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Historical

Book Review: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
Author: 
Twain, Mark
Rating: 
4 stars = Really Good
Review: 

Huckleberry Finn is a rebel against school, church, and the respectable society that wants to civilize him. Therefore, after faking his own death, Huck embarkes on a raft journey down the Mississippi River along with Jim, a runaway slave. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is a novel full of shenanigans, adventures, schemes, and pranks in addition to deep contemplation that gives some great advice. This adventure is truly a classic and I highly recommend it for any middle schooler or older since there is something in this book for all ages.

Reviewer's Name: 
John B.

Book Review: The Gentleman's Guide to Vice and Virtue

The Gentleman's Guide to Vice and Virtue
Author: 
Lee, Mackenzi
Rating: 
2 stars = Meh
Review: 

This is one of those books you could crank through in a day. The first third was hilarious, and kept me hooked throughout the following two thirds, which, admittedly, were boring by contrast. To be honest, this book was a light and fluffy book you read just to keep you occupied, not to get to you to think or be creative. If any of you have read 'The Upside of Unrequited', the first third was so similar to that. But then the author attempted to make it an action book with a romantic twist, and I gagged. Essentially, the son of an English lord, Monty, is in love with his best friend, Percy. Throughout the entire book, he's giggling over how cute/handsome he is, but worrying about how Percy, his oppressing father, and upright and historic English society will handle a bisexual lord, so he doesn't come out. But Monty, Percy, and Monty's sister must complete a tour around Europe for a year. Soon they are thrown off course when Monty steals a precious treasure from the room of another lord when Monty is making out with some pretty lady he picked up at a party. (Another thing that bugged me: Monty was constantly drowning his feelings by getting wasted/picking up gorgeous people at parties). And this was when the book went downhill. Monty is such an annoyingly flawed character, which is the author's way of proving he's 'only human'. Even though he's falling for Percy, when Percy kisses him, he pretends he doesn't care as a way to hide his true feelings and protect himself. He also sneaks out and gets drunk on a regular basis, and when he
can't get wasted, he complains. Then the author attempted to make the book adventurous and thrilling, but it was just boring. Once Monty stole the treasure from someone's room, he quickly realises that he had stolen the 'key' to a tomb in a sinking island that holds a 'heart' that, when transplanted into a human body, allows the human to neither live nor die. Basically, they're brain dead; not medically dead, but no brain activity. It was okay, and not terrible. At points I wanted to reach through the book, grab Monty, shake him, and scream, "Stop it!" into his ear. I don't recommend it, but if you're going on vacation or a long plane ride, this book is good for you not having to actually think about what you're reading.

Reviewer's Name: 
Jordan T.

Book Review: Bud, Not Buddy

Bud, Not Buddy
Author: 
Curtis, Christopher Paul
Rating: 
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review: 

This book is absolutely A+ amazing!! Heartwarming story about what a 10 year old boy's life may have been like in 1936. It is entertaining, yet informational at the same time. It keeps you on the edge of your seat with adventure and humor. The way Curtis explains and describes everything is also amazing as well. Overall very very great.
Reviewer Grade: 8

Reviewer's Name: 
Francesca J.

Book Review: Fawkes

Book Review: Fawkes
Author: 
Brandes, Nadine
Rating: 
2 stars = Meh
Review: 

If you aren’t familiar with Guy Fawkes Day, every year in England on 05 November, citizens burn Fawkes’ effigy to celebrate his failed attempt to blow up Parliament in 1605. Fawkes tells the story of Thomas Fawkes, Guy’s son, with a fantasy twist. In this world, folks have powers based on colors. Some folks can manipulate some colors, others all colors, which leads to different magical schools of thought and serves as a stand in for the Catholic-Protestant tensions of the time.

If you know anything about my reading preferences (I read mostly fantasy), this next thought is a bit shocking: the fantasy elements really ruin this book. Unfortunately, the worldbuilding is really shallow. You’ll be left with loads of questions about color power like: What if something is more than one color? Paint? How does that work? Why can’t someone who can control Green also control Blue and Yellow? Or vice versa? And so on.

