book review, Books We're Reading, Childhood, Homeschooling, parenting

Mercy Watson, Princess in Disguise – Kate DiCamillo

This was my first Mercy Watson book and I loved it, but it was way too old for my son. It is part of a series about a pig, named Mercy Watson, who is much like a beloved family dog and the scrapes she gets into. This is a Halloween story and is a hilarious tale of the trouble a pig can make when her owners take her trick-or-treating. This story would be perfect for the child who is just starting to be interested in “chapter” books since it is split up into short chapters, and can maintain their attention for a slightly longer period of time. It can be read aloud in under 15 minutes, though, which is good for the parents looking to get young ones wanting “one more chapter, please?!” into bed. I will pick up this series again when my son is a little older, maybe 4, and will be able to understand the humor. This time around, he was just excited to see a pig!

book review

Lilac Girls – Martha Hall Kelly

The Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly is the story of three women in WW2, one American philanthropic socialite, one young Polish concentration camp prisoner and one ambitious German camp doctor. The American and German women are fictionalized portrayals of real historical figures, while the Polish woman is based on multiple women’s stories. It is a true story in the sense that the events the author portrays really took place and this makes the already compelling read impossible to look away from. The fictionalized nature of the retelling brings these people to life in a way that a dry text never would. In this way, the author has done a service to these women.

Hall captures the story of a young Polish girl who is a peripheral member of the Polish underground and is suddenly arrested, along with those around her, and transported to Ravensbruck concentration camp for women. She has never heard of a camp before but is fortunate enough to speak German and French (and not be Jewish) which helps her survive. She is also with family and friends when she is taken, so her community is with her, which both helps and hurts as she has people to rely on and people to lose.

In the camp she encounters a German female doctor, whose ambitions, inculcated racism, and commitment to the Reich quickly overcame any humanitarian feelings she initially had over mass murder and live experimentation. In her quest for glory, and nursing a grudge against others who do not give her credit based on her gender, she willingly joins a doctor who is choosing “rabbits” to experiment on, without anesthesia, supposedly in order to test the effectiveness of a specific class of antibiotics on casualties of war. Her callousness and ability to ignore the pain she is causing to people in front of her for the sake of invisible German soldiers is astonishing.

The American woman comes into the story because of her aid work with French orphans during and after the war. She comes across the story of these women and lobbies to provide them medical assistance and worldwide recognition for the horrors they endured.

This is simultaneously the story of the great evil and great compassion humans are able to show one another. The contrast between the German doctor and American philanthropist aptly shows the range of human interaction and how we can directly affect the lives of others for better or for worse. It is a story of amazing survival in the face of unspeakable horrors, humanized by the fictionalized retelling which lets you really get to know the characters. I also like that it shows prose snapshots of events from pre-war all the way through post-Nuremburg trial events so you felt like you got as much of the entire story as it is possible to tell. I loved that in many instances, Kelly uses direct words from their first person accounts in order to give the characters authentic motives for their behavior.

I recently read Night, by Elie Weisel, and was so struck by the biographical horrors he relates that I was unable to write a review because it felt disrespectful to his words and experiences. You should read that book, but that’s all I feel capable of saying about it. Kelly’s retelling of true events in Lilac Girls provides humanity and kindness and she treats the subject with the respect it deserves, but also gives it a handle that makes it easier to address. The fictionalized account makes it a bit easier to read and talk about, without degrading or dehumanizing any of the real people portrayed in the story. She handles an amazingly hard subject in the German doctor without detracting from the doctor’s own humanity – something a lot of authors writing about Nazis cannot do. This portrayal is important, because it is easy to demonize the people who committed these atrocities, easy to forget that it was regular people who were part of the German extermination campaigns – Hall does not let you forget it. It is discomforting and disturbing in a healthy, honest way to recognize yourself even in the darkest characters in her book, while you are encouraged and inspired to emulate the brightest. She brings a historical truth to light in a way that makes you ask, “How did I never know this before?”

book review

Sing, Unburied, Sing – Jesmyn Ward

This book caught my attention because of the beautiful cover, the beautiful title and its spot on the New York Times bestseller list. I read it a couple weeks ago, but I waited to review it because it was so different from the typical book I read and I wanted to sort out my own reactions to it. My initial impression was that I didn’t like it, but in retrospect, it has grown on me considerably. It is unique and compelling, dark and gritty but it has flashes of hope and humanity throughout. The story itself is not cookie-cutter or traditional and in this, the book is strikingly creative. All the characters are deeply flawed which makes them more interesting, but not always likeable. The cultural descriptions and depictions of social class, drug use, and racial prejudices that persist in America are necessary, excellently portrayed, and incredibly difficult to read about.

All of that being said, the actual writing was just okay. It was overly simplistic and stark most of the time interspersed with startling spiritual passages of intense description which made the flow a little odd. It is written from multiple character perspectives, which I usually like, but the characters were slightly too flat to support this type of writing really well. Sometimes, it was hard to tell which character was speaking because the voice did not change enough from person to person.

Overall I think the author addresses the issues she chose to tackle well, and provides illumination that we, as a society, could use more of, but her writing itself wasn’t groundbreaking.

Worth reading (what else can you expect from a NYT bestseller?) and an interesting story, but you won’t find classic or beautiful writing.

book review

Barry Lyndon – William Makepeace Thackeray

I could not finish this book. I just tried reading it for the second time this week, and I found myself avoiding reading… good for my step count, but so not me! Reading is my outlet! So, this is kind of an anti-review … what not to read….

