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We watched two of the movies on my Friday Night Film Club list this past week, one on Thursday night and the other on Friday. And in both cases the person who chose the movie wasn’t there to watch it. Oh, well, the rest of us enjoyed the movies.

Engineer Husband and I went to see The King’s Speech when it first came out in theaters. It meshed well to watch it again this week after I had just finished watching season one of The Crown, about the first several years of the reign of Elizabeth II, George VI’s daughter and heir. In both The Crown and The King’s Speech, David (aka Edward, Duke of Windsor), the abdicating king and George’s older brother, comes across as a despicable and selfish brat. Maybe he really was. I’m not sure how much happiness he gained by giving up the crown for the sake of his love for the twice divorced Wallis Simpson, but then again he probably wouldn’t have been too happy as king either. George VI and Elizabeth II aren’t exactly portrayed as “happy”, but definitely satisfied with their fulfillment of what they each perceive as their duty to the nation. Anyway, I can recommend both The King’s Speech and the Netflix series The Crown. Much food for thought.

Sully, also based on a true story, was a thought-provoking movie, too. It’s a a 2016 drama, directed by Clint Eastwood and written by Todd Komarnicki, based on the autobiography Highest Duty by Chesley Sullenberger and Jeffrey Zaslow. Sullenberger, aka Sully, is the pilot who landed US Airways Flight 1549 on the Hudson River after a bird strike took out both of the plane’s engines in mid-flight. This heroic landing and the rescue of all 155 passengers and crew on board happened almost exactly eight years ago on January 15, 2009.

Tom Hanks plays Sully, and as usual, he does an excellent job of making us forget about Tom Hanks and think instead about the pilot and his ability to make a split-second decision that will either save or cost the lives of all the people on board the airplane. Inevitably, I wondered whether I could function as well in a crisis as Sully and his co-pilot did, not a crisis in flying a plane, of course, since I don’t know how, but some other life-threatening crisis where I had to make a life-or-death decision. I just don’t know. How can one train for such a thing?

If I were to choose one of these two movies over the other to recommend to you, I’d choose Sully, I suppose. Although The King’s Speech is fascinating in a historical sense and as a story of one man overcoming adversity, the “overcoming” involves some misplaced and over-dramatized Freudian analysis of George’s childhood that probably had very little to do with curing his stuttering. But then again, maybe he did stutter because they made him switch from being left-handed to right-handed or because his nanny disliked and mistreated him. Who knows?

Sully is a more straightforward hero story certainly with an obstacle to overcome, namely the investigation after the emergency landing by National Transportation Safety Board, but all’s well that ends well. And as the characters in the movie point out in 2009, “it’s been a while since New York had news this good. Especially with an airplane in it.” After a year like 2016, it’s good to watch a movie about someone competent but humble, and even heroic coming out of New York.

This Friday’s movie will be Alfred Hitchcock’s The Wrong Man with Henry Fonda, Vera Miles, and Anthony Quayle. Watch it with us if you’d like to join in.

“The material world is not just a display of our technology and culture, it is part of us. We invented it, we made it, and in turn it makes us who we are.” Introduction to Stuff Matters by Mark Miodownik

Last night I went to a lecture at a local university with Eldest Daughter. The title of the lecture was “Modernity and the Rise of the Technological Society,” and the featured speaker told us, among other things, that our technology and the type of thought required to make and maintain it were changing us into humans with an incapacity to think deeply about the technology and its effects on us. Or something like that. What I got out of Dr. Hanby’s (the speaker’s) remarks was that he believes that we are being shaped and blinded or limited in our thinking by the very technology that we made to serve us and free us. We think that our technological society has made us more free, but we don’t really know what freedom is anymore, and we are too caught up in technological innovation to even be able to think about what true freedom might look like.

Anyway, this morning at the library I found this book that I had requested on the hold shelf. I’m only reading the introduction, but Mr. Miodownik seems to be saying something similar to what Dr. Michael Hanby, the speaker last night, was saying. Only, it looks as if perhaps Mr. Miodownik might think that all these “materials” and “technology” are changing us for the better–that it’s OK that technology has become to some extent our master rather than our servant. I’ll be back after I read the book to let you know what I think.


Unfortunately, I didn’t get to finish the book before I had to return it to the library, and I’m still not sure what I think about technology changing us for the better or for the worse. What do you think?

“People don’t read enough. This bodes ill, not just for the present, but for the future.” ~Abraham Kuyper in 1879


Welcome to the Saturday Review of Books at Semicolon. Here’s how it usually works. Find a book review on your blog posted sometime during the previous week. The review doesn’t have to be a formal sort of thing. You can link to your thoughts on a particular book, a few ideas inspired by reading the book, your evaluation, quotations, whatever.

