Monday, March 29, 2010

Sixteen Brides

Sixteen Brides by Stephanie Whitson
Title: Sixteen Brides
Author: Stephanie Grace Whitson
Pages: 243 in Advance Reading Copy
Published: 2010 Bethany House Publishers
Read For: Library Thing Early Reviewers
My Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5 (somewhat above average)

Historically, this book covers the post Civil War era when many people's lives had changed dramatically, internally and externally, and were looking for a way to refocus and find hope again. I liked the bridge shown between the Eastern States involved in the Civil War, and the Mid-Western States being formed from people relocating. For the most part, the setting and little historical bits felt natural, if not altogether accurate (Harvard was founded in 1636, not 1650--a somewhat inconsequential yet puzzling mistake).

I enjoyed the personalities of the different characters and how their stories developed, even though I was initially a bit skeptical about how the author was going to be able to develop so many characters (don't worry, there weren't actually 16 brides to follow). I'm not really sure why "tiny waists" needed to be mentioned quite so many times, but as that was one of the very few things to distract me from the story, I can't complain much.

This is a very heartwarming book without too much romance or preaching (neither is something I'm very fond of in a book, but I think that the author achieved a nice balance). It was idealistic in that all of the major problems and conflict happened before the story even began and were all resolved perfectly in the end. Each chapter is prefaced with a brief scripture, reaffirming that the intent of the book is not only it's entertainment value.  Definitely a feel-good story, but for being heartwarming, encouraging, idealistic, romantic and easy to read I think it hit it's mark.

From the back cover:
     Lured West by the promise of prime homesteads, sixteen Civil War Widows uproot and move to Plum Grove, Nebraska.  But more than land awaits their arrival...
     When the women finally stumble off the train, they are greeted eagerly by the local bachelors--with marriage proposals!  As the true motive behind the offered land is revealed, the women muster all the faith, courage, and cunning they can to survive their new circumstances.  Especially when they begin to discover that no one in their group is exactly who she appears to be...

Monday, March 22, 2010

The Story of Christianity: Volume One, Ch. 1-6

I'm finally doing something that I've long had the desire to do: read up on church history.  I received both volumes of The Story of Christianity by Justo L. Gonzalez for Christmas, and have found it very readable and interesting so far.  The first volume consists of 36 chapters cover the Early Church to the Dawn of the Reformation.  Here are some main items of interest to me in the first sixth of the book:

(p. 15) "Rome had a vested interest in having her subjects from different lands believe that, although their gods had different names, they were ultimately the same gods...In that atmosphere, Jews and Christians were seen as unbending fanatics who insisted on the sole worship of their One God--an alien cyst that must be removed for the good of society."  (This, in combination with laws about emperor worship, was the reason for persecution.)

(p. 31-32) "Gentiles were invited to become children of Abraham by faith, since they could not be so by flesh.  This...was made possible because...Judaism had believed that through the advent of the Messiah all nations would be brought to Zion." (Early Christianity was not a rival religion, just another sect of Judaism.  Christians were initially persecuted by other Jews because they feared the Christian beliefs would incur the wrath of God for not being obedient enough. The distinction between Jews and Christians became clearer as more Gentiles converted and didn't want to be identified with the Jewish rebellion against Rome.)

(p. 35) "...all social activities [in Roman culture] --the theatre, the army, letters, sports--were so entwined with pagan worship that Christians often felt the need to abstain from them."  "Since Christians worshiped an invisible God, pagans often declared them to be atheists."

Monday, March 15, 2010

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet

Title: Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet
Author: Jamie Ford
Pages: 285
Published: 2009 Ballantine Books
Read For: Monday Night Book Club
Chosen By: Tracy, March 2010
My Rating: 4.5 stars (out of 5)

I have been developing a bit of an aversion to New York Times Bestseller books, in part because I get frustrated with how certain topics get uber-popular (not much of a fad follower, myself) and partly because they can occasionally feel somewhat simple or formulaic.  In this sense Jamie Ford's book, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, is a standout, making me rethink my budding prejudice.

