A Thousand Pounds of Dynamite (Book Review)

A Thousand Pounds of Dynamite (Book Review)

You’ll love it if
you like your true crime without a side of blood and guts

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

A Thousand Pounds of Dynamite

By Adam Higginbotham

Information
Inspiration
Writing Craft
Moral Value

There’s a bomb in a casino. Now what?

I’m intrigued by Higginbotham’s new book on the Challenger disaster, so I thought I’d try one of his earlier and shorter true-crime books. This one describes how a dude made a bomb, put it into a casino, and attempted to extort money. Why did he do it? Did he succeed? Did the bomb, you know, go off?

This was a punchy, intriguing read. I listened to the audio narrated by the author, and it was great.

Because the crime happened back in 1980, before the Internet and cell phones and such, it was fascinating to learn how this dysfunctional man (a real piece of work) got the dynamite, rigged the bomb, placed it, and communicated with authorities…back in the Stone Age. 😂

But even MORE interesting are the family dysfunction and interpersonal dynamics at play here. Nobody does this kind of thing JUST for the money. Nor does a person do it alone, with no accomplices or stooges. The WHY behind the crime was most interesting for me.

I do not like grotesque true crime, where children are abused and people are graphically dismembered. This was a great read for someone like me who enjoys exploring the psyche and motives behind crime, but who can’t stomach graphic violence.

4.5
Danny the Champion of the World (Book Review)

Danny the Champion of the World (Book Review)

You’ll love it if
silly father-son stories hit the spot

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

Danny the Champion of the World

By Roald Dahl

Character
Plot & Pacing
Writing Craft
Moral Value

Funny in both senses (haha and strange)

Roald Dahl’s books are morally fraught. They just are. They are a mixed bag of incredibly human impulses. If you try to sanitize his stories, you will erase the very heart of his characters. Danny and his dad are good guys, but (there’s no getting around it) they do some bad things. Funny things. But illegal and low-down, nonetheless.

If I’d known HOW morally mixed this story is, I may NOT have chosen it for our first summer read-aloud with my boys. But, it was a good opportunity for me to casually introduce them to the idea that sometimes the main characters in a book don’t always do the right thing.

What is so morally complicated here in this harmless children’s book?

Well, Danny and his dad are the two sweetest guys you’ll ever meet. They live a simple life in a camper next to the gas station that they own and operate. Danny is only 9 or so, still a kid. One day, his dad confesses that he’s a poacher. He wants to poach pheasants off of a rich neighbor’s land. The rich neighbor is a big, bad meanie, so who cares about him? Danny comes up with a brilliant idea for how they can poach over 100 pheasants in one night and ruin the rich man’s annual shooting party, embarrassing him in front of all his hoity-toity guests.

Um, that’s mean. And illegal. It’s robbing the rich to feed the poor, except nobody is starving, and Danny’s dad says outright that he loves poaching because of the thrill, not because he needs food. Danny and his dad are praised and never condemned for their actions or attitude. Their plot goes off with hilarious results…but the laughs are rather cheap.

Because Danny comes up with the grand idea for the poaching scheme, he’s dubbed the champion of the world. Sigh…this is wish fulfillment for kids. What kid wouldn’t want the grown-ups around him to lift him high and praise his brilliance? BUT…

…at the same time, I love how Danny is given independence. His dad doesn’t baby him. Danny isn’t a listless, depressed, anxious kid who feels like his life is meaningless. He is well on his way to maturity at the tender age of 9, knowing how to problem-solve, handle responsibility, and take calculated risks. There is a degree of merit here, especially for boys.

But, as a mom, I wanted there to be more of a reality check to balance this out.

Hey, it’s Roald Dahl, and you’ve got to know that going in.

3
Frederica (Book Review)

Frederica (Book Review)

You’ll love it if
you just want to keep reading Jane Austen over and over forever and ever

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

Frederica

By Georgette Heyer

Character
Plot & Pacing
Writing Craft
Moral Value

What happens when a selfish lord decides to help a poor family get a foothold in London society? Rrrrrrrromance! (Roll the “R.”)