Then on Friday night/Saturday, you post a link here at Semicolon in Mr. Linky to the specific post where you’ve written your book review. Don’t link to your main blog page because this kind of link makes it hard to find the book review, especially when people drop in later after you’ve added new content to your blog. In parentheses after your name, add the title of the book you’re reviewing. This addition will help people to find the reviews they’re most interested in reading.

After linking to your own reviews, you can spend as long as you want reading the reviews of other bloggers for the week and adding to your wishlist of books to read.

Neuroblastoma. Cancer. These are scary words for grown-ups and for children. Counting Thyme is a story about how a five year old brother’s cancer affects a family and changes the members of the family and eventually how those changes make them stronger and more bonded. (Of course, a crisis can tear a family apart, but in this story, in spite of realistic and ongoing struggles and misunderstandings, the family members grow in love and empathy for one another.)

Eleven year old Thyme, the main character, is deeply concerned for her little brother, Val, who is undergoing treatment for neuroblastoma, nerve cancer. She would give almost anything for him to get well again, but she doesn’t really understand why her family has to move from California to New York City for Val to get well. Thyme’s parents are well meaning, but totally absorbed in supporting and caring for Val, and they don’t want to tell Thyme and her older sister Coriander (yes, cute names) too much about what is happening with Val so that the girls won’t worry too much. Of course, Thyme and Cori do worry a lot, and each girl has to find a way to deal with the move and with all the tension at home as they acclimate to a new city and to new schools.

There is a pre-teen “romance” in the book, but it’s handled tastefully and innocently. Thyme has a crush on a boy in her new school, and the two children get to know each other and eventually become friends. One innocent peck on the cheek and some blushing and gushy feelings make up the rest of the relationship, but if that’s too much for your middle grade reader, you’ll want to skip this one.

If you do skip it, sad to say, you’ll miss out on a slow, heartfelt story about adjusting to harsh realities and learning to give and receive love and concern from your family even when times are hard. The family interactions are very real and tender, and so are the friendships that Thyme had to leave behind and the ones she forms in her new city. Thyme herself is something of an introvert, self-contained, but confident and empathetic, especially when it comes to helping cheer or distract Val when he’s having a bad day. And Val is the cutest little cancer patient I’ve ever met, maybe a little too good to be true, but so likable and sweet.

Gertie deserves a place alongside Clementine and Ramona Quimby as one of the spunkiest and most adventuresome of girl characters in middle grade fiction. She comes across as a little immature for her ten years of age, but if she’s a bit sheltered and innocent, it just means that her aunt and her father have done an excellent job of raising her after her mother deserted the family.

Gertie Reece Foy is always on a mission, but her mission for fifth grade is to be the greatest fifth grader ever so that her mother, whom Gertie has never even met, will be impressed and wish that she had paid more attention to Gertie Foy. Gertie’s two best friends, Jean the Jean-ius and Junior, help, mostly, and hinder her on her mission. And Mary Sue Spivey, the new girl from Los Angeles, is the fly in the ointment, so to speak. Can Gertie be the best when Mary Sue so easily steals the popularity (not to mention Gertie’s seat!) that Gertie longs for?

One thing about Gertie Reece Foy: she never, ever gives up. And reading about exactly how Gertie doesn’t give up, how she keeps pursuing her mission, despite environmental concerns about her daddy’s oil rig job and Mary Sue’s conniving, is a delight and a wonder. Gertie certainly does “give’em h—“, just as her great-aunt tells her to every morning as Gertie leaves for school.

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In addition to reading historical fiction and biographies, I’d like to read some of the classics that were “making waves” in the late eighteenth century/early nineteenth century. These are more difficult for me to get through, but also potentially more rewarding.

A Faithful Narrative of the Surprising Work of God in the Conversion of Many Hundred Souls in Northampton by Jonathan Edwards. (1737)
Hymns and Sacred Songs by Charles and John Wesley (1739).
A Treatise Concerning Religious Affections by Jonathan Edwards. (1746)
The Life and Diary of David Brainerd by Jonathan Edwards. (1749)
A Dissertation Concerning the End for Which God Created the World by Jonathan Edwards (contained in John Piper’s book, God’s Passion for His Glory.)
Common Sense (1776) by Thomas Paine.
Evelina by Fanny Burney.
The Federalist Papers by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay.(1787)
The Marriage of Heaven and Hell by William Blake. (1790)
A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792) by Mary Wollstonecraft.
Lyrical Ballads by William Wordsworth and Samuel Coleridge (1798).
Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen. (re-read, written before 1796, published in 1811)

Descriptions are from Goodreads.

