Sunday, April 26, 2009

Book Reviews -

Time for more short book reviews.  These are all unsolicited and most are on books I picked up from the library.  If I give it an A, you should definitely read it.

Loving Frank by Nancy Horan – A novelization about the love affair between Frank Lloyd Wright and Mamah Borthwick Cheney.  Well written and fascinating, but I have a hard time feeling sympathetic about two characters who leave their spouses and children to run off and build a love nest on the prairie.  B

The River: A Journey to the Source of HIV and AIDS by Edward Hooper – Fascinating book in which the author suggests (but does not, by his own admission, prove) that HIV may have been first transmitted to humans during some of the early polio vaccine trials in sub-Saharan Africa.  A tough read because it’s so long and detailed with lots of people mentioned, but it brings up many excellent bioethical issues.  A-

Death in a Prairie House by William Drennan – The actual history behind Loving Frank.  Fascinating history.  I was happy to read more about the life of Wright after Mamah’s death.  B

Shutting Out the Sun by Michael Zielenziger – Many young people in Japan are shutting themselves away from the world and refusing to go to school or work.  The author explores this phenomenon and how it came about.  One of the most interesting things is that those young people who travel abroad and become Christians appear to be immune to it.  B

The Women of Windsor by Catherine Whitney – A history of the current set of British royals, including Princess Diana.  This book falls somewhere between history and tabloid.  Interesting, but not earth-shattering.  B

The Independence of Miss Mary Bennett by Colleen McCullough – Another extension of Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, this time focusing on Mary Bennett.  The other sisters, though, play a prominent role.  The story is terribly unbelievable but well-written.  A-

Mr. Monk and the Two Assistants by Lee Goldberg – This book is from a series of books based on the TV series Monk.  If you haven’t seen the TV series, you really need to do so.  It is hysterical.  And the book is just as funny.  I’ve never thought of myself as a real mystery reader, but I got a real kick out of this book.  A-

Can Somebody Shout Amen? by Patsy Sims – A social history of the tent revivals of the American South.  The author does a short bit of history but then visits a number of tent revivals and interviews the preachers.  Quite interesting.  B  (Note:  The book is from the 80s)

Mr. Monk is Miserable by Lee Goldberg – Another Monk mystery and another success.  This one is set in France.  The mystery part was really fun to try to sort out and, of course, the characters are pretty hysterical just being themselves.  A-

Crazy for God by Frank Schaeffer – I was concerned that this was going to be a tell-all type book about the Frances Schaeffer family, but I had read some good reviews and decided to give it a try.  Frank Schaeffer, the son of Frances Schaeffer, is open and honest about his parents and what it was like to grow up as the son of a missionary and Evangelical thinker (and minor celebrity).  It didn’t come across as mean-spirited.  It was, though, sad to see some of what goes on behind the scenes in the Evangelical culture war.  A

Evolution: What the Fossils Say and Why It Matters by Donald Prothero – A good entry into the anti-creationist literature.  Prothero does a nice job of explaining why and how the fossils strongly support evolutionary theory and how there really aren’t many “gaps” in the fossil record.  Sadly, though, he can’t help taking the occasional potshot at the YEC-types.  He isn’t a professed Christian and doesn’t make an attempt to “fit” Christianity and evolution.  Otherwise, a good book.  B

My Life Without God by William J. Murray – Mr. Murray is the son of Madalyn Murray O’Hare.  He grew up as an atheist and was the plaintiff in the lawsuit that removed prayer from public schools, but has since become a born-again Christian.  Very interesting and disturbing biography.  B

A Cup of Tea by Amy Ephron – At the start of WW1, a young society woman meets a young woman and poverty and does her a good turn.  Unfortunately, this is the start of the ruin of everyone.  A well-written but sad book.  A-

To Hold the Crown by Jean Plaidy – Elizabeth of York married Henry Tudor who became Henry VII and they started the most famous and powerful dynasty in English history.  This historical novel was interesting, but rather stiff without good character development.  C

The Company Car by C.J. Hribal – This is a novel about a family with six kid from Chicago that moves to rural Wisconsin in the 60s (near Appleton).  Dad is a traveling salesman, hence the name.  Good book.  B

The Unlikely Disciple by Kevin Roose – A Brown University student enrolls at Liberty University for a semester.  This is a very insightful outsider’s look at one of Evangelicalism’s big-name universities.  His response is fair and even-handed.  A

The Wettest County in the World by Matt Bondurant – The author has written a fictionalized account of the early life of his grandfather and great-uncles, bootleggers who ran illegal liquor through Virginia in the 1930’s.  Fascinating read.  B

The Help by Kathryn Stockett – I listened to this on audiobook.  Two black maids and a white socialite in 1960s Jackson, Mississippi write a book about the experiences of black maids in the segregated South.  But, there’s so much more than that.  The characters are deep and rich; I could smell the food cooking and feel the heat coming up from the dust in the driveway.  An absolute must read.  The audiobook was excellent with authentic accents all the way around.  A+

Murder by Family by Kent Whitaker – A man, his wife, and two sons come home to find an intruder in their home who shoots all four, killing the wife and younger son.  The man, a devout Christian, determines the night of the shooting that he will forgive the intruder.  But, then, he finds out that his oldest son is the mastermind.  Amazing story of fatherly love.  B+

The Associate by John Grisham – This is a Grisham thriller in which a law student is blackmailed to take a job he doesn’t want to violate moral, ethical, and legal principles.  How can he get out of it?  Excellent legal thriller (without the preachiness of Grisham’s last book).  The ending wasn’t quite as neat and tidy as I would have liked, but then again, neither is life.  A-

Wishful Drinking by Carrie Fisher – Carrie Fisher’s autobiography, I think, in which she discusses her alcoholism, addictions, bipolar disorder, and ECT treatment.  It was quite informative, but very scattered; I think she wrote it when she was manic – but where was her editor?  She also uses more colorful language that I’m generally comfortable with.  But, otherwise, an interesting read.  B-

Revenge of the Spellmans by Lisa Lutz – Another hilarious installment in the Spellman saga.  I won’t even try to summarize the plot.  Suffice it to say that Isabel’s (the main character) PI case is a very minor part of the plot.  In spite of that, there is blackmail, theft, unwanted surveillance, and breaking and entering – most of it perpetrated on or by family members.  I laughed on just about every page.  A+

Tales from the Dad Side by Steve Doocy – Do you ever watch Fox and Friends?  No?  Well, me neither.  Unless I’ve had such bad insomnia that I’ve been up all night.  On those few occasions, I’ve seen Mr. Doocy as the co-host of Fox and Friends.  His book is subtitled, appropriately, Misadventures in Fatherhood.  It’s a cute and often funny collection of his life as a dad to three kids.  And, indeed, he has had some misadventures.  Good read.  B+

There you have it.   Now, get thee to a library.  Oh, first, comment and tell me a good book you’ve read lately.  Now, get thee to a library.


Susie Q said...

I have read several of them...but I swear, Carrie Fisher's was 'lagoon of mystery' I laughed until I cried and it took me a few to continue reading again....I'll try the Monk books.

Lee Goldberg said...

I am so glad that you enjoyed my MONK books! I'm astonished that you find the time to read so many books while home-schooling your kids, too.