Sunday, May 3, 2009

Good books, April 2009

The Seventh Expert: An Interactive Medieval Adventure by Mark Oakley, ill. John Mantha, 2008, 96 pages.

I have never seen a book like this one. It starts with a story: It's the 1300s and your coastal village has just been destroyed by a storm. The survivors look to you for leadership as you all go inland to start a new village. Six of the survivors offer you their expertise -- a blacksmith, a carpenter, a military engineer, a farmer, a hunter, and a leatherworker. You are the seventh expert.

Now begins the game. You're given a certain number of points for supplies and effort, and your goal is to increase your supplies and defense. The book has a list of different things you can spend your effort on -- gathering or hunting food, farming, building things, etc. Each year you get more effort points as your village gets stronger, but each year there are also obstacles to overcome and random events that can help or harm you. If you can make it through seven years, you win.

There are two aspects of the book that make it especially fascinating. The first one is the idea of prerequisites. Looking in the "catalog" of things you can spend your effort on, you see all kinds of great things: An ox. A fishing net. Bread making. But you can't have these things right away. Before you can get an ox, you have to have a crop harvest (to feed it) and a common barn. To get the common barn you need lumber, and to get the lumber you need carpentry tools, and to get the carpentry tools you need a blacksmithy, which takes a large number of effort points. For the crop harvest you need farming tools, which also take lumber and/or a blacksmithy, and the type of tools you have determines how much effort the crop harvest takes. I had never thought about all the steps required to produce some of these things.

The second interesting aspect is how hard the game is. My first time through, my village didn't survive the first year. The second time I didn't make it either. I finally made it to the fifth year by bending all the random events in my favor. (A. and M. got frustrated too and decided to give themselves extra effort points to start with, which helped them a lot.) It made me think about how hard it really would be to start with almost nothing and survive in those times, and how easily a whole village could be wiped out by sickness or attack or starvation.

This is one of the best children's (and grownups') history lessons I've ever seen. I hope the author will write more like it!

Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson, 1883, 304 pages.

A few months ago M. read this book for a book discussion group, and when she found out last week that I'd never read it, she challenged me to read it by the end of the week. I'm happy to say I did, and I can see now why it's stayed so popular over the years. The characters are memorable, especially the crafty Long John Silver. There are scenes where you just can't put the book down. Pirates, treasure, treachery, danger, and the young Jim Hawkins saving the day -- it's great adventure. If you haven't read it before, then I in turn challenge you to do it!

The Disneyland Encyclopedia: The Unofficial, Unauthorized, and Unprecedented History of Every Land, Attraction, Restaurant, Shop, and Event in the Original Magic Kingdom by Chris Strodder, 2008, 480 pages.

Okay, so we're on kind of a Disneyland kick ever since our trip late last year. We've been checking out all the Disneyland books from the library, and this one has turned out to be our favorite. The title really says it all. You can look up anything and find out when it was there, why it was built, and all kinds of other details. Everyone in our family has loved this book, maybe even a little too much judging from the energetic "discussions" over whose turn it is to read it.

The Eloquent President: A Portrait of Lincoln Through His Words by Ronald C. White, 2005, 480 pages.

Our church book group met in April to discuss "any biography of Abraham Lincoln." I had put off choosing one and ended up just grabbing this one off the shelf at the library. I was very pleased to find that it's an excellent book. The author has taken some of Lincoln's most important speeches and writings and spends a chapter examining each one. He gives a lot of historical background, but focuses especially on what Lincoln wrote and why he chose particular words and phrases. The Gettysburg Address is here, of course, but also some writings I'd never heard of before, like the "Meditation on the Divine Will."

I knew Lincoln was a great president and a great man, but as I read this book I was overwhelmed with admiration for him -- not just for his eloquence, although that is amazing, but for his courage and humility. This book underlines those qualities and is not afraid to emphasize Lincoln's belief and trust in God.

Illustrated History of the Church by Brian and Petrea Kelly, 2008, 617 pages.

This large volume covers the history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints with pictures and quotes from original sources, tied together with narration from the authors. I was pleasantly surprised, as I browsed through it, to find many details I hadn't known before. The pictures are wonderful. I especially liked the ones that show current Church leaders in the background, much younger, during earlier prophets' times of service. Another nice touch is the sidebars that mention world events happening at the time of various Church events. This is a good book to check out of the library and have handy for a Sunday afternoon.

To Kill a Mockingbird, starring Gregory Peck, 1962.

After I read To Kill a Mockingbird for the first time in March, Mike said I had to watch this movie. I'm generally somewhat disappointed with movies that are adapted from books, especially books I really like. But this movie is just as good as the book and maybe even better in some ways. Gregory Peck gives an amazing performance as Atticus, and all the characters are cast well, especially Brock Peters as Tom Robinson. (I only knew him from Star Trek before.) This is one I'm going to have to watch again sometime.

1 comment:

Deborah Raymond said...

I absolutely love your book reviews! I have run to the library several times after reading these posts. I'm not sure how you manage to read so much all the time, but I hope you continue to post more of these reviews in the future.