The Faraway Lurs by Harry Behn

Book #3 for the 48-hour Book Challenge
190 pages, 2 hours

First of all, what are lurs? A lur is “a Bronze-Age musical instrument in the form of a conical tube that is roughly S-shaped, without finger holes. It is end blown, like a trumpet, and sounds something like a trombone. Lurs often come in pairs, so they are often referred to in the plural.”

The Faraway Lurs, published in 1963, honored by ALA as a “notable book”, is a book I read back in the day when I was a teen. I didn’t remember much about it, but I did think it was notable in my reading past as a story with a different setting and feel from most historical fiction set in the distant past. Most fiction based on ancient history is either set in Egypt, Palestine, Greece or the Roman Empire. This one has an early Bronze Age setting in Denmark, about 3000 years ago.

The romantic protagonists are Heather Goodshade of the Forest People tribe and Wolf Stone, a young chieftain’s son from the tribe of the invading Sun People. A Romeo and Juliet story ensues, as Heather and Wolf Stone fall in love and try to bring their two very different tribal cultures together in peace so that they can be together as man and wife. Wolf Stone’s people are savage savages, worshippers of the Sun God and very warlike and violent both within the tribe and toward outsiders. Heather’s people are more gentle savages, but still the ending of the book demonstrates that even Heather’s gentle forest tribe is in cruel bondage to the whims of their “gentle” gods, an ancient Tree and a whispering Spring.

Of course, Romeo and Juliet is a tragedy, and The Faraway Lurs, drawn from the discovery of a burial mound for a young beautiful Stone Age/early Bronze Age girl, ends in tragedy, too, as any reader who read the introduction, where Mr. Behn tells about the discovery that inspired his novel, would know. The girl in the burial mound died young, and so does Heather Goodshade. How that tragic ending comes about is the hook upon which the novel hangs, so I won’t tell you any more.

This book would be good for teens who are studying ancient history, lending to that study a different perspective and a different cultural understanding. The ancient world wasn’t all pharaohs and Roman legions. And it would be to pair the novel with a viewing of Romeo and Juliet and then a comparison of the two stories. There’s nothing sexually explicit in the novel, and the violence is mostly off-stage or described in unobjectionable but straightforward language. The presentation of the tribal cultures themselves would lend itself to a discussion of the need for all humanity in all its tribes and cultures to be redeemed, saved from our propensity toward sin, brutality, and idolatry. Particularly, as I compare Behn’s story with Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet and with the recent event of the church shooting in Charleston, South Carolina, I am reminded of how human sin and prejudice is only covered over by civilization with a very thin veneer. Our idols continue to betray us; our desire for both power and safety continues to lead us into sin and tragedy; and our separation from God continues to play out in divisions between the people He created as we do violence to ourselves and to others in futile attempts to heal the breach or destroy the other.

May God have mercy upon us all.

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All the Answers by Kate Messner

Book #2 for the 48-hour Book Challenge
246 pages, 3 hours

Ava Anderson finds an old blue pencil in her family’s junk drawer. I doesn’t look special, but it is. Ava’s pencil can answer written questions with an audible voice that only Ava can hear. And the pencil always provides the right answer! The pencil can’t or won’t predict the future, but its answers to factual questions are uncanny in their accuracy. But does Ava really want to know all the answers to her fears and worries? What if the answers are scarier than the questions? What if the answers only create more questions?

I really enjoyed reading about Ava and all her worries and her magic pencil with almost all of the answers. I thought the pencil magic was timely in its similarity to the way we all turn to Google for all our answers these days. The pencil was a little more all-knowing than Google, but it still couldn’t predict the future or lay to rest all of Ava’s worries. I am as guilty as the next person of wanting to find someone or something that will answer all my questions and give me some concrete advice about what to do in sticky situations. But the truth is that only God is omniscient, and since He is, He probably has good reasons for not showering all the answers on us.

The book mentions prayer. Ava has a praying grandma. Ava herself learns to trust a little in her own bravery and competence and a little in the care and goodwill of family and friends. Near the end of the book, she does pray with her grandma, but it’s not a big epiphany or turning point in her growth as a character. Mostly the book is about learning to let go of your worries and fears and trust something. That “something” is never really defined. It’s about learning to live without all the answers, a feat we all need to accomplish, but one that is very hard to do without believing in an all-powerful, all-knowing, good God who has not only the answers but also the ability to work all things together for His glory and our good.

Anyway, there’s lots to discuss here, and the author in her acknowledgements even recommends a self-help book for kids who worry too much: What To Do When You Worry Too Much: A Kid’s Guide to Overcoming Anxiety by Dawn Huebner. I’ve not seen the self-help book, but it might be worth a look if you or your child is a worrier. Or you could just follow the guidance in this hymn, like Ava’s grandmother: take it the Lord in prayer.

