Thursday, June 17, 2010

Books I’ve Read Lately

Wow.  It has been months and months since I’ve blogged about books that I’ve read.  I’m not doing reviews for publishers anymore because it was getting too stressful to make sure I got the books read on time.  Nonetheless, I have been reading a good bit.  Here are some of the highlights.

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley - Very fun mystery about a pre-teen in early 20th century England.  The characters have their idiosyncrasies and quirks, but are generally likable (well, except for the villain!).  Definitely recommended.  A-

Edmund Bertram’s Diary by Amanda Grange - Not what I would call great fiction, but a nice addition to the post-Austen genre of literature.  The characters were true to Austen's characters and the back story that the author added was believable and helpful.  Recommended for serious Austen fans.  A pretty easy read.  B

Mr. Knightley’s Diary by Amanda Grange - Another of Amanda Grange's hero diaries.  Very nicely done and true to Austen's characters, stories, and style.  Recommended for Austen fans.  B

Miss Julia Delivers the Goods: A Novel by Ann B. Ross - I've become a fan of the Miss Julia novels.  Set in rural South Carolina, these books are the stories of Miss Julia, a widow who discovered in the first book that her husband had been having a long-term affair with a younger woman and had a 10 year old son.  Miss Julia, who had always done everything "properly" and was always a good Southern Lady, then invited them to live with her!  The books are all about Miss Julia learning to shed her "proper Southern upbringing" and really live life.  And they are hilarious!  B+

Miss Julia Speaks Her Mind by Ann B. Ross - The most recent Miss Julia book is about Miss Julia handling Hazel Marie's illness and problematic love life.  Of course, it all works out in the end, but not without some fun twists and turns.  It's light reading, but pleasant. B+

Miss Julia’s School of Beauty by Ann B. Ross - Light and fun like the other Miss Julia books.  Not profound, but enjoyable. B+

Angel Time by Anne Rice - I've never read any of Anne Rice's vampire stories, but I have enjoyed what I've read since she's started writing overtly Christian works - which is unusual because I generally find that overtly Christian literature ends up being insipid.  But not Rice's.  This book is the story of an assassin who is taken back in time by an angel to help change history and make something wrong into something right.  Very interesting book - not long, but enjoyable.  B+

Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea by Barbara Demick – The author of this book was a reporter in South Korea who has visited North Korea several times.  However, most of the source material for this book is from those who have defected from North Korea because visitors to North Korea are shown only a very limited area of the country.  I knew that North Korea has a repressive government and that the people there live in harsh conditions, but reading this book opened my eyes even more to what life is really like.  One of the things I thought was amazing was how many people are truly brain-washed to believing the propaganda.  Of course, it makes sense when you think about it.  They hear the same information over and over from the day they were born with no dissenting voices.  What is really scary is that the government even has "spies" in the apartment complexes to make sure that no one is disloyal.  Anyway, I highly recommend this book.  It will get to you to pray for North Korea like nothing else could.  A

Illegitimate: How a Loving God Rescued a Son of Polygamy by Brian Mackert - Biography of a man who was raised in a polygamous family (part of the FLDS) and how he came to find peace and forgiveness in Jesus.  Very good. B

The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown - I listened to this book on CD.  Can I just say that it is very frustrating that an author with such great story ideas is such a bad writer???  I loved the story line of all three Dan Brown novels that I've read, but I find his writing to be of fair quality at best.  It's also a little frustrating to have such an interesting story wrapped around such warped metaphysical/spiritual ideas.  He really goes overboard when he starts philosophizing through one of his characters.  So, I recommend this book with reservations.  C

Liberal Fascism by Jonah Goldberg - Fascinating book about how modern (as opposed to classical) liberalism is more like fascism (which, by the way, is quite difficult to define) than modern conservatism, despite the frequent cries of "fascism" when conservatives propose policy changes.  The book is quite long, but not really hard to read.  The first part is devoted to trying to define fascism, which isn't easy.  Then, Goldberg discusses how many fascistic elements entered American policy in the 1920s and 30s.  He then proceeds through the rest of the 20th century to show how modern liberalism resembles fascism.  Quite interesting.  I came away with a strong sense of the importance of defining terms carefully.  It's important that conservatives not allow ourselves to be painted with the "fascist" label when it's simply not true!  A-

