Book Review: Madeleine Takes Command

Madeleine Takes Command Book Review

I just finished reading Madeleine Takes Command to Otter for history. He really enjoyed this adventurous tale set in the 17th century.

Otter’s rating: 5 stars

Madeleine Takes Command was originally written in 1946 and is based on the true story about a 14 year old girl and her two younger brothers as they defend their family fort on the St. Lawrence River against an attack by the Iroquois.

The story starts out in the fall of 1692 with Madeleine’s father away in Quebec and her mother leaving to conduct business in Montreal. Madeleine is left in charge of her family’s seigneury. A seigneury was a piece of land given in New France – Canada – belonging to the French King and managed by landlords. Tenant farmers called habitants farmed the land and paid taxes to the seigneur (landlord) assigned to each parcel. As Madeleine’s mother states when embarking on a canoe to leave, “…one cannot put much trust in strange soldiers…That’s why there must always be some member of the family left in charge.” Even though Madeleine is only 14, as the eldest child of the seigneur, she needs to remain behind to keep an eye on things. Her two younger brothers, 12 and 10 years old, stay with her. One thing that struck me about this book was the level of responsibility put on the shoulders of such young children, and yet they were fully capable and trustworthy.

Madeleine was left in charge of 10 militiamen as well as the seigneury’s habitants. When the Iroquois attack and kidnap or kill all but two of the militiamen, Madeleine is left with her two brothers, an 80 year old retired soldier who is her family’s servant and the two remaining soldiers to guard the remaining women, children and the fort itself. The two soldiers turn out to be cowards who threaten to blow up the fort rather than be taken alive by the Mohawk Indians. Madeleine now not only has to manage the fort’s defense, she also has to manage these two men who are a liability and unable to be fully trusted. Eventually she is joined by an additional man and his family who narrowly escape capture as they arrive via their canoes on the river.

Over the course of a week, the small band manages to keep the Indians at bay through a combination of sheer determination, wits and teamwork. Staying up for days on end with only short naps, the group makes it seem as if the fort is well guarded and filled with many more people than it really is. Madeleine proves to be a resourceful commander and is obeyed without question, despite her youth or the fact that she is a young woman (I say woman because she is most definitely not a child). Even her ten year old brother has an important part to play in the fort’s defense and turns out to be a better man than the two adult soldiers who are nearly useless.

Madeleine and her brothers were portrayed very realistically. They were afraid and yet brave. Certainly not perfect, you can see them struggling in various areas. Madeleine is a good leader. She isn’t some super hero. Instead, she relies on those around her and very capably assigns them duties based on their various temperaments and abilities. Her quick thinking and devotion to do the right thing is the reason for her success, not her physical strength. The others around her all show different strengths and weaknesses. There is the wife of Monsieur Fontaine who lies around crying in the blockhouse all day and solid, dependable Nanette who makes sure the fort’s defenders are well-fed with a hearty stew and yet doesn’t question or argue with Madeleine when told NOT to come out at night, even though she wants to help. She sets an example for the other women and children. There is Louis who, though he disagrees with Madeleine at times, bends to her will even when conflicted. Little Alexander, who is scared out of his wits and honestly admits it, manages to hang on through the long nights, exhausted but courageous and determined to help in any way he can. There are also the adults who obey Madeleine’s commands. Recognizing that there can only be one leader, they LET her lead. Any conflict in this area could mean the forfeit of all of their lives. They follow the chain of command, even when it would be easy to take it over themselves.

I scheduled this book in our history studies (using the Awesome History Timeline Schedule) and learned a bit about French Canada and the dangers faced by colonists during this time period. The book also briefly mentions William of Orange, King of England and the conflict between England and France which was played out in the colonies as well. The Indians are portrayed as savages, however the Christian mission Indians turn out to be the saviors of many of the fort’s captured farmers. This is not an overtly Christian book, even though it’s published by Bethlehem Books. It does mention prayer as well as Madeleine finding brief comfort in her fort’s chapel. It’s clear that Madeleine’s family are Catholic as there is mention once of thanking the “Virgin” or something along those lines. The book also portrays how things were run in New France and what steps were taken to fight the Indians in order to secure the colonist’s land. It’s clearly presented from the European side, with very little sympathy towards the Indians.

The book itself has 18 pen and ink illustrations that are old-fashioned and perfect accompaniments to the story. My favorite is on page 175 where it shows Madeleine resting her head on her arms on a table and sound asleep, when all she meant to do was get a quick bite to eat. The rest show pictures of things like the Indians, the colonists running into the fort, etc.

While the book isn’t my favorite writing style, my son found it to be engaging and looked forward my reading it out loud each night. While so many modern books have heroes with characteristics I would NOT want my son to emulate, I didn’t find that to be the case in Madeleine Takes Command. This was a great choice for our history studies with a good dose of character training to boot. Madeleine Takes Command does this double duty with a heavy splash of adventure and a generous telling of history. It’s a perfect book to read when studying the late 17th century and I highly recommend it for either homeschool studies, or just for your child’s home library.

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Little Pilgrim’s Progress

Little Pilgrim's Progress

Little Pilgrim’s Progress: From John Bunyan’s Classic

Fifty-five years ago, Helen L. Taylor took John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress and simplified the vocabulary and concepts for young readers, while keeping the story line intact. The result was a classic in itself, which has now sold over 600,000 copies. It’s both a simple adventure story and a profound allegory of the Christian journey through life, a delightful read with a message kids ages 6 to 12 can understand and remember. A new look and fresh illustrations for today’s children enlivens the journey to the Celestial City.

