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

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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:

One Trick Pony by Nathan Hale

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Title: One Trick Pony by Nathan Hale

Premise:

The earth is being decimated by an alien species that is harvesting all of its technology.  A traveling band of humans is trying to salvage as much history as they can while staying one step ahead of the aliens.

My thoughts:

This was a really unique book.  The landscape and characters are interesting and imaginative, but definitely on the bleak side.  Imagine big swaths of the earth just cut right out.  And freaky aliens who are scooping up anything on earth which contains technology.  That will give you an idea of just how desolate the earth is in this story.

The action centers around a group of children who are out exploring and accidentally draw the attention of the aliens.  They try to evade them, but end up right at the heart of the alien enclave.  I won’t tell you the end because that would just wreck the story, but it’s satisfying.

I recommend One Trick Pony to fans of dystopian science fiction.  If you like aliens, this would be right up your alley!

Rating: 3 1/2 Stars

Until next time…

Lori

Skylark by Patricia MacLachlan

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Title: Skylark by Patricia MacLachlan

Notable: Book #2 in the Sarah, Plain and Tall series

Premise:

Sarah and Papa have been married a year, and Anna and Caleb have come to know Sarah as their mother.  However, hard times hit when there is a drought on the prairie.  Can Sarah cope with the difficulties of prairie life, or will she return home to her beloved Maine?

My thoughts:

Like the first book in the series, this one is also short and to the point.  Through a relatively simple story, MacLachlan goes straight to the heart in examining the topics of family, hardship and commitment.

Life on the prairie ends up being harder than Sarah ever imagined, and she’s not sure if she can cope with the prolonged drought which threatens their home, livestock and very existence.  I enjoyed seeing the children’s relationship with Sarah’s relatives develop.  Even though they left the prairie to visit Sarah’s family, they felt secure in the knowledge that Sarah saw them as her children and didn’t simply leave them behind.  The development at the end cements their status as a family even more.  No spoilers!

I recommend Skylark to young people who enjoy stories about early American settlers.

Possible Objections:

  • One of Sarah’s aunts goes skinny-dipping

Rating: 4 Stars

Until next time…

Lori

OTHER SARAH, PLAIN AND TALL SERIES POSTS:

Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales: Treaties, Trenches, Mud, and Blood by Nathan Hale

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Title: Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tale: Treaties, Trenches, Mud, and Blood by Nathan Hale

Notable: Book #4 in the Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales series

Premise:

Nathan Hale teaches readers all about World War I through the medium of a graphic novel.  Each nation’s characters are portrayed by a particular animal (i.e.: Britain is the English Bulldog) to help keep the characters straight.

My thoughts:

So far, this is my absolute favorite book in the series!  The author told an amazingly cohesive story, considering it spans years and involves many nations and many battles.  The book doesn’t cover all of the battles or even touch on all aspects of the war, but it gives you a well-balanced overview of the entire war and the reasons behind the decisions that were made.

Prior to this book, I had never read anything about WWI.  This was an excellent introduction to the subject, because it gave me a basic, broad understanding of a very complex subject.  It’s certainly enough to start kids with, and if you’re older you’ll want to do further research.  I will definitely be reading more books about WWI in the future, because now it’s not just this big, confusing war which gets jumbled up in my mind.

The thing that most struck me in this story was the sheer wastefulness that resulted from WWI.  It started from a situation which could have been resolved with some wisdom and diplomacy.  Unfortunately, hotheads won out and 9 million people lost their lives in the end.  NINE MILLION–all because of the assassination of one man!  Think about that for a while.  I think this book is an excellent way to show kids the true nature of war, the huge toll that it takes, and the value of resolving conflict peacefully.  It’s a very sobering story.

I recommend Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales: Treaties, Trenches, Mud, and Blood to kids, from elementary through the teen years.  Even for older folks, it’s a fun way to learn about history.