This was delightful. Georgette Heyer is often described as the inventor of the regency romance genre when she started publishing novels like this one back in the ’20s. This book is like Jane Austen with antics, haha.

Frederica is determined to see her drop-dead gorgeous younger sister, Charis, have one London season. That’s all she needs to make a comfortable match with a gentleman. Since Frederica lost both her parents and has long been in charge of her younger siblings, it’s up to her to make this happen for Charis.

Frederica appeals to a distant cousin, Lord Alverstroke, who agrees to help her (at first) only to needle his bothersome sisters. But then, Alverstroke realizes that Frederica might just be his kind of gal. Romance ensues.

This book is CUTE. Clean romance. Regency period. Sparkling morals. Sweet to the bone. But, unlike Jane Austen, this isn’t all quiet action in parlor rooms and gardens and country estates. Here, we mix with people of all classes. We have adventures—barking dogs, hot air balloons, steamers!

The only critique I have (and it’s a small one) is that the writing can be clumsy to read at times. It’s not seamless. I found myself halting through some passages, especially those thick with period slang and colloquialisms. Also, Heyer uses exclamation marks with zero hesitation!!! Haha.

The next time I read a Heyer novel, I’d like to listen on audio. I bet that would be even better.

Side note: I can’t believe that filmmakers haven’t picked up on Heyer yet. Instead of making bad adaptations of Jane Austen, they could pick ANY Georgette Heyer novel and run with it.

Content warnings: None. The romance is as clean as it gets.

4.4
Anna Karenina (Book Review)

Anna Karenina (Book Review)

You’ll love it if
you want to grapple with big questions on an intimate level.

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

Anna Karenina

By Leo Tolstoy

Character
Plot & Pacing
Writing Craft
Moral Value

We see how love, loss, and jealousy play out in the lives of an interconnected group of Russians

I don’t usually go into a book this long on a whim, but I did this time. I thought I’d listen to a little of the audiobook to see if I liked the narration, and then, I thought, maybe I’d start it for real in 2024. Before I knew it, I was through part one and totally invested.

I think the short chapters propelled me on. And it was great listening on audio because the complex names didn’t trip me up. Also, this book has that “train wreck” quality that makes it impossible to NOT gawk. I just zoomed through!

This book probably hits everyone differently, but, for me, the central question of the book is “What do we live for?” Ourselves? Our passions? Our families, work, religion? Do we live for God? Each character grapples with this at some point, and I love that there are no tidy answers.

It was fascinating to watch Anna go from a “good” woman to a “bad” one. To watch her get increasingly self-centered and consequently more unhappy and paranoid. When you look at her, you realize that it can happen to anyone. Easily.

I love how life is portrayed in all its complexity and how everyone’s life seems both good and bad, one way from the outside and another way from the inside. And it’s always changing.

Content warnings: Nothing is portrayed graphically. The book deals heavily with adultery, but there are no bedroom scenes. There are some gristly deaths, one of which is suicide.

I haven’t seen the movie yet—is it good?

4.9
The Carver and the Queen (Book Review)

The Carver and the Queen (Book Review)

You’ll love it if
cozy fairy tales in cold settings are your cup of tea

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

The Carver and the Queen

By Emma C. Fox (Check out my interview with Emma.)

Character
Plot & Pacing
Writing Craft
Moral Value

Deep in the Russian mountains, two peasants discover a magical realm. But will this power bring good fortune or bad?

This book hit the spot. I loved it, and I thought it was even better than The Arrow and the Crown. The dual protagonists were lovable. The villains were mysterious and not made of cardboard. I also loved the supporting cast.

This book is based on a fairy tale that I’m not familiar with, so, for me, it read like a story set in a fairy tale world. It didn’t feel strange or contrived in any way, which sometimes happens with a retelling when you aren’t familiar with the source. You don’t NEED to know the source story to enjoy this one.

This is a sweet romance, too! Perfect for teens who want clean, mature romance. No spice, just heart.

I’m very much looking forward to Emma C. Fox’s next book!