I can count on one hand the number of books I haven’t been able to finish … Moby Dick and Barry Lyndon. Two.

Barry Lyndon is a fictional memoir of one of the most pompous, annoying, conceited, useless men who ever existed in literature. While the book itself was full of excellent history, and illuminated 18th century European societies the forced closeness with such a miserable character the form of story demanded was intolerable. So I guess you can say, in that sense, Thackeray succeeded. I felt like I was forcing myself to spend time with a person that made me want to scream – not enjoyable. So, if you have to read this, or you want an account of the time period that covers a lot of countries in Europe have at it… but if you’re reading for enjoyment – don’t!

book review, Childhood, Homeschooling, parenting, Quotes

For the Children’s Sake by Susan Schaeffer Macaulay

Before you read any further, you should be aware that this book is written from an explicitly Christian perspective, that I, myself, don’t necessarily agree with. So, if that’s a deal breaker…. don’t read it.

Disclosures aside, this book has a lot of awesome content about education, and a particularly a parent’s involvement in education whether they are public school parents, private school parents or homeschooling parents.

Continue reading for an excessive amount of quotes from this book, my poor pages are so dog-eared upon just one read through…. I’m going to let the quotes speak for themselves.

Continue reading “For the Children’s Sake by Susan Schaeffer Macaulay”

Philosophy, Tea and Books

David Hume’s Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion 3.5/5

3-5-stars-2bmbspe

If you’ve ever grappled with the questions of where the universe comes from, if there is a deity, how does science reconcile itself with faith and the ultimate why of the origin of the universe – this is the book for you. This book is filled with philosophical debate set in conversational form making it much more accessible and less dry than a didactic text. IF you’re interested, grab a dictionary and a large pot of tea and settle in to this relatively short read.

My reaction upon reading the book, copied from my journal:

We (mankind as a whole) have always come up with theories to answer the unending whys of the world. We have nearly always and universally held our theories to be self-evident truths. As technology and the breadth of human understanding grows, these self-evident truths have largely fallen by the wayside as scientific explanations overtake them – why not the idea of an omnipotent GOD? Continue reading “David Hume’s Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion 3.5/5”

Quotes, Tea and Books

Book Review – Educated by Tara Westover – 4/5

4-stars

This is probably the best memoir I have ever read. There has been a lot of hype about it on Social Media so I was expecting to be let down but instead I couldn’t put it down. It did feel a little invasive reading something so deeply personal whenever I remembered it was real… but it is a memoir after all. Tara writes about her cloistered childhood in the mountains of Idaho with a religious zealot for a father, holistic healer and midwife for a mother and an abusive brother. Not even issued a birth certificate until she was nine, Tara and her siblings were never formally, or even informally, educated and this is the story of her breaking away from her background to earn her PhD – and the sacrifices she made to do it. I loved that whenever relatives remembered stories differently from her memories she made sure to include the alternate versions – something that reflects the ideals she learns as she gains an education. This is a tale made even more gripping by its truthfulness.

Favorite Quote:

“I had come to believe that the ability to evaluate many ideas, many histories, many points of view, was at the heart of what it means to self-create”

Continue reading “Book Review – Educated by Tara Westover – 4/5”

Quotes, Tea and Books

Book Review – Don Quixote … Opinion and Favorite Quotes.

Image result for 3/5 stars

Don Quixote was a difficult book for me to finish. It took a long time for me to get through it, and I can’t say I loved it. But, something about it had me hooked so I persevered. It’s long, repetitive and written in language that doesn’t resonate well with today’s world. It’s also funny and insightful and full of personalities that are the opposite of what they seem. I thought the end of the book was the best and also the more developed portion – which made it go faster as I got closer to the end. I loved that nearly every character was the opposite of what they purported to be and the fun the author had with those contradictions. It was also an interesting look into the state of Spain during the Inquisition and how it affected the lives of ordinary people. There were frequent run ins with persecuted “Moors” and consideration was given at all times to what the inquisitorial officials would think of things. This part of the book is sadly relevant today in our world – we still haven’t learned kindness.

Here are my favorite quotes from the book:

“Sleep thou, who wa’st born to sleep, or follow thy own inclinations; for my part, I will behave as becomes a person of my aspirations.”

“I myself have experienced that the mountains produce learned men, and that philosophers are to be found within the shepherd’s cot.”

“Blood is hereditary, but virtue is acquired, consequently, this last has an intrinsic value which the other does not possess.”

“Let the tears of the poor find more compassion in thy breast, tho’ not more justice, than the testimony of the rich.”

“If ever you suffer the rod of justice to be bent a little, let it not be warped, by the weight of corruption, but by the heart of sympathy.”

“Give thyself no concern about what thou mayest hear, otherwise there will be no end of thy vexation: console thyself with a good conscience and let them say what they will; for, it is as impracticable to tie up the tongue of malice as to erect barricades in open fields.”

“Liberty is one of the most precious gifts which heaven hath bestowed on man, exceeding all the treasures which earth encloses or which ocean hides; and for this blessing, as well as for honour, we may and ought to venture life itself: on the other hand, captivity and restraint are the greatest evils that human nature can endure.”

Great advice from a madman.

Rating Scale

1/5 – Awful / would not read again / maybe could not finish.

2/5 – Low quality work / some enjoyment / not worth the time

3/5 – Don’t regret, Don’t love / would add to my shelf if it is a piece of literature

4/5 – Would read again / Definitely would add to my shelf because BOOKS!

5/5 – Would definitely read more than once / Must buy / Gives you the happy book love feels.