Book Review: Alex book series (3 books)

Shoelaces and Brussels Sprouts
Peanut Butter and Jelly Secrets
Grapefruit Basket Upset
Alex series books #1, 4, & 10
by Louisa May Alcott, adapted by Lucia Monfried

My rating: 5 / 5
Genre: Children, Christian

Alex is a young girl (starts at around 8 years old and ages a bit through the series) who just can’t seem to keep out of trouble. Seemingly innocuous decisions have a tendency to snowball out of her control, despite her best intentions to get things back on track. Her patient parents help her to see what she could have done differently and what she should learn from her mistakes.

Peanut Butter and Jelly Secrets survived my childhood with me, and I read it so many times. I remember having such a sense of camaraderie with Alex back then. The dark places and heart-pounding situations that she got into felt very real. I could easily imagine myself having the same struggles trying to correct my bad choices on my own. There are scenes during which she snuck around and hid in dark places that have really stuck with me over the years.

My mom owned Shoelaces and Brussels Sprouts when I was younger, and while I don’t remember reading it as many times as my book, I still remember identifying with Alex. As an adult, I can see where it would have made her whole life easier by simply telling her mom about the incident that prompted her to tell the First Lie, which then snowballed into more lies. But as a kid, I know I made plenty of my own similar bad choices to try to save myself.

This was my first time reading Grapefruit Basket Upset, so I don’t know whether my view of it would have been different if I’d read it back then as I did the other two. However, the circumstance in which Alex finds herself in this book is also not one that I think I would have connected as much with back then. I don’t think I’ve ever been quite so competitive as she is, and I definitely would not have made the one final, terrible choice she made (at least, I can certainly hope not). However, the story itself, and the lesson learned, is on par with the other two books.

This book series is pretty old, and I don’t think they’re in print anymore (first one came out in 1987). At some point, they came out with different cover versions, too, though I’m a fan of the originals. If you have an opportunity to pick up any of the Alex series books, I recommend them. They’re short, quick reads that children will be able to connect to.

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If you’ve read any of this series, or read any in the future, feel free to let me know what you think!

Book Review: The Warden and the Wolf King

The Warden and the Wolf King
The Wingfeather Saga
#4
by Andrew Peterson

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

wing 4

Spoiler notice: The following review will contain spoilers for the previous books in the series, which starts with On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness.

War has come to the Green Hollows and surrounding lands. King Kalmar knows that fighting the overwhelming forces of Fangs won’t be enough, though, and is determined to confront Gnag the Nameless himself. The Wingfeathers hope for a better future and a return to their homeland, but what will it cost to get there?

Again I find myself wishing I could say more, but not wanting to have to post behind a spoiler tag. The conclusion to the saga was at least as amazing, if not more so, as the run to get here. For a series that started a bit slow (not boring, but slow), the ensuing adventure, peril, emotion, and character development was worth every bit of the build up.

The character development throughout the series, and especially this last book, was realistic and even made me examine my own heart more closely. Though I have to admit that I don’t think Leeli had much development overall. The ending was incredible, and I never saw it coming. It left me in shock, and with the biggest book hangover I’ve ever experienced. I am already looking forward to when I re-read this series (which will probably be in September when the second half of the re-released books come out, which my husband already pre-ordered for me).

Keeping in mind that that this series is middle grade fiction, I’m going to share a bit of a story:

I read the first 2 books earlier this year, as ARCs for the re-release that will include all new illustrations and footnotes (the books originally came out 10 years ago). I remember thinking that my then 9-year-old daughter might enjoy them, but she likes reading in theory more than in practice, tending to start books and not finish them.

When Andrew Peterson started reading the first book live online during the quarantine back in March, she started listening with me part way through (she was usually outside playing when he read, and she didn’t have enough interest initially to stay inside to listen). By the time he finished reading book 2, she was hooked. She sped on ahead of me and listened to the audio books for 3 & 4. She loved them so much, she was desperate for me to read the rest so she could talk about them with me. She then proceeded to go back and read the first 2 books and re-listen to the last 2 books a few times. All in the space of a few months, by a girl who only halfheartedly read before this.

So to sum up, while the series itself is incredible–inventive, adventurous, emotional, even beautiful–the best thing about these books is that it gave my daughter and me something to enjoy together and discuss. Though we have to do it in whispers, because our enjoyment has gotten my husband’s interest piqued, and we don’t want to spoil anything for him.

Though I’ve been saying all through the reviews for this that the book is not overtly Christian–and it’s not–there was a message in this book that I really appreciated. And I just have to say that I think it’s okay to be jealous about someone else being allowed to literally directly encounter God, and you’re not invited. I can’t recommend this book enough to readers of all ages, and particularly suggest that reading it along with your kids, or even out loud to your kids, might just provide hours, days, weeks of great bonding time.

