Saturday Review of Books: January 4, 2014

“For me to love a work of fiction, it must survive my harpy eye on all accounts: It will tell me something remarkable, it will be beautifully executed, and it will be nested in truth. The latter I mean literally; I can’t abide fiction that fails to get its facts straight.” ~Barbara Kingsolver

Happy Birthday, JRR Tolkien (b.January 3, 1892)! Scroll down to link to your end of the year/beginning or the year booklist(s). Link here for reviews of books from this first week of 2014.


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. That’s how my own TBR list has become completely unmanageable and the reason I can’t join any reading challenges. I have my own personal challenge that never ends.

1. Carol in Oregon (15 New Words)
2. Carol in Oregon (Children’s Book, Venezuela)
3. Amy @ Hope Is the Word (The Interrupted Tale)
4. Carol in Oregon (10 Quotes)
5. Seth@Collateral Bloggage (The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo)
6. Seth@Collateral Bloggage (The Secret Life of Walter Mitty)
7. Seth@Collateral Bloggage (The Deuterocanonical Books)
8. Seth@Collateral Bloggage (The Simplified Guide)
9. 10 Great Reads of 2013
10. Beth@Weavings (Favorite Reads of 2013)
11. Beth@Weavings (Books Read in 2013)
12. Beth@Weavings (Books Read in 2014)
13. the Ink Slinger (Gone, Baby, Gone)
14. the Ink Slinger (2013 Year In Review: Non-Fiction)
15. the Ink Slinger (2013 Year In Review: Fiction)
16. Hope (Movie Review of the book Catching Fire)
17. Glynn (View from the North Ten: Poems)
18. Glynn (Olive Kitteridge)
19. Glynn (Songs for Ascent)
20. Glynn (Poetry Five)
21. Lazygal (Daughters of Jerusalem)
22. Lazygal (Wake)
23. Lazygal (The Weight of Blood)
24. Lazygal (The Enchanted)
25. Beckie @ ByTheBook (Carolina Gold)
26. Beckie @ ByTheBook (Rest Not in Peace)
27. Beckie @ ByTheBook (The NIV Ragamuffin Bible)
28. Beckie @ ByTheBook (Rules of Murder)
29. Thoughts of Joy (Silent Prey)
30. Becky (A Woman’s Guide To Reading the Bible in a Year)
31. Becky (Captive Maiden, Cinderella Retelling)
32. Thalia @ Muses and Graces
33. Becky (5th Wave)
34. Becky (Bluffton)
35. Becky (The Real Boy)
36. Becky (The Apprentices)
37. Thalia @ Muses and Graces (The Mysterious Affair at Styles)
38. Becky (The Story of the Treasure Seekers)
39. Sophie (Toms River)
40. Pages Left Unturned (Paradise Lot: Two Plant Geeks, 1/10th.. Acre, etc.)
41. Vicki (In the Big Inning… Bible Riddles from the Back Pew by Mike Thaler)
42. Vicki (The Irresistible Blueberry Bakeshop & Cafe by Mary Simses)
43. Vicki ( Joyland by Stephen King)
44. Vicki ( Sea Devil by Jessica Sherry)
45. DebD (Not a Creature was Stirring)
46. Yvann@Readingwithtea (The President’s Hat)
47. Yvann@Readingwithtea (The Yonahlossee Riding School for Girls)
48. Yvann@Readingwithtea (The Bedlam Detective)
49. Val’s Vicinity (Dear Mr. Knightley)

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Many Happy Returns . . . January 3rd

JRR Tolkien, b.1892.

Semicolon: Lost in Middle Earth.

Happy Birthday, Mr. Tolkien! and Happy Birthday, Professor Tolkien!

Thoughts on The Silmarillion by JRR Tolkien.

J.R.R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis: A Literary Friendship and Rivalry by Ethan Gilsdorf. “I had vowed to take Dead Man’s Walk. To sneak into Gothic-trimmed courtyards. To wander beside the shadow of J. R. R. Tolkien, the father of modern fantasy, and listen for remnants of his voice.”

The Lord of the Rings and its prequel, The Hobbit, are probably tied with Les Miserables for my favorite books of all time. I owe a great debt to the hard work and imagination of Professor Tolkien, and today, his birthday, is as good a time as any to express my gratitude for the Lord’s gifting in him.

Many Happy Returns: January 31st

(Pearl) Zane Grey, Western author, b. 1875 in Zanesville, Ohio. He dropped his first name later in life. Engineer Husband has an uncle named Horace Pearl; Pearl was an acceptable name for boys around the turn of the century and before. Zane Grey wrote over 90 books, travelled all over the world, and became one of the first millionaire writers. Not bad for guy named Pearl.

