Saturday Review of Books: January 16, 2016

“The worst thing about new books is that they keep us from reading the old ones.” ~Joseph Joubert


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.

Hola! Let’s Learn Spanish by Judy Martialay

I received this book for review from the author back in early December, but I’m just now getting around to looking at it. Ms. Martialay, a retired foreign language teacher, created her book and the accompanying online materials for children ages six to ten who don’t have access to foreign language classes in their elementary schools. The book uses the “English story with interspersed Spanish words and phrases” method of introducing children to the Spanish language. (There’s probably a formal name for this technique, but I don’t know it.) The story is a little bit silly, all about a jumping bean named Panchito and his adventures in the bean field, at the market and in the home of some children, but young children should enjoy listening and picking up a few Spanish words as they listen. There’s also information on Spanish culture, focused on Mexico, a craft suggestion for making masks, and a skit and a song.

The best part is the listening online, not the book which is $19.99 for a thirty page book(let) with some cute illustrations and the words and story and extras in print. Parents and teachers will appreciate the book. However, children/students, the target audience, will enjoy listening to the audio version of the book, available for free at the website, with or without the book. Adults who don’t know any Spanish at all can still use this curriculum with their students by just playing the audio version, following along in the book, and watching the kids learn a little Spanish in a fun and pretty much effortless manner.

You do need to know that this book and audio do not make up a full elementary Spanish curriculum, just an introduction or a taste. If your children want to really learn Spanish, you’ll have to follow up with something more intensive: lessons with a native Spanish speaker or Spanish for Kids or MUZZY Spanish. Hola! Let’s Learn Spanish will serve to get the kids interested and give them a bit of vocabulary, but it will only take a week or two to exhaust everything that’s in the book and be ready to move on.

By the way, I wish I knew how to type Spanish punctuation, including the upside-down exclamation mark (!) that’s supposed to come before the word Hola! in the title of this book. Unfortunately, I don’t, and it annoys me to have it wrong. But it’s right on the cover of the book, and that’s the important thing.

Come Rain or Come Shine by Jan Karon

The first book I read in 2015 was Jan Karon’s Somewhere Safe With Somebody Good, in which Dooley and Lace finally become engaged to be married. My first book of 2016 was Come Rain or Come Shine, the story of Dooley’s and Lace’s wedding. And to top that bit of serendipity off, we celebrated our own family wedding on January 2, 2016 when my beautiful Dancer Daughter married her loving groom, The Beast (nickname given in all respect as appropriate nomenclature).

If you don’t know who Dooley and Lace are, you should hie yourself immediately to a library or bookstore and pick up the first of Jan Karon’s Mitford books, At Home in Mitford. You have a feast ahead of you. Come back when you’ve finished book #12, and I’ll whet your appetite, if it needs any whetting, for a book about a not-so-fairy-tale, but still very happy, wedding.

Come Rain or Come Shine is the 13th book in the series, and it’s a very satisfying read, especially for a mom who is still recovering from marrying off her first child to be married. (Only seven more to go.) There are lots of secrets and glitches and interruptions and surprises, including a very unexpected guest who crashes the wedding, but they do get married. Dooley and Lace become Mr. and Mrs. Kavanaugh.

Here are some of my favorite quotes:

“He and Lace and everybody else had done all in their power to keep it simple. They made their own invitations, saved a ton by not having a caterer or a tuxedo rental or an over-the-top bride’s dress to drag around in the chicken manure. What happened to their laid-back country wedding where people could chill out, relax, no problem? Okay, so maybe there was no such thing as a laid-back wedding, no matter how hard you tried.”

Our family motto, decided today:
A cord of three strands is not quickly broken. Ecclesiastes 4:12.

“He had prayed in cathedrals and at the bedsides of two or three bishops, but never with more to give thanks for than this day, in this generous place where they were celebrating a marriage, a child, a new home, family ties, a new business, the completion of academic studies, and of course, all those further, though often unseen, blessings bestowed by Almighty God made known through Jesus Christ. . . ‘Almighty God.” He cleared his throat, concerned that he may choke up. Then again, how could he not?”

