Book Review: The Maze of Bones

The Maze of Bones
The 39 Clues #1
by Rick Riordan

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: Children’s mystery, adventure

When Amy and Dan’s grandmother dies, her will reading sets off a hunt for treasure that no one in the vast, powerful Cahill family can fully comprehend. The vague prize will make the finder or finder’s team the most powerful members of the Cahill family, which has had some pretty powerful members in the past. Amy and Dan have nothing to lose as they do their best to outsmart and outrace the wealthier, older, and deadlier members of their families.

This book reminded me a lot of some other series I’ve read recently—unrealistic, over-the-top action, characters that know everything they need to know to progress, and one can never be quite sure who to trust. And yet, I enjoyed it more than I feel like I should have. By the time I got to the end, I was invested. I don’t normally enjoy a book where you can’t trust anyone, because characters are betraying each other left and right, but I still couldn’t help but start to trust a couple of the potentially treacherous side characters by the end. And now I want badly to know how it will turn out with those characters. I also can’t help but want to know what the big prize is, even though I suspect it will either be ridiculous or a letdown.

I’ve heard of this series for a long time and considered reading the books years ago, but never have until now. I wonder if I might not have been ready for the style and tone of the book until now, since I’ve read a few other series with the same kind of wildly unlikely storylines—at least one of which I liked and one of which I really didn’t. Now, I’m more able to let some of the things that might have bothered me in the past go and enjoy the story for what it is. I’m not sure how I’ll like the change of authors throughout the series, but I’m definitely going to keep going.

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Book Review: The Greatest Gift

The Greatest Gift: A Christmas Tale
Philip Van Doren Stern
Read by Edward Herrmann

My rating: 3.5 / 5
Genre: Classic Christmas fiction

When I found out that the short story that inspired the movie It’s a Wonderful Life was narrated by the late, great Edward Herrmann, I tracked it down immediately to give it a listen. It’s difficult to give a rating and review that is unbiased and not compare the original story to the movie. The basic idea that Stern was going for came across easily enough—a single person affects more than they think in the lives of those around them. Not knowing what has George contemplating suicide and thinking the world would be better if he hadn’t been born, or even really knowing what kind of man he is, it’s a little difficult to be as connected to him as I would have wanted to be in a story like this. And in the end, while he is certainly affected by more than the loss of his wife to a rival, it could just as easily be missing her presence in his life and leads him to want his life back, rather than deciding his life is worth living after all. So bringing it back around to the movie, the extended version of this story does a much better job of first laying out the problem and then getting to the change of mind and heart. But the original story is so short, it might still be worth a quick read. The actual story part of the audiobook was about 25 minutes long, with an afterword that doubled the length, and Edward Herrmann an unsurprisingly great job with the narration.

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A Bookish Christmas Ornament

I’m not really the craftsy type, but when my sister showed me a picture she’d found online of a clear ball Christmas ornament filled with miniature “books,” I really wanted to try to make my own. It turned out to be fairly simple, even for someone as artistically challenge as me.

The picture below is the final project, but scroll down to see details.

Though this is easily the kind of project that I might normally think about and never do, I set to work on a list of books I’d want to include. I went through my reviews and narrowed it down, not just to books I’ve rated the highest, but books I know I’ll re-read someday (or already have). Books I bought after reading them because I liked them so much. Books that were the biggest parts of my childhood. (My own books, of course, as well as the book my daughter wrote and we got printed a few years back.) From series that I enjoyed, I included either the first in the series or my favorite of the series. In the end, I had 49 books.

I found clear, empty ornaments at Walmart and got 2 different sizes, not sure what I would need, and started with the smaller one. I also picked up a sheet of thin, flexible craft foam. I measured the opening of the ornament, which was 3/4″, and started a spreadsheet of 3/4″-wide columns, with thin gutter columns in between. I already knew where to find cover images that could then be shrunk down and printed. When possible, I chose the cover image that actually represents the version I read/own. Each book cover image I inserted was then shrunk to fit the width of the cell, so the height of each cover varied based on the original size of the cover image.

After printing the file on card stock, then came the easy, yet time-consuming task of cutting out the little covers. I did it all by hand, because I didn’t trust my paper cutter to be precise enough and didn’t want edges cut off. Covers that were really light or had white backgrounds were the hardest, because it was difficult to make sure I was staying along the edge. Using small adhesive squares, rather than dealing with double-sided tape, I attached one image at a time to the edge of the craft foam, using an X-acto knife to cut along the edge of the image. I had 2 copies of each cover, so both sides of the foam would be the front cover. That way, no matter which way faces up inside the ornament, you see the front. For long books (like the full LOTR trilogy, seen near the bottom of the in-progress picture on the left below), I attached two pieces of foam together to make the little book thicker.

I’d made less than half of the books before I realized that they weren’t all going to fit in the smaller ornament that I started with. And I definitely couldn’t get them back out through the small opening without hurting them. I had to cut open the ornament to get them out and move them to the larger one. Good thing they were only $1 each.

