I read The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe when I was in 5th or 6th grade, but for some reason, never chose to finish the series. With The Chronicles...moreI read The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe when I was in 5th or 6th grade, but for some reason, never chose to finish the series. With The Chronicles of Narnia finally being made into movies, I decided it was time to rectify that situation, since I have always had a preference for reading the book before seeing the movie. Though I didn't find it to be quite as compelling a story as The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Prince Caspian was still a very good follow-up. It was a little like visiting with old friends. I enjoyed learning a bit more about the history of Narnia, and seeing how it had changed since the Pevensie children had ruled the land. It was also very nice to see them reconnect with Aslan and once again wrest Narnia from the control of evildoers, though I have to say that the "bad guys" in this story just simply weren't as convincing as the White Witch in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. I must admit though that I really loved the scenes where the girls, along with many of the creatures and inhabitants of Narnia have a feast, as well as the celebration everyone took part in following their victory. All the joy and happiness in those parts of the narrative just really drew me into the story. Although I was left with some questions that I hope will be answered in the remaining books in the series, I definitely thought Prince Caspian was a fun and enjoyable read.(less)
Reviewed for THC Reviews Throughout my childhood, I read the Little House on the Prairie books several times, and they became some of my all-time favor...moreReviewed for THC Reviews Throughout my childhood, I read the Little House on the Prairie books several times, and they became some of my all-time favorites. I probably hadn't picked one up since my early teens though, and finally rediscovered the series when I decided to share it with my children. I made the pleasant discovery that I still enjoy it every bit as much as an adult, as I did when I was a kid. I've always had a love for history, and the vivid descriptions of pioneer life just draw me into the story. Life in that era was not easy and required a great deal of hard work, but there were also many rewards in return. I simply can't help but love the entire Ingalls family. They are so close-knit and loving, the ideal family that almost any child (or adult) would love to have as their own. Laura is a lively and curious child who is very relatable, and who obviously adores her father very much. I loved reading all the little stories that Laura's pa told her and the songs that he sang for her. In my opinion, they add a lot of warmth and authenticity to the story. The illustrations by Garth Williams are absolutely charming, helping to bring the narrative to life even more. Little House in the Big Woods is the first book in the Little House series, and I greatly look forward to continuing my exploration of the series through adult eyes while sharing them with my children. For a complete list of books in the Little House series plus fun activities and information for both kids and adults visit the Little House Books website.(less)
Reviewed for THC Reviews This was my second read of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, and I have to say that even after having read it before and...moreReviewed for THC Reviews This was my second read of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, and I have to say that even after having read it before and seeing the movie four times, it is still just as good as it was the first time I read it. I'm simply a little more familiar with the story now. I started this series a few years ago by reading it to my kids, but when our busy schedules just seemed to keep getting in the way of finishing it, I decided to go back on my own to re-read the earlier books and hopefully finally wrap up the series this time around.
Even as an adult reading it alone, this is still a delightful book with a magical (no pun intended) plot and a host of colorful and diverse characters. I absolutely love the interactions between Harry, Ron and Hermione. They make an ideal trio of friends whose strengths and weaknesses compliment each other perfectly. I really admire the Weasley family. They may not have much in the way of material possessions, but they have lots of warmth and love and are a family I wouldn't mind being a part of. Professor Dumbledore is the perfect, gentle father-figure who is also a genius with just a touch of humorous eccentricity. Professor McGonagall is wonderful as a very stern, but kind, motherly figure. Professor Snape is a total enigma who constantly keeps me guessing about his motivations. Hagrid is one of the most marvelous characters in the book and also one that keeps me guessing but in much different ways. His affection for and attachment to magical creatures is both funny and endearing all rolled into one, and he definitely has a gift for their care. Of course, these are just a few of my favorites, but the story is teeming with more characters from teachers to students, and from the ghosts and spirits who haunt the castle to Harry's Muggle family, the Dursleys, all of whom are brought vividly to life. It would be nearly impossible not to love, or at least love to hate, each and every one.
Sometimes, it's hard to believe that this was J. K. Rowling's debut novel, but with her enchanting story-telling skills, it is very easy to see why the Harry Potter series enticed so many kids and teens back to reading and is still a world-wide favorite, quite possibly even destined for classic status. I know that when I read a children's/young adult book as an adult and enjoy it this much, it is one I too would have enjoyed in my youth. I very much look forward to continuing this captivating series soon.(less)
Reviewed for THC Reviews Being a lover of history and historical fiction, I've been very excited about trying out the Dear America series for quite som...moreReviewed for THC Reviews Being a lover of history and historical fiction, I've been very excited about trying out the Dear America series for quite some time. Since all the books are written by different authors, I'm not sure how they compare to this one, but I was very pleased with my first foray into the series. I Thought My Soul Would Rise and Fly chronicles the life of a freed slave girl a few months after emancipation was voted into law. I was pretty sure the book was a work of fiction, but the author did such a good job with making the story believable that I had a few moments of doubt until reading the historical notes at the end which confirmed that it was. Patsy was a sweet, lovely, and very relatable character to read about. She is only about twelve or thirteen when the story open, and to the outside world she isn't much to look at. In addition to being an orphan, Patsy is painfully shy because of a severe stuttering problem, and she also walks with a pronounced limp. Inside though, she is a very brave and strong girl who secretly taught herself how to read and write during a time when the punishment for doing so could have been extremely severe. I really like how Patsy grew a lot throughout the story and became braver and more readily able to speak as time went on. She also takes so much joy and comfort from her reading that when she reads aloud, her stutter all but disappears. I really liked how the author put emphasis on the importance of literacy by showing how much it means to Patsy.
Through reading I Thought My Soul Would Rise and Fly, I was able to learn some things about what life was like for freed slaves. I found it interesting that their day to day lives weren't all that different after emancipation than they were before it, with the exception that they were now getting paid, albeit very low wages, for the work they were doing. Many of the former slaves from the plantation where Patsy lived left immediately, hoping to buy land of their own or find better work in the cities. Many stayed behind to become sharecroppers or to continue working as servants. There were conflicted feelings among them, and even in Patsy's mind, as to whether it was better to go or stay, and there were certainly positives and negatives to both sides of the coin. It was very interesting to learn about all of this, and the author's historical notes at the end of the book also helped to put things in perspective.
