Monday, July 21, 2014

What On Your Nightstand - August

What's On Your Nightstand

Oh, Nightstand, how I love and hate you. You remind me of all that I want to read and all that I was not able to get to. Yet I still cannot resist participating in this monthly meme, hosted by 5 Minutes for Books. Although it's almost like torture, I'll continue to plot a course and see how closely I can stick to it.

This past month I have focused almost exclusively on Narnia. I absolutely love The Chronicles of Narnia Reading Challenge, hosted every year in July right here at Reading to Know.

This year I read The Horse and His Boy aloud to my kids and we just finished reading The Last Battle (review forthcoming). It's been a lovely month in Narnia and, if possible, I love it more than I ever have in the past.

Also in conjunction with the reading challenge, I read Live Like a Narnian (linked to review). I can't say it was my favorite or that it was completely awful. It's just not my first choice. It's worth noting.

Currently, the kids and I are reading 101 Dalmations together along with the classics book club group.

In July I also managed to read the following, all titles linked to my reviews:

I am currently in the middle of the following titles (slowly poking my way through):

How the Heather Looks: A Joyous Journey to the British Sources of Children's Books

Remember, Remember (The Fifth of November): Everything You've Ever Wanted to Know About British History with All the Boring Bits Taken Out (Only $0.99 on the Kindle. But I am not reading it on the Kindle. I have a hard copy.)

Other Books I plan/hope to read may include, but are not limited to:

Beyond that, we shall just see what happens!

Now I'm off to see what you mentioned your nightstands so that I can make my own reading list longer and more complicated.

Friday, July 18, 2014

The LEGO Adventure Book 2

If Bookworm1 had his druthers, his entire reading library would consist of books about LEGOs. He would never read anything but books about LEGOs. All of life would be LEGOs, LEGOs, LEGOs.

Now we, the parents, do like LEGOs. We prefer them to any other toy, truth be told. We even do not mind him reading books about these little things which are scattered all over the floor. However, we've found that it is rather difficult to find books that talk about LEGOs in such a way to foster creativity without having some comic-style story attached. All of the titles that we know of and like tend to come from No Starch Press. Given our love of their LEGO books, we were delighted to have a chance to poke through a copy of their new release: The LEGO Adventure Book, Vol. 2.

Following up on Book 1 (linked to review) this new book explores how to build space ships, pirates, dragons, dock cranes, fuel tank trucks, and LEGO furniture to put into your own uniquely designed LEGO homes. The great thing about this book, aside from the plethora of building designs, is that it offers photographic step-by-step numbered instructions to help you create the items for yourself from bricks which you - (should you be a LEGO fanatic) - are quite likely to have on hand. Here is an image from the book itself to give you a feel for how the instructions are laid out:

Your guide for the The LEGO Adventure Book, Vol. 2 is the same from Book 1, Megan H. Rothrock who is personified in a little Lego mini figure who talks you through the book. Yes, there are some comic-style stories but nothing too over-the-top or cheesy. These scenes are randomly scattered about the book and, percentage wise, there are far fewer cartoon stories than there are full color pictures and instructions for how to build any variety of things. I like the way the book is balanced out.

If you are looking for some fun, imaginative and instructive LEGO books which are suitable for younger builders (as well as older ones), the LEGO adventure books are great ones to pick up.

Other titles you might like from No Starch Press:

Many thanks to No Starch Press for sending a copy of this book our direction in order to facilitate this review. I received no additional compensation for this review and all opinions are 100% my very own!

Also, if you happen to be participating in the Chronicles of Narnia Reading Challenge, check out this post from a few years back in which Narnia Girl from Lantern Waste shared with us some of her Narnia-themed LEGO creations.

Shasta in Tashbaan:

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Dancing on the Head of a Pen, by Robert Benson

I have never heard of Robert Benson before but apparently he has written a number of books. He has written and published so many that many people have asked him for advice on how to write for themselves. This book is an answer to their questions.

Dancing on the Head of a Pen is a very quick and easy book to read. It comes off as more of a motivational speech than anything else and motivational speeches always do tend to go down well. In other words, there are no "ouch!" revelations inside, unless you come to the realization that you are an incredibly undisciplined person (which I am going to bank on you already knowing if you know you want to write but haven't written anything yet). The short answer to the question of how to start writing is simply to do it.

