Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Review: The Gilded Chamber by Rebecca Kohn

Synopsis: The story follows the Book of Esther very closely: Xerxes banishes his wife Vashti and sets about finding a new wife by claiming all the young virgins in the kingdom of Persia for his perusal and delectation. Esther, born Hadassah, is a young Jewish orphan, remanded to the custody of her cousin Mordechai, to whom she is betrothed. Mordechai attends to the King at the Palace, but no one knows that he is a Jew. He warns Hadassah to take the name Esther when she is swept up by the King's edict, and not to reveal her heritage.
After a year of being pampered by court slaves, Esther is presented to the King. He is instantly smitten and makes her his Queen. Esther longs for Mordechai but succumbs to the blandishments of the King to save herself from being sent to the soldiers--a horrible fate. In the course of Palace intrigue, Haman, a truly evil man who is viewed as a trusted servant of the King, plots to kill Mordechai, who will not bow to him, and ultimately to kill all the Jews in the Kingdom. King Xerxes, a bit of a buffoon both in the Bible and in Kohn's book, is languishing under the effects of idleness and too much wine. He gives Haman his signet ring; Haman drafts the edict which will result in the death of the Jews and seals it with the King's ring. Now, Esther must save her people. (from the back of the book)

Review: I read this book, thinking it was one I read as a teenager. It was not. However, I was delightfully surprised how I enjoyed it. Kohn was meticulous in her research regarding ancient Persia and this gives the book an anchor in reality often missing during the fictionalization of Biblical stories.
Told exclusively from Esther's point of view, this follows her from her childhood to her days shortly after the King's death.
Kohn did an excellent job of bringing to life the characters without over-dramatizing them or making them one-dimensional. The book was sparse in words and descriptions, but what was there is beautifully written.
My only qualm was the sometimes gratuitous sex described between the King and Esther. It didn't add anything to the story and seemed merely a ploy to sensationalize the story.
Overall, this is an fine retelling, staying as faithful to the original tale as possible and I appreciate that in the author.

Bookmarks: 7 of 10

Awards: None

Date Finished: 4-27-2011
Pages: 353

Ramble: Upcoming Book Sale

This weekend is the local library's semi-annual book sale. While it is nothing compared to the glorious booky Alachua County FoL Book Sale that I attended in Florida, it's descent (and less chaotic).

I always go armed with a list of wants. But given the nature of the sale, it's impossible to predict what I will find. Unless you want L. Ron Hubbard because you can ALWAYS find his book. Seriously. Does anyone keep their copy?

The only certain thing I find is classics. Because generations of high school students buy-read-trash their copy (and by trash I mean donate and by read I mean skim).

Even though I know this, I go with a list. A short list because most of my time is spent digging through stacks to see what's there. There are some I don't need to remind myself to grab (Lewis, Newbery, Fairy Tales) and some I buy I didn't know I wanted - but mostly, my list is to remind myself of the recommendations people give me that I want to try. Since it's arranged by author, so is my list.

I'm looking for:

Bessie Streeter Aldrich
Gini Andrews
Paul Bacigalupi
Ann Howard Creel (The Magic of Ordinary Days)
Rumer Godden
Elizabeth Goudge
Thomas Harding (Hardback copy of Far From the Maddening Crowd)
Elizabeth Jennings
Rebecca Kohn (The Gilded Chamber)
Mary Roberts Rhinehart
Booth Tarkington,
Patricia Wrede

What authors or books would you suggest I add?

Monday, April 25, 2011

Review: Everything's Eventual: 14 Dark Tales by Stephen King

Synopsis: A collection of 14 short stories, containing horror, fantasy, the macabre and gore. For a more detailed description, go here.
The stories, in order, are:

Autopsy Room Four
The Man in the Black Suit
All That You Love Will Be Carried Away
The Death of Jack Hamilton
In the Deathroom
The Little Sisters of Eluria
Everything's Eventual
L. T.'s Theory of Pets
The Road Virus Heads North
Lunch at the Gotham Café
That Feeling, You Can Only Say What It Is in French
1408
Riding the Bullet
Luckey Quarter

Review: This was my first introduction to Stephen King's fiction. I read his On Writing last year and it was one of my top 10 reads. I figured it was time to delve into his fiction.
I started with short stories because I have a low tolerance for horror. I have an active imagination and I'm prone to vivid dreams, and I don't need to give them any more fodder.
As it was, this collection add few macabre elements to my dreams and I am thankful for that. They did, however, intrigue me and entertain and give me a goosebumps at least twice.
Of the fourteen tales, 1408 was by far the creepiest; In the Deathroom was the most suspenseful; Little Sisters of Eluria was the most intense; All That You Love Will Be Carried Away ended the worst (meaning it left me hanging).
In my humble opinion, this is an excellent collection, a sampling if you will, of King's work, and an excellent first-dip into his fiction.

