Jan 17

Carve the Mark coverYesterday I was a really happy camper because I had worked late on Monday and Veronica Roth's new book, Carve the Mark, had already arrived in my mailbox before I woke up.  Thank you mailman!  Of course, I was then up late yesterday finishing the book.

Many people that know me know that I absolutely adore Divergent.  The first time I read the book, it took me a few days to read the first 50 pages or so, but once I got to that point, I read the rest of that book AND the next two books in two days.  Then I read the entire series in Spanish.  I also have the first book in German and Russian.  At one point, I think I was the second best player in the world, of all time, in Divergent trilogy Quiz Up (I was the best player in the world in that game in a couple of different months... I'm currently the 3rd best player in the world of all time).

When I heard a year or two ago that Veronica Roth had been signed to write a sci-fi book about some characters in space, I was a little skeptical.  Is this going to be a Star Trek type book, and is it going to be any good?  I was going to have to read it anyway.

I love this book.  I will definitely be reading the rest of the books in this series when they come out (I believe that this is also supposed to be part of a trilogy).  Although the setting of this book is different, it still has a great plot, characters that you love (and some that you hate), and relationships that you are interested in.  Oh, and there's a plot twist at the end of the book that leave you with theories... and leave you with wanting more.

The book is set in a universe that is quite unlike ours.  As a result, the first chapter introduced a lot of new vocabulary that took a while to get used to (there is a glossary in the back though).  If you feel that way about halfway through the first chapter, don't put the book down!  After the first chapter, the fact that we were in a completely different universe with all different plants and ways of doing things didn't seem so distracting, and I'm sure that as I read through the book a second time, it will all seem normal and I will see more things in the book.

I don't want to give out any spoilers, but I will give out some basics.  In one part of the planet, we have Akos.  He's from a well-off family that cares for each other in a fairly peaceful society.  On the other part of the planet, there's Cyra, part of the royal family in a more warlike society.  Due to circumstances beyond their control, Akos and Cyra are forced to be a part of each other's lives.  They find a way to work together when they find out that they have similar goals, even though on paper, they probably shouldn't trust each other.  While that one-paragraph synopsis might not sound that exciting, the book is.

If you love Divergent, then you're probably going to love Carve the Mark.  Even though the setting is different, people (or human-like people, at least) in Veronica Roth's worlds are people no matter where you go.  Some are inherently ambitious and evil, others have that spark of good, and others are a little more complicated than that.  If you find out that you love both Divergent and Carve the Mark, you might also be interested in Marie Lu's Legend and Young Elites series.  I may review those at a later date, but those are similar books (Legend is a distopian YA novel set in future Los Angeles, the Young Elites is a YA novel set in a different universe).  I may review those at a later date.

Jan 17

I couple of days ago I put out my list of my favorite books that I read for the first time in 2016.  I didn't have a list in front of me of all of the books that I had read for the year, and was just going off the top of my head with the things that stuck out to me (this year I need to keep a record of the books that I read).  There was on glaring omission to this book list: The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom.

I apologize for the omission, but it truly belongs up in one of the top three books that I read this year.  I just read it earlier in the year last year and didn't remember it.  So I'll review it now.

"Thank God for the fleas."

Whenever something bad happens in life, and I still want to try to be thankful, this is now the phrase I use.  It has its origins in The Hiding Place; more on that later.  I posted that on Facebook earlier this year and my mom was wondering why I posted it.  No, we don't have fleas in our house... but it reminds me to try to be thankful in all things.

German concentration camp in World War II.

While obviously not the place where Corrie and her sister stayed, this is an example of how conditions must have been like while she was in the concentration camp.

Corrie Ten Boom grew up in a modest family in the Netherlands before World War II.  The early part of this book describes her childhood, all the family members that lived with her, the love that got away, and how she helped out at her father's watch shop, which was attached to their house.  It was a simple life where she was taught to honor and love God.

When World War II started, the Ten Boom family went through hardships like everybody else, but they were more fortunate than the Jewish people, who started to disappear.  Corrie and her family end up getting involved in an elaborate scheme where they hid Jews until they could be moved to a safer place.  A few of the Jews that she helped couldn't be moved for one reason or another, and they lived with the Ten Boom family.  An architect built a space in their house where the extra guests in their house could be hidden.

This was a dangerous business, because if they were caught, they could be killed.  They had to hold drills where they had to hide all of the evidence of what they were doing as quickly as possible.

