Review of Jepp, Who Defied the Stars, by Katherine Marsh

Jepp, Who Defied the Stars

by Katherine Marsh

Hyperion, New York, 2012. 385 pages.

Jepp, Who Defied the Stars is the fictional story of a court dwarf who served at the castle of astronomer Tycho Brahe. Now if, like me, you didn’t know that Tycho Brahe had a castle, let alone a dwarf jester, you’ll find the details of the time period fascinating.

Jepp’s story is one of someone marginalized who attempts to rise above his fate. Unfortunately, for me, that part was good, but didn’t really hit me deeply. I didn’t quite buy Jepp’s motivation along the way. This may be because I strongly dislike books written in the present tense. This book disguises it by presenting the first part as Jepp describing what happened in the past to have him wind up in a cart traveling to Denmark. It’s probably no coincidence that I found the first part, with Jepp in the court of the Infanta, much more compelling than the later part in Tycho Brahe’s castle. That’s probably because everything in Tycho Brahe’s castle is told in present tense, and I couldn’t quite overlook how that annoys me in a book (she said, while using it in a review).

But that may simply be my unreasonable bias. As I said, though, the historical details are fascinating. And the lives of court dwarves give the reader something to ponder over. The overarching question — do the stars determine our fates? might seem old-fashioned, but I like what the author does with it. Truly we can be more than the person we are born to be.

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Source: This review is based on a library book from the Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

Please use the comments if you’ve read the book and want to discuss spoilers!

Review of 23 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism, by Ha-Joon Chang

23 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism

by Ha-Joon Chang

Bloomsbury Press, New York, 2010. 286 pages.

I have to recommend this book, because it was a huge eye-opener. I’m not sure I absorbed everything, mind you, but I was impressed.

Ha-Joon Chang is a professor of Economics at the University of Cambridge. In all of the short chapters, teaching some truths about economics, he uses examples from international economics and international politics. Here is someone who knows what he’s talking about! He uses statistics and clear counter-examples to show why some things commonly believed about capitalism are simply not true.

I’ll quote some excerpts from the Introduction to give you an idea what’s going on in this book. I do recommend this book highly for anyone who does any thinking about public policy.

This book is not an anti-capitalist manifesto. Being critical of free-market ideology is not the same as being against capitalism. Despite its problems and limitations, I believe that capitalism is still the best economic system that humanity has invented. My criticism is of a particular version of capitalism that has dominated the world in the last three decades, that is, free-market capitalism. This is not the only way to run capitalism, and certainly not the best, as the record of the last three decades shows. The book shows that there are ways in which capitalism should, and can, be made better. . . .

Once you know that there is really no such thing as a free market, you won’t be deceived by people who denounce a regulation on the grounds that it makes the market ‘unfree’ (see Thing 1). When you learn that large and active governments can promote, rather than dampen, economic dynamism, you will see that the widespread distrust of government is unwarranted (see Things 12 and 21). Knowing that we do not live in a post-industrial knowledge economy will make you question the wisdom of neglecting, or even implicitly welcoming, industrial decline of a country, as some governments have done (see Things 9 and 17). Once you realize that trickle-down economics does not work, you will see the excessive tax cuts for the rich for what they are — a simple upward redistribution of income, rather than a way to make all of us richer, as we were told (see Things 13 and 20). . . .

Human decisions, especially decisions by those who have the power to set the rules, make things happen in the way they happen, as I will explain. Even though no single decision-maker can be sure that her actions will always lead to the desired results, the decisions that have been made are not in some sense inevitable. We do not live in the best of all possible worlds. If different decisions had been taken, the world would have been a different place. Given this, we need to ask whether the decisions that the rich and the powerful take are based on sound reasoning and robust evidence. Only when we do can we demand right actions from corporations, governments and international organizations. Without our active economic citizenship, we will always be the victims of people who have greater ability to make decisions, who tell us that things happen because they have to and therefore that there is nothing we can do to alter them, however unpleasant and unjust they may appear.

This book is intended to equip the reader with an understanding of how capitalism really works and how it can be made to work better. . . .

Most of the issues I discuss in the book do not have simple answers. Indeed, in many cases, my main point is that there is no simple answer, unlike what free-market economists want you to believe. However, unless we confront these issues, we will not perceive how the world really works. And unless we understand that, we won’t be able to defend our own interests, not to speak of doing greater good as active economic citizens.

If you’d like to educate yourself to be a good economic citizen, this book is a great place to start. If you’d simply like to have some food for thought and some solid evidence behind your opinions, this book is also a great place to start. I’m not at all sure I grasped all the arguments or would be able to articulate them myself. But I at least was convinced myself! And my eyes were opened to worldwide economic situations I had known nothing about.

