October 31, 2011

NOT a Review of Sherlock Holmes

I finished probably the quintessential Sherlock Holmes book last night, the one that everybody thinks is the ONLY Sherlock Holmes book if they've never read any of them.  (I speak from experience here.)  Yes, I read The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes.  (The other really famous one, of course, is The Hound of the Baskervilles, but if you're anything like me, you probably thought that the famous Hound was part of the Adventures collection until just now.  I certainly did until a few weeks ago.)  I now want to review the book.  I'm still suffering from the Nasty Head Cold from Hell.  I can't even focus on READING a book right now, let alone reviewing one.  Damn.  I really hope I get better SOON.

October 30, 2011

It's the Little Things

For the first 30 years of my life, I was such a rabid Fundamentalist that I would not allow myself to even acknowledge that Hallowe'en existed.  So, I now get to enjoy a privilege that most Americans take for granted.  With the help of some of my own artwork (of dubious quality), I get to wish you all a

My 99% Story

I don't normally go in for politics on this blog--unless it's Commonwealth politics; for some reason, I feel more free to comment on the political doings of countries of which I'm not a citizen.  But I believe this one is important, so if you disagree with me on the issue, I genuinely ask your forgiveness if this post offends you.  It's something I feel I have to say, especially since it's a true story, and it's my story.  If I won't tell it, who will?

In my town, you can help at Occupy the Tri-Cities.  In your town, Google "Occupy" and the city name.  There's probably a movement there.  They're popping up across the country, because we're all in the same boat.

The Saints Go Marching Into My Inbox

WARNING:  I am writing this through the almost impenetrable haze of one nasty head cold.  If I say something incoherent, everyone please take pity on the poor, afflicted blogger.

My inbox had a pretty good week, at least by my standards.  First off, our delightful friends at Amazon sent me two books I've been wanting to own for quite a while, and all I had to give them in return was money.  Has anyone else noticed that one of the weirdest parts about being the Mom is that you now buy your own Christmas presents, and buy them well in advance, because you also handle the budget?  My Amazon haul this week was part of my 2011 Christmas presents.  At least this way, I'm guaranteed to get things I want.  (Amazon also sent me presents for Brigid the SuperToddler this week.  November will be "buy for my sweet, Good Man, Michael" month.)

by Janet Burton

I have literally wanted to own this book for at least 15 years, ever since I first spotted it in my hometown library (a hometown I don't even live in anymore).  I got it used for $15, some $30 less than its retail price.  What can I say?  Textbooks are expensive, and I'm a sucker for a good reference on medieval monasticism.  I know; I'm strange.  I've learned to embrace my inner Geek.

by Simon Singh

About a year ago, I decided that I wanted to improve my knowledge of science, and I figured I'd start where I knew I had gaps, i.e. anything that had to do with Darwin's Evolutionary Theory, or the Big Bang.  Raised as a fire-breathing Pentecostal, and educated in a frighteningly conservative Evangelical high school, I spent more time in my science classes learning how to empirically prove that Noah's Ark is still sitting on some part of a mountain in modern-day Turkey than I ever did on issues like the Big Bang, which was rejected in one or two self-righteous and highly dismissive paragraphs in our text books.  Though I am still a determined Christian, I no longer believe that anything said by a trained scientist must, perforce, be in error, so when I found this book in my local library, I decided it was an excellent place to start.  I enjoyed it thoroughly, but had to take it in small doses, and before I was even 2/3 of the way through, I had to return it or the library was going to put out an APB on me, I'd had it so long.  In other words, this book eventually defeated me, and when I finally finish my brand spanking new copy of it with its shimmering, silvery cover, I am going to gloatingly plant it in my Victory Garden as one of those books which did not, after all, get away.

Now then, as for books which came to me free for review, I finally got two of those long-awaited beauties, as well, which made my week quite a cheerful place.

by Timothy R. Botts and Patricia Raybon

This book is exactly what the subtitle describes it to be, so there is little more to say except that it is, as you can probably guess, a coffee table book, and therefore it did not take long to read and review it.  Also, that it came from Tyndale Press, and that I liked it pretty well.

And last but absolutely not least (in as much as I've read of it thus far, anyway), a book I've been anxious to read since I first heard about it a few weeks ago.

by Peter Leithart

As regular readers of this blog already know, I am an Eastern Orthodox Christian.  Dostoevsky, being a Russian Christian and quite devout for the majority of his life, was also Eastern Orthodox, so when I found out that an Evangelical publisher (in this case Thomas Nelson) had issued a biography of the great author and was offering it for free in exchange for a review I jumped at the chance.  When I first became Orthodox nearly seven years ago, I went into a very well-known Evangelical bookstore one day, because I was shopping with my mother and she wanted to stop there.  Just to get a feel for how inter-denominational relations were going between us and the Evangelical community, I asked a shop assistance if they had any books on Eastern Orthodoxy.  To my surprise, she said, "I think we may have one or two over here."  I was about to be quite impressed, until I realized that this college-age girl was leading me toward the section on CULTS, at which point I said, "Um, I meant, did you have anything POSITIVE about Eastern Orthodoxy."  She seemed baffled by that idea, and replied, "No.  If we have anything, it will be in this section."  After that, I think you can imagine why I was pleasantly surprised to see Thomas Nelson Publishing openly admitting that Fyodor Dostoevsky was actually a Christian at all!  I'm enjoying the book so far, and can't wait to finish it.

October 29, 2011

Invasion of the Brain-Eaters

YO GABBA GABBA ate my brain.

Are you a mom?  Have your children yet discovered the show called "Yo Gabba Gabba" on Nick, Jr.?  (Apparently, Nickelodeon wasn't juvenile enough to tap into that all-important 0-4 demographic.  VOILA!  Nick, Jr.)  If you answered yes to the above questions, then you feel my pain, and I need not explain it to you; you can just hang out and commiserate with me through this post.

For those unfamiliar with this especial form of toddler delight/adult torture, let me give you a quick run-down, though the experience is so bizarre that no verbal description can do it justice.  This live-action show, with heinous wigs, outrageous clothes, ridiculous costumes, and "stupid human tricks," is basically a manga comic for toddlers sprung to life on my TV screen.  The music is not exactly a symphony, but what it lacks in quality, it certainly more than makes up for with repetition.  Over, and over, and OVER, they repeat THE SAME FOUR OR FIVE WORDS, AGAIN and AGAIN and AGAIN!!!