I absolutely love the result! Directly below is the image my sister originally showed me, and pictures of my finished ornament are below that. I like it so much that I will probably not put it away with the rest of the ornaments after the season ends and plan instead to find somewhere near my desk to hang it instead. And most likely, at the end of every year, I’ll add new favorites from that year’s reading. After finishing mine, I even made an equivalent for my husband with board game boxes (see picture at bottom).

How about you? Have you done anything to make your holiday more bookish?

Book Review: Little House on the Prairie

Little House on the Prairie
Little House #3
by Laura Ingalls Wilder
read by Cherry Jones

My rating: 5 / 5
Genre: Children’s historical classic

What a change of scenery from the previous book with the Ingalls family, from the woods of Wisconsin to the wide-open prairie. I don’t recall reading the reason for the move, and while I can imagine that Laura never knew the reason as a child, I wonder if she learned it later in life. I suppose it might be due to the woods becoming overcrowded, since, as they’re building their house, Pa says that he’d be content to stay there the rest of his life, even as the area gets more settled, because the area is so wide open, it could never feel crowded. Considering what happens here, it seems a shame that he wasn’t content where he was, but I suppose that’s a mindset most of us these days can’t fully understand (though I know some people who would).

The story continues to be charming, and while there are some unfortunate mindsets that I wish would not have been so common in that day, I appreciate that Pa mostly has a different attitude. My daughter has recently started reading the first book in the series, and I don’t know if she’ll continue to this one, but if she does, I’ll be intrigued to hear her thoughts on the matter.

As before, my enjoyment of the book was greatly enhanced by the audiobook narrator, Cherry Jones, who does a fantastic job, and being able to hear Pa’s fiddle, thanks to Paul Woodiel. If you’ve ever considered reading this series, or have already read it and have occasion to listen to the audiobooks, I say do it!

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Book Review: Cozy Up to Christmas

Cozy Up to Christmas
Cozy Up

by Colin Conway

My rating: 2.5 / 5
Genre: Cozy mystery, Christmas

Ed Belmont just wants to make it through the Christmas season doing his job as mall Santa. But someone else is committing crimes around town wearing a Santa suit, and the cops are looking at Ed. Since he’s an ex-con in witness protection, the attention could be a problem.

I haven’t read any of the preceding books in the series, but events from them were brought up in this book a few times. Belmont (not really his name) was the bookkeeper in a gang and reluctantly became a witness against them, and now he’s force to move from place to place, job to job, to keep ahead of the danger. While it seems that previous identities were compromised and required relocation, this one had an expiration date—Christmas. Yet he does end up under suspicion for ongoing criminal activity, which also seems to be a theme in the series.

From start to finish, this is a fairly straightforward story with a protagonist who could be interesting, but feels like a caricature. He learned to enjoy reading, specifically mystery novels, in the first book in the series, and while I have nothing against a hardened gang member becoming a reader, it somehow felt forced to me. I could see what the author was trying to do in showing changes in this man who had been forced into situations and lifestyles he never would have chosen for himself, but for me, at least, it didn’t work very well.

I also think the overall story could have done with another round or two of edits. Maybe some dialog read out loud, some actions acted out. Characters were all the time touching each others arms and sleeves while talking, which I’m not sure is natural. And a lot of people in the story tended to act out what they were saying with their hands, again not necessarily common. While both of these things could have been a trait assigned to one character, having them be so widespread was odd. It also seems really important to the author that I know what everyone is wearing. It’s generally the first thing we’re told whenever anyone new is in a scene. There’s a woman who comes onto Ed so strongly it made me uncomfortable, and imagine if the roles were reversed and it was a man trying to convince a woman to let him touch her (sit on her lap, because, well, she is Santa, after all). It would be considered creepy, and he’d be labeled a perv, not just a humorous device to make the MC all the more annoyed at his lot in life.

The mystery wasn’t bad, but wasn’t super interesting or difficult to solve. There was a small twist regarding the various crimes that had been committed, and it did give Ed a chance to grow more in the story. I think with some refining, this could be a good book and a series I’d be interested in. It is a mostly clean book, with almost no profanity and nothing else that would bother me, minus the aforementioned woman trying to force herself onto Santa. While I don’t plan to read any other stories about Beauregard Smith (Ed’s real name), plenty of others have enjoyed it more than I did. If you’re interested, be sure to check out other reviews at the link below.

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Book Review: Addie McCormick and the Mystery of the Missing Scrapbook

Addie McCormick and the Mystery of the Missing Scrapbook
Addie McCormick Adventures #2
by Leanne Lucas

My rating: 5 / 5
Genre: Children’s Christian mystery, adventure

When Addie and Nick meet elderly Miss T’s new live-in companion Amy, a Japanese-American whose family spent time in an internment camp after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, they begin to uncover a secret that Amy wants to keep hidden, but someone else is out to expose.