Have any of you read any Zane Grey? If so, can you suggest ONE title as a starter?

Gerald McDermott, b. 1941, author and illlustrator who won the Caldecott Award in 1975 for Arrow to the Sun.
Gerald McDermott’s website.

Here’s a critical view of McDermott’s book from a blogger who writes about American Indians as portrayed in children’s literature.

An art activity to accompany the reading of Arrow to the Sun.

Many Happy Returns: January 30th

Walter Savage Landor, b.1775.
“I strove with none; for none was worth my strife,
Nature I loved, and next to Nature, Art;
I warmed both hands before the fire of life,
It sinks, and I am ready to depart.”

Ann Taylor (b. 1782) who along with her sister Jane published several books of poems for children. Among the poems she and sister Jane wrote was the well-known Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star. I found an online copy of a book of the sisters’ poems entitled Little Ann. Most of the poems in the collection sound quaintly didactic to modern ears, but I rather enjoyed reading them. This one, unlike most of the others, is just for fun:

DANCE, little baby, dance up high:
Never mind, baby, mother is by;
Crow and caper, caper and crow,
There, little baby, there you go;
Up to the ceiling, down to the ground,
Backwards and forwards, round and round:
Then dance, little baby, and mother shall sing,
While the gay merry coral goes ding-a-ding, ding.

Franklin D. Roosevelt, b. 1882.

Angela Margaret Thirkell, b. 1890. Read a short piece on Ms. Thirkell’s book, Private Enterprise or County Chronicle by the same author. I need to read some more books by Ms. Thirkell.

Barbara Tuchman, b. 1912. I am very fond of Tuchman’s book, A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous Fourteenth Century, a history of France during the high Middle Ages. However, I must enjoy reading about the Middle Ages more than I like reading about WW I because I have yet to finish The Guns of August, the book that won Tuchman her first Pulitzer Prize in 1963. She also won a 1972 Pulitzer for Stillwell and the American Experience in China.

Lloyd Alexander, b.1924. Everyone is, or should be, familiar with Mr. Alexander excellent Prydain Chronicles. The five books in this series rank only just after Tolkien’s and C.S. Lewis’s fantasy series in my list of fantasy fiction. Taran, the assistant pig-keeper, Eilonwy, the princess with who has a way of asking inconvenient questions, Fflewddur Fflam, the would-be bard whose truth-telling harp boasts a number of broken strings, and Gurgi, the rhyming creature of indeterminate origins, are all memorable characters and endearing ones.

However, I must mention that Mr. Alexander also wrote other books, some that I’ve read and appreciated and others that I have yet to enjoy. His Westmark Trilogy consists of Westmark, The Kestrel, and The Beggar Queen. The series features a protagonist named Theo who finds himself on both sides at various times of a simmering revolution against the monarchy of the country of Westmark. The themes of the trilogy center around the difficulties of making moral choices and the ethical implications of war and violence. I thought the books were wonderful when I first read them, and I’d like to go back and read them again sometime.

In addition to writing children’s literature, Lloyd Alexander produced the first English translation of Jean-Paul Sartre’s La nausee. Mr. Alexander died May 17, 2007.

Richard Bruce “Dick” Cheney, b.1941. “Four years ago, some said the world had grown calm, and many assumed that the United States was invulnerable to danger. That thought might have been comforting; it was also false. Like other generations of Americans, we soon discovered that history had great and unexpected duties in store for us.”

Trivia Questions for Tomorrow’s Birthday Party

Quite a few famous authors and other people have birthdays on January 30th. Can you guess the answers to these trivia questions before tomorrow’s post on the Birthdays of January 30th?

What famous children’s song lyrics did Ann Taylor and her sister Jane write?

Who wrote the book A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous Fourteenth Century?

What fictional part of England forms the setting for Angela Thirkell’s 30+ novels?

What is the name of Lloyd Alexander’s Assistant Pig-Keeper?

Who said, “Four years ago, some said the world had grown calm, and many assumed that the United States was invulnerable to danger. That thought might have been comforting; it was also false. Like other generations of Americans, we soon discovered that history had great and unexpected duties in store for us.”?

Who said, “Be sincere; be brief; be seated.”?

Who said, “I warmed both hands before the fire of life; It sinks, and I am ready to depart.”?

Many Happy Returns: January 28th

Sabine Baring-Gould, b. 1834. Victorian archaeologist, he had fifteen children and wrote the hymn “Onward Christian Soldiers”. More information on his eccentricities here.

