Book Review: Farmer Boy

Little House in the Big Woods
Little House #2
by Laura Ingalls Wilder
read by Cherry Jones

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

Continuing my first ever read-through of this series, I enjoyed this book even more than the first one in the series. Almanzo is an endearing, hard-working boy, and I love how badly he wants to be just like his dad. I find Laura Ingalls Wilder’s focus on how much food the Wilders had, as well as the variety of food, to be interesting, considering that her family in the previous book had just enough. The Wilders still worked hard for their food but this was clearly a comparatively wealthy family. And the ending, involving Almanzo deciding what to do with his sudden windfall, made me tear up. That thread of story culminating in such a great moment at the end is what elevated this book to be a new favorite for me!

My enjoyment of the book was greatly enhanced by the audiobook narrator. I’m still really loving Cherry Jones’s performance in this series, as well as the fiddle music now and then, though it’s not as prevalent was it was in the previous book. I highly recommend this book and series so far, for adults and kids alike.

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Book Review: Little House in the Big Woods

Little House in the Big Woods
Little House #1
by Laura Ingalls Wilder
read by Cherry Jones

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

I have never read this series, though I did watch the show when I was younger. I think I always assumed it would be boring to read, though. I can’t say for sure it wouldn’t have been when I was younger, but I completely enjoyed it now. This in-depth look at life for an American pioneer family through the eyes of a little girl is full of heart, teaching the reader about how pioneers had to work almost constantly in order to have enough to eat throughout the year, a place to live, and warmth in the winter, forget toys and luxuries. I appreciate how, even when the kids are punished, their parents clearly still love them and make sure they know it. Despite the hardships and all of the work they had to do, it was a simpler time that, in some ways, we’re all the worse for losing.

My enjoyment of the book was greatly enhanced by the audiobook narrator. Cherry Jones did a fantastic job, and I am so happy to know that I can stay with her through the whole series. On top of that, whenever Pa played the fiddle in the book, we get to hear it! And Cherry Jones sings along when the lyrics are in the book, making for a beautiful listening experience! If you’ve ever considered reading this book, or have already read it and have occasion to listen to the audiobook, I say do it!

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Book Review: The Magician’s Nephew

The Magician’s Nephew
The Chronicles of Narnia #6 (original order)
by C.S. Lewis

My rating: 3.5 / 5
Genre: Children’s classic fantasy

While I appreciate the origins of Narnia shown in this book, it’s my least favorite of the series. I think part of that is my own fault, as I’m still watching for the theological parallels to God, and this one threw me off a lot. I wonder if I’m just not the right kind of person to read this and see it the way others do. To me, at least, as a parallel to God creating the universe, it fell flat in many ways. Maybe that’s because God did it perfectly, and anything besides that just seems like a poor comparison. Of course, from a fiction (and fantasy) standpoint, just having it done the same way as God did it would be kinda weird. But even seeing it more as an allegory than a parallel (which is probably more how it’s meant anyway), I just didn’t enjoy it as much as I did others in the series. Taking it as its own story with no connection to the Bible, it felt a little disjointed.

This series is one of those that I feel like I’m never going to enjoy like so many others do. I didn’t read them as a kid, so that might make some difference. Still, I sometimes think I just don’t have enough sense of wonder or whimsy to make these books more enjoyable. Not that I haven’t enjoyed any of the series by any means, but I don’t know that I’ll ever re-read it. On the other hand, it’s possible that reading the series again some time in the future might give me a different insight into it, and this book in particular.

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Book Review: Jurassic Park

Jurassic Park
Book #1
by Michael Crichton

My rating: 5 / 5
Genre: Science fiction thriller

Up front, I will say that the movie probably influenced my reaction to the book, so if you’re looking for an unbiased opinion, you may want to go elsewhere. Jurassic Park is one of my top 3 favorite movie franchises, if not the top, even though I can certainly admit that there are some duds in there. I just don’t care; I love them anyway. I did read this book once, back in high school, most likely because of how much I already liked the first couple of movies then.

Now reading it again, I think I appreciated it even more than I did back then. Yes, the science gets a little long-winded, as do Malcolm’s speeches, so I might have skimmed a little. But that doesn’t keep me from enjoying a book. Outside of that, there is a lot of excitement, and even though Malcolm won’t shut up, I really liked his character. The race against time caused by the juvenile raptors on the boat headed for the mainland adds even higher stakes. And the book doesn’t make quite as many huge leaps about dinosaurs that paleontologists couldn’t possibly know for sure, but rather the characters have to learn about them and deduce what they can expect as they go.

I have seen the movie too many times to not have been constantly comparing the two as I read, and I even made some notes to help myself keep both the similarities and differences straight (some were things that were used in the 2nd movie, even though there’s also a 2nd book). But I do think the book stands on its own and should be read by fans of the movie, which is more famous than the book, but does owe its existence to the book.

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Book Review: Messenger

Messenger
The Giver series #3
by Lois Lowry

My rating: 2.5 / 5
Genre: Children’s classic dystopian

Moving from the harsh place he grew up, where perfection was valued and kids were abused by adults as a rule, Matty now lives in Village, where weaknesses are embraced and everyone generally treats each other with kindness. But unhappiness and unpleasantness are starting to creep in, and even the nearby forest, through which Matty came to his new home, and through which he’s traveled many times over the years, is beginning to grow hostile.