“Love, cherish, honor, keep. A handful! Honey Herschel hoped these kids had thought it over carefully, but even if they had, they would still not have a clue. You never had a clue about anything till it happened and you learned the truth about yourself.”

“We might say that a good marriage is a contest of generosities. How wonderful that it’s possible to ensure our own happiness by seeking the happiness of another. Is it our job to make the beloved happy? It is not. The other person always has a choice. It is our job to generously outdo, no matter what, and discover that the prize in this contest of generosity is more love.”

I’m gonna love you, like nobody’s loved you
Come rain or come shine
High as a mountain, deep as a river
Come rain or come shine
I guess when you met me
It was just one of those things
But don’t you ever bet me
‘Cause I’m gonna be true if you let me
You’re gonna love me, like nobody’s loved me
Come rain or come shine
We’ll be happy together, unhappy together
Now won’t that be just fine
The days may be cloudy or sunny
We’re in or out of the money
But I’m with you always
I’m with you rain or shine.

The Fellowship by Philip Zaleski and Carol Zaleski

The Fellowship: The Literary Lives of the Inklings, J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Owen Barfield, Charles Williams by Philip and Carol Zaleski.

I got this book for Christmas, and I’ve been reading it, slowly, ever since then. The summaries and critical analysis of the various Inklings’ published works can be a bit dense at times, and I’ll have to admit that my eyes (and brain) glazed over when I came to the pages of explication about Owen Barfield’s “anthroposophy” and his related thoughts thereunto. You’d have to pay me money to read Barfield’s original writings or those of his mentor and guru, Rudolph Steiner. The informative analysis of Charles Williams’ novels and other writings, on the other hand, gave me some insight into which of his books I might like to delve into someday. And I’m always up for a re-hash and reminder about what’s good and lovely and valuable in the literary oeuvre of Lewis and Tolkien.

This book also rewarded me with some interesting tidbits of information about each of the Inklings, and I gained a new appreciation for Warnie, C.S. Lewis’s brother and lifelong companion. As an Inkling, Warnie was apparently the “de facto host, greeting new arrivals, taking hats and coats, serving drinks.” Warnie comes across in this book as his younger brother’s supporter, helper, and genial lifelong friend, despite Warnie’s struggle with alcoholism and recurring drinking bouts that placed him in the hospital repeatedly and drove Jack (C.S.) Lewis to prayer and to worry over Warnie’s health.

Charles Williams does not appear in the finest light in this foursome of literary lights. I really hadn’t read much about Williams, except as he related to C.S. Lewis’s life, and I haven’t read any of Charles Williams’ books. Now, I’m not sure I want to, although I may still try All Hallows Eve someday. However, Williams seems to me to have been slightly mad, deeply involved in occult practices, and not very honest with himself or with his fellow Inklings. And yet, they all, except perhaps for Tolkien, loved him. He is said to have brought to any gathering of the Inklings or any other group a brightness and volubility that enlivened the group and made the fellowship more exciting and vibrant than it ever was without him.

I am particularly interested in how a community of thinkers and writers and Christians like the Inklings can begin and coalesce in the first place. Can one create such a fellowship, or is it destined to only happen organically, similar to a good friendship? What are the pre-conditions for an Inkling-like small group? Or is trying to re-create such a group doomed to failure without the presence of such luminaries as C.S. Lewis and JRR Tolkien? And what was it that brought the Inklings to a close? Was it the death of Charles Williams? Or Joy Davidman’s intrusion into the life of Lewis, the group’s acknowledged leader? Or just old age and divergent paths? I’m not sure this book completely answers any of those questions of mine, but it does attempt to speak to many of them.

The Fellowship is a sympathetic but also critical treatment of the life and and works of the four most prominent and faithful of the Inklings, also touching on others who played a more minor role in the group’s brilliance and inspiration. Lewisiana and and the legacy of JRR Tolkien are certain to be with us for quite some time, and the influence of those two Inklings in particular cannot be overestimated. Both men have much to say to the twenty-first century reader, and any book that succeeds in illuminating their lives and the lives of those who influenced them is certainly worthwhile reading.