Vera B. Williams, b. 1927, children’s author and illustrator. She wrote and illustrated two of my favorites, A Chair for My Mother and Two Days on a River in a Red Canoe. Her bio sounds as if she’s led a colorful life: she helped start a “community” (sounds like a commune) in the hills of North Carolina and a school based on the Summerhill model. Then she moved to Canada and lived on a houseboat for a while–where she wrote her first book. Oh, and she spent a month in the federal penitentiary in West Virginia after a “peaceful blockade of the Pentagon.” Well, anyway, the books are great and not really counter-cultural at all.

Lesson plan for teaching A Chair for My Mother.

Many Happy Returns: January 27th

Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, aka Lewis Carroll, b.1832 at Cheshire, England.

One day Alice came to a fork in the road and saw a Cheshire cat in a tree.
“Which road do I take?” she asked.
“Where do you want to go?” was his response.
“I don’t know,” Alice answered.
“Then,” said the cat, “it doesn’t matter.”


Other Lewis Carroll posts to cause you to lose your way:

Of Snarks and Quarks

Lewis Carroll’s Birthday: 2006

Radio Jabberwocky

“The horror of that moment,” the King went on, “I shall never forget!”
“You will, though,” The Queen said, “if you don’t make a memorandum of it.”

This is so appropo of my life and memory. The 3M’s, middle age, menopause, and memory loss, are my constant companions.

“The rule is, jam tomorrow and jam yesterday – but never jam today.”

“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in a rather scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean, neither more nor less.”

“The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”

“The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master – that’s all.” Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll

If you’ve never read Mr. Carroll’s masterpieces, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, and What Alice Found There, you really, really should do so immediately.

Some (perhaps) motivational facts to get you to pick up a copy of Alice:
Queen Victoria and the young Oscar Wilde were among the first avid readers of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.
You could host a Mad Hatter Tea Party.
Lewis Carroll, aka Charles Dodgson, was a mathematician, a scholar, and an amateur photographer. There is no evidence that he was a pedophile, although he did enjoy the company of little girls.
“Dodgson was devoted to games as croquet, backgammon, billiards and chess, enjoyed conjuring and card tricks and invented many mathematical and word puzzles, games, ciphers and aids to memory.” (Source: Lenny’s Alice in Wonderland site)
“Through the Looking Glass” is the third season finale of the ABC television series Lost, consisting of the twenty-second and twenty-third episodes of the TV program. Therefore, you can read either Alice in Wonderland or Through the Looking Glass as a part of the LOST Books Challenge.

And then there’s always a dissenter in the bunch. Author Terry Pratchett has said of Alice: “”I didn’t like the Alice books because I found them creepy and horribly unfunny in a nasty, plonking, Victorian way. Oh, here’s Mr Christmas Pudding On Legs, hohohoho, here’s a Caterpillar Smoking A Pipe, hohohoho. When I was a kid the books created in me about the same revulsion as you get when, aged seven, you’re invited to kiss your great-grandmother.”

Don’t listen to him (even if you like Mr. Pratchett’s books). Alice is very funny, witty, and quite undated. The observations of Humpty Dumpty and the Cheshire Cat are endlessly applicable to current events.

Janet at Across the Page just read Alice for the first time, and here are her thoughts.

‘It’s a cravat, child, and a beautiful one, as you say. It’s a present from the White King and Queen. There now!’
‘Is it really?’ said Alice, quite pleased to find that she HAD chosen a good subject, after all.
‘They gave it me,’ Humpty Dumpty continued thoughtfully, as he crossed one knee over the other and clasped his hands round it, ‘they gave it me–for an un-birthday present.’
‘I beg your pardon?’ Alice said with a puzzled air.
‘I’m not offended,’ said Humpty Dumpty.
‘I mean, what IS an un-birthday present?’
‘A present given when it isn’t your birthday, of course.’
Alice considered a little. ‘I like birthday presents best,’ she said at last.
‘You don’t know what you’re talking about!’ cried Humpty Dumpty. ‘How many days are there in a year?’
‘Three hundred and sixty-five,’ said Alice.
‘And how many birthdays have you?’
‘And if you take one from three hundred and sixty-five, what remains?’
‘Three hundred and sixty-four, of course.’
Humpty Dumpty looked doubtful. ‘I’d rather see that done on paper,’ he said.

Unless you share a birthday with Mr. Dodgson, I hope you have a very happy un-birthday today!

Many Happy Returns: January 25th

Robert Burns, b. January 25, 1759.

“Robert Burns is Scotland’s best-loved bard and Burns Suppers have been held in his honour for over 200 years. This site gives you the complete guide to Robert Burns the man, his poems, his travels, haggis, whisky and much more.” From this website dedicated to all things Burns, The Bard.

