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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Book Review: Number the Stars

Number the Stars
by Lois Lowry

My rating: 5 / 5
Genre: Classic children’s historical fiction

Annemarie Johansen doesn’t really understand why she has to pretend that her friend Ellen is her sister. Or why Ellen’s parents have to leave without her. But when Annemarie’s parents and uncle try to help Ellen’s family and some other Jewish people in Denmark flee to a safer country, Annemarie knows it’s important and will do anything she can to help, even if it’s dangerous.

I really appreciate that in so few pages and in language kids can understand and get into, Lowry not only paints a vivid picture of the danger and fear that those who lived in Nazi-occupied countries dealt with, but also touches on the resistance offered by non-Jews living in Denmark. I also liked seeing the love and loyalty the Danes had for their king, which is something most American’s can fully understand, and the way the scientific community pulled together to help save lives.

Many of us remember reading this book for school, though I didn’t remember it nearly as well as I thought (or maybe I was thinking about a different book the whole time, though if so, I can’t pin down what it was). Required reading or not, this is a good book to introduce young readers to the darkness that many in Europe faced during WWII.

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Book Review: A Study in Scarlet

A Study in Scarlet
Sherlock Holmes
#1
by Arthur Conan Doyle

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: Classic mystery

I almost feel like I should write two separate reviews for this book, considering how vastly different parts 1 and 2 are from each other. I can’t say that Doyle’s decision to leave England and go back in time several years to show the victim and murderer’s backstory in America up close is one that makes a lot of sense to me, but I didn’t hate it like some seem to. If this had been the first Holmes story I’d read, though, I could see where it might make my hesitate to pick up another. In the end, I think that, though the Utah diversion was interesting in its own right, it felt completely unnecessary to the mystery story.

Now, outside of the trip to Utah, it was great to see the original meeting between two characters who have been duplicated and imitated so many times since. Watson learning what Holmes does and seeing the first glimpses at his methods and madness is fun to read. I liked the introduction of Watson himself too. Overall, I’ve been enjoying my first time reading these stories.

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Book Review: The Silver Chair

The Silver Chair
The Chronicles of Narnia #4 (original order)
by C.S. Lewis

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

Not only is this the first book without any Pevensies, but it sure does delve into new depths (pun intended). Jill and Eustace are an interesting combination of characters—they’re the first to go to Narnia who aren’t related to each other in any way, not that being unrelated kept them from bickering. While parts of the story were quite predictable, I still enjoyed the way it played out.

Puddleglum, though, now he’s my kind of character. He expects the worst, yet never gives up. He has 100% faith in and devotion to Aslan, and I absolutely love his words and actions when facing the evil witch of this story. I really appreciate the way C.S. Lewis brings out truths about following God in the midst of these fantastical stories.

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Book Review: The Great Gatsby

The Great Gatsby
by F. Scott Fitzgerald
read by Sean Astin

My rating: 2 / 5
Genre: Classic literature

I read this book in high school and did not like it. I remember telling my teacher that I was disappointed she would condone the lifestyle presented therein. She was offended. Now that I’ve read it again, I can see that misinterpreted the story. However, I also think that my teacher should have been a little more forgiving of a high schooler’s difficulty in fully understanding this book. Even now, I had to go read a few sections over again, and even look up ideas from other people online, to fully follow along.

Though I can see now that the book is not exactly advocating the way of life of the characters within, I can understand why I thought that way. And I didn’t like the book any more now than I did in high school. I did appreciate the vivid and beautiful writing and the immersion in the 1920s, but the story itself was simply unpleasant overall. Whatever commentary it’s trying to make on greed, power, social mores, etc., there’s nothing here but sad, depraved, depressing, unhappy people and lives. Nothing good comes about at all (which may well be exactly the point, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it).

I’m not sure exactly who, if anyone, I’m meant to feel for along the way. The narrator himself is the only one who seems remotely down to earth, though he has his own issues. Tom is the very definition of a misogynist. Gatsby is controlling and unable to handle being anything other than the primary focus of the affections of the woman he desires. And Daisy made some bad choices, but that doesn’t excuse the men in her life from treating her completely terribly. Whatever merit fans of the book, those who study classics and literature, and high school/college English teachers may see in this book, I personally don’t see it as the Great American Novel, nor would I call it a must-read.

I listened to the audiobook read by Sean Astin, and while he’s a great actor and did some of the dialog really well, he wasn’t so great with the narration at times. And overall, he didn’t vary his voice with the characters, the main ones especially, nearly as much as I would have liked.

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Audiobook Review: Fireside Reading of Winnie-the-Pooh

Fireside Reading of Winnie-the-Pooh
by A.A. Milne
narrated by Gildart Jackson

My rating (for this version): 4.5 / 5
Genre: Children’s classic

My rating is specific to the audiobook version releasing from Dreamscape Media on February 22, 2022. The story itself was wonderful, and the narrator did an overall great job. Though I had to listen closely to hear the sound of the fire crackling, I liked that now and then, I could hear pages turning. It felt more like actually being there, listening to him read. I appreciated the conversational style he employed, and I’ve always loved Gildart Jackson’s voice, so that made it all the more fun.  I’ll admit that I didn’t care for the way he voiced Owl, but overall, it was a lot of fun to listen to.

