The Big Wave (Book Review)

The Big Wave (Book Review)

You’ll love it if
you like morality tales or anything set in Japan

This book review contains affiliate links. Here’s my disclosure policy.

The Big Wave

By Pearl S. Buck

Character
Plot & Pacing
Writing Craft
Moral Value

Lots of potential for discussion here. But not a favorite of mine.

Pearl S. Buck’s novel The Good Earth was a formative reading experience for me in my 20s, so anything with her name on it gets my attention.

This story, however, was…hmm…

I’m not sure exactly what it’s trying to say. What was Buck, a Christian missionary, trying to capture here? I get the sense that she’s not necessarily portraying her own view as a Christian but perhaps giving a snapshot of an alternate cultural viewpoint…

The story (which is very short) takes place in a Japanese seaside village. The fishermen and their families have a deep fear of the ocean, even though it’s what sustains life for them. They know that, at any moment, a storm or tsunami can devesate them and take their lives. They build homes with no ocean-facing windows because they don’t want to…face the fear, I guess? Inland, there’s an active volcano that causes earthquakes. The people know that, between the ocean and the volcano, it’s just a matter of time before disaster strikes. This is true of life, no matter where you live or how safe you may feel.

The characters conclude that living in a dangerous place makes them brave and helps them better appreciate times of peace and happiness. I guess this is true in a general sense. We can see the light because of the darkness kinda thing. I just wish there was a clearer, firmer foundation to build on than what Buck offers here. The ending of the book sees one of the main characters literally building a house on sand. What are we supposed to make of that?

The best element of the story, for me, is when Jiya must decide whether to live with the poor farmers or the rich old gentleman. On the one hand, he can claim a life of safety, plenty, and opportunity. On the other, he can live humbly but also in the midst of uncertainty and possible privation. Most people don’t get to make this choice, but if they did, what would they choose?

3.5
The Silent Governess (Book Review)

The Silent Governess (Book Review)

You’ll love it if
you like slow-burn, clean regency romances with Christian undertones

This book review contains affiliate links. Here’s my disclosure policy.

The Silent Governess (DNF 50%)

By Julie Klassen

Character
Plot & Pacing
Writing Craft
Moral Value

When a young woman in regency-era England is forced to flee home, where will she turn?

This is the second Julie Klassen book that I’ve DNFed since the beginning of the year. I tried listening to Castaway in Cornwall on audio first, and then I got bored at the 35 percent mark. I decided to start this one, and I find that I’m forcing myself to go back to the audiobook…I have no desire to continue, so I’m going to just stop.

I don’t know if it’s the audio format or if it’s just not the right time for a regency romance. The books aren’t bad, but I think they’re lacking the conflict and emotion that I’m craving right now.

There are times when a relatively sedate and buttoned-up story is just the ticket. But, that’s falling flat for me at the moment.

Not giving up on you, Jules! I’ll be back.

Content warnings: Nothing graphic, but there was one scene when a man made unwanted advances toward the protagonist, and she got away.

3.3
What the Moon Said (Book Review)

What the Moon Said (Book Review)

You’ll love it if
you loved Sweet Home Alaska or any of the Little House books.

This book review contains affiliate links. Here’s my disclosure policy.

What the Moon Said

By Gayle Rosengren

Character
Plot & Pacing
Writing Craft
Moral Value

How will 10-year-old Esther survive now that her family must move from the city to a farm due to the Great Depression?

What a sweet, heartfelt book! I read it in just over a day, and it’s perfect for kids who love pioneer or homesteading books.
It’s the Great Depression, and we see one year in the life of 10-year-old Esther. All she wants is to earn her mother’s love. Her Russian immigrant mom is exacting and superstitious. She scolds easily, worries constantly, and hugs not at all. What can Esther do to make Ma love her?

When Esther’s dad loses his job in Chicago, the family moves to a Wisconsin farm to try country life. How will Esther adjust?

This story has two strong journeys: the outer journey: Will the family make it on the farm? And the inner journey: Will Esther at long last receive her mother’s love? This makes it a simple yet layered growing-up tale.

It is a sweet story, with lots of emotion. I got teary-eyed a few times. I appreciate how the book doesn’t villainize the city or the country. I also love how there is a faith element. The family prays and goes to church. Ma and Pa also carry a lot of superstitions from the Old Country, and it’s interesting to see how that’s handled.

The reading level is low, so younger kids should be able to tackle it. The plot touches on many universal “kid dilemmas” that anyone can relate to, and it also opens a window to a distinct time in history and how people lived back then.

