30 April 2010

Books Finished Since April 1

book iconJesus, Interrupted. Bart Ehrman
I wanted to read something theologically interesting for Easter, so this was one of two volumes I bought. I have not done any reading of the Bible in total for many years, but read my children's Bible from cover-to-cover (this was not a kiddy Bible with BIG COLORED WORDS and cartoony illustrations; it was the text simplified for pre-teens). Erhman, author of Misquoting Jesus, writes intelligently about the problem with conflicting statements in the new testament. Why does one Gospel tell the nativity story differently from the other? Why does one Gospel proclaim Jesus' divinity while the other doesn't? Why do ministers learn these facts in divinity school and not mention them to their congregations? Ehrman documents all the differences, then leaves you to make up your mind about your faith. I enjoyed reading this book, but it is not something I will be keeping. YMMV.

book iconThe National Parks: America's Best Idea, Dayton Duncan and Ken Burns
If you watched the PBS documentary, this is basically a print retelling of the event. Coffee-table size, with sturdy paper filled with photos of National Park landscapes as well as the people that shaped the parks: John Muir, Theodore Roosevelt (and Franklin), businessman-turned-National-Parks-director Stephen Mather and his assistant Horace Albright, Edward and Margaret Gehrkes (the epitome of National Park fans), George Melendez Wright, this volume ranges from pioneer discoveries to modern refuges, from train tourists to motoring maniacs, from the tragedy of Hetch Hetchy and the deforestation of the Smokies, John D. Rockefeller Jr. contributions, and more, including insets about modern-day park rangers. And did I mention the breathtaking photos, many of them double-page spreads? Highly recommended if you enjoyed the television presentation.

book iconThe Boneshaker, Kate Milford
Where do I start about this book? Well, it's 1914 in the tiny town of Arcane, Missouri, close to a crossroads that was abandoned in the mid-1800s after a bizarre epidemic. Thirteen-year-old Natalie Minks, daughter of the town's bicycle shop owner, her mother the best teller-of-tales in town, is a tomboy who loves nothing better to work with the machinery in her father's shop. And then one day things change: the town doctor departs to check on a mysterious illness nearby, while a traveling medicine show arrives in town. Natalie should be delighted—the show contains all types of neat automata (clockwork items)—but instead she only begins receiving visions of troubling things...

An utter page-turner: a little bit Something Wicked This Way Comes, a little Dr. Lao, a little Jules Verne, maybe even a bit Phantom Tollbooth, with a spunky heroine, a mysterious guitar-playing townsman, an unusual drifter who hits town at the same time as the medicine show, the creepy abandoned village at the crossroads where disaster seems to strike most vehicles passing through, terrifying dark places and mysterious mechanical men (hmmm...maybe even a little bit Wild, Wild West), and Natalie's "boneshaker" bicycle that she must master if things are to right themselves. Plus cool pen-and-ink illustrations throughout. Buy, buy, buy this book, especially if you are at all into fantasy, "steampunk," or folk tales.

book iconGood Book, David Plotz
While Jesus, Interrupted was about the New Testament, this is about the Old: Plotz, a non-practicing Jew, realized that he had not really read the Old Testament, except that which he had to study in order to get his Bar Mitzvah. Based on Plotz's blog, "Blogging the Bible," this is Plotz's commentary on his readings. Biblical scholars and strict observers will probably find Plotz's narrative either irritating or sacrilegious. I had not read the Bible for some years, so the text refreshed all the familiar stories—with a lot more of the violence intact. In general Plotz keeps the tone light, and occasionally this gets wearying, but he reminds us all that the men and women of the Bible were no saints, but complicated human beings.

book iconSecrets at Camp Nokomis, Jacqueline Dembar Greene
This is the first "Rebecca" mystery in the American Girls series, and I must admit that as a juvenile, it's not bad. Rebecca is attending camp sponsored by a charity group, having escaped New York right in the middle of an epidemic of polio which has quarantined her best friend Rose. Rebecca's high hopes of making friends fail after a promising start when she runs afoul of a selfish tentmate; meanwhile she tries to puzzle out her bunkmate, a shy, small girl who disappears at the oddest times.

However, there is a disadvantage in being an adult history buff reading this book: historical problems (to my eyes, at least). 1916, like it or not, was an extremely anti-Semitic time. Did Jewish children really go to the same camps as Catholic/Protestant children? Since numerous hotels/resorts/restaurants, etc. had "no Jews allowed" rules back then, it seems odd. (The book does address another form of prejudice. Perhaps the author didn't want to dump too many ugly truths on kids at once?) The camp Rebecca goes to is one for poor children, who didn't have the arranged crafts, swimming and canoe lessons; they were just there to play, eat healthy food, and get fresh air. Camps of the sort Rebecca attends were for middle-class to wealthy children. In addition, a young female character is found alone with a young male character. In 1916? He'd be forced to marry her when everyone found out! Did girls' camps even have male counselors back then? All the books I have read that take place in that era, like Hildegarde Frey's Camp Fire girls series, show girls' camps as strictly female domains.

