to read anyway

1. Is it plausible? Yes. It is very plausible. It happened 10 or 15 years ago when the Taliban had control of Afghanistan.

2. Is it thought provoking? Yes, it was very thought provoking. Several times I thought if it would be possible to go that far or to do that many things or to act like that. She did some very brave things.

3. Is it engaging? It is very engaging--you want to know what happens next. There are a lot of cliffhangers and dead ends.

4. Is it uplifting? No. It's not uplifting because she never gets to France in the end, she gets hurt, and more than half the time she's starving. But all of the rest of the book is a very good book and tells an interesting story.

Language: none
Sex: none

My recommendation: It was a good book. I would have liked to have read more about Parvana, because "Parvana's Journey" (the previous book) ended in kind of a cliffhanger. "Mud City" was the book I liked best in the series, though, because it was an interesting story to tell and it told me more about Afghanistan and Pakistan than the previous two did. I recommend this book for ages 10 and up. It can be read apart from the series because it tells a totally different story. I recommend that you read it.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Parrot and Olivier in America by Peter Carey

This is an imaginative version of the story of Alexis de Toqueville. While some of the basic outlines of the life of Carey's Olivier de Barfleur do mirror those of the life of Alexis de Toqueville, the main of the book is an entertaining invention. Our aristocratic Olivier find himself bundled off to America, saddled with a clever man-of-the-earth, Parrot, as his servant. The clash and eventual co-operation of their personalities, the portrayal of American democracy, the beautiful lyricism of Carey's writing--these are the things that make up this book.

General rating: 3 out of 4. I liked it, but can't unreservedly recommend it.

1. Is it plausible. Yes.

2. Is it thought provoking? Yes, it really is.

3. Is it engaging? Yes, particularly the back half. I found it a little difficult to get caught up in the book at first because I didn't like ANY of the characters during almost the entire first half of the book. Peter Carey's writing style is lovely and that helped a lot.

4. Is it uplifting? No. Not at all.

Language: there are a few very offensive words and quite a few less offensive obscenities as well
Sex: well... my evaluation of sexual content is based on one main thing: titillation. If there is sexual content that is generally offensive (e.g. violent, base or ugly), then that's obviously unpalatable. But from time to time there will be a book that has its share of sexual relationships that can be best described as "earthy" but don't seem to be designed to titillate. The vast majority of sexual content in novels seems to me to be added just to arouse and entertain. The sexual content in this novel was at times a bit intrusive to the story, I thought, but didn't stand out to me as added just to be provocative. Mostly. That said, this book does have plenty of sexual content. Both men are in love at one point or another and even when their sexual feelings about their loves aren't described, there are referrals to sex in general. Sex being, apparently, on every man's mind frequently. So I'm told.

My recommendation: I would hesitate to recommend this to my friends because of its earthy content. I have no desire to add it my collection. I had trouble getting into it. I will most likely not read any other books by Peter Carey. Although his writing is very evocative, very transporting, I don't care for his earthy style nor his veiled cynicism. On the other hand, I'm glad I read this book. It made me think about America and what makes it unique and what makes it a wonderful place to live and what its struggles may have always been. It also awoke in me an interest to read Toqueville's "Democracy in America", which I've heard so much quoted from over the years. I did find myself invested in Olivier and Parrot by the end. I loved how Carey illustrated so many ideas just through the feelings and experiences of his main characters. It was an interesting book.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons

This is a graphic novel (an extended comic book, really). It was written during the cold war and has a dark, apocalyptic theme. It's not about superheroes, exactly, but about well-trained men and women who dress up and do heroic things. They call them vigilantes.

General rating: 3 out of 4, but very low grades on bad language and sexual content. This is a dark book. I cannot recommend it.

1. Is it plausible? It's fantasy. There were no jarring details. It was plausible.

2. Is it thought provoking? Yes, it is. Written during the cold war, there is plenty of philosophizing on war, the decline of society, power, and other such subjects.

3. Is it engaging? Yes, very.

4. Is it uplifting? Absolutely not. It's bloody and dark and a little frightening.

Language: sprinkled with obscenities and profanities
Sex: Yes, of the cartoon variety, which makes it less graphic (contradictorily), but there's quite a bit of it. There's also a character who rarely wears clothes--he's nearly always naked.

My recommendation: Time Magazine chose this as one of its 100 Best English-Language Novels since 1923. Hm. I've long observed that as far as the "critics" go, darker and painful is better. I've never agreed. To me, if a book fails to uplift, it cannot be absolutely qualified as a "good" book. I understand that dark, painful books can be powerful in their messages. They just don't bring light to my soul. And light is what I want in there. This book will not bring light into your soul. It's interesting--I do really like the idea of graphic novels and I've read several that I really liked. If you like DC comics, you'll like this book. It's very dated, the attitudes and portrayal of the cold war (and a possible starting of WWIII) is very 80s. The most moral character is terribly disturbed. The most powerful character is terribly disengaged from humanity. There's a lot of blood and gore. It asks some good questions. (Does the end justify the means?) There is no real resolution in the end. I cannot recommend it as a good book, but I can see why so many consider it to be exceptional.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The Time Traveler's Guide to Medieval England by Ian Mortimer

This book is subtitled "a Handbook for Visitors to the Fourteenth Century", and that's at the very least what it is. Can you call a 292 page book a handbook? There is A LOT of detail about the 1300s. Ian Mortimer covers such topics as: landscape, people, what to wear, where to stay, what to eat and drink, hygiene and what to do.

General rating: 3 of 4. Slow in parts, but brilliantly full of information.

1. Is it plausible? Absolutely. The most outstanding thing about this book is how well researched it is. I particularly like the illustrative quotations from books written during the 14th century. Of course, all history is part fiction (because no one knows what really happened in the past, right?), but Ian Mortimer's "best guesses" don't detract at all from this book's general plausibility.

2. Is it thought provoking? Yes. Of course, much of what I thought about was along these lines: "I am SO glad I am alive now, rather than 700 years ago!". But Mortimer shares his philosophy of history along with the many historical details he has researched. He also shares quotes from 14th century literature that are beautiful and thought provoking.

3. Is it engaging? Ah, here we have a bit of a problem. About half of this book is pretty interesting, but the other half just d-r-a-g-s! It took me over a month to finish because I kept putting it down and picking it up. I decided to just quit reading it and then I decided to keep on reading it. Finally I got to some chapters that I thought were really interesting and they carried me through the book, with a little stuttering through the chapter on "The Law", which was long and detailed. Actually, this whole book is extremely detailed, and not all details will interest every reader. I LOVED the section on 14th century literature especially (in the "what to do" chapter). I guess the best way to read the book is to read the sections that you find interesting and skip the ones you don't.

