Category: Books

Book Review – Ben Hur

The only thing I knew about Ben Hur before reading the novel was that Chalreton Heston starred in the movie and there was a chariot race. I thought the race was the climax of the story…hardly! I have never seen the movie, so I was interested in reading the book.

Ben-Hur was originally published in 1880, so it has an older style of writing, not as loquacious as Charles Dickens, but the descriptions are definitely detailed, very pre-tv!

Les Wallace was a major-general during the Civil War, and actually wrote 70 different books, with Ben-Hur being the most famous. It was a very unusual way to tell the story of Jesus, and Wallace took up the challenge even though he was somewhat apathetic about religion in general. Through his research for the book, he made his own decision about faith. Ben-Hur was originally adapted for the stage in 1889….consider that undertaking as you read this novel!

The story is divided into eight sections, called books,  allowing for years to pass between the them. The characters’ lives crisis cross each other throughout, and the drama is quite compelling. I found myself turning pages and reading very fast in some places, to find out what happened before I had to do another round of canning, not content to let the story go while I dealt with vegetables that wouldn’t wait. At the same time, I would not call this a fast read. As is typical of this era, there is much on a page to digest, and a precursory read will get you lost! It is the type of book that will give you more on the second or third read.

I would guess that Ben-Hur would not appeal to some, but I would encourage you to give it a go, if you persevere, I think you will find it a long and satisfying read, Christian or not.



Book Review – The Century Triology

I am currently waiting for the third installment of the Century Trilogy by Ken Follett. This is an epic series, following several families throughout World War I in Fall of the Giants,  and through World War II in Winter of the World.  There’s an American, Russian, German, and two families from Wales; one aristocratic and the other coal miners. The families cross paths multiple times and that continues across the generations, with world events creating the back drop. Definitely historical fiction on steroids! I have been listening to these while finishing up several major projects, and in that context they have been quite engaging. I rather feel as if I am listening to a TV drama…it seems that this may have been written with that in mind.

I won’t put these in my favorites category because I think Mr. Follett was a bit liberal with his sprinkling of the F word. My dad was a WW II vet, and he has never uttered those words! I can not imagine that it would have been used, especially in 1914. I could be quite wrong and sheltered, but I have a feeling Mr. Follett wasn’t quite accurate in his choice of Edwardian swear words! More likely, he was preparing for an HBO mini series, considering the success of Pillars of the Earth.

I am going to finish the trilogy, the characters have taken some interesting turns and I want to see what happens. I have both the book and the audio on hold, we’ll see what come available first, and if it changes my view at all. 

While waiting, I’ve read a fluff Christian romance by Sarah Sundin about a flight nurse in WW 2. It was a sweet book, and a fun summer read if you go for that sort of story. 😊

Book Review-The Age of Ceasar

 I promised myself I would do a few serious books this year, and have gotten several completed. My definition of serious? Classics, biographies and non fiction. While several fiction reads have been toward that direction, I’m not counting them. The one I just completed was inspired by Girl #2 being home. I admit I had it checked out for six weeks before I finished, but I didn’t start it until the latter part of June, so it was about a month of fairly steady reading.

Plutarch was an ancient writer, and he did the biographies of a variety of Romans. His original works were paired, allowing the reader to compare two lives, one lived well, and the other not so much. In this version, the translater, Pamela Mensch, selected five Caesars, so you are basically reading five biographies by Plutarch, with Ms. Mensch’ annotations. Mary Beard, (very famous and amazing classicist, according to a girl #2, wrote the intro which helps someone like me understand what’s going on!) There are five biographies: Pompey, Cicero, Brutus, Ceasar and Antony.

My conclusions? Most of these guys were more honorable then your average U.S. Senator, regardless of party. I had never heard of Pompey, but he was quite a tactician and pretty humble. I hadn’t realized that Cicero was so high in the political structure (he was consul!); he was a great orator of course, but he could turn the entire country with his words, and loved Liberty above all else. Several times it talked about him ruling Rome without holding office because he was so influential. Brutus wasn’t the bad guy most think he was, Ceasar was understandable, and Antony couldn’t keep his toga on….I found Plutarch surprisingly engaging, even funny. He was pretty relaxed in his narration, and the sections were small, so it was easy to find a stopping place. I found myself wishing for an ancient map to track everyone’s moves, because most of these five intersected with each other throughout their lives.

