Friday, March 13, 2009

Homespun Light

If you are still following over here, please hop on over to Homespun Light. That's where all the new content is...

Thursday, March 5, 2009

And we're ready...

Okay, here's the link to the new blog, Homespun Light. Enjoy!

And PLEASE continue to send in your reviews of Deliciously Clean Reads. I'm excited to tell you about the latest book I read! The review is cooking.

Friday, February 27, 2009

We're Moving

Deliciously Clean Reads is going to be moving to a new blogspot. Here's the deal.

I was talking to a very dear friend a couple weeks ago, and she said I wouldn't read my own blog, and I was like, Yeah. I wouldn't read mine either. And I gave her some advice that the best blogs post every day. Light bulb. I don't post every day. And another thing, it needs a voice...a personality. This blog doesn't have that either.

So, this is the plan. I know there are a few of you out there who appreciate this blog for its reviews of clean books. I have received many, many emails from people who are grateful for this resource. Those emails have kept me going.

BUT, I have 3 blogs. All three are suffering. So, I am starting a fourth blog. That'll help, right? :) I hope so. Blog 4 is going to be all the other blogs combined. I will post reviews of clean books as often as I receive them and, of course, when I read books I want to share (and I am transferring all past reviews there, too).

Blog 4, however, will not be ONLY reviews. It will be ME. Anything I feel like talking about, which will include motherhood, wifery, Christianity, crafting, learning, enjoying, living.

PS...the other reason for my absence the last couple weeks? I JUST had a baby, and DANG he is DELICIOUS.

Friday, February 13, 2009

A bit of a blog break...

See you in a couple weeks.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Uprising by Margaret Peterson Haddix

Haddix, Margaret Peterson. Uprising. Simon and Schuster, 2007. 346 pp. Historical fiction.

Review by Lina

On March 25, 1911, a devastating fire at the Triangle Shirtwaist factory in New York City left 146 people dead, the majority of them young immigrant girls who were employed at the factory. In the years immediately preceding the fire, Triangle had been embroiled in a labor dispute that sent many of its workers out on strike in an attempt to unionize the shop. Among the strikers’ concerns were low wages, long hours, poor working conditions, and safety issues. Although Triangle and other companies eventually settled, violations continued. The fire encompassed three floors of the building and left many people trapped when stairwell doors were locked (the company’s way to ensure workers did not leave early) and the one fire escape proved to be defective. The tragedy of the Triangle fire lead to new safety regulations and enforcement of those regulations.

Uprising tells the story of two immigrant girls, Bella and Yetta, who worked at the factory and their friend Jane. Yetta, who came to New York from Russia with the plan to make enough money to send for her parents, is determined to improve working conditions at all costs, even her own happiness. She steadfastly pickets during the strike and is unhappy when the union settles for less than she wants. Able to see the whole picture, Yetta is also concerned about women’s rights and suffrage. She worries about safety conditions at Triangle. Bella, a poor girl from Italy who comes to the United States determined to send money home to support her widowed mother and younger siblings, is at a disadvantage not knowing English and being ignorant of the issues at hand. But she learns quickly and picks herself up following a family tragedy, determined to make a brighter future for herself. Jane is the daughter of a wealthy businessman, a socialite who yearns to go to college and do something important with her life. She leaves home to work as a governess and live in a tenement rather than be supported by her father’s money, money that she considers to be tainted and evil when she learns that in the past he had hired strikebreakers.

Uprising does a good job of telling the story of the famous Triangle fire as well as showing the working and social conditions prevalent at the time. Readers, particularly young readers, will find it hard to imagine living in the way that the girls did and not only surviving but thriving. Readers will assume they know which of the girls is the mysterious “Mrs. Livingston” first introduced in the beginning of the book but will be surprised when they learn her true identity. Recommended for age 12 and up.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Winter Wheat by Mildred Walker

Winter Wheat by Mildred Walker

Review by Julie Donaldson

Suggested audience: 16- adult

Winter Wheat is the story of a girl living on a dry wheat ranch in Montana in the early 1940’s. At the beginning of the story Ellen Webb is 18 and looking to her future—a future determined by each season, each crop of wheat, each hailstorm and snowfall.

This is a true coming-of-age story, covering a year and a half of Ellen’s life as she grows from a child to an adult. Raised by her stolid, quiet Russian mother and her frail New Englander father, Ellen knows little about the world and even less about love. She must come to understand her own parents’ relationship in order to understand herself and the world around her. In the process of understanding them, she learns that love, like dark winter wheat, can grow and survive amid the harshest of conditions.

Nature is an integral character in this story, and Walker writes as one who knows the land intimately. The natural world that she paints is full of symbolism and meaning. Walker’s characters are fully drawn—complex but knowable, and her language is almost poetic. Winter Wheat is a beautiful story of growth, understanding, forgiveness, and love.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Princess of the Midnight Ball

It's official. Jessica Day George is one of my favorite authors. From this point forward, I will be sure to own all of her books as soon as they are released. I loved Dragon Slippers and the sequels and Sun and Moon, Ice and Snow.
Besides loving her books, I've heard her speak and believe me, she's a red-headed riot. Here's an interview I did with her a while back.