I don't believe I have ever read a book in diary format before, so I don't know if this is a typical example of a book written in that style or not. The one downside I found about this style, at least in the case of this book, is that it could be rather repetitive at times. For example: Every Monday is wash day; nearly every Tuesday the freed slaves have a Union League meeting where they discuss their rights and read the newspapers; nearly every Sunday they meet in the arbor for worship services. There is some variation in each of these entries, so it didn't bother me overmuch, but I could see how this could become tedious to kids who might be reading it. There were also a lot of characters to keep track of, and I found myself forgetting who various people were on occasion, which would probably mean that kids might have trouble with this too. I think the author's purpose was to show how lonely Patsy felt as more and more of the people she knew and had grown up with left the plantation, but it was a little hard to keep them all straight. Otherwise, I really enjoyed the book, and I am definitely looking forward to reading more books in the Dear America series. I think that this series and its companion series, My America, My Name Is America, and The Royal Diaries all have a great deal to offer both child and adult readers.(less)
Reviewed for THC Reviews "4.5 stars" I found The City of Ember to be a very entertaining read that is somewhat difficult to categorize. It is essential...moreReviewed for THC Reviews "4.5 stars" I found The City of Ember to be a very entertaining read that is somewhat difficult to categorize. It is essentially part science fiction, part fantasy with healthy doses of adventure, suspense, and mystery thrown in for good measure. It has a rather post-apocalyptic feel to it with a little government conspiracy on the side, although since this is a children's book, it wasn't nearly as dark as most stories of that type. My sense of this theme was confirmed when I read on the author's website that part of her inspiration for the novel was her experiences growing up in the 1950's when many people were concerned about a possible nuclear war and were building bomb shelters just in case. Having grown up in an older house that had a bomb shelter, I could definitely relate. I also thought I detected a bit of an environmental message in the story, mainly fueled by Lina and Doon's fascination with the things of nature, which was also something that Jeanne DuPrau said she hoped would be conveyed in her narrative. Trying to figure out the mystery of what and where Ember is and why it was created was a lot of fun. Some of these details were disclosed by the end of the book and others were not, but Ms. DuPrau stated that the remaining mysteries would be revealed in the next book of the series, The People of Sparks. I also think there was a morality tale embedded in The City of Ember that explored the idea that there is both light and dark inside each one of us, and which we choose to follow can affect not only ourselves but those around us too. There is a bit of a spiritual aspect to the story as well in the form of The Believers who are essentially the religious pulse of Ember. I would have liked to learn a little more about them, and perhaps they will play a bigger role in future books in the series. Ultimately though, I thought that The City of Ember was a tale about hope, courage, determination and selflessness in the face of a crisis.
I really liked the two protagonists, Lina and Doon. They are only twelve years old when the book begins, but not unlike their counterparts in similar stories, they take on semi-adult roles. Lina is a very energetic, determined and strong girl who is a survivor and very responsible for her age, having taken on a lot of the care-giving duties for her baby sister after the deaths of the adults in her life. I think I was particularly taken by Doon, a very curious boy who is fascinated by all thing, both natural and mechanical. He loves to study the few living creatures he can find in Ember, mostly insects, and is equally eager and adept at taking things apart to figure out how they work and putting them back together again. Doon has a bit of a temper problem, but underneath it all he has a good and kind heart. I loved the advice his father gave him, “The trouble with anger is, it gets hold of you. And then you aren't the master of yourself anymore. Anger is..... And when anger is the boss, you get....unintended consequences." I thought it was a great adage for kids and adults alike who might struggle with anger issues. I also think that Doon has an underlying desire to "be somebody" or “do something important,” because he always seems to be waiting for that "big moment" to reveal the things he learns about Ember and admits later that it was probably the wrong thing to do. Maybe he even has a little bit of a hero complex. Overall though, Doon and Lina both were very likable characters. I was impressed with how the author shows them sometimes being tempted to do something that would be unethical, but in the end, they make the right decisions for the good of everyone in Ember and not just themselves.
This book is highly character driven, and Jeanne DuPrau has a talent for vividly describing the sights, sounds and environment of Ember as well as the way certain things make Doon and Lina feel. In fact, I found it interesting (and difficult) to imagine what absolute darkness feels like, since Ember has no light whatsoever during the blackouts and nighttime hours. While the plot of The City of Ember moves steadily forward, the lush portraits the author paints sometimes gives it a rather languid pace. It also starts out a little slow, taking a while to build the action and suspense. I personally like the rich descriptions and am well aware of the challenges in establishing the characters and setting for a fantasy world, so these things didn't really bother me. However, I could see how kids with shorter attention spans might get bored at times. If given a chance though, the story can definitely grab both the adult and child imagination. My daughter was not entirely pleased when I announced The City of Ember as my choice for our next book to read together, but about halfway in she was enjoying it, and by the end, she was begging for the sequel. I too am very eager to read the next book of the series, since The City of Ember did have what I would characterize as a cliffhanger ending. It is followed by The People of Sparks, The Prophet of Yonwood, and The Diamond of Darkhold. For a children's book that is aimed at tweens in the 9-12 year age range, The City of Ember certainly caught my adult attention and in doing so, has earned a spot on my keeper shelf.(less)
Reviewed for THC Reviews In Santa Paws, Nicholas Edwards (which is actually a pseudonym for Ellen Emerson White) has created an absolutely charming tal...moreReviewed for THC Reviews In Santa Paws, Nicholas Edwards (which is actually a pseudonym for Ellen Emerson White) has created an absolutely charming tale of a small homeless puppy who goes around town, saving lives, helping people in need, and spreading Christmas cheer during the holiday season. I loved how the puppy is still able to give love and help the townspeople to feel better, even though he is so very lonely himself after getting lost from his canine family. I found this to be a great object lesson for humans in that if we can rise above our own hurts and find the love in our hearts to help others, it might just make us feel better too, not to mention it was a great example of the real meaning of Christmas.
I would say that at least half of the book is written from the dog's point of view, which I thought was very unique and clever. In my opinion, Ms. White did an excellent job of describing how a dog might think and feel. Rather than simply anthropomorphizing the dog as many author would, she managed to created some realistic actions and thought processes, with him relying on instincts a lot. Sometimes he would have a one track mind about something and others he would entirely forget what his original objective was when something fun and distracting came along. Overall, I was just really impressed with how the author managed to get into the mind of a dog, and make me, on some level, feel what a dog might feel. As I read Santa Paws, I was reminded a great deal of the old Lassie movies and TV shows of which I was a huge fan when I was a kid. Of course, in my experience, dogs who are that smart are few and far between, but they do certainly exist.
Santa Paws was just a very sweet and enjoyable tale that is sure to warm the heart during the holiday season or any time of the year. I highly recommend it for all animal lovers, and for family reading time. Even though the book is geared towards kids, my adult mind was engaged as well. It is the first book in the Santa Paws series. Nicholas Edwards created the series and authored the first six books, but there are others that were written later by Kris Edwards, who is no relation. I'm not sure of the entire story behind the change in authors, but it is my understanding that Ellen Emerson White did not approve of or officially sanction these later Santa Paws books. In any case, I loved this one so much, I am greatly looking forward to reading the other book in the series, at least those authored by Ms. White as Nicholas Edwards.(less)
Reviewed for THC Reviews This was my second reading of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, and while I normally allow more time to pass between re...moreReviewed for THC Reviews This was my second reading of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, and while I normally allow more time to pass between re-reads of favorite books, it was still a fun story. I also had recently re-watched the movie version which made it even fresher in my mind, but I discovered that by watching the movie first and then reading the book, I got a fascinating look inside the mind of a screen-writer. While I had always liked the Harry Potter movies I've seen so far, I didn't like them nearly as well as the books. By doing things this way, I gained a whole new appreciation for the movies, and for how difficult it must be for a writer to translate a book to the screen. I know this a bit of a caveat from my book review, but I thought it worth mentioning for those who are critics of the movies like I have been in the past. Now on to my thoughts about the book.