Okay, deep breath...I think I'm all right now.  The part--I can't decide if it's the best part or the worst part--is that my Brigid the SuperToddler actually seems to learn from this show.  How could you NOT learn anything that is repeated to you 15 times per episode?  So, "Yo Gabba Gabba" is apparently here to stay in our house for a while.  Hello, DJ Lance (master of ceremonies to this madness).  Good-bye, Mommy's brain.  I'll miss you.

October 28, 2011

Long Live the Monarch

Okay, Royal Watchers--and those of you who aren't, I'm afraid you're along for the ride on MY royal watching for this post--HUGE news out of the Commonwealth today.  The laws of succession have officially been changed, or at least, they will be as soon as the paperwork is done.  Any oldest child of the reigning monarch, regardless of sex, will be the heir apparent to the throne.  (Don't worry, this doesn't change anything about the present; Charles IS the oldest child, and he only has sons.)  Moreover, the monarch can marry a Roman Catholic, so we can finally consider THAT witch hunt called off after 500 years, although the monarch still can't BE a Catholic, because he or she has to be the head of the ANGLICAN church.  So that would be a bit awkward.

What many Americans may not realize is how severely limited the Queen's role is, and that Parliament--not the sovereign--controls matters like the laws of succession.  The monarch has to be above disputes over politics, so if Parliament issues a law, the Queen is not allowed to publicly comment on it.  However, according to the newscast I saw on-line today about this big announcement, the Queen allowed it to get out through the usual channels, i.e. a private secretary was allowed to speak anonymously to the press, that she was in favor of these reforms that would bring the UK somewhere within sight of the 21st century.  Imagine that!  A Queen who is in favor of gender equality.  God save Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II.

October 27, 2011

Whither Relevance?

For 5-Minute Friday this week, the Gypsy Mama has asked us to consider the word "relevant".  What follows is the honest, mostly unscripted response that I managed to produce in about 8 minutes of (mostly unedited) writing.  This is the challenge of 5-Minute Friday, and everyone brave enought to try it is welcome to join in.

To be perfectly honest, I have become thoroughly weary with the word "relevant" in the Christian religious scene over the past decade or so.  When people say things like, "We need to find ways to make the Gospel/Jesus/God/church relevant today," it just simply makes my skin crawl.  If the Gospel has truly become irrelevant, why on earth do we still bother clinging to it, trying to publicize it to those around us?  If church really has become irrelevant, why would we still encourage people to attend?  If God--Father, Son and Holy Spirit--is no longer relevant, then we should all get a different hobby, obsession, or favorite talking point, shouldn't we?

Since we can pretty much all agree that this stark picture isn't what we MEAN by these phrases, perhaps we should stop saying them, since "relevant" doesn't actually mean "interesting," "trendy," or "fashionable".  Clearly, English already has words for that--I just listed them.  None of us as Christians truly believes that the Gospel has stopped being relevant; more, we seem to feel that there may be something wrong with our approach in presenting it.  If that is the case, then let us call out the true nature of the problem; WE, as the messengers, have somehow become irrelevant.  No one ever accused Christ of this deficiency during His ministry and life here on earth; He captured people's attention and held them breathless, hanging on His every word.  How?  He spoke with authority, WITHOUT speaking like a pedant and WITHOUT being judgmental.  He spoke with love, WITHOUT that love demonstrating itself in utter permissiveness.  He spoke the truth, WITHOUT hurting people with that truth.  He DEMONSTRATED His absolutely unstoppable love for mankind by feeding the hungry, ministering to the sick and broken-hearted, being honestly Himself at all times.  Relevancy is not achieved by false cheerfulness, changing musical worship styles, turning the Bible into a glossy-covered magazine version of itself, or any of the other methods churches often use to remain trendy and on the cutting edge.  Genuine human compassion, the love of Christ demonstrated to those in need without ever saying a word, never becomes irrelevant.

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Digging a Deeper Hole

So, the Reading Challenge pre-season show has begun for 2012, and I fully intend to bite off more than I can chew, apparently, as I'm diving in head first and October 2011 is just now drawing to a close.  (Pardon my mixed metaphors.)  Bev over at My Reader's Block (big shout-out of love to ya' Bev!) is hosting her annual Vintage Mysteries Challenge again next year.  I wasn't really in the Blogosphere in time to catch this year's edition, so I will certainly be joining her in 2012.  I've been meaning to fill in the gaps in my vintage mystery exposure since I was a teenager (no joke), so there's no time like the present.  Well, in this case, the near future.  And, as I've clearly taken leave of my senses, I'm signing on for the automatic prize-winning level, a whopping 16 books!  What can I say?  I like mysteries, and I LOVE free prizes!

So, here's my list for this challenge, and we'll see how much of it actually gets accomplished in the year to come.  Of the options Bev gave us, I have chosen the themes "Golden Age Girls," meaning 8 books by a female author, and "Cherchez l'Homme," i.e. 8 books featuring a male detective.

Golden Age Girls

They Came to Baghdad
The Sittaford Mystery
Why Didn't They Ask Evans?
Death Comes as the End
Crooked House
Destination Unknown
Ordeal by Innocence
The Listerdale Mystery

In case you don't recognize the titles, these are all books written by Agatha Christie.  I've been wanting to read her stuff forever, and been intending to read MORE of her ever since I recently read and reviewed my very first one of her books, And Then There Were None.  However, I've chosen the above list, all of them stand-alone novels, in order to avoid diving into any of her famous series yet.  Because, you see, my second list is made up entirely of one man's adventures in detecting.

Cherchez l'Homme

Whose Body?
Clouds of Witness
Unnatural Death
Lord Peter Views the Body
The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club
Strong Poison
The Five Red Herrings
Have His Carcase

I've just recently been intrigued with the idea of reading Dorothy L. Sayers, and where better to start than to jump right into the Lord Peter Wimsey tales?  As Sayers is an untried author for me, if, by some unimaginable chance, I discover I don't like her style, I reserve the right to modify this list.  Hopefully, that won't be necessary.

Bev has graciously given us the option not to review each book if we don't wish to, which I appreciate, but I intend to review them, anyway, unless my free time suddenly becomes much more scarce than it is at present.  That is the task I have set myself, and I hope to enjoy it immensely.  Won't you come along and read with us?  Just remember never to find yourself alone in the dining room with the butler; that's nearly always a good way to end up the next victim.

October 26, 2011

Review of "Bound for Glory"

by Timothy R. Botts
and Patricia Raybon

Mea Culpa:  I received a free copy of this book from Tyndale Publishing in exchange for the completely honest review which I am now about to give.  There, I've confessed it.  Whew!  Boy, do I feel better having 'fessed up to THAT horrible secret.

