In the Queue

After a relaxing Thanksgiving, a crazy Thanksgiving weekend, and a very slow start to what I like to call Recovery Monday, I decided that the least I can do is keep reading. It really is one of the only things that relaxes me. Not the only thing, but one of the top 3. So I dusted off the book pile and am planning on getting at least three books completed and reviewed by the end of the year. I also have a couple of children’s books that have stood the test in our family from our oldest now 21, to our youngest, who is 7.

Books I plan to read by the end of the first quarter of 2016:

  • Orthodoxy, by G. K. Chesterton. I am reading this in bits because it’s one of those books you don’t want to rush through. It gets better with age and I like to savor it, let the thoughts kind of roll around in my head for a couple days after I’ve read a chapter or two. It deserves no less. Yes, much like Lewis and Booker T. Washington, I am an intellectual groupie of Chesterton. I should make that a category.
  • Things Fall Apart, by Chinua Achebe. I’m pretty engrossed in this one right now and hope to be done by week’s end.
  • Life Together, by Dietrich Bonhoeffer. It’s been a few years since I read it, but it’s time to read it again.
  • Vanity Fair, by William Makepeace Thackeray. I’m expecting this to be a fun one.
  • Who Made God? And Answers to Over 100 Tough Questions of Faith, by Ravi Zacharias. I was with a fellow bibliophile, lamenting the dearth of Christian writers the caliber of Lewis, Chesterton, and Bonhoeffer, and she suggested I check out Ravi Zacharias. “A Lewis for our generation”, she said and loaned me this book as an introduction. Looking forward to reading this and more from him in the coming year.
  • Ready to Run, By Dr. Kelly Starrett. I am training for my first ever race, a 5K in early 2016, and I need to shore up some things. I know 5K is almost nothing to a few of you who read here, but to me it’s an accomplishment. The book comes highly reviewed and I need to finish it and implement some of the recommended changes.
  • Working With the Hands, By Booker T. Washington
  • The Color of Water, by James McBride
  • The Sunne in Splendour, by Sharon Kay Penman, comes heavily recommended by Maeve.
  • The Hunger Games, which fellow bibliophile sold me on. Since our girls already own them I can read them whenever the mood strikes.
  • Till We Have Faces, By C. S. Lewis. Nope, I have never read it. Yes, I blush slightly at the confession.

This is where you tell me what you’re reading, or planning to read as we move from 2015 to 2016. My 2016 list is still a work in progress and I’m open to suggestions.

So please, fire away.


Thanksgiving Music Interlude

Times three. The first is a very old and traditional hymn written in 1866, Sing to the Lord of the Harvest:


Next is one that typifies what I would hear in the Baptist church I attended throughout my childhood, To Thee We Give Thanks, recorded by the Utterbch Choir:

I still love this music, so soulful.

Lastly, a modern Thanksgiving song that most Christians will recognize immediately. Give Thanks With a Grateful Heart by Don Moen:


Something for everyone! Happy Thanksgiving, and don’t eat too much. We don’t get a gluttony pass on Thanksgiving.

About Those Lifestyle Books…

You remember, the ones largely targeted towards women which are mostly just common sense wrapped in psychobabble and dragged out over 200 pages? And those are the the “good” ones.

Well, as it turns out I ran across another one recently in my daughter’s library stash. I never would’ve ever bothered to look at it except she kept showing me all these great ideas for household shortcuts and how to make some things new out of some things old. Anyway, here’s the book:

homemakersHomemakers, A Domestic Handbook for the Digital Generation, by Brit Morin, published in 2015.

This book is written for the express purpose of helping millennial women who enter adulthood without the skill set of their mothers, according to Mrs. Morin, herself a millennial. I think it would be more accurate to say that this generation of young women are growing up without the skill set of their grandmothers. If my life is any indication (and I think it is), most of the women of my generation entered adulthood with few domestic skills.

Alas, rather than simply enjoy the pretty pictures and note the very creative way Mrs. Morin made a scarf rack out of shower hooks (I’m totally going to do that!), I did what my daughter did not, flipped to the beginning of the book, and read the background and introduction which outlines the author’s thoughts on the limited lives of yesterday’s homemakers. In fact, the point of the book is that the traditional idea of a homemaker is obsolete, but that creativity and resourcefulness in the home can walk hand in hand along side a burgeoning career life.