Amazon Affiliate. If you click on a book cover here to go to Amazon and buy something, I receive a very small percentage of the purchase price.

Saturday Review of Books: June 20, 2015


“Let us read with method, and propose to ourselves an end to which our studies may point. The use of reading is to aid us in thinking.” ~Edward Gibbon

SatReviewbutton

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.

You can go to this post for over 100 links to book lists for the end of 2014/beginning of 2015. Feel free to add a link to your own list.

If you enjoy the Saturday Review of Books at Semicolon, please invite your friends to stop by and check out the review links here each Saturday.

The Island by Gary Paulsen

Book #1 for the 48-hour Book Challenge
202 pages, 2.5 hours

I’ve never read Gary Paulsen’s Newbery Honor young adult novel, Hatchet, although I have read a lot about it and seen it recommended frequently. It’s a survival story, about a boy who grows into manhood by surviving in a harsh natural environment. According to Wikipedia this “coming of age by surviving in the wilderness” theme is a frequently repeated one in Paulsen’s more than 200 novels:

“Much of Paulsen’s work features the outdoors and highlights the importance of nature. He often uses “coming of age” themes in his novels, where a character masters the art of survival in isolation as a rite of passage to manhood and maturity.”

The Island tells the story of Wil, a teen who, with his parents, moves to a rural area of northern Wisconsin near a lake, Sucker Lake, with an unnamed island in the center of the lake. Wil sees the island while riding his bike, and he also finds a small rowboat conveniently abandoned on the shore so that he is able to row out to the island by himself. On the island, Wil discovers something about himself and about the world that he tries to put into writing, or into drawings of wildlife on the island, or into words of explanation for his parents and for his new friend, Susan. He is somewhat successful in his writing and drawing, less so in his verbal explanations.

The Island is an odd little book. I can see myself recommending it to teens who are adventure and nature lovers and also quite thoughtful, even philosophical. I’m not sure how often that combination of characteristics coincides. Not much happens in the novel; there’s a lot of description of the natural environment and quite a bit of philosophical musing. I would think the pace of the story would be a bit slow for many young adult readers. There’s a hint of romance, but it’s not really developed. The characters themselves, Wil and Susan, nip any budding of romance, in the bud so to speak, since Wil is on a quest of sorts to know and understand the natural world and himself. He doesn’t really have time for romance.

I enjoyed reading about Wil and his search for understanding and enlightenment. The spirituality or philosophy in the book felt rather like Buddhism or nature worship, even though religion is never mentioned nor is any deity invoked. I wouldn’t recommend it to just anyone, but for discerning readers there might even be some nuggets of truth. The natural world is given to us to point us to the Creator. Wil doesn’t have any experience of God, but he does begin to understand himself and his place in the world of The Island. Perhaps that’s a start.

Footnote: My mass market paperback copy of The Island is autographed by Gary Paulsen “for Kelli”, and the book itself is dedicated to Mike Printz, the librarian whose name adorns the Printz Award for Young Adult Literature.

Amazon Affiliate. If you click on a book cover here to go to Amazon and buy something, I receive a very small percentage of the purchase price.

48- Hour Book Challenge

This weekend is the first time ever that I think I can actually participate wholeheartedly in the annual June 48-hour Book Challenge sponsored by Mother Reader—because most of my family is out of town, and I’m feeling in a particularly bookish mood. So, starting now at 2:00 PM CST, I’m going to read . . . and review . . . and blog . . . and check out other people’s reading at their blogs.

I don’t have any snacks laid in or any special books chosen to read, but I’m aiming for at least 24 hours of reading and writing and possibly five or six or even up to ten books read by the end of the weekend. (There may also be an emergency snacks and munchies trip to the grocery store involved in this reading weekend sometime.) You’re invited to come along if you can, and if not you should check out the blogs of those who are reading this weekend. You might get some ideas for your own personal reading vacation whenever you want to schedule it.

Saint Anything by Sarah Dessen

Saint Anything, best-selling YA author Sarah Dessen’s new novel about a girl whose older brother is in prison, reminded me of another book I read recently, Silent Alarm by Jennifer Banash. In Silent Alarm, Alys’s brother kills fifteen people in a school shooting and then kills himself. Saint Anything features Sydney and her brother. The brother Peyton accidentally injures a bicyclist when the irresponsible and troubled Peyton is driving while intoxicated. So, the Silent Alarm crime is much more violent, premeditated and consequential. Nevertheless, the two girls experience many of the same emotions: guilt, anger, sadness, and a fear that life will never be good again.

