Monday, September 15, 2014

Doctor Who: Silhouette


I married a Doctor Who fan and as our children have gotten older, his love for Doctor Who has naturally overflowed to them.  Watching Doctor Who with our teens has been a great way to stay connected.  I only recently discovered that there were Doctor Who books featuring the various Doctors. When a book featuring the twelfth Doctor episodes came up for review, I thought I'd give one a try for myself.

Considering some the content in the episodes, we have waited until late middle school to introduce our kids to the BBC TV shows.  I was therefore expecting the books to be on a high school or higher reading level.  I would say the reading level was advanced elementary or middle school level.  I liked that the book had the flavor of the Doctor and the characters I was familiar with, but didn't delve into gory details of violence.

The Doctor and Clara are involved in an intriguing case that centers on a Carnival of Curiosities. One particular show of shadow puppets seems to be at the center of the mystery.  Originally stopping off to investigate an energy spike, the pair stumble across some suspicious murders.  They soon bring in the help of some friends and a game of cat and mouse ensues.

Although I would not put this book in the category of great literature, I do feel that it would interest a reluctant reader who had an interest in Doctor Who.  I applaud the BBC for creating a tie in to their popular show with books that offer unique adventures with familiar characters.  

Two minor disappointments in this particular edition had to do with editing and durability. By editing problems, I am not referring to the different spellings used in  USA vs. UK.  I'm talking about missing words within a sentence. There were enough of these instances through the book that some readers may be turned off. Given that the book is not all that long (243 pages), it's unfortunate that the book went to print with typos.

My second disappointment was the durability of the materials used. When I picked the book up and first cracked open the cover, I admit to feeling letdown that the pages were rather thin and newsprint like. I would have assumed that it was therefore a bargain price and was a bit taken aback by the $9.99 tag on something that I wasn't sure would survive multiple readings (after one reading, the front cover is already severely curling).  I think this could be a very popular series for libraries to carry but I'm not sure the binding and paper choice will withstand the wear and tear of the average middle school population.

Book content I would give a 5 out of 5. I felt that the book fleshed out a number of details and helped fill in all the things the eye might miss in just watching an episode.  Plus it's much easier to reread dialogue you didn't quite catch than to try to replay the episode.  If your shelf space is limited (or you want a copy you can't destroy), I highly recommend purchasing the e-book version.

I think the book can be enjoyed by any science fiction reader--whether or not they are familiar with Doctor Who.

Disclaimer: I received a free copy of Doctor Who: Silhouette from Blogging for Books for the purpose of review. No other compensation was received.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Making Marion by Beth Moran

The book opens with the main character, Marion, showing up at a campsite where a job falls into her lap. The owner (no stranger to hard times), must have seen something in Marion that spoke of her need for a place to belong.  The Peace and Pigs campsite doesn't seem like a likely place to find healing but Marion blossoms under the love and care of several key people working around the campsite.

Marion is on a hunt to solve a mystery and Sherwood Forest plays into it (no Robin Hood but someone darn close). Armed with a photograph and her share of grief, she's hoping to answer some questions about her late father.  Unfortunately, his death is not the only thing that shadowed her childhood. Little by little, the reader discovers that Marion's got a lot of hurt buried in her past.

Although touching on some pretty troubling topics of abuse (both verbal and sexual), the story doesn't dwell there. I think for those who may have struggled with self-worth or had a rough childhood, the book could offer a glimpse of how small changes can make a difference in their outlook on the past as well as their level of hope for the future.  As a reader, I felt like I was watching a flower budding before my eyes. Marion slowly tackled some of her deepest insecurities and found that she was capable of more than she ever dreamed. And even capable of having a few dreams come true through it all.

I was a little disappointed in a couple of situations portrayed humorously that I considered immodest; not sure if it's just a difference in how modesty is defined in the UK versus America but there were some spots that I wish had been left out. Aside from those instances, I have to say that overall, it was a sweet story that had some really profound messages about forgiveness and family.  A light but filling read.

You can purchase the book directly from Kregel Publications for $14.99.

Disclaimer: I received Making Marion for the purpose of review. No other compensation was received.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Honk the Moose

A new "junk" shop opened in town and I popped in for a look. An odd assortment of jewelry, antiques and lots of miscellany greeted me.  As I wandered into the various nooks and crannies, I found Honk the Moose staring up at me from a shelf. The cover illustration intrigued me and when I saw that the illustrations were by Kurt Wiese, my heart gave a skip.  We've enjoyed his illustrations from books like 
The Story About Ping (written by Marjorie Flack), Walter Brooks' Freddy series (about a sleuthing pig), The Five Chinese Brothers by Claire Huchet Bishop, and Young Fu of the Upper Yangtze by Elizabeth Foreman Lewis.

Honk the Moose has a mixture of full color and black and white illustrations. I love the detail in each one (reminds me somewhat of Robert McCloskey's drawing style). Two boys from Minnesota are off to hunt a moose (with an air rifle).  They come back disappointed only to find that one has taken up residence in their father's stable.  The rest of the book deals with how the father and ultimately the town, handle this unusual visitor.  Lots of old-fashioned fun and witty dialogue.  I would say I found a pretty good treasure for only $1.  Highly recommended for a read aloud on a cold winter's night!