As always, I absolutely love the characters and how complex and well-written they are. I'm not sure that there could be three better and closer friends that Harry, Ron, and Hermione. In my opinion, they epitomize the true meaning of friendship. I only previously made it through book #3 of the series, but I have a suspicion that Ron and Hermione may someday become more than friends. I noticed throughout this book that Ron has a tendency to frequently be Hermione's defender, but J. K. Rowling has a way of presenting it in a very subtle way. I can't help but like the Weasley family. The author has taken care to give each one their own individual personality, but all are completely lovable in their own way. Also they may not be wealthy, but they're never lacking in warmth and generosity. Additionally, I find Arthur Weasley's fascination with all things Muggle to be charming and funny. Professor Dumbledore, with his gentle, knowing ways, continues to be one of my favorite characters from the series. Dobby, the house-elf, was a new addition in this book, and I found him to be rather cute. What I really liked about him was that his heart was always in the right place even if his methods were somewhat questionable. Two other new characters in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets who I found to be extremely interesting were Professor Lockhart and Colin Creevy. Both seem to be satirical representations of the madness of fame. Colin didn't play a huge part, but he did make an impression on me in that he is symbolic of the stereotypical crazed fan or paparazzi who just can't seem to leave Harry alone. Gilderoy Lockhart is a character I loved to hate right from the beginning. He is someone who has let fame go to his head in a completely different way. Lockhart is a puffed-up peacock of a celebrity, who in reality, is completely incompetent, but still has lots of people, particularly females, completely snowed by his vacuous charm. I loved how Harry and Ron saw through Lockhart right from the start, and I thought he ended up getting a very just punishment for his conceit.
Aside from the wonderful characters, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets had some great scenes that were a lot of fun to read. Harry and Ron's enchanted car ride to Hogwarts was hilarious especially when they fell on the Whomping Willow. There was an incredibly funny part from the wizard's duel which had me laughing out loud but that sadly never made it into the movie. I thought it was rather amusing having Hermione being the one talking Harry and Ron into breaking school rules to find out who opened the Chamber of Secrets. Harry's mercifulness to Dobby was very touching too. I also loved the quote from Dumbledore: “It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities." which I found to be as enlightened as any great philosopher. Of course, these are just the little things about the story which caught my attention and doesn't even begin to scratch the surface of all the wonderful action, adventure and heroism that is such an inherent part of this series. In addition, I can say that the Harry Potter books always leave me with a deep sense of contentment at the end. It is very rare when I cannot quite figure out the why of things. Perhaps it is the emotional nature of the final scenes or perhaps it is the relief and satisfaction that evil has once again been defeated (at least for now), but whatever it is, I always seem to wind up teary-eyed when I finish them.
There are so many more things that I'm anxiously waiting to find out as I continue reading the series. I love how Dumbledore always seems to know exactly what's going on, and it makes me wonder if he truly is the greatest wizard in the world. I'm dying to know why Hogwarts runs through so many Defense Against the Dark Arts teachers. I also wonder at all the similarities between Harry and Voldemort. At least one of the similarities was explained by Dumbledore, and perhaps these two are simply meant to be the yin and yang of the wizarding world, but I have a feeling that it is quite possibly something more profound. All in all, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets was another fabulous addition to the series, and I am eagerly looking forward to continuing it to find out the answers to these and many other questions.(less)
Reviewed for THC Reviews I have to say that the Harry Potter series is one of the most imaginative and entertaining book series I have ever had the pri...moreReviewed for THC Reviews I have to say that the Harry Potter series is one of the most imaginative and entertaining book series I have ever had the privilege of reading. J. K. Rowling knows exactly how to suck both child and adult readers into a creative world populated with heroic but relatable characters, fantastical creatures, magic, intrigue and adventure. I am thoroughly convinced that if this series had been around when I was kid, I would have loved it, and every time I read one of the Harry Potter books, I always walk away with a feel-good ending. Not that getting there is easy for the characters. They frequently face difficulties and in the process learn very valuable life lessons, making it a journey well worth the taking, and one that I've been thrilled to partake in right along with them. I think the Harry Potter series has been getting better with each book, which in my reading experience is an impressive feat for an author to pull off. Oftentimes with long series, some books will be better than others, or eventually the momentum will begin to flag, but with this series the impetus seems to build with each one, a trend I hope will continue with each book right up until the end. Although it is very hard to play favorites, I must say that I liked Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban the best so far. Even though this was a re-read for me, I had forgotten many of the little details and rediscovering them made for a very enjoyable time.
In my opinion, the Harry Potter series has one of the best casts of characters I have ever read. J. K. Rowling really has a way of bringing her characters to life and making them seem so very realistic. The friendship between Harry, Ron and Hermione takes on a different tone in this book. Hermione has finally bitten off more than she can chew, and that along with her new pet and some tough choices she makes in an attempt to be a good friend, jeopardizes her relationship with both Harry and Ron, but particularly Ron. The two of them argue throughout most of the story like an old married couple, and when they finally make up, there were a couple of really cute moments. This just added fuel to the fire of my prediction that they will someday be more than friends. As always, all three of them acted very heroically, especially Harry and Hermione, and once again, Harry had the opportunity to show his amazing capacity for mercy, in this case to one who didn't really deserve it, which was a beautiful thing to me.