Review by Emily Beeson

Princess of the Midnight Ball is a retelling of the twelve dancing princesses. To be honest, I'm not familiar with the original tale, so I can't tell you how much this version deviates. However, I can certainly tell you that this version is very enjoyable.
Tall, handsome Galen is returning from war. His parents and sister have all been killed, so he is headed for his aunt and uncle's house in Westfalin.
When he arrives, he finds a welcoming home and a job as an under-gardener at the palace. While working in the gardens, he befriends the eldest princess, Princess Rose. He discovers that Rose has a secret. She is a prisoner and is required to dance every night from midnight until dawn, along with her eleven younger sisters.
A string of princes come to rescue the princesses from their unseen captor. When none of them are successful, Galen takes the matter into his own hands...but he doesn't know anything about magic...and the captor is certainly not a regular mortal.
Princess of the Midnight Ball is full of romance, humor, mystery, adventure, and fantasy. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.
It is perfectly clean (as long as an innocent kiss is clean to you :). I recommend it to fairy-tale-lovers of all ages.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Sisters, Ink by Rebeca Seitz

Review by Mary Saltzmann

While looking for scrapbook books in my county library system I found the novel Sisters, Ink by Rebeca Seitz and, since it was also labeled as Christian, decided to check it out. I enjoyed it a lot. It was a quick read for me and very engaging. I knew I was enjoying it when I did not skip ahead to read due to boredom!
The story is about opening one’s heart to God and letting Him into our lives. It is about family ties. It is about love—of God, oneself, and others.

The main character is Tandy Sinclair. She is a very successful attorney in a big city who goes to her small hometown to visit her widowed father and three foster sisters. They are a very loving family and all share a faith in God and a passion for scrapbooking. Well, their father does not scrapbook, but he has kept his late wife’s attic turned scrapbook studio as it was before she died so his daughters can get together there to scrapbook and spend time together.
As the sisters scrapbook and spend time together they encourage, tease, and straightforwardly ask Tandy about her reasons for being in a big city instead of back home with them, and about her first love Clay. Clay has returned to Stars Hill after being in the military, a decision that caused he and Tandy to go their separate ways after high school. Of course, Tandy and Clay run into each other a few times. They rehash their past together and discuss why they are where they are today and their future plans.
Rebeca Seitz has written a very nice story about life unfolding, about being aware of the decisions we make and why we make them, and of the importance of God and family in one’s life.
I thought of this site when I was reading the book; I would call it a clean read. There is kissing, but no graphic details. The characters are mindful of modesty, of how their actions could affect others. One character does decide to wear a dress that is revealing in the back, yet the author treats the situation well. I enjoyed it and recommend it.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Princess Ben by Catherine Gilbert Murdock

Murdock, Catherine Gilbert. Princess Ben. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2008. 344 pp.

Review by Lina Crowell

Benevolence (Ben), daughter of a prince, is herself second in the line of succession to the throne of the small fictional country of Montagne, her uncle the king having no children. Ben, however, is not your typical princess. She has been raised away from the glamour and elegance of the castle, dresses plainly, and freely socializes with the common people, having often accompanied her mother, a healer, on her visits to the sick. When her parents and uncle fail to return from a day’s outing and are later found dead, Ben, not yet old enough to ascend to the throne in her own right, finds herself being “tutored” by her aunt, Sophia, the Queen Regent who rules in her stead until Ben comes of age. Ben, having never before considered that she would one day rule Montagne, balks at her aunt’s demands that she begin conducting herself more in the manner in which a princess is expected to behave.

Eventually, Ben’s unruly behavior leads to her being banished to a small tower room except for the hours of her schooling. In the tower Ben discovers a hidden and magical passageway leading to the invisible “Wizard Tower” where she finds a spell book and other magical instruments that she uses to secretly teach herself rudimentary magic skills. Through use of her magical abilities, Ben discovers a network of hidden passages throughout the castle and uses these to learn of the queen’s plans for Montagne to secure an alliance with another country by arranging a marriage between Ben and a suitable prince, a plan that does not meet with Ben’s approval, particularly if that marriage is to Prince Florian of Drachensbett, Montagne’s sworn enemy and the most likely suspect in the deaths of her parents and the king. The king of Drachensbett has made it clear that he will invade Montagne if such an alliance is not made. Although Ben believes herself to be as capable as any man, and is not content to wait idly for rescue by a knight in shining armor, she has come to realize that it is through marriage that many political alliances are made and must now decide whether or not to use her skills in magic to save Montagne from impending attack by Drachensbett, a decision that may mean her secret could be exposed, or else give in to Drachensbett’s demands.

Princess Ben is a fine fantasy that works in elements from various fairy tales and that features a strong female protagonist who is not afraid to speak her mind. Recommended for age 12 and up, particularly for those who enjoy light fantasy and/or romance.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Peeled by Joan Bauer

Bauer, Joan. Peeled. New York: Putnam, 2008. 247 pp.

Review by Lina Crowell

Do you like a mystery? Strange stories have been circulating about the old Ludlow house in the small farming community of Banesville, NY. People say the ghost of the last owner, mean-spirited in life and even more so in death, is haunting the place, causing harm and even death to people who dare to visit the house. It doesn’t help matters any that the local newspaper, The Bee, is helping to spread the rumors. Hildy Biddle, top reporter for the high school newspaper, The Core, and daughter of a journalist, is skeptical of the stories about the “haunted” house.

Together with the staff of The Core, Hildy determines to get to the bottom of the stories and find out what is really going on. When Hildy and her friends come a little too close to the truth, the owner of The Bee threatens to sue the school unless The Core is shut down. Undaunted, the staff of The Core goes underground, supported by several townspeople and meeting in the back room of a local café, to publish a new community newsletter, The Peel, distributing it at local businesses to get out the truth.

Peeled is the story of what can happen when people come together to stand up for what’s right. Teenage Hildy is a strong female protagonist supported by a cast of interesting, well-written characters. Recommended for age 12 and up.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Enter Three Witches by Caroline Cooney

Enter Three Witches by Caroline Cooney

Review by Cindy Bohn

Lady Mary is a ward of the Macbeths. Yes, those Macbeths. The ones in the play. She is beautiful, rich, and sweet. She has a perfect life. Until her father is captured as a traitor to the king and executed. Her lands are given to Macbeth and she is expected to work in the kitchen. From idle rich to scullery maid in one day.