Monday, August 11, 2014

The Reluctant Detective by Martha Ockley

This is the second Faith Morgan Mystery I've read but this particular installment was actually the first written.  I didn't have too much trouble jumping in with the second book, The Advent of Murder but The Reluctant Detective provides the reader with a bit more of the background on Faith's life.

The book opens with Faith (former policewoman turned vicar) visiting a small parish in Little Worthy in the area where she had grown up.  Crime has a way of following this unlikely vicar and not surprisingly she witnesses the death of the current vicar--right in the middle of the communion service.  Being on the scene, she steps in to help and as she was about to start CPR, she notices an odd appearance and odor around the victim's mouth. Suspecting murder, she has the police summoned. And who should show up but a former boyfriend (just a little awkward).

Her natural curiosity keeps her interested in helping solve the case but she's also trying to balance her interim responsibilities of helping plan for the previous vicar's funeral, trying to understand and counsel the prodigal son in his grief, keep up with deanery meetings and avoid spending too much time with the former boyfriend assigned to the case.  In the interim, Martha is staying with her sister which has its own challenges.

The mystery is a light-hearted look at some of the ups and downs of parish life. Martha is sort of a cross between Agatha Christie's sleuthing Miss Marple and Jan Karon's caring Father Tim from the Mitford series.  Life in the village isn't always what it seems and there is a lot of grief and sorrow running just below the surface of so many lives.

I will say that the author does drop enough clues that an attentive reader will most likely figure out the suspect before the end.  Still the reader will hit a surprise or two along the way.  A nice contemporary version of the classic English cozy--making a great companion at the beach, on a trip or for a rainy day inside.

The best way to figure out if this book is for you is to read an excerpt.  Both The Reluctant Detective and The Advent of Murder can be purchased directly from Kregel Publications.

Disclaimer: I received a free copy of The Reluctant Detective for the purpose of review. A positive review was not required and no other compensation was received.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

The Trolley Car Family

We recently finished reading out loud the book, The Trolley Car Family by Eleanor Clymer.  What an utterly beautiful and refreshing read!  A book about the Parker family working together and overcoming adversities without fighting, complaining or rebellion. Almost unthinkable!

The father of the family, Mr. Parker, is a Trolley car operator but he's learned the bad news that he'll be out of a job.  As the family discusses their options, they settle on the idea of living in a trolley car for the summer.  They plan to ride the car to the end of the line where they will then haul the trolley car by horse to its resting place. They discover a barn, a spring, and very friendly neighbors (with kids to boot!).  They even manage to coax their bachelor neighbor, Mr. Jeffreys, to take a vacation from his milk route to vacation with them for a week or two. He grudgingly agrees and even lets the Parkers store their furniture in an unused barn at his place so they can vacate the house they had been renting.

Imagine setting up a home for the summer in a trolley car.  By removing some of the seats, they created a kitchen area, a sleeping area for the Parkers and a space just for Mr. Jeffreys.  Over time, they added a porch and some other improvements.

Money is tight and their future is uncertain but with patience, help from neighbors and a bit of creative ingenuity, the Parkers show that families that stick together will make it through even the toughest of times. Lots of wholesome fun in this sweet book!

Used copies are available from Amazon.  Grab yours and enjoy a refreshing look at a simpler time.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Petit Collage by Lorena Siminovich

I may be one of the few people who had never heard of Lorena Siminovich or her company "Petit Collage." I had not seen or read any of her blog before receiving the book so this title was my first introduction to her creative genius. Read more about author Lorena Siminovich.

First Impressions
When I first opened the package, there was of course the thrill of putting your hands on a brand-spanking new, hot off the press book (I haven't yet outgrown that feeling and I'm 45). The bright cover with a sneak peak at several of the projects waiting inside were an immediate sell.  I love that the blue strip with title is glossy and creates a nice contrast to the matte finish of the rest of the cover. Peeked inside and LOVED the interior decorative paper (not your normal boring white endpapers!).

The whole book is a visual treat. The initial pages have a very nice introduction to the author, an explanation of what tools and supplies will be used in the book. And not just a list but a visual depiction of each item--much more interesting and clears up any confusion on what to have on hand.  Also an explanation of the guide indicating the level of difficulty for each project.

Content Review
The book is a compilation of 25 projects of varying difficulty: easy, intermediate and advanced.  Most projects used supplies that a moderately crafty person may already have in their home.  Anyone living near decent shopping should be able to readily find what they don't already own.

Each project was laid out sort of like a good recipe: ingredients listed first and then the directions for putting it all together. I loved the fact that the projects show level of difficulty, had a personal bit of info about the background of the project, showed multiple photos of examples. Helpful sketches were included where needed.

Sprinkled throughout, the author also has various tips.  Some include alternatives to change things up for seasonal use or suggestions for substitution if you don't have the exact supply listed.  I also liked that many projects also had a way to complete the project with children.