There are so many wonderful secondary characters I could never name them all, but there were some who stood out to me in the story more than others. Professor Dumbledore didn't play as much of a mentoring role to Harry in this book. Instead Professor Lupin picked up those reins, which was just fine with me, because he is a great new character that I absolutely loved. Even though Lupin is hiding a big secret, he's the best Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher Hogwarts has had so far. Lupin is a very kind and decent man who deals honestly with Harry's questions, and the way he went about empowering the timid Neville was both heartwarming and laugh-out-loud funny. Another new teacher was added to the line-up, Professor Trelawney for Divination studies. While I believe that some psychic phenomena exists in the world and it can be real, I don't believe that any one person has the power to always predict the future clearly, so the way she is portrayed was very much to my liking, in that her powers aren't set in stone and she isn't necessarily as all-seeing as she believes. In fact, both teachers and students alike, particularly Hermione, think that she is a little strange and tend to question the veracity of her powers. Hagrid is back along with his love of all magical creatures and his imperviousness to the idea that any of them are truly dangerous, a trait that I have always found to be very sweet and charming. It seems that caring for these creatures and communicating with them is where his true talent lies, something that I have a feeling may play a bigger role later on. Professor Snape is still as enigmatic as ever and I find myself constantly questioning his true motives. Sometimes I think he is pure evil and others times I think he is merely a thoroughly bitter man who holds an extremely long grudge and wants company in his misery. I found Crookshanks to be equally mysterious in his intelligence, and was left wondering if he is simply an extraordinary magical creature or if there might be more about him yet to be revealed. The portrait of Sir Cadogan was positively hilarious, making me laugh at every scene he's in. Also, I had forgotten that Cedric Diggory and Cho Chang, both of whom I know play important roles in later books of the series, made their first appearance in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, just a little tidbit I thought worth mentioning.
The whole tale of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban had many fun and exciting plot points. The mystery of the murder of Harry's parents at the hands of Lord Voldemort really heats up with new details being revealed, as Sirius Black, the man Harry believes betrayed his parents, escapes from prison and seems to be hunting Harry down to do him in as well. Not everyone or everything in the story is what it seems either, and time plays a big role as well. These were two of my favorite elements, but I can't say much more about either without giving things away. I really enjoyed the Defense Against the Dark Arts exercise with the boggart, a kind of bogey-man-like creature that takes on the shape of the thing each person fears the most. I thought that the way Professor Lupin teaches the students to handle it was a great lesson for kids in combating fear. I also loved a quote by Lupin in which he seems to be channeling President Franklin Roosevelt when he observes that Harry greatest fear seems to be fear itself. The incident outside the Shrieking Shack between Ron and Harry, and Malfoy and his friends was a riot, as were the things that the Marauder's Map said to Snape. The climax was riveting and intense, and I could barely put the book down even though I remembered a lot of what would happen. Overall, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban was another fabulous read in this series with a little something for everyone. Now that I have finished my re-read of the first three books, all the stories from here on will be new to me, and I absolutely can't wait to dive in and see what other thrilling adventures await our intrepid heroes.(less)
Reviewed for THC Reviews Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire is yet another fabulous installment in J. K. Rowling's blockbuster fantasy saga. As with t...moreReviewed for THC Reviews Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire is yet another fabulous installment in J. K. Rowling's blockbuster fantasy saga. As with the other books in the series it starts out a little slow and gradually builds to a nail-biting conclusion. The first half of the book has lots of humorous moments. I love how Harry conveniently forgot to tell the Dursleys that Sirius was innocent, and it was hilarious how they were also terrified of the Weasleys who are about the nicest family ever. Readers finally get to meet the much-talked-about Bill and Charlie Weasley, and now that I have, I think I have a crush on Bill because of his rebel personality complete with long hair and earring.;-) Harry, Ron and Hermione get to experience all the excitement of the Quidditch World Cup game. I thought the scenes with the witches and wizards who attended the game trying to dress like Muggles in an attempt to go undetected was LOL funny too.
Once back at Hogwarts, the students receive the surprise of a lifetime when it is announced that the Tri-Wizard Tournament is being reinstated and will be held there for the first time in a century. There is a lot of excitement surrounding the three events that the champions must face, but certain events leading up to them, bring out some uncharacteristic tension between Harry and Ron. The antagonism between Malfoy and Ron seemed to grow a bit in this one too. Readers also get to meet the newest Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher, who I actually liked which made certain things that happened surrounding him all the more shocking. I still find myself pondering why there is a new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher every year, and I think I might be starting to make some headway on that puzzle. It seems that Harry gets to meet new magical creatures every year too, and I have a strong feeling that they will become important allies in the books to come. In fact, there were lots of mysteries to mull over as this book progressed, and there were many twists and turns that I didn't see coming.
To entertain the more mature readers like myself there was some fascinating social commentary on several fronts. One was witch reporter, Rita Skeeter, and her distasteful brand of tabloid journalism. Another was Hermione's campaign to free house elves from perceived enslavement, although it seems that the house elves see things quite differently. This was the only sub-plot I can think of that didn't have a clear conclusion, so I have a feeling the debate may continue into future books. Last but not least there was the reaction of certain individuals to the climactic events at the end of the book which in my mind just went to show that some people simply won't be persuaded even if the evidence is right in front of their faces. All of these events really helped to engage my adult mind in pondering deeper things.
There is an abundance of new characters introduced and old ones who return, including some surprises. Readers are introduced to two new wizarding schools, their headmaster/mistress, and students as they come to take part in the tournament. Cedric Diggory who was first seen in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban returns to show what a good sport, perfect gentleman, and all-around great guy he is, and Harry's crush Cho Chang gets her first lines too. The other two Tri-Wizard champions were interesting characters as well. Harry, Ron and Hermione get their first dates in this book which was a lot of fun. Watching Harry and Ron trying to build up the nerve to ask a girl out and then the end results were absolutely hilarious, but led to lots of jealousies all the way around. I couldn't help but laugh at Ron and Hermione arguing like an old married couple.
Overall, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire really advanced the fantasy story arc to the next level in a big way. There were lots of shocking revelations, some mysteries solved and others just begun, new allies formed and enemies revealed, along with plenty of action, adventure, danger, intrigue, and of course, magic. This book does move into darker territory than what was covered in the earlier books with the unexpected death of one character as well as some torture and a few other scenes which might be frightening to younger or more sensitive readers, but my eleven-year-old loved it and was fine with reading it both alone and aloud with me. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire was definitely a keeper for me just like all the others so far in the series. It ended with a huge bang, and I absolutely cannot wait to see where things go from here.(less)
Kandide and the Secret of the Mists is the first full-length novel about fairies that I've read, and overall, it was a generally pleasant experience....moreKandide and the Secret of the Mists is the first full-length novel about fairies that I've read, and overall, it was a generally pleasant experience. The main focus of the book is a lovely theme about beauty being more than skin deep. While I agreed wholeheartedly with the message it conveyed, I thought that the author was perhaps a bit heavy-handed and over-simplistic in its delivery. Granted the story is aimed at tweens and younger teens, but I think that kids can be perceptive enough to “get it” without everything being spelled out in black and white. The story itself was quite nice, but mostly predictable, with no real surprises. I must say though that the artwork of Maxine Gadd is absolutely extraordinary, and I found myself going back to look at her beautiful illustrations many times.