4. Is it uplifting? I found it moderately uplifting. For one thing, finishing with the "what to do" section leaves the reader with the happiest impressions of the 1300s. Chaucer, Langland, "Sir Gawain and the Green Knight"--I love that stuff. I also have to mention my happiness just at being alive in the 21st century. That's an uplifting thought right? There are some bad things about life in the USA in 2010, but it sure beats living in England in 1330!!

Language: none
Sex: none

My recommendation: A very very interesting read. Feel free to skip parts you find uninteresting, but do hang on--there's a lot of good stuff here. And Ian Mortimer really knows Medieval England. He also shares his philosophy of history which is worth thinking about. A good book--well worth having on your shelves!

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

By Royal Command by Charlie Higson

This review is by Isaiah, age 12

This is one of a series about James Bond when he was young. In this book James has just come back from a terrifying trip to Mexico and he goes back to school. The school is taking a trip to the Austrian Alps to ski. Many terrifying things happen, but when James returns to school, he falls onto a mysterious and dangerous plot. Can he stop it in time? And if he does, what will happen?

General Rating: 2.5 out of 4, but I think it really deserves at least a 3.5 because I liked it so much.

1. Is it plausible? No. For one thing, James Bond doesn't really exist. And there can't be that many double and triple and quadruple agents, can there? And a lot of things were incredible coincidences.

2. Is it thought provoking? Yes. I thought, is it possible to do what he did on the mountain? Is it possible that someone could survive that bad of a fire? Hm...

3. Is it engaging? Quite. This is the best thing about the Young James Bond books--they are very nerve-racking and gripping.

4. Is it uplifting? Kind of, I guess. A good guy always dies in the end and that's not very uplifting.

Language: There is some mild swearing.
Sex: none

My recommendation: For ages 12 and up. It was a very good book. I liked it a lot. I liked the previous book, "Hurricane Gold"--that was a very good book too. I hope there's more coming in the series. I've read all 5 so far. They all have an even amount of good people dying and bad people dying AND plenty of action and suspense.

The Goose Girl by Shannon Hale

This review is by Allegra, age 15

This book is a retelling of the fairy tale by the Grimm Brothers.

General rating: 3.5 out of 4--a really good book.

1. Is it plausible? It's plausible within the time period and the fantasy genre.

2. Is it thought provoking? Not extremely, but it does give some pause here and there. For example, it did make me wonder about the duties of a goose girl. What did she really do and what was the importance of it?

3. Is it engaging? Very engaging. It's very interesting; there are lots of twists and turns that keep you occupied.

4. Is it uplifting? Yes, very uplifting. It has a happy ending--the good ended happily and the bad ended unhappily.

Language: none that I can remember
Sex: There are romance parts, but that's it.

My recommendation: Best read by ages 12 and up. It looks like a long book, daunting at first, but once you start reading it, it is actually very good. Shannon Hale is a good author; she writes well and her books are good. The Goose Girl really lives up to the expectations I had.

Parvana's Journey by Deborah Ellis

This review is by Isaiah, age 12

This book is a sequel to "The Breadwinner". It is about Parvana as she makes her journey to find her mother. Her father has died and it is a hard journey. She finds some friends. Will she make it to her mother?

General rating: 2 out of 4. It was very engaging, but very depressing.

1. Is it plausible? Yes

2. Is it thought provoking? No, it doesn't make me think about anything other than the book. The book is kind of odd. There are a lot of strange things happening.

3. Is it engaging? It is very engaging. You want to know what happens next.

4. Is it uplifting? No. A lot of people die, so it isn't uplifting at all.

Language: none
Sex: none

My recommendation: Best for ages 9 and up. The book was okay. It had enjoyable characters, I guess. It had a very strange storyline. I liked the first one better. There is one book left in this series, though, and I will be reading it too. It's called "Mud City". As far as this book goes, I didn't really like it. Not only is it a very strange story, but a lot of the main characters die, which I just didn't like. Just stick with the first book.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Miss Pym Disposes by Josephine Tey

This book, published in 1948, is the first of Josephine Tey's mysteries. It isn't a typical mystery, as the body only appears in the last fraction of the book. The ending is wonderfully ambiguous.

General rating: 3 of 4. It cannot be considered uplifting (can any mystery?), but it's a great book.

1. Is it plausible? Yes. Josephine Tey herself attended a girls school just such as the one she writes about in this book. And her characters in this book are very well developed, very real.

2. Is it thought provoking? Unlike most mysteries, this one is indeed thought provoking. The title, "Miss Pym Disposes" is based on the saying "Man proposes; God disposes" and the book discusses "playing God", among many other things. It is the kind of book, too, that stays in the mind for a long time after reading--one of my personal indicators of a gifted author, one who writes a memorable book.

3. Is it engaging? Yes, it is engaging. I couldn't describe it as "gripping" (except maybe towards the end), but it is very pleasantly engaging.

4. Is it uplifting? Well, it's not depressing, but it's definitely not uplifting. The ambiguous ending makes this book a bit unsettling at the end, in fact.

Language: none
Sex: none

My recommendation: I am a great fan of "vintage" mysteries (I like "vintage" romances too). I wax nostalgic of a time in fiction where the writer had to depend on actual good writing and witty dialogue, rather than sensational details and smutty histories, to seduce the reader. Josephine Tey (and Dorothy Sayers too, as a matter of fact), is this kind of writer--strong on clear characterization, conversation, subtleties, ideas, emotion and setting. I love being drawn into a book on the basis of thought rather than sensation. I value an author who, with a light hand, invites the reader into thought and emotion, and who doesn't rely on shoving salacious situations down the reader's throat in order to elicit emotion. This is one of those books that invites rather than abducts. It adds to my collection of thoughtful, interesting, re-readable books. I highly recommend it.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Mindless Eating by Brian Wansink, Ph.D.

This book is subtitled "Why We Eat More Than We Think". It's an entertaining report of a variety of studies done by Dr. Wansink on how Americans eat. After every chapter, Dr Wansink has a series of ideas on how to apply each principle he illustrates with his studies. His final chapter is full of suggestions for painless weight loss.

General rating: 4 out of 4. I really liked this book. Interesting AND useful!

1. Is it plausible? YES

2. Is it thought provoking? YES

3. Is it engaging? Surprisingly, YES.

4. Is it uplifting? Yes, it promises a relatively easy approach to long-term weight loss. That's uplifting!

Language: none
Sex: none

My recommendation: This joins my growing collection of common-sense weight loss ideas. It's an easy book to read--very engaging, well organized, clearly written and not very long. The ideas are easily applied and make sense. I love the idea of a series of small changes making a big difference in the long run. This is a book worth reading.

Jane's Fame by Claire Harman

This book summarizes the rise of Jane Austen's and her works from obscurity to fame.

General rating: 1 out of 4--Well researched, but not engaging.

