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:

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November Unhaul & Giveaway — CLOSED

My Bookshelf Giveaways:

*Read my reviews by clicking on the titles above.

Enter by clicking on the link following each title.  The giveaways are open internationally to participants 18 years and older and will end on November 30, 2017.  Winners will be announced on my blog and contacted through email.  Good luck!

The Help – Movie 2011

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Yesterday I watched The Help, the movie adaptation of the book by the same name.  It was awesome!

For those of you who have never read the book, this is a story about a young lady named Skeeter who wants to become a writer, and the relationship she develops with a couple of maids in Jackson, Mississippi during the Civil Rights era.  All of the women will be in grave danger if they are caught as they work on their writing project — sharing what it’s like to live as a black maid in the South during that time period.  If you want to know more about what I thought of the book, check out my book review.

My thoughts:

I was already a fan of the novel, so I was a bit nervous to see how they had translated it to the big screen.  I’m happy to say that the movie adaptation of the book was strong.  I think a large part of the movie’s success is in its amazing actresses.  Whether they are good or bad, all of the ladies played their parts really well.  Even Hilly, the bat-sh** craziest of the Southern belles, excited a certain fascination in me.  She’s one of those characters you love to hate.

The movie was shortened and simplified somewhat from the book, but that is nothing unexpected.  I don’t think the essence of the story was damaged in any way.  I was glad to see that they took out the scene in which Minny and Celia are accosted at Celia’s house.  I thought that it was out of place in the book, and it would have been even more mystifying in the movie.

The true artistry in this film is the message it shares.  Viewers are shown a story of love, acceptance, betrayal, and hatred–and asked to come to their own conclusions.  Who was right and who was wrong?  Can relationships based on respect, compassion and a desire to do what’s right, overcome the color barrier?  Should we take a risk in working with someone different from ourselves, even at the risk of getting burned?  This message needs to be heard today, just as it did during the Civil Rights era, because our country’s racial issues certainly haven’t gone away.

I recommend The Help to all adults and possibly some mature older teens.  Even if you’re not a history buff, it’s still a wonderful story worth watching.

Possible Objections:

  • A moderate amount of bad language
  • Racially offensive language

Rated: PG-13

Rating: 4 1/2 Stars

Until next time…

Lori

OTHER THE HELP POSTS:

Bernie Sanders Guide to Political Revolution by Bernie Sanders

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A special thank-you to Macmillan and Goodreads for providing an ARC for me to review!

Title: Bernie Sanders Guide to Political Revolution by Bernie Sanders

Premise:

The focus of this book is to share Bernie Sanders’ views on the major political issues of the day and the ways he would address them.  He seeks to inform readers about the broken policies and practices in the areas of a livable wage, taxes, Wall Street, health care, higher education, immigration, climate change, and policing and criminal justice.

My thoughts:

I think that this book accomplishes exactly what it set out to do: share Bernie’s political views and solutions with a younger generation.  The text and explanations are clear and concise, breaking down the issues into language which most young people would understand.  If you’re older or looking for a particularly in-depth analysis and explanations, you’ll be disappointed, but remember that’s not the aim of this book.

I had heard Bernie’s views leading up to the election of course, but this is a quick and easy way to learn about his political views.  The problems he talks about in each area are enlightening and it’s good to be informed about the problems our country is facing and why.  Quite frankly, I got angry and/or depressed after reading each chapter.  There is so much injustice in this country, especially being perpetuated by corrupt big business and political powers.  The rich really do have a racket going on in this country and the little people are at a major disadvantage in righting those wrongs.  So, I wouldn’t recommend reading this right before bed because you’ll probably get angry and sit there fuming in bed while you should be sleeping.