While recently studying John Bunyan, a Christian preacher from the 17th century and the famous author of The Pilgrim’s Progress – a widely read book in Christian households for several centuries, we decided to take a small break from the historical fiction novels that accompany our history studies and turn to a literature selection for a week or so. John Bunyan wrote The Pilgrim’s Progress in two parts in 1678 and 1684. In it, while telling a tale of a heroic, medieval style quest & pilgrimage, he communicates to his readers the struggles, temptations, challenges and ultimately the redemption of the Christian choosing to follow the straight and narrow path through life.

Instead of reading the actual Pilgrim’s Progress, which would probably be a bit dry for Otter’s taste, I decided to read Little Pilgrim’s Progress instead. It was a HUGE hit (thanks Mom for giving us our first copy!). Even though Otter is older than the suggested age range, he (and I!!) had a wonderful time picking apart and discussing all of the Christian allegory, while enjoying a good, old-fashioned tale of adventure.

Little Pilgrim’s Progress perfectly adapts The Pilgrim’s Progress for a younger audience but stays fairly true to the original story. It covers two main stories: the journey of Christian, a boy from the City of Destruction and his journey to the Celestial City and then, later, the story of Christiana, a young girl who, afterwards, follows the same road at a more leisurely pace on the path forged by Christian.

This is NOT a watered down story that side-steps ugliness. There is plenty of fighting (complete with swords and armor), nasty creatures set on killing unsuspecting travelers, temptations, traps, cruelty and even death. Though the book doesn’t shy from these types of situations, I still think it appropriate for all ages, except the VERY young (4 or 5) who might be upset or scared by some of the circumstances the young travelers find themselves in.

Christian meets Worldly in the Little Pilgrim's Progress

Christian meets Worldly in the Little Pilgrim’s Progress

As Christian and his counterparts travel the path to the Celestial Kingdom, various virtues and vices are highlighted in different characters and settings. The children encounter a variety of places that correspond to different stops along the real road of life such as the Slough of Despond (depression), The Valley of Humiliation, The Hill of Difficulty, and others such as the City of Vanity Fair.

Vanity Fair is described as follows in the book,

“The Wicked Prince…had built this city, which was called Vanity Fair, just beyond the Dark Valley and the wilderness, because he knew that when the pilgrims reached its gates they would be feeling tired and faint, and he hoped that it would then be easy to persuade them to stay there, instead of going farther on the Way of the King.

 

So he filled the great city with everything that was pleasant and beautiful… and the Wicked Prince took care to give them plenty of things to enjoy so that they might never have a moment to spare in which to think of the King whom they had forsaken.”

 

Wow. That could have been written about TODAY!

Even though this book is a bit old-fashioned and based on a 17th century classic, the messages and lessons sprinkled liberally in The Little Pilgrim’s Progress are timeless and applicable to every Christian’s life. I highly recommend it. Even if you are a secular family, picking apart the allegory wrapped up in this enjoyable story is a worthwhile enterprise.

Also, there is an “Adventure Guide” available that will help you discover the Biblical themes and literature concepts while reading the story. I wish I would have known about this when we read it:

“The Guide breaks the novel down into two parts – Christian’s journey and Christiana’s journey.  Each journey is separated into four reading sections.  These reading sections include vocabulary, questions, allegorical interpretations, literature elements, Bible application, character charts and character matching.  A Parent/Teacher Helps section is also included which offers detailed suggestions regarding story charts. In addition, a mapping bulletin board that can also be used as a game is included.  Finally, this section includes several art and literature extensions.” quote from Amazon

In this 60th anniversary edition of Little Pilgrim’s Progress, each chapter has been enhanced with attractive chapter headings. Older illustrations are featured throughout the story that feel old-fashioned and are pen and ink drawings. The cover is beautiful and shows Christian fighting Giant Despair. This is a book to read to your children and save for your grandchildren! I wish I had read Little Pilgrim’s Progress to my older children. I’m just really glad I pulled it off the shelf to read to Otter.  It’s no wonder the original story has been treasured for hundreds of years and we will both remember it for the rest of our lives.

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Book Review: Madman’s Daughter

The Madman's Daughter

The Madman’s Daughter is a Y.A. (young adult) novel inspired by H. G. Well’s classic The Island of Dr. Moreau. I’m not usually a fan of Gothic fiction. The last I read a Gothic novel was twenty years ago when I was in college and forced to read assigned  Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. I remember cringing when we were assigned that title, but was pleasantly surprised. The classic story of an unorthodox scientific experiment and the sad, rejected monster created by it turned out to be an interesting narrative that held my attention and stayed with me for a long time. It was certainly better than my first taste of this genre which I didn’t like one bit. That disaster of a book was Wuthering Heights and I wish I had never picked it up. I hated it. Fortunately, I ‘m adding The Madman’s Daughter to my short list of Gothic successes. After wading through the very first part set in London (I almost stopped reading the book), it totally captured my interest and held it until the surprising cliffhanger ending.

The Madman’s Daughter is the quintessential Gothic story full of dark, lush landscapes with a good dose of  preternatural events and mystery. For those of you unfamiliar with the elements of a Gothic story, they are as follows:

  • An atmosphere of fear and suspense / mystery
  • High, overwrought emotion
  • Supernatural or inexplicable events
  • A woman in distress (a lonely, wistful, oppressed heroine)
  • An ominous building and/or wild landscape
  • Element of romance, often with rivals or multiple suitors
  • The dark side of human nature is explored
  • Protagonists are often isolated or alone or in circumstances outside of his/her control
  • A heightened sense of drama

Megan Shepherd takes these elements and wraps them into an attention keeping story about sixteen-year-old Juliet, daughter of Dr. Henry Moreau.

