Friday, July 31, 2015

Blogging Break in August

Hello blogging friends,

Life is a bit hectic and I need to back off from non-essentials right now. (You know you are too busy when you have to give up one of the things you love most - book blogging!) I'm hoping to come back in September refreshed and renewed. I'll be doing some book give-aways and introducing a few new features at that time. Enjoy the rest of your summer!

Blessings, Hope

Friday, July 24, 2015

Children's Books for Adults has a list of seven children's books every adult should read. I heartily agree with their choice of Charlotte's Web which I reviewed here. We all know the famous C.S. Lewis quote about the best books being for all ages; so, obviously, a lot more than seven books should be on the list.

Three of my very favorite books are children's lit titles that I discovered as an adult: Wind in the Willows, Tuck Everlasting, and Peter Pan. The Narnia and Little House on the Prairie books are age-range friendly as well.

What about you? What are some of the children's titles that have touched you as an adult?

(Sidenote: I find it annoying/amusing that a web site and magazine called "Real Simple" should be so cluttered with advertisements that it's hard to find their content.)

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Woe is I by Patricia T. O'Conner

"Most of us don't know a gerund from a gerbil and don't care,
 but we'd like to speak and write as though we did."

Woe is I was written to help those who are intimidated by correct grammar usage. O'Conner (an editor at The New York Times Book Review) does her best to demistify the rules by giving helpful illustrations. In describing punctuation marks, she writes, "A comma acts as a yellow light, a period is a red light, and a semicolon is a flashing red light."

Although the book is meant for novices, it was just as enjoyable to someone like me who knows quite a lot about English. Because I appreciate beautiful, precise language, I enjoy an occasional refresher course in how to use it. I skimmed over the sections on rules I know well, and focused on the ones that give me problems.

And I revelled in grammar trivia like 1) the word "kudos" is singular, 2) "myriad" used to mean ten thousand, and 3) the word "oblivious" is followed by the word "of", and not "to".  It is weird how I get a kick out of stuff like that.

I discovered I've been using parameter interchangebly with perimiter, which is not the same thing. Also, minuscule is spelled with a "u" and not an "i". I am always puzzled by the use of "graduated" without a pronoun, but O'Conner clears up that confusion on p. 110.

This helpful little book, which is written with plenty of tips and writing samples (and a good dose of dry humor), would be excellent for use in a high school, homeschool setting.


Friday, July 10, 2015

The Kitchen Madonna by Rumer Godden

Janet and Gregory Thomas are the children of two busy architects. Janet (7) is pretty and friendly. Gregory (9) is shy and small for his age. After a series of unsuccessful nannies, Marta is hired. Unlike the other nannies who played games with the children, she is more sad and serious and Gregory identifies with her.

Marta tells stories of her childhood in the Ukraine and especially of her family's warm and cluttered kitchen. During one of her story-telling sessions she admits that she misses having an icon in the room. Gregory sets out to get her one by first going to the British Museum to study them, and then by going to an expensive jewelry store to buy one. Learning that he cannot afford anything close to what she described to him, he determines to make her one.

With no materials of his own, he has to overcome his shyness and ask the hatmaker and the candy shop lady for scraps from their trade. As the project develops so does his courage and ingenuity - and his willingness to give up his own comforts for the good of another. In fact, when the gift is finished, Marta does not cry and hug him (as his mother does) but shakes his hand as if he were a grown man.

No matter what your religious convictions, this is a beautiful story of the transforming power of self-giving love; it's definitely one of the loveliest stories I have read in a long time.

Rumer Godden is a fine author who skillfully weaves stories of faith without the saccharine. She wrote The Kitchen Madonna in 1967. Previous Godden titles that I've reviewed are: China Court, In this House of Brede, and Kingfishers Catch Fire.

Friday, June 26, 2015

The Little World of Don Camillo by Giovanni Guareschi

I have been intrigued by author Gary Schmidt and when I read that The Little World of Don Camillo was his favorite book, I determined to get my hands on it.