1. Is it plausible? Yes, mostly. I have problems with any attempt at a biography of Jane Austen; since so little is known about her, every biography must be part fiction, as of course this one is as well.

2. Is it thought provoking? No so's you'd notice.

3. Is it engaging? I was engaged for the first few chapters, then slogging through the following chapters until I finally allowed myself to quit reading a bit more than halfway through the book. NO, I did not find this book engaging.

4. Is it uplifting? Um, not really. For one thing, I find it depressing that Jane Austen 1: died young and 2: left very little record of herself behind.

Language: none
Sex: none

My recommendation: Unless you are truly a hard core Jane Austen groupie, you can safely skip this book. I really like everything Jane Austen's written and I like many of the Austen spin-offs (with a few very notable exceptions). I also like many of the Austen-based movies. So I consider myself a Jane Austen fan. However, the biography section of this book contained a lot of guesswork and supposition on the part of the author and, of course, could offer no information apart from that which I already know about Jane's life (because there is hardly any info out there and what IS out there can be summarized into about 10 pages or less!). And the chronicle of Jane Austen's fame is just not interesting enough for a book, really. At least that's my opinion.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Half Moon Investigations by Eoin Colfer

This review is by Allegra, age 15.

General rating: 3 out of 4--a very good read.

This book is set in Ireland. Fletcher "Moon", also known as "Half Moon", is a 12-year-old private investigator who is hired by a girl from his school named April. She wants him to find a lost possesion. This leads him to a very large conspiracy.

1. Is it plausible? The 12-year-old private investigator isn't really plausible, but overall it was reasonably believable.

2. Is it thought provoking? Not really. You're usually too engrossed in the story to have any meaningful thoughts.

3. Is it engaging? It is very engaging.

4. Is it uplifting? Yes. There are some low parts and some high parts, but all in all it's pretty uplifting.

Language: none
Sex: none

My recommendation: Ages 10 and up would probably be ideal for this novel. I liked it because of the mystery that was involved. It was very interesting and had lots of twists and turns which kept me anxiously engaged in it. Also it was written by Eoin Colfer, who already has a long "rap sheet" of good books. (BTW, Isaiah, age 12, read it and said it was "okay".)

Artemis Fowl The Artic Incident by Eoin Colfer and...

Adapted by Eoin Colfer and Andrew Donkin
Art by Giovanni Rigano
Color by Paolo Lamanna

This review is by Isaiah, age 12.

This is the graphic novel of the book. Artemis receives an email telling him of his father's whereabouts. But! "The People", also known as fairies, think he is working with goblins. What will happen?

General Rating: 3 out of 4. It was fun to read.

1. Is it plausible? It is "unbelieveable" because fairies don't exist and neither do mythical monsters. But, since it is a fantasy, I guess it's a plausible one.

2. Is it thought provoking? No.

3. Is it engaging? Yes. It is a very good fictional book and is very engaging.

4. Is it uplifting? Yes, it is because in the end, they get the bad guys!

Language: none
Sex: none

My recommendation: It is a very good book for ages 10 and up. I like it because it's a mix between magic and warfare. The pictures were very cool. They had a lot of detail. A must-read for Eoin Colfer fans.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The Boy Who Dared by Susan Campbell Bartoletti

In Hitler's Germany during WWII, a boy who is member of Hitler's youth (as was required by law), and who is also a Mormon, illegally listens to the BBC radio, discovers that Hitler's regime is lying to Germans, distributes leaflets that tell the truth, and is imprisoned and executed as a traitor. This is his story, a piece of fiction based on a true story. It is written specifically for older children and young adults.

General rating:

1. Is it plausible? Yes. Although the author herself points out that this book is historical fiction, she wrote it after much research. The facts are true, but her portrayal of his thoughts are her conjection based on what she's learned about him.

2. Is thought provoking? Yes. Just like most of the WWII literature out there, this book inevitably invites the reader to compare his or her own convictions with that of this young man's. He was encouraged by friends and family members to think what he wanted certainly! But to speak only of what was acceptable. I think this is what most of us would choose to do--it seems logical and safe. But this boy took a great risk by showing, speaking and then acting upon his knowledge and his convictions. And he died because of it. Whenever I read books about persecution, racial cleansing, about genocides and holocausts, (another great one is "Left to Tell" by Immaculee Ilibagiza about the Rwandan holocaust) I find myself appalled and frightened at how quickly people are talked into spying on, reporting on, hating and even torturing and killing their neighbors and countrymen. Are we really followers to this degree? Are we really this bloodthirsty somewhere inside of ourselves? How can we so easily believe the lies of evil men and women? It's truly frightening and makes me determined to amplify that "voice" inside me, that voice that underscores truth and clarifies lies. How can so many people listen, swallow and then live such a horrendous lie like the one Hitler taught? Well, that question has been asked and answers have been given many times. Anyway, YES, this book is thought provoking.

3. Is it engaging? Yes.

4. Is it uplifting? Hm. Depends on your point of view. I found it disturbing--not uplifting. But it is uplifting to read about people who stood above the incorrect but popular dictates of their time. Helmuth Hubner was smart, peristent, brave and RIGHT. So that part's uplifting. I found the whole story horrifying, though, so it doesn't make the uplifting grade for me.

Language: none
Sex: none (although Helmuth is himself an illegitimate child and his mother's boyfriend does move in with the family)

My recommendation: If you like this kind of book, this one is a good one. I am so glad that Susan Campbell Bartoletii has told Helmuth's story. I don't like this kind of book at all... but I do think it's important to read these stories. I passionately dislike fiction that is about pain and suffering, but I honor the stories of REAL people who experienced extreme difficulties and chose to live honorably.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Ogawa

A housekeeper and her son develop a relationship with her employer, a professor who, because of an accident nearly 20 years ago, only remembers things for 80 minutes at a time. The housekeeper must re-introduce herself to him every morning.

General rating: 3.8 out of 4 (I hesitantly question the plausibility because I enjoyed it so much.)

1. Is it plausible? Perhaps.

2. Is it thought provoking? Very much so. The professor is a mathematics genius and he uses math to relate to the world. There's a lot of math in this book, but it's more than just numbers and problems; in this book, the math problems symbolize life and its problems and beauties too. In fact, this is a very layered book, worthy of more than one reading.

3. Is it engaging? Yes. I sat down to read it and didn't get up until I finished.

4. Is it uplifting? Yes, it's uplifting and touching and educational. A very nice combination. There is so much that is suggested, left unsaid. It's a bittersweet and sentimental book about math and baseball and dear, kind people. A strange combination, perhaps. I closed the book with a very sweet feeling drifting right through me.

Language: none
Sex: none, although there are no intact families in this book, and several unwed mothers (and fatherless children) and references to one adulterous relationship. All benign, but there all the same.

