Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Reading Round-Up (Finally) ~ January-May

I have 5 months of book review catch-up! Good thing I was sleeping more often than reading...
13: The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery. (Borrowed from sister, Shannon. 325 pages. Read lingeringly over a couple months.) Sublimely intelligent and oh, so quirky commentary on the philosophy of life, alternately by a middle-aged French concierge and a precocious twelve-year-old. In reading this novel I stumbled upon many quotable passages, as evidenced by my posts here and here (and more on the way). My husband and sister both join me in giving it an enthusiastic thumbs up.

12: The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America, by Erik Larson. (Purchased from Amazon. 400+ pages. Book club selection. Read in two days.) Chicago World's Fair, 1893. Non-fiction at its best. A storytelling masterpiece woven with fascinating dexterity, this book is bursting with historical details: people, events, ideas, geography, art, crime and science.

I shied away from The Devil in the White City in the past due to the subject matter (I make it a point to avoid books and movies about serial killers--just a personal preference), so I will be forever grateful to the fellow book club member whose recommendation forced me to read despite my reservations. While the story is in large part about a psychopath who happens to have been responsible for many murders, the author approached the subject with great discretion, the murders didn't seem to be sensationalized, and the entwining history gave much emotional relief. A huge thumbs up.

11: Parsifal's Page, by Gerald Morris. (Borrowed from Levi's bookshelf. 232 pages. Finished in one day.) The fourth book in the Squire's Tales YA series and my favorite so far. In each book, the story seems to just sneak up on me when I'm not paying attention. Effortless, entertaining, witty, chivalrous, and surprisingly touching retellings of the Arthurian legends. Perfect escape reading.

10: Quo Vadis, by Henryk Sienkiewicz. (From my bookshelf. 582 hefty pages. Book club selection. Took a few weeks to read through.) I've had this book on my to-read list for years. One of our book club selections was to be a novel set in the time of Christ (or shortly thereafter). Having already read The Robe and The Silver Chalice, I decided it was high time to dig in to Quo Vadis (which, incidentally, means Where are you going? in Latin, in case you were wondering). This classic was published in Polish in 1896 by Henryk Sienkiewicz, who was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1905. I was so thankful to have the wonderful modern translation by W.S. Kuniczak, which made the 580 (large) page novel smooth going.

The story is essentially a love story from beginning to end, but the author uses the transformation of an earthly romance to illustrate the depth and sacrifice of heavenly love. From the back cover:

An epic saga of love, courage and devotion in Nero's time, Quo Vadis portrays the degenerate days leading to the fall of the Roman empire and the glory and the agony of early Christianity. Set at a turning point in history (A.D. 54-68), as Christianity replaces the era of corruption and gluttony that marked Nero's Rome, Quo Vadis brims with life.

This novel does not tread lightly on the moral baseness of Nero's Rome, nor on the tortures endured by the early Christians. There are many graphic descriptions of debauchery and violence. The historical setting and characters are vividly depicted.

After reading the book, I watched the recent Polish-produced film (available through Netflix). It was well-casted and well-acted (in Polish with English subtitles), but also did not tread lightly on the gluttony nor the tortures. Nudity and graphic violence abound. You've been forewarned.

9: The Savage Damsel and the Dwarf by Gerald Morris. (Borrowed from Levi's bookshelf. 213 pages. Finished in a couple days.) The third book in the Squire's Tales series, and again an entertaining read.

8: The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Prisoner's Dilemma by Trenton Lee Stewart. (Borrowed from Levi's bookshelf. 391 pages. Finished in a couple days.) A satisfying ending to the Mysterious Benedict Society trilogy. I enjoyed it more than the second book, but not as much as the first. Yes, it tied everything up in a neat little bow... just as I like it.

7: Shakespeare: The World as Stage by Bill Bryson. (From my bookshelf. 196 pages. Not sure how long to finish.) This informative book about Shakespeare's life (what little we know) and the world around him captured my interest. For those who have enjoyed other books by the author, this wasn't quite up to his usual level of hilarity, but it did entertain.

6: 26 Fairmount Avenue series by Tomie DePaola. (First book from Levi's bookshelf; the remaining books in the series borrowed from the library.) This is a series of 8 very simple autobiographical chapter books in which the author tells the story of his childhood during the 1940s. I adored them. His perspective, his illustrations, and him.

