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: 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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Book Review: Mayday at Two Thousand Five Hundred

Mayday at Two Thousand Five Hundred
The Cooper Kids Adventure Series book #8
by Frank Peretti
read by the author

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: Children’s Christian suspense

While enjoying a ride in his Uncle Rex’s small aircraft, a near-miss in the air leads to injury for both Jay Cooper and his uncle. Uncle Rex is knocked unconscious, and a head injury leaves Jay without sight. The plane is still flying, but with no pilot and a dwindling supply of fuel, how long will it stay aloft? And will they be able to land safely?

Like book #4 in the series (Trapped at the Bottom of the Sea), this book involved no archaeology or supernatural elements—this one didn’t even have any kind of mystery—and was simply a race against time to save one of the Cooper kids from catastrophe. This book was also quite suspenseful, as Jay had to learn not to rely on what he felt and instead rely on what he was being told by those who were more knowledgeable than he, and more importantly, had more information. While typing that last sentence, I literally just realized the parallel to our lives in that situation. Sometimes sensations Jay felt made him think the plane was turning a lot more than it was, and he couldn’t see to verify those feelings. Various other people at different times were outside of the aircraft, could see more clearly what it was doing, and relayed that information to Jay. He had to trust them to be correct, in order to help save his own life, rather than rely on instincts and feelings. What a parallel to how we live our lives paying attention to our own instincts and feelings, when we are much better off relying on God, who knows infinitely more than we do and knows what’s best for our lives (and the lives of those around us)! And indeed, the biblical theme of trusting God, even to the point of submitting to Him if He chooses not to save one’s life, is strong in the story.

I really liked how immersive the story is, in regards to those flying the planes, the air traffic controllers, and other related things. In a way, it seems like Jay does very little, other than follow instructions from others, but I think his mental struggle and what he does from inside the plane while unable to see were still a good part of the story. I might have liked something a little more closely related to the overall theme of the series as the final book, but it was a good book on its own. I’m really glad I listened to the audiobooks read by Peretti himself for the 2nd half of the series—he certainly adds drama and excitement in his reading. This book, and the overall series, are good for the age group (pre-teen through teens).

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Book Review: Emily of New Moon

Emily of New Moon
Book #1
by L.M. Montgomery
read by Susan O’Malley

My rating: 3.5 / 5
Genre: Children’s classic, coming of age

When Emily’s only remaining parent, the father she is very close to, dies, she is taken in by 2 aunts on her mother’s side. Aunt Elizabeth doesn’t really want her and only takes her because the lot fell to her. Aunt Laura is at least kind to Emily, but overall, her mother’s side of the family are proud, snobby people who strongly disliked Emily’s father and disdain their niece. Emily’s new classmates also treat her badly because of her proud family. Emily learns to cope with her difficulties by writing to her late father, pouring out her sadness and frustrations.

After reading the Anne of Green Gables books by the same author, this book is considerably darker, sadder, even somewhat depressing. For all the times I was surprised to see how terribly some of the people of this time period acted, especially older women, in the Anne books, a few of the characters in this book made my jaw drop. There is some charm to the story, and Emily herself is quite deep and introspective. She also can be brash and quick-tempered. I liked the way she was able to get past certain injustices or clashes with other people by simply writing about them. Though she bordered on mean when she described people in her writing at times.

There are some bright spots in her life–friends she made, for instance. I think Perry was my favorite, because though he is uncouth, he is also super kind and protective of Emily, who, frankly, could use a protector. He may have taken it a step too far now and then, but that seems to describe a lot of the characters in this book. One thing I really liked was that Emily was so terribly upset over what she was told Ilse’s mother had done, considering that that kind of thing seems so commonplace now. I’d love to go back to a time when it’s seen as a terrible, even unlikely thing. The outcome to that story arc, though, was…bizarre, is all I can really say.

I kind of get the feeling that I might like this series more as it goes, which would be completely the opposite of the Anne series, where I started to like each book less after the first one. However, I’m not completely sure if I’ll continue the series.

Extra note for the audiobook version I listened to: Overall she made the main voices distinct enough from each other, but there were times when she read the letters Emily wrote to her father where she would simply neglect to put any real emotion or inflection into parts. It could have been better.