Lady Mary begins to notice some odd things happening in the castle. First she saw Macbeth speaking with some witches. Then she saw Lady Macbeth reading a letter, something quite out of the ordinary. And then the king himself comes to stay at their castle and his shockingly and cruelly murdered.

I really enjoyed this book for teens. I am a sucker for Shakespeare-based stories, and Macbeth is probably my favorite play. So when I saw this book, I had high hopes. Cooney does an excellent job portraying the customs and manners of the day. The new characters are woven nicely into the original story, and they become so real. Lady Macbeth is especially well done. I wasn't as perfectly pleased with Macbeth himself - I felt that his motivation and his character remained a little mysterious. But overall, I was swept away.

Enter Three Witches has some difficult themes-witchcraft, religion, loyalty, ambition. I would recommend it for any older teen or adult.

Monday, January 12, 2009

My Fair Godmother by Janette Rallison

Review by Emily Beeson

Be careful what you wish for. You might get it! My Fair Godmother, which just came out last week, is another fun romantic comedy by Janette Rallison.

When Savannah's boyfriend dumps her for her older sister, she idly wishes for a true prince. Chrissy, her fairy godmother, shows up. Only Chrissy is not a real fairy godmother. She's only a fair fairy student. In her attempts to grant three wishes for Savannah, Savannah is sent to the Middle Ages smack into the stories of Cinderella and Snow White.

When Savannah finally gets out of the Middle Age mess, she discovers that Tristan, a boy from school, has been sent back to prove himself a worthy prince for her. Together, Tristan and Savannah have to conquer mystical creatures and find a way back into the present day.

If you are a fan of fairy tales (which I definitely am), you'll enjoy My Fair Godmother. I recommend it for tweens and teens. It's a quick, unique read.


Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Lady of Quality by Georgette Heyer

Heyer, Georgette. 1957. Lady of Quality.

Review by Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

"The elegant travelling carriage which bore Miss Wychwood from her birthplace, on the border of Somerset and Wiltshire, to her home in Bath, proceeded on its way at a decorous pace." (1)
Lady of Quality's first line may not sparkle as much as Austen's famous one, "IT is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife." But just give it time. Trust me. This one has everything and more that you'd expect in an Austen novel: wit, humor, romance, quirky characters, as well as a few genuinely likable ones.

Such is the case with Lady of Quality. Miss Annis Wychwood is almost thirty years old. And in that time, the Regency period, thirty might as well have been sixty. Spinster is spinster no matter if you're thirty, blond, and witty or wrinkly, gray, and stubborn. But Annis is comfortable in her singleness. Or at least she prefers to see herself as comfortable. It helps that in Annis' situation, she's wealthy enough to have her own house and household. (By household I mean servants and such). If Annis had to live under her brother's roof, well, it would be a different story altogether. She does NOT get along with her brother, Geoffrey, though she does get along in a way with her sister-in-law. Yes, folks might think it a bit strange that she'd rather be independent and living on her own--and a good day's travel away from her brother and his wife--but they've become accustomed to it. But when our novel opens, Annis is about to do something a bit more unexpected, a bit more shocking.

Lucilla Carleton is just a young thing--not even eighteen--when she decides to run away from her aunt. (Her aunt is her primary guardian.) Her aunt wants her to marry the son of her father's best friend. A man, Ninian, that she's practically grown up with. It's not that she doesn't like him. But she doesn't like him like him. At least she says as much. As does he when given the opportunity. (The two like to bicker about how they don't want to be together.) Annis comes across this bickering pair on her way to Bath. Their carriage (or vehicle) has broken down--a problem with one of the wheels. Annis is too much of a lady to leave the poor girl in distress. She invites the young woman to come with her, to stay with her. Through their trip and the first day back at home, Annis hears all about Lucilla, her aunt, Ninian, and his over-bearing parents the Lord and Lady Iverley. Lucilla has runaway it's true but it's because her aunt is passive aggressive. She manipulates through tears and pleas and looks.

What is Annis to do? Welcome her home to this girl she barely knows yet instantly likes? Or send her packing with much tears of distress? She decides that the girl must write a letter to an aunt. She'll be allowed to stay with Miss Wychwood in Bath, it's true, but it's a temporary solution to the girl's problem. But this nice letter home has unattended results. Her aunt being of the nervous sort on the best of days writes a letter--a tear-soaked and illegible letter to the girl's legal guardian--Lucilla's Uncle Oliver. Oliver Carleton.

The last thing Annis expected was to be visited by Oliver Carleton. A man (from London) with the reputation of the worst sort. A truly grumpy, stubborn sort of man who speaks without thinking of the consequences, who enjoys speaking the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth come what may. Obey society's nicety-nice rules? Not a chance! A man with a sharp but witty tongue comes to Bath to get to the bottom of this mess. He doesn't want Lucilla. He's not there to take her away, he's there to investigate this woman, this stranger who has interfered and butted into his business, his family.

Let the fun begin.

Oliver and Annis. Oh the sparks will fly. Despite her claims of being ancient and spinsterly, Oliver can't help thinking that she's entirely unsuitable for chaperoning his niece. She should be the one being courted and pursued and wooed by men. She's beautiful. She's witty. She's intelligent. There's just a certain something about her that he can't ignore. Annis never in a million years thought she'd feel this way, this maddeningly confusingly wonderful feeling. She can't stand him; and yet, she keeps hoping she'll see him again.

For anyone who loves Much Ado About Nothing and/or Pride and Prejudice, Lady of Quality is for you. It is a wonderfully giddy-making novel.

