Saturday, October 25, 2014

Thief of Glory by Sigmund Brouwer

From the Trade Paperback edition

After the last word has been read, the echoes of this book will haunt you. Jeremiah Prins is a boy living in the Dutch East Indies in the 1940's.  His prowess with marbles has set him apart from other boys his age. That and his spunk and unwillingness to ever back down from a fight (as long as the other boy throws the first punch--a lesson learned from his headmaster father).  One day the trajectory of his life took an ominous turn.  The day he met the cocky American boy, Georgie. Jeremiah knew instantly that he'd met an enemy to reckon with.

Fast forward some time and Georgie is the least of his worries as he witnesses his father and older brothers taken off by Japanese military to an internment camp. His father's parting gift was a treasured and rare marble with a dragon suspended inside the glassy orb.  A token that will be a constant reminder of his father's unspoken love.  Knowing Jeremiah's mother would have no idea how to prepare her family when they too would be herded off like cattle, his father left a packed suitcase with instructions not to open it until they had arrived at their destination.  The contents of that suitcase are a striking picture of how much his father loved his family.

The ensuing three years are full of unspeakable hardship, cruelty and persecution. Watching his family waste away, his mother descend into madness and losing his prized marble were only part of the horrors of war for Jeremiah.  His fighting instincts serve him well but cannot fully insulate him from the pain, nor the hated presence of Georgie. Hatred is the fuel for Jeremiah's survival--hatred for Georgie and hatred for the Japanese.

Fast forward decades to view Jeremiah in his 80's still grappling with personal demons that his adult daughter cannot fully understand. He has never told her of his childhood in the camp. Never explained what horrors he lived through.

Such a tragic life--made twisted and ugly by the ravages of war and its casualties. Sometimes death is not the greatest enemy.  Having to live with the awful reality of guilt and shame can be far worse. This book is part memoir (inspired by Brower's own parents but also a compilation of the experiences of many others) and part mystery as the years between age 11 and age 80 are revealed through an old man's written recollections.  He keeps meticulous journals in an attempt to fend off the clouding of his mind and to leave behind some explanation to his daughter for his reserve and inability to express his love and pride in her.

To think how many endured such horrific conditions is unbelievable. To pretend it never happened is unconscionable.  This book is a beautiful testimony to so many heroic characters. Their stories deserve to be told and remembered. And we honor their memory by striving to follow their examples of courage and perseverance.

Read a fascinating Q & A with the author about his book and watch the book trailer.  You can also visit Random House to read an excerpt.  Thief of Glory can be purchased directly from Random House for $14.99 or from various other retailers online.

Disclaimer: I received a free copy of Thief of Glory for the purpose of review. No other compensation was received.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Book Blessings

As the weather has gotten cooler, we're in the mood for fall decorating. I had a chair sitting at my front door which had mainly become a dumping ground for lots of junk.  I decided it could serve a decorative purpose instead (and cut off the clutter). So I pulled out a table runner thinking I'd maybe just put a pumpkin on the chair.  Then I remembered I had a decorative suitcase that hadn't yet found a home. Put it on the chair and opened it up (it has a brown velvety interior) and decided it was the perfect place to put our fall and Thanksgiving books.

I decided I could line the table runner inside the suitcase and the ends would still show on either side of the suitcase.  The cute little burlap and felt owl was a recent find at Dollar General (figured $3.50 was a pretty decent price). We aren't into creepy Halloween stuff like bats and skulls but I liked the fall colors on this owl and figured he was a fitting companion for a collection of books.

Our entry is really just part of our living room which is where a lot of reading happens so this was a super convenient place to display our books. I love the reds, yellows, and oranges on the book covers. And when Christmas rolls around, I'll swap out the table runner for something red and replace my owl with a little embroidered stocking and then just switch our harvest books for Christmas and winter titles.

So now I'm excited that I finally have a place for our seasonal books (they stay packed in tubs when out of season to help keep them special each year).  And I can even slide another basket of books under the chair for seasons with more books like Christmas.  In the summer when we don't have much in the way of holiday books, I think I'll use the suitcase for books to encourage summer reading. I may assign points to each book and let my kids can earn stickers toward small prizes (or a special ice cream outing).

Our collection was acquired over 20 years of marriage and most of the titles were found at thrift stores, Goodwill, garage sales, library sales or Paperback Swap [link contains my referral code]. I can only think of a few books that I purchased new.  If you'd like to find used book sales in your area of the U.S., check out Book Sale Finder.  Just click on your state to see locations for future sales. You can also sign up to get reminder e-mails for upcoming events.

I love finding new ways to use what we have and make use of tight spaces. Looking forward to snuggling in with my kids to read some of these great books!  We definitely count books as one of our biggest blessings!

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.