I think Bernie’s aim is not to get people depressed and feeling helpless, but to encourage them (especially young people) to get involved in politics.  While it may seem overwhelming because there are so many areas of corruption, we can each choose one area that we feel strongly about and focus our energies and efforts there.  One person cannot do everything, but each one of us can do something.  A lot of little people working to make change will add up to large changes in our society and political system.  I think Bernie Sanders is a politician with heart who keeps the well-being of everyday people in mind.  That’s a rare thing today.

I recommend Bernie Sanders Guide to Political Revolution to young people who would like to learn more about the major political issues of the day, and see how Sanders would address those issues.  It’s also appropriate for adults who are looking for a basic, concise book about Sanders’ views.

A favorite quote:

“I believe that the government has a moral responsibility to provide for the vulnerable–the children, the elderly, the sick, and the disabled.  But I do not believe that the government should burden taxpayers with financially supporting profitable corporations owned by some of the wealthiest people in this country.  That’s absurd.”  (p. 10)

Rating: 3 1/2 Stars

Until next time…

Lori

A Walk in the Woods – Movie 2015

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Just the other day I had the privilege of watching A Walk in the Woods, the movie adaptation of the book by the same name.  I managed to rack up $5 in library fines in the process, but by gum, I did it!  Another aside — I had to find a time to watch it when little ears wouldn’t be around to hear all of the f-bombs that I knew I’d be hearing.

For those of you who have never read the book, this is a story about an older man’s quest to hike the Appalachian Trail.  He and a friend use the opportunity to have one last hurrah, as it were.  If you want to know more about what I thought of the book, check out my book review.

My thoughts:

First, you should know that I absolutely loved the book!  That means that I was starting from a place of already being in love with the story and the author.  When following a beloved story with a movie, it can be difficult to live up to the high expectations that the reader/viewer already has.

As you know, something is lost when you translate a book into film, and this was no exception.  The movie left out the charm and wit of Bryson’s storytelling, as well as his asides on topics such as the National Forest Service, etc.  If you’ve read the book, this is a nice way to visualize the story and see the embodiment of the characters.  If you watch the movie without reading the book, just know that you are getting the short end of the stick.  The book is so much more complex, nuanced, clever and lovely.  Another thing that just doesn’t come through in the movie is the stink, sweat, toil, fatigue and monotony that was a part of the trail life.  For all of those juicy details you’ll have to pick up the book.

I didn’t care for the way Bill’s wife was portrayed in the movie as being unsupportive.  In reality she was actually very supportive and helped Bill with many aspects of the journey.  However, I think they may have changed her character to give the story some conflict.  On the other side of the coin, we have Katz whose character was magical.  Nick Nolte was a wonderfully grizzled, unsophisticated and crass Katz.  I loved his way of talking and that he threw in the expletives in an unobtrusive manner.  Katz’s dry, sardonic sense of humor comes through really well, too.

There are a few objectionable aspects to the film which you should know about.  In one scene we briefly see Nick Nolte’s derrière from afar.  There’s also regular talk about things of a sexual nature, including a short scene with implied fellatio.  Other than that, the foul language is the most pervasive objectionable aspect.

I recommend this movie to adults who enjoy a low-key, humorous movie about aging.  While the story isn’t anything to write home about, the delivery is amusing.  I feel like a group of older friends would get a kick out of watching this together.

Possible Objections:

  • Brief partial nudity
  • Sexual references
  • Lots of foul language (mostly from Katz)

Rated: R

Rating: 4 Stars

Until next time…

Lori

OTHER A WALK IN THE WOODS POSTS:

Methland: The Death and Life of an American Small Town by Nick Reding

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Title: Methland: The Death and Life of an American Small Town by Nick Reding

Premise:

The author seeks to shed light on the meth epidemic and the effect that it has on small-town American life, following the fortunes of the small town of Oelwein which is gripped in the clutches of methamphetamines.  Through interviews, research, shadowing, and by reaching out to others for their wisdom, Nick weaves a complex and disturbing tale of how meth became an epidemic in the United States, how it is affecting small towns, and why it just won’t go away.