Juliet is struggling to survive in London after a scandal brought about by rumors of her father’s experiments. When she runs into a former servant named Montgomery (now a young gentleman) she finds out her father is alive and living on a tropical island. Juliet insists on accompanying Montgomery back to the island and while traveling on the ship to be reunited with her father, she meets Edward – a mysterious young man who is the only survivor of a shipwreck. Edward is harboring secrets of his past and Juliet slowly finds herself drawn to him, despite the childhood affection for Montgomery that has begun to blossom into something more.

On the island Juliet discovers just how depraved and yet brilliant her father really is. The natives of the island aren’t really natives at all, but rather humans her father has created from creatures. While the creatures are gentle and child-like, there is something out in the jungle that’s not. As the body count starts rising, Juliet realizes that she needs to get off the island before it’s too late.

Throughout the story she is torn between horror of her father’s actions and experiments and pride at his brilliance. There is a huge conflict in her heart over the loving father she remembers as a child and the one she discovers as a young adult. Mimicking this conflict there is the tension she feels as she vacillates between her affection with Montgomery and her growing, inexplicable bond with Edward. As she discovers more about the two young men, her choice becomes clouded from secrets both of them harbor. No one is who they seem to be, not even Juliet herself.

I’ll stop here with the plot so I don’t ruin the twists and surprises, because there are several and a couple of them completely astonished me! I’m usually good at figuring out these types of things, but the revelations in The Madman’s Daughter were unexpected.

Reading my review, I probably wouldn’t be tempted to pick up the Madman’s Daughter, but despite the creepiness, it really was a worthwhile book that examines the thought of what it really means to be human (not unlike Shelley’s Frankenstein) and the battle between darkness and light that occurs in all of us. I enjoyed the lush setting and the Victorian era accouterments, the mystery, suspense and the plot twists. The Madman’s Daughter is a fresh and different entry into a super-saturated Y.A. market that will likely be enjoyed by teens and adults alike.

Now for the MOM part of my review. Please note that there may be minor spoilers in the material below.

This is a dark book with adult themes. It has quite a few more than the norm of things I would consider possibly objectionable:

  • There is a near rape scene in the beginning that is perpetrated by a lecherous older man at Juliet’s employment. Juliet retaliates by hacking at his hand with a mortar scraper: “And my God, as wicked and wrong as it was, I liked it.”
  • There are approximately 21 incidences of some sort of s*xual tension or mention of that type of thing. Examples:
    •  “He took my wrist lightly. He kissed the soft, sensitive flesh, and then ran his finger up my arm. This is what people talk about, I thought, when they say they could die of pleasure.” (That is the most explicit scene in the book. It’s pretty tame and a little sophomoric but may be a bit much for younger teens.)
    • “I had a vague memory, more like a dream, of him wrapping his arms around me, breathing in the scent of my hair, muttering against my cheek. I could have stopped him. But I feigned sleep instead, and held him closer.” (This is when Juliet and one of the young men find themselves sleeping in a cave after a chase through the jungle by an unseen foe.)
    • It’s implied that Juliet’s mother, before she died, was someone’s mistress in exchange for money.
    • Juliet sees one of the young men bathe in the nude.
  • There is violence and cruelty to animals. A vivisection (live dissection) of a rabbit is described and there is screaming when other animal-humans are being created or experimented on.
  • There is drinking mentioned a couple times – in the beginning of the book a friend is tucked on a sofa between two young men with a half empty rum bottle dangling from her fingers. Juliet drinks Brandy but is reprimanded for it by her father who says its not for a lady. She replies, “Good. Then it’s perfect for me.”
  • There is some cursing such as d*mn, hell, g*dd*amn, bastard
  • Juliet’s father says that Christianity is a bunch of fairy tales

Because of the above, I don’t consider this acceptable reading for my 14 year old. In fact, The Madman’s Daughter almost felt more like a book for adults than the Y.A. market except for the “teen” triangle element. I think it will be a successful book but it will definitely take a lot of people out of their comfort zone. The WOW twists will bring readers back for the next in the trilogy.

The second book is going to be based on the Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. I have my own guesses as to which characters might return for the next installment and look forward reading more about the strong and lovely Juliet.

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Book Review: Amelia Bedelia Means Business

Amelia Bedelia Chapter Book #1: Amelia Bedelia Means Business Amelia Bedelia Chapter Book #1: Amelia Bedelia Means Business

Finally, a beginning chapter book for kids that is both fun AND wholesome! My kids loved the Amelia Bedelia series of books when they were beginning readers. Now there is an all new series featuring Amelia as a child. There are all the same mix-ups and misunderstandings the grown-up Amelia always has in her adventures, but now they are wrapped up in a sweet pint-sized package.

This first chapter book starts out with Amelia wanting to earn a bike and looking for jobs to make some money. She gets herself into all sorts of silly situations because she takes things so literally (just like the original series). Here are just a few examples:

  • When Amelia describes the bike of her dreams to her parents, they mention how it must cost an “arm and a leg”. There is an illustration in the book at this point showing an arm and leg with price tags hanging from them. Amelia exclaims that she would never pay that much (thinking they really meant a literal arm and leg)!
  • Pete from the diner asks Amelia if she can “cut the mustard”. She responds that she never tried that but she can sure squirt the ketchup.
  • A customer at the diner tells Amelia to bring him a piece of cherry pie and to “step on it!” because he’s in a hurry. Amelia did just as he asked and literally planted her foot right in the middle of it.
  • A woman at the park tells Amelia that her boss just gave her a pink slip (fired her). Amelia thinks she means a literal slip, like one you would put under a dress.