Heyer's novels are rich in detail combining history and romance with wit and charm and some unforgettable characters. If you're looking for a place to start, I'd highly recommend beginning with Lady of Quality.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Flipped by Wendelin Van Draanen

Reviewed by Melanie Jacobson

As a former middle school English teacher, I had the best excuse in the world for reading young adult literature as much as I wanted. I found some great books in the five years that I taught. One sure-fire hit with both boys and girls is a fun story from Wendelin Van Draanen, author of the Sammy Keyes mysteries. Her novel Flipped branches into a different genre; it’s a little bit of romance, quite a bit of humor, and a lot of coming of age.
The story focuses on Juli Baker and Bryce Loski who are (at least on Bryce’s part) reluctant neighbors. She’s the bane of his existence but he’s the apple of her eye. She falls madly in love with him when the Bakers move in across the street during the kids’ second grade year. That’s the same day Bryce pinpoints as the start of all his troubles. Van Draanen uses the interesting device of relating the same incident through each character’s point-of-view. You hear about an infamous hair smelling incident from Juli, who views it as the culmination of a long-held wish, and then from Bryce for whom the experience is mortifying. The opinions they each have of each other stay the same as they grow until they reach eighth grade. That’s when free-spirited, big hearted Juli wonders if Bryce is less than she’s cracked him up to be and Bryce begins to realize that Juli might be a whole lot more.
There are several layers to this story which is why so many of my students enjoyed it. It was one of only two novels that they begged to continue when we finished with our assigned pages each day. The girls like the romance of the ungettable boy and the boys related to Bryce who is a realistically depicted eighth grade guy. He’s a dude’s dude. They all loved the humor that’s laced throughout. But my adult friends found it engaging too, because the layers go way past an adolescent love story. While the refreshing switch in perspective in each chapter is enough to keep the pages turning, it’s really the deeper dynamics that kept my attention. There are complicated and poignant relationships with characters like Juli’s artist father and Bryce’s taciturn grandfather. And there are key lessons about maintaining and respecting individuality and learning to suspend judgment. This is a completely satisfying read.
(Best suited for 7th grade and up).

Friday, January 2, 2009

Someone Named Eva by Joan M. Wolf

Review by Katy from What KT Reads

Just a few weeks after Milada's 11th birthday, the Nazi's snatch her family from their home. The women and (young) children are separated from the men and taken to a school where they are held for several days. Because of her Aryan features, at the end of the time in the school Milada and one other girl are taken from their families and put on a bus to Poland, where their Germanization will begin. At Milada's new school, she is treated well: plenty of food, clean clothes, her own bed, etc; but at the same time, she is forced to take on a new name (Eva), learn and speak exclusively German and accept the views of her new teachers. Eventually, Eva is adopted into a German family where she deals with trying to remember the Milada from Czechoslovakia and guilt regarding the fact that she has genuinely come to love her new German/Nazi family.

I really liked this book. It's a fictionalized account of actual events, and I had a hard time putting it down. It focuses on an aspect of WWII that I knew nothing about, and I just ate it up. I actually spent several hours yesterday looking up more information about Germinazation, Lidice (the town Milada was born in), and various other things I learned about in the book. I love books that spark (or renew) an interest in something to the degree that I actually seek out more information about the subject.

Milada is a likable character and her struggles throughout the book felt real. Especially the the times when she is trying to figure out how she can hate the Nazis and everything about them while loving her new found family, who consisted of Nazis. The conflicts seemed real, and I spent the whole book longing along with Milada to know what had happened to her family and friends.

Be sure to read the author's note in the back to learn in more detail what happened in the town of Lidice, Czechoslovakia on June 10, 1942 and survivors the author interviewed while writing this book. It's both horrifying and fascinating at the same time.

Recommended for ages 11 and up

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

A Murder for her Majesty by Beth Hilgartner

A Murder for her Majesty by Beth Hilgartner (Houghton Mifflin Company, New York: New York, 1986)
Historical Fiction/Mystery

Review by Gamila from Gamila's Review

This historical fiction set in Elizabethan England begins with the main character headed toward the city of York to find help from Lady Jenny. Alice Tuckfield has just witnessed two men kill her father in the woods, and is trying to find someplace safe. Near the point of exhaustion, she runs into a boy on the streets of York, who he offers her something to eat. He offers to let her stay the night in their boarding house without the mistress knowing. They hide her in an upstairs closet. The boarding house is full of boys that sing in the church choir.
The boys plan a scheme to see how long they can hide her in the boys choir without Master Frost, the director noticing that she is a girl. They turn Alice into a boy and continue to let her hide in the upstairs closet. Alice realizes that she is in danger when she hears voices talking in the cathedral late at night. They are talking about her, and how they can't find her. They are the murderers of her father and a priest, Father Cooper, is working with them. Alice doesn't know what to do, but she is safe pretending to be a choirboy, but that might change if Father Cooper keeps snooping.
This is a really charming book and a very engaging read. The setting in York is extremely fun. The description of the choirboy's life is fascinating and the historical setting is flawlessly seamed into the story. The author is excellent at characterization. I loved Masters Frost and Kenton just as much as I loved Alice. The boys were fun-loving and playful characters that made Alice's life so interesting and much more exciting. This really is a delightful clean read.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Hugging the Rock by Susan Taylor Brown

Review by Joyce Moyer Hostetter

Author Historical Fiction
HEALING WATER (Spring 2008)
BLUE (2006)

There are times when I should just buy the book!

This was one of them. I renewed it at least twice and still paid overdues yesterday when I returned it. (That was after my library gave me a recorded phone notification and a snail mail one too. I think they wanted it back and I don't blame them.

Hugging the Rock is a good book to buy!

I've been wanting to review it for weeks (just as I've wanted to pull weeds in my flowerbeds, clean my house, and do research for my work-in-progress). But sometimes there aren't enough hours to do the things I want.

So, anyway I returned the book and now I will have to write this from memory. Well, actually I did sit in the library parking lot and scribble a few favorite quotes on the back of a deposit slip before I forced myself to take the book inside.