A favorite quote:

“Humanity is mad.  It must be mad to do what it is doing.  What a massacre!  What scenes of horror and carnage: I cannot find words to translate my impressions.  Hell cannot be so terrible.  Men are mad!”  (p. 87, from the journal of a French lieutenant, WWI)

Rating: 5 Stars

Until next time…

Lori

Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales: One Dead Spy by Nathan Hale

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Title: Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales: One Dead Spy by Nathan Hale

Notable: Book #1 in the Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales series

Premise:

Nathan Hale is a young man who has enrolled at Yale to become a teacher, however, the Revolutionary War sends him down a different life path.  Hale enlists in the army and is promoted within a short period of time.  Though he commands other troops, Hale doesn’t see a lot of action.  In a bid to prove himself, he volunteers to be Washington’s first spy–to learn what he can about the plans of the British army.  Unfortunately, things take at turn for the worse for this promising young man once he enters enemy territory.

My thoughts:

Since this is the first book in the series, it introduces readers to the three ongoing main characters: the Hangman, the British Soldier and Nathan Hale.  The premise is that while Nathan is waiting on the gallows to be hanged, he’s swallowed by a giant history book and absorbs all of the knowledge that it contains about U.S. history.  When he comes out of the book, he convinces the Hangman and Soldier to wait to hang him until he can tell them his story.  (After his story, they agree to wait so that he can tell them another interesting story from American history.)  I should also mention that the books in this series don’t really need to be read in order.

Hale’s personal story is fairly simple.  He was a young man with dreams of doing something brave for his country and that was largely denied him because he was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.  Once he volunteers to spy for Washington, it’s easy to see that he’s not exactly the ideal candidate, but it’s admirable that he is willing to give all in the service of his country.  A spy needs to be a bit more jaded and cunning than Hale was, and his naiveté worked against him in his role as spy.  It’s sad that his life was cut short at such a young age, but he certainly wasn’t the only young man to die during that time period to secure freedom for America.

At the end of the the book there’s a bit more biographical information about some of the more colorful characters in the story, and a section with the story of Crispus Attucks–both very interesting.

This book isn’t my favorite in the series, but I think that’s because the author was finding his way and experimenting with this first book.  In later books, I think he has managed to hone his style and creativity in storytelling a little more.  With that said, I still think it’s a worthwhile read.

I’ve really come to like the author’s style of illustrations.  They definitely appeal to a younger audience, but I think they’re just as engaging for older folks, too.  I love learning about history this way!  Both of my boys read the book, and they want to read the entire series.  No problem, boys!

I recommend Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales: One Dead Spy to kids who enjoy graphic novels and would prefer to learn about history through that medium.  Even for older folks, it’s a fun way to learn about history.

Possible Objections:

  • Violence (though the illustrations are not graphic)

Rating: 4 Stars

Until next time…

Lori

Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales: Donner Dinner Party by Nathan Hale

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Title: Donner Dinner Party by Nathan Hale

Notable: Book #3 in the Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales series

Premise:

We follow James Reed and family as they journey West to California.  Reed insists on taking a shortcut which he has read about in a book, which results in disastrous consequences.  The traveling party experiences death, illness, murder, the loss of oxen and cattle, and finally being stuck on top of a mountain in the middle of winter.  What they resort to in their efforts to survive are quite shocking.

My thoughts:

Just like the other Nathan Hale books, this one is an engaging way to learn about history.  Kids will love the playful supporting characters, quality illustrations, and interesting way that historical events are presented.  I will warn you, however, that this book is not for the faint of heart!

The story starts off well enough.  The Reed family wants to go out West to seek their fortune and they join with others to form a wagon train.  James Reed convinces others to follow Hastings cutoff, which he read about in a book (written by a lawyer, not a frontiersman).  Despite numerous warnings and indications that it is an unwise course of action, Reed persists, believing himself to be in the right.  That decision leads to horrific consequences.