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from the Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

Review of Scarlet, by Marissa Meyer

Scarlet

The Lunar Chronicles, Book Two

by Marissa Meyer

Feiwel and Friends, New York, 2013

I have already expressed how delighted I was with Marissa Meyer’s book Cinder, a science fiction retelling of Cinderella, or perhaps I should say a science fiction story with themes taken from Cinderella. So I eagerly awaited the second book, Scarlet, which plays off themes from Red Riding Hood.

Yes, you definitely need to read these books in order. The author makes no effort to make Scarlet a stand-alone story. (So if you haven’t read Cinder yet, stop reading this review. Yes, it’s a good series and is worth starting at the beginning!) I was afraid she was going to zoom to another character and leave Cinder hanging, so I was very glad that didn’t happen.

We last saw Cinder in prison and told she should escape and given something that might help her do so. This book continues a few hours later, as Cinder attempts to make her escape. I was glad that wasn’t left to happen offstage.

Though the main story in this book is Scarlet’s. It’s a Red Riding Hood theme, but follows the fairy tale even more loosely than Cinder followed Cinderella. Scarlet is a redhead who wears a red hoodie. Her grandma has been missing for weeks, and the police have stopped looking. She wants nothing more than to find her grandma.

In Cinder, we heard about an old lady who long ago helped the missing Lunar princess, so we rather expect that has something to do with Scarlet’s grandma. We also saw in Cinder the Lunar queen’s army of mutant wolf-like creatures. This is playing off Red Riding Hood, after all, so there’s no surprise when wolf-like creatures have a lot to do with the story.

That was actually the part I didn’t really like. I can accept that Lunars have mind-control powers. I can accept that humans have the ability to create cyborgs but that they’re second-class citizens. I can accept that Lunars don’t allow cyborgs because they are more difficult to control. But the ability to create wolf-like mutants for an army? That just seemed a little out there.

This book, in keeping with the Red Riding Hood theme had a lot about the wolf-like mutants, which strained believability a bit for me. (Why would they behave so much like wolves, if they’re human?) And there was plenty of distasteful violence. There was a bit of romance, but, honestly, it leaned toward the creepy side.

So, what did I like? Why will I avidly look forward to the next book?

I liked the character of Scarlet. She’s resourceful. She’ll do anything for her grandmother. She cares about fairness, and she grows good food on their farm.

I liked all the parts about Cinder. I was glad she wasn’t left hanging, and I enjoyed the banter with the other convict she picked up in her escape attempt. Her struggle to get free and decide what to do next was compelling and felt believable.

I loved what happened with Iko! And I’m glad she’s back.

Most of all, this book is a great set-up. Mind you, I thought The Lunar Chronicles were destined to be a trilogy, but now see that there are two more books to come, and I’m bummed it won’t all resolve in the next book. But it looks like Cinder is going to be forced into a showdown with the Lunar queen, and that’s something I want to read about very much.

marissameyer.com
thelunarchronicles.com
macteenbooks.com

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on my own personal copy, purchased from Amazon.com.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

Please use the comments if you’ve read the book and want to discuss spoilers!

Review of The Dark Is Rising, by Susan Cooper

The Dark Is Rising

by Susan Cooper

Simon Pulse, New York. First published in 1973. 244 pages.
1974 Newbery Honor Book
2012 Margaret A. Edwards Award
Starred Review

I decided to reread Susan Cooper’s books when I heard she’d won the 2012 Margaret A. Edwards Award. I missed her books when I was a kid; I’m not sure why. They would have fit nicely with the other fantasy books that were my favorites: C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien, Edward Eager, Zilpha Keatley Snyder. But I have read them once, as an adult. Also in the meantime, The Dark Is Rising was named one of the Top 100 Children’s Novels in School Library Journal‘s poll.

I have to admit, The Dark Is Rising isn’t my favorite kind of fantasy, at least not as an adult. I like the main character to have some clear goals and some plans for attaining them. In The Dark Is Rising, Will Stanton does have to find the Six Signs, but to do that, he has to follow his gut. He has to trust to luck and his newly discovered magic and do his best.

However, The Dark Is Rising is a wonderfully atmospheric book. The Dark Rider isn’t as sinister as Tolkien’s dark riders, but he’s close. (And, come on, this is a children’s book!) In her Margaret Edwards speech, Susan Cooper described how she was living in America, far from her home. She answered that longing for her home by putting it in The Dark Is Rising. You can feel it. The places described feel real.