I really wish the book had been written as straight historical fiction. A point about religious persecution could have been made (that was perhaps attempted, but for me it didn’t land). The story might not have dragged for the first three quarters of the book. Add to the weird pacing and lackluster worldbuilding the fact the main character manages both to be extremely judgmental and lack any convictions for most of the book, and you’ve got a book that really isn’t fun to read. I found myself skimming just to get through it.

With that being said, I did enjoy the last quarter of the book. The pacing picks up, Thomas develops a backbone, we get to spend some time with my favorite character (Emma!), and Guy Fawkes gets a tiny bit of development.

This wasn’t for me, but perhaps some folks will be swept away by the romance and intrigue. For fans of historical fiction that can look past the weak fantasy elements. 2 stars. Meh.

Thanks to Thomas Nelson, HarperCollins Christian Publishing and Netgalley for the free eARC, which I received for review consideration. Fawkes will be available for purchase on 10 July, but you can put your copy on hold today!

Reviewer's Name: 
Britt

Book Review: The Help

The Help
Author: 
Stockett, Kathryn
Rating: 
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review: 

After watching the critically acclaimed movie I could not help but read Kathryn Stocket’s book, The Help. Watching the movie before reading the book is something I rarely do, and I knew the book would be better in this case, but I underestimated just how good the book would be.

The Help takes place in the 1960s and is a about a girl named Skeeter who wants to write a book about the African Americans who help in white households. However, different chapters are narrated by different characters so each character has somewhat their own story within the story.

This may be a bold statement, but The Help is my favorite book I have ever read. As an avid reader, I loved how long the book was. The book did not seem to end and the characters were so interesting, I didn’t want it to. Stocket’s writing abilities are phenomenal and the fact that each character was so distinctly different from one another was very impressive. I enjoyed the different chapters being narrated by different characters so much since I got to see what each character was thinking and feeling. I also loved the descriptions in the book. It wasn’t so descriptive that it got boring but
it also wasn’t so little that you couldn’t picture the situation. It was the perfect amount and it added to the reality of the story so well.

Overall I would highly recommend this book, especially for long summer reading. The only thing that I can think of that wasn’t great about the book were two specific chapters. They weren’t awful, I just felt that the book could have easily done without them. But obviously they didn’t really take away from the story and I still adore this book.

Reviewer's Name: 
Ashlyn P.

Book Review: Ghost Hawk

Ghost Hawk
Author: 
Cooper, Susan
Rating: 
4 stars = Really Good
Review: 

Ghost Hawk is about a native American boy named Little hawk returning to his village after a 3 month ceremony were boys survive in the woods alone and come back a man after three months, when he returns to his village he finds that most of every one is dead, except his grandmother named Suncatcher. Suncatcher tells Little Hawk that the white mans plague came in and killed most of the village. Then leaping Turtle returns, a friend of Little Hawk. So Little hawk, Suncatcher, and Leaping Turtle go out to find the other survivors. After the reunion Little Hawk meets John, a white 10 year settler from England, these two become friends but when John's father gets stuck under a fallen tree, Little Hawk tries to help but the English soldiers mistake it for an attack. Read the book to find out was happens next.

Reviewer's Name: 
Brendan M.

Book Review: The Map of Salt and Stars

The Map of Salt and Stars
Author: 
Joukhadar, Jennifer Zeynab
Rating: 
4 stars = Really Good
Review: 

You know you have come across an extraordinary book when you find yourself thinking about its beautiful story and characters several months after you have first read it. I first read this beautiful novel back in February when I received an ARC of it from the publisher, and today I still think of the book and its beautiful characters of Nour and her family as they flee their homeland, Syria in 2011, and become refugees venturing across several middle eastern countries as the situation becomes more and more unstable and the violence ever more brutal. Shifting between past and present, in a second duel story-line that takes places more than 800 years earlier in Medieval Syria, Jennifer Zeynab also tells a harrowing tale of a girl named Rawiya, her desire to see the world, her very real clash with supernatural myth, and her adventures with a famous cartographer.