One day, they were caught, and the Ten Boom family was rounded up and sent to jail.  Some of her family members were released; eventually, it was just her and her sister, Betsy, who ended up in a concentration camp together.

What the two sisters had to go through was horrendous, but one of the most inspiring things about the book is how they kept their faith through all of this.  The Ten Boom sisters managed to smuggle a Bible into their sleeping quarters at the concentration camp; Corrie was disgusted by the fleas in the room, but her sister Betsy reminded her to be thankful for all things; even the fleas.  The two sisters began to hold Bible studies in the concentration camp; I'm sure that there are several people today who are in Heaven today because of those Bible studies.  Later, Corrie learned that the only reason why the Nazi soldiers wouldn't enter their sleeping quarters, which allowed them to hold their Bible studies, was because of the flea infestation.  They didn't want to go near the place and the fleas.  So today, when I feel like something bad has happened and I want to be thankful, I try to "thank God for the fleas."

I find Corrie's forgiveness after the war to be amazing as well.  Instead of becoming bitter and wanting revenge, she showed forgiveness to her former Nazi captors.  It's easy, in times where everybody else is doing wrong, to go on the wrong track and partake in evil.  Yes, the Jews needed healing after the war, but so were the former Nazis that got involved in evil because they were just trying to survive.  Corrie showed forgiveness to them as well, which completely awed me.

The book was easy to read, and it was required reading for my kids last year, after I found the book on sale on Amazon.com.  It's not a happy book (I cried at times), but it is a beautiful, inspiring book.  If you haven't read it yet, please put it on your list of must-read books for the new year.

Jan 17

Every year, I like make a list at the end of the year of the best books that I read for the first time in the previous year.  They don't have to be new books, they just have to be books that I read for the first time in the previous year.  This year, I didn't read a ton of new books (a couple of the books that I read were really long), but I was able to come up with a list of the top 7 books that I read as we enter the year 2017:

7. Liars

Glenn Beck released Liars this summer. If you are interested in 20th century history, then this is an excellent book to check out. It's an easy book to read, but it has a lot of information in it.

As an example, did you know that the United States government, in an effort to keep people from drinking alcohol during prohibition, actually poisoned alcohol? The purpose was to find out where this alcohol was going.

Liars focuses on the history of progressivism, and is divided into three sections. The first section focuses on the history of progressives in the past, from its very roots, even before Beck's least favorite president ever, Woodrow Wilson. The second section focuses on progressives of today, and the third section focuses on the future. What can we do about it?

If you've listened to all of Glenn Beck's episodes over the summer, then you might know about a lot of the information shared here, but the book is a great reference.

6. History of the Renaissance World

If you are a homeschooler, you might be familiar with Susan Wise Bauer. She wrote the popular four-book Story of the World series for elementary and middle-grade children. You might not also know that she wrote a series of history books for adults as well.

The History of the Renaissance World covers the time period from the days after the First Crusade up until the years shortly before the discovery of the New World. I'm not exactly sure that you could say that this was the "Renaissance", as I generally think that the Renaissance covers a later time period, but if we're not going to quibble with names, there's a lot of interesting information in here.

This is not a kid's book. History can be very dark at times, and this book doesn't sanitize the past in order to accomodate a younger audience. They might also find the length of this book (over 800 pages) to be quite daunting.

The only downside to this book is a feature that affects a lot of world histories: as I was reading it, I would really get into reading about one section of the world, and then the book would shift to another part of the world. There are a lot of good timelines so you could see which events were going on at the same time; still, I was sometimes disappointed when the book would shift areas to another part of the world.

Overall, I found this book to be pretty enjoyable.

5. Pendulum

Pendulum went out of print a while ago, but it's now one of the hottest books around (on Amazon.com, you can only get it in the Kindle edition or from 3rd party sellers). After Glenn Beck had the author on sometime this summer, I tried to check this out of the library, and there were so many people on the waiting list ahead of me, I wasn't able to check this book out until December.

The book was good, and explains how people's attitudes towards being individuals or being like everybody else changes over time. If you've ever wondered about why so many people seem to be upset if you dare to have a different opinion than they do... the pendulum is why. We are entering a period, which will become more intense until about 2023, according to the book. where people are expected to think in terms of "we" instead of in terms of "me".