It seems a bit odd to review this book in the usual way, because it really is a coffee table book, though not the kind that you put out to impress guests who outrank you at work, but never actually open.  Owning this book without ever opening it would be quite a shame, really.  Still, you don't so much read it as experience it.  It consists of lyrics of African-American Spirituals, along with large works of calligraphic and photographic art, and reflective poetry.  To be perfectly honest, I felt that the reflections were the weakest part of the book (and I think they generally are in these types of compilations), but still, the whole effort fits together fairly seamlessly.

My maternal grandparents moved north from the deep mountain valleys of Appalachia before my mother was born, so I grew up singing most of these songs in beautiful and complex family harmonies, and am accustomed to associating them with the crushing poverty of the mountains and the coal mines.  However, this book placed the songs firmly back into their even more amazing original context in my mind, the hope in Christ that African-Americans preserved in the face of the unimaginable cruelty of slavery.  This theme has been explored in some depth before, so this book does not really strike me as being original, but it is powerful, and quite beautiful. 

The interesting choices of calligraphic styles made by Timothy Botts--everything from ancient Norse runes and Celtic symbols to proto-Semitic lettering--reminds the reader of the universal nature of the themes in this music.  I think anyone who enjoys art books or folk music will appreciate this nice volume.

Holmesian Words Wednesday

It's time for another installment of amazing words, and this week, all my words came from the Sherlock Holmes novel, The Sign of Four, by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.  Nobody beats Holmes for a delicious turn of phrase, and no genre can defeat the Victorian mystery when it comes to delectable words that have fallen into disuse, and are ripe for reviving.  Let's see if we can bring a few of them back from the dead (although I'm more than happy to let the racist ones remain forgotten).

-retort--Yeah, I know; you already know this one in both verb and noun forms.  But do you know it as that thing in the picture?! Clearly, the word retort leads a whole double life that many people these days know nothing about unless they're chemists.  (Sorry, it was just WAY simpler to show you the picture than to try to verbally concoct some kind of image of this in your minds.)

-carboy--Also known as a demijohn, the carboy is that bottle you've sometimes seen in old movies that seems to have a butt made of wicker.  The basketry into which the carboy is permanently nestled helps keep the corrosive liquid in the bottle from escaping.  (Don't ask me how; for something considered "corrosive," I'd prefer a couple of inches of good, solid steel, but what do I know.)

-lath--According to Wikipedia, this is "a thin, narrow strip of wood...or...metal."  It's used inside the walls of houses as a building material.

-slatternly--Good old English.  Why have only ONE word when you can also give that word five synonyms?  Slatternly is slovenly by any other name.

-wharfinger--"[A]rchaic term for a person who is the keeper or owner of a wharf," (again so sayeth Wikipedia).  Makes sense.  Sort of.

-Feringhee--OKAY, Star Trek fans, shall we all say this together, or pretend we don't notice?  "Feringhee?!  Ferengi!!"  Personally, I find it impossible that this could be just a coincidence, but either way, long before Gene Roddenberry was born, the Hindi word for "foreigner" was Feringhee, probably a derivative originally referring to the French.

-sepoy--An indigenous soldier who served under British officers--or the officers of some other imperialist power--in an Indian regiment.  Apparently, it comes from the Persian word for "army".

That's my bundle of useless information for the day.  Happy word spelunking!

Photo by Dave Bunnell

October 25, 2011

Moment of Clarity

Photo by Hansueli Krapf

In many ways, this has NOT been a good day.  Blogging memes and hearing from all of you has kept my spirits up today, but just a few minutes ago, as I was getting Brigid the Supertoddler ready for bed, she got choked on a drink of water, and the panic was instantaneous.  Normally, if something like this happens, she gets over it, she fusses for a minute just because she wants to know I care, and of course, I do care, so I ask her if she's okay and baby her for a minute and then she's happy as a clam again.  This was the first time in her young life that she had a fit of choking that actually scared HER.  When the baby gets scared, all the Mom alarms and hormones go off in me at once and shriek, "SAVE THE BABY!!!"  It's moments like that when my mother's death nine months ago feels like the wound from which I will never recover.  I wanted to call her, once Brigid had calmed down and was safely tucked up in bed, so she could help me come down from that adrenaline rush.  Since I can't, I wanted to cry instead.

Because you see, this isn't the only thing I'm facing right now.  The REAL terror is the impending financial doom that I'm facing, that is going to hit my life Friday, October 28, if large sums of money don't rain down on me from Heaven, and I'm really not holding my breath on that.  There's absolutely nothing I can do about this--it is the train wreck you see coming and can only stand and watch, except my vantage point is that of standing on the track.

And so, in the midst of it all, I am going to stop.  It is cold here where I live--it didn't break 60 degrees all day, as far as I know, and that's pretty chilly for October--and being the very strange person I've always been, I just LOVE cold weather.  The rest of the world feels like it comes back to life as Spring starts to, well, spring, and greenery and new life begin to peek through the brown.  What I mostly see in that is the impending heat of Summer.  I feel life and health course through my veins once again when there begins to be a true nip in the air, that little bite at the tail end of a gust of wind that whispers, "Snow!" in my ear as it passes by.  Nothing changes that; nothing perturbs it.  At some point, every single year, if you live in the right latitudes, that moment will come.  And this year, it came today.  And I want to stop in the midst of the panic and the turmoil and thank God for this day.  Anne of Green Gables said it best, and even she was quoting Robert Browning: "God's in his heaven/All's right with the world." 

"As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease" (Genesis 8:22, NRSV).  And neither will my moment of perfect chill, perfect peace, perfect contentment.

Review of "Odd and the Frost Giants"

by Neil Gaiman

This was my first Neil Gaiman book, and having now finally read one, I begin to see what all the fuss has been about.  I'll have to read more from him before I decide that he's one of my new favorite authors or anything, but I liked this book pretty well.

Odd is a young boy living in a Viking village of some long-ago, undisclosed year.  His life has gone from reasonably good to depressingly bad in a very brief span of time, and he has just gotten fed up with the whole thing when the REAL adventures begin.  Odd finds himself entangled with Norse gods, talking animals, and a Frost Giant, all in one small, 130-page book.

My only real complaint was the way that characters periodically burst out into totally anachronistic language.  I think it was Gaiman's way of lightening the mood, but he seems to have taken his research for this book rather seriously, and it was a shame to ruin that by then creating 21st-century dialog to go along with the longships and great halls he verbally constructed.