Thank you so much to Netgalley and WaterBrook & Multnomah for providing me a copy of this book to review.
**Note: This book has been out since 2014, but a new hardcover edition will be released Sept 15, 2020, with a beautiful new cover and new illustrations inside.

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If you’ve read this book, or read it in the future, feel free to let me know what you think!

Book Review: The Monster in the Hollows

The Monster in the Hollows
The Wingfeather Saga
#3
by Andrew Peterson

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

monster

Spoiler notice: The following review will contain spoilers for the previous books in the series, On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness & North! or Be Eaten.

The joyful ending of the previous book only carries so far into the Green Hollows, where the residents are wary, to say the least, about having a Grey Fang in their midst. Even as his family defends him, Janner can’t seem to help but be afraid of his brother as well. The Igibys begin to try to make their home in the Green Hollows, but there is more danger nearby than just the little Grey Fang.

Though there were some slower parts for me in this book, as I wasn’t as interested in the school system in the Green Hollows, it was not nearly enough to detract from the rest of the book as an exciting, heart-filled addition to this series.

Looking back on it, most of what I’d want to expand on would be a spoiler, so I don’t feel like I can say much in this review. However, as the danger ramps up, the heroes learn more and more who they are and who they should be. And though there were some dark and gut-wrenching moments, I have so much anticipation for the finale of this great series. More importantly, my 10-year-old daughter has gotten into this series since I started it, and she LOVES it! In fact, she’s kind of obsessed with it. She’s not an avid reader, so I’d say that’s a huge endorsement.

I highly recommend this book, and the series so far, for folks of all ages who enjoy clean, fun fantasy adventures. And to restate from my previous reviews–you might see it labeled as Christian, and there are some references to a deity that many of the people believe in, but it is not overtly Christian.

On a technical note, I initially listened to this as an audiobook, which isn’t normally my thing. It’s narrated by the author, though, and he does such great voices and really makes the characters come alive. When I got a copy of the ARC, I flipped through to find all of the illustrations and extras that the re-release will have, and they are great too! Definitely worth having the physical copy when it comes out someday.

Thank you to Netgalley and WaterBrook & Multnomah for providing me a copy of this book to review.
**Note: This book has been out since 2011, but a new hardcover edition will be released Sept 15, 2020, with a beautiful new cover and new illustrations inside.

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If you’ve read this book, or read it in the future, feel free to let me know what you think!

Book Review: Anne of the Island

Anne of the Island
Book #3
by L.M. Montgomery

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: Children’s/YA classic, coming of age

Anne 3

See my review for book #1, Anne of Green Gables.

This book takes us through 4 years of college with Anne and her school and housemates. She makes new friends, experiences loss, runs from love, and finds comfort at home. Relationships form and blossom, and life continues on all around her.

There’s a lot to love about this book. The characters are written with the same heart as the previous books, and even Marilla has an outwardly loving moment. Davy is not as terrible as he was in the previous book, though Dora is still basically nothing. I will say that there has become a kind of repetition among the characters. Many newly introduced characters seem a lot like those that were larger in previous books. Phil, for example, is a lot like Ruby (and wow with what happened there). Even Patty’s Place has some similarities to Echo Lodge. However, the charm is still there.

There are some things that happen in this book that seem like a cliche, but I can forgive that, because this book was written before they became such cliches. Anne has started to become a little too perfect and loved by all, but it seems kind of natural, rather than forced. There are quite a few romances going on in this book, which I personally enjoyed quite a bit. 

Because of how quickly these books speed through time, I echo Anne’s sentiment that it’s sad people have to grow up. Characters come and go so much, it’s hard to get attached to any of them. Still, there are a few permanents, and at the end of this book, because of the writing and dialog style I was so immersed in by then, the word “sweetheart” seemed like a whole new word when it was used. I’m a little less excited about continuing the series than I was up to this point, but I’m still looking forward to seeing what happens to Anne next.

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If you’ve read this book, or read it in the future, feel free to let me know what you think!

Book Review: North! or Be Eaten

North! or Be Eaten
The Wingfeather Saga
#2
by Andrew Peterson

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

North

Spoiler notice: The following review will contain spoilers for the first book in the series, On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness.

The danger is real as the Igibys escape the clutches of the Fangs of Dang and head north toward the Ice Prairies. The Lost Jewels of Anniera begin to realize their full potential along the way, but there are a lot of obstacles to overcome. Surviving Fangs, the Stranders, and even the wilds of Skree itself, the Igiby family gets separated, and that’s when things really get bad for young Janner, the Throne Warden of Anneira. Worse yet is when he loses his little brother, the High King of Anneira, whom he is meant to protect. Surprises await around every corner in this action-packed, heart-filled fantasy!