The book talks about how the pendulum has swung back and forth from "we" to "me" over the past 3,000 years, but it only spends one chapter talking about this, and the long historical comparison is very shallow, so it's not primarily a historical book. This book was written from the marketing perspective, so if you're in that line of work, you might find it helpful; it is interesting nonetheless.

4. A History of Modern Europe from the Renaissance to the Present

I read the first edition of this book, that came out in 1996 (which is the one I linked to). The new version of this book is over $100, and unless you are a college student taking a class that uses this book or really want to read the updated information over the last 21 years or so, it's not really worth the difference in price, IMO.

John Merriman, the author, actually has a course on iTunes University that you can watch while you are reading this book. I did that, and I found it to be a very nice companion to the book.

This book almost ends where Susan Wise Bauer's book ends off. This is slightly over 1400 pages of dense text, and it took me a very long time to read. It was a really interesting read, so if you have the patience for it, and are interested in Renaissance to modern history you might want to take a look at it.

I found it interesting... even though I lived through the very last part of this book, there is so much about the 20th century history that I don't understand. Only a fraction of the book covers the period after World War II, but I was left wanting to learn more.

3. Killing Reagan

I don't really remember much about Reagan... I remember something about the Star Wars program, I don't remember him getting shot... but the more that I learn about the 80s, the more that I appreciate what this country had.

A lot of people knew that Reagan was shot. I later learned that John Hinckley Jr. killed him to impress Jodi Foster (I didn't know that she had been an actress for that long either until relatively recently). Killing Reagan follows both the killer and Reagan through the years that made them who they were: one for good, the other for bad. The book was suspensefully written, and even though we all know the outcome, was entertaining.

I was in tears towards the end of this book, as Reagan slipped off into the world of dementia. It was really sad to read about the person that I had grown to admire throughout the book. When I was a kid, I remember my mom or dad talking about him sleeping through meetings, but I don't think that normal people had a clue that he was not really lazy; he was just showing the initial signs of Alzheimer's.

This is a MUCH easier book to read than both Bauer's and Merriman's books, although they are about different topics. If you have a couple of days (rather than a few months for the other two) and want to read about the Reagan years, try this one out.

2. The Fifth Wave (First Book Only)

I like to read a lot of young adult fiction. When I read fiction, a lot of the time, that's what I read. So when I saw the previews for The Fifth Wave movie early in 2016, and then discovered that it was a book, I had to read the book, and once I read the book, I had to see the movie and get the next book (and preorder the the third book).

In previous years, when I really liked a book and read the entire trilogy in one year, I would put the entire trilogy up on my list of best books for the year. Alas, I cannot do that with this book.

I absolutely LOVED the first book. It was funny, it had me on the edge of my seat (well, not literally, because I was reading), and I ended up finishing this 457-page book the day after I started reading it. I really liked the characters (for the most part... I thought that the main character was a dimwit at times, but I still liked her). I have the Spanish version of the book on my Amazon.com shopping list (I like to read books I know in languages I'm practicing to improve my vocabulary). Unfortunately, the second and third books were a lot thinner, were not as clever, and were slightly confusing at times (especially the second book). The third book does wrap up the series neatly (although not quite like I would hope), so at least it has that going for it, but it did not wow me like the first book did.

I definitely recommend reading the first book... and you will want to find out the ending, of course, just don't expect the ending to be as good as the beginning.

1. The Fourth Turning

This book was originally published in 1997, covers current events, and somehow made it to become the number one book I read in 2016. I was that wowed by the concept. In fact, even though I read this book over the summer, I still often bring up this book when I talk to my friends about the things going on today.

This book is like Pendulum (although it's older) but it deals primarily with generations, and how the events of their formative years effects how they behave as they get older. So my grandma, who grew up in the depression, was always saving and talking about being "frugal" because when she was young, things were tough. My parents, whose parents had gone through the wars, learned directly from their experiences as they were growing up. I spent a lot of time with my grandma when I was a kid, so I also benefited from the wisdom that my grandparents learned through this period of crisis.

Who do my kids have to learn these lessons from? They didn't have as much contact with my grandma as I did, and at the most, they learn third-hand about this time period. According to The Fourth Turning, we're due for another period of crisis, and reading in the news about people who have trouble dealing with the smallest of insults, I start to see why things might happen this way. When you deal with difficulty you grow up. You have to, or you don't survive; and most of us like to survive.

So The Fourth Turning was the best book that I read this past year. It was an easy read, I couldn't put it down, and I still talk about it.