The first book in the series was good, but this one was on a different level. These aren’t simple, predictable kids’ mysteries. I really appreciated the little bit of history about how Japanese-Americans were treated in America during WWII, as well as a touch on Japanese culture. This book introduces a few new kid characters, one of which I particularly liked. While I don’t know how realistic it is for a pre-teen kid to be as self-assured as Brian is, I suppose given the right circumstances, it would be possible. And since he was my favorite, after all, it clearly didn’t bother me. The conclusion was satisfying, and in the end, I liked this one more than the previous. I’m just sad that I won’t be able to read the rest of the series (except #7), because they’re hard to find. Still, if you do have the chance to read this book or procure it for a 10-12-year-old child, I recommend it.

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Notebook Collection, part 14

This installment of notebooks all came from the same places—the Creation Museum or Ark Encounter in Kentucky.

Past posts about the collection I have so far: Post #1  |  Post #2  |  Post #3  |  Post #4  |  Post #5  |  Post #6  |  Post #7  |  Post #8  |  Post #9 | Post #10 | Post #11 | Post #12 | Post #13

This notebook and the one below are two of many of the same style both attractions carry, all with different covers. I’ve had a few from the Creation Museum for years, and this time I got a couple from the Ark Encounter.

This notebook is a bit small, but it was marked as clearance. It has a beautiful cover (and the back cover is shown below), so I’m very glad to have it.

This notebook was also marked as clearance, which tipped the scales, since I was on the fence about it. That is mostly due to me trying to keep myself to only buying notebooks that I love, since I already have so many, and this one wasn’t quite my style. Some pages inside have sketches and tidbits of information about Noah’s family and life in their day, though, which is pretty neat.

This was definitely the briefest post in the series, but probably only because the notebooks all came from the same place, so there’s less of a story to share. I have 8 more notebooks to share (it’s a sickness), which I’ll split into 2 posts. I hope to get to them quickly, though, and with Christmas coming, by the time I get through those, I might have procured a few more.

Do you collect anything related to reading or writing? Feel free to share!

Book Review: The Mouse and the Motorcycle

The Mouse and the Motorcycle
Ralph S. Mouse #1
by Beverly Cleary

My rating: 5 / 5
Genre: Children’s classic, fantasy

Ralph is full of adventure, and I am full of nostalgia for my younger days. I don’t actually remember if I read this book, but I definitely saw the ABC Weekend Special episode based on the book, probably a few times. This book is fun and exciting, and while it is full of things that modern kids wouldn’t necessarily understand, I think that just makes it all the more of a classic. It’s a great chance to explain about how things used to be, though this book even predates parents of the kids that are the right age for the story. It’s a book I wish I’d read to my kids when they were younger; they would have loved hearing me make the sounds of the motorcycle and ambulance and maybe even an attempted mouse voice. There’s nothing profound here, but it’s a fun adventure for kids.

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Book Review: Grave Peril

Grave Peril
The Dresden Files #3
by Jim Butcher
read by James Marsters

My rating: 3.5 / 5
Genre: Paranormal mystery

Professional wizard Harry Dresden teams up with a knight named Michael to attempt to figure out what has the spirit world so worked up. But they may get more than they bargained for, and Harry stands to lose more than his life in the end.

My favorite thing about this book is definitely Harry and Michael—their friendship, how they work together, and how they contrast each other. Some really funny moments came out of their interactions. The mystery of the Nightmare is engaging, as is the introduction of Harry’s godmother, which is sort of just dropped in like we should have already known about it, Butcher’s signature way of world-building.

I did like this book more than the previous, though I still hope for some improvement as the series continues. The formula I was concerned about becoming part of the series after the first two books was all but shattered in this one, which is good. Though I can’t say I’m a big fan of the super long-battle scenes that seem to be part of every book. I found it strange that every vampire seems to purr when they talk—actually, not just the vampire, but all of the bad guys. Dresden seems to use that verb a bit too heavily.  And if you ask me, there was too much Susan and not enough Murphy in this book. I still wish there was less content of a sexual nature, but it wasn’t as bad in this book as it was in the previous. And I definitely recommend the narration by James Marsters.

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Book Review: Ruth

by Ellen Gunderson Traylor

My rating: 5 / 5
Genre: Biblical fiction

I’m going to skip the synopsis in my own words this time, because if you don’t have at least a basic understanding of the story of Ruth from the Bible, you probably won’t be paying much attention to this review anyway. Ruth is my favorite book in the Bible, and the account of Ruth and Boaz has long held a kind of romance for me, so I have been picky about fictionalized versions of it. This is my favorite of any I’ve read or watched so far. I think the author did a good job remaining true to the biblical account and to the spirit of it.

Traylor had to attach real motivations to some of the actions and dialog in the account, and both Ruth and Boaz came across just right, in my opinion. Naomi was decent overall, too, though I might have preferred a little more build-up to her comments about being bitter when she first returns to Bethlehem. Orpah, on the other hand, had no love for her mother-in-law, yet wept when she turned back. Even with those notes, though, I thoroughly enjoyed the book and will most likely read it again more than once in the future. In the end, it’s clear to me that this is a love story not only about the romance between a man and woman but between God and man. I can’t recommend this book enough for those who enjoy biblical fiction, and especially those who appreciate the book of Ruth as much as I do.

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