I don’t know if I can adequately express how much I enjoyed this book. The imagination that went into the characters, the creatures, and the plot itself is vast and enviable. I was swept up in the horrors, the betrayal, and the victories right along with the characters. I was annoyed every time I had to put it down and plunged back in with voracity every chance I got.

As in the first book, the main character really is Janner, the oldest of the Igiby children, and in this book it was even more clear why that was the best choice. He grew up so much in this book, even though only a short time passed (I don’t know how much for sure…months, maybe?). Leeli really blossomed in this book as well, even though we didn’t get to see her as much. She’s courageous and has a beautiful spirit, and I love her! Tink, who is know more and more as Kalmar, has a rough time of it in this book, but boy was that ending incredible.

At times, I felt like the action didn’t slow down enough for me to catch my own breath, but looking back at it, I don’t think it was a bad thing. There were some pretty dark moments, so I wonder about the age range it’s meant for, considering that my daughter falls into the middle grade range. I don’t think it would scare her, necessarily, but I wonder if she would still be bothered by some of it, though she is on the low end of that range.

I highly recommend this book, and the series so far, for folks of all ages who enjoy clean, fun fantasy adventures. Also, you might see it labeled as Christian, and there are some references to a deity that many of the people believe in, but it is not overtly Christian. I have a feeling I’m going to love the rest of this series and want to re-read many times. There’s no way I’m waiting for the new versions of the last 2 books to come out before I read them.

Thank you to Netgalley and WaterBrook & Multnomah for providing me a copy of this book to review.
**Note: This book has been out since 2009, but a new hardcover edition will be released tomorrow, with a beautiful new cover and new illustrations inside.

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If you’ve read this book, or read it in the future, feel free to let me know what you think!

Book Review: Anne of Avonlea

Finished Reading: Anne of Avonlea
Book #2
by L.M. Montgomery

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: Children’s classic, coming of age

AoA

See my review for book #1, Anne of Green Gables.

No longer a child, Anne Shirley starts a new adventure as the schoolteacher in Avonlea. Fortunately (for us, not for her), she still gets into scrapes, has adventures, and meets interesting people. We follow Anne through 2 years as teacher, starting with her first terrifying day. During this time, Green Gables becomes the home for 2 young orphans, who present a whole new challenge to Marilla.

I had anticipated this book being not as wonderful as the first, considering that plenty of the charm of the first was wrapped up in Anne’s childish nature. Not only has she grown and matured, she’s also been “raised” to be more proper. Still, her spirit and imagination were there, and she met other kindred spirits to provide some of that as well.

I did not care for the twins that Marilla took in, not just because Davy was such a handful, but also because Dora was…nothing. It seemed as if the author only gave Davy a twin so that he would have a target for his shenanigans, but she forgot to develop the sister, and thus, she became boring to the author, and likewise to the other characters. They liked Davy more because he needed them more (because he was a terror), and Dora was so good she had no imagination. So basically, if she’d acted up a little more, or made more mistakes, she’d be more interesting. Just…no.

The storyline with Miss Lavender is cute and sweet. I loved the way Paul Irving keeps saying, “You know, Teacher,” to Anne (and a few times, he said the same basic thing to someone else) to show that they were so similar in spirit. J.A. Harrison’s storyline was a little bizarre, yet came out nicely.

These books meander so, with time sprawling across the pages, and sometimes it’s hard to pinpoint the plot of a single book. But the overall plot seems to be the life of this orphan girl as she learns who she is, how to navigate life, and what she might want to do someday. I’m looking forward to reading about the next chapter of Anne’s life.

Side note: I have now purchased 5 out of 6 of the “main storyline” of this series. I didn’t really intend to, especially as I haven’t read enough yet to know if anything past the first one will be worth owning. But I have taken a lot of trips to Half Price Books over the last 3 months, and so often find one or two of these in the clearance section. It’s hard to pass it up for $1…

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If you’ve read this book, or read it in the future, feel free to let me know what you think!

Book Review: On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness

On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness
The Wingfeather Saga
#1
by Andrew Peterson

My rating: 4.5 / 5
Genre: Children’s fantasy

Dark Sea.png

On the edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness live the Igiby family–12-year-old Janner and his younger brother Tink, little sister Leeli, and their mom and grandfather, known mostly as Podo. Their land has been conquered by Gnag the Nameless, who hails from Dang, across the sea, and who has sent his Fangs to keep the people in line. Through a series of connected events that all starts with a mischievous dog, the Igibys find themselves on the wrong side of the Fangs of Dang. When the Fangs come to realize that the Igibys have knowledge of the location to the jewels of the late King Wingfeather and the Shining Isle of Anniera, which are said to be the key to restoring Anniera and defating Gnag, the Igibys realize they will always be in danger.