Section 1 "Room to Grow" is full of ideas for adorning a child's space with a name plaque, baby mobile, growth chart, jazzed up toy bin and 6 other adorable projects.  Section 2, "Family Life" has clever ideas for the whole family: coat rack, memory box, family memo board and 5 others. The last section, "Playtime" has 7 ideas for unique and hand-made things to entertain your young person.  My presonal favorite was the portable dollhouse.

In this world of instant and ready-made, I love the idea of creating--either with or for your child--inviting spaces and toys that will foster additional creativity.  I appreciate the suggestions for ways that children can make some of these projects or assist with them and have a chance to feel the satisfaction of having created something special for their own space.

The back of the book included some further explanation of techniques such as decoupage or working with wood and metal. This is followed by a resource guide--very helpful for those who may not live near craft shops--for some online retailers. She also has projects listed in back with suggestions for where to find items for that project.  This is then followed by a section with templates for copying.  The template indicates what size to enlarge the image. It would be really nice if a CD were included instead for the templates because it isn't always easy to get a hardback book flat enough for copying.  The book closes out with an index although with so many bright and colorful pictures, it's not hard to flip through and find the project you are interested in.

All in all, I heartily recommend this book to all levels of crafters.  With projects for babies on up, this would make a great gift for just about anyone.  I'm excited about using up some of my insanely copious craft stash on some very cute items for decorating and play.

This idea-packed, full color hardcover treasure is available to purchase from Random House for $24.99.

Happy Crafting!

Disclaimer: I received this book free from Blogging for Books for the purpose of review.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Heroes and Heroines of the Past (American History Curriculum)

Amy Puetz has a passion for history and this curriculum is an outpouring of that love.  I first became acquainted with Amy through her Heroines of the Past newsletters.You can sign up for that free at her website.  Amy is a master of finding and sharing historical gems from the past in her ezine.  And her American History curriculum is another example of her efforts to make history exciting and accessible to young students.

There are so many things that make this curriculum unique among history programs.  First of all, everything you need is right at your fingertips. The main text is divided into two volumes (you can do one each semester) which makes for a very manageable book to read from and tote around.  Volume 1 covers year 1000 to 1837 and Volume 2 covers 1837 to the present. Overall, there are 30 chapters which is nice if you use a shorter school year. If however, your school runs for 36 weeks, you can stretch out some weeks with the additional resources and the recommended reading.  Trust me, there is way more suggested than you will ever possibly accomplish!

Amy has created a comprehensive program that incorporates ideas for timeline study, geography study, writing, as well as drama and music.  The latter two make this curriculum especially unique because drama helps bring the stories alive and the music helps bring alive the emotion and rhythm of the time period.

In summary, the things I loved most about this curriculum:
  • Main history text is split into two volumes (you could do one per semester or stretch out each volume over a year of study)
  • Materials CD makes it super easy to print off materials for students (no wrangling with the book trying to make copies)
  • Historical Skits adds a creative and hands-on facet to the curriculum
  • Each day's reading has a simplified/condensed option for younger students as well as a more complete selection for older students
  • A  history program that you can use with your whole family--could be adapted with some research or additional reading for even older students
  • Full of illustrations
  • Incorporates historical biographies
  • Music to sing and/or play selections from that time period
  • Includes comprehension questions (with answers in back for convenience)
  • Inclusion of recipes and games from the time period
  • Some sections have a suggested verse to memorize as a family
  • Lots of maps for reference right within the text so you aren't having to flip back and forth to figure out where events are taking place
  • Art studies are sprinkled throughout showing paintings depicting historical events
  • Includes reprints of writings near the time period discussed
  • CD with speeches from history (no trying to hunt things down yourself!)
There is so much included in this curriculum that you will most likely not be able to do it all but it's nice to have all the ideas at your fingertips to pick and choose those activities you want to explore. Or take the whole pace slower and just tackle one volume in one school year. It's obvious how much Amy loves history and how much she wants to share and inspire young people with the stories of the great leaders who were part of the founding of America.

The American History bundle is available for $98.99 and  includes:
  • Heroes and Heroines of the Past: American History Part 1 
  • Heroes and Heroines of the Past: American History Part 2
  • Historical Skits book 
  • Additional Materials CD (not pictured above)
  • Sing Some History CD 
  • Listen to Some US History MP3 CD
A coloring book is also available for $9.99 and available here.  Visit the website to read and listen to samples from the curriculum bundle.  

You can purchase the bundle at the author's website:  Keep up with Amy's happenings and future projects on her Facebook page.

If you will be attending the Homeschool Iowa Conference in Des Moines, IA May 15-17, stop by the Golden Prairie Press booth to meet Amy in person and see her curriculum for yourself. She has lots of other neat historical resources your family will love.

Take some time to explore her website. She has so many wonderful treasures including:
In the 13 years I have been homeschooling, I have looked through many materials on American History and this is by far the most comprehensive, enthusiastic study that encompasses all of a child's heart, mind and soul.  Your whole family will be blessed by this curriculum!

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this curriculum in exchange for some editing work.  A review was not required but I was so excited about Amy's materials, that I wanted to help promote it through this review.