5: Jack: A Life of C.S. Lewis by George Sayer. (From my bookshelf. 423 pages. My biography selection for book club. Took me a while.) I really, really should have reviewed this one while it was fresh in my mind. It made a huge impression on me, and there are so many thoughts swirling in my head as a result that I am incapable of coming up with a short opinion other than EXCELLENT.

4: Going Solo by Roald Dahl. (Borrowed from my mom. 224 pages. Quick read.) (Obviously I was going through a serious biography stage.....) This is the sequel to Dahl's story of his childhood (Boy: Tales of Childhood, also terrific), and I thought it was exceedingly fresh and witty as well as being a fascinating account of his time as a WWII pilot. My sister, Holly, read it aloud to her kids as part of their history studies, and it has received rave reviews within our family.

3: A Morbid Taste For Bones: The First Chronicle of Brother Cadfael by Ellis Peters. (Borrowed from the library. 208 pages.) Meh. I enjoyed it while I was reading it, but nothing really stuck with me. Not much to say on this one.

2: Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins . (Borrowed from the library. 400 pages. One or two days to complete.) Futuristic dystopian society. Teenage gladiators. Sacrifice. Friendship. Courage. Honor. Teamwork. Love. Oh. My. Word. I was riveted. I didn't think anything could live up to Collins' The Hunger Games, but this sequel blew me away. And left me hanging (as did the first in the trilogy), but the final book doesn't come out for months! I've pre-ordered Mockingjay from Amazon, so I've blocked out my calender for August 24th. My phone will be off the hook. Please don't disturb...

1: Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes retold by Martin Jenkins. (Borrowed from library. 352 pages.) I'm sure I've reviewed this elsewhere on the blog, but I'll say it again. HILARIOUS illustrations, clear and interesting writing, ridiculous escapades which seem redundant after about page 150, and I'm glad I read a retelling.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for these reviews! I absolutely cherish and follow your reviews / choices. I have gathered a large library on one of your previous posts regarding medieval times for my 8 year old - he loves these books and we have so much fun reading them together. I also follow your lead on books for myself - have purchased C.S. Lewis in the past (thank you for the recent read by George Sayer - it is now on my list)and just picked up The Devil in the White City. Keep reading!!!

Anonymous said...

I have been "grounded" from reading the past few months due to my irresponsibility with my time ;) but I look forward to reading again this summer when homeschool commences! Thanks for the recommendations...I will read! ~Tera

Beth said...

I always look forward to your book suggestions and have been needing some! Thank you for your insightful and descriptive reviews.

Have your read the Glass Blower of Murano? I read that awhile ago and am getting ready to read her second book, The Botticelli Secret....we'll see!


My Little Notebook said...

Thank you so much for this post, Heidi! I love reading about your book recommendations. I have an 8 and 12 year old that both devour books, and I am always in need of new ideas. I'm looking forward to catching up on my own reading over the summer. You have always inspired me to encourage my whole family to spend more time reading! Thanks so much!!

Chelsea M said...

Thanks for the book reviews. As usual, I've added to my huge book list. :) I just wanted to recommend a book that a friend gave me for Christmas: Safely Home by Randy Alcorn. Oh, I've also been enjoying the Squire's Tale series (and I don't even have kids yet! haha). thanks!

Diana said...

Oh my, Heidi, you've just lengthened my to-read list by quite a bit! I had forgotten that I hadn't finished DePaola's series back at Christmas...

Since you liked Mysterious Benedict, I have to ask if you've read the Enola Holmes series -- more good "smart kid" lit :)

And I've deliberately not read Hunger Games or Catching Fire. From what I've heard of them, there's no way I want to start them until the whole trilogy is out!

Heidi said...

Beth~ I haven't read The Glass Blower...I'll check it out!

Chelsea~ My book club read Safely Home a while back. Good stuff!! Oh, and good kid's lit is fun to matter what your age!

Diana~ Ooh, thanks for the rec. I've put a couple Enola Holmes books on hold at the library. I know Levi and I will enjoy them!! (And you are one smart woman for waiting on the Hunger Games trilogy!!)

Hannah said...

Hi Heidi! I've been a 'stalker' for quite awhile and always look forward to your book reviews. I'm new to blogging and was wondering: how do you add the pictures of the books and the links to your page? I'd really appreciate the help! I suddenly have a bunch more books to add to my list. Thanks for the refs!

Courtney said...

LOVE the book reviews, thanks for sharing! I just read Hunger Games based on a friend's recommendation and LOVED it! I am waiting (not patiently) on Catching Fire and have pre-ordered Mockingjay, too. I've added a few more from your list to mine. ;-)