The main protagonist of the book, Kandide, was a very difficult character for me to like, therefore it was rather hard to fully immerse myself in what was essentially her story. She begins the novel extremely selfish and vain, never thinking of anyone but herself and completely obsessed with her own beauty. When a tragic accident nearly robs Kandide of her life and leaves her with a broken wing that is damaged beyond repair, she has a pretty characteristic self-pitying response. Since Imperfects, fairies who have a physical disability or abnormality, are not accepted by Fae society as a whole, Kandide's mother sends her away to a place where she can be safe with others like her. Once again, her reaction is one of prejudice and denial that she is anything like the other Imperfects she finds there. Of course, Kandide eventually comes around, but her newfound favorable opinion of the Imperfects was rendered a little to quickly without a lot of forethought or explanation. Even after setting aside her bias, she still on occasion acted egotistically. I was pretty disappointed that Kandide basically blackmailed the Council to bend them to her will instead of using diplomacy, but I guess, in all fairness, her father, one of the most well-respected Fae kings ever, had previously tried to be diplomatic without success. Overall, Kandide was an OK character who had moments of decency, and in the end, I suppose that having her remain true to her innate personality was probably more realistic than having her do a complete 180 degree turn-around, even though I might have wished it.
What I enjoyed most about the story besides the message, were the secondary characters. Except for the evil Lady Aron, they were all nice and helped to offset Kandide's more annoying nature. Her sister Tara is very kind to everyone and loves animals, and her brother Teren is full of humor and mischief. I liked that her parents King Toeyad and Queen Tiyana shared a great love throughout many years of marriage, and they were both a driving force in Kandide's life even after Toeyad passed. I was particularly taken with the Imperfects that Kandide met behind the Veil, especially Selena, Leanne, and Jake. Although Kandide and Jake's romance was pretty much an afterthought with no real substance to it beyond a few innocent looks and touches and a mere admission that they were falling in love, I did end up liking Jake quite a bit. He is the one who really awakened Kandide to the reality of being an Imperfect, and never allowed her to walk all over him with her haughty attitude. Instead he threw out a few snappy comebacks and sarcastic, “Your Majesty” comments to counter her demands. The only real complaint I have about the cast of characters in general is that they could have used a little more depth and dimension. As written each one seemed to have a prescribed role from which they never really deviated. They simply didn't seem to grow or spread their wings and fly (no pun intended) beyond the boundaries of their individual characterizations, and as a consequence, the denouement of the plot was a bit too simplistic for my taste.
Kandide and the Secret of the Mists is the first book in a planned trilogy titled The Calabiyau Chronicles with the next two books being Kandide and the Lady's Revenge and Kandide and the Flame is Fleeting. Although the core story of this book was resolved, there was a bit of a cliff-hanger ending, and I'm not sure when the next book will be published. The scanty information I can find seems to indicate that the second book was due to be released in late 2008 or early 2009, but it still does not appear to be available yet. In spite of some shortcomings, I enjoyed Kandide and the Secret of the Mists enough to read the rest of the trilogy whenever it is released, but the most positive thing about my reading experience is that it has sparked my interest in the myths of the Fae and has encouraged me to seek out other stories about them which I look forward to reading in the future.(less)
Reviewed for THC Reviews Because of an adult fiction series I've been reading that is based on Greek mythology, I've recently rediscovered an interest...moreReviewed for THC Reviews Because of an adult fiction series I've been reading that is based on Greek mythology, I've recently rediscovered an interest in these myths, so when I saw The Beautiful Stories of Life on the featured shelf at the library, I decided to pick it up. It turned out to be a nice way to refresh my memory on the stories of Pandora, Persephone, Narcissus and Psyche, and I believe, get my first introduction to Orpheus and Pygmalion, as I recognized their names but don't recall reading their tales before. I'm far from being any kind of expert on Greek mythology, so I can't really address the accuracy of the re-tellings, but they seemed to mesh well with my vague childhood memories of the myths I was familiar with. All of the stories are about life and love, and all contain some type of romantic element which was another part of what drew me to the book. As such, they would probably be of interest to children who enjoy fairy tales and fables. There are some good life lessons to be learned from the stories, but they are probably a bit too sophisticated for younger children to fully appreciate. I have my doubts that this book would hold the interest of the average youngster, which is why I would recommend it for the 9-12 age range. By that age, children should have developed the ability to think in more complex terms and understand stories that contain deeper meaning. For them, The Beautiful Stories of Life could become a nice little introduction to these Greek myths.
I was surprised to discover that the illustrations are all done in black and white in a more classical style. The style suited the subject matter of the book well, but I was hoping for something more colorful, perhaps like the pale pastels of the cover illustration. As is, they just didn't really stand out to me. Instead, they just blended in with the text, and there were too few in my opinion. Each story had only one or two pictures with several pages of solid text in between, which is another reason that I think this book would be more suitable for older children. Overall, I enjoyed reading The Beautiful Stories of Life and found it to be a fun way to reconnect with a few romantic Greek myths, but for a children's picture book, I felt that the illustrations left a little something to be desired.
Note: One illustration depicts a statue of a nude woman, which some parents may find inappropriate.(less)
Reviewed for THC Reviews Wow! There was so much going on in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix that I hardly know where to begin. First, I have...moreReviewed for THC Reviews Wow! There was so much going on in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix that I hardly know where to begin. First, I have to say that after a two and a half year absence from these books, it was great to dive back in. I'd forgotten just how good they are until I was once again immersed in Harry Potter's world. As the series has gone along, the books have become more complex and mature. I felt like this one had a more intense and darker tone than the first three, and was either on par with or a tad darker than book four. Harry enters his fifth and most stressful year yet at Hogwarts, because by the end of the year, the students must be prepared for their O.W.L. examinations which will determine their future career pursuits. On top of that he's dealing with another lousy Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher who is out to get him and pretty much everyone else for that matter, and he's having strange dreams that turn out to be real. New revelations are made which advance the overall story arc, and Harry and the reader must say a sad goodbye to a beloved character. Everything together made for another action-packed adventure in this series that was difficult to put down.
In Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, we see a Harry who is more angry and frustrated than he's been before. Throughout a miserable summer, he's dealing with the death of his classmate, Cedric Diggory, which occurred in Goblet of Fire and feeling like everyone is ignoring him, except of course Dudley, who is still trying to bully him. It was amusing how Harry used threats of magic to keep Dudley and the Dursleys at bay. After a dementor attack in which Harry must use magic outside school, nearly getting him expelled from Hogwarts before the school year has ever begun, he finally learns what the Order of the Phoenix is and why his friends have been so quiet and mysterious all summer. Once school starts, Harry still has a tendency to take his anger out on those he cares about, but with the Ministry of Magic watching his every move, Dumbledore still keeping mum, hardly anyone believing that he saw Voldemort alive, and Voldemort gaining in power and still ruthlessly trying to kill Harry, his hostile feelings were pretty understandable. I did miss the kinder, more caring side of Harry that we've seen in the previous books, but there were still glimmers of it here. Even in his intense moments, I could tell that he was mostly acting that way, out of a sense of hurt and loss, because he cared so much. Harry definitely does a lot of growing up here, as he witnesses the death of a dear friend and must process not only that, but the answers to some burning questions that have plagued him from the beginning.
