Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë

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Title: Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë

Premise:

As children, Heathcliff and Catherine are inexorably drawn together.  Despite their differing natures and weaknesses of character, one can scarcely exist without the other.  Catherine’s haughtiness drives Heathcliff away and stirs him to make his way in the world.  When Heathcliff returns, life at Wuthering Heights will never be the same.  Heathcliff can’t let go of the past and seeks revenge for every real and imagined slight he suffered there.  He and Catherine are like two stars destined to crash into one another and destroy everything near them.

My thoughts:

I first read Wuthering Heights in high school because it was required reading.  I don’t even remember what I thought of it back then, except that it was a bit spooky.  Reading it now, it’s not the spookiness that struck me so much as the examination of human nature.  Heathcliff is such a diabolical character and seems completely beyond redemption.  And yet, despite the fact that he was a dastardly villain, I couldn’t bring myself to truly dislike him.  There’s a part in all of us which feels satisfaction in seeing someone else get revenge on those who have done them wrong.  I’m not saying I condone it, but something in my psyche wants Heathcliff to avenge himself.  Perhaps that’s the lasting draw of this novel — its ability to make the reader examine good and evil in his fellow man, but also in himself.

When you think about when this book was written, it was a very daring tale for its time.  Especially when you consider that it came from a relatively inexperienced young lady.  It’s impressive that she was so adept at capturing human nature and what makes the human race feel hatred, love, and every shade of emotion in between.

This was such an engrossing read for me, that the last part of the book kept me up until the wee hours of the morning.  I simply couldn’t put it down and had to learn the fate of Heathcliff, as well as his young charges.  The ending is so fitting and perfect.  It was a completely satisfying read.  Highly recommended!

I recommend Wuthering Heights to fans of classic literature and anyone who enjoys a messed up love story.

Possible Objections:

  • A little bit of bad language
  • A derogatory term for a loose female is used a few times
  • Some violence

Rating: 5 Stars

Until next time…

Lori

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Arcady by Michael Williams

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Title: Arcady by Michael Williams

Notable: Book #1 in the Arcady series

Premise:

Solomon’s childhood home of Arcady is threatened by a destructive and mysterious force known as the Absence.  Though Solomon’s education at the Seminary has caused him to become jaded and cynical toward Magic and religion, he yet has a role to play in the salvation of his homeland.

My thoughts:

This is one of the weirdest books I’ve ever read.  For the first 2/3 to 3/4 of the book, I was pretty much lost.  There were slight connections between events and characters, but not enough to make it seem like a cohesive story.  Not until I was past the halfway mark did the different parts of the story come together and it started to make sense.

I say started, because the narrative never truly came together into a completely understandable story.  This book is absolutely full of half-formed ideas and images — magic, ethereal and difficult to fully grasp.  The characters are strange too, mysterious without adequate explanation of how they came to be that way.  That’s not really my cup of tea, but I muscled my way through the foggy and indistinct imagery and concepts because I don’t like to quit books unless they’re truly awful.

There’s a certain satisfaction to the end of the story.  The baddy is thwarted at least partially, things that were lost can now be rebuilt, the Hawken family isn’t at odds with itself anymore.  Apparently there’s a sequel to this book, but I don’t know if I’ll read it.  It was really tough getting through this one and I don’t feel ready to tackle another tedious read right now.

I recommend Arcady to those who like high fantasy that explores religious themes and imagery.

Possible Objections:

  • A little bit of bad language

Rating: 2 1/2 Stars

Until next time…

Lori

The Shunning by Beverly Lewis

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Title: The Shunning by Beverly Lewis

Notable: Book #1 in The Heritage of Lancaster County series

Premise:

Katie Lapp is a young Amish woman who is set to marry Bishop John Beiler.  Her heart still belongs to her first love, Dan, who tragically drowned at sea.  She hopes that her marriage to John will give her a new start in life and restore some happiness that she’s been missing.  Just before Katie’s wedding, a family secret comes to light that tears her world apart and she must decide which path is the right one to take.

My thoughts:

This is not my normal reading material at all, so I had a bit of a tough time getting into it.  The book starts out fairly slow, so that contributed as well.  Once I got several chapters in, the action and intrigue picked up and then I couldn’t put it down!  The best way I can describe this story is to say that if a Hallmark movie were to become a book, this would be it.  If that’s too feel-good and emotional for you, you would have a tough time with this book.