So, if you want to learn something new this summer, you may want to check this out! I was surprised in a good way, finding this much more interesting and engaging than I had anticipated. And, as with any classic, you learn that man really hasn’t changed that much over the centuries, we can be brilliant and quite stupid, depending on the day!

Book Review–The First Princess of Wales

Karen Harper’s historical novel is about Joan of Kent, who lived in the 1300’s and eventually married the Black Prince, Edward of Wales, and was the mother of Richard II. To say she had a checkered past, is to put it mildly, but considering the prince waited to marry until he was nearly 30, in an age where one could easily be dead by 30,  you can’t help but wonder if this was indeed a love that spanned time! 

This story did get me looking up all sorts of stuff, more info on Edward, Joan, surcotes, and kirtles, even the plague! It covered battles, described knights and their chargers, medieval warfare, lots of interesting fodder for a history buff like me. I didn’t care if it was close fiction or grandiose fiction, I was intrigued by the court politics, power of the King and everything else from a time period with which I am ill acquainted.

For a medieval novice, I found it interesting, and it piqued my interest enough to have me looking up the real history, so I call it a win!

Book Review-Circling the Sun

Another semi-biographical fiction read by Paula McLain, this one explores the very unusual life of Beryl Markham, the first woman to cross the Atlantic solo, flying from England to Nova Scotia. 

I was reading this during a very busy time, and it took me longer than usual to get through it. It isn’t a thrilling page turner, but chronicles real life, which has its moments of drama, but  is often just the daily routine. Some people would find that boring, but I am intrigued to learn about how others lived, even during the ordinary times. Maybe because I grew up in a dairy farm, where the goal is to keep every day the same…calm cows are happy cows, you see.

What kept me reading? I had never read about colonial Africa, and most of the book is set in colonial Kenya in the 10’s through 30’s. Having little knowledge about this part of the world or this portion of it’s history, my brain just filled up with the descriptions of the life and the countryside. It sounds like scandal followed this woman everywhere, though the author kept the details to a low roar. Considering the era, this lady had some trouble with propriety, or maybe her childhood rendered her immune, it’s hard to say, but sometimes I caught myself wondering what could she be thinking?!!??

This book is probably not for anyone looking for a light, fun read. It chronicles real life, and this life was quite human. However, if you are interested in learning about a different time, a very different world, or a lady that breaks the mold society expected, it is an intriguing read.

Book Review-Love Finds You in Lahaina Hawaii

Bodie Thoene has written some of my favorite book series, so I decided to check this one out of the library, even though the title sounded odd for her. What most would assume is a typical romance novel is far from it. It is actually two stories in one, and they are woven together to create an interesting read. One is set in 1973 and the other in 1898. I was not disappointed with a fluffy romance novel, but an intriguing and mysterious story.

I’ll just quote Bodie’s forward: “…in 1976. Brock and I met an old Hawaiian woman with a binder of early photographs beneath the enormous banyan tree across from the Pioneer Inn. It was among those sepia photographs that I first saw the haunting face of the beautiful young princess. When I asked the old woman about Princess Kaiulani, she smiled and said, ‘There is a difference between LEgend and the Truth. All is not as it seems in the history books. The true story of the Kingdom of Hawaii is a secret that has not yet been written.’ This is, in part, the story we heard that day.”

Of course it is fiction, some of the time sequences don’t match with the historical record, but is it ALL fiction?  While it wasn’t a typical can’t-put-it-down Thoene read, it was a good summer read, and one that kept me pondering for several days after I finished!

Book Review–John Quincy Adams

John Quincy Adams  by Harlow Giles Unger, was one of my self imposed serious reads for this summer. I knew some of his story, but the biography really captured his essence.

This was a fascinating boy/man. He witnessed the Battle for Bunker Hill from the hill above the family farm, regularly had afternoon tea with Thomas Jefferson in France, went to Russia as the diplomat’s secretary/interpreter at 14, and that’s just the first few chapters! His ethical fiber was so impressive, as was his scholarly diligence. Truly, if he ran for president today, I would have to say our country doesn’t a man of his caliber!

I picked this biography up on a whim, because I wanted a book to hold in my hands, instead of my iPad…WOW! John  Quincy saw so much world history live and in person, it is mind boggling! Were I in the classroom, I would require every high school student in America to read it. I’ll be reading this one again. Just think, this one person was President, held multiple Ambassadorships, served in the Senate, the House, turned down a nomination for the Supreme Court..