There are lots of silly mishaps and times when Amelia misconstrues the meaning of all sorts of things said and situations that add gentle humor to the story. These instances are also a great opportunity for young readers to learn how different sayings can have several meanings. The story usually makes it quite clear what the intended meaning is and also how Amelia understands it so readers don’t get lost themselves.  If you have an autistic or literal child, this is a perfect book to use as a learning tool to spark discussions about literal vs. figurative meanings. Regular kids can also benefit from the subtle lessons about language as well as the subtle undercurrent of morality and goodness.

One thing that I found extremely refreshing about Amelia Bedelia Means Business is that when Amelia inadvertently causes trouble, she always takes full responsibility for it with a sweet attitude, seeking forgiveness and making restitution. She has a wonderful relationship with her parents (no “dumb” or overbearing parents here, as in many children’s books) and there isn’t a single mean moment in the entire book. All of the humor is wholesome (no potty humor here!) and any potential misunderstandings are resolved with kindness.

A few additional thoughts about the book:

This isn’t a religious book, but Amelia and her parents say grace before a meal. That’s the only mention of any Christian type element. I think the book will appeal equally to secular or religious parents & kids. In the story, Amelia always tries to do the “right” thing. The book is set in modern times (with mentions of T.V., etc.) and there is, of course, a happy ending that should feel quite satisfying to young readers.

I think Amelia Bedelia Means Business will appeal to girls more than boys because of the main character (Amelia) as well as the light and cutesy illustrations (some complete with little hearts, etc.). However, some boys may enjoy the story because of the quest for a bike and the silly humor.

As for ease of reading, I think most good readers in the 1st or 2nd grade should be able to read this book. It does have a few “big” words like whispered, ingredients, embarrassed, etc. but shouldn’t be beyond kids just out of primer style books.

I think this is a great addition to children’s beginning chapter books and highly recommend it, if you want a DECENT, sweet book for your child or student(s).

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Get the first book in the Redwall series free!

Redwall (Book 1, Redwall)

I’m not sure how long this will be free, so you might want to grab it now. Redwall (Book 1, Redwall) is the first in a series of well-known and loved books for children by Brian Jacques. I was excited to see it listed for free today on Amazon (for the Kindle and/or Kindle reading apps) because I have a comprehension guide on hand that I plan to use with Otter this semester! Now I don’t have to check it out from the library. 😉

Happy downloading!

Book Review Blitz: Taken – A dystopian for teens

Taken book review

Taken will be released on April 16, 2013. I received an ARC in exchange for my honest opinion!

Taken is one of those books that grabs you from the beginning and never lets you go. Even at the end I was sitting there wanting the next book in the series NOW. I’m adult reader of Y.A. dystopian & sci-fi fiction and I can confidentially say that Taken is one of those books that successfully crosses the age barrier. It has a terrific premise, fleshes it out with great characters & situations along with twist and turns that leave you wanting to find out more.

I’m going to be careful about what I say in my review because part of the fun of Taken is NOT knowing what is going on and having it unravel for you thread by thread right along with the main characters. There is a feeling you get while reading the book – the same feeling the characters are experiencing…something isn’t quite right sprinkled liberally over a sense of unease. Just as a layer of one mystery is revealed, you still are left suspicious and wondering until yet ANOTHER layer is uncovered as it turns out that everything you thought you knew had another dimension to it – as lies are slowly peeled away and the truth begins to shine through.

Taken is told from a first person POV by Gray, a 17 year old in the village of Claysoot. His older brother Blaine is 18 and today is the last day Gray will spend with him because…there are no men in Claysoot. Every boy becomes a man at the age of 15 and then, at 18, they are all gone. Taken. They call it the Heist.  No one knows why it happens,  just that it always has.

There are other mysteries to the town. How it began, and why there is a wall that surrounds the countryside.

“When the Wall was discovered, Bo volunteered to go over first and scout things out, but he was unable to see what lay on the other side. The view from a large oak tree in the northern portion of the woods yielded nothing but pitch blackness beyond the Wall, and he deemed it unsafe. He tried to talk others out of climbing, but a few tried. Their bodies came back a charcoaled mess, burned and lifeless…”

After Blaine is taken by the Heist, Gray is left…alone as his mother died years ago. He discovers a note to his brother hidden behind a picture frame:

“And so I share this with you now, my son: You and your brother are not as I’ve raised you to believe, Gray is, in fact…”

…and then there is nothing more. The missing part of the note propels Gray to start searching for answers and what he finds just raises more questions. He discovers he’s not who he thought he was and that just might be the key to finding out about his town, his people’s origins and the Heist.

It’s no surprise that Gray makes it over the wall (as the book blurb states) but what he finds there is unlike anything he could have imagined. As answers to his world start pouring in, things get even more complicated and just when it looks like he finally understands what’s going on, there is yet another layer of truth to unravel.

I’m going to refrain from saying any more about the plot details, because as I stated before,  part of the fun of this book is discovering that what you thought you knew isn’t necessarily correct. Everything is revealed to you as it’s revealed to Gray. There are no obvious answers, just hints to keep you guessing.

I really enjoyed the world building in Taken. It was like a cross between Running Out of Time by Margaret Haddix (which is similar to the movie The Village) and Revolution 19 -only done RIGHT (because the characters move from a rustic world to an advanced one).  The book blurb compares it to The Maze Runner, but I have to disagree. Maze Runner felt a lot less sophisticated than this book and seemed like it was intended for younger teens. Taken is a much more mature novel.  Don’t think that Taken copies other dystopians because of the comparison to other books. I found it fresh and original in many ways.  It’s not just a dystopian though. There are also a few sci-fi elements, but these are understated and there’s nothing like aliens or anything like that.