And Will moves by feel. You see that throughout the book. So though I personally don’t prefer a book where the character just senses what should come next, Susan Cooper was able to pull it off by giving us the feelings along with Will. In fact, as I thought about rereading this book, I admit I remembered most vividly how frightening the beginning of the book is, where the cold tries to get in, and the snow breaks Will’s attic room skylight. Here’s the scene after he cleans that up:

There was nothing to see, now, except a dark damp patch on the carpet where the heap of snow had been. But he felt colder than the cold air had made him, and the sick, empty feeling of fear still lay in his chest. If there had been nothing wrong beyond being frightened of the dark, he would not for the world have gone down to take refuge in Paul’s room. But as things were, he knew he could not stay alone in the room where he belonged. For when they were clearing up that heap of fallen snow, he had seen something that Paul had not. It was impossible, in a howling snowstorm, for anything living to have made that soft unmistakable thud against the glass that he had heard just before the skylight fell. But buried in the heap of snow, he had found the fresh black wing feather of a rook.

He heard the farmer’s voice again: This night will be bad. And tomorrow will be beyond imagining.

She’s definitely got the atmosphere going. She also works in so many things that seem mythic. Elements of wood, bronze, iron, water, fire, and stone. Herne the Hunter. Even the time of Midwinter through Twelfth Night. And she moves her characters back and forth through time smoothly, which is an accomplishment in itself.

In some ways, it’s appropriate for Will to follow his nose in this book. On his eleventh birthday, he discovers as the seventh son of the seventh son, he’s one of the Old Ones. He has a task, but has to learn quickly. Part of that learning is to learn to feel his own magic. I don’t remember the remaining books well enough to remember if this progresses to where he is more of the instigator. I am looking forward to noticing that this time around.

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on my own personal copy.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

Please use the comments if you’ve read the book and want to discuss spoilers!

Sonderling Sunday – Die unendliche Geschichte

It’s time for Sonderling Sunday! — That time of the week when I play with language by looking at the German translation of children’s books. Today, I’m going to flip it around and look at the English translation of a German children’s book, Michael Ende’s Die unendliche Geschichte, known and loved in English as The Neverending Story

First, the stats: The original German version is 428 pages long, but it’s a much nicer, more lavishly illustrated version than my English paperback, which is 377 pages long. Still, the English version did at least give a full page to each starting chapter illustration, even though they’re in black and white instead of two-color as in my lovely German edition. And they did preserve the A-to-Z nature of the illustrations.

But right on the title page, we find a difference! The German edition has a subtitle!

Die unendliche Geschichte

Von A bis Z mit Buchstaben und Bildern versehen von Roswitha Quadflieg

This translates to: “from A to Z with letters and pictures provided by Roswitha Quadflieg.”

You see, the full-page illustration at the front of each chapter has a letter in the illustration, progressing from A to Z. The English edition merely says “Illustrated by Roswitha Quadflieg.”

The beginning of the book is about Bastien Balthazar Bux, and does not have the Illuminated Letters or any heading except the backwards words on the door of the bookshop.

In the English version, this is:
“rednaeroC darnoC lraC
skooB dlO”
— except mirrored as well as backwards. (Carl Conrad Coreander: Old Books)

In the German version, it is:
TAIRAUQITNA
rednaeroK darnoK lraK :rebahnI (ANTIQUARIAT: Inhaber: Karl Konrad Koreander)

While talking about the rain rolling over the letters on the door, we learn
“ornate letters” = geschn√∂rkelten Buchstaben
In the context, it made me think of snorkeling letters! And when I look in Google translate, they call it “scrolled.” Perhaps that’s where a snorkel gets its name — from that curve on the end.

**Okay, my Sonderling Sunday was interrupted by finding out that my offer was accepted on a new home!**
And you know what? Now I’m too hyper to focus at all! I’m so excited!

Mind you, this place went on the market yesterday, and I loved it by the pictures. But was it really so good? I looked at it today, and it was even better than the pictures. My favorite part? A whole wall filled with windows and a lake view. I didn’t even know that it was possible to find a place near my church with a lake view!

But four people had already seen it, and there was already an offer. So my realtor recommended offering full price. I did, and they accepted my offer! What a whirlwind of a day!

So next time, I will continue beyond the snorkel-shaped letters! But I think that’s all for now! Good night!

Review of Praying for Strangers, by River Jordan

Praying for Strangers

An Adventure of the Human Spirit

by River Jordan

Berkley Books, New York, 2011. 322 pages.

River Jordan was facing a rough year. Both of her sons were active duty military. One was being deployed to Afghanistan and the other to Iraq. A crazy resolution came into her head, and it ended up being the only resolution she ever carried out, all year long. She began praying for a stranger every day.