This novel is heartbreakingly sweet and amazingly spare. If I had written this story it would be at least a hundred pages longer. It would take me a whole paragraph to say what Susan Taylor Brown puts in one sentence. It is a verse novel. So eloquent. So reader friendly. So universal in its message.

Rachel's mom abandons her. And who is she left with? Her dad. "The Rock". Just when she needs someone to hold her! Grandmother tries to help but mostly manages to annoy both Rachel and her dad who actually just need to find their new life together.

Hugging the Rock is a long emotional journey told in a short space. I love emotional journeys. And while I tend toward melodrama I also loved the spareness of this story.

Especially the chapter titled Mother's Day. Would it cross my mind to leave the page blank? Never! And if it did, would I be able to follow through? Probably not...I think my favorite quote comes from page 138 -"She did the best she could with what she had in her at the time. " That bit of wisdom about Rachel's missing mom comes from "The Rock". And, while I'm not a psychologist, I declare, it goes a long way toward explaining inexplicable human behavior! (IMHO)

And then there's this - "He hugs me tight and I realize that some rocks have soft spots and that I am melting into him."Ah, I do love rocks. And I loved this book! Gonna' have to buy it for myself.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The Mysterious Benedict Society #2

Review by Amanda Snow from A Patchwork of Books

I loved the first installment (reviewed here) of Trenton Stewart's Mysterious Benedict Society books and this second installment was pretty fantastic as well. Lots of adventure, thrills, and more of those brilliant children we've all come to love!

Book two, titled The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Perilous Journey, does in fact, take the reader on quite the journey! Reynie, Kate, Sticky, and Constance reunite about a year after the first book finished, ready to go on a scavenger hunt their beloved Mr. Benedict has set up for them. Unfortunately, once the pair gets together, instead of a fun game, they must complete the scavenger hunt in order to find Mr. Benedict, who has been kidnapped by the evil Mr. Curtain. The quartet boards a ship and ends up on a journey around the world, searching for their leader. All of the enemies from the first book are back and extra nasty, but the tricks the kids have up their sleeves are even more impressive, making for an awesome adventure.

I love these books and I'm already looking forward to the next one. If a book keeps me turning pages, involves me in the minds of the characters, and puts a smile on my face, it's a definite winner. Children will love this book, whether or not they've read the first book.

Monday, October 27, 2008

A Picture Book Giveaway...

I'm giving away two hardcover picture books over at Whimsy Books. Head over and leave a comment by Friday night for a chance to win. If you don't care to have them for yourself, I'm sure you know some lucky little person or picture book-lover who you could give them to for Christmas.

So, go. (I'm hoping to have lots and lots of comments over there.) Good luck!

Monday, October 20, 2008

The Hound of Rowan: Book One of the Tapestry by Henry Neff

Review by Amanda Snow of A Patchwork of Books

While on a trip to an art museum with his dad, Max McDaniels comes across an interesting tapestry that seems to glow when he looks at it. Soon after, he receives a most unusual invitation to a school, far away in New England. So starts The Hound of Rowan: Book One of the Tapestry the first title in a promising new series by Henry Neff. After much debate and discussion with a strange representative from the school, Max makes the decision to attend Rowan Academy, where he will take care of a magical creature, train his newfound abilities on the Course, make friends with kids from all over the world, and ultimately build up power against the Enemy. Filled with ogres, crazy classes, and intimidating teachers, from page one this book had me turning pages, earnestly wanting to find out what was to happen next. I am now a huge fan of Max McDaniels!

Do we have any Harry Potter fans out there? I'm sure there are lots of you! When I first picked up The Hound of Rowan: Book One of the Tapestry by Henry Neff, I was afraid of a miserable Potter rip-off. The similarities to the much-loved series seemed quite high and I was really worried that I would end up putting the book down after only a couple of chapters, disappointed with a failed look alike. The exact opposite happened. True, the similarities to the Harry Potter premise are somewhat high. A boy, a school, an enemy, becoming friends with outcasts, having extreme powers, etc. There is still a uniqueness to the story and even with the similarities, the writing is excellent and is bound to draw you in. I fell in love with a new series, but unlike Harry Potter, where I now have seven books at my disposal, this one is fairly new, the second book (came out last month).

Head to your library or bookstore to check this one out, I guarantee you will not be disappointed.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Life on the Refrigerator Door by Alice Kuipers

Has is really been a whole month? Yikes.

Here's a looooong overdue review....

Review by Heather Walker of Life, Lessons, and Laughs

This is a delightful book. I was looking for an inspirational, thoughtful, and easy to read book, and I found it.

The book tells the story of the mother who is a single mom and an obstetrician, and the daughter, Claire, who is a young high school student. They rarely connect in person and instead heavily rely on notes on the refrigerator to communicate to each other. The notes unfold a journey that the mother and daughter go through. We see their struggles and their joys through the refrigerator.

While I didn't feel this book was incredibly original, the prose and notes are beautifully written and the characters come out through and shine. The book really is about the relationship, and this relationship is most poignant part of the story. I wanted Claire and her mother to get along, and when they had struggles, I felt for them. Whenever they fought, I felt for both sides of the argument.

While a bit sad, this book is definitely worthwhile. At the beginning, there is the poem "This Is Just to Say," by William Carlos Williams. That poem is a note on the refrigerator door that was found and determined to be poetry. This book has the same sort of quality to it--poetry is found in the notes on the refrigerator, and it is a beautiful story.

Recommended especially for girls in high school and mothers, though anyone can read it and be delighted.

Ages 10-12 and up.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

A True and Faithful Narrative by Katherine Sturtevant

(historical fiction for young adults and older ones too!)