My thoughts:

If you ever wanted to learn about methamphetamine and the way it impacts peoples’ lives, this is the book for you.  I thought this would be a mostly anecdotal book, but it turns out that the author shares a lot of background information about meth, as well.  Of course it makes sense to educate readers about how meth affects the brain, the effects it has on the rest of your body, and how it changes your brain functions even after you have stopped using, but for some reason I wasn’t expecting to get so much background information.  I really appreciated getting to know more about the drug and what it does physiologically to a person.  That knowledge makes it all the more scary, but it’s better to be well-informed than ignorant.

It’s rather disturbing to learn that the spread of meth could have been prevented were it not for powerful lobbyists and the interference of a pharmaceutical industry who was looking out for the bottom line.  It’s hard to understand how they could feel justified in blocking legislation that would prevent illegal drugs from being made so easily, but then again, when has big business ever shown itself to have a conscience?

The unfortunate result of the government not taking stronger steps to crack down on the drug problem is that thousands of small town police officers, social workers, mayors, and doctors have to continually put out fires (sometimes quite literally).  They are on the front-lines and have to deal with the day-to-day consequences of a lax system which allows meth to proliferate.  In my neck of the woods (the Midwest), meth is a huge problem.  Kids are entering into the foster care system all the time because their parents are addicted and/or cooking up meth at home and the children are being exposed to the toxins (not to mention the neglect and sometimes abuse that accompany it).  Our social worker told us that they really can’t keep up with the increased need for foster families.

One thing that I find highly satisfying about Methland is that the author looks at the problem from so many angles and really tries to get to the root of the problem.  He doesn’t take the easy way out and blame it on a couple of factors, but shows readers how it is really a complex weaving-together of many factors: drug distribution routes, illegal immigration, Mexican DTOs, lax laws, pharmaceutical lobbying, loss of living-wage employment, the profits to be made from meth, and the mental impact the drug has on its users.  There is no easy answer to the meth epidemic and it would require many different agencies working in tandem and putting forth their strongest efforts to make a dent in the problem.

The author did an admirable job of tying together all of the different threads of the story, though the anecdotal stories were not always strictly related.  For that reason it sometimes felt like I was picking up with a soap opera, revisiting a scene which had been left off during the previous week’s episode.  I suppose that couldn’t really be avoided, though.  I enjoyed getting to know the characters in the book.  They were real people, just like the rest of us, trying to make a difference in a world gone mad.

I recommend Methland to adults who would like to learn more about the meth epidemic.  It’s a fascinating and enlightening exploration of a terrible problem that we are facing in the United States right now.

A favorite quote:

“In 2005, when I called Dr. Clay Hallberg, the Oelwein general practitioner, and asked him to characterize the meth epidemic in his hometown, Clay had told me that meth was ‘a sociocultural cancer.’  What he meant, he said, was that, as with the disease, meth’s particular danger lay in its ability to metastisize throughout the body, in this case the body politic, and to weaken the social fabric of a place, be it a region, a town, a neighborhood, or a home.  Just as brain cancer often spreads to the lungs, said Clay, meth often spreads between classes, families, and friends.  Meth’s associated rigors affect the school, the police, the mayor, the hospital, and the town businesses.  As a result, said Clay, there is a kind of collective low self-esteem that sets in once a town’s culture must react solely to a singular–and singularly negative–stimulus.”  (p. 73)

Possible Objections:

  • some disturbing descriptions of violence, injuries, bodily functions & sexual stuff
  • some adult language

Rating: 4 Stars

Until next time…

Lori

The Sign of the Beaver by Elizabeth George Speare

Sign of the Beaver

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Title: The Sign of the Beaver by Elizabeth George Speare

Notable: Newbery Honor book, 1984

Premise:

Matt and his father have claimed a homestead in the Maine wilderness, but Matt’s father must return to civilization to bring the rest of his family  back.  Does Matt have what it takes to protect their claim and survive until his father returns?  When Matt experiences misfortune, a couple of members of the local Penobscot tribe help him survive.  But how do white settlers and Native People coexist?