Content warnings: None


4.6
The Q (Book Review)

The Q (Book Review)

You’ll love it if
you love the Victorian Era and the publishing biz—and romance

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

The Q

By Beth Brower

Character
Plot & Pacing
Writing Craft
Moral Value

This book wins the award for Cutest Romance That Isn’t Cutesie

It was a slow start, but once I got my mental bearings, I was hooked.

The reason that this book started a TAD slow for me is because the author throws a lot at you right away. There’s a deep cast of secondary characters, and there are businesses, locations, and other things that can cause some early “who’s who?-type” confusion. But just push through that, and you’ll be glad you did.

Set in a fictional European city in the late 1800s, the story opens with Quincy St. Claire, owner of The Q, a newspaper that consists entirely of reader-submitted questions. Kind of like the Classifieds, but anything goes. She’s a brilliant businesswoman with a fiercely independent spirit. Quincy doesn’t need anyone or anything in her life except The Q. It’s her meat and drink.

She works for her uncle, who owns The Q. When he dies, his will states that Quincy can’t inherit The Q unless she meets a set of 12 requirements. The catch? She can’t know what the requirements are. The only person who knows (and who will determine if she meets them) is The Q’s lawyer, Mr. Arch.

Quincy and Arch are tossed together a lot due to this “requirement business,” and they combine like oil and water. Their tart banter is a highlight of this book. Ever so slowly, Arch gets Quincey to open up, and she does NOT want to do this. She prefers accounts, data, and machinery. People are way too unpredictable—not a smart investment.

So, you can see where it’s going, but the journey is worth every page. This is a LONG 500+ page book, and Beth Brower doesn’t rush Quincy’s transformation. Thus, we as readers do feel like we’ve made a big investment in this St. Claire woman, and we want to see how things turn out for her.

Overall, this was a great book that I’d recommend to anyone who loves Jane Austen but with way more sass.

4.8
Twenty and Ten (Book Review)

Twenty and Ten (Book Review)

You’ll love it if
you can’t resist a tight, tense WW2 story

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

Twenty and Ten

By Claire Huchet Bishop

Character
Plot & Pacing
Writing Craft
Moral Value

Can a group of 20 French kids protect a group of 10 Jewish kids during WW2?

My two boys were RIVETED to this story. Granted, it starts slow, but by the end, they were hanging on every last word. This book contains five short chapters. You could read the whole thing in an hour or two, and it’d be well worth your time.

The story is simple. Twenty French children have been sent away to live in the safety of a convent during World War II. One day, the nun in charge introduces them to 10 new children, Jews. She tells them that the Nazis want to hurt these children, and they must all keep them safe and hidden. She makes each of the 20 French kids solemnly promise not to betray the 10 Jewish kids—no matter what.

All goes well until the Nazis pay a surprise visit when the nun is away on an errand. What will the children do when faced with this pressure and without any adult protection?

The story is told in the POV of one of the French girls, and this works so well because we’re better able to relate to her dilemma—things get tricky when the Nazis show up, and the kids have to think on their feet.

The book crescendos at the climax, where you’re not sure how things are going to play out, and then everything comes full circle, and you’re glad you read that first chapter, which started off slow, because it makes the ending all the more satisfying.

Content warnings: It’s made clear that the Jewish kids will be in danger if they are caught.

4.6
Jane of Lantern Hill (Book Review)

Jane of Lantern Hill (Book Review)

You’ll love it if
you’ve got a soft spot for wholesome growing-up stories (and wicked adults who get their comeuppance)

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

Jane of Lantern Hill

By L. M. Montgomery

Character
Plot & Pacing
Writing Craft
Moral Value

A stifled young girl finds freedom and purpose on P.E.I.

I love children’s stories where the little protagonist starts out as an underdog (like Mary Lennox or Anne Shirley) and then has a chance to blossom into who they truly want to be. Jane is just like that.

Jane lives in Toronto under the thumb of her impossible-to-please grandmother. She also lives with her mother, who is a total pushover and won’t stand up to her mother. Grandmother makes life miserable, and Jane is afraid, friendless, and talentless. Who is Jane’s dad and where is he? That’s a mystery, until one day, a letter arrives. From him. Requesting that Jane spend the summer with him on (you guessed it) P.E.I.