Review by Joyce Moyer Hostetter
Author Historical Fiction
HEALING WATER (Spring 2008)
BLUE (2006)

It is 1681 and Meg Moore is often at work in her father’s London bookshop. Her position there puts her in touch with the literary world and agitates her desire to be a writer. However, because she is a woman, her father strictly forbids her to write anything for others to read.

Edward, a family friend, stops in at the bookshop before leaving on a trip to Italy . He asks Meg what gift he can bring her from his travels. Startled, Meg realizes he is suggesting a romantic relationship. She responds by joking that perhaps he will be captured at sea and thus return with an adventure for her to write.

In fact, Edward does get captured and is sold into slavery. Meg’s careless jest haunts her and she begins to raise funds to buy his freedom. Will, who also works in her father’s bookshop, helps her. An infatuation with Will ensues and the two of them envision a future together.

But then Edward returns and he wants Meg to write his story for him. Of course she must do this in secret or she will incur the wrath of her father. Meg and Edward begin meeting in a tavern where he relates his adventure and she writes it down.

But Edward’s experiences do not convey the tale that Meg has imagined. She is disappointed that his story lacks certain dramatic points. When he tells her his Muslim owner was actually a kindly person, Meg must let go of preconceived ideas about the Islamic world.

She discovers then, the writer’s dilemma. She can sensationalize Edward’s story so that it suits her fancy and captures her reader. Or she can render it truthfully, thus opening a window into the broader world. By the same token, Edward learns to trust the author of his story—to let go of particular details in order to shine a light on the more significant aspects of his experience.

I loved this book for the way in which the author slips so much information about time and place so naturally into the story. However, word choice and sentence arrangement convey as much about restoration England as the many historical details provided.

I also treasure the way in which the story, itself, explores what it means to be an author. For Meg, it is about much more than finding and conveying the truth of a narrative. Being a female writer in restoration England has limitations. There are areas in which she has no choice about her life. And yet, Meg is not powerless. In some ways this story is about accepting limitations and in other ways it is about choosing wider horizons.

A True and Faithful Narrative is at once a romance and a story of hard realities. Meg’s life is not all about the bookshop and the essence of writing. She has responsibilities to home and family. Her best friend, Anne (Edward’s sister) is caught in an unhappy marriage which gives Meg reason to examine her own romantic choices.

There are many layers here which will be best appreciated by mature young readers. A True and Faithful Narrative is a book that writers, like myself, will want to own so we can revisit it when in need of inspiration and grounding.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Spare Change by Aubrey Mace

I've had a bit of trouble keeping my reviews up lately (4 1/2 months pregged...), but I have been pleasantly surprised by a few review books I have received and want to make sure they get their moments of fame.

The first pleasant surprise is Spare Change, a perfectly clean grown-up romance.

Riley is sick of making New Year's resolutions she doesn't keep. So, when her mom forces the family (again) to make them, she decides to do something really easy. She'll simply gather her spare pennies throughout the year and do something fun with them at the year's close.

However, working at a cancer treatment center gives her a new idea. She'll donate the pennies to cancer research. Riley tries to keep her goal a secret, but pretty soon the whole town is contributing to her fund.

During the process, Riley finds love. Will it be the cranky bank teller or the mysterious poem-writing secret admirer?

Spare Change was a pleasant surprise for a few reasons. 1. It's perfectly clean, which, let's be honest, when you just pick up a random book with no previous knowledge of it, that is unlikely. 2. The characters are well-developed. 3. The story has multiple levels that come together to make a great, fun romance. 4. If it wasn't getting so cold already, I'd say it is a perfect pool-side read. :)

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

The Time Travelers, The Gideon Trilogy, by Linda Buckley-Archer

The Time Travelers by Linda Buckley-Archer (previously published as Gideon the Cutpurse)
Review by Katy, What K Reads

This book follows Peter and Kate children of the 21st century who are accidentally sent back to July 1763. Before they are able to get their wits about them, the horrible Tar Man takes off with the anti-gravity machine and their only way home. Peter and Kate meet up with Gideon Seymour and make their way across the English country side in attempt to get home.

I liked this book. A lot. Gideon may be my new favorite character. He is clever, funny, and most importantly a moral man. He really seems to want to do what's right, even though it seems like life is against him at times. I read a review on Amazon that thought Gideon was really flat, so maybe I read more into him than was there, but I thought he was a well developed, likable character.

As to the two main characters, I liked Kate a lot. She was a fairly fleshed out character and was a strong leader throughout. Her little temper tantrums got a little old, and it bothered me that she had so little confidence in Peter. But, as the story progressed, she did seem to grow up, and I liked her overall. Peter wasn't as well developed. He had a pretty big chip on his shoulder (why don't my parents love me?) and he didn't seem to develop as much. That being said, based on the ending, I think there is a good chance that Peter will grow a lot in the second book.The Tar Man was also really interesting. He seems to have a very developed back story, and I look forward to learning more about him. I suspect there is a lot more to him than meets the eye.

It appears that the author did a lot of research into the lifestyles of people in 1763 England. She included it in a way that was funny and entertaining as opposed to "educational" feeling. For example the word "bottom" was used for courage in those days. Throughout the story phrases like "I want you all to show some bottom on this adventure" popped up. It might be the 10 year old boy in me, but I thought it was hilarious. I do wish the King's Evil (or Scrofula) had been explained a little better. I finally looked it up online; (according to wikipedia) it usually refers to a form of TB that people in the middle ages thought could be cured by a royal touch.

This is the first book in a trilogy. The ending makes it clear that a second book will be written (it's out now, called The Time Thief), so it might not be satisfying to all readers. It wasn't a true cliffhanger, but it definitely made me want to get my hands on the sequel. I look forward to more adventures from Kate, Peter, and Gideon.