Other than that, I really enjoyed this book, and I hope that he will, indeed, write more Odd stories [ :) ], as he threatened to in the author bio blurb.

Nightstands Gone Wild

Oh, goodness, my night table is just all kinds of crazy right now.  I've got a wild hodge-podge going on, because the books from my last "In My Inbox" post are currently still residing on my night table, plus a whole bunch of other books and detritus that always seems to make its way to this spot, despite any efforts I make to the contrary.  We might as well dig in, I suppose.

First, there's my "currently reading" pile.  At the moment, this contains The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (which I'm reading for not one but TWO challenges simultaneously), Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (which, if you know this blog, you know is a multiple re-read), and Red Land, Black Land by Barbara Mertz (aka Elizabeth Peters, author of my beloved Amelia Peabody series, and quite an accomplished Egyptologist in her own right).  This last is a book that once defeated me, so when I finish it, you will find it planted in my Victory Garden.  It also qualifies for my Read Your OWN Library! Challenge, so lots of challenge fun going on pretty much at all times on my nightstand.

My Kindle is also laying in this pile of rubble, which means that a number of books from my perpetual TBR pile are also here, chief among them at the moment being The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins.  I have finally gotten the memo from my fellow bloggers that I am officially the last person in North America to read this book, so I figured I'd better get on it--eventually.

Last but CERTAINLY not least--is everbody familiar with the magazine Bookmarks?  A wonderful friend from college got me a subscription to this periodical for Christmas last year, and has now spoiled me for life, because I don't think I can bear to ever be without it again.  It's not that I make all book-choosing decisions based on it or anything, but its reviews have given me some really great ideas to add to my TBR pile, and I just find it fun.  Also, it's a great way for me to keep up with what's coming out, since I've never really been into the whole knowing every new book that every author in the country has coming up thing.  Besides all of which, the magazine is pretty!  I do love glossy pages.  :)  Especially when those glossy pages contain the CHRISTMAS issue (yay!), which is the one currently on my bedside table. 
*humming Christmas carols faintly as she goes*

10 Hallowe'en Reads

Predictably, this week's Top 10 Tuesday prompt asked for our recommendations for books with that spooky Hallowe'en feel to them.  Less predictably, you would NOT BELIEVE how long and hard I had to rack my brain to come up with a full 10 for this list!  Talk about finding out where your comfort zones are, and how infrequently you stray outside of them!  Clearly, this is an area where I could afford to keep a slightly more open mind when making my reading selections.  I could think of several books off the top of my head that I could blythely suggest, but I felt I should stick to books I've ACTUALLY READ personally, so that narrowed it down almost to nothingness.  I also included a couple that I personally couldn't stand, because (1) they fit the genre, and (2) I obviously have a certain prejudice against this genre, so maybe I need to work on that.  Anyway, here is my list, such as it is.

10.  The Westing Game, by Ellen Raskin--The scene in which the mystery in this book begins is set near Hallowe'en, with characters trying to scare each other by telling ghost stories.  Very fitting.

9.  I Shall Wear Midnight, by Terry Pratchett--The latest Tiffany Aching book, or as I prefer to think of them, the latest WEE FREE MEN book.  (I love those little blue nut jobs!)  Witches, lynch mobs, fires, the landed gentry--what more do you need?

8.  Perelandra, by C.S. Lewis--This may seem an odd choice, but I found the hero's duel of wits with the Devil plenty creepy, thank you very much.

7.  The Mummy, by Anne Rice--I found this book to be a collossal disappointment.  What it did have, however, was plenty of mummies, the undead, inexplicable magical events, that sort of stuff.  If you like a nice yuck! factor in your sex scenes, you'll especially enjoy this one.

6.  The Haunted Mesa, by Louis L'Amour--Famous for his Westerns, of course, Louis L'Amour didn't do a lot fantasy, paranormal type writing.  When he DID decide to do weird, though, he clearly felt that anything worth doing is worth going to the mattresses for.  Mondo bizzarro!

5.  A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeline L'Engle--Although I didn't like the ending of this book as well as those for each of the other books in the series, I think it would make a great Hallowe'en night read-aloud, with its stormy, windy nights, witches and unicorns and all kinds of cool stuff.  Boo!

4.  Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley--Once again, this is really not a favorite of mine generally speaking, but honestly, it's one of the classics of semi-horror, after all.  What better to read for Hallowe'en?

3.  The Deeds of the Disturber, by Elizabeth Peters--Oh, I do LOVE a good Amelia Peabody mystery!  Hell, I even enjoy the mediocre Amelia Peabody mysteries, which do happen occasionally.  Since I just adore Egyptology, this installment of the series is not my favorite (not much Egypt time).  But for sheer fun and overall Hallowe'en deliciousness, complete with curses, corpses and culprits, you can't beat it.

2.  The Fall of the House of Usher, by Edgar Allen Poe--All I have to say--and I say it from experience--is do yourself a favor, and don't read Poe after midnight.

1.  Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, by J.K. Rowling--C'mon, you had to have seen this one coming (and I'm sure I'm not the only one that included Harry on this list).  Nobody throws a Hallowe'en party like Hogwarts, complete with TROLLS!

October 23, 2011

Sailing Into the Inbox

Once again, it's time to link up with The Story Siren for In My Inbox, and this week, I had three arrivals.  All three of them were books I bought, unfortunately, because my latest shipments of books for review have not arrived yet, much to my disappointment.  I know I have at least two wending their postal way to me right now, and a third that should be shipped within the next couple of days, but they haven't come yet.  :(  Oh, well, more for next week's Inbox story!  :)

Anyway, my intake this week includes The Pickwick Papers, which I've been determined to read for years, and have even tried more than once, so it will be proudly displayed in my Victory Garden once I finally polish it off.  Jane Eyre is officially on the TBR pile, after putting it off for far too long.  As for Around the World in 80 Days, Jules Verne has always featured prominently in my mental list entitled "I really do mean to get around to reading that someday".  He shot very quickly up the charts, however, when I watched Michael Palin's travelogue for the BBC by this same title a few months ago.  I really enjoyed it, especially since Michael Palin is one of my favorite Pythons, and he talked so much about the original book throughout the series that I decided I had to read it for myself.

As you've probably observed, all three of these books are by the same publisher, Collector's Library.  Of course, lots of us bibliomaniacs want matched sets of our books if possible, right?  And if you like reading classic literature, and haven't yet discovered the Collector's Library, indulge me for a moment while I close with a rhapsody to them, okay?  Because you really need these beautiful little books in your life.