After offering up the latest statistics on the numbers of women who work now vs. the 1960’s, the increasing numbers of families with bread winning wives and stay at home dads (presented as inherently good), the reader is treated to an excerpt from Good Housekeeping’s best selling book, Guide for Young Homemakers (1966):

Personal grooming for health as well as good looks concerns the modern housewife as a practical matter. She must budget her time for it, shop wisely for cosmetics and beauty aids, and learn to use them for best results. She may find herself in the role of counselor to a growing daughter. Above all, a sensible regard for her everyday appearance contributes to a happy home. A lovely wife pleases husband and children, favorably impresses guests, and faces the outside world with confidence.

No matter how many experts you consult, you will still have to brush your hair, cream your skin, coddle your hands. You have to exercise and diet, stand and move like a beauty. No one else can do these things for you. In daily housekeeping, care of the figure is perhaps the beautifying measure most overlooked.

To which Mrs. Morin replies:

Excuse me while I go throw up.

Now, while even I may take exceptions with some of the specifics from the excerpt, it isn’t particularly offensive and even a cursory glance at the author’s cover photo strongly suggests that she spends a fair amount of time and expense to look good. In fact, there are a fair amount of beauty and fashion tips in the book as well as practical and creative homemaking tips. Yet somehow the idea that this should be a priority or duty to a homemaker was met with derision. Perhaps because it is sexist for a woman to be “just a homemaker”.

In any event, I have once again been reinforced in my conclusion that self-improvement books targeted at women, even when full of very useful and valuable information, almost always descend into ideological foolishness.

It’s too bad because she has some great ideas in her book, with the exception of her alternative to ironing which looks like it takes longer than just learning to properly iron.  Not everything was useful to me, but with the exception the first 30 pages or so, I’d have hard time discounting it, especially for young women starting from zero. So I won’t discount it completely.

Grade: B- ( Combining the A for creative content with a D for that drivel at the beginning).

‘Tis the season for cooking, sewing, cleaning and decorating. This means less time to read at leisure and less time to review.

Y’all have a wonderful Thanksgiving and enjoy the time with your families.





Dreamers and Deceivers

DreamersandDeceivers-191x288Dreamers and Deceivers by Glenn Beck, originally published 2014.

I stopped listening to Glenn Beck’s radio program years ago when he started transposing a view of America as the promised land which will save Western Civilization onto everything he broadcasted. I’m glad I put that aside and read his book.

I wasn’t sure I would like it, but it’s one of my favorite genres and the reviews for it were decent (when the reviewer wasn’t a foaming at the mouth liberal),  so I figured it was worth a look.

Interestingly, Goodreads categorizes this book as nonfiction, even though in reality it is a work of historical fiction. Well done, if my research is any indication, but fictional nonetheless.

If you haven’t figured it out yet I enjoy historical fiction, partly because it makes history comes alive, and partly because I find myself more inclined to do research on the people and subjects presented, thereby furthering my own historical education. Like most people, my original understanding of history is woefully deficient.

Beck peels back the layers and lays open the stories of names well known to most known Americans. Even Walt Disney, whose story we all know, is made fresh and new.

The best stories however, are the ones we hear the least about. In my opinion, he could’ve spared us the background on Disney and Steve Jobs, although he did a very good job exploring the parts of their stories most of never heard of. Where his book shined however, is in his revealing of Charles Ponzi, Alan Touring, Grover Cleveland, and Alger Hiss. These are where his best storytelling takes place.

Ponzi’s story was most engaging to me. Not because he was a likable man, but because of the human gullibility (not to mention greed) he was able to exploit from the earliest stages of his life. Like a cat, he seemed to have multiple lives.

The list of source books and texts at the end of Beck’s book is exhaustive, too exhaustive for me to go through them all, but I hope to read at least a couple of them in the coming year. Of particular interest to me is the true father of modern radio, Edwin Armstrong, because up until I read Beck’s book I thought the founders of RCA were the true minds behind the technology.

Pretty good read.

Grade: B-

Content advisory: Nothing of note.

Free Elementary Biology Curriculum

I have no idea when or why education people decided that unless the student is in 9th grade or higher, they’ll call biology by the name “life science”. My younger kids can say the word biology without any trouble.

