Sunday, December 21, 2008

Cathy's Ring


Cathy's Ring is a fast moving read that will appeal to mature high school and college students alike. Although I am long past high school, I did find Cathy's read to be a short book that kept my attention from beginning to end. Illustrator Cathy Brigg did an outstanding job with the illustrations throughout the book. They were very clever, eye-catching, and artisic. I enjoyed the illustrations just as much if not more than the story.

In Cathy's Ring, the central character is an Asian girl whose life is being threatened by an immortal. She has stolen a secret serum that can transform him from immortal to mortal. Her friends come to her aid and help her, while her boyfriend decides to end his immortality on his own by taking some of the serum.

Sex and drugs are briefly mentioned, but there are no actual incidents involving either.

The authors have an exceptional skill in writing for young adults, this being their third book in this successful series. I haven't read either of the first two books, Cathy's Book, or Cathy's Key, but I would recommend starting with those first.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

The Charlemagne Pursuit by Steve Berry review


The Charlemagne Pursuit by Steve Berry held a lot of promise as an interesting story. Coming in at just over 500 pages, and expecting that the main character Malone would go to Antarctica, I was very intrigued. But, despite an interesting premise, picturesque settings including the Biltmore Estate, Europe, and Antarctica, and being the third book in the series, I just didn't feel the book lived up to what it could have been.

The quasi-historical portions of the book were serious thought-provokers, that being the primary reason I was interested in reading this book. I love historical fiction as well as alternate history. I felt far too much of the book was devoted to the "plot" of a mother pitting her daughters against each other and Washington politics. The characters were underdeveloped, which was suprising considering how long this book was. But, with too many plots going and too many characters the author was hindered in making any character or any plot seem realistic.

The final twenty percent of the book is riveting. That made all the time I spent reading this book worthwhile. The chapters are short, most being only 3-5 pages, so if you only have a few minutes here and there to read throughout the day, and you enjoy thrillers, I would recommend this book to you.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The American Patriot's Almanac


The American Patriot’s Almanac is a fantastic way for families to talk about American history one bite at a time. I was worried that this book would be overwhelming in scope and depth at 515 pages, but instead I found it to be a pleasant read at one page per day.

The book consists of a one page a day synopsis of an important historical event that took place on this date in history. For example, December 16th has four paragraphs summing up the events of the Boston Tea Party. Following this, is five single line other significant historical events, arranged chronologically, such as:

1773 Massachusetts colonists stage the Boston Tea Party

1811 The first of the New Madrid earthquakes, a series of incredibly violent quakes centered near New Madrid, Missouri, occurs.

1835 Fire roars through New York City, destroying approximately 600 buildings.

1944 German forces launch a surprise attack in Belgium, beginning the Battle of the Bulge, Hitler’s last major offensive battle on the Western front.

1972 The Miami Dolphins become the first NFL team to go unbeaten and untied in a fourteen-game regular season; they go on to defeat the Redskins in Super Bowl VII.

When I first started reading this book about a week ago, I was always surprised to learn what took place on this date in history. My husband is a big history buff and I’ve never been able to talk history with him before because I didn’t have the vast reserves of trivia knowledge that he had. Now the gap is closing in! Every month historical documents are included, word for word, such as the Bill of Rights, the Declaration of Independence, The Gettysburg Address, as well as famous prayers and poems, such as the Franklin D. Roosevelt's D-Day Prayer, the Prayer for Memorial Day by Ronald Reagan, and I Hear America Singing by Walt Whitman.

Most significantly though, my ninth grade son is literally eating this book up at breakfast. He sits down with his bowl of cereal and opens up the book to today’s date and absorbs the information. I would recommend this book for middle school and above. If you can get your child to read the daily page, it would give your child a good foundation in America’s history in about three minutes a day.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Joker One - An Iraq War Memoir worth reading


Joker One is the all-too-true story of a young Marine Lieutenant assigned to the most dangerous city in Iraq in 2004.

The book is very nicely organized with a full list of characters, a map of Ramadi along with the proximity to Baghdad, and a glossary of military terms. It also includes a platoon hierarchy chart.

Lt. Campbell walks the reader through the long process of getting a Marine platoon ready to go to war while facing the very real possibility of any or all of his young Marines dying.

The first half of this book is a slow read unless one is fond of endless military organization and platoon tactics. The second half takes a dramatic, often deadly turn filled with as much action as any war memoir I can recall.

I enjoyed this book by first time author Donovan Campbell because it helped me to truly understand the preparation, sacrifice, and real danger faced by our soldiers everyday. Soldiers, veterans, and anyone wanting to understand a soldiers point of view in this war will find what they are looking for in this book.

The Dragonfly Secret by Clea & John Adams


Colorful and reassuring, The Dragonfly Secret is a children's book about a mom and dad who lose their little boy. The little boy befriends a dragonfly named Lea. Lea wants to know where the little boy is from and what his name is, and he tells her she will find out soon if she can help him by doing three things.

Along the way, the dragonfly meets the little boys grandparents and they give her the next set of instructions. Finally, the little boys parents come to the garden to grieve the loss of their son, and the dragonfly helps the boy by landing on his cap brought to the garden by his mom. Lea also touches the teddy bear brought to the garden by the little boys dad.

Finally, the parents understand that their little boy is communicating with them through the butterfly, and it assuages their grief. The couple call out "David, we love you!", and so the dragonfly learns the boys name as well as the fact that he exists in the afterlife.