As far as the world building goes, Erin Bowman paid attention to little details that made Gray’s observations very realistic. She takes a young man transported  from a rustic village to an entirely different type of world and makes it believable. Some of the history of the current world’s situation is glossed over, but you have enough information to securely know what’s going on (at least by the time you hit about 70% in the book).

I also think Bowman did well with the relationship building between the characters.  Nothing seemed forced or unrealistic. There is a love interest but it’s not the focus of the book and doesn’t drown the plot in teenage angst. I won’t write any details about it because there is a bit of a twist and surprise in this realm that I don’t want to spoil. Suffice it to say that it contains a “triangle”, as most books seem to do, nowadays.

At the end of Taken (which I read in one sitting except for a necessary trip to the grocery store), I was sitting there thinking NOOOO… because I wanted more! It’s clear there is going to be a 2nd book and I can’t wait to read it! Taken is Erin Bowman’s first novel and I suspect she’s going to get a brand new legion of fans with this first foray into novel writing. I know I’m one!

Now, for the MOM part of my review. 😉

Because of some of the more mature themes that are implied at in the book, I wouldn’t recommend it to younger kids. Of course each family/individual will want to make the decision about whether it’s appropriate or not based on their family’s values and beliefs. Here are some possibly objectionable items:

The boys of Claysoot are slated to sleep with different girls with the intention of getting them pregnant (how else can the little town repopulate itself since men don’t exist?). There are several times where it’s made clear that teens are sleeping with other teens (or supposed to) but nothing is explicit. In the context of the world, the teens aren’t doing anything rebellious or bad.

There are a few moments where attention is drawn to a young woman’s curves or clinging undershirt and that type of thing (slight s*xual tension for the main character). You have descriptions like “lips taste like rain” and “Her limbs are long and lean, her curves itching to be touched.” The last quoted sentences is about the extent of it and there are about 11 instances of that type of thing in a book of approximately 247 pages. There is an incident where it’s mentioned that Gray and someone are stopping things from getting too “heated” because they don’t want to end up making a baby.

The characters drink alcohol and get drunk, act inappropriately (it’s clear that if he would have given in, a girl would have kissed Gray or perhaps more because she was intoxicated) and several have hangovers.

The characters play a drinking game called Little Lies where they have to pick out truth from lies and if they get it wrong they have to take a drink.

There is a minor amount of swearing, mainly the word d*mn , one incident of bullsh*t and the expletive “scr*w you”.

Summary: Taken is an engaging, interesting story with lots of twists and turns and a refreshing male POV. I think it will be well received by  Y.A.  readers and new fans will be clamoring for the sequel! It does, however, have some items of concern for younger teens and conservative families. Although I enjoyed the book, I’m not ready to hand it over to my 14 year old.  For me as an adult, it was quite tame compared to what you find in most contemporary novels, but it’s still a bit much, in my opinion, for a young teen.

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I nearly wish I had a baby so I could buy these books…

Well, O.K. that’s a huge exaggeration. I’ve had teens and that pretty much cured any baby yearnings I may have had in the past… 😉 But still….these books are so deliciously CUTE! They combine adorableness (perfect for babies & toddlers) with the classics (perfect for literature loving moms & dads).

Cozy Classics

I always worked hard to nurture the love of literature in my children from an early age. I wish this brilliant idea of a baby board book was around when they were in arms. What a perfect way to introduce babies to time-honored stories and characters! Babies won’t have any idea of what is going on, but after cutting their teeth on these board books (perhaps literally, lol) they’ll at least have a foundation of being introduced to some of the greatest stories of all time. How many of us can say we loved Pride and Prejudice before we could read a word? 🙂 Thanks to Cozy Classics, that can be a reality for your nerdy baby (and I say that as a compliment).

Each book features felted figures (cozy!) in a variety of indoor and outdoor settings. The pictures look almost 3-D and remind me of some of the story books I used to have (and adore) as a child.

Each page features one word on the left side of the 2 page spread and felted character or objects on the 2nd that illustrate a part of the classic story. I find the illustrations (photographs actually) to be really original and endearing.

classics for kids

If I had a baby, I would get these books. Even without one, as a collector of children’s books, I’m highly tempted… They are lovely! Who said babies can’t be homeschooled? Start their love of literature with these sweet introductions to the classics!

Here are some pages from the Jane Austin book:

jane austin for babies

Here are some pages from the Moby Dick book:

Moby Dick for babies

I was given free e book versions of these adorable board books in exchange for my honest review.

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Book Review Blitz: another book review & Today’s Free Kindle Books for Kids

If you want the free Kindle books, scroll down. Otherwise…

Here’s yet another book review in my book review blitz! I told you I was catching up with all my reviews. 😉 This time it’s a book for adults, although I believe it could be appropriate for some older teens. Hopefully you, my readers, don’t mind a flurry of reviews as opposed to homeschool chit-chat – although I’ll strike that up again before too long. As it is, most homeschoolers are avid readers, which is just a nice way of saying BOOK ADDICTS, lol. I know I’m one for sure and having a Kindle has just made it easier for me to indulge my addiction (no more reading headaches!).  I’ve got over 70 linear feet of bookshelves and over a thousand Kindle books (mostly freebies!!) and I’m still always hunting down a good read for me and/or for Otter!

I’ve read other books by Philippa Gregory, but The Kingmaker’s Daughter is my favorite by far. Well-researched and entertaining, it covers the life of Anne Neville and her sister Isabel, daughters (and pawns) of the “Kingmaker” a powerful nobleman who was responsible for putting Edward of York on the throne and later conspired to take him off it and replace him with his brother.