Monday, August 25, 2008

A Beginning, A Muddle, and an End by Avi

Review by Becky Laney, frequent contributor.

Avon, the snail, and Edward, the ant, are back for their second book in Avi's newest: A Beginning, A Muddle, and An End. In our last adventure--their first adventure--Avon and Edward were out to have adventures. Adventures like they'd read about in books. What they found was that creating your own adventures--imagining your own adventures--was more enjoyable than seeking those adventures out. In other words, fiction tends to be more enjoyable than the truth. In this adventure, Avon is determined to write. He's a snail on a mission. Always a lover of books, now he seeks to write books for others to read. He's not quite certain WHERE to begin. Fortunately, or unfortunately as the case may be, Edward is always there to give his good friend advice.

The subtitle to this one is The Right Way to Write Writing. And writing is the focus of their twisted dialogue. Full of puns and twisted logic, it is an enjoyable, light-hearted read. Honestly, this one didn't charm me as much as the first. I don't know if it's because my mood has shifted from night to day. Or if what was charming the first time, loses a bit of its magic the second time around. Or perhaps it's just because I'm reading them back to back.

Still, I think the book is fun in its own little way.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Primavera by Mary Jane Beaufrand

Beaufrand, Mary Jane. 2008. Primavera.

Review by Becky Laney, frequent contributor.

The Italian Renaissance. Two powerful families are about to feud--the Medici and the Pazzi--and our heroine, Lorenza, nicknamed Flora, is soon to be caught in the middle. Power. Wealth. Prestige. That's what it comes down to for most of the men and women in both families. Flora, on the other hand is different. Perhaps it is those differences which serve to her advantage when the power struggle plays out disastrously for her family. She, in fact, saves the life of her family's enemy. But while this act of kindness may protect her life--in the moment--her family--her entire family is at risk. When the Medici's strike back, everything she's known, everything she's loved (as well as a few things she's hated) will be stripped away. Does Flora have the strength, the courage to begin life anew? Is she as strong as her grandmother believes? Does she have anything to live for after all?

I loved this book. I did. The setting was remarkable. Okay, maybe that's the wrong word. For me, I found the setting fascinating. I found it rich and deep and lustrous. I'm not that familiar with it generally speaking, and the details swept me away. Maybe that won't be the case for other readers. But for me it was one of those books that was in the right place and the right time to completely capture my attention. Flora is a well-drawn character. She's strong. She's resourceful. She's complex. I was completely taken in by her and her world.

This is Mary Jane Beaufrand's first book.
The story is inspired by Botticelli's masterpiece La Primavera.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Breaking Dawn by Stephenie Meyer

DISCLAIMER: I decided to review this book here since all the other books in the series are reviewed on Deliciously Clean Reads. However, I do not consider Breaking Dawn a Clean Read. It's full of vampire sex and talk about sex. Every family, of course, must make their own decisions about what books to read, but since a find myself a bit of an advisor when it comes to what is clean...I don't think this book is appropriate for anyone younger than 18. That is my personal opinion.
For the purpose of this site, I have set strict guidelines on what is clean and what is not. Breaking Dawn would not make this cut, but I wanted to discuss it here since I was such a huge fan of the saga until this book and I know many others who were as well.

So, let's be casual here for a minute. What did you think about Breaking Dawn, the latest installment in the Twilight Saga? Did you read it?

There will be spoilers here, so you know, GO AWAY if you don't want to see them. Consider yourself warned.

Let me first remind you that I am one of Stephenie Meyer's biggest fans. I obsessed over Twilight which is reviewed here. I thoroughly enjoyed New Moon, reading it almost as obsessively...although I truly felt the torture Bella was going through being separated from Edward for so long. Eclipse wasn't quite clean read material, but kept me going on the series.

I was one of the thousands of people at Borders on the night of August 1st. I waited in line for nearly three hours before finally holding my very own copy of Breaking Dawn.

And...I enjoyed it...but I'll be the first to admit it was out-there and a bit too wacky at times. I didn't read it obsessively. I claimed that I was trying to be a normal human and not lock myself up for three days, but the truth is, I didn't find it as compelling as the others.

The first three Twilight books drew me in with their promise of passionate, forbidden love. In Breaking Dawn, love is no longer forbidden. It comes easily for Edward and Bella.

Of course, that doesn't mean Stephenie Meyer wrote a 750 page book without conflict. Plenty happens. It just isn't pulling Edward and Bella's epic love apart.

(Big spoiler here...) The whole pregnant thing was so weird. Maybe because I am pregnant and that is just not how pregnancy works. Then, as if it couldn't get weirder, Jacob imprinted on the baby! I think I screamed out loud when I read that part.

Finally, Meyer built up for the greatest battle scene yet in the Twilight books and then just let it fizzle out without an ounce of vamp action. I admit, though I'm into the series for the mushiness, I was disappointed not to see a battle.

Anyway, I know there are a lot of mixed reactions on-line. Maybe we have built the series up so much in our hearts that nothing would satisfy.

I liked the book. I'd still recommend the series to upper YA and adults. As for being clean read material, Breaking Dawn does include a honeymoon. It gets a bit steamy as it has before, but it certainly doesn't go into detail. I wouldn't recommend this book to young teens, though. It's just too mature.

Let me know what you think. On Goodreads, I gave Twilight 5 stars, New Moon and Eclipse got 4, and Breaking Dawn will have 3.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin

Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin

Review by Katy

This is a pretty amazing story. Three Cups of Tea is the true story of Greg Mortenson, who upon failing to summit K2 stumbles quite ill and emaciated into Korphe, a remote village in Pakistan. The people of this village nurse him back to health, and he falls in love with them. During his stay, he asks to visit the school, and is brought to a large field where 84 children were writing in the dirt with sticks. No teacher, no books, just the children studying as best they could. The village leader, Haji Ali, explained that they couldn't afford to pay a teacher, so a teacher comes to the village occasionally, and the children study on their own the rest of the time. Greg promises to come back to Korphe and build the village a school. And he does.

