Saturday, May 17, 2008

Book Reviews - May 17

It seems like forever since I did any book reviews or updated my book list, so I'm going to do a little housekeeping today. You may see a book show up on my book list, but then I don't write anything about it. Usually, it will be because it's just not a good book, or I didn't finish reading it (because I didn't like it or couldn't get into it).

Lies Homeschooling Moms Believe by Todd Wilson
This is a great book by a homeschooling dad that was written to encourage those of us moms who are educating our children. It is an excellent book - it's so good that I sent a copy to my sister-in-law. The Heart of the Matter Online is doing an online study of the book, as well. I got my copy when a group of women from our homeschool group did a group order. I very highly recommend this book to any homeschooling family. The author addresses many of the issues that come up in our lives. We start to believe that we are the only ones who can't do it all, who have messy homes, and who sometimes don't like homeschooling. Then, he finishes it with a discussion of the truths that we can use as antidotes to these lies. Excellent book - read it.

The Official Book of Homeschooling Cartoons Vol. 1-3 by Todd Wilson
Todd Wilson is also the author of three volumes of absolutely hysterical cartoons about homeschooling. Of course, the reason they are so funny is that there is underlying truth in all of them. The cartoon about the mom with scraggly kids who meets the mom with perfect kids is funny because we all feel like the mom with scraggly kids sometimes. Another very highly recommended book.

A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole
Rod Dreher recommended this book on his site, "Crunchy Con". Since I enjoy his site so much, I thought that I would surely enjoy the book. And, it is set in New Orleans, where I lived for four years while doing my medical training, so I thought that I would enjoy that part of it. Well, I didn't really enjoy it. The reviews all said that it was just hysterical. But, I didn't get it. At all. But, now I understand some of the references made in the "Crunchy Con" blog. I don't recommend it (especially for kids) but you might like it if your sense of humor is a lot different than mine.

The Hippie Trip by Lew Yablonski
I watched a History Channel show on the Hippies and decided to do a little reading about it. The author of this book was one of the experts that was interviewed on the TV show. Basically, this book is the result of a qualitative sociological study of self-described hippies in the late 1960s. Mr. Yablonski went to hippie communes in both California and New York. He includes many interviews and the results of a survey that he did.

I found this to be a fascinating book. I thought hippies were just a bunch of crazies who talked about "free love" and took drugs. Well, there was a lot of that, but the movement was much deeper. Some of the people interviewed in the book were very idealistic about their values and the use of psychodelic drugs. Others were less coherent and more selfish-sounding. Overall, the author sympathized with the hippies goals, but had significant criticism for the movement, particularly the violence, use of drugs, and not caring for children. He shows very clearly that society needs some organizing principles or it falls apart. I really recommend this book if you are interested in 20th century history.

The King James Only Controversy by James R. White
I don't often use the KJV of the Bible, except for doing fixed-hour prayer (the recited prayers of the Daily Office). But, I really don't have much against it as a translation. Since I read Alister McGrath's book about the history of the KJV translation, I have had more appreciation of it. This book by White, though, is written to those considering what White calls KJV Onlyism. There are those who use the KJV only and they fall into three categories: 1. Those who prefer it, but believe that other translations, while not as good, are not inherently bad, 2. those who believe that the KJV was especially preserved by God and is the best translation of the Bible, and 3. those who believe that the KJV was given by a special act of inspiration and is the only acceptable English translation (some even say that the KJV trumps any differences in the original Greek and Hebrew). White is writing to show that the KJV version of the Bible, while a valid translation, is not inherently better than other English translations. He does not argue for a specific translation. White does a good job of explaining the translation process. He argues convincingly that the KJV is a good translation, but not divinely inspired. I recommend this book for those considering the KJV Only position.

Copernicus' Secret by Jack Repchek
So, why in the world did I read a biography of Copernicus? Because it was there. I found this on the new book shelf at the library and just stuck it in my bag. I ended up really enjoying it! Mr. Repchek does a good job of making Medieval history comprehensible and interesting. Copernicus spent almost all his life in an isolated part of Poland, but yet was an interesting person. For one thing, he was a canon of the Catholic Church, but had a mistress. He certainly was not the only canon to take this liberty, but the exchange of letters between him and the bishop is interesting and revealing. It is also quite interesting that his work would have almost certainly not have gotten published without the help of a German scholar named Rheticus, who spent a year helping to put the manuscript together. It was, of course, a scandalous piece of work - the Church did not like hearing that the Earth is not the center of the Universe. My lack of astronomy understanding did not prevent me from understanding this book and I highly recommend it for general reading.

The Darcy's Give a Ball by Elizabeth Newark
This, as it's title suggests, is another of the Jane Austen follow-up books. I can't recommend it nearly as highly as the other books in this genre that I've reviewed. It is a pleasant book to read, but there isn't much substance to it. One thing that I thought was kind of funny was how all the guests to the ball are the characters and imagined offspring thereof from all the Jane Austen novels. If you're a big Austen fan, this book will divert you for a few hours. Otherwise, I'd find something else.

Exile by Kathryn Lasky
This is the most recent book in the Ga'Hoole series. You may recall that this is a series for children that our family has been reading as the books become available. This book was well-written, as were the previous books, but I didn't find it nearly as engaging. Many of the plot devices were obvious. The characters are not well-developed. Overall, you will enjoy it if you're a Ga'Hoole fan, otherwise you probably won't get much out of it.

The Boleyn Inheritance by Philippa Gregory
This book, by the author of The Other Boleyn Girl, is another intriguing piece of historical fiction from Medieval England. In this case, the other Boleyn girl is Jane Boleyn, the widow of Goerge Boleyn. The story is told from the points of view of Jane Boleyn, Kathryn Howard, and Anne of Cleves. It starts with the planning of the marriage of Anne of Cleves to Henry VII and covers the marriage of Henry and Anne, their annullment, Henry's courtship and marriage of Kathryn, Kathryn's adultery (and Jane's part in it), and ends with Kathryn and Jane's executions. (I'm not too worried about giving away plot since most people interested in Medieval History probably already know the outcome.) Ms. Gregory again does a good job of making historical fiction even more interesting. Anne of Cleves, who is something of an enigma in most stories, becomes someone that the reader can identify with and feel sympathy for. I listened to the unabridged version on CD and really loved it. The characters were well-voiced and I had a hard time turning it off. It's clearly inappropriate for children, but definitely recommended for adults interested in fiction of this time in history.

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