Practically speaking, Benson has filled this book with suggestions based on how he writes, acknowledging that what works for him might not necessarily work for another. He referenced a variety of authors he knows, all of whom have different methods for putting pen to paper. Because all people are different I think it was wise for Benson to write this book with the idea of motivating others in mind, rather than attempting to offer a step-by-step guide to write for publication. If you read this book, you might find yourself motivated to ditch the excuses and get to work. First though, I suppose one must remove the doubts that they have that they can't write anything decent. It's hard to write anything when you assume you have nothing brilliant to offer. I chuckled over this passage:

"A day spent reading Anne Dillard or Graham Greene or John Le Carre or Thomas Merton or Doris Grumbach or Frederick Buechner can convince anyone who wants to write that the good stuff has already been written and, in fact, so marvelously written that anything else by anyone else, including me, borders on being audacious at best and pretentious the rest of the time. Last week while reading Buechner, I realized tat if I wanted to make a contribution to the literary world, I should do his laundry and mow his grass so he would have more time to write." (Chapter 3, Go to Your Room, page 35)

I have a lot of lawns to mow and laundry to do for others!

There are practical tips included in this book but, as I say, Benson is quick to note that these are things that work for him and might not necessarily work for the next person. However, there is one universal truth which stood out to me (because, of course, it would). That is?:

"Any writer should have a shelf of . . . books. He need not read the writers I read. But he should never forget that we are all going to write under the influence of someone. Better for him if those writers are better than most. At the very least they should be the ones who make him want to lie down and take deep breaths before taking up his pen. Those are the books that will make him live, and write, more intensely. Reading anything less will not help him grow as a writer.

A direct relationship exists between the caliber of the writing you read and the caliber of the writing you make."

(Chapter 8, Under the Influence, pp 102-103, emphasis mine)

I agree with him whole heartedly! The people who I read definitely influence the life that I live and, frequently, the way I write. You can tell who I read - I think - if you read a few of my blog posts. Sometimes I think other authors are screaming through me in my speech and writing patterns. So, friends, let us read well so that we may be influenced by the wisest and the best!

I do envision myself writing a book someday. As my first title has flitted away, I'll have to do some additional thinking and pondering. I know that writing is an important way for me to be able to express myself and that I feel calmer and more thought through once I write something down, whether it be for public consumption or personal release. Words matter deeply to me and the order they are placed in can change a world (or, at least, a life). It's interesting for me to pick up books every now and again which talk about how one can write more effectively. For me, writing is a "future thing" but reading Dancing on the Head of a Pen did encourage me to start practicing now.

I pulled out a notebook and got started.

Many thanks to Waterbrook Press for sending a copy of this book my direction in order to facilitate this review. I did not receive any additional compensation for this review and all opinions are - forever and always - 100% my very own!

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Miss Buncle Married, by D.E. Stevenson

It didn't take me long to give in a purchase a copy of Miss Buncle Married, on the heels of reading the first in this series by Stevenson. Curious to embark on the next chapter of Miss Buncle's life, I swooped on into the read.

Although this book was very fun and it was enjoyable to find out what happens to Miss Buncle after she gets married I thought this title lacked the charm that is the first story. That is not to say that it is bad at all or that I didn't enjoy it - because I did! I just liked the first title better.

The character of Mrs. Abbott (nee Buncle) is further developed in this sequel. Unlike the first book, Mrs. Abbott isn't in the process of writing books, but in establishing a household. We see her setting up house and getting to know people in her new community. She does write a little bit, but nothing for publication. This book is strictly about her development as a human being in relationship to others around her. Side plots abound, thanks to the neighbors and you meet a range of characters. There is hidden romance, children wrecking havoc through untamed mischievousness, ghosts that aunt and neurotic rich folk. My favorite character in this book is not Mrs. Abbott but I do like the way that Stevenson solidifies her as a person with a life all of their own.