In the Prospect of Death
O Thou unknown, Almighty Cause
Of all my hope and fear!
In whose dread presence, ere an hour,
Perhaps I must appear!

If I have wander’d in those paths
Of life I ought to shun,
As something, loudly, in my breast,
Remonstrates I have done;

Thou know’st that Thou hast formed me
With passions wild and strong;
And list’ning to their witching voice
Has often led me wrong.

Where human weakness has come short,
Or frailty stept aside,
Do Thou, All-Good-for such Thou art-
In shades of darkness hide.

Where with intention I have err’d,
No other plea I have,
But, Thou art good; and Goodness still
Delighteth to forgive.

And that plea sounds good to me.

Kate’s Book Blog on Burns’ Birthday
Semicolon: January 25, 2004
Rebecca celebrates with a whole slew of Robbie Burns posts from last year.

Somerset Maugham, b. 1874. “There are three rules for writing the novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are”

Virginia Woolf, b. 1882. Eldest Daughter on Virginia Woolf: “To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf. This is a beautiful poetic exploration of the ephemerality of human relationships. You can have Joyce; give me Woolf for the highest example of the stream of consciousness technique. Because with her it’s not about the technique, it’s about the people.” I couldn’t say. Modern-day philistine that I am, I’ve never read Joyce or Woolf.

Edwin Newman, b. 1919. Longtime anchorman of NBC News, he also wrote the book Strictly Speaking about the use and misuse of the English language.

Many Happy Returns: January 22nd

Francis Bacon, b.1561. English philosopher, statesman, and essayist.

Prosperity doth best discover vice, but adversity doth best discover virtue.

The joys of parents are secret; and so are their griefs and fears. They cannot utter the one; nor they will not utter the other.

As for the passions and studies of the mind: avoid envy; anxious fears; anger fretting inwards; subtle and knotty inquisitions; joys and exhilarations in excess; sadness not communicated. Entertain hopes; mirth rather than joy; variety of delights, rather than surfeit of them; wonder and admiration, and therefore novelties; studies that fill the mind with splendid and illustrious objects, as histories, fables, and contemplations of nature. Laugh, wonder, and hope. Study in accordance with Philippians 4:8.

Judges ought to remember, that their office is jus dicere, and not jus dare; to interpret law, and not to make law, or give law. Isn’t this just what conservatives have been saying in regard to judicial appointments for the past fifty years or so?

Read not to contradict and confute; nor to believe and take for granted; nor to find talk and discourse; but to weigh and consider.

George Gordon, Lord Byron, b.1788.
Byronic: “of, like or characteristic of Byron or his writings, romantic, passionate, cynical, ironic, etc.” I thought Lord Byron, whose birthday is today, was supposed to be wildly good-looking. Here’s the best picture I could find; you see what you think.

Maybe you’re more impressed than I am–or maybe I’m just being Byronic (cynical). Anyway, I did always like this scrap of poetry by Byron–even though I’ve heard people quote it Byronically (cynically and ironically):

SHE walks in beauty, like the night
Of cloudless climes and starry skies;
And all that ‘s best of dark and bright
Meet in her aspect and her eyes:
Thus mellow’d to that tender light
Which Heaven to gaudy day denies.

One shade the more, one ray the less,
Had half impair’d the nameless grace
Which waves in every raven tress
Or softly lightens o’er her face,
Where thoughts serenely sweet express
How pure, how dear their dwelling-place.

And on that cheek and o’er that brow
So soft, so calm, yet eloquent,
The smiles that win, the tints that glow,
But tell of days in goodness spent,—
A mind at peace with all below,
A heart whose love is innocent.

It would be fun to have that written about me. It’s probably the most innocent-sounding poem Byron ever wrote.

Today’s Poetry Friday Roundup is being hosted by Caldecott Honor Medal winner Liz Garton Scanlon at Liz in Ink.

Many Happy Returns: January 20th

Blair Lent, b.1930. Illustrator of one of our favorites, Tikki Tikki Tembo by Arlene Mosel. Tikki Tikki Tembo No Sa Rembo Chari Bari Ruchi Pip Peri Pembo! I can say it fast. Can you?

I really believe Tikki TIkki Tembo is one of the best picture books ever. It came in at number 35 in Fuse #8’s Top 100 Picture Book Poll, quite a respectable showing. I found the video of this Weston Woods production at Fuse #8.

Wow, that takes me back to when we used to watch filmstrips in the filmstrip viewer in my school library. Does anybody else remember filmstrips?

Blair Lent died last year (2009) on January 27th, just a few days after his 79th birthday. He won the Caldecott Medal for his illustrations for another Arlene Mosel book, The Funny Little Woman.