There are so many wonderful allies for Harry in this installment, most old, but some new ones too, which made for a delightfully diverse cast. As always, Ron and Hermione are his most steadfast friends, but Neville and Ginny move into a more prominent friendship role for him. Then there is Luna “Looney” Lovegood, who is a fun new character. She's a bit of an oddball, and her father is the publisher of a tabloid-style magazine called The Quibbler, so she believes in a lot of strange things. She becomes one of Harry's staunchest supporters, believing his assertions that Voldemort is back even when some of the other students think he's a crackpot. Harry gets a little romance with Cho Chang, who likes him and believes him, but she's still missing Cedric and tends to be overly emotional, which is something Harry doesn't quite know how to deal with. Harry's cluelessness when it comes to girls and relationships was quite funny, especially when Hermione had to keep explaining things to him. Fred and George are in fine form and even more hilarious than ever with their pranks. What they did to get back at Professor Umbridge was pure genius and had me ROTFL. I loved the kids' idea about who their real Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher should be, and was very pleasantly surprised by how this played out. It was a moment when I felt like Harry really learned who his true friends were.
In addition to his fellow students, Harry has lots of adult friends too. Sirius is there for the whole story, wanting to be more active in his godfather role to Harry, but frustrated by not being able to leave his house due to still being a wanted man. The previous three Defense Against the Dark Arts teachers return. I was very excited to see Lupin (one of my literary crushes;-)) again. The real Mad-Eye Moody can be gruff and grumpy, but is also sometimes a hoot. The kids even got a quick visit with Lockhart who appears to still be as loony as ever. A new witch and wizard, Tonks and Kingsley, are introduced. They're both very cool characters who I look forward to seeing more of in future installments. Snape is still an enigma, but we get to learn more about his character in this book. Dumbledore trusts him and when the chips were down, it appeared he was loyal to Harry. However, Snape just can't seem to let go of the past enough to really be a strong ally for him. Once a certain event from Snape's past is revealed, in some ways, it made me understand more clearly where he's coming from, but in other ways, has left me with more questions than answers. When the story opens, Hagrid is off on some mysterious adventure, and when he finally returns about halfway in, he's sporting some equally mysterious injuries that never seem to heal. When all is revealed, Hagrid, as always, shows his care for all creatures and that he has a big heart equal to his size. The one major character who is largely absent until the end of the story is Dumbledore. I really missed his calming presence and fatherly advice, but once he comes back, he finally gives Harry many of the answers he's been seeking. In the process though, he burst my bubble just a bit, by proving that even he sometimes makes mistakes.
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix contained some interesting grown-up food for thought in the question of what role government should play in education and a number of other areas. The main antagonist in this book (aside from Voldemort, of course) was Professor Umbridge, the new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher, who is little more than a mole working for the Ministry of Magic. It's pretty ridiculous that Fudge is so fearful of Dumbledore rising up against him that he's turned into a tyrant. Needless to say, Professor Umbridge institutes many changes at Hogwarts that don't go over well with anyone, except her teacher's pets, Filch and the Slytherin nasties. She constantly has her eye on Harry and his friends, ready to dole out punishment for the smallest infraction, and is equally ready to start handing out pink slips to any teacher who is a little outside the norm. The woman is so evil and annoying, I felt like jumping into the story and strangling her more than once. Still, as I said earlier, this part of the story really got me to thinking about some deep stuff. The way the Ministry was overstepping their bounds and trying to control everything, from what could be taught in school, to who gets hired and fired, to spying on its citizens, controlling the main newspaper and banning other publications (I couldn't help wondering if this could possibly be a subtle jab at the people who've tried to get the Harry Potter books banned), and simply trying to silence Harry and the others from speaking the truth was treading in some dangerous territory. It was almost like a dystopian world.
In any case, a lot of things changed in Harry's fifth year at Hogwarts. From the Quidditch team, to the teachers, to how the school was run, everything felt different, and yet, there were still many characters and elements which easily reminds the reader of all the wonderful things about the first four books. There were lots of intriguing little mysteries brewing throughout, just begging to be solved, and I loved the way the author began drawing all the characters together into a tight and complex web. Characters we've only heard about but never seen appear, characters we haven't seen for a while come back, and characters who've never been in scenes together before get to interact. The climax is the most intense, action-packed one so far in the series. J.K. Rowling is always good at these, and she seems to up the ante with each story. I can feel Ms. Rowling gradually building toward the big showdown, and I can't wait to get there. I'll just have to try to remind myself not to take another two and a half years to read the remaining books.:-)(less)
Reviewed for THC Reviews I hadn't picked up Bridge to Terabithia since I was in fifth or sixth grade when I had to read it for a class assignment. Sinc...moreReviewed for THC Reviews I hadn't picked up Bridge to Terabithia since I was in fifth or sixth grade when I had to read it for a class assignment. Since that was nearly 30 years ago, I only had vague, fuzzy memories of the story itself and of the book being one that I had liked. I am so glad that I decided to re-read it through adult eyes, because I think I probably appreciated it even more now than I did as a kid. That may be due to me experiencing more loss in the last three decades than I had at the tender age of ten or eleven, which makes the plot resonate with me on a deeper level. As I've said in other reviews, it is rare for a book to make me really cry, but Bridge to Terabithia made my short list of ones that have. The story is a simple one of friendship, tragedy, and coping with loss, but it is layered with depth and complexity that is astonishing for its short length. Katherine Paterson writes with a stark honesty that is utterly beautiful. Her characters are very real and ordinary, yet they touched me in a profound and emotional way. None of them are perfect, but to me that made them all the more genuine in their actions and interactions. Jess' family can sometimes seem harsh, but they were there for him when it counted the most. One of my favorite scenes in the book is near the end, when Jess and his father sit on the bank of the creek and talk. When it comes right down to it, they really don't say all that much, but it was just enough to get the point across and re-establish that father/son connection that Jess had been missing.
Jess and Leslie were two kids that I could have easily been friends with when I was their age. Jess can sometimes be rather mean with his sisters and had some rude thoughts about the adults in his life, but I think even the nicest kids do from time to time. What I really liked about him is that underneath it all, it's obvious that he still cares for his sisters, especially May Belle, even though they get on his nerves, and when it comes to the adults, he still outwardly treats them with respect and is a well-behaved child both in school and at home. I also like that Jess has this hidden creative part of himself that no one but Leslie really understands which is what makes them such great friends. Leslie is kind of the oddball who isn't like the other girls in their class, but she has an empathy and understanding of the world around her that is rare in most kids of that age.