There is a strong Christian element to the story, but it didn’t seem out of character, given that it’s about the Amish.  I appreciate all of the small details that the author included about the Amish way of life.  You can tell that she really did her homework.  The story itself is pretty good.  I wasn’t expecting rip-roaring suspense, but it kept my interest and made me want to read the next in the series.

I don’t want to give away the plot, but suffice it to say that Katie goes through an identity crisis of sorts.  She has to figure out what her future life will look like and deal with the consequences of her choice.  It’s rather heartbreaking, really.

I recommend The Shunning to those who enjoy tame romantic stories and reading about the Amish.

Rating: 3 1/2 Stars

Until next time…

Lori

Around the World in Eighty Days by Jules Verne

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Title: Around the World in Eighty Days by Jules Verne

Premise:

Phileas Fogg, the stoic and predictable Englishman that he is, decides to go on a trip around the world because of a wager.  He bets his whist companions £20,000 that he can make the trip in eighty days.  Fogg’s servant Passepartout accompanies him, as well as a wily detective who believes Fogg to be a notorious bank robber.  They have many adventures and setbacks along the way, even rescuing a damsel in distress, but will they make it back to London in time to win the bet?

My thoughts:

The first Jules Verne book I read was 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.  I had my own copy lined up on the shelf in my bunk bed and it was my first introduction to science fiction as a kid.  Ever since then, I’ve loved Jules Verne’s fantastical adventure stories.

Though Jules Verne is best known for his science fiction, this book doesn’t exactly fit into that category.  It capitalizes on elements of the industrial age, such as the great strides made in dependable and quick transportation.  It truly was a marvel how quickly one could traverse the globe, compared to what was possible only a short time previously.

The story is fairly simple — a man travels around the world as quickly as possible, encountering several obstacles along the way.  That’s it in a nutshell.  The character development isn’t stellar and there are a TON of place names, but despite those very slight criticisms, I loved the story.  It’s so very readable and I love a good adventure story!

As far as classic literature goes, this book has fairly accessible language.  It’s also a largely action-driven story, so those two considerations make this a good book to start your journey into classic literature.

I recommend Around the World in Eighty Days to fans of early science fiction and those who enjoy classic literature.

Possible Objections:

  • One character gets high in an opium den
  • Native people referred to as “savages” a few times
  • Overtly English-centric attitude throughout

Rating: 4 Stars

Until next time…

Lori

The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus by L. Frank Baum

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Title: The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus by L. Frank Baum

Premise:

This is the life story of a man named Claus (later known as Santa Claus).  It starts with his baby years, when he was abandoned near the forest and a kind-hearted nymph named Necile adopted him as her own.  Claus grew up in an enchanted forest, but when he reached adulthood, he took his place in the world of man.  From his home in the Laughing Valley, Claus spreads happiness to the children of the world by making and delivering toys.  This story talks about his life’s work and how a few common Christmas traditions came to be.

My thoughts:

My son and I just finished reading this for school.  The first time I read it was several years ago and I was quite taken with it back then.  Though the language is quaint and a little old-fashioned, by son thoroughly enjoyed the book and couldn’t wait until we could read the next chapter.

Baum’s story about Santa Claus is more than just a jolly old elf who likes to eat cookies.  His is an active and philanthropic man who makes it his life’s work to bring joy to others.  I like how Santa serves as a middleman between the world of mortals and immortals in this story, drawing the immortals into helping humanity.  I’m sure I’ll be coming back to this book again in a few years so I can read it with my younger girls.  I know they will love the story and I think this is a great family read-aloud!

I recommend The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus to young readers, families and anyone else who wants to learn more about Santa’s history (at least according to Baum).

Rating: 4 Stars

Until next time…

Lori

Snowbound Mystery by Gertrude Chandler Warner

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Title: Snowbound Mystery by Gertrude Chandler Warner

Notable: Book #13 in The Boxcar Children series

Premise:

The Alden siblings go to a hunter’s cabin in the woods to spend a week out in the wilderness.  When a freak snow storm hits, they are stuck in the cabin, determined to make the best of it until their grandfather can send help.  A local family who runs the small store nearby treks out to the cabin to make sure the children are okay.  While they all await rescue, the Aldens help solve a mystery that the Nelson family has been trying to uncover for many years.

