The Secret of the Old Clock by Carolyn Keene

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Title: The Secret of the Old Clock by Carolyn Keene

Notable: Book #1 in the Nancy Drew mystery series

Premise:

Nancy Drew, a young lady who lives with her lawyer father, has a penchant for sleuthing.  When an old man dies and leaves his entire estate to a family he disliked, Nancy wants to investigate whether or not a later will was written.

My thoughts:

Nancy Drew mysteries are what you would call old-fashioned and quaint.  I can just picture Nancy zipping around in her little convertible in her just-so prim dresses.  I’m not one for a lot of prim and proper damsel kind of garbage, but Nancy has enough spunk and daring that I’m willing to overlook her prissiness.

The mystery itself isn’t mind blowing or terribly complex, but it’s a fun story for a younger person who enjoys the genre.  If you want your kids to get started on a mystery series that isn’t morally objectionable in any way, you’ll want to check out this series.  Or maybe you read Nancy Drew as a kid and just want to revisit the books for nostalgia’s sake.  Whatever floats your boat, man.

I recommend The Secret of the Old Clock to those who enjoy tame mysteries featuring a teen/young adult protagonist.

Rating: 3 1/2 Stars

Until next time…

Lori

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Lost Truth by Dawn Cook

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Title: Lost Truth by Dawn Cook

Notable: Book #4 in the Truth series

Premise:

This fantasy dragon adventure finally wraps up with Alissa, Strell, Lodesh and Connen-Neute going on a journey to find some long-lost comrades.  Alissa and her true love are finally united, though that means one young man is left seriously disappointed.

My thoughts:

After enjoying the previous book so much, this one was a bit of a letdown.  The action was interesting, with several new characters being introduced (which was a welcome relief) and a completely new setting.  Meeting Keribdis brought the story full-circle and it allowed Talo-Toecan to face the foibles of his past which had wreaked so much havoc.

The resolution to Alissa’s love triangle fiasco was sadly disappointing to me.  I didn’t care much for her choice (I tend to root for the underdog), and it didn’t really seem to matter much anymore.  In the previous book her relationship with this particular character had been neglected so much that I pretty much lost interest in it altogether.  There wasn’t enough in this volume to convince me that she was really committed to the relationship.  The other character she had been attached to is basically discarded at the end of the story and that really rankled me.  Oh well.  I’ll get over it.

I recommend Lost Truth to fans of fantasy, dragons and female heroines!


Possible Objections:

  • A bit of violence

Rating: 3 1/2 Stars

Until next time…

Lori

Forgotten Truth by Dawn Cook

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Title: Forgotten Truth by Dawn Cook

Notable: Book #3 in the Truth series

Premise:

Alissa continues to train with Talo-Toecan, but when she practices a new skill it accidentally sends her back in time.  She’s still in the environs of the Hold, but ends us 400 years in the past, when Lodesh was just a young man.  Alissa tries to find her way back to Strell and her own time, but her feelings for Lodesh become much more complicated.

My thoughts:

This is my favorite book in the series so far.  There’s a richness to the Hold and Ese’ Nawoer of the past that is completely missing in the previous two books (probably because they’re unpopulated, no?).  The characters of Connen-Neute and Lodesh were a real pleasure to see developed, and there were several strong supporting characters, as well.

I don’t know what is going to happen with Alissa’s love life, but it seems like she might have three possible suitors now.  I’m rooting for Connen-Neute, though in truth, I don’t even know if he’s a real contender.  Strell was missing for most of this book and the few scenes he was in weren’t very compelling.  I found myself losing my attachment to his character–eek!  Lodesh likewise has lost some of his shine, based on some underhanded dealings on his part.

I didn’t care too much for the end of this book.  The men all seem totally defeated or amazingly oblivious, while Alissa lords it over them and won’t let go of one of them.  That young lady is being awfully selfish!  We’ll see where this story goes in the next volume…

I recommend Forgotten Truth to fans of fantasy and dragons!