My thoughts:

I’m really conflicted on this book.  I enjoyed the story, Matt’s fight for survival, and the blossoming friendship between Attean and Matt.  On the other hand, there were aspects of the book which I really disliked–the dumbing down of the Native Americans, the offensive language, the almost too subtle social commentary.

I’m not a prude when it comes to offensive language in a book, but this is a book aimed at children.  They won’t know that some of the words are outdated or downright offensive.  If it were just a couple of instances it would be easier to overlook, but it’s pretty pervasive.  I most certainly wouldn’t want my child to think that it’s okay to call a woman a “squaw” or a Native American a “savage”.  Okay, rant over.

Apart from that, there are several passages when Matt’s accepted way of thinking is challenged and he comes to a new understanding.  He entertains the idea that perhaps slavery is wrong…maybe Native Americans aren’t as “savage” as he thought…perhaps the white man’s priorities in life are not always superior.  I appreciate that Matt has those crises of thinking, but I think that they are not always spelled out clearly enough that a child would pick up on them.  I hesitate to introduce racist ideas to a child without a very clear follow-up that shows the child why those ideas are wrong.

I suppose the only way I can recommend this book is if you read it with your child and have some very candid discussions about what you are reading.  Some of the issues that will need addressing are slavery, racial terminology, gender roles and terminology, and a more in-depth look at Native American culture.  You can learn more about the Penobscot tribe here.  Also, this link has some helpful curriculum discussion points to address the issues I mentioned.

Possible Objections:

  • Outdated and/or offensive racial language (i.e. Indians, savages, heathen, squaw)
  • Outdated modes of thinking (racism, slavery is normal, Native Americans are uncivilized, etc.)

Rating: 3 1/2 Stars

Until next time…

Lori

Word Search Book Bag Giveaway — CLOSED

Book Bag Giveaway.jpg

This month’s giveaway is this roomy word search canvas book bag, and a pack of Cats in the Box.  The cats are little sticky notes, but they are so adorable that I don’t know if you could bear to use them!  I gave a set to a friend and had to get some for a giveaway, as well.  They’re too cute not to share.  Let the giveaway begin my darlings!

Enter by following the link below.  It’s open to participants in the United States and will end on March 31, 2017.  The winner will be announced on my blog and contacted through email.  Good luck!

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English Teatime Giveaway — Cross Promotion — CLOSED

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Here’s February’s giveaway–a box of Bigelow English Teatime!  It’s another of my absolute favorite teas and I want to share it with one lucky winner.  I hope that they will enjoy it, too!

Enter by following the link below.  It’s open to participants in the 48 contiguous United States and will end on Feb. 28, 2017.  The winner will be announced on my blog and contacted through email.  Good luck!

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The Way of the Samurai Book Giveaway — Cross Promotion — CLOSED

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I’m giving away The Way of the Samurai by Inazo Nitobe!  Since this book may appeal to many different readers, I’m cross-promoting the giveaway from my homeschooling blog.

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It’s open to U.S. residents and ends February 28, 2017.

Best of luck to you!

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Books Make Me Happy Zippered Pouch Giveaway — CLOSED

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Because I love books, blogging and sharing the things that I love, I’m going to regularly host monthly giveaways on my blog!  Yay!  This month I chose this really cute zippered pouch which is perfect for the bibliophile with a little sass.  If you want to be made happy by this prize, go ahead and enter!

Enter by following the link below.  It’s open within the 48 contiguous United States and will end on Feb. 28, 2017.  The winner will be announced on my blog and contacted through email.  Good luck!

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Caddie Woodlawn by Carol Ryrie Brink

caddie-woodlawn

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I read Caddie Woodlawn years ago, as a child.  I love frontier adventures which feature female heroines.  The fact that this story takes place in the area I grew up in makes it that much more interesting to me.  This is a 1936 Newbery Medal winner, too!