Stuff Christians Like by John Acuff- I finished this book in two days!  It was truly hysterical, just like the blog on which it is based.  Don't read it if you are too terribly thin-skinned about Christian culture.  But, if you can laugh a little about the cultural quirks of evangelical Christian culture, this is the book for you!  A+

The Search for Christian America by Mark Noll - This is a book written by several Christian historians exploring the idea of a "Christian America".  They conclude that America was founded by men who were nominally Christian, but that's about it.  There is no evidence that the men were intending to create a "Christian nation".  I liked this book because it was not written as an attack on the "Christian Right" as other books have been.  Rather, it was written by Christians who were concerned that our nation's history was being co-opted and used as a tool by other Christians.  I very highly recommend this book.  A

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Schaffer – I listened to this book on mp3 and truly enjoyed it.  The book is structured as a series of letters among the characters in the years immediately following World War II.  The main character plans to write an article about the experiences of the people of the Channel Islands during the German occupation during the war, but the article expands into far more.  Excellent book.  A

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark - Excellent book, although I was a little unsure until about halfway through.  Definitely not recommended for young teens - although I don't think they'd find it interesting.  Anyway, a very tight and economical writing style.  And the resolution came on the last page - with absolutely no falling action.  Highly recommended.

Hunting Eichmann: How a Band of Survivors and a Young Spy Agency Chased Down the World’s Most Notorious Nazi by Neal Bascomb - Excellent book.  Appears to be quite thoroughly researched and in-depth.  Occasionally a little confusing with all the names, but that is to be expected with this type of history.  It was interesting mostly because of it's topic and story.  The author, though, did a good job with keeping things moving and keeping a confusing history reasonably clear.  Strongly recommended to anyone with an interest in history.  A

Nicholas and Alexandra by Robert K. Massie - A very long, in-depth look at the last Tsar of Russia and his family.  I loved it.  The one downside was all the different people and their very long names, but that's what you get when you read about Imperial Russia.  The author paints a very balanced portrait of all the persons involved - Nicholas, Alexandra, Rasputin, Kerensky, etc.  I very highly recommend it if the topic interests you.  A

God’s Battalions: The Case for the Crusades by Rodney Stark - Rodney Stark wrote this book somewhat to refute the popular ideas floating around the the Crusades were aggressive acts by medieval Christians who were out to conquer the Muslim Empire to gain riches.  Stark makes a good argument that most Crusaders were actually motivated by religious reasons, something that we have a hard time understanding today.  He also shows that probably only the Knights Templar actually made any money on these Crusades.  But, neither is the book's intention to "bash" the Muslim societies.  The Muslims had very quickly conquered the Mediterranean lands in the South and were making significant inroads in Spain and even in Southern Italy.  Part of the reason for the Crusades was to protect the boundaries of Europe.  I realized as I was reading, though, that this wasn't new information for me.  I listened to a Learning Company set of CDs on the Crusades and it contained much of the same into.  But, a good book.  A

I do want to post my reviews in a more timely fashion from now on because I really do recommend most of these books.  If the reviews appeal to you, check them out from your library.  And check out my Shelfari shelf at the bottom of this page to see what I’m reading right now.  It’s summer – get reading!!

What have you been reading?  Anything interesting?


Alyssa Harlan said...

You have recommended some of the favorite books I've read over the last few months, so we must share similar tastes. I'm excited to check out some of the rest you listed! Do you know The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie has a sequel which was just/or is just about to be released?

Catherine said...

Alyssa, I got the sequel (can't remember the name right now) from the library, but didn't get around to reading it before it was due!! I'll try again in a month or two! I do like that author, though, so I'm sure I'll be reading more.


Robin said...

I read the Guernesay Literary and Potatoe ..blah blahblah :) earlier this year. Loved it.

My recent favorite read was The Gift of and Ordinary Day, by Katrina Kennison. I'm at the stage of life when birds are fleeing the nest (at least one of them is) and this book really touched that spot!