Anyway, read to see how Rebecca copes with a bully and discovers a friend, but don't go to this one for historical accuracy.

book iconMissing Grace, Elizabeth McDavid Jones
This is a page-turned, possibly the best Kit mystery yet, very close in feel to a Nancy Drew book. Grace, Kit's lovable basset hound, is a minor celebrity after she saves the Kittredges and their boarders from a chimney fire, but it doesn't keep her from being relegated to the back porch after a persnickety temporary boarder decrees she won't sleep with a dog in the house. But after Grace vanishes after one night on the porch, Kit, helped by her friends Ruthie and Stirling, must hunt her down. In the process, Kit—and the reader—learns more about the business of raising and showing dogs.

book iconHello, Everybody!: The Dawn of American Radio, Anthony Rudel
What industry was supported by sex rejuvenation promotions, free speech promoters, businesses scrambling for their customers' attention, followers who wanted to be on the cutting edge of technology, and performers (whether involved in show business or sports) looking for new outlets? If you said the internet, you'd be close, but wrong. This engaging book looks at the American radio industry before its Golden Age (when a simple voice reading a bedtime story or the newspaper or a musical number plinked out on a piano over the airwaves was considered miraculous) and the personalities involved in its ascension: Dr. Brinkley, the goat-gland man; soon-to-be-president Herbert Hoover; collegiate crooner Rudy Vallee, the first radio singing superstar; religious rivals Robert Schuler, Aimee Semple McPherson, and Father Coughlin; rising politician Franklin D. Roosevelt; and other colorful characters. It struck me so many times how early radio resembled the rise of the internet, and I'm certain it was the author's intention. If you're an OTR fan who'd like to know what came before the rise of Amos'n'Andy, The Kraft Music Hall, and other radio classics, this book may be just your cup of Postum.

book iconThe Riddle of the Paper Daughter, Kathryn Reiss
This, the third in the newest cycle of American Girl mysteries, and the next in the Julie stories, sets a less simplistic mystery than its predecessor. When her Chinese friend Ivy's grandparents donate some clothing to Julie's mom's trendy shop, Gladrags, Julie finds a note in Chinese in the pocket of an old jacket. She and Ivy discover it was a relic of Po-Po's (Ivy's grandmother) journey to America, a "coaching note." That same evening, Julie and Ivy's Chinese dolls are stolen. Why would someone steal them? Was it Ivy's Chinese class teacher? The mysterious ponytailed man who seems to be following the girls around? Or someone else? And can the two friends reunite Po-Po with a fellow shipmate who had become a dear friend? While you're figuring out the mystery, you will learn much about Chinese immigration to the United States and the ordeal that faced them on Angel Island when they arrived. A great mystery as well!

book iconHappy Dog, Billy Rafferty and Jill Cahr
Frankly, I bought this book because it was on the bargain table, and, as a dog owner, wondered if it could tell me anything new about keeping a happy, healthy dog. Most of it is told in a light style which occasionally gets irritating when the author inserts a chirpy comment about "no-nos." (Mind, all of his concerns are very real; I am not making light of what he is commenting on.) Since the author is a professional groomer, as you can expect, a portion of the book is taken in instructions about bathing and grooming. While I am appalled at backyard dogs and dogs that are ignored by their families to the point where a groomer finds wounds and rubbish hidden in your dog's coat, if you spent as much time as Rafferty recommends on caring for the dog, you probably wouldn't have time to go to work, or wouldn't be able to own a dog. Sensibleness is the key here and this all seems overdone.

book iconFarm Fresh Murder, Paige Shelton
Becca Robins lives on a small farm with her dog Hobbit, raising berries and other vegetables for preserves and jams which she sells every weekend at Bailey's Farmer's Market, which is run by her twin sister Allison. One Saturday morning Becca arrives late, only to discover there has been a murder—one of the other sellers has been killed with an axe—and the main suspect is her friend and fellow seller Abner Justen, a cantankerous old coot who, despite his personality, treats Becca like a daughter.

As always happens in cozies, Becca, convinced of Abner's innocence, gets involved in the investigation. There are several suspects, mostly people she works with, including a sexy guy Becca would like to get to know better, and the straitlaced police officer investigating the crime also provides a spark of romance within the investigation. Despite all this, I didn't feel as if the characters were ever fully fleshed. Becca's likable enough, but she never crossed the line to "real person" to me, and her relationships with sexy Ian and sober Sam reminds me eerily of the Maggie/Marcus/Tom triangle in Madelyn Alt's Bewitching series. The ending, in which Becca confronts the murderer, is quite suspenseful and adds to my rating a bit, but I'm not sure if I will read any more of these. Becca's dog is cute, though. :-)