Premise:

The story is about the life of Caddie Woodlawn and her family in the early Wisconsin frontier during the Civil War era.  Her parents came to the Wisconsin wilderness from Boston to make a new life for themselves, settling in the area of Downsville.  The story is rather like a memoir–sharing specific stories from Caddie’s life which she shared with her family.  It was her granddaughter, Carol Ryrie Brink, who put the stories into book form.

My thoughts:

The most enthralling thing about this book, for me personally, is that it took place in the area where I grew up.  It’s fun to imagine Caddie and her brothers traipsing through the wilderness (which is now quite developed land).  Have we walked along the same stretch of river?  Where exactly was her family’s farm?

Caddie is such a fun tomboyish character.  Her father is given charge of her upbringing, in the hopes that more vigorous activities (a.k.a. hanging out with her brothers), will help keep her healthy.  (One of her older sisters became weak and died when she was coddled by their mother in the rough frontier land.)  Caddie and her brothers engage in all sorts of shenanigans, and eventually Caddie matures and realizes that growing up isn’t quite the awful thing that she always thought it would be.

The one criticism I have for the book is its outdated language pertaining to Native Americans.  For its time, this book is fairly forward-thinking, but it will still be offensive to today’s readers.  There are a few instances where the terms “redskins,” “savages,” and “half-breeds” are used.  I recommended the book to my son, but prefaced it with a discussion on terms referring to and attitudes towards Native Americans at that period in history.

There are a couple of circumstances relating to the Native American characters in the story which help teach kids a lesson in accepting others.  Caddie’s friendship with Indian John, and her act of love for the Hankinson kids are two of my favorite scenes from the entire book.  You’ll see why when you read them.  Sometimes it takes a child to know what is right and to follow through, even when the adults around them would rather cling to suspicion and prejudice.

I recommend this book to older elementary-age children, up to teens.  It’s a fun look into U.S. history which gives kids a good view into what everyday life may have looked like for white settlers.

Possible Objections:

  • Some offensive/outdated racial language referring to Native Americans (“savages,” “redskins”)

Rating: 4 Stars

Until next time…

Lori

Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales: The Underground Abductor by Nathan Hale

underground-abductor

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I requested The Underground Abductor from the library as part of my quest to find interesting graphic novels for children.  I could not put this one down!  I didn’t know much about Harriet Tubman, but now I want to find some adult books to learn more.

Premise:

Araminta Ross was born a slave, but she dreamed of freedom for herself and her family.  She escaped to the North and later, as Harriet Tubman, returned for her family.  In her journeys she led many others to freedom on the Underground Railroad, met Frederick Douglass and John Brown, and worked as a spy during the Civil War.  Harriet Tubman became a legend in her time, known as “General Moses” for her unequivocal success in leading her people to freedom.

My thoughts:

I absolutely loved this book!  Araminta (better known as Harriet Tubman) was an amazing young woman who was born into slavery in Maryland.  She worked hard and eventually made plans to secure her freedom.  When she found out that she was going to be sold and would not be able to buy her own freedom, she made the decision to run away to the North.  Harriet was successful and had started to settle into a new life, but when she heard about “The Fugitive Slave Act of 1850”, she knew that she had to get her family to freedom sooner rather than later.

Harriet made many trips into the South to bring her family (and many others) to freedom.  Because of a head injury she received as a child, Harriet suffered from narcolepsy and during these sleep episodes she would see visions from God.  These visions helped guide her on the many dangerous trips she took, and alerted her to dangers along the way.

Harriet also aided the North during the civil war, acting as nurse, spy and consultant.  During one particular episode, she helped lead about 800 slaves to freedom in one night, when she aided Colonel Montgomery and his Jayhawkers.

Amazingly, Harriet Tubman survived all of the dangers she faced throughout her life and eventually settled with her family in Auburn, New York.  Her dedication, drive, and courage are an amazing example to all of us.  When there is something worth fighting for, don’t give up.