As a graduate student, I had access to a really huge, impressive library for the first time in my life, and I could lay my hands on some copies of my favorite authors' works that were published closer to the times in which they actually lived.  This was my first real exposure to the kind of diminutive, pocket-sized volumes that characters are constantly reading in Regency period pieces, especially Jane Austen film adaptations, and I just loved them.  When you're a college student, weighted down everywhere you go by a bookbag filled with at least five textbooks, and insist on having a piece of fiction about your person at all times to safeguard your own sanity, pocket-sized is a VERY good thing.

All of the Collector's Library books are this size, and they just feel so satisfying to hold while you read; they fit so snugly into the hand.  Most of them contain the original illustrations, especially if those illustrations were a well-known and integral part of the first publication.  They're clothbound hardbacks, always unabridged, yet their pages are a good deal thicker than the Bible-like tissue paper you might expect from a large volume such as The Pickwick Papers.  Each has a ribbon bookmark sewn into the binding.  Best of all, they're ridiculously low-priced!  Honestly, no one from this publisher has ever contacted me, or offered me so much as a plug nickel.  I just had to talk them up because, with the economy in the state it's in, I don't want the Collector's Library to be the next casualty and go the way of Borders (R.I.P.); I would be horrified if I didn't have my beautiful little editions of the great classics available to buy anymore!

Anyway, that's my inbox for the past week, and I'm greatly looking forward to diving into each one--somewhere around mid-2012, I should imagine.  *sigh*

Review of "The Sign of Four"

Obviously, I supported the idea of the Read It 1st pledge from the moment I first spotted it on another blog--in principle, anyway.  But I found myself thinking that taking a pledge about it was perhaps a bit extreme.  Yeah.  I'm over that now.  I just took the pledge, and invite all book bloggers to do the same.

Here's the story.  The Granada dramatizations of Sherlock Holmes, with the incomparable Jeremy Brett as the eponymous sleuth, are fabulous.  Nevertheless, they're not as good as the books--big shocker--so there you are, already knowing the whodunnit when you start reading the book.  Big mistake.  Don't get me wrong; I really enjoyed reading The Sign of Four.  I just would have enjoyed it a good deal more if I didn't already know the general outlines of the solution.

NOW, having gotten that grumble out of the way, let us proceed (as if the grumble never happened) to a review of The Sign of Four.  WARNING:  There are some serious spoilers ahead, but I promise that I at least WILL NOT REVEAL THE MURDERER, so you've still got that to look forward to, if you've never read this before and wish to do so now.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle 

So, what is our favorite analytical genius up to in the latest installment?  A woman comes in search of news of her father, missing 10 years, after she gets a strange message about long-standing wrongs that need righting and a hint of incredible riches.  Before it's over, Holmes and Watson, with some unorthodox help, have searched up stream and down all over London for the world's most bizarre villains.  It's a story that takes us to the India of imperial England, through the history of an Indian uprising, and into some extraordinary reminders of the racism of the Victorian era.  It's also a reasonably gripping mystery.

SPOILER #1:  Did you know that Sherlock Holmes is a hardened cocaine user?  Yup.  That's really all I have to say about that, except that in his day, cocaine wasn't illegal yet, and lots of hard drugs were routinely prescribed and easily available.  May not want to hand a volume of Sherlock Holmes to your adventure-book-seeking kid without some parental guidance, however. 

SPOILER #2: Did you know that Dr. Watson got married in the course of this series?  I was kind of annoyed with Conan Doyle for this, honestly, because it ruined the whole male bonding, buddy books vibe that Holmes and Watson had going.  I'm glad sweet little Watson won the heart of his lady love, but I think it should've happened much later in the series.  I have a feeling this was one of Conan Doyle's numerous attempts to retire the detecting duo.  Sherlock Holmes' adoring public would never let him do so, though.

October 22, 2011

We Shall Overcome

l'Arc de Triomphe
Photo by Benh Lieu Song
Have you ever been defeated by a book?  Of course, we've all given up on books, reads so hideously awful that we promptly bestowed upon them the "Dorothy Parker Award," hurling them across the room "with great force."  But I'm talking about books that bested you in fair combat.  Decent reads, or even interesting, engaging volumes, that you just seem unable to finish for some reason.  Life suddenly got complicated the last time you picked up that particular book and tried to read it, and by the time you got back to it, you'd forgotten what it was about and would have had to start all over.  Again.  Or perhaps it's just a really complex plot, with a woefully confusing cast, like War and Peace.  Maybe you had to take it back to the library because you'd already renewed it three times and begged your way into one MORE renewal, and they're starting to look askance at you when you even walk through the door, convinced that you've actually lost the book and are too scared to own up.  There can be as many reasons as there are books in the world that defeat occurs, but whatever the cause, you find yourself staring, yet again, at the cover of a book you've opened several times, embarked upon its journey with the best of intentions, and a month later, admitted that it wasn't going to happen, and went back to Harry Potter for some comfort reading while you licked your wounds in disgrace.

This post is where I bring my book defeats out of the closet, confess the names of the worthiest opponents with whom I have ever crossed swords, and renew my determination--oh yes, I will triumph.  To the following books, I can only say, I'm coming for you.

Sir Walter Scott

Sir Walter, you and I have a date with destiny.  The last time I tried to dive into Ivanhoe, I was twelve.  I couldn't make heads or tails of what you were talking about.  This time, I will finish the book, mark my words.

The Pickwick Papers
Charles Dickens

How many times did Anne Shirley taunt me with references to this book?  What little I did get through was hilarious, but 800 pages?  At the age of 16, I had never yet read a book over about 500, and it just seemed too daunting.  Now that I've read my way through over 4,000 pages of Harry, I'm feeling up to the task.

Tom Clancy

If you can't understand how a Tom Clancy novel could best a devoted reader, you've obviously never read one.  They're fabulous, at least in my opinion, but they're extremely thick, and I'm not talking about page count.  Clancy's plots are involved, multi-faceted, with more characters than any modern author should decently be able to keep track of, but he manages it.  I find it mentally exhausting if I've also got other things going on.  Last time I tried this one, I was a graduate student.  Now, I'm a stay-at-home mommy.  I like my chances better this time.

