Sunday, March 23, 2008

Book Reviews - March 29

It's been a while since I've written any reviews, but I have done a lot of reading and even watched a few movies in the last couple of months. These are going to be short reviews, but I hope they can help you decide whether or not to invest in reading a certain book.

An Assembly Such as This; Duty and Desire; These Three Remain all by Pamela Aidan

This series of novels takes us through the story of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice from the point of view of Mr. Darcy. Since it takes three books, you can imagine that it is pretty detailed. This is a wonderful series of books. Ms. Aidan does a good job of maintaining the characters created by Ms. Austen. The plot is interesting, although it gets a little unbelievable in the second book. The relationships between Darcy and Bingley and between Darcy and Georgiana are explored and fleshed out. If you're a Jane Austen fan, I highly recommend these books. (P.S. Special thanks to DA, my college roomie, for getting me hooked on these books!)

Mr. Darcy Takes a Wife by Linda Berdoli

This is one of the (many) novels that tells the story of Mr. and Mrs. Darcy after Austen's Pride and Prejudice. Overall, I liked the book. It has a wide scope in both plot and characterizations. At times, the plot becomes somewhat unbelievable and "gothic", but it seems to work as part of the whole story. The one downside is that Ms. Berdoli gives more detail about the Darcy's s*xual relationship than is needed for the story to work. If you're an Austen fan, you'll probably enjoy the book, but I don't think it's appropriate for teens - some of the content is clearly PG-13.

Pride and Prescience by Carrie Bebris

Ms. Bebris has written several "extension" novels based on Jane Austen's stories. One of the interesting things is that they are mystery novels. I enjoyed this book, but it was kind of like marshmallow - all fluff and no substance. The characters are pretty two dimensional. The plot includes elements of the supernatural (magic), but they don't mesh well into the rest of the story. It was an interesting read, but I'm not planning on reading anymore of Mr. Bebris' books. There are lots of other good books out there to spend my time on.

The Second Mrs. Darcy by Elizabeth Aston

Despite it's name, this book is only distantly related to Austen's Pride and Prejudice characters. It takes place 10 years or so after Pride and Prejudice. The main character is related to the Darcy family through her husband, but her husband dies before the opening of the book. The plot centers around the main character's adjusting to life as a widow and her trying to take control of her own life in a society in which women are generally dependent on their male relations. I really enjoyed this book. The characters are believable and engaging. The writer's style of writing made me want to continue reading. I recommend this to Austen fans.

The Language Police by Diane Ravitch

Ravitch has done an excellent job of documenting the degeneration of public schools' textbooks and standardized testing due to political correctness. This book explains the process by which test companies and textbook companies edit their items to be "appropriate". The assumption underlying their actions is that children will become uncomfortable and have difficulty learning or testing if they are shown negative events. There is also an assumption that children who are shown only an ideal world in print will take in those values and not be racist, sexist, or whatever other "ist" you can think of. If you look at current textbooks, you will see that the stories contain a representative sample of people by race and sex. Photos of all races, ages, and disabilities are also included.

So, what's the problem? For one thing, the publishers are spending a huge amount of money on this, apparently to the detriment of the academic side of things. Ravitch claims that publishers are also not using nearly as much classic literature as they used to because it does not meet their "PC" screening standards.

I highly recommend this book for anyone with kids in school. It provides motivation to get involved with the school district and in textbook evaluation. For me, it was another confirmation of the benefits of home education. My kids read stuff that might otherwise be censored and, I believe, are the better for it.

Black Rednecks, White Liberals by Thomas Sowell

I figured that anything written by Thomas Sowell was likely to be good and I was not disappointed. This collection of essays by Sowell was excellent. I enjoyed the topics. The depth and research level was impressive. I will briefly discuss just two topics in the book - you have to read it for the rest.

The first essay was a quite interesting essay on the history of American Black culture. The fashionable theory is that black urban culture is based on many American blacks being descended from slaves who were then freed at the end of the Civil War. The evidence, though, does not bear this out. In fact, Sowell shows that black urban culture is related most closely to "Cracker culture" from Scotland and Ireland which was imported to this country in the eighteenth century. The freed blacks absorbed this culture after being freed from slavery and living among rural whites in the South who were descended from the Crackers from Scotland and Ireland. It's a thought-provoking essay and I encourage you to read it.

The other essay that I most enjoyed was about the history of slavery in the history of the world. American slavery was certainly an evil, but it often gets treated as an evil that was peculiar to American whites. In fact, slavery is almost as old as civilization itself. Sowell does a nice job of showing slavery in many different cultures and shows that it was rarely based on race. He then asks the question of why Britain and America were the first two countries to really seriously pursue abolition. It's another essay I think everyone should read.

In the Beginning: the story of the King James Bible and how it changed a nation, a language, and a culture by Alistar McGrath

McGrath is quickly becoming one of my favorite authors, partly because of this book. This book is a fascinating look at the history of the King James Bible and then how that translation has affected Western Civilization. McGrath does an excellent job of weaving history, linguistics, and religion into a coherent whole. I have never really been a fan of the KJV of the Bible; I think it's partly because it was the only translation used when I was a child and it was hard to understand, but also because I'm reacting against the almost worshipful attitude some people have toward this translation. As I've gotten older, I've mellowed in my attitude. This book, though, has opened my eyes to how this one translation of the Bible has affected so much of our culture. I very strongly recommend this book for anyone with any interest in history or linguistics. You will be enriched and fascinated.

Black Horses for the King by Anne McCaffrey

Yes, the author is also the author of the "Dragonriders of Pern" series. This, though, is the first book by this author I've read. This is a Sonight Core 6 read aloud. Mr. Math Teacher read it aloud for the whole family and it was a hit. The plot revolves around a young man who works with King Arthur's horses. He and an older man start to make "horse sandals" (horseshoes) to protect the horses' hooves. "No hoof, no horse" becomes their tagline. This was a great historical novel that is appropriate for older kids through adults.

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