Book Review: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
by Roald Dahl

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

I grew up with the Gene Wilder movie by the same name, still love it to this day. I remember reading Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator when I was young, but do not recall whether I’d read this first, or read it as a follow-up to the movie. I’ve seen the re-make, and was really interested to discover that many of the things that were different in that movie, compared to the original, were actually in the book.

Anyway, about the book—I really enjoyed reading it. My eleven-year-old daughter read it before me, and she liked it a lot too. The characters and situations are often over the top, which certainly adds to the fantastic feel that the factory and Wonka’s inventions provide. It makes me sad to see how many people claim that Wonks is a slaver, considering that if you actually read the book, it’s clear that the Oompa Loompas were living terrible lives when he found them. They are fed and housed and seem to be genuinely happy. Anything past that is something we read into the story, as we have no way of knowing if they even want to leave this massive factory complex, nor what would happen if they did.

That’s my take on it, at least—I prefer to enjoy the story for what it is, not think about what kind of OSHA violations Wonka would have to deal with if the story took place in real life. I recommend it to kids who are up for a dark-yet-fun read.

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Book Review: Terror from Outer Space

Terror from Outer Space
Last Chance Detectives #4
by Robert Vernon

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

Have aliens landed in the desert? Though the report may be unbelievable, Sheriff Smitty can’t deny that something strange is going on, especially when he has his own frightening encounter. It’s up to Mike, Winnie, Spence, and Ben, the Last Chance Detectives, to investigate, but they won’t like what they find.

Overall, this was another solid addition to the series, with some exciting scenes and a hard, but important, lesson of faith learned by Mike. The mystery was predictable to me, but younger readers will be much less likely to guess what’s going on. If I’d been in Winnie’s shoes in this story, I probably would have passed out, or at least been found curled up on the floor crying.

Speaking of Winnie, it’s much more obvious in this book that she’s not as well developed as her three friends. The other three have a line or two explaining what they bring to the group at the beginning of the story. Mike’s confidence makes him a natural leader, Spence is clever and inventive, even Ben is said to provide fun and out-of-the-box thinking. There’s literally nothing, not even a minor attempt, made to show Winnie’s contribution to the group, and thinking about the 3 books in this series I’ve read in the last few days, I couldn’t tell you what it was either. She’s just…there.

This is the first new story to come out in a series from the 90s, and while I didn’t enjoy it quite as much as the 2 originals that I recently read, I do still recommend this book for those around age 10-14.

Thank you to Netgalley and Tyndale House Publishers/Focus on the Family for providing me a copy of this book to review.

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Publication date: October 5, 2021

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Book Review: Escape from Fire Lake

Escape from Fire Lake
Last Chance Detectives #3
by Robert Vernon

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

When Mike Fowler stumbles across bank robbers making a getaway, he becomes an accidental hostage. Unwilling to let him point the finger at them, the thieves leave him for dead in the middle of the desert. Can Mike make it to civilization before succumbing to the sun in Fire Lake?

Wow! For a short book meant for kids, this was quite an intense ride! Unlike the first book in the series, this one was completely new to me, and it really sucked me in. Mike’s trek through the desert, trying not to give in to the sun or his own worries, was really suspenseful and kept me hooked all throughout. At the same time, the other Last Chance Detectives are looking for him, and that part is interesting too. Whereas children’s books can sometimes venture away from reality, in that the kids in the story do things that kids wouldn’t really be able to do in real life, I felt like all of it was quite plausible in this case.

Though there wasn’t any kind of mystery in this story, at least not to the reader, it was still full of adventure and great lessons about relying on God and letting Him give you peace in scary situations. Again the danger is very real, but it doesn’t get to be what I’d consider too scary for kids, and I highly recommend this book for those around 10-14.

Thank you to Netgalley and Tyndale House Publishers/Focus on the Family for providing me a copy of this book to review.

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**Note: This book has been out since 1996, but a new, slightly updated edition will be released on October 5, 2020.

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Book Review: Mystery Lights Of Navajo Mesa

Mystery Lights Of Navajo Mesa
Last Chance Detectives #1
by Jake & Luke Thoene

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

It started with a cryptic radio transmission that led to Ben seeing some green lights in the desert. But his friends, the other Last Chance Detectives, Mike, Winnie, and Spence, aren’t sure his story of UFOs in the desert is believable. Still, there’s obviously something going on out there, so it’s time to investigate!