Like so many Montgomery books, this one is an ode to the wonders of nature and a free-range childhood. Many passages linger on dewdrops and whitecaps and fenceposts. Montgomery is never too busy to slow down and look at nature.

Jane expects to hate the island and her father, but she instantly falls in love with both. Instead of being told to act like a little lady, Jane gets to decide for herself who she’ll be and what she’ll do. She decides to work, work, work. She delights in all the housework that most modern women can’t stand. Laundry, cooking, gardening. Haha! She finds purpose in caring for her father, her pets, and her plants. Instead of living to please her grandmother, she finds joy in living to serve her family and friends. What a difference!

But will her father and mother ever reconcile? What drove them apart? These are big questions for little Jane, but she must face them.

This isn’t my favorite Montogmery novel, but it’s a charming one. It’s beautiful to see a picture of what a healthy childhood could look like in an idyllic, intimate community.

Content warnings: Jane’s parents are separated. Good to know if you’re reading it with kids.

4
Seeking Persephone (Book Review)

Seeking Persephone (Book Review)

You’ll love it if
Regency romances are your happy place

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

Seeking Persephone

By Sarah M. Eden

Character
Plot & Pacing
Writing Craft
Moral Value

Sweet romance at its sweetest

Oh boy, I’m a sucker for a Regency romance, and this one came on my radar when I learned that Sarah Eden crowdfunded enough money to have this made into a film. That’s impressive. My library had it, so I thought I’d read it.

This is a loose retelling of the Hades and Persephone myth. You’ve got Adam, a duke, who is fearsome and solitary and self-conscious about his scarred face. Then, you have Persephone, who is young and lively and completely devoted to her father and siblings. The result is a classic Opposites Attract story with heavy Beauty and the Beast overtones.

Adam and Persephone agree to marry, sight unseen, each for their own reasons, and they have a bear of a time getting along.

There were times when the Hades and Persephone myth was too on the nose for my taste, but it was neat to see how Eden translated different elements of the myth into the Regency era.

These stories rely on misunderstandings in order to keep the lovers apart, and there were plenty of them here. Adam and Persephone are strangers when they marry, and neither of them will speak plainly or open up. This book almost reached my personal threshold of tolerance for miscommunications, but it wasn’t bad.

In fact, I devoured this book in just a couple of days. It was a quick, wholesome and enjoyable read.

How spicy is the romance? Like three out of five jalapeno peppers. I thought the romance was one of the most tasteful I’ve read. It didn’t feel cheesy, which is impressive. I truly believed that they were falling in love because they wanted to—not because the author told them to. 😊

4
I Must Betray You (Book Review)

I Must Betray You (Book Review)

You’ll love it if
only the best historical fiction will suffice

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

I Must Betray You

By Ruta Sepetys

Character
Plot & Pacing
Writing Craft
Moral Value

Did you know how bad communism was in Romania in ’89?

Me neither! I had no clue.

To think—while I was eating Cheerios and watching Care Bears and playing Barbies, these families were living off of chicken feet and tiny potatoes, with only black-market access to anything remotely Western. They couldn’t even get proper medical care without bribing people with packs of cigarettes. Electricity and heat were hit or miss. Eating a banana was something that only happened in your dreams. All the while, one corrupt family in power was living the high life. Oooh, shudder.

I almost wanted to categorize this as “dystopian.” I feel like this will hit home with a lot of young adults simply because it really happened—and can happen again.

It brings to spine-tingling life what happens when dictators have absolute power. It portrays the human dilemmas that regular people were shouldering under this inhumane regime. There was forced privation. Constant suspicion of neighbors and even family members. Who is listening? Who saw? Will they tell on me? Talk about anxiety! Also, zero hope that things will get better.

The structure of the book is perfect for YA. Short chapters propel you forward. Action and mystery and dilemmas at every turn.

I also loved the back matter, showing photos of people, places, and objects that figure into the story. I’m impressed by the depth of research that Ruta Sepetys put into this book.

YA historical fiction at its best.

4.6
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