Orphan Island by Laurel Snyder. “About nine children who live on a mysterious island. On the island, everything is perfect. The sun rises in a sky filled with dancing shapes; the wind, water, and trees shelter and protect those who live there; when the nine children go to sleep in their cabins, it is with full stomachs and joy in their hearts. And only one thing ever changes: on that day, each year, when a boat appears from the mist upon the ocean carrying one young child to join them—and taking the eldest one away, never to be seen again.” (May)

The Problem Children by Natalie Lloyd. “Seven strange siblings, all born on a different day of the week, and the neighbors who keep trying to tear their family apart.”

Scar Island by Dan Gemeinhart. “Jonathan Grisby is the newest arrival at the Slabhenge Reformatory School for Troubled Boys — an ancient, crumbling fortress of gray stone rising up from the ocean. It is dark, damp, and dismal. And it is just the place Jonathan figures he deserves. Because Jonathan has done something terrible. And he’s willing to accept whatever punishment he has coming.” (January)

Playing Atari with Saddam Hussein by Jennifer Roy. “Set in the spice-filled markets and curtain-drawn homes of 1991 Iraq and told through the eyes of 12-year-old Ali, a boy preoccupied by real-life dictators and video game villains, this book offers a glimpse into the everyday realities of growing up under the shadow of Saddam Hussein’s regime.” (Spring)

The Warden’s Daughter by Jerry Spinelli. “Cammie O’Reilly is the warden’s daughter, living in an apartment above the entrance to the Hancock County Prison. But she’s also living in a prison of grief and anger about the mother who died saving her from harm when she was just a baby. And prison has made her mad.” (January)

Blooming at the Texas Sunrise Motel by Kimberley Willis Holt. “Twelve-year-old Stevie’s world changes drastically when her parents are tragically killed and she is forced to live with her estranged grandfather at his run-down motel.” (March)

The Great Treehouse War by Lisa Graff. “Winnie’s last day of fourth grade ended with a pretty life-changing surprise. That was the day Winnie s parents got divorced, the day they decided that Winnie would live three days a week with each of them and spend Wednesdays by herself in a treehouse smack between their houses, to divide her time perfectly evenly between them. It was the day Winnie s seed of frustration with her parents was planted, a seed that grew and grew until it felt like it was as big as a tree itself.” (May)

The Song of Glory and Ghost (Outlaws of Time #2) by N.D. Wilson. (April)

Escape from Aleppo by N.H. Senzai. “13-year-old Nadia and her family flee Aleppo, Syria, for Turkey in the wake of the Arab Spring.” (Fall)

Undefeated: Jim Thorpe and the Carlisle Indian School Football Team by Steve Sheinkin. (January)

The Sweetest Sound by Sherri Winston. “For ten-year-old Cadence Jolly, birthdays are a constant reminder of all that has changed since her mother skipped town with dreams of becoming a star. Cadence inherited that musical soul, she can’t deny it, but otherwise she couldn’t be more different – she’s as shy as can be. When Cadence’s singing ability comes to the attention of her entire church family, she must decide what to do.” (January)

The Someday Birds by Sally J. Pla. “Life has been unraveling since Charlie’s war journalist father was injured in Afghanistan. And when Dad gets sent across country for medical treatment, Charlie must reluctantly travel to meet him. With his boy-crazy sister, unruly twin brothers, and a mysterious new family friend at the wheel, the journey looks anything but smooth.” (January)

Each of these sounds intriguing in its own way: an island, community-building, road trip, Middle Eastern settings, a church community(!), and nonfiction about a sports hero who was also Native American. Do any of these upcoming middle grade titles sound good to you?

Skating with the Statue of Liberty (Black Radishes, #2) by Susan Lynn Meyer.

It Ain’t So Awful, Falafel by Firoozeh Dumas.

A Bandit’s Tale: The Muddled Misadventures of a Pickpocket by Deborah Hopkinson.

Ms. Bixby’s Last Day by John David Anderson.

The Mystery of the Clockwork Sparrow and Mystery of the Jeweled Moth by Katherine Woodfine.

Every Single Second by Tricia Springstubb.

Aim by Joyce Moyer Hostetter.

The Gallery by Laura Marx Fitzgerald.

Ghost by Jason Reynolds.

Gertie’s Leap to Greatness by Kate Beasley.

All Rise for the Honorable Perry T. Cook by Leslie Connor. My favorite middle grade realistic fiction book of 2016.

Friday night we watched the first movie of the year for my family’s 2017 Friday Night Film Club (FNFC). The feature presentation was a 1948 John Ford western, The Three Godfathers, starring John Wayne. A film reviewer for World Magazine named this as one of his favorite Christmas movies, so I thought we’s give it a try. Brown Bear Daughter tried, but she only made it through about three-fourths of the movie. I think she missed the best part. She said that she doesn’t like westerns and that this one in particular was “boring.” I found it a bit hokey and both over and under-acted at times, but essentially solid with some good and memorable scenes. The movie included lots of Biblical allusions and emphasized Christian themes of redemption, mercy, and restorative justice.