Jennifer Joukhadar through the fictional characters of Nour and her family, discusses a relevant and timely topic of the experience of many refugees that flee persecution and violence. She also does it in a way, that is, for the most part, unbiased choosing to focus instead on the everyday human experience of a family, instead of political ideology, which is very refreshing in today’s global climate.

The atmospheric and beautiful prose are a delight to read as we get to experience the world the way Nour and Rawiya saw it through beauty, sorrow, color and light. The character development of Nour, as her personal identity and her idea of what home is shifts as her journey progresses through time and years, is especially strong as she reflects on all she has lost and gained. Though the character development of Rawiya, shows a progression and change as her journeys around the world challenges and changes her perspective on life, I do not think it was as strong as the story of Nour and her family. And though Rawiya’s story-line was beautiful and entertaining, I felt it sometimes took away, from what I think of, as the central story-line of Nour and her family’s refugee experience.

That issue aside, this novel which is rich with historical and mythical detail, was in my opinion, several steps above the rest as it tackled a relevant, continuous, and difficult issue with beauty, grace and a truly memorable story. This novel, it has been said, does for Syrian Refugees what the Kite Runner did for Afghan refugees and in my opinion, it is a fair and correct comparison.

Thank you to the publisher Touchstone Books for an ARC of this beautiful novel for review! If you have not yet, please put this book on your holds list, it is so beautiful!

Reviewer's Name: 
Tawnie

Book Review: The Adventures of Tom Sawyer

Author: 
Twain, Mark
Rating: 
4 stars = Really Good
Review: 

Mark Twain's beloved nineteenth-century novel is a thrill. Tom Sawyer is the story of a boy that everyone can relate to. From being bored in Sunday school to playing pranks on the teacher to running away and playing pirates, Tom Sawyer is full of boyhood adventures. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer is filled with comedy, warmth, and youthful innocence. However, below the surface, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer is about young boys facing the cruel adult world. This novel is truly a classic and can be enjoyed by all ages, especially upper elementary, middle schoolers, and high schoolers.

Reviewer's Name: 
John B.

Book Review: Wolf by Wolf

Wolf by Wolf
Author: 
Graudin, Ryan
Rating: 
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review: 

Wolf by Wolf takes place in an alternate reality where the United States never fought in World War II, and Hitler was left undefeated. The book focuses on a jewish girl named Yael. She had been experimented on while in a internment camp. As a result of being experimented on she can change her appearance . Years after her escape she plans to kill Hitler. Looking and acting as Adele Wolfe Yael enters a race known as the Axis Tour. The Axis Tour was cross continental motorcycle race, with rough terrain, and many other challenges. Yael hopes to win the Axis Tour and have the chance to dance with Hitler. This dance could be her chance to kill Hitler. Will Yael survive the challenges of the Axis Tour? Will she win the Axis Tour? Most importantly, doe shse kill Hitler? All of these questions are answer in Wolf by Wolf.

I was recommended this book by friends so many times I had to read it. Ryan Graudin developed Yael's background slowly, revealing more about her throughout the book. Just when you think you know Yael you discover more of her past, and learn about a new "wolf". While I did enjoy the slow development of Yael's background I disliked the beginning of the book. The Axis Tour didn't start until until a few chapters into the book. Which made the book boring at first. However once the Axis Tour portion of the book began the plot became more interesting and complex. While the book focuses on Yael I also enjoyed Felix Wolfe, and Luka Lowe. Yael's relationships with both Luka and Felix make the book more realistic and the plot more complicated.Once the book reached its climax I couldn't put it down. I had to know how it ended. If you are interested in a book with a balance of good characters and action this perfect for you. If your read this book I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

Reviewer's Name: 
McKenzie W.

