Book Review: The Great and Only Barnum

“Love God and be merry.”
—P.T. Barnum’s motto which he had painted on the wall of his home

I read this after seeing the musical The Greatest Showmanwhich left me hungry for all things Barnum. Reading about the showman’s actual life was almost as exciting as the wonderful film. I could not put this book down! I had things to do but it didn’t matter; I kept right on reading.

Barnum was not a perfect person, but he was exceptional in many areas: business, showmanship, vision, imagination. Reading about his life was like going on a wild rollercoaster ride. The author is very talented at making readers feel like they are actually walking through the American Museum in 1840s New York City. She details every stage of Barnum’s life, as well as his comrades, coworkers, friends, and enemies.

Barnum experienced so much and truly changed the entertainment industry as well as people’s lives. He gave people labeled “oddities” a well-paying job and a chance to educate the world about their conditions. He re-invented the idea of a museum, and made traveling circuses more efficient. He made the public happy, but sometimes abandoned his family in process. He got bored in retirement and never stopped working until the end. There is just so much to learn about him. I never knew that someone could have so many properties burn down in a lifetime. But, hey, it was the 1800s; anything could happen.

So come one, come all! This book will entice, thrill, and wow readers both young and old. Sit back and enjoy learning about the showman who was P.T. Barnum!

5/5 stars

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Book Review – The Land of Stories: The Wishing Spell

Alex and Conner are twins, but they as different as the sun and moon. Alex is a lonely teacher’s pet whose best friends live in books. Conner is popular and funny but falls asleep in class! Their differences don’t stop them from loving each other, though, since the twins have had a very rough year. Their dad died in a car accident right before their eleventh birthday, and time has not healed their wounds. When their grandmother gives them their old childhood storybook – the Land of Stories – Alex begins to hear it hum and see it glow. Conner thinks she is crazy, until they both fall into the book and end up in a living, breathing fairytale world!

Alex and Conner are befriended by a frog-man, who gives them shelter upon their arrival to the Land of Stories. They beg him for a way to get home, and he tells them about the Wishing Spell: when someone collects all of the items in a list, he or she is granted one wish. The twins decide to go after the spell items, since that is their only hope of ever seeing their mom, grandma, and electricity again! But the items are nearly impossible to collect: Cinderella’s glass slipper? A piece of Red Riding Hood’s basket? A strand of Rapunzel’s hair? The twins resolve to do everything it takes to succeed.

Along the way, Alex and Conner have the grandest adventure. They visit all the places they’ve read about as children, both the majestic and terrifying. At first, they have fun seeing this new world for the first time and encountering childhood heroes (Cinderella! Goldilocks!) but there is also grave danger in the Land of Stories: a witch tries to eat them by luring them to her gingerbread house. The son of the Big Bad wolf prowls the forests at night, trolls and goblins take human slaves! Before long, Alex and Conner want to leave. But someone else is looking for the wishing spell, one of the most notorious villains of all time. Who will get to the wishing spell first? A fairytale legend of tremendous cunning or two kids who are strangers in a strange land?

My reading slump curse had been broken by The Wishing Spell! Much like their grandmother’s book did for the twins, this novel sucked me in from the first few pages. Alex and Conner are such well developed characters, which is hard to do in a book with two protagonists. I really get a sense of their personalities just from the beginning scene of them sitting in class. I identified with Alex’ loneliness and longed for a supportive, loving brother like Conner. Colfer is clever in how he reaches a wide audience; by having boy/girl twin heroes, the book appeals equally to boys and girls. The cover and illustrations are colorful and will draw kids to the series. Younger kids who want a reading challenge should not be discouraged by the length of the book (438 pages) because they won’t get bored easily. Adventure and danger are around every corner, and every chapter explores a distinct part of the Land of Stories. Colfer’s dialogue is witty and sometimes downright hilarious. I laughed out loud multiples times, and kids should find even more humor that I missed.

There are fantastic morals and lessons found here; no story is told without a purpose. Kids and adults will love seeing their beloved fairytales from a new angle and more alive than ever before. This book was absolutely spectacular, and I cannot recommend it enough.