Don Camillo is a Catholic priest in post-WWII Italy. His nemesis is Peppone, the communist mayor who does all he can to undermine the work of the village church. The book relates the conflicts  of their two very different lives and how they try to resolve them. Don Camillo often talks to the Lord (looking up at the crucifix in the chapel) about his enemy and the prayers are hilariously funny. As Camillo tells God how he plans revenge on his enemy, the Lord talks him out of it, reminding him that he is a man of the cloth. (In the introduction, the author makes it clear that the voice of God in the book is not really God, but the voice of Camillo's own conscience so I did not find these light-hearted conversations to be offensive.)

Sometimes Camillo listens to God, but at other times he can't resist getting even with Peppone. Not only did I enjoy the humor of these escapades, but I also appreciated the complex relationship between the two men. They hate yet respect each other, and on a few occasions one of them helps the other in order to save his reputation. The final chapter is pure gold as the two of them sit in the church, working quietly in restoring figures for the Christmas manger scene. It's funny, poignant, and redemptive and I closed the book with a happy, contented sigh.

Although I loved this book, I'm not sure that everyone else will. The humor is definitely quirky and you would have to patient with the fact that the book is not plot-driven. But it's a real gem.

Footnote: the books I've read by Schmidt are The Wednesday Wars (reviewed here), and Okay for Now (reviewed here).

Friday, June 19, 2015

The Scarlet and the Black by J.P. Gallagher

A statue of Father O'Flaherty in his hometown of Killarney
A few months ago I reviewed the movie, The Scarlet and the Black, and now that I've read the book, I'm not sure which one I like better.

Both the book and film show the dangerous games played to outwit the Germans as they hunted for escaped POWs. The film was very true to the book (except when it was necessary to combine several characters into one person) and covered all the main incidents. The book, on the other hand, fleshed out the characters, added a few extra hair-raising events, and ended differently. Whereas the book highlighted hundreds of acts of kindness done by O'Flaherty at the war's end, the movie condensed them into one huge act of mercy. Frankly, I loved both endings.

The book does a better job of explaining why there were hundreds of POWs roaming around the Vatican and also explains why the Italians were so willing to look the other way when O'Flaherty and others hid them. Gallagher shows how O'Flaherty's audacity and trustfulness were balanced by the caution and discernment of the others in the rescue organization. His descriptions of the resourcefulness of butler John May from the English embassy had me chortling all the way through.

Get this title if you enjoy stories of heroism on the homefront.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Somewhere Safe With Somebody Good by Jan Karon

Somewhere Safe with Somebody Good continues the gentle saga of Father Tim Kavanagh as he tries to find his niche after retiring from pastoring Lord's Chapel. His wife Cynthia suggests they rekindle their relationship by writing love letters. Her description of their marriage in one of these letters gives the book its title.

Unlike most modern authors who portray faith in fiction, Karon manages to portray Christianity without all the hokiness. Father Tim is not overly good or sweet. He's a man with doubts and weaknesses, but he humbly goes forward reaching out to those in Mitford who need help. He lives out the Abraham Verghese quote: "We are all fixing what is broken. It is the task of a lifetime." (p. 421) The folks in Mitford are at various stages of brokenness and healing, all in need of grace. But to keep things from getting too dismal, some of the characters are hilariously funny.

Karon is a lovely writer and although she may not have the depth and eloquence of Wendell Berry, but she does a darn good job of echoing his favorite theme: the healing power of community. More than once in the book Father Tim reflects on how they managed to have such "a big life in such a small town."

He flashed back to his days as a bachelor. So routine, so undisturbed by dissonance, one might have heard a pin drop in his life. Then a dog as big as a Buick started following him home, and then Dooley showed up, and then Puny came to work, and then Cynthia moved in next door, and then Puny started having twins, and that's how he ended up with a real life... (p. 204)

This is another lovely addition to the series.

Note: There are A LOT of people in the novel and it is helpful (but not essential) to have read the previous books. (I missed the two books previous to this one, but Karon does a good job of reminding the reader of back stories.)