Probably the thing I latched onto the most in the character of Mrs. Abbott is the fact that she is able to write down her thoughts and communicate through the written word. However, when it comes to actual, live conversation she goes a bit tongue tied. When she writes, she's a regular word smith; when she speaks she sounds simple. I so very much identify with that! Really and truly, I hate it when people ask me in person what I think about such-and-such a book. I can never string three words together when asked to answer that question audibly. (Are you surprised? My blog posts can wax eloquent at times. You might assume I'm a talk-a-holic. You would be wrong.) When I'm trying to say what I'm thinking outloud, words just fly out of my head. I very frequently use the wrong words and end up meaning something completely different than what I meant. I don't think I think fast enough to communicate deep thoughts when talking aloud. I'd rather write blog posts. (Then, sometimes when I write it out I'm able to say it with greater ease aloud.) Alas, Miss Buncle/Mrs. Abbott suffers the same and so I sympathized with her a great deal and frowned a bit when she struggled to communicate with others face-to-face. It's such a strange phenomenon (and such a frustrating one for me!) and I wonder if D.E. Stevenson suffered from the same "condition" because she describes it so well in this book.

I'm still very much engaged with Stevenson's writing. Her style is slow and easy and, next to Mitford (and Miss Read), I find her books wonderful and cozy reads. I took my time reading this one (i.e., I spent 5 days reading it instead of 2) and while I found it slower than the first book, I enjoyed it just the same in the end.

No retracting my original statements about finding D.E. Stevenson a perfect "holiday" read. Look her up! I'll look forward to another of her works shortly.

Monday, July 14, 2014

The Horse and His Boy, by C.S. Lewis

This is only my third time reading The Horse and His Boy, the last time being in 2008! The reason for this is that I have long held to the belief that this story is my least favorite in the Narnia series. However, I am reading through the series with my kids and this was the next title up. With a groan (truly) I pulled it from the shelves and braced myself to re-read it. And oh how glad I am that I did! This time, the story spoke loudly to me.

I am grinning at myself over my about-face when it comes to this book. As I said, the last time I read this book was in 2008. Life presented one of its hardest challenges to us in 2009 (worst year ever) and although many of the issues have resolved themselves since that time, 2009 will always be impressed upon our memories as being used by God to shake us up and shake us out of some bad situations and some bad attitudes. Enter: The Horse and His Boy.

This title is all about challenges and how God uses things, people, and situations (which might look awful to us) to bring about good. He uses the "bad" in our lives to change us and to make us into the people He wants us to be and that is what all of the characters in this particular Narnian story happen to learn.

The premise, if you are unfamiliar with it, is as follows:

Fourteen years into the Pevansies' reign as kings and queens in Narnia, in the southern land of Calormen, a boy named Shasta lives with an old fisherman whom he believes to be his father. Shasta and his "father" take in a nobleman (a Tarkaan) for a night's stay and in eavesdropping on a conversation between the fisherman and Tarkaan, Shasta discovers that the fisherman is not really his father. Shasta discovers two additional things: 1. the nobleman's horse is a talking Narnian horse; and 2. Shasta himself is of northern descent. The horse, Bree, and Shasta agree to run away together, "To Narnia and the north!" Along the way they meet up with the high-spirited Aravis and her talking horse, Hwin. The four join forces and commit to traveling to Narnia together. To get there, they must cross a huge dessert and high mountains. The foursome also must outrun their enemies and give warning to Archenland and Narnia of an impending attack by the Calormens. It is quite the adventure story, full of difficulties which must be overcome.

The book starts out quite slow though, with Lewis trying to incorporate archaic language. There is (in my ever so humble estimation) an overuse of the words "thee" and "thou" which I could do without. The vocabulary was a bit confusing and I think the first few chapters of the story rather flew over the heads of my kids. I honestly don't know that they got anything out of the first part of the book. All the while, I was regretting the read and wishing that I was entering the wardrobe again instead of crossing the desert. But a book series is a book series and you can't skip parts or you'll miss important things. So we pressed on!

When we'd reached the middle of the book things started to pick up for all of us. Lewis fell into his "usual" Narnia writing style and began using words and language patterns which make sense to our modern ears. That allowed us all to begin engaging with the story a bit more. By the end of the book I found myself in a flood of tears, just as I usually do when I'm in Narnia. I realized that I loved this book just as much as the others. I might even appreciate it more than some of the others in the series for the message which combines struggle and hope for the victory.