Baker’s Dozen: Recent Nonfiction Picture Books

I am developing a great affection and enjoyment for nonfiction picture books. The picture book seems well-adapted to the telling of a short episode from history or a scientific breakthrough or observation in concise prose with pictures to illuminate the story. The following narrative picture books would be great for “doing history” or “doing science” with elementary age children, and each one is a good introduction to an historical events, famous person, or scientific concept for even older students.

Impossible Voyage of Kon-tiki by Deborah Kogan Ray. Thor Heyerdahl’s Kon-tiki: Across the Pacific by Raft has been required reading in many schools for more than a generation. I was assigned to read it more than 40 years ago. But I didn’t finish it because, frankly, at the time, I was bored by the minute by minute account of Heyerdahl’s voyage across the Pacific. This picture book account of the journey could be a doorway into the story of Mr. Heyerdahl’s experiment to see if ancient South American inhabitants could have voyaged by raft to the islands of the Pacific.

The House That George Built by Suzanne Slade. The building of the White House. See my review here.

The Boy Who Fell Off the Mayflower, or John Howland’s Good Fortune by P.J. Lynch. Candlewick, September 2015. I haven’t read this one yet, but I’m told it’s an absorbing account of the Mayflower immigrants and their journey to the HNew World.

Mahalia Jackson: Walking with Kings and Queens by Nina Nolan. Amistad, January 2015. This picture book biography of the great gospel singer is limited in informational value, but quite lovely and inspiring. The book should inspire children to listen to Mahalia Jackson’s music, and that in itself self makes the book worthwhile.

Ira’s Shakespeare Dream by Glenda Armand. Lee & Low, August 2105. Ira Aldridge dreamed of becoming a great Shakespearean actor, but in the early 1800’s, for a black man, it seemed impossible. Nevertheless, with determination and perseverance, Mr. Aldridge was able to become a celebrated and accomplished actor, even though he had to emigrate to England to make his dream a reality.

The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch by Chris Barton. Eerdmans, April 2015. John Roy Lynch was a field slave who became a photographer, then Justice of the Peace, then Speaker of the Mississippi House of Representatives, and then a U.S. Representative. His climb from slavery to Congress is chronicled in Chris Barton’s book. Semicolon review here.

Drum Dream Girl: How One Girl’s Courage Changed Music by Margarita Engle. Newbury honor winner Margarita Engle writes a poem-story about 1930’s and 40’s Cuban jazz drummer Millo Castro Zaldarriaga. The book makes lovely use of words and phrases to evoke drums and music and a Caribbean atmosphere.

Spic-and-Span! Lillian Gilbreth’s Wonder Kitchen by Monica Kulling. Illustrated by David Parkins. Tundra Books, 2014. If you’re a fan of Frank Gilbreth, Jr. and Ernestine Gilbreth Carey’s Cheaper by the Dozen and its sequel Belles on their Toes, this picture book biography of the mother of the clan, Lillian Gilbreth, will certainly be a welcome addition to your reading list. Semicolon review here.

Elvis: The Story of the Rock and Roll King by Bonnie Christensen. Elvis’s boyhood and early career are the focus of this picture book biography, with a long, tall two page spread illustration of Elvis and his guitar placed at the climax of the story when Elvis recorded his first hit song, That’s All Right. The book emphasizes Elvis’s youth, summarizing the bulk of Elvis Presley’s career with these words at the end: “With echoes of gospel, country, jazz, and blues, Elvis’ voice touched the hearts and souls of millions, then, now, and always.”

Winnie: The True Story of the Bear Who Inspired Winnie-the-Pooh by Sally M. Walker. A delightful lead-in or accompaniment to a read or re-read of Winnie the Pooh, which is always a good thing at any age.