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Book Review: Refugees on the Run

Refugees on the Run
The Imagination Station #27
by Chris Brack & Sheila Seifert

My rating: 5 / 5
Genre: Historical children’s fiction, Christian

In this final of a 3-part story arc, cousins Beth and Patrick find themselves in Lithuania sometime in the mid 1940s. A crowd of Jewish families are trying to get into the Japanese consulate building, in the hopes that they can find the means of escaping from the approaching Nazis. Beth and Patrick find themselves in the middle of the battle, as Beth tries to help a Lithuanian Jewish family and Patrick does his best to assist the Japanese consul.

I really enjoyed this story and the way it presents a difficult time in history to kids in a way that doesn’t completely gloss over the danger, but doesn’t go into detail either. I really appreciated that it introduced me, and thus will introduce kids, to a man who helped rescue many Jews, but isn’t nearly as well-known as others. It’s incredibly coincidental that I read this directly after reading Schindler’s List (seriously, it was not on purpose) and really liked seeing the parallels there.

I didn’t know much about this book or the series it’s part of when I started reading. I also hadn’t read the previous 2 books in the in-series arc, but the beginning of the story did a good job of telling me what I needed to know (which wasn’t much). The slight mystery/puzzle angle to the story, that the kids were trying to find some kind of liquid needed by the Imagination Station, allowed another layer to be added to the story. And though a couple of times throughout the story I thought about how unrealistic certain things would have been, especially the inclusion of children in consulate matters, it’s not too hard to remind myself that Imagination Station adventures are meant to put kids right into the middle of things, and these are programmed virtual adventures, not a real trip back in time. (I have enough experience with Adventures in Odyssey overall to be familiar with the Imagination Station.)

I do recommend this book for kids up to 12 years old, but AiO overall is fairly timeless, so the age limit is a soft one. I already have recommended it to my 11-year-old daughter, who has decided to start at the beginning of the series. As for me, I was left with a strong desire to read the earlier 2 books in this 3-story arc and then eventually will probably go back to the beginning of the series too.

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: June 8, 2021

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Book Review: The Legend of Annie Murphy

The Legend of Annie Murphy
The Cooper Kids Adventure Series book #7
by Frank Peretti
read by the author

My rating: 3.5 / 5
Genre: Children’s Christian adventure, mystery (with some sci-fi)

When investigating tales of a ghost sighting, the Cooper family–dad Jacob and teens Jay and Lila–find themselves caught up in a mystery 100 years in the making. A woman who’d been accused of killing her husband out of greed 100 years in the past was killed while escaping her punishment, and now her ghost is being seen around the ruins of the long-abandoned town.

I spent the first third or so of this book completely flabbergasted. The beginning of the story was such a departure from the previous books in the series, I was certain it was going to turn out that something else was going on. But when it became clear that Jacob’s friend Mac’s theory about a gravity vortex causing time and space to go wonky was actually what was going on, I struggled to accept it and move on. Eventually, I reminded myself that it’s not necessarily against the theme of this series of books. Sometimes there’s not much suspension of disbelief to swallow, while other times, God-attributed supernatural events occur.

With that understanding in mind, I can view this book a little differently than I did while listening to a lot of it. The story, then, with the vehicle of time travel in place, becomes about solving the mystery of the legend, finding out what really happened 100 years ago. And that itself is a good story. The kids follow along as the story is told in the past, while their dad and his friend try to sort it out in the present time, and it’s interesting how it all plays out. I won’t say there isn’t some predictability to it, at least to an adult reader, but I think the age group its meant for won’t have read as many mysteries or seen as many TV shows or movies as adults have, making it more fresh for them. I again enjoyed listening to the audiobook and would say that, though it may seem outlandish at first, it’s a good story overall and worth reading if you’re interested.

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Book Review: The Deadly Curse of Toco-Rey

The Deadly Curse of Toco-Rey
The Cooper Kids Adventure Series book #6
by Frank Peretti
read by the author

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

Dr. Cooper is asked to solve the mystery of some treasure hunters who disappeared in the jungles of Central America, and if he happens to find the treasure himself, all the better for those who brought him in. The stories of a curse on the treasure may seem ridiculous at first, but there’s no denying the fact that the treasure hunters who disappeared all have either died or gone crazy. Soon enough, Dr. Cooper and his two kids are in danger themselves and have precious little time to solve the mystery and save lives.