The story is gently told with loving illustrations. Although I have found most reviewers feel this is a book for grieving children, I feel it would be more helpful to parents grieving the loss of a child. My seven year old read it and did not quite understand what was going on, although she really liked the dragonfly and the illustrations. Once I explained it to her she understood. The story is perhaps better for ages 8/9 and up, especially grieving adults.

The Tutu Ballet by Sally Lee


My daughter, a sucker for cute animals and ballet immediately fell in love with this book. This book speaks to inclusion and diversity by the authors choice of characters. Fillipo the Fox is a male ballet dancer, Belinda the Bear still has her baby fat, and of course all of the animals are a different color.

The pastel artwork is absolutely fabulous and several pages stand alone as an artistic experience with very little text.

In the story, each animal has a different talent which gives the ballet teacher a challenge when putting together a recital. In the end, each dancer showcases their extraordinary talent such as twirling, jumping, kicking, and plier (what is the correct verb for plie?). The ballet students are cheered on by their parents at the recital.

This book would be a wonderful read for aspiring ballerinas, as well as preschool and kindergarten age children. Sally Lee shines as an artist and keeps the storyline simple for young children.

I would recommend this book for ages 3-6. Young readers may have trouble reading the book because the font runs letters together. My only suggestion would be to improve the font in future editions.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Best of 2008 in Literature


This time of year everyone is putting out their "Best of" lists so I thought I would add my favorite reads of 2008 to this blog. I read 43 books in 2008 (excluding children's books). Five books made my Best of 2008 in Literature list, primarily because for me to put a book on my list it has to be absolutely outstanding, appeal to a wide range of readers, and hold long-term value as literature. If you haven't yet read these books, I give them my highest recommendation.

Click on the title below for my full review.

1. The Given Day by Dennis Lehane
2. The 19th Wife by David Ebershoff
3. A Fraction of the Whole by Steve Toltz
4. The White Mary by Kira Salak
5. The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson (no review written yet)

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Bringing the New Testament to Life for children


Word of Promise Next Generation - New Testament: Dramatized Audio Bible is a brilliant production that will capture your children's attention and make the New Testament much more accessible to youth. Coming in at only 24 hours of audio, this would make ideal listening any time of day.

There are two versions of this set. The first set is 20 CD's which will play on your home or car CD player. The other set is 3 mp3 CD's, which can be played on a computer or uploaded to any MP3 player. Some newer car and home CD players will also play mp3's, just check for the mp3 logo.

Unlike the Inspired By series (which I love) my daughter prefers listening to this as she goes to bed each night. The ambient sounds, special effects, and musical compositions give this set the feel of a high quality audio book. I love the fact that she goes to sleep hearing the word of God.

The one and only complaint that I have is that this version uses the International Children's Bible which I am not very familiar with. Some of the translation sounds a bit odd, but I do understand the publisher is trying to target this set to the 6-14 year old age group. That being said, this is an absolutely wonderful, affordable gift for children. Children can listen while doing chores, homework, going to bed, or just riding in the car. It makes the New Testament so accessible that I wouldn't be surprised if my children begin to memorize their favorite parts.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

The Lost City of Z by David Grann


The Lost City of Z by David Grann is one of the best true-life adventure stories I’ve ever read. In this book author David Grann embarks on a journey around the world in search of documents, clues, interviews, and a jungle trek through the Amazon to uncover what he can regarding the disappearance of Colonel Percy Fawcett in the Amazon jungle in 1925.

Colonel Fawcett is best known for his Amazon jungle exploration activities in the early twentieth century. He was renowned for his strength, stamina, immunity, and will power; all qualities that made him the last great Victorian era explorer. Unlike many other explorers, he chose to travel in small, hand-picked parties and readily befriended the natives. While most explorers were exploring the rivers by boat, Colonel Fawcett often trekked over land with machete in hand through dense rainforest with little food and massive insect problems day and night.

At one point Colonel Fawcett becomes obsessed with finding El Dorado, the city of gold, he called Z. David Grann makes unearths diaries, documents, logs, and letters to bring the reader into the jungle to experience Colonel Fawcett’s account of his travels and the quest for Z. Colonel Fawcett’s companions journals and letters are also used to show what it was like to be in his exploration party and to give first hand accounts of what the Colonel was like.

This book was incredibly educational yet exciting to read. No doubt any reader will feel like they are in the jungle suffering the heat, hunger, humidity, and incredible awesomeness of the Amazon. The end of the book provides an exhaustive chapter by chapter bibliography and reference section. Even though this book read like a novel, it was based in truth and should be a gem to those interested in the early twentieth century European exploration of South America.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

The Heretic's Daughter


A family's struggle for life, liberty, and happiness during the Salem Witch Trials

Kathleen Kent holds great promise as an historical novelist as evidenced by her debut novel The Heretic’s Daughter. In the Heretic’s Daughter, readers will see the Salem Witch Trials through the eyes of an accused child witch and her family. The author takes us deep inside the horrid conditions of the jailed accused and a family’s struggle to stay alive. It is there, in the last half of the book that the author shows incredible skill in storytelling. I was shocked and saddened to learn how the accused were left jailed, in chains, hungry, and confined in unsanitary surroundings. A couple of incidents are sure to be completely heartbreaking to everyone who picks up this book.

This book brought to me a new appreciation for our current justice system and religious freedoms. My primary criticism of this book is that the chapters are incredibly long. I don’t like picking up a book and not being able to finish a chapter in a sitting. Many chapters in this book will take an hour to read. It would have been nice if the chapters were shorter. Despite a slow and awkward beginning, once I was halfway through the book I was completely immersed in the storyline and finished the book quickly.

In my opinion, this is a must read book for fans of early American historical fiction.