In addition to connecting with the characters as a whole, another thing that resonated with me is the teasing they endure which was much like things I experienced as well. The only thing that bothered me slightly was when the abuse of a secondary character was revealed and it seemed that the issue would probably be swept under the rug. However, given the culture and time period in which the story took place, it made sense. Jess and Leslie's imaginary kingdom of Terabithia reminded me of games that I played with cousins or friends. The rural setting also brought to mind the area in which I grew up. It was almost like experiencing my childhood all over again, yet aside from a few pop-culture references, it is really a story out of time and space that could easily take place anywhere and anytime.
I must say that I'm rather surprised that more than 30 years after its original publication, Bridge to Terabithia is still #28 on the American Library Association's Top 100 Banned/Challenged Books list of the last decade (2000-2009). I believe that one of the biggest complaints are the use of some profanities which are quite mild by today's standards. A few are uttered or thought by the kids, but most were said by the adults in their lives. I admit that as someone who had a pretty strict and sheltered upbringing, I was slightly scandalized when I first read the book as a child, but I can say without a doubt that I was completely unscathed by the experience. Now reading it as an adult, I actually felt that the “bad words” were never meant to be shocking or provocative. Instead, they seemed to be carefully placed to give meaning to the story and in my opinion, also added to the genuineness and honesty of the prose. Admittedly, the subject matter of the book could be upsetting to some kids, but if educators or parents are guiding them through the reading experience they should be fine. I would have absolutely no qualms at all about allowing my fifth grader to read it. In my opinion, there is a strong and beautiful message contained within its pages and the positives to be gained from reading it far outweigh any detractors. I would highly recommend the book to both kids and adults alike. To the best of my recollection, Bridge to Terabithia is the only book by Katherine Paterson that I have ever read, but I am greatly looking forward to exploring her other books. I guess it just goes to show that one is never too old to appreciate a good children's book.;-)(less)
Reviewed for THC Reviews Sounder isn't so much a story about a dog as it is the coming of age story of an African American boy in the depression era So...moreReviewed for THC Reviews Sounder isn't so much a story about a dog as it is the coming of age story of an African American boy in the depression era South. There is a beauty in the simplicity of the author's writing which imparts a great deal of meaning in a minimum of words. William H. Armstrong was definitely an author who understood the meaning of the saying, “Less is more” and put it to good use. I never thought a book in which the characters have no names could be so powerful, yet even though I didn't know what they were called and very little of what they looked like, the author made me really care about them. Though spare and unembellished, his narrative managed to convey the hardships of life for a sharecropping family during that time. Loneliness seems to be a running theme throughout a large part of the book, and I could sense the boy's feelings of isolation very deeply. It is also a story about searching for meaning in life. As the boy travels around the countryside looking for his father, he discovers his heart's desire. It is also about the unbreakable bond between a man and his dog that often transcends our mortal understanding. The way this connection was depicted near the end of the book was both joyful and heartbreaking at the same time, bringing tears to my eyes.
From a parental standpoint, I think this book has some wonderful messages to convey to kids. All of the main characters, the boy, his mother, his father, and Sounder, all showed a great deal of determination in the face of adversity. The family exhibits a strong religious faith that was rendered in a very gentle way that I enjoyed. There is also the idea that if we search long enough and work hard enough, we can accomplish what we set out to do. Although I didn't feel that there was anything particularly unsuitable for kids in the book, sensitive readers, especially animal lovers, should be aware that there are a couple of descriptive scenes involving cruelty to animals and details of injuries received by both a human character and an animal. The boy also thought about what it might be like to watch two men die, one in the way that he'd seen a bull strangled and the other in the way that he'd seen a scarecrow torn apart by the wind. It was only his thoughts though, and he never outwardly exhibited any violent tendencies. Not to mention, both men had treated him very poorly, so it was rather understandable. Lastly, there is one use of the “n” word as a racial slur, and two characters die, but of course, dying is simply a part of life.
Sounder, like many other children's classics, may be more easily appreciated by adults, but in my opinion, there is much for children to glean from it's pages, lessons that kids in our modern world need to learn but often don't. Sounder is a beautiful story that has earned a spot on my keeper shelf. I can understand why it won the Newberry Medal. It is a wonderful tale that is truly powerful in its simplicity. Although it isn't really marketed a such, Sounder is the first in a trilogy of books followed by Sour Land and The MacLeod Place. It was also made into a motion picture that received several Academy Award nominations. I'm really looking forward to reading the other books in the series and seeing the movie as well.(less)
Reviewed for THC Reviews I've been a fan of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe since I was a child, but for whatever reason, I never got around to r...moreReviewed for THC Reviews I've been a fan of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe since I was a child, but for whatever reason, I never got around to reading the rest of The Chronicles of Narnia. With the books now being made into major motion pictures, I've been taking the opportunity to rectify that situation, and I'm so glad to be discovering them. Each “new” book I read in the series takes me on another adventure of both mind and spirit. C. S. Lewis constantly amazes me with his ability to make me feel like I'm there in Narnia with the characters. His descriptions of the Dawn Treader, the sometimes perilous sea voyage, the places they see, and all the people they meet along the way are so well drawn that they kept me engrossed and anxious to continue reading. Somehow in a mere 216 pages, Mr. Lewis took me on a grand escapade that made me feel as though I'd sailed to the ends of the Earth myself, while also imparting some important spiritual truths that spoke to the depths of my soul. Aside from Aslan's sacrifice and his forgiveness of Edmund in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, I haven't always been able to clearly identify the allegorical parallels to Christian beliefs that I know are found in The Chronicles of Narnia. The Voyage of the “Dawn Treader” was a whole different story for me. I could see so many things in it that nurtured my spirit with its gentle, easy to understand message. It was a feel-good book which also left me pondering the deeper meaning in life.
The characters are such a joy to visit with. Edmund and Lucy are back, and make their travels to Narnia with a new player, their cousin, Eustace. Edmund has grown a great deal since his close call with the White Witch. I've always loved Lucy. She is brave, while also being a kind, caring and sweet girl to everyone, but as this book proved, even she can be tempted by power. Eustace begins the story as quite the spoiled brat, making me hope for a quick comeuppance. Some amazing things do happen to Eustace which lead to a loving transformation courtesy of Aslan, after which he's not perfect, but much nicer. On the Narnian side of things, Caspian and Reepicheep also return. Caspian is now King and going in search of the seven lost lords of Narnia who were friends and supporters of his father. The brave little mouse, Reepicheep, his loyal and fearless companion is very wise and ready to conquer any challenge that crosses his path. All of these combine with lots of new characters who are met along the way to create a thoroughly entertaining cast.