My thoughts:

I feel like the Boxcar Children books are pretty formulaic.  If you’ve read one, you know what subsequent books will be like.  This one is no exception.  Somehow these children end up fending for themselves or at least acting independently no matter what situation they find themselves in.  Their grandfather must feel pretty strongly that they should be encouraged to become independent.  Anyhow, he lets them go off to stay in a cabin in the woods for a week by themselves.  This mama objects!

The major event in the story is when the Aldens help solve a mystery for the Nelson family.  I don’t want to give it away, but the consequence is that it totally transforms their life.  They’re no longer stuck hoping for a brighter future, but can go ahead and realize their dreams.  It’s a feel-good ending.  🙂

I recommend Snowbound Mystery to younger readers who enjoy lighthearted mysteries.  It would also be a good book to read aloud to your kids.

Rating: 3 1/2 Stars

Until next time…

Lori

The Smurfette by Peyo

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Title: The Smurfette by Peyo

Notable: Book #4 in The Smurfs Graphic Novels series

Premise:

In this volume we learn about the origin of Smurfette and witness a Smurf famine.  Includes “The Smurfette,” and “The Hungry Smurfs.”

My thoughts:

I’m so sad to say that this is probably my least favorite Smurf graphic novel.  Boohoo!  I love Smurfette, but her origin tale is messed up!  Most Smurf fans know that the original Smurfette was made by Gargamel to sow discord in the Smurf village.  Though she isn’t evil, she is annoying in her original form.  She also looks a little frumpy, with a simple dress and stringy black hair.  When Smurfette complains about her looks, Papa Smurf comes up with a potion to beautify Smurfette.  Once she’s pretty, the rest of the Smurfs bend over backwards to do her will, even when her requests are dangerous and ridiculous.

The underlying message in this story bugged me so much!  The original Smurfette is “ugly” and annoying.  The male Smurfs see her as a nuisance because she can’t stay out of their business, talks all the time, and tells them what to do.  When she becomes pretty, she’s still portrayed in an unfavorable light as being manipulative, subversive and self-serving.  Either way, Peyo paints the sole female character in a very unflattering light and it feels like he’s making a broad commentary on the female race as a whole.  It felt sexist to me and I couldn’t really enjoy the story.

I recommend The Smurfette to fans of the Smurfs who want to know where Smurfette came from!

Possible Objections:

  • A male chauvinist flavor to the story

Rating: 3 Stars

Until next time…

Lori

Love’s Labor’s Lost by William Shakespeare

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Title: Love’s Labor’s Lost by William Shakespeare

Premise:

The King and his companions have vowed to spend three years in serious study, avoiding the company of women, among other luxuries.  When the Princess and her entourage show up on a diplomatic errand, the King has to foreswear his vow to avoid female company.  Each man is smitten with one of the ladies and sends her a love letter and favor, trying to keep it secret from the others.  In the end all of their romantic maneuvering is made known and the men come clean about their intentions.  The ladies, however, are not so easily swayed.  They demand more serious proof before they are willing to entertain the men’s ideas of romance.

My thoughts:

I haven’t read Shakespeare for a long time!  Though this story is lighthearted and fluffy, it still manages to make some commentary on the foibles of love and romance.  The King and his men make complete fools of themselves as they pursue the Princess and her ladies in waiting.  The ladies are having none of it and keep their wits about them, even demanding proof of their suitor’s love at the end.  If the men are serious about their love and commitment to the maidens, they must each fulfill a mission given by their respective lady.  This is a refreshing departure from the typical man-wins-woman formula.

I enjoyed the overall tone of the play, which was very playful and upbeat.  The characters have fun with witty wordplay, although I didn’t particularly care for the parts that devolved into suggestive references.  The difficulty of the language and the sometimes suggestive comments make me think this play would be best for readers in high school and older.

It was really helpful to have an introduction to the book and the footnotes throughout.  A good amount of the vocabulary and sayings are completely obsolete in modern English.  Without a bit of help, a lot of the original meaning would be lost on today’s readers.

I recommend Love’s Labor’s Lost to readers who enjoy classic literature and a mental workout all in one!