Draw What You See: The Life and Art of Benny Andrews by Kathleen Benson. Benny Andrews, African American painter, illustrator, and printmaker, provides a role model and an example for aspiring young artists. His story is told succinctly, but expansively, in this biography, and the illustrations from Mr. Andrews’ own work make the story even richer.

A Nest Is Noisy by Dianna Hutts Aston. Ms. Aston, the celebrated author of A Seed Is Sleepy and An Egg Is Quiet, is back with a treatise on nests of all sorts and sizes for young naturalists to savor.

Emmanuel’s dream: the true story of Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah by Laurie Ann Thompson. Cybil’s nonfiction finalist. Emmanuel, born with only one leg, shows Ghana, and then the world, how people with disabilities can do important, world-changing work.

Baker’s Dozen: 13 Cybils Finalists I Want to Read

The short lists of finalists in all of the Cybils categories came out on January 1st, and although I would love to read all of them, I thought 13 books from the finalist lists was a good goal. These are the ones that I haven’t already read that caught my interest:

1. Book Scavenger by Jennifer Chambliss Bergman. Middle Grade Fiction finalist.

2. Footer Davis Probably Is Crazy by Susan Vaught. Middle Grade Fiction finalist.

3. In a Village by the Sea by Muon Van. Fiction Picture Book finalist.

4. Sidewalk Flowers by JonArno Lawson. Fiction Picture Book finalist.

5. Mars Evacuees by Sophia McDougall. Middle Grade Speculative Fiction finalist.

6. The Dungeoneers by John David Anderson. Middle Grade Speculative Fiction finalist.

7. The Fog Diver by Joel Ross. Middle Grade Speculative Fiction finalist.

8. One Plastic Bag: Isatou Ceesay and the Recycling Women of the Gambia by Miranda Paul. Elementary/Middle Grade Nonfiction finalist.

9. Ranger in Time #1: Rescue on the Oregon Trail by Kate Messner. Early Chapter Book finalist.

10. Big Bad Detective Agency by Bruce Hale. Early Chapter Book finalist.

11. Every Last Word by Tamara Ireland Stone. Young Adult Fiction finalist.

12. The Six by Mark Alpert. Young Adult Speculative Fiction finalist.

13. House Arrest by K.A. Holt. Poetry finalist.

Among the others that I have read, I recommend:

Symphony for the City of the Dead by M.T. Anderson.
Courage & Defiance: Stories of Spies, Saboteurs, and Survivors in World War II Denmark by Deborah Hopkinson.
Give Me Wings: How a Choir of Former Slaves Took on the World by Kathy Lowing.
I Will Always Write Back: How One Letter Changed Two Lives by Martin Ganda and Caitlin Alifirenka.
Most Dangerous: Daniel Ellsberg and the Secret History of the Vietnam War by Steve Sheinkin.
Tommy: The Gun That Changed America by Karen Blumenthal.
The Blackthorn Key by Kevin Sands.
Emmanuel’s Dream: The True Story of Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah by Laurie Ann Thompson.

Baker’s Dozen: Best Nonfiction I Read in 2015

I made a special effort to read more nonfiction this year, and I discovered some gems while doing so. These are my favorite nonfiction reads from 2015. Not all of these were published in 2015, but I did read them this past year.

1. Mission at Nuremberg: An American Army Chaplain and the Trial of the Nazis by Tim Townsend. Such a good book about Henry Gerecke, the Lutheran chaplain who ministered to the high-ranking Nazi prisoners at Nuremberg.

2. Fierce Convictions: The Extraordinary Life of Hannah More—Poet, Reformer, Abolitionist by Karen Swallow Prior. I was captivated by “extraordinary life” of this woman of God, “best-selling poet, novelist, and playwright, friend of the famous, practical philanthropist, and moral conscience of a nation.”

3. Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital by Sheri Fink. Deeply disturbing, dare I say scary, story of the events at a hospital in New Orleans during and after Hurricane Katrina.

4. Caught Up in a Story: Fostering a Storyformed Life of Great Books & Imagination with Your Children by Sarah Clarkson. I didn’t review those, but it’s an excellent book about the power of story in the lives of children and adults.