Bookmarks: 7 of 10

Awards: None

Date Finished: 04-25-2011
Pages: 459

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Review: Holiness - It's Nature, Hinderances, Difficulties & Roots by J. C. Ryles

Synopsis: John Charles Ryle (1816-1900) once believed that Christianity must be one of the most disagreeable occupations on earth - or in heave. But one day in 1837 he happed into a church where, hearing Scripture read out loud, he was transformed. One verse, and the emphasis made in between each clause, gripped him: " By grace are ya saved...through faith...and that not of yourselves...it is the gift of God." (Eph. 2:8)
In 1841 the Church of England ordained him as a minister of the gospel. In 1880, when he was 64 years old, after serving 39 years in the ministry, he became the first Bishop of Liverpoo, a post he held for twenty years. He was affectionately known as "the working man's bishop."
Ryle was a theological vertebrate. He never suffered from what he called a "boneless, nerveless, jellyfish condition of soul." His convictions were not negotiable. Indeed his successor described him as "that man of granite." Archbishop Magee called him "the frank and manly Mr. Ryle." Charles Spurgeon said he was an "evangelical champion." Ryle simply observed, "What is won dearly is priced highly and clung to firmly."
J. C. Ryle died on Trinity Sunday, 1900. Today, more than a hundred years after his death, his woks stand at the crossroads between the historic faith and modern evangelicalism. They are signposts directing us to the "old paths." And holiness, no doubt, is not least among them, for without it no man shall see the Lord. (from the back of the book)

Review: I could waxed episodic about this book, going on until all perished, but I shall say two things and then list favorite quotes, that you might judge yourself the merit of this work.

1: Ryle's wrote for the people of that late 1800s. Yet, the things he mentions seem from today. Despite the time this work comes from, it is relevant today even more so then when it was written.

2: Ryle is anti-catholic and makes disparaging remarks on that subject. Be warned if you are sensitive to that.

----

"We have too often been content with zeal for orthodoxy, and have neglected the sober realities of daily practical godliness." - page 16

"I should as soon expect a farmer to prosper in business who contented himself with sowing his fields and never looking at them till harvest, as expect a believer to attain much holiness who was not diligent about his Bible-reading, his prayers and his use of Sundays. Our God is a God of means and He will never bless the soul of the man who pretends to be so high and spiritual that he can get on without them." - page 25

"Let us feel convinced, that whatever others may say, that holiness is happiness, and that the man who gets through life most comfortably is the sanctified man." - page 40

"I suspect, that with rare exceptions, men die just as they have lived." - page 50

"You may try to put me off by saying you "feel much, and think much about these things: far more than many suppose." I answer, "This is not the point. The poor lost souls in hell do as much as this. The great question is not what you think , and what you feel, but what you DO." - page 55

"A religion which cost nothing is worth nothing." - page 97

"Let us follow on ad never forget that it signifies nothing whether we are better than others or not. At our very best we are far worse than we ought to be. There will always be room for improvement in us. We shall be debtors to Christ's mercy and grace to the very last. Then let us leave off looking at others and comparing ourselves with others. We shall find enough to do if we look at our own hearts." - page 117

"When days of darkness come upon us, let us not count it a strange thing. Rather let us remember that lessons are learned on such days, which would never have been learned in sunshine." - page 118

"But if you really are in earnest about your soul, if your religion is something more than a mere fashionable Sunday cloak, if you are determined to live by the Bible, if you are resolved to be a New Testament Christian, then, I repeat, you will soon find you must carry a cross." - page 171

"But I do urge on every professing Christian who wishes to be happy, the immense importance of making no compromise between God and the world." - page 206

"This is one secret of eminent holiness. He that would be conformed to Christ's image, and become a Christ-like man, must be constantly studying Christ Himself." - page 234

"If you profess to be a child of God, leave to the Lord Jesus to sanctify you in His own way." - page 237

"No one can say how much weakness might appear in himself if he was place in circumstances go call it forth." - page 244

"Let all the world know that the Lord Jesus will not cast away His believing people because of shortcomings and infirmities." - page 252

"Love to Christ is the mainspring of work for Christ." - page 291

"It is not when we feel good, but when we feel bad, that we take he first step towards heaven." - page 316

"The more real grace men have in their hearts, the deeper their sense of sin." - page 336

