Saturday, June 30, 2007

New Testament

I listened to part of the New Testament read by Max McLean and found it to be a nice break from reading. The books that I recommend reading first if you are not familiar with the New Testament are John, Romans, and 1 John. If you're a Christian but haven't read the entire New Testament, I highly recommend it. You're really missing out if you just get bits and pieces from church only. I DON'T recommend reading the Bible for challenges, though. I listed this as one for the Spring Reading Thing, and I don't think I'll be listing parts of the Bible for challenges ever again. I will continue to read it, though, of course!

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell

Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell
by Susanna Clarke

2004, 782 pp.

2005 Hugo Award
2005 World Fantasy Award

Rating: 4.5

I chose this book as one of my 5 Once Upon a Time Challenge books because I also had it on my TBR Challenge and my Chunkster Challenge list. Because the hardback is almost 800 pages, I think it qualifies for 3 challenges! I thought surely I would be able to complete the book if it were on *3* of my lists. When I started it, I honestly didn't like it much at first. It took about 80 pages before I was "into it", and then I was hooked. The next 700+ pages were very easy to read.

Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell are two English magicians who collaborate at first but then find they have very different philosophies of how magic should be viewed and performed. Mr. Norrell wants to be the foremost authority of magic and keep Strange under his tutelage. Jonathan Strange realizes he is just as good a magician as Norrell and is much more open to teaching anyone his art. This battle of wills frames the story, but there is also romance, a tiny bit of comedy, and history interwoven into the story as well. Napolean, Duke Wellington, and Lord Byron make small appearances as do a gentleman with thistle-down hair and a magician called The Raven King. I won't tell much of the plot here because I wouldn't want to spoil the story for those who haven't read it yet! I will say that the ending hints that there might be more books to follow.

The book is written in the style of a Victorian novel. There is no bad language and not much, though a little, violence. The violence that is present reminded me a little of Edgar Allen Poe's stories. I was worried about what the book would contain when I started it, but the content was mostly accepable to me. I'm a little more conservative than most readers, so this concerned me a little. The only objection I do have is that there are a few places in the book that are a bit condescending to the Church and religion. It wasn't enough for me to downgrade the book's rating, though, and I'm very glad I read it. It looks like there will be a movie in 2008, and I will really look forward to seeing that as well.

The Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys

Wide Sargasso Sea
by Jean Rhys

1966, 192 pp.

Rating: 4

The Wide Sargasso Sea is listed in the top 100 novels by the Modern Library. I wouldn't go that far, but I did enjoy it. A warning though--some fans of Jane Eyre may hate it. Most members of my face to face book group felt like it ruined their idea of Mr. Rochester's character. I felt the same way when I read March by Geraldine Brooks earlier this year. Little Women is a favorite book of mine, and I didn't like how Mr. and Mrs. March were portrayed in Brooks' story at all.

However, in this book, we learn how Mr. Rochester became the dark, brooding figure in Jane Eyre. We not only feel sorry for him, though, we also feel sorry for Bertha as well. At least I did. We learn how and why she had a mental breakdown. We learn that both she and Mr. Rochester are victims. While I won't go so far as to integrate this story into my feelings about and fondness for Jane Eyre, I am able to take this as a separate story altogether and appreciate it.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Number the Stars by Lois Lowry

Number the Stars
by Lois Lowry

1989, 144 pp.

Newbery Medal

Rating: 4.5

This was an excellent children's book. I read it in a couple of hours while the rest of my family was at the movie theatre.

Annemarie Johansen and Ellen Rosen live in Copenhagen. They are neighbors and best friends. Ellen and her family are Jewish and World War II is going on; consequently they are in very real danger and Annemarie's family does everything they can to help them.

I can't really say much more without giving the whole story line away. This book fascinated me because many of the details are based on factual evidence. Books like these truly make history come alive and make the reader eager to do more research on the subject.

Highly recommended.

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle

A Wrinkle in Time
by Madeleine L'Engle

1962, 224 pp.