Possible Objections:

  • Several jokes featuring sexual innuendo

Rating: 4 Stars

Until next time…

Lori

The Great Gilly Hopkins by Katherine Paterson

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Title: The Great Gilly Hopkins by Katherine Paterson

Notable: Newbery Honor Book, 1979

Premise:

Gilly Hopkins is in foster care and about to enter a new home.  She wants nothing more than for her mother to swoop in and reclaim her, but alas, it’s not to be.  Gilly’s new home is with a large, motherly woman named Trotter and her foster son, William Ernest.  Gilly’s prejudices come to the forefront when she realizes that she’ll be expected to interact closely with African Americans, and when she passes judgment on Trotter and W. E.  Eventually though, Gilly realizes that sometimes our dreams aren’t what they’re cracked up to be, and making the best of our current situation can turn out to be a blessing in disguise.

My thoughts:

This is a really intense book!  Don’t expect to sit down and just float through it like you’re riding on a big, fluffy cloud.  Paterson doesn’t take shortcuts with her characters and she’s definitely not afraid of giving them flaws.  The main character, Gilly, is one of the most judgmental kids you’ll ever meet in a story, but it’s hard not to root for her.  She’s so miserably unhappy, that Gilly spews her vitriol on everyone around her, picking out traits in others to belittle and make fun of.

She doesn’t like Trotter because she’s overweight; she doesn’t like W. E. because she thinks he’s stupid; she doesn’t like her neighbor or new teacher because they’re black.  In all of these relationships, we see Gilly gradually progress into a new understanding about who they are.  She comes to value each of them and realizes that love and acceptance are possible with people who are different, and not part of your nuclear family.  She never thought she’d come to love these people, but they found a way to infiltrate her heart.  There is no easy fairy-tale ending to the story, but readers are left with the message that we should make the best of our situation in life and look for joy and contentment in what we have today.

As a parent, I have to warn you about the offensive bits in this story.  I wouldn’t want my younger child picking it up and thinking that it’s okay to copy Gilly’s language.  She uses totally inappropriate phrases to talk about Trotter, W. E., Mr. Randolph and Ms. Harris.  In one part the n-word is very clearly implied.  By the end of the book, Gilly’s language has become much tamer, but a child has to be old enough to realize that Gilly’s language is not something to emulate.

I recommend The Great Gilly Hopkins to those who enjoy coming of age novels which tug at your heart strings and are kind of edgy.

Possible Objections:

  • Offensive language (degrading those who are obese, African American, have special needs, etc.)
  • Mild epithets (d-word & hell)

Rating: 4 Stars

Until next time…

Lori

Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine

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Title: Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine

Notable: Newbery Honor Book, 1998

Premise:

When Ella is born she is given the “gift” of obedience by a well-meaning, but clueless fairy.  No matter the order, Ella must always obey.  After Ella’s mother dies, her father eventually remarries and Ella must go to finishing school with her two obnoxious stepsisters, Hattie and Olive.  When Hattie gives Ella a terrible order, she runs away so that it won’t have to be fulfilled.  Eventually Ella finds her true love and escapes the curse.

My thoughts:

This book was so much fun!  A number of years ago I watched the movie “Ella Enchanted,” without every having read the book.  I thought the movie was really cute, but now I have to say that I like the book even more.  As with most books which have been made into movies, the book far surpasses the movie.  The character development in the book was much more satisfying.

Ella’s character in the book is just so darn likable!  She’s spunky, funny, down-to-earth, affectionate, compassionate, and knows her own mind.  Even though she suffers a lot because of her curse/gift, Ella doesn’t give up and keeps trying to exert her own will.  Her relationship with Char was very satisfying.  It’s deep and meaningful, without any hints at inappropriate conduct between the young people.  It’s so refreshing to see a love interest for young people which maintains its innocence.  That’s a rare thing nowadays.

I recommend Ella Enchanted to anyone who enjoys a good fairy tale!  It’s a unique take on the Cinderella story.

Possible Objections:

  • Some talk about ogres eating people

Rating: 4 1/2 Stars

Until next time…

Lori

OTHER ELLA ENCHANTED POSTS:

The Aerosmurf by Peyo

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Title: The Aerosmurf by Peyo

Notable: Book #16 in The Smurfs Graphic Novels series

Premise:

In the main story, the Flying Smurf finally comes up with a plan that will allow him to fly–an airplane!  He gets to put his piloting skills to use when Smurfette is captured by Gargamel and Flying Smurf stages a rescue.  Includes “The Aerosmurf,” “The Masked Smurf,” “The Firesmurfs,” “Gluttony and the Smurfs,” “The Smurf and his Dragon,” and “Jokey Smurf’s Pranks.”