"Christ is the mainspring both of doctrinal and practical Christianity." - page 370

"We must come in the name of Jesus, standing on no other ground, pleading no other plea than this: "Christ died on the cross for the ungodly and I trust in Him. Christ died for me, and I believe on Him." - page 378

Bookmarks: 9 of 10

Awards: None

Date Finished: 04-23-2011
Pages: 405

Friday, April 22, 2011

Aquisitions: Barnes and Noble

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Don't Stop the Carnival by Herman Wouk

Debt-Proof Your Marriage: How to Achieve Financial Harmony by Mary Hunt

Amazon Ink by Lori Devoti

Soulless by Gail Carriger

Blameless by Gail Carriger

Changeless by Gail Carriger

In My Mailbox was created by The Story Siren

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Reveiw: The Cat Who Went to Heave by Elizabeth Coatsworth

Synopsis: Some people say that three-colored cats such as Good Fortune are lucky cats. Her owner, a poor artist, is not very lucky until Good Fortune comes to live with him. No one buys his paintings, so he has very little money to live on. Good Fortune changes his life. Suddenly, he is asked to do a painting, and Good Fortune sits with him every day, watching him paint. He knows she wants to be in the painting, but if he puts her in the picture he will be ruined How can he choose between success and his dearly loved cat?

Review: This was a short, sweet little book. The artist is asked to paint a picture of Buddha. All the animals are included except cats because they would not bow to Buddha and so are not welcome to heaven. But the artist knows Good Fortune is the source of his luck - how can he leave her out?
The artist spends most of the book thinking about Buddha and the stories surrounding him. It's a little slow at points, heavy on the imagination and color. Not the best Newbery Book I've read, but not bad and I would recommend to a child interested in learning about Buddha in a story format.

Bookmark: 6 of 10

Awards: Newbery Medal, 1931

Date Finished: 4-17-2011
Pages: 54

Review: Outbreak: Plagues that Changed History by Bryn Barnard


Synopsis: Did the Black Death destroy the feudal system? Did cholera pave the way for modern Manhattan? Did yellow fever help end the slave trade? Remarkably, the answer to all of these questions is yes. Time and again, diseases have impacted the course of human history in surprisingly powerful ways. From influenza to small pox, from tuberculosis to yellow fever, Bryn Barnard describes the symptoms and paths of the world’s worst diseases–and how the epidemics they spawned have changed history forever. Highlighted with vivid and meticulously researched illustrations, Outbreak is a fascinating look at the hidden world of microbes–and how this world shapes human destiny every day. (from the inside of the book)

Review: This is a kids book - more accuratly, for grades 5-8. It's easy to read, well illistrated and somewhat sarcastic at points. I enjoyed reading. The information is interesting, relevant, well-organized and well-researched. The pictures might be a bit graphic for younger kids or the tender-hearted, but most kids will enjoy the maps, illistrations and charts. This is a great introduction to germs and their place in history.

Bookmarks: 8 of 10

Awards: None

Date Finished: 4-17-2011
Pages: 47

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Review: It's Not Easy Being Green

Synopsis: The words say "It's not easy being gree," but the song it about knowing who you are. And in it you hear Jim's message most clearly. He believed that people are good and that they want to do their best and that no matter how or why we might be different from anybofy else, we should learn to love who we are and be proud of it. (from the back of the book)

Review: This is a small book containing a collection of quotes from Jim Henson, Kermit and others who know and worked with Henson. It's cute, thoughtful, cheery, funny, wise and a bit crazy - not unlike every episode of Seasame Street, Muppet Show, Fraggle Rock and every Muppet movie. I enjoyed this collection.

Bookmarks: 7 of 10

Awards: none

Date Finished: 4-16-2011
Pages: 197

Review: Sacred Influrence: How God Uses Wives to Shape the Souls of Their Husbands by Gary Thomas

Synopsis: If you're sick of all the ways you've tried to bring about change in your marriage---the silent treatment, nagging, one-way discussions, or pleading---it's time to set aside those broken methods for a Christ-based approach. This book demonstrates how women can inspire, influence, and help their husbands move in positive directions. Replacing your plan of action with God's leads to a marital transformation where both partners are moving in sync, the way God intended. Gary Thomas draws concepts from his bestseller, Sacred Marriage, and outlines practical applications you can start using today. He also shows how marriages were transformed through these methods employed by real-life women. In these pages, you'll also find a fresh perspective to help you understand your husband: the view of the marriage relationship through a man's eyes. Thomas gives you insider information on how men think, feel, and can truly be motivated (from the back of the book)