Here are some passages which I marked as being particularly meaningful to me:

Shasta and Bree are conversing and Bree fails to show verbal honor to the leader of the Calormen.

"I say," put in Shasta in a rather shocked voice, "oughtn't you to say 'May he live forever'?"
"Why?" asked the Horse. "I'm a free Narnian. And why should I talk slaves' and fools' talk? I don't want him to live forever, and I know he's not going to live forever whether I want him to or not. And I can see you're from the free north too. No more of this southern jargon between you and me!"

This passage from the Bible popped into my head:

Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. But that is not the way you learned Christ!— assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another. Ephesians 4:17-25

When we become Christians, we are to "put off" the old man and his sinful ways and habits. Our actions should change and so should our speech. Why should we talk foolish talk? We are to be made holy, as He is holy. (Lev. 20:26)

Switching to a different subject entirely, there is a different passage which talks about how Hwin and Bree were running to stay ahead of the enemy. Bree was slacking off and being lazy about pushing himself to keep on keeping on. Lewis writes of Bree's condition:

". . . [I]f Bree had had a Tarkaan on his back at that moment to make him go on, he would have found that he was good for several hours hard going. But one of the worst results of being a slave and being forced to do things is that when there is no-one to force you any more you find you have almost lost the power of forcing yourself."

I made mental note to apply this idea of training a person to disciple themselves (as opposed to training them to obey you always) to parenting. You, as a parent, have an obligation to train your child to be a disciplined, hard working sort. However, you can't and shouldn't have to stand by for their entire lives making sure they keep getting out of bed in the morning, keep putting their feet on the floor and keep committing to do right. We, as parents, don't want to raise slaves. I want free-thinkers who are self-disciplined and ready to throw themselves joyfully into whatever God has for them. This passage was a good reminder to me to focus on teaching my kids to self-manage and do right whether I am looking their direction or not.

Lastly (for this post), Aslan appears to the horses. They do not know who he is, but Hwin, the gentle mare, approaches Aslan and says to him:

“Please,' she said, 'You're so beautiful. You may eat me if you like. I'd rather be eaten by you than fed by anyone else.”

Every time I read that my heart swells and I'm not yet sure how to put my thoughts and feelings into words. All I know to say is, "My sentiments exactly." Whether I live or die, I am the Lord's. In rich or in want, I am the Lord's. Everything I have is His and He can eat me if He wants. Every year of my life could be a repeat of 2009 and I would still be the Lord's. He has never left me or forsaken me. He has changed me with lion claw scratches on my back, but He did it for my good. I can run a little faster now, thanks to those scratches. Any scars are alright. They are His motivating gift to me.

To put that another way, I'm most definitely for Aslan, even if there isn't any Aslan.

But there is!

Chronicles of Narnia Reading Challenge

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Live Like a Narnian, by Joe Rigney

This is the book I was going to write someday.

I howled when I saw a copy of Live Like A Narnian at a conference we attended last fall. "No! No! No!" I muttered to myself as I reached over and pick it up. I had to buy it, of course. I had to buy it knowing that my title was gone and likely everything I wanted to say with it. If this sounds dramatic, it is because it was. (I'm snickering at myself, in case you couldn't figure that out.) It was my best idea for a book and the one I was most passionate about.

Writing this book has been on my "someday" list because I know that I'm not anywhere near ready to write anything down for publication just yet. It is still too early. I don't have enough to say. Piles of books are published every year which could stand to be fleshed out a bit more or to simply be hidden away for all eternity.  Yes, we might all have a story to tell but that doesn't mean we all need to be published. Verbal storytelling should be strongly considered as a fantastic lost art. This to say, maybe someday I will write a book but not now. (Of course, I can't now anyway because my title is gone.)

That explained, I begrudgingly opened up the covers of Live Like A Narnian and - not to be at all rude (even though I know it'll sound rude anyway) - author Joe Rigney, (who is very much alive and well and who I have absolutely NO wish to offend whatsoever), validated my concerns that a book with this title ought not to be written yet. I could stand it if someone could write a book with these thoughts and this title if they were ready to blow their readers' socks off. Rigney wasn't ready. (Of course, I realize that I'm a bit biased in my review here and that someone else out there might truly LOVE this book but it's not the best I've ever read and I think there is so much more for this title than was provided.)