I do not know where Lois Lowry is going with this series at this point. I don’t understand much of anything after reading this third book in the series. And since, at the time of this book’s release, it seemed to be considered the end of a trilogy, I can understand why a lot of people were quite unhappy with it at the time that it came out. It sort of gives us a little continuation of the first book in the series, but it heaps on new questions and confusions, and puts absolutely none of them to rest. Why did Forest begin to become corrupted in the first place? Where did the Trade Mart come from, and how was it connected to Forest? What happened to the Trade Mart leader at the end of the book? I guess the book is meant to be one huge allegory about people giving up parts of themselves for something superficial, but it’s pretty subtle, so I really doubt kids of the age it’s meant for will pick up on that at all. And maybe that’s even what already happened in the village that Matty, the Seer, and Kira came from, considering that they’re pretty much just terrible people there, but it’s definitely not stated to be such.

I’m not necessarily against a story that leaves some questions unanswered, though I generally don’t prefer it, but this took that to a whole new level. There was really no resolution to anything but what I can only assume is a symptom of something greater. Will things just start to get bad again eventually? I hope not, because the fix in this book can’t really be applied again, not that the fix really makes sense to me in the light of the allegory the author may or may not have been intending. I still have the final book in the tetralogy to read, so maybe answers will come there, but at this point, I’d have a difficult time recommending that fans of The Giver continue the series.

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Book Review: Gathering Blue

Gathering Blue
The Giver series #2
by Lois Lowry

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

When Kira’s mom dies, she’s left alone in a community that doesn’t care for her or her twisted foot. Fortunately, she has an almost magical creative gift that gets her the right kind of attention and saves her life. But once she gets a glimpse into the parts of the community most people don’t see, Kira realizes that there are some things going on that she never would have imagined.

Though this book didn’t have quite the charm that its predecessor, The Giver, had, I still enjoyed it. I appreciated Kira’s attitude and willingness to work hard to take care of herself, as well as her desire to help others. That mindset is clearly counter-cultural in her world and shows how a conscientious parent can affect their child in defiance of the world around them. Of course, if this book hadn’t been listed as a follow-up to The Giver, I would never have guessed they were meant to be related, but it’s interesting to me that, where The Giver had order, Gathering Blue has chaos. It’s really amazing to me that anyone could grow up in this world and be a halfway decent person, and the truth is, I’m not sure anyone could. Still, I enjoyed this story in its own right and loved the way the book’s title came into play. I’m intrigued by the overall world Lowry has built between these two books, and I’m looking forward to continuing the series to see how it all ties together.

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Book Review: The Sign of Four

The Sign of Four
Sherlock Holmes
#2
by Arthur Conan Doyle

My rating: 34 / 5
Genre: Classic mystery

This is going to be the shortest review I’ve ever written. I’m slowly making my way through the Sherlock Holmes stories for the first time. This was not my favorite. The mystery wasn’t nearly as interesting as others have been; in fact, it was a bit bizarre. It’s the book where Watson meets the woman he ends up marrying, but that relationship didn’t grow in any particularly interesting way either. Overall, the story just felt slow and not very memorable.

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Book Review: The Horse and His Boy

The Horse and His Boy
The Chronicles of Narnia #5 (original order)
by C.S. Lewis

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

The first (and, as far as I can tell, only) book in the series where the main characters are not from our world, this story shows some interesting insight into Narnia and the countries nearby. Bree’s perspective, as a talking horse living amongst non-talking horses, provides some great contrast, and I could imagine how difficult it would be for both him and Shasta to find some kind of understanding. And Hwin, though she’s portrayed as demure and submissive, still speaks her mind when the occasion warrants it.

For me, though, the highlight of the book is Aslan’s contributions, both obvious and subtle (which is still sort of obvious, to be honest), culminating in a conversation near the end of the book. For those who see a parallel between Aslan and God, it’s a reminder that God is working in ways that we can’t see and may never be aware of (as much as I’d like to sit down with Him and learn how His hand was at work after a long, difficult week). I’m not sure how I feel about Aslan’s treatment of Aravis, but overall, this was a fun read.

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Book Review: The Giver

The Giver
Book #1
by Lois Lowry

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

When 12-year-old Jonas is given his life assignment as Receiver of Memory for his entire community, he doesn’t know what to expect, or even what that means. But the more the Giver reveals to him, the more Jonas knows that he can’t continue to live in the emotionless, colorless world of conformity and blandness.

This book had me hooked from the start. The way Lowry builds the world slowly, while showing everyday life in the lead-up to Jonas’s assignment ceremony, is well done. Though I could guess at some of the revelations, others were definitely a surprise to me. And while, from our perspective in real life, it seems impossible for someone to go through what Jonas does and not want to make changes, it’s clear that these people are just that brainwashed, as they go along with the way life has been presented to them.

Unlike so many who read this book for a school assignment, this is my first time reading it. I’ve heard of it over the years, but it really wasn’t on my radar until my sister gave it to me for Christmas (along with the blu-ray of the movie, so I can compare them, which I’ll do soon). Not for the first time, I am so thankful for her recommendation, and while I can see that the next book isn’t exactly a continuation of this one, I’m very curious to see what else Lowry wrote about this world. It’s a great young-audience dystopian novel written before that became a trend.

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Book Review: Caleb’s Story

Caleb’s Story
Sarah, Plain and Tall
#3

by Patricia MacLachlan

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

Anna has grown up and passed the story on to her little brother Caleb. From his perspective, we watch a family drama play out when a mysterious stranger appears and upsets Caleb’s dad Jacob. For me, this book lost some of the charm of the originals. For one thing, Caleb sounds too much like his older sister for me to really feel like it’s someone else telling the story. But I was also very invested in watching this little family come together, and now we’re moving on to new things. That doesn’t make it bad, by any means, just not quite as enjoyable for me.

I originally hadn’t planned to continue this series past the 1st book, but discovering that the audiobooks were narrated by Glenn Close, who played Sarah in the movies, made me decide to continue. However, her narrating a story by a young boy isn’t quite as good as narrating a story by a pre-teen to teenage girl (Anna in the first 2 books). I don’t plan to continue the series, but I do highly recommend the first two.

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