I’ll give away the shocking bit here, so if you don’t want to know, stop reading.  When the Donner party find themselves stranded for the winter with very few supplies, they eventually have to resort to cannibalism to stay alive.  Thankfully, they don’t show any icky bits in the illustrations.  I still get the creeps thinking about it.  Reading this story makes you wonder what you would do if you were in their shoes.  It’s easy to say, “I would never do that.”  But then again, if you were starving, your thinking would probably be a bit skewed.

I’d say use your discretion in allowing your child to read this book.  Some will have no problem reading about cannibalism, while for others it would be traumatizing.  My 10- and 12-year-old boys read it and were fine, but my 8-year-old girl would probably hate it.

I recommend Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales: Donner Dinner Party to kids who enjoy graphic novels and would prefer to learn about history through that medium.  This particular book is best suited to mature elementary-age children up to teens, or even adults.

Possible Objections:

  • Violence (though the illustrations are not graphic)
  • Cannibalism

Rating: 4 1/2 Stars

Until next time…

Lori

The Whipping Boy by Sid Fleischman

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Title: The Whipping Boy by Sid Fleischman  It’s a 1987 Newbery Medal winner.

Premise:

Jemmy is the unfortunate whipping boy for Prince Brat, spoiled and wayward heir to the throne.  Feeling bored, the Prince decides to run away and takes Jemmy with him.  In the outside world the Prince discovers that he needs Jemmy’s help, and the two boys develop a bond which neither one expected.  Can the boys outwit a couple of cutthroats who are determined to catch them so that they can collect a ransom from the king?

My thoughts:

I’ve loved this book since I was a kid!  It’s very short and ideal for children who are reading beginner chapter books.  There are occasional black and white drawings scattered throughout the book.

I don’t know how Fleischman did it, but he manages to pack a lot of personality and a great lesson into a very short story.  Prince Brat and Jemmy have very nicely developed characters, each one making you either loathe or love them.  The lesson contained in this book is about friendship and giving people second chances.  Jemmy could have easily left Prince Brat to fend for himself, given how much he had already suffered because of the Prince’s mischievous ways.  However, when the boys were truly in need, they had to rely on one another and they formed a bond which defied convention.

The Prince also got a look at life outside of the castle, which he had never been allowed to engage in before.  He meets a couple of thieves, a young lady and her dancing bear, the hot-potato man, and a rat catcher in the sewer.  He also has many first-time experiences such as shaking a commoner’s hand, going to the fair, exploring the sewers, and eating a potato.  The new adventures and relationships he experiences set him up to be a more thoughtful and considerate ruler when his time comes.

I recommend The Whipping Boy to children who are beginning to read chapter books (though older kids would enjoy the story, too).  It also makes a fun, quick family read-aloud.


Possible Objections:

  • Some violence

Rating: 5 Stars

 

Until next time…

Lori

The Elixir Vitae Adventures: Ortus by Stacey Horan

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A special thank-you to Stacey Horan for providing an ARC for me to review!

Title: The Elixir Vitae Adventures: Ortus (Book 1) by Stacey Horan

Premise:

Abigail and Quinn Link must go live with their grandpa when their mother suddenly dies from cancer.  Their grandfather, Professor Larson, asks the children to fill in where their mother left off — guarding the elixir vitae or fountain of youth from those who would use it for their own gain.  They travel around the United States finding and solving clues, while trying to simultaneously fit in at their new boarding school.

My thoughts:

I love the cover of this book!  I know that seems kind of silly, but I wanted to share something that I think was absolutely spot-on with this book.  I also loved the personal note which I received from the author when I won it through Goodreads.

The premise of the story is a good one.  The children go on adventures with their grandfather to find clues all around the United States to discover the whereabouts of the elixir vitae.  They do this by means of a magic portal map and key.  So far, so good.

Unfortunately, the execution of the story leaves something to be desired.  The actual narration sounded like a teenager telling about the events of their day — more like a diary entry than a novel.  I found myself wishing for more detail throughout the story, more richness, more variety in sentence structure, and more complex thoughts.