Rating: 4

Newbery Medal

I listened to this book on CD with my sons on a short road trip. All three of us enjoyed it very much. Meg Murry is a girl whose parents are both scientists. Consequently her family is a little different than others. She and Charles Wallace, her littlest brother, get made fun of at school because everyone thinks they're either stupid or not living up to their potential. Of course, nothing could be further from the truth. Her twin brothers are more normal so they fit in.

Their father works for the government and has been missing for a few years. The search for Mr. Murry, with a little help from Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who, and Mrs. Which, takes them on a journey too incredible to imagine. Three sequels follow that each of us plan on reading this year or next.

Saturday, June 9, 2007

A Severe Mercy by Sheldon Vanauken

A Severe Mercy
by Sheldon Vanauken

1977, 238 pp.

Rating: 4

National Book Award Winner

This memoir is a book about life, marriage, friendship, and faith. Vanauken tells the story of how he and his wife's relationship changed from an intense, romantic love to one controlled by their Christian beliefs. That is not to say that their love wasn't intense or romantic after their conversion, but it did change significantly. He also details his wife's illness, death, and his own grief process afterwards.

Most interesting to me were the letters exchanged between the Vanaukens (mostly Sheldon) and C.S. Lewis. The couple met Lewis while at Oxford and kept up a healthy correspondence with him after they moved back to the States. Lewis is my favorite author, so it was interesting to hear his viewpoints on a much more personal level. These exchanges were my favorite parts of the book.

Friday, June 8, 2007

The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde

The Eyre Affair
by Jasper Fforde

2002, 374 pp.

Rating: 4

Literary allusions, time travel, a mystery to solve, and a protagonist named Thursday Next--what more could you want in a mystery/fantasy novel? I really enjoyed this book. There is just the right amount of mystery, fantasy, romance, and even comedy to suit just about anybody. With people named Jack Schitt, Braxton Hicks, and other punny names, I found myself laughing quite a bit through this book.

Thursday Next is a LiteraTec--a sort of literary detective. She reads, time travels, investigates lit crimes, and still finds time to pine over a man at the end of the day. I definitely look forward to reading more of Ms. Next's adventures.

Sunday, June 3, 2007

Phantastes by George MacDonald

by George MacDonald

1858, 185 pp.

Rating: 4

This was one of C.S. Lewis' favorite books, and it is obvious that Lewis borrowed quite a bit from MacDonald's ideas. I found several passages that were very similar to passages in Lewis' books. There is also a lengthy introduction to the book by Lewis that is well worth reading.

This 1850's fantasy novel involves a man whose grandmothers were descended from the fairies. Because of this, he is granted access to a fairy land where he encounters several strange and wonderful creatures--some benevolent and some malevolent. Both he and the reader learn lessons in his journey through this land and back again to his home world.

"Yet I know that good is coming to me--that good is always coming; though few have at all times the simplicity and the courage to believe it. What we call evil, is the only and best shape, which, for the person and his condition at the time, could be assumed by the best good."
Although I prefer Lewis' books to MacDonald's, I did enjoy this older fantasy tale. Earlier this year I read The Princess and the Goblin by MacDonald and enjoyed it very much. I plan to read the sequel The Princess and Curdie and also another adult tale, Lilith, in 2008.

Saturday, June 2, 2007

My Sister's Keeper by Jodi Picoult

My Sister's Keeper
by Jodi Picoult

2004, 423 pp.

Rating: 4

My Sister's Keeper is about a family with a deathly sick child and how that illness colors every decision they make. How far would you go to keep your child alive? Would you have another baby--even make it a "designer baby" that would be a perfectly matched donor for your sick child?

These questions are explored in the novel from all sides. There are multiple narrators. We get to hear from the mother, father, each sister, the brother, and others important to the story. I really liked the multiple points of view. Picoult takes a tough ethical issue and represents each side quite well. This was my first Picoult novel, and I look forward to reading more.