Dessen gets a lot of things, even most things, right in this novel of a teen who is re-building and re-imagining her life and her relationships with family and with friends. Sydney decides to change schools at the beginning of the novel, a decision that propels many of the other events in the story. Because she changes schools, Sydney makes new friends, in particular the Chatham family who become a sort of anchor and refuge for Sydney as she remakes her life after Peyton goes to prison. Sydney’s mother is obsessed and focused on “being there” for Peyton so that he will know that he has not been abandoned while he’s in prison. Sydney’s dad is emotionally absent and somewhat passive. Sydney is feeling angry with her brother for being so foolish, tired of being ignored while playing the part of the “good child” in the family, and guilty for what happened to the bicyclist, David Ibarra, who is now in a wheelchair as a result of Peyton’s reckless and criminal negligence.

I did wish that someone could have pointed out to Sydney that the guilt she felt was false guilt. Alys in Silent Alarm feels guilty, too, thinking that maybe she should have noticed her brother’s descent into violence and done something to stop him. However, several people in that book tell Alys that she is not her brother, that she is not responsible for his actions. Although, she may feel truly and authentically sad about her brother’s crime and sympathetic toward his victims and their families, Alys is not to be blamed for her brother’s actions. In the same way, Sydney is not Peyton, and she and her family did not force him to get drunk and drive a car thereby crippling another person for life. Sydney can and should feel sorrow over her brother’s actions and sympathy and concern for his victim, but any guilt she feels is false. However, no one in Saint Anything ever articulates this very important point to Sydney.

That oversight in counseling was my only beef with Ms. Dessen’s novel. The writing doesn’t sparkle, but it’s adequate. The romance is sweet and inoffensive. Sydney does make some relatively poor choices, especially about drinking alcohol and hanging out with people who drink to excess, but compared to her brother’s massively poor choices, Sydney is only a small-time adolescent experimenter. There’s a subplot that centers on Sydney’s relationship with a friend of Peyton’s, a much-older-than-Sydney friend. That subplot goes much like this story that Dessen tells in Seventeen magazine about her own teen years, and I thought it was handled well. I hope Sydney’s experience will be a cautionary tale and a liberating one for many young teens, male and female.

My daughters, ages 20 and 16 just read Saint Anything, and I’m hoping it will lead to some conversation in our family about guilt and poor decisions and consequences and even the mercy of God in Christ, even though Ms. Dessen doesn’t quite reach as far into the Christian realm so as to mention the need all of us have for God’s grace and forgiveness. Saint Anything goes far enough to lead down a profitable road for those willing to delve a little deeper into the subjects raised.

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The Collapse by Mary Elise Sarotte

The Collapse: The Accidental Opening of the Berlin Wall by Mary Elise Sarotte.

World Magazine just published its annual issue on books, and one of the books chosen as a runner-up for book of the year in the history/biography category was The Collapse. Coincidentally, I had already heard of the book and requested it from the library and had it in my stack of TBR books in the cradle next to my bed. (Since I have passed the years of child-bearing and baby-rocking, my handmade wooden cradle now serves as a books-to-be-read repository as it awaits the advent of grandchildren.)

I can see why The Collapse made World‘s shortlist of best books. It is a stunning account of a moment in history, a moment that changed history. And, as the author points out over and over, it could easily have not happened or have happened very differently. Inexorable violence, intimidation, and renewed repression could have been the operative words to describe the events of October and early November 1989 in Berlin and in greater Germany; instead, Ms. Sarotte uses the adjectives “coincidental” and “unexpected” and “improbable” and even, blessedly, “peaceful”.

In her book, Ms. Sarotte tries to explain how these many, many serendipitous events combined to allow or even produce the opening of the Berlin Wall and eventually the reunification of East and West Germany. The “why” is beyond the scope of the narrative and perhaps beyond the understanding of mere authors and readers. Sarotte does reiterate many times that the collapse of the Wall was not inevitable.

“The Wall’s opening was not a gift from political elites, East German or otherwise, and was in no way predetermined. It resulted from a remarkable constellation of actors and contingent events—and not a little courage on the part of some of the individuals directly involved—that came together in a precise but entirely unplanned sequence. And the larger, successful peaceful revolution surrounding the opening was a truly rare event, one to be considered carefully, not discounted. The history of 1989 shows just how many things have to go right for such a revolution to succeed.”

I am left with some questions of my own, questions that will never be answered this side of eternity, but that are nevertheless interesting to me from a Christian perspective:

The dissident movement in East Germany was birthed and nurtured in the churches of Leipzig and Berlin. Many of the dissidents were not believers, but were nevertheless willing and thankful to use the churches and their “peace prayer” meetings as a shelter and a staging area for demonstrations and peaceful protests against the East German government. Could the peaceful success of the revolution and the reordering of Germany’s culture and government be credited in part (or even in whole) to its genesis as a prayer movement? Perhaps God answered those repeated prayers for peace and justice?