The characters were okay, but I didn’t become attached to any of them.  They needed more fleshing out and a closer glimpse into their psyches to show readers what makes them tick.  It also seemed that their emotional reactions were off at times.  Sometimes they had extreme negative reactions in situations which didn’t call for it.  I wondered why this person was all of a sudden screaming at that person.  Would they all benefit from some anger management classes?

Finally, there were enough errors in the text itself that it couldn’t be overlooked.  The editing wasn’t awful, but it wasn’t careful enough, either.  Of particular note, I counted eleven instances of the wrong word being used.  That’s kind of a lot.  Throw in a few misspelled words, missing words, extra words, and a paragraph break in the wrong place, and you can see how it could become a problem.

I recommend The Elixir Vitae Adventures: Ortus to those who like adventures which feature kids as the heroes.  If you’re willing to overlook some bumps in the delivery, you might enjoy this story.


Possible Objections:

  • One instance of taking God’s name in vain
  • One of the kids says, “Holy shhhhhh” – implying you know what

Rating: 2 1/2 Stars

Until next time…

Lori

Breaking Dawn by Stephenie Meyer

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Title: Breaking Dawn by Stephenie Meyer

Notable: Book #4 in the Twilight series

Premise:

Edward and Bella are finally married and jet off to Rio de Janeiro to spend a lovely honeymoon together.  Though they didn’t know it was even possible, Bella becomes pregnant.  The entire Cullen family must figure out how to keep both Bella and the baby safe during the pregnancy and delivery, and how to protect the child from the meddling Volturi.

My thoughts:

This is the final book in the Twilight series.  While I raced through the three previous books, this one I took my time with.  I didn’t really want to get to the end.

When compared to the three previous books, I believe that this book demonstrates a notable step up in the maturity factor.  No longer are readers subject to long scenes in which Bella and Edward look for novel ways of stating that they can’t live without one another.  Thank goodness for that!

I enjoyed the story line of this book and to me it felt like it jumped into the complexity of an intricate soap opera.  You have all of these characters with complicated relationships, loyalties, and motivations.  They are all thrown together to defend their families, friends and way of life, and it makes for some socially tangled interactions.  That’s something which most ladies love to imagine!  Many of the characters are challenged in the way they view other “monsters”, and it’s nice to see them overcome their prejudices.

One of the aspects which I most enjoyed was getting to meet all of the vampire allies and to get a feel for what their strengths were.  It’s nice to see some new characters who are not antagonistic, and to witness their interactions with the Cullens.

Finally, I like how Meyer wrapped things up within the story.  Bella becomes a vampire and does a great job adjusting.  Charlie is brought into the secret only as much as is necessary to ensure he can still be a part of Bella’s life.  Jacob gets his happy ending.  And independent vampires and other paranormals score a win in their desire to be free of the repressive rule of the Volturi.  What more could you ask for?  It’s happily ever after for all of our favorite characters.

I recommend Breaking Dawn to all the ladies out there who enjoy a good romantic story with a bit of danger thrown in.  I think it’s best suited to teens and up, as things get a bit violent, especially the farther you progress in the series.


Possible Objections:

  • Violence & some gore
  • Sensuality
  • One use of the d-word

Rating: 4 Stars

Until next time…

Lori

 

OTHER TWILIGHT POSTS:

Twilight — Movie 2008

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Let’s talk about Twilight, the movie adaptation of the book by the same name!

Bella Swan moves in with her dad, starting over in the town of Forks, Washington.  There she encounters the enigmatic Edward Cullen and they fall for each other.  However, Edward is hiding a dangerous secret that could put their relationship in jeopardy.  Will Bella decide to stay with Edward, and if so, will she be safe?  If you want to know more about what I thought of the book, check out my book review.

My thoughts:

So I watched Twilight the other night and decided I should review it before moving on to the next movie in the series.  Unfortunately, I remembered it as being better than it was.  Sad face.