The Kingmaker’s Daughter is the latest addition to the “Cousin’s War” series that takes place during the “War of the Roses” (just before the Tudors came to power) which consists of (besides this newest title):

The Lady of the Rivers: a novel about Jaquetta Duchess of Bedford whose daughter Elizabeth Woodville secretly marries King Edward

The White Queen: introduces us to Elizabeth Woodville and covers her fight to help her family rise to power after her marriage to King Edward, as well as the disappearance of her sons from the Tower of London

The Red Queen: a novel about Margaret Beaufort who who marries Edmund Tudor and pours her ambition into her son Henry (Margaret was Henry VIII’s grandmother)

The White Princess:  Coming out in August of 2013, this book will cover Princess Elizabeth, Elizabeth Woodville’s daughter

Supposedly, there is also going to be a T.V. drama produced by the STARZ network sometime this year in 2013.

Each of the books covers a different perspective of this time period (mid to late 1400’s). If you’ve read the other books, you won’t be surprised by what happens (it’s based on the same piece of history with all the same major players, after all), but having the different view points adds a dimension of understanding and interest to each one that makes them well worth reading as a series. The characters that you hate in one book, you love in another. It really goes to show you there are two (or more!) sides to every story. Having said that though, you do NOT have to have read any other books in the Cousin’s War series in order to understand what’s going on. The Kingmaker’s Daughter is perfect as a stand-alone.

The Kingmaker’s Daughter starts out with Anne and Isabel as children and follows them through their lives (for about 20 years or so) during the turbulent events of the War of the Roses. Other reviews have covered elements of the plot so I won’t discuss that other than to say The Kingmaker’s Daughter is well-researched and seems to be fairly accurate with, of course, a bit of personal interpretation. All of the main incidents of the War of Roses (including the disappearance of the “nephews in the tower” is contained within the pages as viewed through the eyes of Anne.

For much of the book Anne is fairly young. The story starts out with her as an 8 year old and much of the book is centered around her life as a teen (since she was married at 14). Interaction between Anne and her sister is a pendulum swinging from devoted sisterly love to sibling rivalry & drama. However, despite the fact that the book covers the two sisters, it’s really more about Anne. I found the dialogue and events to be realistic. Philippa does a terrific job at capturing a depth to Anne as she matures from a child into a young woman who wants a hand in her destiny but is swept up in the events of the time and the constraints of 15th century society. Philippa did a great job at making me care about Anne and her world and portrayed Richard the III in a sympathetic way instead of the evil monster who murdered his nephews, as I’ve read in other books.

One thing that was a welcome surprise was there there are zero bodice ripping, tawdry romance scenes in this book. In fact, this book was so “clean”  (with one exception) that I would recommend it to some older Y.A. (young adult) readers who are interested in historical fiction. I’m an adult who is a regular reader of Y.A. titles and think it would appeal to that age group since Anne is young throughout most of the book (and even when she is an adult she retains much of the same voice). There is still plenty of history and depth along with complicated relationships and history to keep any lover of historical fiction interested, no matter what the age. To clarify, there are intimate relationships portrayed – just that they are more implied than described. Please see the end of the review for a description of potentially objectionable material.

As for detail and world building, I think Philippa did an admirable job. I felt immersed in the story and while it’s very dialogue and character driven, there is plenty of world building through the first-person observations of Anne. There is plenty of detail, but it never mires the book down. I also felt like Anne was realistically portrayed for her time period. She didn’t feel like a modern girl/woman plopped down into historical fiction and yet she was very accessible as a character.

If you haven’t read any of Philippa Gregory’s books, I recommend starting with this one. It will give you a great introduction to a well-loved author. If you have, you may find, like I did, that The Kingmaker’s Daughter quickly becomes your favorite of Gregory’s books. After reading the Kingmaker’s Daughter (in one evening as I didn’t want to put it down), I promptly bought the other books I haven’t read yet in this series and will soon be devouring them as well. 🙂

Potentially objectionable material (if you are handing this over to a teen) – with potential spoilers.
Please note that I may not have posted each and every incident I came across, but this should give you a good idea.

  • graphic description of childbirth where the baby is stuck and Anne has to slip her hand in to try and turn it – the baby is born dead
  • Anne’s first night in bed (as a young teen) with her husband Edward is described (this is the most graphic s*x in the entire book, that I can recall). It illustrates how Anne was made to marry what had been her family’s enemy for most of her life. There was no love between the two teens who were being played on the stage of their parent’s making:
    • ‘You lie there and don’t say anything,’ he repeats loudly. ‘The best thing you can do for me, right now, is to say nothing. Most of all don’t remind me who you are, I can’t stand the thought of that…and then he heaves up in the bed and drops on me with his full weight, plunging into me as if he was stabbing me with a broadsword.
      • Note: This may be a bit much for some teens. Use your discretion. It is the only incident like this in the book, that I recall.
  • There is a slight bit of romantic tension between Anne and her 2nd husband Richard before they marry. After they marry it’s clear they bed one another but there is nothing graphic as it’s implied and not described.
  • There is little to no cursing. Whore is used in context such as, “…Elizabeth Woodville is the King’s whore.”
  • Anne is concerned that Elizabeth Woodville and her mother may be using witchcraft against her and her sister and blame them for some of the negative events in the story

All in all, The Kingmaker’s Daughter is more tame than many Y.A. (young adult) novels I’ve read, even though it’s written for adults, and works very well for the older spectrum of that age group, if you are O.K. with the items mentioned above.

*Note: I received a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. My reviews are NEVER influenced by getting something for free!

Want to read more of my book reviews (for adults, teens and children)? Click here!