Things to love about this book:

1. Joe Rigney has a passionate love for Narnia;
2. He finds Narnia to be inspiring for life;
3. He has read Narnia over and over again;
4. He has read many books about Narnia;
5. He has some bits of wisdom to pass along.

Things not to like so much:

1. The book is full of quotes from Narnia;
2. The book is full of quotes from other authors;
3. There is very little original thought contained within the covers. At least, not enough to blow my mind or even breeze my socks partly off my feet.

I still think the best book to divvy out practical application for the Christian walk through Narnia is Doug Wilson's What I Learned in Narnia. (Linked to my review.)

Coincidentally, I think Rigney agrees with me because he also quoted Wilson more than once. Also Peter Leithart. I know we're reading the same people. I know we're gleaning the same thoughts. I know we have the same passions. I think he leapt too quickly in publishing this book. And keep in mind the fact that I would have been great with it being published without my name anywhere on it if the book was as mind blowing as I think it could be. But, really, if you have to pick a title to read that is about Narnia which highlights Christian principles from the story then go with Wilson's work. It's insightful, practical, deep, inspiring and unique.

I feel very snobby and condescending when it comes to this book. I truly do not mean to be (even though it sounds like it). Of course I grumbled when I saw it, but I hoped to settle in and read something that would stretch my thoughts further. Alas, I didn't find it. Although I'm tempted to envy him this book, with this title and with his name on it, I'll try not to. (I'm so magnanimous, I know!) It really could have been great, but I just don't think it's full of many independent and unique thoughts. What he says here can all be found elsewhere and that makes me feel like it's not the best to recommend. I honestly think What I Learned in Narnia is better.

Truly, until someone comes up with something better than What I Learned in Narnia, I think they ought not to publish at all.

I know nothing about Joe Rigney. I like the title of his book. I genuinely appreciate his passion for these stories by Lewis. I love that he wants to spread the love with other people. I just think he should have waited to publish for awhile longer, until his very own thoughts were more developed. He might have still beat me to the quick and that would be very much ok. I'll live like a Narnian beside him, breathing Narnian air, and will continue to be inspired but these fantastic, mysterious "children's books" created by Lewis. Through a thousand re-reads of those Narnia books, I will always walk away having learned something new. It's nice to know that the same is true for others.

Chronicles of Narnia Reading Challenge

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

101 Dalmations :: Reading to Know Classics Book Club - July

This month the classics book club is reading 101 Dalmatians, by Dodie Smith. It's a fun one to grab and read with your kids this summer (alongside Narnia, of course)!

Reading to Know - Book Club

Amy from Hope is the Word selected this read for us and here are her opening remarks:


I made a Classics Club booklist several years ago for a now-defunct online challenge. On the list I put classics that I always meant to read but had never made the time to read, as well as ones I hadn’t really thought much about before I discovered the world of book blogs almost a decade ago now. I tried to split my titles up between lengthier adult titles and easier juvenile titles. I added both of Dodie Smith’s well-known novels, 101 Dalmatians and I Capture the Castle, to my list. I really wanted to read I Capture the Castle, but it seemed a shame to read it and not read 101 Dalmatians (especially since I already owned a copy!), so I added it, too, planning to read it aloud to my children. I do hope you’ll join us this month in our trek through this delightfully doggy story!


I, Carrie, read this book back in 2009. At that time, I indicated that I would plan on reading this aloud to my kids one day and have looked forward to doing so. Amy is offering me the opportunity to do just that this month!

I'm glad for a chance to re-read it for several reasons:

1. I've forgotten the specifics of it;
2. We're planning a family trip to England next year and I'm working on preparing the kids through English children's literature (How else?); and
3. I think it's fun reading the books that Disney moves are based on. (I've created a list of books that match up with Disney movies if you want to take a peek.)

Reading 101 Dalmatians with my kids is going to be fun! I hope you'll join in with us. Let us know if you plan on participating by leaving a comment below.
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