Taking place during "the war years" in Seattle, the main characters Henry and Keiko demonstrate a human bond that surpassed political and racial tension.  Lest this sound simple and sweet, let me assure you that it is nothing if not a difficult journey.  Misunderstood at home and at school, with disappointments and challenges left and right, Henry nevertheless strives to be faithful, respectful and honest.  The story filled me with so much compassion and sympathy--for the characters as well for the thousands and thousands (around 110,000) of Japanese Americans that were removed from their homes and placed in internment camps during WWII.  I loved the jazz culture that was woven throughout the story, and thought that the ending nicely balanced out the rest of the book.

For the story of hope, for experience in different cultures, for the glance into history, I would recommend this book.  Simple to read, yet touching and filling all the same.

A clip from page 12:
Young Henry Lee stopped talking to his parents when he was twelve years old.  Not because of some silly childhood tantrum, but because they asked him to.  That was how it felt anyway.  They asked--no, told--him to stop speaking their native Chinese.  It was 1942, and they were desperate for him to learn English.  Which only made Henry more confused when his father pinned a button to his school shirt that read, "I am Chinese."  The contrast seemed absurd.  This makes no sense, he thought.  My father's pride has finally got the better of him.

Monday, March 1, 2010

For the Record: February 2010

My goal this year is to get some books read that have been on my shelf for awhile, and so far this year I have been rather unsuccessful at reaching that goal.  This month only 1 of my books fell into that category.  Oh wel.  Better than none I guess.  I read a lot of Junior Fiction this month. (fun!)

The Underneath by Kathi Appelt11. (4)  The Underneath, Kathy Appelt.  Wow, this book was totally unexpected. I picked it up at the bookstore, looking for a nice animal story to read aloud to the kids--Newbery Honor meant it should be good, right? It is not a nice happy animal story, but it was amazing to read aloud. It was heavy. There is exposure to Native American spiritual myths, animal mistreatment by a character with a drinking problem, and much suspense. I typically will not continue reading books with such stuff, but this was different. My kids were hooked, we all loved it, though my youngest couldn't listen to some of it. Not for the tenderhearted. If I'd preread it, I probably wouldn't have read it aloud to them yet because of the heavy content, but the writing was lovely. Reminded me of The Fox and the Hound.

12. (2) Gentlemen of the Road, Michael Chabon. This book was terrible. Really, a score of 2 out of 5 is too generous.  The story could have been interesting, but it just wasn't told well. The writing was an odd mix of styles, as if writing an adventure story didn't come naturally to the author (the afterword was much more cohesive and well-written than the book itself). The first chapter was so heavily hit by the thesaurus that it was comical. See my full review here.

Dragon Slippers by Jessica Day George13, 14, 15. (4.5) Dragon Slippers, Dragon Flight, and Dragon Spear by Jessica Day George. This series was just great...especially the first book.  My 11yo ds agreed--he couldn't stop reading them either.  I found them while browsing Amazon for fantasy/adventure books for my boys, and they had great reviews.  They are exciting and suspenseful without being frightening, they span genders and ages, they involve magic without getting into mysticism, and are surprisingly moral. I am really not a fantasy fan, but these books may have changed my mind.

16. Dumbing Down Our Kids: Why American Children Feel Good About Themselves But Can't Read, Write, or Add, Charles J. Sykes (4) This was the book I finally got off my shelf! It was good, still applicable even though it was written 15 years ago, amazingly enough. The info was great, helped to put things into perspective.

17. The Friday Night Knitting Club, Kate Jacobs (3) felt oh-so-very-average in plot and writing style. I thought it'd be a nice happy feel-good story...and it was until about page 300 of 350 when it totally changed tracks. hmpf.  I am willing to admit, however, that my disappointment is only partially due to the hasty, ill-fitting happy ending.  The other part was probably because I had preconceived notions and expectations.

18. Black Ships Before Troy, Rosemary Sutcliff (3.5-4) A good retelling of the Iliad, read aloud to my kiddos.  It would have even been better if I'd had the illustrated version.

19. Al Capone Does My Shirts, Gennifer Choldenko (3.5-4) Really good, for the older side of JF readers I think. I liked the Alcatraz/1930/autism focus. The main character was really easy to identify with, and I felt so bad for him that it was kind of depressing...thus my thoughts that it's better for someone with some emotional maturity.