Now that I’ve finished posting my latest review, here are today’s free Kindle books for kids. There are books for all ages here today, from baby to teen to mom even!

Miss Brain's Cool Math Games for kids in grades 1-2

Miss Brain’s Cool Math Games for kids in grades 1-2

The Wild Cats of Piran - Chronicle One

The Wild Cats of Piran – Chronicle One

New Year New You (Big Red Balloon)

New Year New You (Big Red Balloon)

My Name is Snappy Jack

My Name is Snappy Jack 

Spot the difference - Farmyard Fun

Spot the difference – Farmyard Fun

For The Love of Pickle Juice

For The Love of Pickle Juice

The Game

The Game

Snitch

Snitch – This book is for teens and covers cyberbullying and other issues modern teens have to face. You may wish to preview it.

Lily Out of Bounds (Soccer Sisters)

Lily Out of Bounds (Soccer Sisters)

Puppies! Learn To Read With Cute Puppy Pictures (for ages 4 and under) (Early Learning Picture Book Series)

Puppies! Learn To Read With Cute Puppy Pictures (for ages 4 and under) (Early Learning Picture Book Series)

50 Fun Stories for 3-7 Year Olds

50 Fun Stories for 3-7 Year Olds

Cry into the Wind

Cry into the Wind – I haven’t previewed this book yet. It’s written for adults, but is about a girl during the Dust Bowl. It might be appropriate for teens.

God Has Better Things to do Than My Laundry (and Other Observations by an Overly Dramatic Mom)

God Has Better Things to do Than My Laundry (and Other Observations by an Overly Dramatic Mom)  Here’s one for Mom’s 🙂

Book Review: Read-Aloud Poems & Free Kindle Books for Kids

Phew! I’m getting caught up on my reviews. There are still lots more reviews to come (some for books and others for homeschool resources)! Don’t worry though, I’ll get back to blogging about some of our homeschool adventures as well. 😉 I’m planning a future post about notebooking and how we’ve incorporated that into our studies over the years – complete with pictures of some of Otter’s notebooks.
At the end of this post I’ll post a few free Kindle books so scroll to the end if you are interested in those.

First though, here’s a review on a book of poems:

Read Aloud Poems

Read-Aloud Poems: 50 of the World’s Best-Loved Poems for Parent and Child to Share is a hefty collection of poems perfect for introducing children to the works of a variety of poets & writers such as Edward Lear, Lewis Carroll, Robert Frost, Maya Angelou, and even William Shakespeare. The poems are separated into section headings such as:

Nature’s People
Meet the Family
Just Me
Friendship and Love
Laughing Lyrics
Earth and Sky
Poems That Tell Stories
Let’s Pretend
Poems to Ponder

Besides the poems themselves, many of the page sidebars have information about the poets themselves such as the following blurb:

Many of Robert Louis Stevenson’s poems are included in this book. Most of them come from his collection of poems – A Child’s Garden of Verses. Stevenson also wrote travel books and such famous novels as Treasure Island and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

I’m appreciative of these small asides that give the adult reading the poems out loud or an older child extra information.

The book has a variety of old fashioned illustrations. They appear to be various famous drawings and paintings from yesteryear, rather than new illustrations made specifically for this book. Some of the illustrations are from famous artists such as Jessie Willcox Smith, whose paintings evoke the sweetness and innocence of childhood. Some of the pictures take up an entire page, while others are sprinkled across the assortment of poems to add visual interest. I really wish the book had more beautiful illustrations along the lines of the cover, however, the focus of the book isn’t the pictures, it’s the words and lyrical language of the poems themselves.

I think poetry is an important part of a child’s diet of literature. Because of the good selection of poems in Read-Aloud Poems, I think this book is a good option for a child’s library. I give it 4 stars instead of 5 because I wasn’t blown away by the artwork (although I did find it sweet). Still, i think Read-Aloud Poems is a solid choice if you are looking for a collection of poems to nurture a love of the written word in your child.

*I received a free review copy for my honest opinion.

Want to read more of my book reviews (for adults, teens and children)? Click here!

Now for today’s free Kindle books for kids:

The Vanishings: 1 (Left Behind: The Kids)

The Vanishings: 1 (Left Behind: The Kids) – Otter read most of this series and really enjoyed it. It’s about a group of kids after the “rapture” during the tribulation.

Mind Hurdles: Having Fun with States & Capitals in the United States (Interactive Quiz Book)

Mind Hurdles: Having Fun with States & Capitals in the United States (Interactive Quiz Book)

Horses: Amazing Photos & Fun Facts on Animals in Nature (Our Amazing World Series)

Horses: Amazing Photos & Fun Facts on Animals in Nature (Our Amazing World Series)

Life In The Gumball Machine

Life In The Gumball Machine

Happy downloading!

Book Review: Revolution 19

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I love YA (young adult) sci-fi and dystopian books and blaze through them on a regular basis. I’m always on the lookout for another great YA read along the lines of Hunger Games, the Delirium series, Starters, etc.

Revolution 19 looked like a great new title (just look at that beautiful cover with the eye implant!) and the book description sounded intriguing and interesting enough for me, an adult, to want to pursue. I jumped at the chance to snag an ARC (advance reader copy) and promptly sat down to devour what promised to be such an interesting story. Instead I had to force myself to finish it (a rarity for me!). It’s what my husband and I call a “Wesley Crusher” story (if you remember the young man on Star Trek Enterprise who would amazingly save the day when all the brilliant adults around him couldn’t) where the dumb kids save the stupid grown-ups and everything is fluffy and unbelievable along the way. Maybe whomever wrote the book jacket should have written the story. All of the great writing ends there.