Review: I routinely read books on marriage, a habit I instituted shortly after I got married and based on the advice of a pastor I knew. I read Thomas' book "Sacred Marriage" early on and consider it the best book one marriage I've read. This one I would recommend for any wife, particularly those who are struggling. I myself am struggling on some areas and found God speaking to me through this book, speaking to my heart and mind. I could go on about it, but a better choice is give you quotes and let you decide for yourself

"A good marriage doesn't happen by accident, and a good marriage isn't maintained by accident" ~ pg. 35

"How is [God] using your marriage to teach you to love?" ~ pg 40

"Even if your husband never changes; even if every bad habit, every neglected responsibility, every annoying character trait, stays the same - then, for your own spiritual health, you need to learn how to love this man as he is." ~ pg 56

"You husband, because he is your husband, deserves respect." ~ pg 64

"Now comes the hard part: will you give your husband what God has given you" ~ pg 66

"Because God's plan seems to go against my nature doesn't mean I question God's plan; it means I submit to His will and ask Him to help me overcome my natural and sinful weaknesses." ~ pg 86

"Your greatest temptation to sin is when someone first sins against you. But their sin never justifies your sin." ~ pg 94

"Phileo is a practical kind of love that is other contexts can mean "to be in the habit of." ~ pg 125 (speaking of Titus 2:4, how young women should love their husbands)

"Your first goal as a sister in Christ is to help your husband more fully express the image of Jesus" ~ pg 140

"If change was going to transform her home, it would have to begin with [me]" ~ pg 161

"What's it like being married to me & What's it like hearing the words I say?" ~ pg 180

"Be patient" ~ repeatedly said

"Whether your husband is spiritually mature, immature or in between, your heavenly Father likely will call you to love him and to sacrifice on his behalf" ~ pg 220

"Marriage is about choosing to allow the strong points of your marriage to be the dominant points, the areas you choose to focus on" ~ pg 232

"In a mature marriage, romance is maintained only through hard work, deliberate choices, and concrete actions." pg 240

Bookmarks: 9 of 10

Awards: None

Date Finished: 4-16-2011
Pages: 251

Monday, April 11, 2011

Aquisitions: Charlottesville Book Sale

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The Cat Who Went to Heaven by Elizabeth Coatsworth

The Light at Tern Rock by Julia L. Sauer

Secret of the Andes by Ann Nolan Clark

Homesick: My Own Story by Jean Fritz

The Wish Giver by Bill Brittain

The Avion by Uncle Flew by Cyrus Fisher

The Family Under the Bridge by Natalie Savage Carlson

The Penguin Book of Marriage ed. by Bel Mooney

Two-Part Invention: The Story of a Marriage by Madeleine L’Engle

The Troll Garden by Willa Cather

Stormwitch by Susan Vaught

The Best Barbara Robinson Treasury Ever by Barbara Robinson

The St. Nicholas Anthology ed. by Burton C. Frye

Behind the Back of the Mountain: Black Folktales from Southern Africa ed. by Verna Aardema

Citizens: A Chronicle of the French Revolution by Simon Schama

Sebastian by Anne Bishop (Landscapes of Ephemera, Book I)

Community Nurse by Lucy Agnes Hancock

Uncle Terry: A Story of the Maine Coast by Charles Clark Munn

Outbreak: Plagues the Changed History by Bryn Barnard

Who Stole My Church: What to Do When the Church You Love Tries to Enter the 21st Century by Gordon MacDonald

The Hungering Dark by Frederick Buecher


In My Mailbox was created by The Story Siren

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Review: Queen of the Darkness by Anne Bishop (The Black Jewels Trilogy, Book III)

Synopsis: Jaenelle Angelline now reigns as Queen-protector of the Shadow Realm. No longer will the corrupt Blood slaughter her people and defile her lands. But where one chapter ends, a final, unseen battle remains to be written, and Jaenelle must unleash the terrible power that is Witch to destroy her enemies once and for all. Even so, she cannot stand alone. Somewhere, long lost in madness, is Daemon, her promised Consort. Only his unyielding love can complete her Court and secure her reign. Yet, even together, their strength may not be enough to hold back the most malevolent of forces.

Review: Again, I was thankful I had Book III on hand at the end of Book II. Daemon returns, but isn't sure where Jaenelle is or how to find her. Jaenelle rules as Queen, but is lost without Daemon's love. And the enemies are still gathering, still lurking. I was pleased with how the story ended. I felt it was a bit rushed, but it ended the way it should. Many times the reader knew how it would end before the characters did, and I found this a unique. It gave the prose a odd flavor, but not unpleasant. This book is the end to a fantastic, intiguing and intense series. Bishop certainly deserved the praise she received for this works.