My recommendation: A very sweet book about loyalty, love, service, strength... and, of course, math and baseball. I read it too fast to really do it justice (because it's due at the library today !! And I can't renew it cuz someone else has it on hold). It's a book that seems to ask for savoring, if you know what I mean. It's worth reading. I think those who like math and baseball would especially enjoy it. And I keep on thinking what a funny combination this book is: an old man, a young boy, a housekeeper, a sister-in-law, housekeeping, baseball, math, memories, injuries.... Unexpected and lovely.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Out to Canaan by Jan Karon

This book is a continuation of the Mitford series. Father Tim continues to plan for retirement, tries to find Dooley's scattered siblings, suffers through a highly contested mayoral race and unravels a little mystery.

General rating: 3.5 out of 4 (plausibility issues, as usual)

1. Is it plausible? Well... as I've mentioned before, it's "ideal plausible", if you get my meaning. I really don't think good things happen to good people all the time, although it's really sweet to read about that kind of thing.

2. Is it thought provoking? Yes, now and then.

3. Is it engaging. Very much.

4. Is it uplifting. YES.

Language: none
Sex: none

My recommendation: Another very sweet book. I liked it a lot. What else is there to say?

10 Books That Screwed Up the World by Benjamin Wiker, Ph.D.

This book is subtitled: "And 5 Others That Didn't Help". It is an indictment of a collection of books that have had really bad ideas that were widely believed and have become part of our reality. Writers of the earliest books often influenced the writers of the later books. Benjamin Wiker summarizes each book's arguments and refutes them and explains why they have been so harmful. The point of view is that of a conservative Christian.

General rating: 4 out of 4

1. Is it plausible? Yes. It is, of course, one man's point of view and is not meant to be a "balanced" treatment of any of the books included. A critic is quoted on the back of this book describing Wiker's summaries as "poison pen portraits" and it's a good description of his approach. He tears these arguments and their authors up--with the quotations and the research to back it all up.

2. Is it thought provoking? YES, YES and, uh, YES. I actually feel that I need to read it at least one more time just to get it all straight and clear in my mind. It was very interesting and there were many phrases and even paragraphs that I wanted to write down and read repeatedly. Here's one: "What is ideaology? We live in such an ideological age that it's hard for us to distinguish good thinking from bad. The crucial distinction is that ideaology is not philosophy. Philosophy is the love of wisdom, the love of what is real, whether we happen to like it or not. It is the desire for truth, and the continual humility to remold our desires to fit reality. Ideology comes at truth from the opposite direction, molding truth to what we happen to desire. Because it has no compunction about refashioning truth to fit our desires, it has no hestitation, in the hands of someone like [add your despised ideologist's name here], in refashioning reality according to our cravings. Pseudo-science is thus the handmaid to ideology. Politics is its hammer."
Whew! See what I mean? Yes! This book is nothing if not thought provoking.

3. Is it engaging? Surprisingly, yes. It took me a few days to get through this book because it was thought provoking and I needed "digesting" time, but it was engaging enough for me to read continually if only my brain were up to the extra work!

4. Is it uplifting? I thought so. It was freeing, for one thing. And it's always a rush of sorts when you read a book of ideas that dovetail with your own! I really enjoyed reading a book that made connections between some "classic" ideaologists and the "sacred" ideology in our own world today.

Language: none
Sex: there were notations of the sexual deviances of a few of the writers (e.g. Kinsey) that were a bit disturbing. But they weren't included for titillating purposes, but to illustrate (referring to my e.g. above) Kinsey's "reality" which, in turn, informed his "ideology" (I'm gonna have to start using that word in casual conversation--especially if I can manage to contrast it with philosophy in the same conversation!!).

My recommendation: A good read for anyone who considers him/herself a "thinker". I have a very tenuous grasp on many of the ideas written about in this book and it was good for me to know more. I also feel encouraged to make my own study of these authors so I can see for myself where my own disagreements lie. Wiker's prose was very accessible. The ideas are less accessible, but Wiker makes it as easy as possible to digest the things he is explaining. A very enjoyable book.

The Breadwinner by Deborah Ellis

This review is by Isaiah, age 12

General rating: 3.5 out of 4. It was not as interesting at the beginning.

This book is about a young Afghan girl who becomes the breadwinner when her father is taken by the Taliban.

1. Is it plausible? Yes, quite plausible.

2. Is it thought provoking? Yes, very thought provoking. I thought, "would it be possible for her to do all those things?" and it also made me wonder what happened next? It was a cliffhanger ending. It made me think, "wow, times were tough for women then!" (this book took place in 1996). I think things are easier now.

3. Was it engaging? Medium engaging. At first I wasn't that interested because it wasn't very interesting! But then it got interesting.

4. Was it uplifting? When I finished the book I felt that I was glad that we had free choice today and that we weren't forced to do things like the Afghans were back when this book took place in 1996. So, yes, it was very uplifting.

Language: no bad language except for the occasional "dumb" or "stupid"
Sex: none

My recommendation: I recommend this book for ages 8 and up. It was interesting and I learned a lot about the culture and some of the foods they ate. I also learned about how some of the families survived by having their children work to support them.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke

This book is about the re-emergence of magic in England. Mr. Norrell is the magician who brings practical magic back to England. He allows no one else to practice magic until, that is, he gains a pupil, Jonathan Strange. Jonathan is very different from Mr. Norrell and before long it seems they must come to a parting of the ways.

General rating: 2 out of 4, but still a good read if you like this kind of book.

1. Is it plausible? This concept of "practical magic" actually makes this book about magic feel more plausible than many. It is certainly plausible within the fantasy genre. What makes it feel more real is its placement in a well-researched historical background. Unusual and cool.

2. Is it thought provoking? Not particularly.

3. Is it engaging? It's the kind of book that is slow to reveal the plot. And it's SUPER long (782 pages). It took me awhile to get in to, but once I did, I was hooked.

4. Is it uplifting? Not really. It's fairly neutral. I like a good ending and the ending to this book was unsatisfying. It cries out for a sequel, but no sequel currently exists (to my knowledge).

Language: none
Sex: none

My recommendation: I read a review of this book that described it as combining "the dark mythology of fantasy with the delicious social comedy of Jane Austin". Hearing it described as such made me like it better, actually. I did not dislike this book. It was very interesting in parts and after I read it, it stayed in my thoughts for days--I really like it when a book has that effect. But the ending was so... unfinal... and the beginning was so slow. There were parts of it that were definitely gripping. But I kind of had to talk myself into really liking it. So if you're in the mood for a long, mostly interesting read, go for it (but don't buy it--borrow it from me!). If you want something gripping with a "POW" ending, put this book off for the next long, cold, rainy day.

Women Food and God by Geneen Roth

Here's what one of the back cover reviews says: "This is a hugely important work, a life-changer, one that will free untold women from the tyranny of fear and hopelessness around their bodies. Beautifully written, a joy to read, rich in both revelation and great humor." Right. This was a book of new age philosophy, earthy and vague, with a few great concepts.