I love the story overall, but there were a few things in the movie that I didn’t care for.  The first thing I have to mention is Edward and Bella’s first interaction in Biology class.  It was bad.  Just bad.  They both spoke and acted like they were a bit slow mentally.  I get it that this was their first real conversation, so it was bound to be awkward, but why make it downright painful to watch?

This brings me to my second criticism.  Robert Pattinson does okay in the displaying-real-emotions department, even sneaking in some humor at times.  However, Kristen Stewart did not pull it off at all.  Her emotions were flat, and sometimes completely unbelievable (as in her response in the hospital scene when Edward talks about leaving).  Stewart’s lack of real emotions grated on me throughout the movie.  Also, there were too many “slow stares” between Edward and Bella.  Just staring at each other does not a passionate scene make.

On a more positive note, there were some things that I absolutely loved about the movie.  It’s fun to see such a fantastical story come to life in front of your eyes.  I really enjoyed the scene where the Cullens are playing baseball.  It was a nice way to showcase their abilities.  Also, Charlie, Billy Black and Jacob all did a fine job in their roles.  It really makes a difference when you have good supporting actors.  I couldn’t get over how young Jacob looked–like a little boy!

I recommend this movie to ladies in their teens and older who enjoy a good paranormal romance.  If you are a fan of the Twilight series, I think you would enjoy this movie.

Possible Objections:

  • Violence

Rated: PG-13

Rating: 3 1/2 Stars

Until next time…

Lori

OTHER TWILIGHT POSTS:

New Moon by Stephenie Meyer

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Title: New Moon by Stephenie Meyer

Notable: Book #2 in the Twilight series

Premise:

Edward has left Bella, thinking that she will be safe if he isn’t a part of her life.  Bella just can’t cope without him though, until Jacob Black brings some sunshine back into her life.  Just when life is starting to settle into a new normal, all heck breaks loose.  The vampire Victoria seeks revenge for the killing of her mate, hikers go missing in the woods, some kind of giant animals are on the prowl, and Jacob is avoiding Bella.

My thoughts:

Once I get reading these books, I can’t put them down!  This one took me about a day and a half to read.

I like this book even more than the first one!  I think it’s because Bella and Jacob’s interactions are much more down-to-earth and comfortably familiar than when she interacts with Edward.  Her relationship with Jacob is based on friendship and that’s simply more satisfying to read about.

I was also fascinated with the werewolf culture and getting to know those characters better.  Jacob Black is, of course, a wonderful and likeable character, but he’s backed up by others at La Push whom I’d like to know more about, as well.

The part where Bella and Alice go after Edward is…different.  It almost seems like a different story altogether because the vampires are so very absent from most of the rest of the book.  I think their reunion is a bit unbelievable; Bella just a little too needy and ready to forgive.  If I were in her shoes I’d be stinking angry.  I like the bit about her powers though, especially since I know how that will play out in a later book.

The way that things end with Bella and Jacob is very sad, but since I already know the story line, I’m not too heartbroken.  It just seems like poor Jake gets the short end of the stick.  He did what was right and was a faithful friend and in the end he gets slighted.

A favorite quote: “I was like a lost moon–my planet destroyed in some cataclysmic, disaster-movie scenario of desolation–that continued, nevertheless, to circle in a tight little orbit around the empty space left behind, ignoring the laws of gravity.”  (p. 201)
W
I recommend New Moon to all the ladies out there who enjoy a good romantic story with a bit of danger thrown in.  I think it’s best suited to teens and up, as things get a bit violent, especially the farther you progress in the series.

Possible Objections:

  • Violence

Rating: 4 1/2 Stars

Until next time…

Lori

 

OTHER TWILIGHT POSTS:

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling

HP Prisoner of Azkaban

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Title: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling

Premise:

In Harry’s third year at Hogwarts all heck breaks loose!  Notorious criminal Sirius Black has broken out of Azkaban prison and is bent on seeking revenge.  Meanwhile, Harry, Ron and Hermione are buried in schoolwork as they prepare to take their OWLs (final exams).  Quidditch is just as drama-filled as ever, and Harry learns to defend himself against Dementors–the terrifying Azkaban guards who are keeping guard at Hogwarts.