Before I eviscerate the book, let me say upfront that the 10 year old in me liked it. Although I think this book is marketed at the YA audience, after reading it, I’d throw it into the very lowest age range of that category, specifically tweens or younger. If I was a kid and I didn’t pick apart books yet (or expect much from them) and just want a fast paced story where the kids win and nothing is really scary (although we’ll pretend it is) and I wasn’t going to notice inconsistencies…then this books is perfect. If I was ten I’d give this book 5 enthusiastic stars and would be itching for the movie to come out. In fact, if they ever do make a movie out of this, it’s one of the rare cases where I think the movie would be much better than the book.

Now, with that out of the way, it’s time to tear the book apart. The story centers around a group of teens varying in age: Nick 17, Kevin 13 (almost 14!) , Cass 15 and later Lexi and some others. Although we have some older teens featured, they all feel flat and much younger. Nick, his brother Keven and their adopted sister Cass live in the wilderness to hide from the robots who’ve apparently turned on humanity and are rumored to enslave people in the cities. The first problem I had is that the community seems fairly well established and somehow the robots don’t discover them (even though they throw out small bits of tech called chaff that people might pick up and take back to their camps for the purpose of locating them). In a bit you find out that the wilderness area turns out to be within walking distance of a city filled with robots. The robots are smart enough to run a city, enslave humans (as the rumor goes) and yet they can’t find these pockets of people living within 2-3 days walking distance. Hmm.

After an attack by the robots (well I guess they found them after all!) the 3 siblings are left to fend for themselves in the woods when their parents don’t show up at a designated “safe” area. The kids decide that must be due to the fact that their parents must have been captured by the robots and so they make the next logical decision – they must go into the city to save them!

The very first part of the story wasn’t so grating. It had an interesting premise and I was still in the mode of giving the characters time to be fleshed out. However, right after the robots attacked, it started falling apart with juvenile, magically perfect scenarios that will appeal to younger readers but not the teens I think it was intended for.

The teens end up in the city and things aren’t as they expected them to be. Humans are living peacefully alongside the robots. Things don’t seem right…Ah, here is an opportunity for the book to redeem itself, as this new development could have been eery and interesting. Sorry to disappoint. The kids end up in a cafeteria and since they were hungry, decided to order food, nevermind they’ve never been in a cafeteria or restaurant before.
“Oh my G*d,” said Kevin, looking through the menu. “You can get anything you want here.”….”Chicken or steak or pizza or hot dogs or French fries….”

Hold on a sec. Here you have kids raised in the wilds who have never known anything but living in the forest and somehow they know what steak, pizza, hot dogs and French fries are?

They meet a girl (Lexi) who basically saves them rears after realizing they are “freemen”…complete with providing a disguise of a hat and sunglasses! From there they have all sorts of adventures like learning about the reeducation centers (another chance at being interesting but nope), getting fake chip implants, going to school (for one day) and so on.

It’s so amazing how they also run into their parents and how these country bumpkins manage to think up an amazing (I’m being sarcastic) tech solution to defeating the robots! Wow! With all the intelligent adults living in the city, you’d think someone would have thought of that before! I won’t spoil what happens. It’s not really all that exciting though. Unless you’re ten. 😉 It’s certainly not the “REVOLUTION” I had envisioned.

In the meantime we have a very juvenile romance (well not quite that but…they do have to slip a kiss in there don’t they?) where one kiss is exchanged but there is no real relationship or anything complex. It felt like it was thrown in there for the twelve year olds.

The robots themselves (Peteys….such a scary name) are basically floating boxes with slits in their faces and lasers that shoot people. At the reeducation center there are robots that look more human…and even seem to sound human at times (another glimmer of hope that things might get good but no…).

I hate to tear this book apart because there WERE moments that were interesting or had a huge amount of potential. However, as a whole it was predictable, juvenile and unbelievable. I think the best part of the book was the very end in the epilogue!! Now that was interesting and perked my interested up again. Too bad it was only a few pages long and it certainly wasn’t worth wading through the rest for! I wish that last element had been developed more somewhere in the story.

So, if you are an adult looking for your next YA fix, I’d not recommend Revolution. However, if you have a younger child into sci-fi or dystopians, Revolution might be a winner. It’s fast paced and pretends at being scary which might appeal to a younger tween not ready for a darker or more involved read.

Having said that, I’ll now give the “mom” part of my review and mention any potential items of concern. The first is the cussing. There are quite a few instances and variations of d*mn as well as hell, God’s name taken in vain, & bastard. There is one instance of kissing with mention of a girl’s body pressed into the boy’s chest. One of the characters suggests Cass draw a nude (she is going to exchange artwork, which is illegal, for the insertion of fake chips that would allow them to integrate into some parts of society) and there is mention of “homebrew” and pretending to be drunk in order to draw the attention of the bots.

Compared to some of the YA drek out there right now (like Beta), Revolution 19 is quite tame by comparison.

Quick summary: I was very disappointed with Revolution 19. I felt like the beautiful cover was misleading (there is a girl with an implant featured on the cover and that is not the case in the book) and the book description didn’t convey how bubble-gummy the story was going to be. While I think it could be a hit with younger kids, I don’t think it will resonate with older readers, even the ones in the intended age group. The ending was enough to tempt me to read a sequel, should one come out, but only because that’s the only part of the book fleshed out a small glimmer of great sci-fi promise. The rest of the book was simply a kiddie-romp that didn’t flesh out its beautiful grown-up package.

Note: I received a free ARC copy in exchange for my honest review.

Want to read more of my book reviews (for adults, teens and children)? Click here!