5. The Family Romanov: Murder, Rebellion, and the Fall of Imperial Russia by Candace Fleming. This young adult nonfiction title raised a lot of questions about the ability of religious practice and conviction to actually change our actions and subvert our cultural sins. The Romanovs were devout, but extremely misguided in many ways.

6. She Is Mine: A War Orphan’s Incredible Journey of Survival by Stephanie Fast. The almost unbelievable and harrowing story of a Korean war orphan, abandoned by her mother and unknown to her American GI father, She is Mine is an amazing testament to the courage and endurance of the author, but even more to the grace of God in her life.

7. I Dared to Call Him Father: The Miraculous Story of a Muslim Woman’s Encounter with God by Bilquis Sheikh. Classic testimony of a well-to-do Muslim Pakistani woman, Bilquis Sheikh, who came to faith in Christ at the age of sixty-five through a series of dreams and visions and through comparison of the Koran to the Christian Bible.

8. The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down: A Hmong Child, Her American Doctors, and the Collision of Two Cultures by Anne Fadiman. 1997 story of a Hmong family from Laos and their difficulties with the medical system in Merced County, California, as it related to their epileptic daughter, Lia Lee.

9. Dreamland: The True Tale of America’s Opiate Epidemic by Sam Quinones. Again, disturbing and riveting, this time concerning opioid abuse in the United States.

10. Sacred Marriage: Celebrating Marriage as a Spiritual Discipline by Gary L. Thomas. I didn’t review this one, but I did give my copy to my daughter who got married on January 2nd. Excellent exposition of the meaning of Christian marriage.

11. The Envoy: The Epic Rescue of the Last Jews of Europe in the Desperate Closing Months of World War II by Alex Kershaw.

12. Symphony for the City of the Dead: Dmitri Shostakovich and the Siege of Leningrad by M.T. Anderson. Finalist for the Cybils award in Young Adult Nonfiction.

13. The Fellowship: The Literary Lives of the Inklings: J.R.R. Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, Owen Barfield, Charles Williams by Philip and Carol Zaleski. I finished up 2015 with this book about the Inklings I was reading it on New Year’s Eve and into 2016. Review coming soon, the book was dense, but fascinating.

Baker’s Dozen: 13 Presidential Biographies to Read in 2016

I hope to work on my US presidents project this year as I read some of the biographies (and autobiographies) that I picked out a few years ago for this project. Thursdays seem like a good day to update my progress on the Presidents Project, so that’s the plan.

Books to read in 2016:

1. Finish reading Ronald Reagan by H.W. Brands. I’m on page 122, and I hope to pick this book back up and finish it in January.

2. Decision Points by George W. Bush.

3. American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House by Jon Meacham.

4. Truman by David McCullough. 1993 Pulitzer Prize winner.

5. Tippecanoe and Tyler, Too by Stanley Young. (Landmark history book for middle grade readers)

6. Lincoln and Douglas: The Years of Decision by Regina Z. Kelly. (Landmark)

7. Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr by Anna Erskine Crouse and Russel Crouse. Another Landmark history, not about a U.S. president, but it is about two men, either of whom could have become president had they not allowed their personal feud to consume them.

8.The Story of Ulysses S. Grant by Jeanette Covert Nolan. Another juvenile biography.

9. Abe Lincoln Grows Up by Carl Sandburg.

10. Thomas Jefferson Grows a Nation by Peggy Thomas. Picture book biography emphasizing Jefferson’s skills and interest as a naturalist and gentleman farmer.

11. The Many Faces of George Washington: Remaking a Presidential Icon (Exceptional Social Studies Titles for Intermediate Grades) by Carla Killough McClafferty.

12. The President and Mom’s Apple Pie by Michael Garland. In this fictional picture book, set in 1909, President William Howard Taft comes to town to dedicate the new flagpole, but he gets distracted by the aroma of mom’s apple pie.

13. The President’s Stuck in the Bathtub: Poems About the Presidents by Susan Katz.

This list seems readable to me. The huge tomes are balanced by light and easy picture books. Again, I can’t wait to get started.