Possible Objections:

  • A bit of violence
  • A tiny bit of language

Rating: 4 Stars

Until next time…

Lori

Hidden Truth by Dawn Cook

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Title: Hidden Truth by Dawn Cook

Notable: Book #2 in the Truth series

Premise:

The story continues with Strell being trained by Bailic as a Keeper, and Alissa trying not to blow her cover.  Alissa accidentally wakes the city of Ese’ Nowoer and the magnetic Lodesh enters the scene as a rival love interest.  Useless continues to covertly tutor Alissa, and eventually Alissa undergoes a significant change.

My thoughts:

I zipped through this book, just like the previous one.  Even though the writing isn’t stellar, it’s rich in detail and kept me interested and wanting to find out what would happen next.  For those of you who can’t stand a slower paced book, I think this one would test your patience.  As I was progressing through the story and taking notes, I realized that there wasn’t a whole lot that was really happening.

There’s a lot of relationship intrigue and drama, people getting upset over seemingly unimportant things, waiting and/or skulking around.  There are a few action-packed scenes, but they’re not the norm for most of the book.  Personally, that didn’t bother me.

The characters in this book are probably what keeps me really interested.  Alissa is fairly petty/dramatic in her emotions, but not a stranger to admitting the error of her ways.  Strell seems to have taken a lesser role, serving more as a supporting character than in the first book, and Lodesh is quite intriguing.  I can’t wait to see what his role is in the next book.

Towards the end of the story, there’s a significant development for Alissa, but I don’t want to spoil it for you.  All I’ll say is that it’s pretty cool.

I recommend Hidden Truth to fans of fantasy who like to see an empowered female protagonist.


Possible Objections:

  • A bit of violence
  • A tiny bit of language

Rating: 3 1/2 Stars

Until next time…

Lori

Ella Enchanted — Movie 2004

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A short while ago I watched Ella Enchanted after having finished the book.

If you want to know more about what I thought of the book, check out my book review.

I watched the Ella Enchanted movie before reading the book, so I already knew that I would like the story.  Even though I really enjoyed the movie, I was surprised by how much the story had been changed from the book.  Ella’s movie father is much, much nicer than in the book.  The other major difference is that Char and Ella’s love interest is developed in the movie in a way that it never is in the book.   Also, Char’s evil uncle was completely fabricated for the movie, but we were really gratified to see Cary Elwes in the role.  He must have had fun hamming it up and it reminded us of his performance in The Princess Bride.  The other change which made the movie so much fun was the way it melded modern and old-fashioned, including in costume, dance and singing.  Yes, singing!  Yes, a Queen song!  What more can I say?

Anne Hathaway had a huge part in making this movie the success that it is.  As we all know, she is a superb actress and this film showcases her abilities, even at a young-ish age.  Just like in the book, Ella is a feisty and opinionated Cinderella-type.  Hathaway puts just the right amount of wit, sass and charm into Ella to make her one of the most likable princesses out there.

I recommend Ella Enchanted to everybody who enjoys a good fairy tale.  My boys watched it with me, and even they conceded it was a good movie.

Rated: PG

Rating: 4 Stars

Until next time…

Lori

OTHER ELLA ENCHANTED POSTS:

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

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

Doctor Who: The Tenth Doctor Complete Year One by Nick Abadzis & Robbie Morrison

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Title: Doctor Who : The Tenth Doctor Complete Year One by Nick Abadzis & Robbie Morrison

Premise:

The Doctor recently had to leave Donna Noble behind and is currently traveling alone.  During one of his adventures he bumps into a young lady named Gabriella Gonzalez, whose family is caught in the middle of an alien invasion.  Gabby helps the Doctor set things right and accompanies him on several more intergalactic journeys.  Includes comics #1-15 of the Tenth Doctor Year One series.

My thoughts:

I saw this at the library and just had to check it out!  Doctor Who?  Yes, please!  This is my first foray into Whovian comics.  I sort of expected this book to feature characters we had met in the TV series, but it brings in a whole new cast of characters.  At first I wasn’t sure about Gabby, but after getting to know her through the stories, I’ve come to appreciate her spunk and determination.  The storytellers did a great job of capturing David Tennant’s portrayal of the Doctor on the written page–his mannerisms, way of speaking, looks.

