Monday, July 7, 2014

Book Review of "Return to the Willows"

Return to the Willows, by Jacqueline Kelly

5 stars!!!

Description: This may look like an idyllic English countryside, but trouble brews along the riverbank. Toad has conquered his motorcar phase only to move on to hot-air balloons. The Stoats and Weasels are grumbling about revenge. And Toad's nephew Humphrey is moving in for the summer with all of his gunpowder and fireworks! Badger, Ratty, and Mole have their hands full averting one disaster after another... until Humphrey suddenly disappears without a trace, and the riverbank creatures discover there is more at stake than they realized.

Concerns: (Rare, but there) instances of English language.

Summary: Until the amusingly frenzied scramble at the very end, this book mimics its predecessor's slow pace, but it is wonderfully satisfying. For those who loved the original, Return to the Willows is a masterfully written and humor-filled jaunt back through a beloved classic... with plenty of messing about in boats. My favorite line: "Of cors he brushs his teef. Do you take us for savidges?"

Monday, June 30, 2014

Book Review of "The Year Money Grew on Trees"

The Year Money Grew on Trees, by Aaron Hawkins

4 stars

Description: Jackson knew better than to let his neighbor talk him into the deal. But it sounded like such a good deal. One year working the apple orchard, and it was his for the cheap price of $8,000! Once he drags his siblings and cousins in as his hired hands, Jackson and crew embark on a year of adventure -- pruning 300 apple trees (THUD. Sam's down again!), learning to drive an ancient tractor (yes, even the 9-year-old), and the intricacies of irrigation (sorry about the flood, Mom!). But as time wears on, Jackson begins to realize they won't make it... and they have worked for an entire year only to lose the orchard and every penny they made.

Concerns: One crude part near the beginning as the school jerk... puts out a fire. Jackson keeps the deal a secret from his parents (and lies by omission to his sibling/cousin helpers).

Summary: The Year Money Grew on Trees is a great story about teamwork, perseverance, and friendship.  The book is not an action-packed read, but for farm kids -- or anyone who wants to be a farm kid -- it is reminiscent of real life, only with higher stakes than usual! Jackson learns his lesson about trusting other people to help him out, and everything comes out right in the end... even if "coming out right" didn't mean what Jackson and his crew were expecting.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Book Review of "Pie"

Pie, by Sarah Weeks

4.5 stars

Description:  The little town of Ipswitch, Pennsylvania was put on the map by the world's Pie Queen – Polly Portman. Polly's pie shop is famous the world over for the luscious pies that are Polly's signature. When Polly shocks the town by suddenly dying, Ipswitch experiences deep grief (not to mention pie withdrawal). The person who misses Polly the most is her niece, Alice. Alice seems to be the only one in Ipswitch who doesn't care why Polly mysteriously “gave” her worth-millions pie crust recipe to her cat. Instead, she investigates the various enigmas surrounding the town after Polly's death, even though it means encountering the more shady characters of Ipswitch.

Concerns: None.

Summary: This short book titled appropriately as Pie is about recognizing one's talents and making friends. Pie accomplishes that goal by weaving a tale of intrigue, suspense, and humor (with plenty of delicious descriptions of pies thrown in!). The amusing happenings in this story will certainly not be forgotten soon by readers; the town's thirst for fame parallels the get-rich-quick mentality in our society, yet approaches that greed with truth. Three cups of humor, two cups of mystery, and one cup of truth: the perfect recipe for Pie.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Book Review of "Raiders from the Sea"

The Viking Quest: Raiders from the Sea, by Lois Walfrid Johnson

4 stars

Description: Briana O' Toole is an ordinary thirteen-year-old Irish girl living in an extraordinary age - the Viking era! When she meets a boy named Mikkel, she knows the stranger is hiding a dark secret, and the O'Toole family prepares for a savage Viking invasion. But all the preparation in the world can't daunt the ferocity of the Norwegian Vikings on the rampage, and Briana and brother Devin soon find themselves captives on a Viking ship. Escape doesn't seem to be an option, but Briana and Devin learn to put their faith in God through all the trials in their new lives, while they wonder if they will ever see their family again.