Book Review: The Scarlet Letter

The Scarlet Letter
Author: 
Hawthorne, Nathaniel
Rating: 
4 stars = Really Good
Review: 

Rich with symbolism and human feeling, the compassionate author leads us to consider deepest plumes of human sentiment. We are artfully led by the hand into the inner corridors of human hearts, where we are taught to stare down passion, shame, despair, revenge and finally courage.

First, we are compelled to walk around in a world where there is no forgiveness. We are removed from the fresh and life-giving promises of scripture to a stale and unrelenting universe, a universe in which once you have sinned in certain ways, you are branded for life. Hawthorne’s world takes the world of Jesus and turns it upside down. Where Jesus welcomed the repentant prostitutes and the reformed tax collectors and had his very harshest words for the proud, exacting Pharisees, in Hawthorne’s world the town’s peoples’ sins of unforgiveness and pride are smugly overlooked.
Hawthorne’s world does to us what all good fiction ought to do: it causes us to shudder. We feel instinctively the cruelty of the sentence placed upon the young woman and the baby, although we acknowledge her sin. This should lead us to praise our God for the forgiveness and grace that is so freely offered us in scripture. As the Pharisees ask Jesus what they should do with the woman caught in the act of adultery (and where, I always wonder, is the man?), we should know his response: “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.” John 8:7

Yet we come to appreciate the large-heartedness of Jesus all the more as we come to live in the world of Hester Prynne. Hawthorne, understanding the longing that we all feel to be welcomed and loved unconditionally within a society of people, haunts us with the solitary and scorned life Hester Prynne is relinquished to. As we sink deep into the mire of her forlorn pit, our hearts should soar all the more with the blessed promises of our great God:
“Remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.” Eph 2:12,13

As we walk around in Hester Prynne’s world, we know what it would be like to be separated from Christ, to be alienated from the commonwealth of Israel, to be cut off from the promises of God. And yet we rejoice, because we know by faith that Hawthorne’s world is a skewed, twisted world, bearing no resemblance to the true community of faith.

Hawthorne’s character Dimmesdale is as unlike to Christ as nearly any man can be. Dimmesdale’s portrayal of failed manhood is so epic, I can scarcely think of another rival in literature. Here we see a man so small, so petty, so devoid of the smallest scrap of courage or courtesy, that he sits back passively allowing a woman to not only care for, love, and instruct his child alone, but also do so while laboring under the unrelenting sorrow of his shame. He sees this woman daily scorned, reviled, despised, belittled, made an object of while he walks around enjoying his position of influence and respect in others’ eyes. The fact that his sin daily eats away at him till his health is completely deteriorated does not make him any less pathetic in my eyes. No, he is the more pathetic for it. For he shows none of the manly dominance over human affairs that God gave to Adam when he blessed him and gave him dominion over the world. Instead, Dimmesdale is a peon, a victim of circumstance, a shadow of man, resigned to say simply “come what may,”
devoid of action and refusing to take responsibility at every turn.

What a striking contrast to our mighty savior. It is the man Jesus Who in all things takes the initiative. Jesus takes the shame for sins He never committed. Jesus stands up and takes our punishment. Jesus bears all our sorrow and our shame. Jesus, though perfect, identified himself with the lowly, with sinners and allowed himself to be crucified in the most undignified and hideous fashion, next to violent criminals. Jesus, instead of leaving a woman to lonely sorrow while he enjoyed respect, became a man of sorrows, well acquainted with grief. (Is. 56)

Is the Scarlet Letter a book for today? Why else does abortion flourish today except that we are plagued with a generation of Arthur Dimmesdales walking our streets? We have everywhere men who will not take responsibility for their actions and protect the children they have carelessly fathered.
Instead, they take their women to the clinic in the shadows and leave them to the abortionist scalpel, which brands hearts with a letter so hot and scarring, only the red-hot blood of Christ will heal.

Reviewer's Name: 
Leslie Taylor

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