I got this book recommendation from this list of page-turners.

Content warnings: Nothing graphic or overly scary. However, one character has a medical emergency that requires hospitalization. One character chokes on food.

4.6
Once a Queen (Book Review)

Once a Queen (Book Review)

You’ll love it if
you, as a kid, hoped with all your heart that doors to other worlds actually existed.

This book review contains affiliate links. Here’s my disclosure policy.

Once a Queen

By Sarah Arthur

Character
Plot & Pacing
Writing Craft
Moral Value

Secret Garden meets Narnia

After hearing Sarah MacKenzie from Read-Aloud Revival (I love her) interview the author, I was ready and rearin’ to love this book, and maybe my expectations were too high. I liked it but did not love it. Now, I do love the premise: There are portals to other worlds. They exist, just like in fairy tales. All we have to do is find them. That’s a common childhood fantasy, right? But the execution felt a tad off for me.

The protagonist is young Eva, an American who travels with her mom to visit her Grandmother in England for the first time ever. Soon, she realizes that her regal Grandmother was once a queen in fairyland.

Positives: Complex female relationships—whoooo-wheeee. Women. We can be weird. We don’t always treat each other right, and this book is packed with strong females who all seem to have fraught relationships with one another. This didn’t detract from the book at all and was one of the highlights for me.

Negatives: The writing wasn’t as immersive as I’d hoped. The pacing of the plot did drag a bit for me. I found myself wondering more than once, “Where is this going?” Eva was always finding clues and making little discoveries, but they all seemed a tad disjointed. I couldn’t see how the story was building to any sort of climax. The chapter-ending Ternival tales (fictional excerpts from a book of fairy tales) were a little hard to follow. It was a lot of new information to keep track of.

Thank you to NetGalley and WaterBrook for an ARC of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Content warnings: I wouldn’t hesitate to let any teenager read this. There’s nothing graphically scary or violent, and there is a sweet romance but it’s very much a side note until the end, and even then, there’s just a hint.

3.5
The Luminous Life of Lucy Landry (Book Review)

The Luminous Life of Lucy Landry (Book Review)

You’ll love it if
you’re craving a short middle-grade book that feels like L. M. Montgomery

This book review contains affiliate links. Here’s my disclosure policy.

The Luminous Life of Lucy Landry

By Anna Rose Johnson

Character
Plot & Pacing
Writing Craft
Moral Value

An awkward orphan girl is adopted by a big family who lives on a tiny lighthouse island

What a delightful story. Like Anna Rose Johnson’s debut, this book has that classic, vintage feel. What’s more, Lucy Landry is Anne Shirley reincarnated. She’s dreamy and inattentive, but it’s obvious that her behavior is a coping mechanism, and so, even though she makes us cringe, we FEEL for her.

This is one of those stories where the young protagonist is plopped into a completely new life. Think Sara Crewe, Mary Lennox, and, of course, Anne. Lucy Landry has lived primarily alone with an elderly caretaker. When she’s adopted by a couple with six children who live on a tiny lighthouse island, she’s utterly unprepared for the chaos and conflict. I’m glad that the author didn’t shy away from this conflict. It was HARD for Lucy to fit in, and this constant tension made the story interesting.

I loved the mystery of the long-lost necklace that’s woven through the story. While this is a subplot and not the point of the book, it adds a layer of interest to liven up the main plot, which is Lucy’s transformation. Plus, finding the lost necklace gives Lucy a goal and deepens her connection to her past.

This book is short and easy to read. It’ll appeal to kids (and adults) who want a quick win.

Also, Lucy deals with some debilitating fear. Since so many kids struggle with fears, this is another touchpoint that will appeal to anxious kids without triggering them (I think).

And a huge WOO-HOO to the depiction of a homeschooling family. This is rare! (But spilling stuff all over our school supplies is, sadly, not. Haha.)

Thank you to NetGalley and Holiday House for a digital ARC of this novel.

Content warnings: Lucy is afraid of sailing on the water. The book shows her getting anxious about the prospect of (and the reality of) getting on a boat. She and one other character freeze up in panic, but it’s not depicted as a detailed panic attack. Mentioning this just in case it’s relevant for your youngster.

4.5
The Big Wave (Book Review)

The Big Wave (Book Review)

You’ll love it if
you want a discussable short story for kids that’s set in Japan

This book review contains affiliate links. Here’s my disclosure policy.

The Big Wave

By Pearl S. Buck

Character
Plot & Pacing
Writing Craft
Moral Value

How do you live between a tsunami and a volcano?