General rating: 1 out of 4 (really it scored a 2 out of 4, but I subtracted one because of all the terrible language and just because it was SO disappointing)

1. Is it plausible? Yes.

2. Is it thought provoking? Yes.

3. Is it engaging? If you can get through the extremely foul language in the first dozen pages of the book, and if you can wade through the new age mumbo jumbo that clutters up ALL of Roth's ideas, and if you can stomach her moral relativity, then you might be able to get through the book.

4. Is it uplifting? No, absolutely not. It might have been, had it delivered what it promised.

Language: Tons of offensive language
Sex: none (that I can remember)

My recommendation: There are so many other truly uplifting and meaningful books to read about "freeing untold women from the tyranny of fear and hopelessness around their bodies". I might have felt more positively about this book had the author not promised a food-life-God connection and then delivered obscenities, vague new-age spirituality and just what the subtitle promises: "An Unexpected Path to Almost Everything". This book leads basically to "almost nowhere". To be fair, there was at least one substantive concept that I found valuable. But this/these concept(s) can be found in "Eating Awareness Training" with less rambling and fewer distracting anecdotes. After I read this book I felt very conflicted: there were a few good ideas that I wanted to read again BUT I was unwilling to wade through all the garbage that they were embedded in. Grrr! My advice: skip it. There are far better books on this topic out there. I'll certainly try to find more of them.

Eating Awareness Training by Molly Groger

This book promises to teach the reader how to eat whatever he/she wants and to still lose weight. It is subtitled "The Natural Way To Permanent Weight Loss" and promises "No diets, no exercises, no pills".

General rating: 4 out of 4

1. Is it plausible? Yes.

2. Is it thought provoking? Absolutely! What an idea--lose weight without a diet! Not only is the idea intriguing, but Groger's program, if followed, will lead the reader to introspection and increased self-awareness.

3. Is it engaging? Short and sweet and useful--yes! It is very engaging.

4. Is it uplifting? Yes--it gives hope and instruction.

Language: no
Sex: no

My recommendation: I have been on many diets over the course of my life and I think they are destructive--with no exceptions. This book introduces the vision of a healthy (and slim) life with no diets. I believe the idea is sound. WELL worth reading and trying to apply. Can it change lives? Possibly. Well, maybe even probably. Will it solve every overeater's problems? Probably not. It's really hard to change, even if one knows how. But! I love this book's philosophy and it changed my perspective utterly. Now if only I could do as she suggests as "stay in the present" and practice "mindful eating". I'm still working on those....

Little Lady, Big Apple by Hester Browne

This book is the sequel to "The Little Lady Agency", which (as I recall) was cute and entertaining. This book follows Melissa and her boyfriend (whom she met in the first book) to New York. Conflict and difficulties ensue.

General rating: 2 out of 4 (NOT thought provoking, not uplifting)

1. Is it plausible? I suppose

2. Is it thought provoking? Only if you don't indulge in a lot of thinking.

3. Is it engaging? Fairly

4. Is it uplifting? Not really. I actually found it kind of depressing, but I think that's because of my perspective as very morally conservative. This book was very much of a piece with much modern "chick lit". Girl lives with boyfriend, girl pursues career, girl must find balance between the two, etc. How pitifully destitute of vision and direction that all is.

Language: a bit of bad language, yes. This book will not join my collection.
Sex: Plenty, but no descriptions. This book could be considered as "clean" as regards the images painted for the reader. But it is in no way "clean" if the reader has standards that include celibacy before marriage, which I do.

My recommendation: This book contains what I most dislike--a smooth and acceptable portrayal of a totally unacceptable lifestyle. I will betray my rabid conservatism when I complain that this book makes pre-marital sex and feminism seem normal and desirable. It's the pervasive agenda to make what is unacceptable acceptable, to make what is ultimately empty and unfulfilling into something that looks fun and seductive--all packaged into a charming, empty-headed book. This isn't a "bad" book, it's just comparatively worthless. Entertainment at its emptiest. You can safely skip this book and spend your time reading something that is truly uplifting and thought provoking.

Garlic and Sapphires by Ruth Reichl

This book is subtitled: "The Secret Life of a Critic in Disguise" and is a biographical summary of the author's experiences as the food critic at "The New York Times". It includes several of her recipes.

General rating: 3 out of 4 (implausible in places and "neutral" in the uplifting category--I'm getting pickier about the qualifications for "uplifting" as I go along)

1. Is it plausible? Well, it's a mixture of fantasy and reality. She dons a variety of disguises in order to secretly review top New York restaurants. That part's believable. But as she takes on these disguises, she also seems to take on different personalities. If we look at it all metaphorically, she's just exploring different aspects of her own character; she's on a journey of self-discovery, I suppose. But if we skip the metaphorical perspective, it feels a little bit histrionic and well, down right implausible. But! I'm willing to look at it metaphorically and as a metaphor it was clever. And let's not forget that this is an autobiography, so I think it must get almost full marks for plausibility.

2. Is it thought provoking? A bit. As Ruth Reichl explores aspects of her own personality, the analytic reader will be drawn into asking her/himself the questions that Ruth Reichl is asking of herself. And if food and recipes provoke your thoughts, then this book will be thought provoking for you also. It's all about the food.

3. Is it engaging? Yes, it is.

4. Is it uplifting? I have to keep reminding myself that my definition of "uplifting" needs to be pretty broad. There are books that truly uplift the spirits of the reader, and then there are books that are acceptable in this category simply because they don't depress. I am feeling my way as I review the books that I read: can I count it as "uplifting" if it's neutral? If it's not unpleasant? If it's not depressing? I'm not sure. The books that truly uplift deserve the label of "uplifting". This book was not that kind of book. But it certainly wasn't depressing--and books that are depressing or discouraging are NOT good books by my criteria. This book was perfectly entertaining and not depressing. It was a nice, neutral book.

Language: No, I don't think there was any bad language at all (I'm sorry to say that unless there is repeated strong bad language, sometimes I can't remember by the end of a book if there were one or two obscenties. Am I getting desensitized to this? I'm not sure).
Sex: nope

My recommendation: If you like food, you will find this book very interesting. I am not a "foodie", but I still enjoyed it a lot. Reichl's descriptions are lyrical, her story is entertaining, her personality is attractive. I liked the book a lot.

These High, Green Hills by Jan Karon

This is the third book in the Mitford series. Father Tim and Cynthia are finally married! And life goes on in Mitford...

General Rating: 4 out of 4

1. Is it plausible? Basically (see reviews of the other Mitford books)

2. Is it thought provoking? Yes. As usual, Father Tim's struggles and insights are interesting and thoughtful.

3. Is it engaging? Very much.

4. Is it uplifting? This is the best, the very best part about this series. It is VERY uplifting.

Language: none
Sex: none

My recommendation: Well worth reading, as expected.