This book is the story of that resolution and the way it transformed her year and her life.

The chapters are short. This makes a lovely inspirational book to read a chapter a day during your quiet time. Some of the chapters tell about strangers she met and felt compelled to pray for. Some told their stories to her and why they desperately needed prayer when she offered it. Some she never told she was praying. But what a thought, what a challenge: To pray for a stranger every day.

She reflects on what she learned in the amazing year, and why she’s going to keep going:

But what I am learning when I pray for strangers is that I fully expect those prayers to be answered for the simple reason that this act is carried out from one soul to another without any personal agenda attached. The faith attached to those prayers is tangible, sometimes more than others. When I pray for those closest to me, all those prayers are a part of my selfish heart. Yes, I pray out of love for them but also for my need for that love to continue. For them to be well, happy, successful. For them to thrive in their lives that I might find happiness.

I’m beginning to see that the part of me that reaches out to the homeless and the well-to-do, the young and the aged, the broken and lost, is the one that matters most. My heart has opened up so much further than I ever dreamed possible. These strangers, this adventure, are making me a better person in spite of myself. Once an internal recluse, I’m more open to not only meeting people, but opening myself up to truly caring what happens in their lives. . . .

That’s the way it is now: These people and their stories are no longer shadowy extras, character walk-ons cruising the periphery of my life. Their stories have become integrated into the fabric of my own. Perhaps the poets and prophets were right all along. We don’t come into this world separate, or belonging to a select few, but we’re a part of the human race. All of us amazingly the same in spite of our differences. This is the real thing. We belong to each other. We always have. And in the process of my understanding this, of walking out this resolution, I’ve lost my regret and instead have counted it lost if I don’t touch a life, offer a smile, a prayer, a pause along the way. So every day I continue to do this one tiny thing. This one tiny, incredible thing.

I recommend taking a walk with River Jordan on her surprising journey. You will be inspired and you will be challenged. And your eyes will be opened.

riverjordan.us

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from the Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

Review of Always True, by James MacDonald

Always True

God’s 5 Promises When Life Is Hard

by James MacDonald

Moody Publishers, Chicago, 2011. 151 pages.

This is one of those bread-and-butter good spiritual reminders books. James MacDonald goes over five promises from God that you can always count on.

This makes good reading to slowly go through in your devotional times, and that’s how I was approaching it. The first four promises were nice steadying, comforting, encouraging reading.

Promise #1: God Is Always With Me.
I Will Not Fear.

Promise #2: God Is Always in Control.
I Will Not Doubt.

Promise #3: God Is Always Good.
I Will Not Despair.

Promise #4: God Is Always Watching.
I Will Not Falter.

Those were great, they were uplifting, and it encouraged me to read about them. But the fifth promise blew me away.

Here’s the deal. Back in 2006, when I first learned that my husband had filed for divorce, and I was completely devastated, God gave me this verse:

“If anyone does attack you, it will not be my doing;
whoever attacks you will surrender to you. . . .
No weapon forged against you will prevail,
and you will refute every tongue that accuses you.
This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord,
and this is their vindication from me,” declares the Lord.

— Isaiah 54:15, 17 (NIV)

Now, over the years that followed, whenever my husband would mention the word lawyer or threaten me with legal action, this verse would come up, somehow or other. It happened over and over and over again.

Eventually we did get divorced, but last April there was one part of the agreement my ex-husband had not complied with. I didn’t want to do it, but I felt I had to take him to court. My lawyer filed a motion for him to comply and it went to court in April, and things got taken care of, and I was awarded court costs.

The next morning, I opened up this book to read a devotional chapter. Here’s what jumped out at me, in a highlighted box as the chapter heading:

Promise #5: GOD IS ALWAYS VICTORIOUS
(I will not fail)

“No weapon formed against you shall prosper, and every tongue which rises against you in judgment you shall condemn. This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord, and their righteousness is from Me,” says the Lord. Isaiah 54:17 (NKJV)

Yes, in that moment, I felt very loved, very protected, very cared for, and very noticed.

James MacDonald sums it up in a heading for this chapter:

Jesus Christ the Lord, who is Himself all the Promises of God, will be forever victorious. I’ve read to the end of the Book, and God wins.

This book is, plain and simple, a book of encouragement; a book to cheer you on as you overcome. Here’s another statement he makes that I love:

If we have to think hard to come up with God’s blessings, we must be walking around with our eyes firmly shut, our ears closed, and our hearts hard.

Read this book if you can use some encouragement and some reminders of God’s faithfulness.

JamesMacDonald.com

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on my own copy, purchased through Crossings Book Club.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.