This book had a lot of excitement and even some moments that could be a little scary for kids (not in a bad way). All 3 of the members of the Cooper family are on their own at some point, and all 3 are in peril at some point, upping stakes from previous books. I like the pure reliance on God, turning so quickly to him for help in desperate situations. The curse and other aspects that went along with it were, in the end, an interesting concoction and pretty scary menace.

Though I didn’t quite enjoy this story as much as I did others in the series that I gave 4 stars, I still think it was a solid addition. I listened again to the audiobook, and I’ve decided that I love hearing Peretti read his own books. There are 2 books left in this series, and I’m looking forward to listening to both of them.

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Book Review: Mr. Lemoncello and the Titanium Ticket

Mr. Lemoncello and the Titanium Ticket
Mr. Lemoncello’s Library book #5
by Chris Grabenstein

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

Mr. Lemoncello’s game-making factory is in Hudson Hills, NY, and recently a new, top-secret building was added to the grounds. Now it’s time for another game, for the first time taking place outside of Ohio, with competitors from Hudson Hills. The playing field is inside that new building, and the prize is a titanium ticket, one of multiple that will eventually be awarded. But the real prize, what the ticket gives its holder a chance at, is the biggest one yet!

Each book after the first in this series got a little less exciting for me. A little less interesting, a little less fresh. In this fifth book, all of the excitement from the first one came rushing back. It’s different and fun again. Not that some of the formula the series has developed isn’t there, but it feels new again. It helps a lot that we step away from the Ohio kids and meet some brand new ones. Kyle makes an appearance, but he’s just a side character. And the new MC, Simon, is different in a lot of ways.

There are several things that happen in the story that caused me to mentally cheer. I so wish I could expand on that at all, but I’ll just say that there were some great moments. I love the friendship that’s formed in the story and the way that whole thing turns out. And I really love how Simon’s personal story came to fruition.

The titanium ticket angle was a little predictable, and it’s a little frustrating to have another Charles Chiltington-type character, though this new one (Jack) is different in many ways too. I suppose some of that might just be the genre and intended age group. But those very minor issues aren’t even worth a partial-point detraction for me, and I am happy to highly recommend this book to kids around 8-12 years old, as well as others who are interested in this type of book. While I did feel the last few books in the series weren’t quite as good, I would suggest reading it all up to this point. And based on the ending, it’s clear that this series isn’t over yet.

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Book Review: Wingfeather Tales

Wingfeather Tales
by multiple authors (see details below)

My rating: 3.5 / 5
Genre: Children’s fantasy short stories

For me, last year will forever be known as the year of the Wingfeathers. I read the entire Wingfeather Saga for the 1st time…and the 2nd time, in a way, as the author, Andrew Peterson, read his books live, a few chapters a day, throughout the year. This book is a collection of 7 stories set in that same world, written by 6 different authors. First, let me get some basic info out of the way: Yes, you really should read this only if you’ve read the Wingfeather Saga in its entirety, which I fully recommend that you do either way. No, none of these stories is a continuation of that series in any way. Well, one sort of is, to a very small degree, but more on that in the details below. Let’s just say that it will not answer the burningest questions you’ve most likely been left with after finishing the series. Andrew Peterson has stated on more than one occasion that he would prefer to leave any answers up to the imagination of his readers, which is fair.

My overall book rating is a reflection of the average of individual ratings for each story. I did not love the stories overall as I might have hoped. However, I did go into this uncertain about how I’d enjoy them. I’m not really huge on short stories in general, but I couldn’t help but give this book a go, considering how much I loved the original series. What follows is a list of each story with its author and illustrator, my rating, and a brief (as much as possible) review for each.