The Voyage of the “Dawn Treader” is a book that presents something new and exciting in nearly every chapter. There is a little something here for everyone: adventure, mystery, magic, and discoveries galore to be made. I'm a “purist” who has been reading the books in their original order, which makes The Voyage of the “Dawn Treader” the third book of the series, and I'm a little sad that it seems many of my favorite characters may not be back for the remaining stories. However, that doesn't deter me from greatly looking forward to continuing The Chronicles of Narnia soon.(less)
Reviewed for THC Reviews Even though Philip Hall Likes Me. I Reckon Maybe. was a Newbery Honor Book back in 1975 (when I was a kid), for some reason, I...moreReviewed for THC Reviews Even though Philip Hall Likes Me. I Reckon Maybe. was a Newbery Honor Book back in 1975 (when I was a kid), for some reason, I had never heard of it until recently. I probably never would have found it on my own if I hadn't been introduced to Bette Greene through her wonderful young adult novel, Summer of My German Soldier. After reading that and its sequel I decided to check out Ms. Greene's other works. I'm so glad I did, because my exploration led me to this wonderful little gem of a children's book. It is a very light-hearted story that is quite different in tone from Ms. Green's young adult books, and in my opinion, showcases her versatility as an author.
Beth Lambert, the main protagonist and first-person narrator of the story, is cute as a button, smart as a whip with lots of imagination, spunky, determined, and oh, so funny. She had me almost constantly chuckling, if not laughing out loud through the entire book. I just loved reading about all of her adventures, or misadventures, as the case may be. The main focus of Beth's narration is her relationship with her best friend, Philip Hall, “the cutest boy in school.” I was positively tickled by how Philip goes from being “the sweetest boy ever,” to doing or saying something dumb which turns him into, “a dirty, rotten polecat.” Then does or says something nice that gets him back in Beth's good graces. These two also have a friendly rivalry going, each trying to one up the other to be the best or smartest at everything, as well as a bit of a battle of the sexes. It was like reading a love/hate romance between two twelve-year-olds, and it was absolutely adorable and hilarious. However, interspersed between their intellectual and verbal duels are some very sweet, tender moments that are full of heart.
There are lots of other characters too, including Beth's family who are very loving and supportive, her girl's club, The Pretty Pennies, and Philip's boy's club, The Tiger Hunters. Whether she was trying to catch turkey thieves, getting a new puppy only to find out she's allergic to it, standing up for what's right, rescuing Philip from the mountain, or raising a calf for 4-H, Beth was always in fine form. Philip Hall Likes Me. I Reckon Maybe. was a fast-paced and throughly fun read. It had just one mild profanity and other than that was a completely “clean” book that I would highly recommend to kids, parents, teachers or anyone who likes to read a good children's story. Although there doesn't appear to be an official series designation, Philip Hall Likes Me. I Reckon Maybe. is the first of three books about Beth and Philip. The other two are Get on out of Here, Philip Hall and I've Already Forgotten Your Name, Philip Hall!. With yet another winner, Bette Greene is solidifying her place on my favorite authors list, and I can't wait to read the other two books in the series.(less)
Reviewed for THC Reviews The Boy Who Dared is an inspiring work of historical fiction based on the real life exploits of a German teenager who dared to...moreReviewed for THC Reviews The Boy Who Dared is an inspiring work of historical fiction based on the real life exploits of a German teenager who dared to defy Hitler's edicts during World War II and payed the ultimate price for his bravery. I'm sure most tweens and teens today have some awareness through their history classes of the atrocities committed by Hitler against the Jews, but I wonder how many know of the thousands of non-Jewish Germans who were tortured, imprisoned and even put to death for their beliefs. This book would be a great starting point for young people to learn more about the German Resistance movement. It also imparts a strong message about thinking for oneself and not becoming a blind follower, as well as standing up for what's right even in the face of impossible odds or even death.
Helmuth Hubener was a boy who did exactly that. I was very impressed by how intuitive he was. Even at a young age, Helmuth seemed to have an instinctive sense of right and wrong. He was never entirely comfortable with the things Hitler did and became even less so as Hitler imposed even more restrictions upon the German people. In school, Helmuth wrote what he had to to make it sound like he supported the Reich but hated every minute of it. He also was forced to join the Hitler Youth, but again was not comfortable with their activities. After graduating, Helmuth got an apprenticeship with a company where he was shocked to find forbidden books in the basement. He began borrowing them, and they continued to solidify his belief that Hitler was lying and he must do something to enlighten his fellow Germans. When Helmuth's brother came home from Reich Labor Service with an illegal radio he purchased on the black market, it proves too much of a temptation for Helmuth. Every night he listens to the BBC and learns the truth about what's really happening in the war. This only further fuels his anger until he comes up with the idea of producing pamphlets and flyers detailing the things he learns on the radio and passing them on to other people. He and three friends daringly acted alone as a small insular pocket of resistance against Hitler's reign of terror.
I can't even imagine how much courage it must have required to take a stand like that. I was only reading a fictionalized account of these events long after they happened and could still feel the fear and tension emanating off the pages of the book. I know that sometimes extraordinary circumstances can make ordinary people do things they might never have thought themselves capable of, but what makes this story so notable is the age of its protagonist. Helmuth began his subversive activities when he was only sixteen, and even before that, he was a very intelligent and articulate young man. Just these actions alone could be called heroic, but when he was arrested at the age of seventeen, he essentially fell on his own sword so to speak, taking as much of the blame upon himself as he could and even goading the judges, so that his friends lives might be spared. I think Helmuth's example of standing up for what's right is one that all teens can and should learn from.
The narrative of The Boy Who Dared jumps back and forth between Helmuth in prison on death row and past events starting in his early childhood leading up to his imprisonment. In my opinion, this added some suspense to the story because it kept me wondering how he got there and if there was any hope of him being pardoned. The book is written in present tense. I don't think I've ever read a book written like this, so it took me just a little while to get into it. Once I adjusted to the unfamiliar writing style, I was completely engrossed by the story. Although the author used her own imagination to fill in the missing pieces of Helmuth's life, I would say, based on her notes at the end of the book, that she did her homework extremely well, trying to bring as much authenticity to the story as possible. She even had the privilege of personally interviewing Helmuth's brother and one of the friends who also went to prison for helping him. By reading this book, I felt that I learned not only about the life of a heroic person, but a few other historical details as well (eg. I had no idea the guillotine was still in use during WWII or that there were Mormons in Germany at that time). If one pays attention, I think this book could also be a cautionary tale of taking care not to repeat the mistakes of the past. I have to say that I found Hitler's words very disconcerting, because of the fact that some politicians of the present day use similar rhetoric.
Overall, The Boy Who Dared was an amazing and inspiring story that I highly recommend. Although it has no truly objectionable content and I felt the author took care not to sensationalize any of the violence, the subject matter is still rather mature. As I mentioned earlier there is a palpable sense of fear which might lead younger and more sensitive readers to fret and worry with good cause for Helmuth's safety. They also may not understand and/or be disturbed by certain events in the story as well as the ending. For this reason, I recommend it for middle grades and up, but it is definitely a book from which both kids and adults alike can glean a great message.(less)