This book is really more of a short story. I can’t remember how this tiny paperback came to me—my LFL? Pearl S. Buck’s novel The Good Earth was a formative reading experience for me in my 20s, so anything with her name on it gets my attention. This story, however, was…hmm…

I’m not sure exactly what it’s trying to say. What was Buck, a Christian missionary, trying to capture here? I get the sense that she’s not necessarily portraying her own view as a Christian but perhaps giving a snapshot of an alternate cultural viewpoint…

The story takes place in a Japanese seaside village. The fishermen and their families have a deep fear of the ocean, even though it’s what sustains life for them. They know that, at any moment, a storm or tsunami can devasate them and take their lives. They build homes with no ocean-facing windows because they don’t want to…face the fear, I guess? Inland, there’s an active volcano that causes earthquakes. The people know that, between the ocean and the volcano, it’s just a matter of time before disaster strikes. This is true of life, no matter where you live or how safe you may feel.

The characters conclude that living in a dangerous place makes them brave and helps them better appreciate times of peace and happiness. I guess this is true in a general sense. We can see the light because of the darkness kinda thing. I just wish there was a clearer, firmer foundation to build on than what Buck offers here. The ending of the book sees one of the main characters literally building a house on sand. What are we supposed to make of that?

The best element of the story, for me, is when Jiya must decide whether to live with the poor farmers or the rich old gentleman. On the one hand, he can claim a life of safety, plenty, and opportunity. On the other, he can live humbly but also in the midst of uncertainty and possible privation. Most people don’t get to make this choice, but if they did, what would they choose?

Lots of potential for discussion here. But not a big favorite.

3.4
The Many Assassinations of Samir, the Seller of Dreams (Book Review)

The Many Assassinations of Samir, the Seller of Dreams (Book Review)

You’ll love it if
only the most creative of children’s books will do

This book review contains affiliate links. Here’s my disclosure policy.

The Many Assassinations of Samir, the Seller of Dreams

By Daniel Nayeri

Character
Plot & Pacing
Writing Craft
Moral Value

It started slow.

Reading this at night as a fabulous yet decidedly middle-aged mommy who is worn-out tired by the end of the day…I will admit that I found myself nodding off during the first half of this book.

But the second half is worth it!

It’s been a long time since I’ve read a kids’ book with such a grand payoff at the end. I almost don’t want to write anything more so that you can enter this book as blindly as I did.

Now, I will say that the first line of this book is a knockout, but after that, I was a little disoriented and unsure where it was all going. It took me a few chapters to get my bearings and figure out which characters were important. This book isn’t nearly as disjointed as Everything Sad Is Untrue, Nayeri’s debut. It’s much more cohesive with a linear plot and all that. It just took me a bit to sink in.

The plot picks up greatly after we learn that Samir, who is not the protagonist, is being pursued by several colorful bounty hunters. What could be a tense chase is rendered by Nayeri into a thumping frolic along the Silk Road.

I’m a sucker for a solid theme, and this book has one. Friendship and family—what are they, and is life worth living if you have none? What are friendship and family worth, and what would you trade them for? The worldview is not overtly Christian, but there is good moral soil here.

HOWEVER, this book does not shy away from the truth that people are complex. For example, Samir is kind and loyal, but he’s the folkloric version of a used car salesman, exaggerating and outright lying on the regular. Most characters are a mix of good and bad, which makes them interesting, but some young readers will need guidance here.

Content warnings: Samir is almost assassinated six times, but these encounters are not overly gruesome or graphic. As long as your kids are mature enough to understand what a bounty hunter is, then they’ll be fine. Some parents will want to know that a mix of faiths are shown here, and none with great reverence. Samir often lies that he belongs to a certain religion so he can butter up a customer. I find this good material for age-appropriate discussion with kids.

4.5
The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter (Book Review)

The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter (Book Review)

You’ll love it if
you’re intrigued by an angsty, chaotic version of To Kill a Mockingbird

This book review contains affiliate links. Here’s my disclosure policy.

The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter

By Carson McCullers

Character
Plot & Pacing
Writing Craft
Moral Value

The allure of a gorgeous title…

This book has been on my radar for a while simply due to the title. That title. I didn’t realize the phrase comes from a poem by William Sharp (Fiona MacLeod): “Deep in the heart of Summer, sweet is life to me still, But my heart is a lonely hunter that hunts on a lonely hill.” That’s something right there.