“The Prince of Yorsha Doon” by Andrew Peterson (5 / 5) – This was my favorite short story in the collection, with a ragged, loner street urchin getting the chance to be something more, to do something more. It’s charming and contains a wonderful appearance by one of the bigger characters in the original series. (illustrated by Cory Godbey, Nicholas Kole, & Hein Zaayman)

“The Wooing of Sophelia Stupe” by Jennifer Trafton (3 / 5) – The story of the author of the Creaturepedia books on its own was decent, if open-ended. However, I was slowed down and tripped up by the character’s vocabulary. He had a penchant for using very large, at times ridiculous words, both real and made-up (though a lot more made-up than real, I’m pretty sure). I’m sure it’s meant to be whimsical, and that plenty of people will find the fun in it, but it’s not really my preference. (illustrated by John Hendrix)

“Willow Worlds” by N.D. Wilson (4 / 5) – I really liked seeing young Podo, and perhaps the genesis of what made him who he is in the Wingfeather books. The plot to this story, especially coupled with the story before it, paints such a vastly different fabric for this fantasy world than what was in the original books, leaving me a little surprised and confused. The story is particularly short and abrupt, but I liked the general idea of it and wish there was more on this subject. (illustrated by Joe Sutphin)

“ShadowBlade and the Florid Sword” by Andrew Peterson & Jay Myers (4 / 5) – As alluded to in the first paragraph of my review, this is the one tale in the book that is a continuation of the original series. The title tells it all, and it’s actually in comic-book format. I did like having the chance to see the two together, and wish it had been longer. Though several of the stories in this collection end abruptly and with more that could be told, I think this is the one I most want to see more of.

“From the Deeps of the Dragon King” by A.S. Peterson (2 / 5) – This story was tragic and disturbing, and while it was clearly meant to be so, my rating is not due to the theme or mood. Considering how Podo’s story and character arc went in the original series, especially at the end of North! or Be Eaten, I really think I would have preferred not seeing him at this time of his life. It almost felt like undoing everything related to this that happened in the series. Plenty of others, I’m sure, will be happy to read about Podo’s past, but it just made me sad. (illustrated by Doug TenNapel)

“The Ballad of Lanric and Rube” by Jonathan Rogers (4 / 5) – This story was short and silly, maybe a little predictable to me, but overall just fun. (illustrated by Justin Gerard)

“The Places Beyond the Maps” by Douglas Kaine McKelvey (2 / 5) – This is the kind of story that I wish I could rate higher and feel like a rube rating so low, because I’m sure it’s meant to be beautiful and poignant, but it’s just not for me. It’s the story of a man whose daughter was taken away by the Black Carriage, and all that he goes through as he tries first to get her back, then to get justice, and finally just to find some meaning and purpose after the tragedy. It is long (literally as long as all of the other stories put together, since it started at 50% in the e-book) and moves slowly most of the time. There is a lot of introspection, depression, even self-hatred–all things you might expect in the situation, but I felt like it plodded along most of the time. It didn’t help that the author has a tendency toward long, run-on sentences. Entire paragraphs, long in their own right, can be made up of just one or two sentences. It’s a style choice, I’m sure, but not one I care for.

This story is also one that actually caused squeamish me to wince as injuries and the attempt at mending such were described in fairly vivid detail at least once. The man contemplates killing himself or at least giving up on life multiple times. It’s dark, much darker than even the most serious parts of the original series. There were a few bright points for me, like the inclusion of a wonderful character from the original series and the epilogue that added a little hope after the disturbing (and just plain weird) ending. (illustrated by Aedan Peterson)

Final thoughts: I didn’t mention illustrations in the individual reviews, but I enjoyed every one of them. Andrew Peterson has a way of collecting talented people around him (not to mention his own talented children), and I can imagine the honor of having other authors and artists take part in a project like this for his books. I think, though, that some of this collection lost the charm and feel of the original series, and I especially don’t think I’d say this is as great for the age group that the first series was so well suited for. What’s most telling to me is that my daughter (10 years old), who has read/listened to the Wingfeather Saga in some format probably half a dozen times, only read about a story and a half from this collection and walked away. She’ll go back to it eventually, but clearly it didn’t draw her in like the original books. I do think that fans of the original series should read this collection, or at least some of it. I know I’ll re-read some of these stories again in the future, but I was not quite the right audience for some of 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 2016, but a new hardcover edition is being released tomorrow, with a beautiful new cover and new illustrations, and the inclusion of one new tale (the comic one).

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