This was a fast-paced adventure with a realistic feel to it. The kids are friends but still have arguments, one of which led to the adventure in the first place. I liked the small-town setting that goes even further into a feeling of remoteness due to being surrounded by vast desert. Though I wasn’t as baffled as Ben was when the sheriff didn’t corroborate what he saw, readers of the age group for which the book is intended will likely get swept up into the adventure and intrigue. The stakes are high and the danger is real, but nothing too intense for kids around 10-14, for whom I highly recommend this book.

I watched the movie many times in my teenage years (we only owned this one, though, so I’ve never seen/read any others in the series). I didn’t expect to remember as much as I did when I read the book. A few lines I could even hear the characters saying in my head. It was a really fun way to re-visit my childhood, and I’m looking forward to watching the movie again too (and reading/watching the rest of the series)!

Clarification: I didn’t read the version shown in the picture above, which is the original based on the movie that came out in 1994. I own the older book and had intended to read it soon, but hadn’t yet when I saw that it was being re-released, along with at least 1 other in the series and 2 new ones that I can see. For this review, I read the new release version, which does have some differences from the original.

Thank you to Netgalley and Tyndale House Publishers/Focus on the Family for providing me a copy of this book to review.

Find out more about Mystery Lights Of Navajo Mesa
**Note: This book has been out since 1994, but a new, slightly updated edition will be released on October 5, 2020.

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Book Review: Socks

Socks
by Beverly Cleary

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

This short, simple tale about a cat that is adopted by a young couple and is eventually displaced by a newborn baby was a lot of fun to read, not to mention very true to cat ownership. In life, cats certainly do often get ignored, even pushed aside, when important things are happening, and it seems perfectly all right. But the indignation from the cat’s perspective felt completely justified too. I only wish cats really understood as much as Socks did in the book—it would make certain parts of life a lot simpler. 

I haven’t read much Cleary in my life, maybe just a Ramona book or two when I was younger, but I think I’ll have to remedy that, as I just loved this story so much. The fact that I’m heavily a cat person probably affects my feelings on it, but my 10-year-old daughter, who is pretty equal on dogs and cats, also loved it. One thing’s for sure, I’ll never look at my cats the same way again.

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Book Review: Independence Hall

Independence Hall
I, Q #1
by Roland Smith

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: Children’s spy thriller

New step-siblings Q (short for Quest) and Angela are thrust into the world of espionage when Angela is told that her mother, who had died 4 years previous, might not actually be dead. But if she’s alive, she may also be a deadly terrorist. And now it appears that someone may be after Angela, but she and Q aren’t sure who they can trust.

Spy thrillers aren’t really my thing, but I really enjoyed this one written for teens and pre-teens. There were quite a few twists along the way, no one is quite who they seem to be, and even the bad guys weren’t just bad guys. I second-guessed a lot of what I was shown during the bulk of the book, and of course it’s not the most realistic thing that these two teenagers are being caught up in this plot. However, the author does a decent job of at least making it plausible. And I really like the way they do whatever they can not to ruin things for their newlywed parents, who have recently made it big in the music industry.

My husband brought home the first 3 books in this series of 6 without knowing anything about it, thinking I might enjoy it. It took me quite a while to get to it, and I was really unsure how I’d like it. However, now I’m sad I only have 3 of the 6 (though the rest are available at my local library), because I am looking forward to seeing how this all turns out! I would recommend this for younger readers who want something exciting or thrilling, or even adults who don’t necessarily care for adult spy thrillers but enjoy a good adventure story.

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Book Review: Prince Caspian

Prince Caspian
The Chronicles of Narnia #2 (original order)
by C.S. Lewis

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: Children’s classic fantasy

This is my first foray into The Chronicles of Narnia. I’ve seen the movies (or at least some of them), but only once when they first came out, and don’t remember much about the movie based on this book. This is yet another series I wish I’d read when I was younger; I have a feeling I would have liked it more as a kid. Overall, I enjoyed it a little more than the previous book. Maybe that’s because the Pevensies aren’t newcomers to Narnia anymore, but I think it’s more due to the Narnians that they encounter this time. Reepicheep made my heart melt!

The story involving Caspian, as well as Peter and Edmund’s additions to the conflict, I enjoyed. I’ve never been one for reading battle sequences, so I appreciated that most of the fighting was summarized. Even the one full fight that was shown had a lot of interjection by other characters, so it was more fun than it probably should have been. I was not a fan of the sequence of events that followed Susan, Lucy, and Aslan as they gathered up the rest of the Old Narnians. It all felt a little strange to me and made me wonder what the purpose of it was. Most of what was shown didn’t really affect the rest of the story much.