This book was a lot of fun, with characters that are lively and entertaining and a lot of lore and history. The quirky nature of the narrative and even the names of various people and locations had me chuckling more than once. Though it’s children’s fiction, it doesn’t pull any punches, and reminds me of The Chronicles of Narnia, as well as Roald Dahl, to a degree.

Right off the bat, the explanation for the name of the world these characters inhabit gives you a sense of the author’s style. The first person to exist woke up on the first morning, looked at a rock, and said, “Well, here we are.” Thus, the world’s name came to be known as “Aerwiar.” Though none of the other names for people or places are really explained, and I did actually struggle a little muddling through so many when they came close together, this is a good example of the tone of this book.

Even with the whimsical nature, there is still some real peril. Fortunately, possibly because it’s meant for kids, for the most part, the good guys prevail and the bad guys are defeated, at least in some way. I’m not saying there aren’t some losses, but I won’t say more because of spoilers.

One of my favorite things about the book were the hints that the author dropped throughout the book, giving little nudges about a big secret revealed near the end. Two big secrets, really but they were tied together. While I suspected pretty early on, and then decided I was definitely right still a ways from the reveal, remember that this book is meant for kids. I could imagine kids near my daughter’s age, maybe a bit older, reading this and beginning to catch on, getting excited as they realized the truth.

It was fun and full of adventure, and I cannot wait to continue the series! I recommend this book for folks of all ages who enjoy clean, fun fantasy adventures. Also, you might see it labeled as Christian, and there are some references to a deity that many of the people believe in, but it is not overtly Christian. It may be a bit allegorical, again similar to the Narnia books.

Thank you to Netgalley and WaterBrook & Multnomah for providing me a copy of this book to review.
**Note: This book has been out since 2008, but a new hardcover edition will be released on March 10, 2020, with a beautiful new cover and new illustrations inside.

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If you’ve read this book, or read it in the future, feel free to let me know what you think!

Book Review: Little Women (adapted for younger readers)

Finished Reading: Little Women
by Louisa May Alcott, adapted by Lucia Monfried

My/my daughter’s rating: 4.5 / 5
Genre: Classic children’s, coming of age

Little Women adaptation.png

The classic tale of the March sisters as they become women around and after the time of the American Civil War is adapted for children around age 8-10 in this book, complete with an illustration for every 2 pages. I read the book aloud with my daughter, who is 9, and am writing this review based more on her opinion of the book than my own.

I knew the story fairly well already, having seen the 1994 movie adaptation, though I’ve never read the original book (yet). My daughter was new to the story though, and overall, she really enjoyed it. The rating reflects how much she liked it, and the missing half a star was because she was super disappointed with a particular pairing that did not happen in the book (I know this book is old, but I can’t seem to bring myself to spoil it anyway, just in case).

Though I worried that much of what I was reading to her was going to go above her head, even with the adaptation, she was able to understand most of it as we went. Or if she didn’t understand something, she didn’t really realize that she didn’t. Now and then I’d stop and explain something that I thought she might not get (usually because of vernacular that is not in use these days) or that she questioned as we went.

I would recommend this book for children around 8-12, with the extra note that with younger kids, it might be helpful (and enjoyable) to read it with a parent or older sibling/friend.

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Book Review: Anne of Green Gables

Anne of Green Gables
Book #1
by L.M. Montgomery

My rating: 5 / 5
Genre: Children’s classic, coming of age

In the first installment of the books about Anne with an e, she is brought into the home of Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert, a brother and sister who are both getting up in years. They had sent for an orphan boy to help them with the work on their property, but were sent Anne instead. She charms her way into their hearts (especially the shy, kind Matthew), and they raise her from the age of 11.

This is one of many well-known and much-loved classics that I have never read before. I have family members who really like it, so I decided that with my recent reading revolution, it was time to give it a try. I’m so glad I did, as I really enjoyed this book!

Anne has such a fiery spirit, and while I would probably be a bit frustrated to be around her much in person, I liked reading her monologues. The reactions by both of her guardians often produced a smile from me too. Though as a parent who is currently dealing with a strong-willed child who tends to melt down when she doesn’t get her way, some of scenes where Anne threw a fit made me cringe. To see Anne change as she aged 5 years in this book was wonderful and realistic, and while she lost some of her loquaciousness, she remained the same kind, generous girl at heart.

I absolutely loved Matthew, and really liked seeing Marilla’s character change throughout the book. When tragedy struck, even though I could guess what was coming, I was devastated with Anne. I am really looking forward to reading the further books in this series.

Fun fact: One of my sisters and her husband have named each of their 4 kids after characters from this book series (whether first or middle names), and it was fun to find 3 of them in this first book. Though I have since learned that one of them from this book wasn’t the actual inspiration for their son’s name, but he was named after a character with the same name in a later book in the series.

Find out more about Anne of Green Gables

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If you’ve read this book, or read it in the future, feel free to let me know what you think!