My thoughts:

This is another wonderfully rollicking Harry Potter story that embodies the elements of fun and adventure.  The Quidditch scenes are just as harrowing as in previous books; the school drama just as satisfying; the mischief just as exciting!

With this book, however, the series seems to have taken a turn into more mature themes.  Not anything inappropriate, but more mature in terms of emotions and motivation.  It deals with themes of hatred, revenge, betrayal, and how people react in adverse circumstances.  Harry really comes to a crisis point in his thinking when he understands how fully somebody hurt him and has to decide whether to embrace his hatred or let it go.  I like that kids get to explore those more complex emotional issues in this story.

The story itself feels like it’s more complex and well-planned than the previous two.  The plot is more involved and interconnected, with some decidedly clever bits that make you say, “Oh, now I get it!“.  I don’t want to give anything away, but Hermione’s “tool” is an awesome plot device.

I love Lupin and wish that he were a bigger part of the story.  It seems like there is so much about his character and history that is only hinted at and I’d love to get a fuller look at that.  One character who I think is portrayed quite differently in the movie is Crookshanks.  In the book he’s much more intelligent and plays a greater role in the story.  The movie Crookshanks is mostly just an ill-tempered cat.  It’s too bad he was dumbed-down for the movie.

Finally, it was very satisfying to learn more about the history of Harry’s parents and friends.  It helps round out the story and characters, and really adds a depth of understanding to everything that happens in the series.  If there’s one thing that J.K. Rowling does well, it’s writing well-developed characters.

I highly recommend Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban to kids from elementary school up through teens.  It’s also a great family read-aloud.  It’s definitely a family-favorite at our house!

Possible Objections:

  • 2 uses of the d-word
  • 1 use of the b-word (though it’s used in reference to a female dog)

Rating: 5 Stars

Until next time…

Lori

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J.K. Rowling

HP Chamber of Secrets

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Title: Harry Potter and The Chamber Of Secrets by J.K. Rowling

Premise:

Harry Potter is back for his second year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry!  Don’t get too comfortable, though–danger lurks yet again for our dauntless hero and his friends.  Someone is determined to rid the school of students who are from non-wizarding families.  Can Harry, Ron and Hermione stop them before somebody is truly hurt?

My thoughts:

This book is possibly my favorite Harry Potter novel (though I’ll have to go through and compare all of them again to judge fairly).  The story is fun and charming; the characters are engaging and still fresh; the plot elements are fun and adventurous!  If ever there was a satisfying adventure story written for children–this is it!

Chamber of Secrets really capitalizes on the cohesive friendship of Harry, Ron and Hermione, where the first book only touched the surface.  In this book the friends really function as a team and figure out how they work best together.  Also, Hermione’s character became much less annoying and much more fleshed out.

Speaking of characters, I think that this book really did an admirable job of bringing in some very interesting and entertaining new ones–Professor Lockhart, Moaning Myrtle, and even Dobby.  An author should never underestimate the power of good supporting characters, and this story sure does deliver on that front.

As for the story line, it is so much fun–a flying car, the Forbidden Forest, the magical creatures, and the final scene in the Chamber of Secrets–who wouldn’t love it?

If you are familiar with the movie adaptation of this book, you will notice that the book and the movie are nearly identical.  It almost feels like you’re reading the screenplay.  Of course I know that the book came first, but I can picture the movie scenes in my head.  It’s a bit strange.

I highly recommend Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets to kids all the way from elementary school up through teens.  It’s also a great family read-aloud.  The story is timeless and would appeal to many ages.

A Favorite quote:

“’So Dobby stopped us from getting on the train and broke your arm….’  He shook his head.  ‘You know what, Harry?  If he doesn’t stop trying to save your life he’s going to kill you.’”  (p. 184)

Rating: 5 Stars

Until next time…

Lori

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