Ecclesiastical History of the English People
The Venerable Bede

I love Bede.  I love this book.  You would not believe how ridiculously close I have come to completing this book, and just got interrupted near the end every time, last time by having to move all the way across the country--twice.  (My life has pretty well sucked quite a few times.)  I mean, I have gotten so close to finishing that on my Goodreads account, I just include it in my "Read" shelf, but I want to make an honest reader of myself and actually finish the thing just once.

War and Peace
Leo Tolstoy

Hasn't every bibliophile started this book at least once, and haven't 75% of us (at least) found it to be an unconquerable foe?  But I am determined to do it.  I'm just not sure when.

The Three Musketeers
Alexandre Dumas

I'm sure I have started this book at least four times, and have never yet gotten past chapter one.  And the first few lines are so captivating, too, or at least I found them so.  Maybe I've got a twisted sort of performance anxiety; the realization that I am holding in my hands one of the most famous tales in all Western literature just causes me to shrink like the proverbial violet.  Well, if three master's degrees doesn't make me qualified to read a great book, I'm not sure what can, so there's no time like the present to try again.  Yeah, yeah, I know..."Do or do not.  There is no 'try'."

Northanger Abbey
Jane Austen

I do NOT understand why I cannot keep going in this book!  I've gotten about 20 pages into it at least three times, and it's every bit as delightful and entertaining as Jane always is--and a good deal BETTER than Emma, which I did eventually finish--yet I just never get past those first pages.  I adore Jane Austen!  One of her countless loyal subjects.  I've even read some of her juvenalia.  I MUST read Northanger Abbey!

Adam of the Road
Elizabeth Gray Vining

Just to demonstrate that this list does contain more than one book written in living memory, and more than one genre, here's a YA novel that I've been meaning to read since I was 16.  I won a copy of it as a prize in a Summer Reading Program, picked it out myself because I love medieval fiction, and didn't get through it.  I still own that copy.  I'm determined to read it before I die, at this point just to say I've done it!

Michael Shaara

Another modern historical novel, and another plot woven thickly with a multitude of characters, points of view and minute details, but then anything less would do a great injustice to such an enormous subject.  Yeah, I admit it, I'm a sucker for a good Civil War history, even though I tend to present Dorothy Parker Awards to most Civil War romance novels.

This certainly isn't the complete list, but it's more than enough to give you a sampling of what I'm talking about, and to keep me reading for quite some time.  If you look at the double row of tabs for stand-alone pages at the top of this blog, you will see that there is now a new page, called "Victory Garden."  It is on this page where I will announce my triumph over each of my long-standing opponents as they occur.  Check often; I'm determined to settle some of these old scores in 2012 (and hopefully at least one in these final months of 2011!)  Wish me luck.

October 20, 2011

5 Minutes Beyond Despair

It's 5-Minute Friday with The Gypsy Mama.  The theme this week is, "Beyond."  How very apropos.

Someone once told me, on one of the absolute worst days of my life, about 48 hours after my plane touched down on the return flight from going "home" for my father's funeral, "Trust me, in six months, you won't even know yourself."  They were words I really needed to hear just then.  I was so beyond despair, so beyond disconsolacy.  My father was my world when I was a child; I loved my mother dearly, but Dad and I were always two peas in a pod.

It wasn't until Mom died earlier this year that I truly learned how close she and I had been, as well, how special she was to me and how much I had depended on her.  Our relationship was always incredibly good, but like I said, I had been Daddy's girl for so long that I had forgotten that Mom was, in many ways, my best friend. 

It turned out to be true that I had come a long way six months after my father's death, but it was about two years before life really began to move beyond the crushing moment of that loss.  Now, some nine months after Mom's death, I am again beginning to see daylight.  But the sky got a little dark today.

Circumstances.  Overwhelming circumstances, burdens from which I'm not sure how I'll ever escape and I can only look up to the sky  "from the depths," as King David said.  Lord, how are You going to get me beyond THIS?  How will we ever get free?  THIS looks bigger than anything I have ever faced.  And yet, each major challenge in my life was the biggest thing I'd ever faced up to that moment.  You got me through and beyond each one.  I need one of Your miracles.  Only You can do wonders of this kind.  "As the servant looks to his master, as the eyes of a handmaid look to her mistress," so I call upon You to carry me beyond all my grief, my despair, my terror and pain.  I need to know there will be a day beyond this day.  Maybe having my eyes land on the words "Five-Minute Friday: Beyond" when they popped up on my screen was the beginning of Your assurance that there will be a tomorrow, there will be something beyond this.  I certainly hope so.

October 19, 2011

Reading Anonymous

Well, now that I've cleared out a bit of reviewing backlog, it's time I wrote up a post on another issue to make it official.  Hi.  My name is Jennifer, and I'm a Reading Challenge Addict.

Yes, friends, I'm joining up with Gina and CMash over at the Reading Challenge Addict blog, which is basically just a place to keep track of all the challenges you join, find out about new challenges that are up-and-coming, and help add to the total, ridiculously high number of pages read and challenges achieved that a bunch of bibliomaniacs can produce when we all join together for a common...obsession.  In the 2011 challenge, Gina and CMash set tiers of addictive behavior, based on how many challenges each participant entered and completed, and I assume they will again in 2012, though I imagine that's not really the sort of thing I'll be able to predict about myself.  I won't know how many I entered AND completed until I...you know... complete them.  I know.  I'm burbling now.  Let's move on.

Anyway, come along and join us, and don't forget to join ME here at The Beauty of Eclecticism for my "Read Your OWN Library!" Challenge--a perpetual challenge held once a month--and my 2012 Medieval Reading Challenge--from January 1-December 31, 2012.  Resistance is futile, and not nearly as much fun as giving in to your book addiction.

UPDATE 11/10/2011:

Okay, now that I've seen a bit more of what's out there and signed up for a few challenges, I really think I better quite while I'm only woefully behind, before I get impossibly behind.  I've signed up to read a total of 54 books in 2012 thus far--that's more books than there are weeks in a year!--so I'm officially declaring myself at the On the Roof level of Reading Challenge addiction (6-10 challenges), and I'm going to TRY to practice some restraint about signing up from here on out.  Yeah, I know--good luck.

Words, Words, Words

My goodness, I'm overflowing with fascinating words today!  I finished The Know-It-All between last week's post and this one, and it's always a good source of new vocabulary.  The surprise source this week was the sweet little book called Betsy-Tacy and Tib, which contained a number of new words for me just because they've passed out of common use.  Let us dive into the sea of loquacity,* shall we?

*I learned this one years ago from The Pickwick Papers; it just means wordy or talkative.