A Light in the Window by Jan Karon

This is the second book in the Mitford series. Father Tim is: feeling in love and afraid, being pursued by an unpleasant widow, being imposed upon by a cousin, struggling to "parent" Dooley, and experiencing all the other joys and difficulties that go with being a rector in the small town of Mitford.

General rating: 4 out of 4

1. Is it plausible? I suppose so. On days when I'm feeling cynical I think things like: does God really answer all our prayers JUST the way we want? Father Tim sure seems to have his prayers answered spot on. But I'm a sucker for the ideal, and this book provides it, so I guess I'll quiet my cynical queries and just enjoy this series and the optimism and other good feelings it generates.

2. Is it thought provoking? Yes it is. I think the most real character in this whole series is Father Tim. His thoughts and struggles seem genuine and his difficulties and successes do make me think.

3. Is it engaging? Yes.

4. It is uplifing? Yes, without a doubt.

Language: none
Sex: none--this is a squeaky clean book!

My recommendation: A lovely read. I think I'll feel this way about the whole series. One thing... I don't find myself liking Cynthia very much. I don't dislike her, exactly, I just don't feel attracted to her. I feel similarly disconnected from virtually every other character in these books (so far). As I said above, I find Father Tim to be the most (the only?) filled out character in the books. The other players are entertaining, but feel a little one-dimensional to me--as if they are each just a representation of a "type". But! These books are so sweet and engaging, that I won't find serious fault with them. They are inspiring and uplifting; definitely they are good reads.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Our Farm by Michael J. Rosen

This book is subtitled: "Four Seasons with Five Kids on One Family's Farm." It's full of pictures and told through the voices of the 5 Bennett children and their parents.

General rating: 4 out of 4

1. Is it plausible? Of course. It's based on a real family's real life.

2. Is it thought provoking? Yes. I thought a lot about small farms in America, about my own lifestyle, about the farming lifestyle and a host of other things.

3. Is it engaging? Very. The pictures help a lot, as do the voices of the children. I actually wished for more details. A funny thing--this book is aimed, I believe, at an audience of children, but the text is too mature for young children and it doesn't really seem to be a good fit with older children either. I, as an adult wished for more information, so the book didn't exactly fit my age group either (unless you are, like I am, one of those relatively omnivorous adults, literarily speaking). So I couldn't really see who would be reading this book. Notwithstanding that, though, it was engaging. I guess folks of all ages who are interested in small farms would read this.

4. Is it uplifting? Yes. I find accounts of life lived closer to its natural cycles to be very uplifting. It represents an ideal to me. And this book showed a normal family that is happy, working together on the farm and still able to pursue their individual interests.

Language: none
Sex: Well, there was talk about AI (artificial insemination) for the cows... if that counts

My recommendation: If you've an interest in small farm life, it's a good read. Lots of pictures, the engaging voices of the kids... I really liked this book.

At Home in Mitford by Jan Karon

The first in a very popular series, this book follows a period in the life of bachelor rector, Father Tim.

General rating: 4 out of 4 (although the cynical reader might question plausibility)

1. Is it plausible? Well, aside from feeling too good to be true, and making the unsuspecting reader forever dissatisfied with his or her town of residence... I guess it's plausible. It seems like it should be set 50 years ago, though I would like to believe that there are towns like Mitford that exist right now. Perhaps there are!

2. Is it thought provoking? Yes, it is. I thought a lot about Father Tim's efford to be GOOD and compared it to my own efforts. I thought about spending one's life in the service of others.

3. Is it engaging? Yes, but it's one of those books where a plot is slow to surface. It took me awhile to be engaged, but once I was, I definitely was.

4. Is it uplifting? Resoundingly YES. That's the most outstanding characteristic of this book. I closed the book feeling rosy about everything--all the people I know, the world in general, all religions, all animals.... It was a very feel good book. I guess that's what makes this series so very popular.

Language: none
Sex: none

My recommendation: It took me a long time to get around to reading any Mitford books. I had heard them highly recommended by so many people, but I felt unmotivated to read them. Finally my book club chose this one for one month's reading and I dutifully complied. Now I feel compelled to read the rest of the series. We'll see if it continues so delightful. I highly recommend this--a very sweet read.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Doctor Illuminatus by Martin Booth

This review is by Allegra, age 15.

General rating: 3 out of 4 (it's not really thought provoking)

When the main characters, Pip and Tim, move to an estate in the country, they meet a 600 year old boy named Sebastian, who is an alchemist's son.

Is it plausible? Well, it all seemed real within the story. The prologue of the book said that all the rituals written about in the book were really used at one time. So that made it feel more plausible to me.

Is it thought provoking? Not really. The historical aspect of it, though, did make me think about how alchemy was really used and how important people used to think it was.

It it engaging? Yes, very much. In fact, I've read it probably about 5 or 6 times. It's one of my favorite books.

It is uplifting? Well, it had a happy ending, so I felt triumphant along with the main characters at the end of the book.

Language: There was no bad language. There was a lot of British slang, though.
Sex: None at all

My recommendation: I highly recommend it if you're looking for a fascinating book that has both history and modern times. Best for ages 10 and up--there was a little gore. It was very interesting. There is a second book which is just as good (Soulstealer), but unfortunately the author passed away before he could write any more.

The Enemy by Charlie Higson

This review is by Isaiah, age 12

General rating: 2.5 out of 4 (it was NOT uplifting and it wasn't really thought provoking)

This book is about: There is a disease that is killing everyone over the age of 16. But not all of them stay dead! All the kids under age 16 have to survive. When kids from Holloway Road in London receive a messenger from Buckingham Palace where, they are informed, there are more kids, gardens and food, most of them will try to make it there. Can they make the perilous journey? [Note: the narration was 3rd person omnicient.]

1. Is it plausible? Yes, it is. The only thing I wondered that wasn't explained was where the disease came from. It seemed like it just popped up from nowhere and people began to get sick. And it didn't seem likely that a disease would only affect people of a certain age.

2. Was it thought provoking? Well.... it made me think: is there going to be a second book? I did wonder, where would I stay if something like that happened in our world.

3. Was it engaging? Yes. I read it in a few days. I didn't want to put it down because I had to know what happened in the end.

4. Was it uplifting? No. A lot of people die in this book. But when I closed the book, I wanted to know more. I hope there's a sequel.

Language: There was some bad language--some people were called bad names [the words that mean "female dog" and "fatherless child"]
Sex: None

My recommendation: Kids who are 14 or older could read this book. A parent might want to read it first before they let their child read it. This book might give you nightmares. But I found it reasonably entertaining. I don't think it's a bad book at all. [Note from Mom: his 21 year old sister checked this out of the YA section at the library and decided once she got it home that she wasn't interested in it, so he picked it up. He did NOT find it in the children's section which is where he usually looks. Hm....]