Concerns: None.

Summary: Perfect for reading aloud, The Raiders from the Sea is a Viking epic that seems to stand alone as one for young readers; it has historical interest while the plot still holds the reader's attention. I also appreciate that the main focus for this story is trusting God in the midst of trouble. All in all, this Viking tale is a unique and enjoyable read that most 8- to 12-year-olds will love!

Monday, June 9, 2014

Book Review of "The Tale of Despereaux"

The Tale of Despereaux, by Kate DiCamillo

-- stars (unrated; content issues)

Description: It doesn't matter if they live in castles; mice just are not meant to be heroes. Especially not undersized, absent-minded mice like tiny Despereaux. His family doesn't understand him. The King doesn't understand him. Only Princess Pea, the lovely girl who shines like purest light, understands Despereaux's mighty heart. But an evil plot of bitterness and revenge is creeping like darkness from the dungeon, threatening Pea's very life -- and the only one that understands the danger is Despereaux, the mouse that is too small stop it.

Concerns: Big warning. For a story aimed at younger readers, this tale gets very dark and nasty; the theme of overcoming evil is a worthy one, but the story's evil is emphasized over-much. The villainous rats are vile things that delight in tormenting prisoners and mice; people/mice can be (and are) heartless to their own children; one girl is constantly getting slapped (to the point where she goes nearly deaf); it can be depressing. 

Summary: The many morals of this story are fantastic. Forgiveness, consequences, and steadfast love; and yet, this story is not for everyone. The writing is beautiful and the courage of Despereaux is truly inspiring, and will stay with you long after the final pages have closed... but the raw evil that the little mouse confronts is grimly realistic. As a book for teens, it is fascinating; but for younger ones? Kids, get Mom or Dad to preview it first.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Book Review of "A Way Through the Sea"

A Way Through the Sea, by Robert Elmer

4 stars

Description: Although bombs aren't exploding over their heads, World War II is still very real for Danish twins Elise and Peter. Nazi soldiers occupy their harbor town, and although the occupation seems peaceful, there are rivers of tension running just beneath surface... especially since the twins' best friend is a Jewish boy named Henrik. Whispers about the resistance movement abound, but shiny German boots around every turn have persuaded Peter that he just wants to stay out of trouble. When danger strikes in the night, not only Peter but his sister and friend must draw on every ounce of wit and courage they possess to live to see the morning.

Concerns: None.

Summary: This terrifying and yet wistfully triumphant moment in history deserves more acclaim than it has been given. It's not always easy to make history an easy read, but Elmer's book is fascinating -- and there's enough action mixed in with the carrier pigeons and fishing boats to keep everybody happy.  It takes some time for the story to start rolling, but once it does, this is a tense nail-biter that is well worth the wait.

**Note: This book is the first in Elmer's"Young Underground" series about Denmark during and after WWII.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Book Review of "Hank the Cowdog and The Case of the Measled Cowboy"

Hank the Cowdog and The Case of the Measled Cowboy, by John R. Erickson

5 stars!!!

Description: Slim the ranch hand, Hank and his sidekick Drover, and Little Alfred are instructed to hold down the ranch when the boss leaves town for a few days. But when a blizzard strikes and Slim comes down with the measles, it’s up to Little Alfred and the dogs to take care of him and the ranch – a recipe for disaster. (Hank does all he can to clean up but alas, dogs can only lick up the edible messes.) After trying to start a fire and feed the invalid, things get even more complicated when the five year old boy drives Slim’s pickup in a rescue attempt and Slim falls asleep at the wheel! Will the sick cowboy, Little Alfred and the two dogs be able to make everything right again before Sally May returns?

Concerns: None.

Summary: This, in my opinion the best in the Hank the Cowdog series (and I’ve read most of his 50+ books) because it is such a thoroughly entertaining read! (Not to mention hilarious!) My favorite quote is when Loper says to Slim: “All you bachelors have to do is decide which kind of jelly you want on your peanut butter sandwich.” Classic.