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Sunday, April 29, 2012

History and Faith Brought to Life

The Living Wood by Louis de Wohl

The Living Wood: Saint Helena and the Emperor ConstantineWhat an incredible book.  It is a novel of Saint Helena and her son Emperor Constantine.  I didn't know of St. Helena before I read this.  I knew how Constantine had his army draw crosses on their shields and then they won the day, but that was about it.  I learned a lot taking into consideration that the story is fiction based on fact.  I was very interested in the story because I didn't know the story of St. Helena, who found the actual cross Jesus was crucified on (the Living Wood), and because I've become very interested in ancient history from teaching the subject to my kids. 

Louis de Wohl is an amazing writer.  He was able to describe the scenery so that I could picture it, but I never felt like the story was being bogged down with detail.  It just naturally fit into the story.  I loved his writing style.  There were times when two people would be conversing, but rather than write the entire conversation, we get just the words or thoughts of one person which is enough to understand the conversation that took place.  It gives the reader an understanding without the details that can slow down the story.  I have never read a book that uses that technique, and I found I really enjoyed that.

My personal philosophy was affirmed a little by the book.  It brings together thoughts of other great thinkers of other religions and ties them to the truth of Jesus.  I don't think ancient Christians were the only ones touched by God and though I do believe Jesus is the Way, other religious views fit into the teachings of Christ or contain God's message.  Helena's Celtic father talked often of the Living Wood, which now seems a message from God to Helena through her father.  Constantine understand Virgil's poem based on his acquired knowledge of Christianity.

This book tells the story of incredibly faithful and flawed people who just come to life with de Wohl's writing.  I'd like to continue gushing about this book, but I think enough has been said.  I really loved this book and I'm excited to read more by Louis de Wohl!

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

The Gift of Words

Gifts from the Gods: Ancient Words and Wisdom from Greek and Roman MythologyGifts from the Gods: Ancient Words & Wisdom from Greek & Roman Mythology
by Lise Lunge-Larsen    illustrated by Gareth Hinds

Fortuna smiled upon me Monday, and a good librarian.  This book was displayed with new books at our library.  My kids really like Greek and Roman mythology, so I picked it up.  What a cool book it is!!

Seventeen English words/expressions are featured.  Each word is accompanied with it's pronounctation and definition, a quote from a children's book using the word, and the Greek or Roman myth can gave us that word expression. or the meaning of that word.  After the myth other words or phrases we use from that myth are discussed briefly.  There is a nice summary of information at the end of the book as well.

The illustrations fit excellently with the myths.  They look both modern and ancient at the same time.

Proving that nothing is perfect, I have one big disappointment with this book.  In the story of the Graces, Venus is pictured naked but for her hands covering her private areas.  The picture is small, but still very distinguishable.  There is no need for it.  I can think a lots and lots of other ways to illustrate this scene and other scenes from the story worth illustrating.  I've almost come to conclude that publishers think even kids book of Roman and Greek literature must contain nudity.  I have not been able to find an illustrated copy of The Illiad or The Odyssey without nudity, though I spent a lot of time looking.

I don't want to end this review on a sour note.  I think this book is a really great book.  The retelling of the myths are a simple version so as not to bog the reader down with the story but to focus on the words the myths have given us.  An original, educational, and entertaining read.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

A Fun Find

DRAGON SLIPPERS by Jessica Day George

Dragon Slippers by Jessica Day George: Book CoverI might not judge books by their cover, but I sure do pick them by their cover.  I hate to admit how often I find a book I like because the cover set it apart from the other books.  I'll be busy putting books back on the shelf, but I'll notice a cover which entices me to stop and take the time to find out what the book is about. And so it was with this book. 

Our heroine, Creel, is left at a dragon's cave by her aunt with hopes a prince will save her and marry her or a dragon will find her and eat her.  Either way she'll be out of her aunts hair.  Creel is not rescued by a prince, nor is she eaten by a dragon.  With these two possibilities out, Creel heads for the kingdom's capital city, hoping to find an apprenticeship at a dressmaker's shop.  (Creel is a very talented embroiderer.)  A fantastic adventure follows with dragons, friendships, secrets, danger, and love. 

I love books with dragons and royalty and this book just left me feeling warm and satisfied. Stained-glass windows and embroidered dresses decorate the story.  I'm not familiar with embroidery or stain-glassed windows though I admire them both, so that added to the pleasure I found reading this book. 

The author has written two other books featuring Creel and the dragons, Dragon Flight and Dragon Spear.  Though I found Dragon Slippers the strongest of the three, fans of Creel and her friends will enjoy the sequels, too.  Jessica Day George has a new book out, which sound fabulous and is high on my list to read, called Tuesdays and the Castle.

Jessica Day George has also written some teen books that are based on fairytales.  (Another of my favorite reads.)  I haven't read any of them yet, though I hope to soon.  I've listed at least some of the titles below.
     Sun and Moon, Ice and Snow  (folktale of the girl and the polar bear prince)
     Princess of the Midnight Ball  (twelve dancing princesses) and companion book Princess of Glass

She has another book projected to be published in November 2012.  If you enjoy Shannon Hale you should also read Jessica Day George, and thank goodness she has so many books waiting for you.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Remember the Overlander

We finished the five books in the Gregor the Overlander series by Suzanne Collins.  They were incredible.  I just wanted to let you know as a little reminder that if you haven't read this series, you should.

Deadly Good

The Poisoner's Handbook by Deborah Blum

What a great book!!  I think Bookalicious Babe will agree with me. 

The book is about Charles Norris, New York medical examiner and his toxicologist Alexander Gettler, who worked in the 1920s.  Charles Norris along with Gettler and the help of others started the discipline of forensic science.

I also enjoyed learning about prohibition.  I didn't know anything about it except that it happened.  I love it when you learn something you weren't expecting to while you learn what you were hoping to.

 Blum did an excellent job of organizing the book.  The book follows a timeline while focusing on a specific poison for each chapter.  Blum does a fantastic job of combining the 1920s New York City culture, accurate chemistry, and true crime into one flowing story.  Fans of forensic science, chemsitry, and true crime will love this book.  You've finished Erick Larson and don't know what to read?  Now you do...Deborah Blum.  Co-workers have told me her other book Ghost Hunting, about the search for scientific proof of ghosts, is an excellent book.

What's All the Hype About The Help?

The Help by Kathryn Stockett

I liked The Help, but I didn't think it was fantastic.  There are lots of other books I've read that I liked a lot more and that moved me much more than this book did. 

The HelpIt is a good book, and I liked it, but I didn't love it.  In the beginning of the book, I kept thinking "They don't want "the help" to go to the bathroom in their house but they're okay with "the help" raising their children and cooking their food!?  And then, to think that really was how much of the relationships between them were like, I'm flabbergasted.  Even before you get to the idiocy of racism, they already have no logic.  The lack of logic in people disgusts me. 

Anyway, it's a good book.  If you have a book you really want to read, be sure to read that book before you read The Help.  And then try to get around to reading The Help.  I really wish I could remember more detail of The Secret Life of Bees by Susan Monk Kidd because I'd like to compare them.  I really loved The Secret Life of Bees.

I'm back

I had a retail employee's Christmas, then I packed our whole house to move, then there was unpacking, then cleaning and fixing-up our old house to sell, then getting a kid into a new school, plus regular life.  So all that is over (except the regular life part) and so I will be posting book blogs again.  I hope they're helpful.