Book Chat

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Although we’ve lost touch in recent years, for decades I had a pen pal who lived in Prato, Italy, just outside of Florence. We became pen pals in high school, and met in 1983 when I traveled to Europe with the Sound of America Band and Chorus. Later, she and her friend Olga traveled to stay with us for 3 weeks. And in 1993, I was able to travel to Italy to stay with her family. It was educational, had a few – um – well, more than a few culturally eye-opening moments, but overall was wonderful.

One sight I remember well was the Dome of Santa Maria del Fiore (Saint Mary of the Flowers) cathedral in Florence, or Firenze as they say there.

So, when I saw Brunelleschi’s Dome: How a Renaissance Genius Reinvented Architecture about its construction at a please-help-yourself book table recently, I couldn’t pass it up.

It was wonderful!

It tells the story of Filippo Brunelleschi, who designed and supervised the building of the church’s dome. It’s the world’s largest and highest self-supporting dome, revolutionary for its 15th century time because no flying buttresses were used (they were viewed as being French and ugly), nor was any type of centering scaffolding built for construction.

The book has “boring potential,” as the author delves into herringbone-pattern laying of bricks and various pieces of equipment designed for the construction, but it’s not. The author relates various details about Renaissance-era life (the plagues, the way disputes were often settled by the exchange of offending sonnets) that kept me hooked.

I also enjoyed the vicarious return-visit to many Italian sites I’d visited:  Siena, San Gimignano, Pitti Palace, and on and on.


Let the Hurricane RoarI’m a Laura Ingalls Wilder fan, and over the years I’ve read several books about Laura and her daughter Rose, in addition to reading the Little House books several times. There are many interesting aspects to Laura – among them the reportedly difficult relationship she had with Rose, her only surviving child, and the speculation that Rose had a lot to do with the writing of the Little House books (some say she did more work on them than Laura did).

So, I’ve wanted to read Rose’s Let the Hurricane Roar for a while. Reportedly, it is Rose’s version of many of the events Laura wrote about in her own books.

I read Hurricane aloud to my girls at lunchtime. It was interesting. It told the story of Caroline and Charles and their baby son. The story incorporates many of the plagues of the Little House books – the grasshoppers that eat all the crops, the days-long blizzards and twisting hay to burn as fuel, the herd of cattle with their breath frozen over their noses, etc. The whole book just has an oh-no-what’s-going-to-befall-them-next feel. So, it’s not really as child-friendly, and you don’t get the happy, hopeful vibe that the Little House books seem to have. I wondered whether a lot of these things did happen to Caroline and Charles (Laura’s parents) before the girls were born, or whether it was just a compilation of family stories Rose had heard Laura tell.


The Prophet of YonwoodMy oldest daughter recently read the City of Ember series and really enjoyed it, so she recommended I read it too. I began, at her suggestion, with book #3, The Prophet of Yonwood, since it is the “prequel” to the other books.

And … I was annoyed. It’s basically the story of a girl who goes to a strange town to help her aunt sell her recently-deceased grandfather’s old house. Along the way, she realizes just how strange this town is. There’s one woman the villagers have deemed a prophet based on some odd pronouncements she’s made, and then another village woman has become her spokesperson. This second woman, while seemingly all uptight and righteous, is quickly ID’ed as the “bad guy” in the book:  she warns of coming apocalypse if the town doesn’t rid itself of “sinners,” and makes a list of various things people can and cannot do and have.

What’s annoying? Well, it quickly became clear to me that this book was a thinly-veiled screed against poor old long-suffering George Bush and the wascally wepublicans. The prophet’s spokesperson warns of “terrorists.” The president is referred to again and again, threatening imminent war against others. People are spied on to see that they’re not doing unapproved things  – a clear reference to increased post-9/11 security.

Curiously enough, though, there are no references to the the “terrorists” flying planes into the town’s buildings or killing thousands of them. Curious, that.

My daughter didn’t take any of these meanings from the book at all, and really, I think that’s why it annoys me. I feel that the author is using these books as a subtle (well, subtle to kids – I found it pretty blatant) political screed aimed at the young adult audience these books target. It’s just one more reminder to me that we as parents need to monitor our kids’ reading, and discuss important issues with them.


City of EmberSo, on to book #1 of the series, The City of Ember.

I’d recommend this series to young readers (maybe grade 4 up through teens) – other than the #3 one I just reviewed, which was too politically heavy-handed for me. The premise of the series is that people have built an underground city (Ember) where people are sent in the event of a calamity on earth. It’s now 250 years later, and the inhabitants of Ember have finally discovered that there’s a way out and a real world out there. What will happen? I’ll leave that to you to discover …


Beyond OpinionBeyond Opinion: Living the Faith We Defend is an excellent reference resource on Christian apologetics, with chapters on how to deal with God and suffering, how to relate Christianity to Muslims, etc.

I like it better as a reference book than as a general book to read, however, because to read it straight through is pretty taxing – almost 400 pages of fine print apologetics is a lot to ask of a reader.

Although Zacharias is listed as author, he has written only one or two chapters; the rest are written by other authors.

The content is strong; it will help you think through the Christian faith more philosophically and think about why you believe as you do.

Recommended as a reference for all Christians, and as general reading for those of a philosophical bent.

**I was provided a review copy of this book by Book Sneeze.


9 thoughts on “Book Chat

  1. You and I have different reading tastes, that’s for sure. I’m not so sure I would enjoy reading any of these. Glad you did–at least some of them.

  2. Good morning,

    I was a big fan of the Little House series (the books moreso than the TV show), so Let the Hurricane Roar sounds like something I would be interested in…thanks for callling it to my attention!
    Enjoy your week reading:)

  3. LOVED reading your take on the City of Ember books! My daughter read these in 4th or 5th grade, but she didn’t like the Prophet of Yonwood at all, so she skipped it, when she realized it was a prequel, so she didn’t “have” to read it.

    And I do love vicarious visits to faraway places as well.

  4. I would love to read Rose’s book. I have read the Little House books many times and have all the DVDs of the series. Thanks for sharing your pile!


  5. Most of these look great (except maybe the City of Embers series–I just don’t really go for the apocalyptic-type literature). I’m especially interested in Brunelleschi’s Dome–I added it to my TBR list.

  6. In reference to Rose’s view of events in the Little House books, I’m doing my family’s story and find that my sister(3 years older)remembers quite a few events differently than I do.
    The Ember book sounds like a good read although I wouldn’t have liked the #3 book either.
    Mama Bear

  7. I’ve just started reading “The Last Ember” which is partially set in Italy. I wish I had your background of traveling there so I could envision it better. I’m a big Ravi Z fan; glad to see that you recommend this book with his chapters in it. I’ve not read it, but I would like to.

  8. Oh I want to check out Rose’s book. I read the Little House series as a child and I just loved it. I am just fascinated by the idea of a book by Laura’s daughter.

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