I recommend this book to kids who enjoy graphic novels and would prefer to learn about history through that medium.  This particular book is best suited to elementary-age children up to teens.

Possible Objections:

  • Violence (though the illustrations are not graphic)

Rating: 5 Stars

Until next time…

Lori

Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales: Alamo All-Stars by Nathan Hale

alamo-all-stars

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I read Alamo All-Stars over the course of a couple days. This is a super-fun graphic novel that is perfect for teaching kids about history!  I’m excited to check out the other books in this series.

Premise:

Learn about the early history of the state of Texas, its inhabitants, and their relationship with Mexico.  Who fought for the independence of the Texas?  Why?  How did the Mexican government respond?  What happened at the Alamo?  You’ll find answers to all these questions and more in Alamo All Stars!

My thoughts:

I love this book!  It’s a fantastic way to teach kids about history in a fun and engaging way.  Who wants to read about a bunch of stale dates and names in a history book?  Let kids learn history through graphic novels!!

I’m a big history fan when it’s presented in an interesting format.  Alamo All Stars definitely meets that requirement.  My school days were inexplicably absent of almost any information pertaining to U.S. History.  I don’t know how that happened, but it did.  So I learned about a period of American history that was completely new to me.  And now the story makes sense and will stick with me.  If a person can see a story unfolding before their eyes, it’s more likely that they will retain that information.

It was pretty cool to learn about the roles that Davy Crockett and Jim Bowie played at the Alamo.  (Yes, I’m talking about the man who has a knife named after him.)  I had no idea that they were there!

There are a few stock characters who act as narrators in this book (and the others in the series).  They help provide background information and commentary, as well as a little humor.  The illustrations have a somewhat simple style, but I think they’re quite nice.

I recommend this book for anybody in the elementary to teen years who wants to learn about history in an interesting way.  This would also be great for homeschoolers or to augment a history classroom.

Possible Objections:

  • One instance of the d-word
  • Some violence

Rating: 5 Stars

Until next time…

Lori

The Shores of Tripoli: Lieutenant Putnam and the Barbary Pirates by James L. Haley

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I received an ARC of The Shores of Tripoli and just finished it the other day.  I was intrigued by this book because I didn’t know anything about the Barbary Wars, which took place in the early 1800’s.

Premise:

Readers are taken on a tour of life in the navy during the period of history when the U. S. engaged in the Barbary Wars.  We follow a fictitious main character through a setting, details and events which are accurate and historical.  Bliven Putnam begins his naval career as a midshipman and is promoted to Lieutenant Commodore by the end of the book.  He experiences many fantastic adventures in his time in the navy, which shape him into a man.  There is also commentary on the politics and political climate of the time throughout the story.  Many interesting supporting characters enter into The Shores of Tripoli, such as the rulers of the Barbary States, Commodore Preble, Mr. & Mrs. Barton, Tobias Lear, and Sam Bandy.  They all add considerably the narrative.

My thoughts:

By setting a fictitious character in the midst of history, the author managed to tell a story which was both captivating and informative.  I really enjoyed this story and feel like my understanding of early U. S. history has improved.  The narrative is quite descriptive and compelling, which should keep you reading at a good clip.  The end of the book leaves you hanging, but they might be setting it up for another installment.

The only issue I had was that I am unfamiliar with the parts of a ship.  The descriptions of what they were doing with sails, jibs, etc. went over my head.

I would recommend this book to those who enjoy learning about history in an entertaining way.  By following Putnam’s journey through real-life events, you will get an insider’s look at the Barbary Wars of the early 1800’s.  It’s certainly an engaging way to learn history!

Possible Objections:

  • Some violence
  • Some sexual themes
  • A bit of foul language/crass words

Rating: 4 Stars

Until next time…

Lori

*I received a free ARC of this book and have shared my honest opinion.

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