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The End of Overeating by David A. Kessler

General rating: 4 out of 4

This book is subtitled "Taking Control of the Insatiable American Appetite". The bulk of the book contains Dr. Kessler's reports on the research that he did. He recounts studies and experiments and their results, he tells of interviews he had with various players in the food industry, he includes some of his own personal experiences as well as the experiences of others.

Is it plausible? Very. It is, in great part, very intutive. Nothing he reported was actually shocking to me. And there are pages and pages of endnotes, citing references, sources, and offering further explanation in many cases too.

Is it thought provoking? Very. There are many books that enter my imagination or my mind and stay there forever. This is one of them. It altered the way I look at food and gave me power over my own personal reactions to some of the food he talked about. I loved his "Food Rehab" section because it underscored principles that I had already found to be important (that's the best kind of book, you know--one that validates what you think you know already! :D). This is a very useable book with memorable ideas.

Is it engaging? Yes, mostly. I put it down and picked it up for a few weeks during the research reporting section. It was interesting but not exactly gripping. Once I got into the "Food Rehab" section and beyond, I read straight through. I find this to be pretty standard with an info book. I don't expect it to "grab" me the way some fiction does, I just expect it to be engaging enough so that I am interested all the way to the end.

It is uplifting? Definitely. It clearly states the problem, gives the reader a little taste of blaming someone else for their problems and then goes on to explain how the reader can "take back control" and be master of their own choices and, ultimately, their own bodies. I smile when I think of how nicely he said a version of, "it's hard, but it's not all your fault, and don't worry--you can defeat their tactics and overcome!"

Language: None
Sex: None

My recommendation: Read it! It is instruction on how to negotiate the American food industry. Knowledge is power, and all that. I really liked this book.

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley

This is a mystery. The protagonist, Flavia de Luce, is a 11-year-old girl, but this book is written for adults. It's the first book written by author Alan Bradley and it's the first in a projected series of mysteries featuring Flavia.

General Rating: 3 out of 4 (it had plausibility issues AND Flavia's family relationships were not uplifting). I liked it a lot.

1. Plausible? This is the biggest problem with this book. Flavia, our detective, is only 11, but is preternaturally well-read, intelligent, even-tempered, insightful and just generally gifted. The ladies in my book club found her age very unbelievable and had to put it out of their minds before they could enjoy the book. I found Flavia believable, but perhaps that's because I liked the idealized picture of an 11-year-old. I have a 12-year-old and perhaps I like to imagine him as having the potential to be as mature, intelligent and insightful as Flavia is. It's my unreasonable idealism showing through.

2. Thought provoking? Well, it was an intelligent book. Plenty of literary allusions, a bit of clever science... yes, it was the kind of book that appeals to people who consider themselves smart.

3. Engaging? Absolutely yes. Very entertaining book.

4. Uplifting? Well, it ended well and I really liked it, so I think that counts as uplifting. One thing that my book club ladies found depressing about the book, though, was Flavia's pitiful relationships with her sisters and even her father. Her home life was not happy. I found those relationships easy to overlook.

Language: no bad language *my 15 year old daughter noticed that there were a few mild swear words
Sex: none

My recommendation: Well worth reading. I liked it a lot. My 15-year-old daughter liked it a lot too.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Deadly Kingdom by Gordon Grice

This is subtitled "The Book of Dangerous Animals" and it's just that. It's got chapters with titles like, "The Carnivorids" and "Aquatic Dangers" and the one that I had to skip most of--"The Arthropods and Worms". Ugh.

General rating: 3.5 out of 4 (there were some less engaging parts and can the section on bugs really be considered uplifting?)

Plausible? Oh yes. Lots of very interesting information too.

Thought provoking? Well, it's an info book, so it's more informative than thought provoking. I learned stuff I didn't know though, like: black widows are just ONE member of the widow family; Lions and other big cats have killed a LOT of people and still do, every year; Elephants are not as gentle as I have always imagined. Very interesting.

Engaging: Yes! It was one that I read through fairly quickly and without stopping because I didn't get bored. The front half of the book was more interesting than the back half--probably because the most dramatically dangerous animals are written about in that first half. I liked the whole book, though, and I think my 12-year-old son might like it even better than I did.

Uplifting: Hm.... Well it wasn't depressing, although I had to skip quite a lot of the insect section--I don't have any contact with lions or elephants or box jellyfish, but I DO have contact with bugs (like everyone) and I decided I didn't want to know exactly what I was surrounded with. Plus I just plain don't like bugs. Especially spiders. Ugh. Sometimes NOT knowing is just more comfortable. Cowardly, I admit. But much more comfortable.

Language: no bad language
Sex: none

My recommendation: If you've any interest in this kind of thing at all, it's a fun and interesting read. I painlessly learned a lot that I didn't know before. Some of the information was actually useful--like learning about the social order of dogs and why some postures and some people (especially children) are more vulnerable to attacks. And I'm happy to report that, although there was a lot about the harm that dogs can do, there was NOTHING about any killer kitties--of the domestic type, that is.

Warning: There are lots of stories about animal attacks. Some details are given. It's not gory, but some of the things that happened are pretty horrifying.

Humor Me edited by Ian Frazier

This is an anthology of "Funny Contemporary Writing". It includes pieces from the past 30 years or so. I actually couldn't finish this because of the abundant bad language. It's hard for me to read something when I feel slapped right in the face by obscenities. I quit about 120 pages into the book (there are 300 pages).

General Rating: 1 out of 4. Please don't bother with this book.

I think that our 4 criteria may not apply to this book. Let's see.

1. Plausible? Doesn't apply.

2. Thought provoking? Not for me.

3. Engaging? A few of the sketches I read made me laugh. A few made me smile. I skipped one about the military and one about football because I found them boring. Perhaps the best way to read this book is to just skip was doesn't appeal and read what does. I just gave up because I found the bad language far too unpleasant.

4. Uplifting? Good humor can be. Unfortunately, since I quit reading when I was in the middle of something that I found unpleasant, I didn't feel uplifted. If I had read using the "pick and choose" method referred to above, I probably could have come away from this book feeling that good post-laughter feeling. As it was, nope. Not uplifting.

Language: lots of the offensive stuff.
Sex: none that I saw

My recommendation: As I said above, if you like humor, then read what appeals and skip what offends. If you prefer to spend your time on a book that you don't have to juggle, then skip this one. That would be my preference.

Everything But a Christmas Eve by Holly Jacobs

This book is a light romance. Do I need to summarize further? Well, I'll add that it's actually part of a larger series by this author, so someone who has read all the others will recognize many of the characters in this book.