What do historians and politicians mean when they talk about being “on the right side of history”? In the book Soviet leader Chernyaev says of Gorbachev: “He sensed the path of history and helped it to follow its natural path.” Impersonal History nevertheless has a will and a flow? How can this be? (It’s the same way that evolutionists talk about Nature doing this or that. How did Nature become a Force with a will and purpose? And do we humans discern that purpose?)

In a bigger way, could all of those fortuitous events of people being in the right place at the right time or absent from the right place at the right time or able to communicate or unable to communicate, all of those things that had to go right, could they have been orchestrated, not by politicians or revolutionaries, but rather by God himself? Maybe the lesson here is that the “remarkable constellation” was not “entirely unplanned”—just unplanned by man? Man proposes; God disposes.

The Collapse is not a book about God, just as the book of Esther in the Bible hardly mentions God—unless you have eyes to see the hand of God in all of history. I think it much more likely and believable that God is working His purposes out in the course of history than that History itself has an undefined will and an inscrutable purpose.

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Saturday Review of Books: June 13, 2015


“For the imaginative reader there can be discoveries, connections between books, that explode the day and one’s heart and the long years that have led to the moment.” ~Mary Ruefle

SatReviewbutton

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.

You can go to this post for over 100 links to book lists for the end of 2014/beginning of 2015. Feel free to add a link to your own list.

If you enjoy the Saturday Review of Books at Semicolon, please invite your friends to stop by and check out the review links here each Saturday.

Nickel Bay Nick by Dean Pitchford

Eleven year old Sam Brattle, the protagonist of this Cybil award winning middle grade novel, reminds me of a young man I know. He’s managed to start himself on a downward path to juvenile delinquency, and he’s not sure how it happened nor how to turn things around. Sam’s dad can’t handle him. His mom doesn’t want him to come for their annual Christmas visit because she has some changes going on in her life. And now he’s managed to vandalize his neighbor’s house and Christmas display to the tune of hundreds of dollars worth of damage—and get caught red-handed.

Nickel Bay Nick was a good variation on an old plot: child in need of mentorship and discipline gets inadvertently hooked up with an older mentor. Usually, the young delinquent owes the older person something or is forced to help the older person as payment or penance for past crimes and misdemeanors. Sam Brattle ends up involved in a Christmas caper that stretches his talents and his self-control. Sam gets to be a spy and a secret agent, but he’s an agent for good and his secretive spy skills turn out to be a blessing for the entire town of Nickel Bay.

This book would make a good secular read aloud for Christmas time. The values are good, and Sam turns out to be (become?) not such a bad guy.

A study guide, an audio sample, and a sample chapter are available at Mr. Pitchford’s website.
The Commonsense Media review of this title gives some caveats and some questions to discuss while reading Nickel Bay Nick.

Amazon Affiliate. If you click on a book cover here to go to Amazon and buy something, I receive a very small percentage of the purchase price.

The Whisperer by Fiona McIntosh

This Australian middle grade novel reminded me of The False Prince by Jennifer Neilsen, but not as funny or witty. I saw comparisons by other reviewers to The Prince and the Pauper.

From Amazon: “Lute is a prince, next in line to the throne. Griff is a poor carnival worker who does the heavy lifting while the malevolent ringmaster orders him about. But there’s something special about Griff: he can hear the thoughts of everyone around him. And one day, he begins to connect with Lute’s mind, even though they’ve never met and are miles apart.”

So, mental telepathy in mythical kingdom. I enjoyed The Whisperer. It took two attempts for me to get into the story, but the second time around, I was engaged and curious to see what would happen to Lute and Griff and the other characters in the story. The pace was a little slow, with an over-abundance of explanations instead of active descriptions and insight into the characters and their plight.

For the lover of princely adventure and rags-to-riches orphan stories, I would recommend this one—after Meg Whalen Turner’s The Thief and Nielsen’s The False Prince and Twain’s The Prince and the Pauper. For younger children, Sid Fleischman’s Newbery award book, The Whipping Boy, is similar, too, but sans magic. Actually, The Whisperer may be the only one of these commoner-to-prince, prince-disguised-as-commoner, vice-versa, books that I’ve named that does include magical events. So, if you want magic with your royal and plebeian characters, The Whisperer would be the book.

Amazon Affiliate. If you click on a book cover here to go to Amazon and buy something, I receive a very small percentage of the purchase price.