Bookmark: 8 of 10

Awards: None

Date Finished: 4-5-2011
Pages: 448

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Review: Heir to the Shadows by Anne Bishop (The Black Jewels Trilogy Book II)

Synopsis: Bishop created a world where Blood Witches have always ruled, drawing males to their courts through seductive power. An ambitious High Priestess destroys more powerful females before maturity and has enslaved the strongest males, weakening magic and corrupting natural bonds between men and women. Sexual violence permeates Terreille. Jaenelle, born to be Queen, is vulnerable until adulthood. Though guarded by male Warlord Princes, Jaenelle is violated. Daemon, her destined Consort, rescues her but is convinced he attacked her and goes mad.

Jaenelle's vampiric, adoptive father, Saetan, and her foster-family of demons shelter her. To restore her memory and emotional balance, they move to Kaeleer, where Jaenelle befriends the kindred--animals with magical and communicative powers--and gathers a circle of young Queens. She also heals Lucivar, Daemon's half-brother, who offers a brother's love and a warrior's fealty. As she recovers strength and memory, Jaenelle resolves to restore Daemon and cleanse Terreille.



Review: At the end of the Book I, one of the main characters is lost in a place called the abyss, and Jaenelle, the central character, is in a coma, lost and dying. It's an intense ending and I was thankful I had Book II on hand. By the end of this book, Daemon returns and Jaenelle takes her place as Queen. I enjoyed this one more then the first as there was less sex and more humor. The interactions of Saeten and Jaenelle is hilarious. Saeten is High Lord of Hell, one of the most powerful Blood in all three realms and yet, he often gets flumuxed by the goings on his adolescent daughter and her friends. The depictions of these girls is excellent - most are powerful Queens, yet still navigating the chaos of growing up. The secondary character, while somewhat flat, are entertaining and give the story a richness and depth. The relationships between male and females are explored further, much to my enjoyment and interest. Bishop has a unique way for looking at men and women. I would recommend having Book III on hand when you finish. Once again, the story ends, but leaves you wanting more.

Bookmarks: 8 of 10

Awards: None

Date Finished: 4-3-2011
Pages: 496

Review: Daughter of the Blood by Anne Bishop (The Black Jewels Trilogy I)

Synopsis: Within the Blood (a race of magic-users), women rule and men serve, but tradition has been corrupted so that women enslave men, who seek to destroy their oppressors. Female children are violated before they can reach maturity; men are tortured and forced to satisfy witches' sexual appetites.

Bishop's child heroine, Jaenelle, is destined to rule the Blood, if she can reach adulthood. Her power is hidden; her family believes her mad. Saetan, High Lord of Hell and most powerful of the Blood males, becomes Jaenelle's surrogate father and teacher. He cannot protect her outside Hell, where he rules. She refuses to leave Terreille, risking herself to protect or heal other victims of violence. Can Daemon, Saetan's estranged son, keep her safe from the machinations of the evil High Priestess? Or will he lose his battle to control his destructive urges and endanger her?

Review: I have owned this book for several years and can't quite remember if I acquired it through purchase or gift. I choose to read it now because I wanted to read "high fantasy" as this book is called. I held much trepidation, certain I would get lost in the fantasy names, complex magic and politics.
While I almost did, I was surprised and not a little overwhelmed with how addicting this novel is. The characters are complex, deep, flawed and intense. The good guys live in Hell, the bad guy is the one who should be good, characters are gray, not black or white, good and evil. As for the world, the social hierarchy and rules are tangled, but accessible and I enjoyed the way each character responds differently to the same rules.
The main character is a girl named Jaenelle, but you never follow her. You only see the story for the point of view of the people around her. It is interesting to me that the entire story revolves around her but you never see inside her. You only see what she shows the other characters. This keeps your interest in her strong and intense. The story is intense, mysterious, and engaging. Things rarely turned out as I expected but often as I felt they should. I was rarely disappointed in where the story went.
My only complaint is the heavy dose of sex. As two of the main characters are sex slaves, the main villain is a rapist and a pedophile, and the society as a whole is highly sexual, it's part of the story. A strong thread in the story is the relationship between men and women. In this society, sex is a large part of that relationship. I would not characterized Bishop's use of sex as gratuitous, but it was a bit much from my prudish nature. I would caution anyone reading this to be aware of the heavy eroticism and sexuality in this work.

Bookmarks:
8 of 10

Awards:
None

Date Finished: 4-3-2011
Pages: 416