Don’t expect a completely seamless artistic experience when cracking open this big, honking book.  It was illustrated by a variety of artists, some of them with widely differing styles.  One of the stories is fairly gruesome as it deals with the subject of WWI.  I wouldn’t want my middle schooler getting his hands on that, but you’ll have to be the judge for your own kids.

I recommend Doctor Who: The Tenth Doctor Complete Year One to Doctor Who fans.  If you love David Tennant, you will want to see the Doctor’s additional adventures!  I can’t wait to get my hands on the rest of these!

Possible Objections:

  • Some violence & gore (particularly in “The Weeping Angels of Mons”)

Rating: 4 Stars

Until next time…

Lori

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

Twilight: The Graphic Novel, Volume 2 adapted & illustrated by Young Kim

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Title: Twilight: The Graphic Novel, Volume 2 adapted & illustrated by Young Kim

Notable: Book #2 in the Twilight Graphic Novels series (incomplete series)

Premise:

This book picks up in the middle of the original Twilight book.  It covers Edward and Bella’s growing relationship, Bella’s introduction to the Cullen family, and James and Victoria’s hunt to catch Bella.

My thoughts:

Honestly, I thought this book was even better than the first one.  Probably the best part is when Edward tells Bella about the history of his family.  The narrative takes on more of an actual story and not just the longing looks and professions of love that we constantly hear from Edward and Bella.  Bella also gets to meet the Cullen family and is mostly welcomed with open arms, except by Rosalie who’s still a little uptight about becoming a vampire.

It seemed like the part with Victoria, James and Laurent wasn’t quite so impressive as it was in the original novel and the movie.  James just seemed like a creepy dude and I didn’t get an adequate sense of how dangerous and terrifying he really was.  Victoria wasn’t much more than a bit player, and Laurent seemed like just another sweet guy.  Where was the danger and menace?  Okay, rant over.  Really, I did enjoy the book.

I recommend Twilight: The Graphic Novel, Volume 2 to Twilight fans as an interesting alternative.

Rating: 3 1/2 Stars

Until next time…

Lori

Twilight: The Graphic Novel, Volume 1 adapted & illustrated by Young Kim

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Title: Twilight: The Graphic Novel, Volume 1 adapted & illustrated by Young Kim

Notable: Book #1 in the Twilight Graphic Novels series (incomplete series)

Premise:

Bella Swan moves from sunny Phoneix to overcast Forks, Washington when her mother remarries.  She doesn’t have high hopes for life in this new town until she meets hunky Edward Cullen.  The interest is mutual, but the closer Bella gets to Edward, the more she realizes that there’s more to him than meets the eye.

My thoughts:

I was a bit unsure about this rendition of Twilight when I checked it out from the library.  I’m a fan of the Twilight series, but I was concerned this would be boring, maybe because I already know the story so well.  I guess I had the attitude of, yeah I already know that story.  Not the best way to start a book–with an attitude.

The artistic style is different from most of the graphic novels I’ve read, but it’s not unfamiliar to me.  It’s actually very similar to the type of artwork my niece does–with a strong Asian influence.  Young Kim does amazing eyes–amazing!  At times the characters’ proportions were a little off, especially if they were posing at an odd angle, but it wasn’t too bad.  (Poor Edward, in one scene, looks like he has a hunched shoulder.  Tee-hee!)

Overall, I enjoyed seeing the story told from a fresh perspective.  Young had an idea of how the story should look and she utilized some interesting and inventive scene setup and angles throughout the book.  Text was really kept to a minimum, but what was included got to the meat of the story.  It seemed to flow well and make sense.  So, even though I went into the book with an attitude, I enjoyed it and am looking forward to the second volume.  This one leaves off right in the middle of the story.

I recommend Twilight: The Graphic Novel, Volume 1 to Twilight fans.  It’s fun to see a new take on the story.

Rating: 3 1/2 Stars

Until next time…

Lori

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