1.  sybaritic--Apparently, Sybaris was an ancient Greek city inhabited entirely by people with a reputation throughout the ancient world for their abandoned self-indulgence.  If the rest of the ancient Greeks (not counting the Spartans, of course) thought they took things a bit too far, I can only imagine what a Friday night was like in Sybaris!

2.  limnologist--Someone who makes a career out of studying lakes.  Did you know this job existed?  I guess I sort of did, but I never thought about what the title for it would be.

3.  selenographist--Someone who makes a career out of studying/mapping the moon.  Don't you think this would have been a frustrating job to have before the age of space flight?

4.  claque--This was a laugh track before the invention of sound recording.  People were paid to go to the theater and make the appropriate sounds--clapping, laughter, tears--at the appropriate points in the performance, to encourage those around them to do the same.

5.  axilla--Believe it or not, this is the medical term for "armpit."

6.  erythrocyte--"Red blood cell" to people who just need extra syllables in their lives--like doctors.

7.  insertion--We all know what this means, right?  Except it also has another meaning I'd never heard of.  It refers to decorations worked into a garment, of which Betsy, Tacy, and Tib were very proud.

8.  saleratus--Baking soda.  End of bulletin.

The things we learn on Wondrous Words Wednesdays!

Review of "Out of a Far Country"

Confession:  Yes, I admit it; I accept free books in return for honest reviews of said books, including this one, which I am reviewing for Waterbrook Multnomah.  I have now done my duty as a law-abiding American.

I must say, in some ways this book was not what I expected it to be at the outset.  First and foremost, to my great relief, it was not another Christian writer's account of getting a gay man into good therapy and thereby "curing" his homosexuality as if it were some sort of mental disease.  In fact, despite the glaring use of the word "gay" on the cover, Christopher Yuan's sexuality sort of became a subplot before this book was over.  Though this is a bit of a spoiler, I think you have the right to know what you're getting into if you set out to read this--it is primarily the story of a felon who also happens to be gay.

While this book definitely has some positives, one of the things I don't like about it are the subtle implications that Yuan's experience is representative of all gays in the US.  If you don't happen to know any gays or lesbians personally, you might well walk away from this book thinking that they all slip slowly and steadily into the hard-core drug scene simply as a part of the overall lifestyle.  I don't have statistics on the matter or anything, but I can say that I have a few gay friends, and none of them have a drug problem.  The two are by no means synonymous.

Another thing that really bothered me in this book was the way that the Evangelical understanding of conversion to Christianity is presented.  On page 44, Angela Yuan, Christopher's mother, mentions that her husband, Leon, "had been baptized Catholic in college," then goes smoothly on a mere 14 pages later to indicate that despite that baptism, Leon was not yet a Christian.  "In the fall of 1993, Leon began attending a Bible study called Bible Study Fellowship, and it was there that he surrendered his life to Christ."  The implication seems to be that one can only come to faith in Christ through the authors' particular type of Church, through one particular culture's views of what it means to be a Christian.  Several times throughout the book, the authors seem forced to renounce their traditional Chinese values, because they directly contradict Christianity.  Surely one can be Chinese and a Christian simultaneously.  We convert to a faith, not a hemisphere.

The phrase "surrendered his life to Christ" is also very characteristic of this short book, as it seems to constantly consider a person's coming to faith to be a battle between that person and God.  Angela Yuan routinely talks about trying to trick or coerce her son into accepting Christ by surrounding him with Christian radio in his parents' house, or taking him to hear a dynamic speaker who might be able to persuade him.  Moreover, she insists on stridently working her faith into conversations where it is not necessarily appropriate, such as a visit to the dean's office at the university her son attends.  As an Eastern Orthodox Christian, I can say honestly that it is this sort of combative attitude from Evangelicals that often turns me off , and one reason I reviewed this book was to discover what the middle ground was between my Church and other Christians.

The negatives having been mentioned, however, I did find some of that middle ground.  I was especially impressed with the fact that Christopher Yuan made clear that his mother's only attempts to "cure" him of homosexuality ended in abysmal failure, and he came instead to understand human sexuality in a different way altogether than I would have expected.  Let me be clear; this book does not endorse homosexuality as being compatible with Christianity, and neither do I, and nor does my Church.  In order to avoid complete spoilers, I will say only that the perspective on sexuality which Yuan finally reaches is one that I as an Orthodox Christian can accept, and I was not expecting that based on this book's cover.

Finally, this book is simply interesting, well-written, and to my surprise, rather suspenseful.  It held my interest, that's for sure.  Unless you're really put off by religious content in your non-fiction (or by non-fiction generally), you'll probably find this a quick, interesting read.

October 17, 2011

Cover Art on Top 10 Tuesday

This week on our Top 10 Tuesday list, brought to you by those delightful folks at The Broke and The Bookish, we all have confessions to make.  We are freely announcing to the world books we bought with reckless abandon, completely heedless of what the contents might be, because of the stunning cover art or the unbearably clever title.  On top of which, I have to confess also that I had to wrack my brain to come up with ten of these, because I almost NEVER do that!  I'm far too much of a control freak to let my buying wend its way along like that.  I like to know what I'm getting into BEFORE I plunk down any coin of the realm.  But, I did manage to think of the requisite ten that basically fit the requirements, after soul-searching and combing through my Goodreads shelves.

10.  Demons, by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
Dostoyevsky is hardly an unknown--I've been promising myself since Middle School that I would read The Brothers Karamazov one day; I'm deteremined to do it in 2012 or perish in the attempt.  So when I came across another work of his with such a provocative title and spell-binding cover, I had to have it.  I'm deteremined to read it someday, too.

9.  Arabic Script, by Gabriel Mandel Khan
Do you see the picture of this book's cover up there?  Add to that the fact that I was an Arabic language student at the time.  Enough said.

Great photograph of a great man, and a title that wouldn't let me walk away.  I have never finished it yet--college assigned readings kept getting in the way--but based on the bit I've managed to read thus far, it looks pretty good.

This was a Loeb Classical Library edition.  At the time I bought it, I didn't even really care what it contained that much; I just love the Loeb Classical Library.  These days, I also dearly love the letters of St. Ignatius of Antioch, so that turned out to be a win-win situation.

Holy Icons
by Matthew Garrett

6.  Cranford, by Elizabeth Gaskell
I always figured I would eventually get around to reading this book someday--clearly, it wasn't high on the priority list--until it was released as a Penguin Hardback Classic.  That moved it very quickly up my must-have list.  They're just so beautifully designed, aren't they?