My thoughts:

This book contains several different Smurf stories, but my favorite would probably be “The Masked Smurf.”  One of the Smurfs dresses up in a mask and cape and plays pranks by throwing a pie in the other Smurf’s faces.  He even goes so far as to solicit requests for Smurfs to pie.  Papa Smurf gets to the bottom of the mystery by putting white ink on his request and then he checks the Smurfs’ hands to see which one is covered in ink.

All of the stories in this volume are enjoyable, and it’s one of the more strongly entertaining Smurf graphic novels.  Great for kids!

I recommend The Aerosmurf to all Smurf fans!

Rating: 4 Stars

Until next time…

Lori

The Smurfs and the Howlibird by Peyo

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Title: The Smurfs and the Howlibird by Peyo

Notable: Book #6 in The Smurfs Graphic Novels series

Premise:

In the main story, a baby bird accidentally ingests some faulty fertilizer and he grows into a dangerous pest who terrorizes the Smurf village.  Includes “The Smurfs and the Howlibird,” and “The Smurf Express.”

My thoughts:

I am so close to being caught up with my Smurf graphic novel reviews and you have no idea how relieved I am.  Only one more after this one!  In the Howlibird story, the bird ends up being an absolute menace.  He ruins many of their houses, wrecks the bridge, destroys the well and generally tries to hurt the Smurfs.  Eventually the Smurfs are able to get some of Gargamel’s potion to make things small and feed it to the bird.  Even though the Howlibird is still as cantankerous as ever, he’s too small to do any damage.

In “The Smurf Express,” Handy builds a train and track to help haul supplies from the woods back to the Smurf village.  Gargamel discovers the tiny tracks which he changes so that they lead to his house.  He captures some of the Smurfs, but Papa Smurf stages a rescue and changes the tracks so that Gargamel can’t follow them back to their village.

I recommend The Smurfs and the Howlibird to Smurf fans.

Rating: 3 1/2 Stars

Until next time…

Lori

The Return of the Smurfette by Peyo

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Title: The Return of the Smurfette by Peyo

Notable: Book #10 in The Smurfs Graphic Novels series

Premise:

In the main story, Smurfette returns and announces that she will marry the Smurf who brings her the moon.  Can you guess whether not anyone is successful?  Includes “Romeos and Smurfette,” “The Return of the Smurfette,” “The Smurf Garden,” “The Handy Smurf” “Halloween” and “Smurferies.”

My thoughts:

It’s gratifying to see Smurfette featured in several stories!  This book shows a lot of male Smurfs smitten with Smurfette and trying to get her to marry them.  They show off their skills in a bid to impress her, but she can be a bit fickle in love.  In the end Smurfette decides that perhaps she’s not quite ready for marriage.

I really enjoyed the “Smurferies” at the end of the book.  It’s a series of one-page comics which share short Smurf lessons.  Sort of like Aesop’s fables.  They’re short and pithy, and will make you as wise as Papa Smurf.  The one where they’re having a costume party is so cute and funny!

I recommend The Return of the Smurfette to everyone who loves Smurfette.

Rating: 4 Stars

Until next time…

Lori

The Smurfs and the Egg by Peyo

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Title: The Smurfs and the Egg by Peyo

Notable: Book #5 in The Smurfs Graphic Novels series

Premise:

In this book, the Smurfs discover a magic egg, Gargamel becomes a Smurf, and a freak accident results in a new Smurf.  Includes “The Smurfs and the Egg,” “The Fake Smurf,” and “The Hundredth Smurf.”

My thoughts:

In the first story, the Smurfs want to bake a cake but they need to find an egg.  They go through all kinds of shenanigans to get one and then when it gets back to the village, they discover that it’s a magic egg that will grant them any wish.  The Smurfs wish for all kinds of crazy things until Papa Smurf sees the mayhem it’s causing and wishes everything back to normal.

In “The Fake Smurf,” Gargamel makes a potion to turn himself into a Smurf to infiltrate the village.  He follows another Smurf back to the village and quietly tries to sabotage everybody else.  As with most of his plans, this one fails and Gargamel changes himself back to try and capture the Smurfs.  His potion returns him to the right shape, but not the right size — he’s a tiny Gargamel!

I recommend The Smurfs and the Egg to Smurf fans.

Rating: 3 1/2 Stars

Until next time…

Lori