There is so much to say about the work that Mortenson does. He is the director of the Central Asia Institute (CAI), which (as of 2007) has established more than 61 schools in rural areas of Pakistan and Afghanistan. After he learns that providing girls with at least a 5th grade education will help prevent infant mortality, population explosion, and overall health and sanitation of a village, he began focusing more towards (though not exclusively) girl's education. He also helps fund projects for clean water and women's halls (where all the local women can get together to sew, etc). He figures that with the unhealthy water that they have now, one in three children don't even make it to their first birthday in these villages. You can't educate someone that isn't there.

I had the opportunity to hear Mortenson speak at a local event. He seems like an honest, humble man doing what he can to help people he loves. He really doesn't seem to be in this for the "glory." He showed a picture of a school, and said that he was proud of this school because it had taken almost 8 years to convince the local leaders to allow it to be built. He is in it for the long term and he is willing to learn the customs and mores of the area in order to build a school that they will be proud of and use.

Mortenson also had a lot of interesting facts about the importance of education in these areas. He said that people that decide to become suicide bombers are without hope. They see no other way of succeeding in life. By providing an education to people in rural areas, they are given some hope.

The one thing that I didn't like about this book is the writing. First of all, it's written in third person, which is not what I was expecting, considering the main character is listed as the first author.

But, even without that little complaint, the writing really isn't that great. It sometimes takes a long time to say simple things and that can get really frustrating. There are also a lot of non-English words used throughout, and not all of them are fully explained. Possibly they are terms that everyone should know, but I didn't, and I got tired of trying to figure some of them out.

However, even with this small(ish) complaint, I highly recommend the Three Cups of Tea. It gives you lots of food for thought and would make a great discussion book for a book club.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

I'm Back with a Review--Crispin by Avi

Review by Becky Laney, frequent contributor.

I honestly didn't know what to expect from this one. Not the most clever way to start out a review, but true nevertheless. The cover. I was not easily won over with the cover. It is ugly and unappealing. It doesn't shout out "read me, read me." But I'd heard good things about it, of course, and it did win the Newbery in 2003. So I knew that I had to get past my initial misgivings.

Here's how it begins:

England, A.D. 1377 "In the midst of life comes death." How often did our village priest preach those words. Yet I have also heard that "in the midst of death comes life." If this be a riddle, so was my life. The day after my mother died, the priest and I wrapped her body in a gray shroud and carried her to the village church. Our burden was not great. In life she had been a small woman with little strength. Death made her even less. Her name had been Asta.

Our narrator is a young boy. At first, we only know him as Asta's son. Later his real name is revealed, Crispin. Here is a young boy, a peasant, tied to the land for life. But the day after his mother's funeral everything changes. (Or maybe it's the day of his mother's funeral.)

Told by John Aycliffe (boo, hiss) that he must return the ox to the manor since his mother is dead (and he's now an orphan) he is told that he can starve. His life, his welfare is of no concern for this substitute lord-of-the-manor. Upset, he runs into the woods. He's working out his emotions--anger, grief, confusion, etc., but a fall and a bump on the head changes his life. Or you could say saves his life. He wakes up at some point during the night. He sees two men. One is John Aycliffe (boo, hiss) and the other is unknown to him at that time. What he hears confuses him. He can't make sense of it. But when he is seen, he gets a sick feeling that his life is in danger.

He is able to get away and hide for the rest of that night and the day. But the next night, he makes his way to his trusted friend, the priest, Father Quinel. What the priest tells him doesn't erase his questions. If anything, it just adds to his confusion. He's told that his mother could read and write. He's told that he was baptized (albeit secretly) Crispin. He's told that he MUST flee for his life. That John Aycliffe (boo, hiss) has started spreading lies about him. Accused him of theft. Is offering an award for whoever kills him. The priest gives him a few things to do on his own, and makes arrangement to meet him again before the two part ways forever.

His errand? To go to Goodwife Peregrine's house and pick up a cross of lead. But on his way to meet the priest one last time, the time where all would be revealed, he is met by another man instead. A man who claims he comes in the priest's place. But something doesn't feel right.

Crispin doesn't know who he is or exactly why John Aycliffe (boo, hiss) is out to kill him. Why Aycliffe (boo, hiss) wants him dead so very badly. He doesn't know who he is or where he needs to go, he just knows that his life is in danger and he is being pursued relentlessly.

Crispin's journey could have been a lonely one. But he meets an unusual friend, a man called Bear, who takes him under his protection. Together they try to make sense of it all. But the journey won't be easy.

I loved this book. I can easily see now why it won the Newbery. I definitely recommend this one to lovers of historical fiction. Also for those that love coming-of-age novels.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

One Voice, Please: Favorite Read-Aloud Stories by Sam McBratney

McBratney, Sam. 2008. One Voice, Please: Favorite Read-Aloud Stories.

Review by Becky Laney, frequent contributor.
Becky's Book Reviews
Young Readers
Reading with Becky

One Voice, Please is a delightful gathering of stories--some familiar, some not-so-much--perfect for reading aloud to children of all ages. Family-friendly reading, if you will, that while kid-friendly is not unappealing to adults. Most stories are two to three pages, and could easily be read in a few minutes. This is a good thing. Perfect reading to fill in those gaps during the day when you don't quite have enough time to get settled into a longer book--like a novel or even a traditional picture book.

Originally published in Great Britain in 2005, the collection has recently been published in the U.S. With over fifty stories, there is sure to be something that is just right for your mood. The book would be a great edition to the classroom as well. My personal favorite was "Many Littles Make A Lot."

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