General rating: 2.75 out of 4 (plausibility issues and absolutely NOT thought provoking).

1. Is it plausible? I guess so. The relationship is plausible. The matchmaking neighbor? Not so much.

2. Is it thought provoking? Not really.

3. It is engaging? Yup. And short too--a quick read.

4. Is it uplifting? Sure! True love is always uplifting. As are happy endings. And refreshingly CLEAN. That's definitely uplifting!

Language: No bad language
Sex: No sex at all

My recommendation: If you like squeaky clean romances, this one fits the bill. It wasn't deep or moving or anything like that, but it was short and sweet. I really appreciate authors of clean romances. There seem to be so few! So I will always support this kind of author.

Her Highness' First Murder by Peg Herring

This is, as the title suggests, a mystery. Our sleuths are 13-year-old Elizabeth I, daughter of King Henry VIII, and Simon, the young son of Elizabeth's household's physician. This is the first in a series--all the rest of them being yet to come.

General rating: 3 out of 4 (not thought provoking), a fun read

1. It it plausible? Well, kind of. Most mysteries require a degree of suspension of belief. Really, can regular people be successful detectives? Hm. Anyway, it's about as plausible as they come, I guess. And I'm not an expert on historical literature, but the details seemed okay to me. I also question the dramatic nature of these murders (and most fictional murders, actually). Really. I can't imagine this kind of thing ever happening. But! Suspension of belief and all that.

2. Was it thought provoking? Well... not really. Unless you count thinking things like: could murders like this really take place? How many people in one person's acquaintance are really insane? One? More than one? None? Hm. And: would a king really choose a 13 year old boy to investigate a murder? I had all those thoughts. But this book wasn't actually thought provoking in a valuable way.

3. Was this book engaging? Absolutely yes.

4. Was this book uplifting? Well, yes. They did catch the murderer, after all, and the detectives escaped unscathed. Justice prevailed!! And all that.

Language: No bad language at all
Sex: No sexual descriptions. References to prostitutes, though, and loose women in general.

My recommendation: If you like mysteries, you'll probably like this. It was a fun read.

Ere His Floods Of Anger Flow by John Harmer

This book is written especially for members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. It's a fictional portrayal of what might happen in the years before the second coming of Jesus Christ. We follow the experiences of a dozen or so people as they survive or die during storms, plagues, famines, and other disasters.

General rating: 4 out of 4

1. Was it plausible? Absolutely. I think this is what I liked best about this book. It's probably the most plausible apocalyptic book I've read. Everything that the author portrayed could easily take place. Apocalyptic or not, any one of the things he wrote about could happen any day anywhere in the world.

2. Was it thought provoking? Yes. I thought a lot about my own degree of preparation for any large-scale disaster. Do I have emergency supplies? Am I prepared to follow the direction of my local leaders? Could I survive in the various scenarios he suggested? I actually was prompted to make a few changes in my own life as a result of reading his ideas of what could happen.

3. Was it engaging? Yes. Very, especially after the first few chapters.

4. Was it uplifting? Strangely, yes it was. I hate reading books like this and turning the last page with the primary idea that the world will "burn" and everyone (save a lucky few) will die. Nobody has any control over anything. Ugh. This book was not like this. People died and people lived. Survival--or not--depended on being in the right place at the right time, or on being inspired to take action in advance of the trouble, and some of it depended on following the counsel already given by prophets: store food for emergencies, get out of debt, be loyal to your local leaders. In other words, individuals making good decisions often were protected from disaster. Some weren't, but some were and I liked that idea of an individual having a measure of control over what happened to him or her. The idea that a person who consistently makes righteous decisions will have a chance to survive a disaster really appealed to me. So yes, this book was uplifting. It didn't extinguish all hope of surviving disasters.

Language: no bad language at all
Sex: other than reports of widespread pornography and other sexual deviances, there were no portrayals of sex.

My recommendation: It was worth reading. Much to my surprise, I really liked it.

The Last American Man by Elizabeth Gilbert

This book's about Eustace Conway, a man who has lived "off the land" since 1977--since he was 17. He kills and prepares his own food, makes his own clothing from the skins of the animals he's eaten, lives in a teepee on his own nature reserve and pretty much knows everything about survival.

General rating: 2 out of 4. The bad language really bothered me. Not worth reading.

1. Was it plausible? Of course. This is a biography of sorts. Eustace Conway isn't dead, though, he's still alive and "roughing it" in

2. Was it thought provoking? Yes, at first. It made me think about my own life and how caught up I am in modern living. I don't think I'd survive very comfortably (if at all) if I were plunked down on a piece of property and told to make my own way. However, this book was really TMI for me. At the beginning of the book I admired Eustace and his way of life, but by the end I felt frustrated by his lack of sympathy for any view but his own. His biographer, Elizabeth Gilbert, obviously admired him, but by the end of the book she had undercut most of Conway's admirablility (is that a word?) by her stark portrayal of his difficulty getting along with the people who are closest to him. I'd have enjoyed the book more had it told more about what makes him special--his abilities in the outdoors--rather than so much about his personality.

3. Was it engaging? At first. I read the first half pretty much non-stop, but then I put the book down for a few weeks and I ended up forcing myself to come back to it in order to finish. I actually was not interested in reading any more of the book, but I'm a "finisher" generally... so I finished it. I skimmed through quite a bit on the last half.

4. Was it uplifting? No. As I mentioned before, I went from feeling kind of idealistic about nature and oneness with earth and all that to feeling kind of irritated by Eustace Conway... from "Wow! This guy is a visionary!" to "Wow. This guy's messed up." Not particularly inspiring or uplifting.

Language: Plenty of profanity and obscenities scattered throughout, another reason I had trouble making it through the book. I just didn't expect a serious biographer to include so much bad language. To me, bad language screams "unevolved adult"! People of words use the intelligent ones, not the 4-letter ones.

Sex: Plenty of references to Eustace's love life. What does this have to do with outdoor survival? I'm not sure, unless it's having to do with survival of the species and Eustace's encounters didn't lead to any of that.

My recommendation: Skip it. There's nothing memorable or useful about this chronicle of the life of Eustace Conway. Good luck to the guy himself, though! I like his ideals.

What Makes a Good Book

Here are my 4 criteria for a good book:

1. Plausibility (within the genre, of course). The book must make sense and be believable.

2. Thought provoking. A book should give the reader something worthwhile to think about. Of course, not all entertaining books can provide this...but the best ones will.

3. Engaging. A book must be interesting enough for the reader to want to finish it! It could be full of great information, but if it doesn't grab the reader, that great information will never be shared.

4. Uplifting. The best books leave the reader with a good feeling.

The great thing about reading is that each reader will have his/her own opinion on how these criteria can be applied. I've got my own pretty specific ideas, but I LOVE to hear other ideas. Comment away.

Here we go!