Baker’s Dozen: 13 Books to Read from 1001 Children’s Books You Must Read Before You Grow Up

I’m part of a yahoo group that was formed to read through the books suggested by Julia Eccleshare in her book, 1001 Children’s Books You Must Read Before You Grow Up.

The following list gives some of the books that the group is going to be reading in 2016 and that I am going to try to read with them. The others are books from the 1001 list that I plan to read myself, apart from the group.

The Paper Bag Princess by Robert Munsch.
Tar Beach by Faith Ringgold.
The Adventures of Maya the Bee by Waldemar BOnsels.
The Lighthouse Keeper’s Lunch by Ronda and David Ermitage.
Platero y yo by Juan Ramon Jimenez.
What Katy Did by Susan Coolidge.
Why the Whales Came by Michael Morpurgo.
45 + 47 Stella Street and Everything That Happened by Elizabeth Honey.
The Brothers Lionheart by Astrid Lindgren.
Comet in Moominland by Tove Jansson.
The Letter for the King by Tonke Dragt.
Haroun and the Sea of Stories by Salman Rushdie.
Jamela’s Dress by Niki Daly.

So many projects, so little time.

Baker’s Dozen: 13 Nonfiction Books of Spiritual Encouragement to Read in 2016

I’d like to read the following books in 2016 as a part of my commitment to grow in my faith in God and my walk with Him:

1. Fight Back With Joy: Celebrate More, Regret Less, Stare Down Your Greatest Fears by Margaret Feinberg. This is actually a Bible study workbook that goes along with a video series that we did at church this past fall. However, I wasn’t able to be there every week, nor was I able to actually complete the study in the workbook. So, I’m planning to borrow the DVD’s and make some time to do this study at home, maybe with some of my family.

2. Becoming a Woman of Grace: A Bible Study by Cynthia Heald. My Bible study group is studying this book starting in January, so I’ll be doing two Bible studies at once? And I hope to get an infusion from the Holy Spirit of both joy and grace.

3. Onward: Engaging the Culture without Losing the Gospel by Russell Moore. I am intrigued by Mr. Moore’s writing on the internet. He seems to be a man who is closely aligned with my views, both politically and theologically. Anyway, I’d like to learn how to “engage the culture without losing the gospel.”

4. Wearing God: Clothing, Laughter, Fire, and Other Overlooked Ways of Meeting God by Lauren Winner. I am not so sure that Ms. Winner and I would agree on all things, but her first book, Girl Meets God, was both challenging and engaging. I’m optimistic that this one would be also.

5. From Dependence to Dignity: How to Alleviate Poverty through Church-Centered Microfinance by Brian Fikkert. I’m interested in creative thoughts about alleviating or even ending poverty.

6. Christian. Muslim. Friend: Twelve Paths to Real Relationship by David W. Shenk. Seems timely.

7. George Whitefield: America’s Spiritual Founding Father by Thomas S. Kidd. Also timely, even though Whitfield lived over 200 years ago. We need a fourth(?) great awakening/revival in this country.

8. 7 Women: And the Secret of Their Greatness by Eric Metaxas.

9. The Woman Who Was Chesterton by Nancy Carpenter Brown. I love Chesterton and wonder who could have managed to live with him. Eccentric to the max.

10. The Allure of Gentleness: Defending the Faith in the Manner of Jesus by Dallas Willard. I’ve seen accolades for this book everywhere. I wish I were gentle.

11. The Fellowship: The Literary Lives of the Inklings: J.R.R. Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, Owen Barfield, Charles Williams by Philip and Carol Zaleski. I’m getting this book for Christmas (not here yet).

12. Restoring Beauty by Louis Markos. I started this book by one of Drama Daughter’s favorite professors at HBU, and then I got distracted by life. I want to go back and finish it.

13. The Reason for God by Timothy Keller. I’ve been meaning to read this one for a long time.

So there’s the plan. One book of spiritual encouragement per month, plus an extra. I can’t wait to get started.