It is possible I misinterpreted parts of this book, though it is meant for readers more like my daughter’s age, and I doubt she will get bigger meaning out of it than I did when she reads the book. However, aside from those areas, I enjoyed the book overall and think she will too.

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Book Review: Night of the Twisters

Night of the Twisters
by Ivy Ruckman

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

Inspired by an actual event in Nebraska in 1980, when multiple twisters ravaged one town in a meteorological anomaly, 12-year-old Dan Hatch must protect his baby brother and tornado-newbie best friend Arthur, as both of his parents are gone when the tornado comes.

I read this book when I was younger, but only remembered a few details. I really enjoyed it even as an adult. It’s realistic to how kids were back in those days, off riding their bikes or swimming in the local water hole during the summer, especially in a smaller town like this. No cell phones, no video games, and then they went home in the evening to watch Happy Days, which is a little before my time, but I still appreciate the overall feel the author paints of life in the early 80s, when this book was written and set. I also thought that, while the descriptions of the devastation caused by the storm aren’t necessarily vast and detailed, they felt realistic to someone like me who’s never been in a tornado but has seen the aftermath in pictures or videos. And most likely toned down due to being a book for kids.

There were not a whole lot of characters, but I liked the ones that were around much. Dan’s feelings about his little brother throughout were pretty real for a kid his age who had been an only child until the age of 12. Arthur provided an interesting foil in multiple ways. The elderly neighbor Mrs. Smiley and her part in the story made me smile (no pun intended). My only complaint is that I would have liked to know how Officer Kelly ended up. But overall, the book was an exciting, suspenseful read that I think would be great for kids around age 10-12.

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Book Review: The Reptile Room

The Reptile Room
A Series of Unfortunate Events #2
by Lemony Snicket
read by Tim Curry

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: Children’s fiction

The three Baudelaire orphans have been set up with a new guardian, Uncle Monty. He’s interesting, fun, and kind, and the kids are looking forward to going to Peru with him to study reptiles. But oh, this is a Lemony Snicket book, so we’re informed up front that their happiness won’t last. And indeed, it doesn’t.

I suppose I liked this book a little more than the previous. Even though I knew from early on that Uncle Monty wouldn’t signal the beginning of a happy life, I was still glad for the kids that they got a little bit of time with him. I think Count Olaf’s attempt at getting at their money was a lot more half-baked this time, but on the other hand, the way the kids got out of his snare was a little more clever this time. I did enjoy the “friendship” between Sunny and the Incredibly Deadly Viper, and even thought it was pretty great that she…oh, I guess that would be a spoiler.

But just like with the previous book, the highlight of the whole thing, for me, was that it was read by Tim Curry. One whole star of my rating is based on that, because that’s how much I love listening to his voice. We’ll see how it goes from here on.

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Book Review: The Bad Beginning

The Bad Beginning
A Series of Unfortunate Events #1
by Lemony Snicket
read by Tim Curry

My rating: 3.5 / 5
Genre: Children’s fiction

When the Baudelaire children are orphaned and sent to live with a very odd relative they’ve never heard of, their misfortune is only beginning. Their new guardian, Count Olaf, has designs on the fortune their parents left behind, and will stop at nothing to get his hands on it.

I’ve never read any of these books, nor have I seen any of the adaptations. It always seemed a little dark and strange for my tastes. And I would have continued in ignorance without any qualms had I not discovered that Tim Curry narrated the audiobooks for the series. I love Tim Curry, and I especially love his voice. And yes, he brought my rating up an entire star all by himself. Because overall, the book was only okay, maybe even less than okay. I wasn’t even entirely sure what genre (other than children’s fiction) to put this in, because it seems like it’s supposed to be funny, but I didn’t find it all that humorous. And I guess there’s supposed to be a mystery, and I was actually looking forward to seeing what clever way the kids got out of Count Olaf’s snare, only for it to be a really simple, boring solution. Really, it was a little dark for children’s fiction, and Count Olaf’s and his friends were ridiculously and unnecessarily over-the-top mean.

I did like the way the kids stuck together and didn’t give up when things were bleak. I didn’t even mind the way the narrator inserted definitions for some possibly difficult words for kids, though to be honest, I don’t know that it wouldn’t have annoyed me if it wasn’t Tim Curry giving me those definitions. I’ve seen some reviews that say it gets better after the first book, so for Tim Curry’s sake, I’ll keep going for now.

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