Having never read the full book that started everything Winnie-the-Pooh before this year, I’ve now listened to it twice, by 2 different narrators, both audiobooks released by the same publishing company in less than 3 months. I grew up watching a lot of Winnie-the-Pooh, so it’s been fun to reminisce. Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go find more Gildart Jackson to listen to.

Thank you to Netgalley and Dreamscape Media for providing me a copy of this audiobook to review.
Publication date for this version: February 22, 2022

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Book Review: The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes
Sherlock Holmes
#3
by Arthur Conan Doyle

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: Classic mystery

This is the first Sherlock Holmes I’ve ever read, though like many, I’ve seen various adaptations. I started with this book of short stories mostly because it was the one I owned. I’ve never been a huge fan of short stories, though, and while I wish now that I’d started by checking A Study in Scarlet out from the library, I’m still glad I’ve started reading Holmes in any form. The issue with reading this book of shorter mysteries, though, is that a lot of the clients start to blend together, as many of them talk and act similarly when they bring Holmes their case. I did spread the stories out, reading 3 at a time, then reading other books before coming back for more, and I think that helped some.

My view of Holmes and Watson, and even some of the other characters, started with an understanding based on some of the adaptations I’ve seen, and while Holmes was indeed standoffish and generally assumed he was the smartest one in the room, I didn’t think he was quite as cold as I’ve seen him portrayed. A few of the cases were really interesting, while there were a couple that I thought had a much less intriguing solution. The introduction of Irene Adler wasn’t at all what I expected, but I wonder if she’ll be back in a future story. Overall, I enjoyed reading these vignettes, and have a feeling I’ll appreciate even more the longer stories when I get to them.

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Book Review: To Kill a Mockingbird

To Kill a Mockingbird
by Harper Lee

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: Literary classic

Like so many people, I read this book in high school. Unlike most of the other books I read for assignments then, I liked this one and remember being able to understand the symbolism and themes better than I could in most of the others. This is the first time I’ve read it since then and the first time reading it for fun, rather than for an assignment, and I doubt that, as a teenager, I was as frustrated by the society presented in this book as I was when reading it this time.

Atticus Finch is shown to be a man who bucks society, making it clear to his children and community that he will do the right thing, no matter what others say, and that he does his best to love everyone, no matter the color of their skin. It’s clear that he doesn’t like things the way that they are and would change them if he could. But why he doesn’t stand up to his sister more, I don’t understand. Why it’s never addressed that she is the one who gave her grandson terrible things to say about Atticus, which were then repeated to Scout, causing Scout to react, I don’t know. I understand that Atticus is a single parent just trying to do the best he can to raise two kids and work a difficult job, and that might be enough reason to still allow is sister to move into his house and help with the kids. Perhaps he never fully understands that any of that is happening, since the kids try to protect him by not telling him everything, but on the other hand, it’s also clear that he knows more than they think he does.

That’s the extent of my rant for this book, and it’s not really a complaint about the book (much). It’s frustration at how slowly things change in a society. The book itself is beautifully written, though, and really immerses the reader in the 1930s south. While some of part 1 seems unnecessary at the time, it all goes into building the characters and the town (which is like a character itself), and much of it comes back up again in some way in part 2. I do wish that both Boo Radley’s arc and the aftermath of Tom Robinson’s outcome had been expanded on a bit more by the end, though.

If you haven’t read this book and aren’t sure if you should, I suggest you check it out. If you haven’t read it since high school, consider reading it again some time, without the assignments to go along with it.

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Book Review: Winnie-the-Pooh

Winnie-the-Pooh
by A.A. Milne
narrated by Joel Froomkin

My rating (for this version): 4.5 / 5
Genre: Children’s classic

It can be difficult to review a beloved classic, and that is the case for this book, even though I haven’t read it before myself. I’ve read parts, but never the whole thing. Of course, I’ve seen many of the different cartoons, especially the older ones that were more based on this book. So it was nice to read it all the way through and see the source material for the first time. I thoroughly enjoyed it!

My rating is specific to the audiobook version releasing from Dreamscape Media in 2022. The story itself was wonderful, and the narrator did an overall great job. Of course, it can be difficult to let go of the voices we’re used to after so many viewings of the movies and television show, but I did my best not to compare it to that, as that really wouldn’t be fair. For most of the characters, and for the narrator voice itself, I thought it was done well. My only issue was with his voice for Piglet, which was a little unpleasant.

Thank you to Netgalley and Dreamscape Media for providing me a copy of this book to review.
Publication date for this version: January 4, 2022

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Book Review: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

The Voyage of the Dawn Treader
The Chronicles of Narnia #3 (original order)
by C.S. Lewis

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

This is my favorite of the series so far. There’s so much adventure to get caught up in, even if one doesn’t look past the surface, and it’s full of magic and fun. It was nice to be able to see characters from the previous book this time (besides the Pevensies and Aslan), namely Caspian and Reepicheep, and the search for the seven Narnian lords who’d been sent off into the east was an good backdrop to the story.

The end to the story was emotional, and I really felt for the Pevensies in their loss. I wonder if it’s similar to what the disciples must have felt when Jesus left them on Earth. My favorite part of the book, though, was Eustace’s arc. It was brilliant, a true redemption story, and even realistic in that he certainly wasn’t perfect afterward, but he certainly was changed. While I’m sure I’ll need to go back through the series again to catch things I didn’t pick up on this first time through, I loved this book and am curious to see how things will change with the four Pevensies all “retired.”

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