However, since this course is a relatively good one, and it’s free, I’m going to forgive that little nit I picked and recommend the curriculum for anyone who might be interested in science that they can try without spending a boatload of money on curriculum that they later find utterly useless.

I’m sharing it now because we’re 6 weeks in, and still enjoying learning from it. You can find it here for those interested:

Happy Learning!

Welsh Prince Trilogy Book 2: Falls the Shadow

falls the shadowFalls the Shadow, by Sharon Kay Penman. Originally published in 1988, this is the second installment of Penman’s Welsh Prince trilogy, and largely explores the story of Simon de Montfort, a French nobleman who led a revolt against King Henry III of England.

If you’re like me, you may wonder why this book in which Welsh princes are minor characters are a part of the Welsh prince trilogy. Never to worry, however. Although the Welsh princes’ ongoing saga with the English crown are periphery in this installment, their presence is relevant and the daughter of Simon de Montfort plays a major role in the final years of Welsh/English conflict and the conclusive end of Wales as an independent nation.

This is, without hesitation or contemplation, my favorite of the three books because Simon de Montfort is my favorite of the heroes featured in the trilogy. Born with noble title but little means and more than enough confidence, he worked his way up through political savvy and determination into a place of prominence. As this novel is historical fiction, a quick bit of research supports Penman in her presentation of the 6th Earl of Leicester. She treats us to a captivating hero and the story is engrossing.

Her interpretation of De Montfort’s clandestine and fruitful marriage to Eleanor, daughter of England’s King John, is sweet and poignant but without being overly romantic and sappy. Eleanor, unlike Joanna of Here Be Dragons, has no conflicting emotions or split loyalties. She is on Simon’s side, in every aspect, every step of the way. This made for a better story, at least from my point of view. I don’t like female characters (or real life women for that matter) who haven’t grasped the conclusion of the matter on loyalty to their husband. Eleanor is my favorite heroine of the three trilogies as well.

Whereas Here Be Dragons was anchored by a great love story, Falls the Shadow moves along on the strength of political intrigue and war. Simon is a great warrior, another endearing trait, and whatever one thinks about his allegiance with the regional barons to revolt against the king in favor of reform, Penman gives us the picture of a man at peace with his God, his conscience and the merits of his crusade.

There is lots of war and death and gruesomeness in Falls the Shadow, right up until Simon meets his violent end, complete with dismemberment by the royalists against whom he fought.

Grade: A

Content advisory:

There are a few sections which include sexual intimacy between Simon and Eleanor, but nowhere near as much as was contained in Here Be Dragons. Graphic content in this second installment is centered on the frequent clashing on the field of battle, and there is plenty of that.

How Old a Book REALLY Is…

Alternatively titled: Making 4-digit subtraction fun.

When I read books to our two younger girls, we always start by reading the year and city of publishing as well as the title and author.

Several months ago, our 7-year-old decided that books fall into two categories: BGG and AGG. Those stand for ” Before Great Grandma” and “After Great Grandma”.

If the book was published before 1924, then that gives her some context in which to put its age. If BGG, then the response is “Wow! That’s old.” If Great Grandma was a little girl, then still old but not quite as much. And so on.

It didn’t take long to figure out that asking how fast they could figure out the age of a book helped kill a second bird with the same stone.

Thanksgiving Book Recommendations for Kids

Just about every home school parent in the U.S. is covering the history of Thanksgiving in some way this month, and we are as well here in the Reading Room. As part of the research and preparation for our 2nd and 3rd grade co-op class I ran across a new-to-me book in addition to re-reading an old favorite.

thanksgivingbook1The Thanksgiving Story, by Alice Dangliesh, was originally published in 1954 and yet somehow, I’d never heard of it. It tells the familiar story of the voyage across the Atlantic which the pilgrims made in 1620.

However, unlike most children’s books it is historical fiction which explores relevant details that school children rarely hear. For example, the fact that the original voyage began with two ships, The Speedwell and The Mayflower. The Speedwell began taking on water, had to turn back, and the passengers from that ship were packed into The Mayflower for the voyage to Virginia which ended up being a voyage to Massachusetts. The book is also a Caldecott Medal winning book, something I often lean toward in my searches, as I think the art is as much a part of a story as the text.