The basic plot is that a trio of bank robbers from Texas are on the run from the local sheriff and his posse in Arizona when they encounter a dying mother who asks them to be joint godfathers to her newborn infant. The three desperadoes try to care for the baby after the mother dies, and they also continue to run from justice–across desert, mountains, and salt flats, an unmerciful and unrelentingly harsh terrain that tries both their endurance and their souls.

In a movie with such a plot made nowadays the three outlaws would be both worse and better than they are in The Three Godfathers. They would probably be more violent and more blood-stained in any modern movie, and at the same time, they might be portrayed as modern-day Robin Hoods who deserve to get away with their ill-gotten gains. In this story, the three thieves are plain old bank robbers, dishonest and out to take what they can get, but they only escape with a small bag of cash while shooting off their guns into the air. They definitely pay for their sins. One of the three robbers, “the kid”, is shot in the shoulder, and he has an especially hard time making it through the desert.

Nevertheless, caring for the baby awakens the outlaws to their responsibilities to God and to their fellowmen, and they end up following instructions from the Bible and sacrificing themselves for the child. I thought it was a good movie, especially the last part, the part my daughter missed, where everything comes to a head in a dramatic rescue played to perfection by The Duke himself.

The movie was filmed in Death Valley, California, although the setting is supposed to be Arizona. The story is loosely analogous to the story of the wise men in the Bible who traveled across country to find and worship the baby Jesus. If you happen to watch it, let me know what you think.

This coming Friday’s movie for our Friday Night Movie Club will be The King’s Speech (2010), the story of Bertie, or King George VI of Great Britain and his ascension to the British throne.

Not imaginary creatures like mandrakes (Sophie Quire and the Last Storyguard) or jinn (The Eye of Midnight) or chamelons (The Secrets of Solace), but rather animals that talk or communicate with humans or take on anthropomorphic characteristics:

Forest of Wonders by Linda Sue Park.
Shadow Magic by Joshua Khan.

Maybe a Fox by Kathi Appelt.
Furthermore by Tahereh Mafi.
The Night Parade by Kathryn Tanquary.
Pax by Sara Pennypacker.

Hamster Princess: Of Mice and Magic by Ursula Vernon.
Time Traveling with a Hamster by Ross Welford.

The Tale of a No-Name Squirrel by Radhika Dhariwal.
The Magic Mirror: Concerning a Lonely Princess, a Foundling Girl, a Scheming King and a Pickpocket Squirrel by Susan Hill Long.
Evolution Revolution: Simple Machines by Charlotte Bennardo.

Rats and Mice
Armstrong: The Adventurous Journey of a Mouse to the Moon by Torben Kuhlman.
Word of Mouse by James Patterson and Chris Grabenstein.
Brightwood by Tania Unsworth.
The Rat Prince by Bridget Hodder.
A Tail of Camelot (Mice of the Round Table #1) by Julie Leung.

The Poet’s Dog by Patricia MacLachlan.
Foxheart by Claire LeGrand.
Making Mistakes on Purpose (Ms. Rapscott’s Girls) by Elise Primavera.
The Inquisitor’s Tale: Or, The Three Magical Children and Their Holy Dog by Adam Gidwitz.
Behind the Canvas by Alexander Vance.
The Wizard’s Dog by Eric Gale.

Sophie Quire and the Last Storyguard by Jonathan Auxier.

Fortune Falls by Jenny Goebel.
The Nine Lives of Jacob Tibbs by Colin Busby.

Evil Wizard Smallbone by Delia Sherman.
This Is Not a Werewolf Story by Sandra Evans.
The Peculiar Night of the Blue Heart by Lauren DeStefano.
Simon Thorn and the Wolf’s Den by Aimee Carter.
The Wolf’s Boy by Susan Beckhorn.

Ember Falls by S.D. Smith.

Stingray City by Ellen Prager.

Liberty by Darcy Pattison.

The Growly Books: Haven by Philip Ulrich.

The Bolds by Julian Clary.

The Midnight War of Mateo Martinez by Robin Yardi.

Snakes and Other Reptiles
Outlaws of Time: The Legend of Sam Miracle by N.D. Wilson.
Dragonbreath: the Frozen Menace by Ursula Vernon.

Dogs win, with wolves, and rats and mice coming in a tied second. If you or your child have your own animal avatar or interest, you just might be able to pick a recent book related to the animal of your choice.