This book is something, too. But, in many ways, it’s a mess. This is one of those beautifully written, literary books that gives you a lot to think about, that stirs your emotions—but that also feels like a bucket of odds and ends that the author shakes, and it’s noisy and interesting, but we’re not sure exactly what it all means.

The book is not what I’d call entertaining. Not in the same way that To Kill a Mockingbird is entertaining, apart from everything else it brings to the table.

I’m perplexed by the paradox of this book. On the one hand, there are strong themes that you don’t have to be an English major to sniff out. But there’s a striking lack of coherence. Again, like a bucket filled with objects that clearly symbolize certain things, but they’re just crashing around in the bucket, and what does it mean at the end of the day?

As the title suggests, this book explores the theme of loneliness. John Singer is a deaf mute living in an ordinary mill town in Georgia. He’s the hub of the story. He attracts the other four main characters to him. These people pay separate but regular visits to Singer because they like to talk with him—or TO him. They believe he understands them. They’re lonely and desperate to offload their thoughts, feelings, dreams, and convictions on another human being and be understood. But, we know, through the narrator, that Singer doesn’t actually understand them. They just think he does. And they rely on him to listen. They imagine him to be who they want him to be.

Each of the four supporting characters represents different parts of American society. Mick represents the poor whites (she’s also young and coming of age). Dr. Copeland represents the “Negro race” as he puts it. Biff represents the establishment—capitalist, white working man. Blount represents the communist malcontent. The book is described as a parable because each of these characters is representative of larger ideas and societal problems.

Mick stands out as, by far, the most sympathetic and sweet, followed closely by Biff, who is thoughtful, fair, and observant. I love when Mick describes her “inside room.” It’s the inner space where she can dream and be creative. She dreams of learning music and composing songs, and she even tries her hand at writing some songs. But she doesn’t share this dream with anyone. It’s her own “inside” secret that she cherishes. The second-to-last chapter when she describes how, after a long day’s work at the mercantile, she cannot manage to get into the inside room anymore—that’s heartbreaking.

Portia’s good-faith attempts to make peace with her father are exquisitely written. Blount and Copeland’s rage-fest where they’re agreeing but disagreeing—it was perfectly rendered. There’s so much here, but it felt very meandering, like you’re not sure exactly where the story is.

I did not love this book. It was a slog. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t a lot that will stay with me.

3.9
Friday’s Child (Book Review)

Friday’s Child (Book Review)

You’ll love it if
Regency romances are your happy place, and you like the “fake relationship” trope

This book review contains affiliate links. Here’s my disclosure policy.

Friday’s Child

By Georgette Heyer

Character
Plot & Pacing
Writing Craft
Moral Value

It’s a marriage of convenience, but…

…could it turn into true love?

This is my second Georgette Heyer novel, and I went into it blind. I enjoyed this old-timey Regency romance for the most part, although there was a saggy bit in the beginning-middle, which I pushed through, and I’m glad I did. This book illustrates the age-old truth: you don’t know what you got till it’s gone.

The first few chapters race along because the setup is superfun: A rich, young, and hunky lord decides (on a whim) to marry a childhood friend of his. She’s young, like 16, and he’s not much older, like early 20s. They don’t love each other, but they’re chums. They’re marrying for convenience. The Viscount Sherry gets his full inheritance bestowed upon him when he marries, and our sweet young heroine (aptly named Hero) agrees to be his wife to avoid the woeful fate of becoming a governess.

After they get married, Hero proves that she has no idea how to be a proper lady, but Sherry can’t be bothered to teach her. They are both so young, and they just wanna have fu-un. Sherry is a bit of a wild boy, flirting and gaming. Hero is a fun-loving, ready-for-anything teenager.

The beginning-middle of the book shows Sherry having to clean up after Hero’s many social fumbles—taking the grownup role for the first time in his life. Hero realizes how much she loves Sherry, but Sherry is oblivious to this. Hero wonders if he regrets marrying her, and she never asks him, so she’s left to stress over it.

The book title probably comes from the traditional poem “Monday’s Child.” According to the poem, Friday’s child is “loving and giving,” and that is exactly what Hero is. She is not an Amazon or a Matriarch or any power-archetype. She’s entirely at Sherry’s mercy, yet, through her love and goodness, she saves him.

Sherry is not—ahem—politically correct, shall we say. This whole book, in fact, is delightfully incorrect in so many ways. Sherry is flawed. He doesn’t appreciate Hero and treats her like a possession. His nickname for her is “Kitten”—barf! Even after his transformation, he’s not exactly fighting for her right to be prime minister or anything like that. But he does teach her to drive, so there’s that.

3.6