5.  Beowulf
Again, a well-known title.  It was the release of a new translation that made me buy it, but primarily because of the awesome, shiny representation of chain mail armor on the cover, more than any scholarly reasons!

4.  Angus, Thongs and Full-Frontal Snogging, by Louise Rennison
I don't find the cover of this book that captivating, especially since it features the main character's cat so prominently and I am terribly allergic to felines.  But that title!  How could you walk away from that title, especially if you're a YA fan like me?

This one had awesome title AND delicious-looking cover going for it, so it had to be mine.  I adore it; in my opinion, it is the Little Women of my generation.

2.  Celestial Gallery, by Romio Shrestha
Beautiful.  Absolutely gorgeous.  From what I understand, this book is not terribly indicative of classical Tibetan Buddhist art, as the author felt free to reinterpret the classic forms whenever he chose.  Still, his work is breathtaking, the colors mezmerizing, and I fell in love at first glance.

To clarify, I did not buy my FIRST copy of this book for aesthetic reasons.  Actually, I didn't buy my first copy at all; my parents did.  No, some twenty years after I first discovered my beloved Anne, this 100th anniversary edition was released, featuring a facsimile of the ORIGINAL cover, and I knew I had to own one.  I honestly don't know how many copies of this book I have floating around my house, but I do know it's more than one, and I do know that it's getting ridiculous.

Review of "Betsy-Tacy and Tib"

Betsy-Tacy and Tib!  Oh, I had so much fun reading this book.  Of course, when I wrote a mid-point review of this book YESTERDAY, I didn't realize that I was actually way past the half-way mark--it's so much harder to gauge these things with e-books, really!--but that's certainly no reason not to write about this delightful book again, especially when there's a giveaway involved.  Seriously, I really enjoyed this book.

Our three little heroines, Betsy, Tacy, and Tib, besides having the world's most highly-developed noses for finding trouble, also have kind hearts, great imaginations, and an amazing talent for finding or constructing adventures for themselves.  Reading about them, I can't help but remember Polaroid snapshots, taken of me when I was very young, in the world's most ridiculous dress-up outfits.  I think many of us who enjoy these books secretly feel sure that we would have gotten along famously with Betsy, Tacy, and Tib.
My favorite part of this whole book was the forthright and completely unconcerned way that the author describes the religious differences between the three girls.  Though all three are Christians, each is from a different denomination, including a couple of groups who have been known to experience violent internecine conflict.  Yet Maud Hart Lovelace discusses their religious associations in a way that makes me think she might have been just as sanguine if they had been a Jewish girl, a Hindu girl, and a Muslim girl.

This will be the first book to which I have ever given a 5-star review on this blog (because the blog is young, and I haven't reviewed that many books yet).  If you've read my rating system in the right-hand sidebar, you know that I define a 5-star book as a "life-changing event."  In some cases, this has been true of a book I've read in a showy, tear-jerking or shrieking-with-laughter kind of way.  In others, like Betsy-Tacy and Tib, a book can be life-changing in a subtle, joyful, peaceful kind of way.  This book didn't change my views of the geo-political landscape or inspire me to write the next great American novel, but it reminded me of the best things in my own childhood.  It has convinced me to go on reading the series, and made me more sure than ever that my daughter must own these books when she gets a little older.  Thank you, Sarah from A Library is a Hospital for the Mind, for hosting this challenge and reminding me to get back to these sweet books.

Review of "Pershing"

Thomas Nelson, Inc., provided me with a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest review of it.  Per Uncle Sam's instructions, I have now made that fact glaringly clear.  Let me also make glaringly clear that Uncle Sam should be ashamed of himself for not seeing to it that I knew who the subject of this biography was BEFORE I read this book at the age of 34.

Generals John Pershing and George Washington are the only two men in American history who have held the rank of 6-star general, and Pershing was the only one who received it during his lifetime, rather than as a posthumous honor, author John Perry informs us.  You'd think we would all have heard more about this man, wouldn't you?  After reading this brief biography of him, I can only guess that his incredible story as Commander of the American Armies during World War I got lost, as did his entire war, in the greater monstrosity that was World War II.  (We STILL don't have a national monument for the soldiers of World War I, for goodness sake!)  I've been obsessed with history since childhood, so I figured I would enjoy this historical biography when I saw it listed as one of my choices, and indeed, I was right.

Pershing: Commander of the Great War is a very straightforward biography, setting forth the major themes and events of the general's life in chronological fashion.  At 224 pages, it is a somewhat shallow coverage of the subject, but its very brevity--along with an engaging writing style--make it accessible to the non-specialist.  Within a few pages, I found myself genuinely interested to see what happened next, and impressed that Perry's handling of a military hero fleshed out his personality enough to make me care about him as a human being.

A couple of discordant notes made the experience a bit jarring in places.  Foremost of these was the author's attempts to squeeze every possible bit of traction out of any mention Pershing ever made of his religious views or beliefs.  I understand that the book was commissioned and published by an overtly Christian publishing house, but Perry's efforts to make a religious figure out of an individual he had already labeled as a heavy drinker and a lady's man did not ring true.  The overall impression in the book is of a decent man with strong principles, devotion to duty, and his own take on right and wrong.  He's a likable figure, and a brilliant strategist, but a great moral leader he was not.

I was utterly baffled by Perry's handling of the end of World War I.  He talks about Pershing's views on the signing of an armistice, versus an unconditional surrender.  Though the general may not have been happy with events, and his pessimism was proven to be founded, Perry behaves as if Germany was given a slap on the wrist and this was the sole reason that World War II happened.  He never once mentions the crushing reparations demanded of Germany and the other Central Powers by the Allies, though it is generally accepted historical doctrine now that the humiliation Germans felt over those reparations helped vault Hitler into power.

Like most biographies of its kind, this book contains photographs of the subject and his family between each major section, with one significant difference.  I don't know whose brilliant idea it was to caption the photographs in such a way that they inform you of huge events about which you CANNOT POSSIBLY HAVE READ YET, but this was an enormous frustration.  I had to just skip over the photos and not even look at them after one maddening spoiler that made me almost want to stop reading.

Those grumbles having been put forth, however, I must say that I really enjoyed this book for what it was intended to be--an introduction to an extraordinary man whom Americans should never have been allowed to forget.  If you're looking for a good, sound history of WWI, this is not it.  Moreover, if military biographies bore you, this book probably won't be your cup of tea.  But if you like a solid story with characters you can cheer for and the poignancy that a true story brings to a book, you'll probably appreciate this one.
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