From there the book goes on to describes the hardships, God’s gracious hand of protection, the tragedies of the 66 day voyage, and the events which led up to the first Thanksgiving celebration.

squanto and the miracleSquanto and The Miracle of Thanksgiving, originally published in 1996, is a great story about Squanto’s amazing journey which could have only been orchestrated by Divine order.  The  Indian Squanto was sold to Spanish monks as a young boy, and later moved to England. There he was taught the English language and the tenets of the Christian faith before being sent back home to America 10 years later. The rest as they say, is history. You should read it with your kids if you haven’t. The Thanksgiving story will take on a new meaning. The turkey and pumpkin will (one hopes) forever be a secondary consideration as they observe the Thanksgiving celebration.

Hopefully, if it’s not too late, you can find these two good reads in your local library.

*These are books for elementary aged children. If you have recommendations for Thanksgiving books for older children or have other ideas, you can add them in the comments.

Edited to add: Here is a really fun Mayflower video for kids also. A friend of mine found it on


Matilda2Matilda, a children’s novel by Roald Dahl, originally published in 1988.

It has been many years since I read this book in its entirety. A dozen years in fact, for that is when we originally purchased the copy our 9-year-old just finished reading. Her thoughts will heavily influence this review and the book’s final grade is her assessment.

Matilda, aged 5 and half, is an extraordinarily intelligent and thoughtful girl being raised by rude, inconsiderate parents who view her contemplative and intelligent nature as an odd inconvenience. Matilda, being a typical child despite her extraordinary intelligence, occasionally pulls pranks on her boorish father in attempts avenge her cruel treatment. These pranks notwithstanding, Dahl makes it perfectly clear that Matilda is a character to be loved by children for her combination of wit, whimsy, and innocence.

When she goes to school, things are hardly much better for Matilda. Her teacher Miss Honey, is charmed and astonished by Matilda’s unusual abilities, and treats her kindly. However, the school’s headmistress, Miss Trunchbull, is just as dismissive of Matilda as her parents are, but even more cruel. At school, Matilda makes friends and joins in with the other children who also exact their revenge on the evil headmistress through series of childish pranks.

In the end, the headmistress faces justice for her wrongdoings and Miss Honey receives the long withheld inheritance that is rightly hers, all as a result of Matilda using her unusual abilities to hatch a plan that gets both women get what they deserve.

Our daughter logged her favorite and least favorite parts and characters in the book.

Mr. Wormwood, Matilda’s father is a used car salesman who teaches his son how to turn back the miles on the odometers of the cars he sells, make a car with a knocky engine sound smooth, and other tricks of the used car trade. When Matilda points out that that this is dishonest, he chastises her. She responds by playing a trick on him. Since this was a point of note to her in the book, it provided a lesson in respect for authority, even perceived flawed authority.

A second scene which made a humorous impression is when the school headmistress, who has a special distaste for younger students, grabbed one by the pigtails and threw her across the school yard.

This book, which was adapted to a successful feature film is considered a modern classic. It is well written, fun,  and whimsical. It’s a book which children love but which needs to be read with accompanying adult counsel. What seemed all in good fun when our older children read it gave me a bit more pause than it did the first time around.

Nevertheless, there are lots of good lessons on kindness and friendship, and appreciating others differences.

Perky Princess’ Grade: B

Content advisory (pasted from Common Sense Media since they do a good enough job):

This book, like most of Roald Dahl’s, should be labeled “know yourself.” Some adults hate it for the same reason that kids love it — it shows a good, smart child overcoming evil, dumb adults. It has ridiculous, cartoon violence, not meant to be taken seriously, where no one actually gets hurt. It has a black and white view of the world: the good are all good, and the wicked get their comeuppance at the hands of giddy, delighted children. If any of this bothers you, if you think children’s books should always have a respectful attitude to adults in general and parents in particular, keep it out of your house, because griping about it will make you look just as nasty and clueless as Matilda’s parents.

If, on the other hand, you can enjoy this type of humor, it’s a harmlessly guilty snicker you can share with your kids. It’s a silly romp, a good read-aloud, and a mild challenge for middle graders to read themselves. Either way, it will have them giggling and feeling immensely satisfied at the ending (which bothers some adults even more than the rest of the book). So make your choice and then live with it, because railing against this book is not going to do you any good at all.