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5/5 stars

January – March 2018 TBR List

Happy New Year! May 2018 bring you peace, health, happiness and…….. books! Lots and lots of books. Here are some of my reading goals for the first few months of the year:

1. The Harry Potter Series by J. K. Rowling

I read The Philosopher’s Stone last month, and now I am anxious to continue the journey with my new boxed set.

2. The Land of Stories Series by Chris Colfer

I am currently reading book one, The Wishing Spell, and loving it. Very engaging and imaginative. I hope to get through the rest of the books this year!

3. The Elephant Whisperer: My Life With the Herd in the African Wild by Lawrence Anthony

4. Bravelands: Broken Pride by Erin Hunter

5. The Girl She Used to Be by David Cristofano

 

What are your 2018 reading goals?

Book Review: The Player King by Avi

In The Player King Avi spins a rags-to-riches tale of a nobody kitchen boy in 15th century England, based on true people and events. Lambert Simnel is an orphan working in an underground tavern. His job is to baste the meat in its own fat. He rarely breathes fresh air and sleeps on the floor. He constantly gets told he is worthless and low. He doesn’t even know how old he is.

One day, Lambert is sent to the market to buy bread as usual. He values these errands because they are his only chance to see the light of day. He watches a group of traveling actors (players) perform a skit about King Solomon. Lambert wishes he could run away with that troupe and be a king, even if it was only pretend.

Lambert gets his wish when Brother Simonds buys him out of his current position. He takes him away from the tavern and begins training him to impersonate Prince Edward – whom many believe is the rightful king of England. Lambert is forced to go along with the plan and resents it because Brother Simonds is only in it to advance his own station. When Lambert realizes that being king beats being a scullion, he starts to excel in his training and really want to be king. But can a young boy really get away with such espionage? Can he lead an army succesfully to overthrow the current crown? Can he think for himself or only do as he is told?

This story was guttingly sad for the first third of the book, maybe even the first half. My heart went out to Lambert for all of the pain and mistreatment he went through. No child should be made to feel worthless and virtually starved. So I was definitely on Lambert’s side from the start. Then, when Brother Simonds buys Lambert, a red flashing light went off in my head: alert! What is going on here? My mind immediately went to the gutter and stereotypes of olden day priests. But thankfully this is a children’s book so nothing obscene took place. Still, the friar manipulated Lambert’s mind which was little better.

We really only get a good sense of Lambert’s thoughts because the story is told in the 1st person. I would have liked to have known about the other characters more, but that might have been boring for the intended audience. All in all, this was a fascinating book about a little-known instance in British history. I will remember Lambert for a long time.

3.5/5 stars

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Graphic Novel Review: The Dreamer, vol. 1 by Lora Innes

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Originally a webcomic, this print volume of The Dreamer includes issues 1-6!

Cliffhanger! Oh, this was so good. I think it’s my favorite graphic novel ever.

Beatrice Whaley is your basic average 17-year-old girl whose goal is definitely not to save the world. She has a good group of friends, love of the dramatic arts, and workaholic parents. Things are looking up for her when she nails the lead role of Juliet and her 4-year crush Ben finally asks her out. But Bea really couldn’t care less about these victories, because she’s in love with a Revolutionary War soldier.

The night before, Bea had a dream unlike any other. It felt so real. She was kissing a Revolutionary War soldier. And every time she sleeps, the “dream” picks up where it left off. She learns that the soldiers name is Alan Warren, a compatriot of Nathan Hale. In the real world, Beatrice visits her mom’s event at an art museum, and sees a painting called “The Death of Warren.” She must get back to 1776 and warn her new beau before it’s too late!

I loved this graphic novel to bits. The Revolutionary War came alive for me through the vivid illustrations and suspenseful plot. I really like the author’s timeline of the American Revolution in the beginning of the book. Beatrice was a relatable, funny heroine and the supporting characters were all wonderfully developed. But beyond that, the art is stunning and each page is a masterpiece. Every aspect of the book drew me in. I even got my mom hooked on this series, for crying out loud.

But I have one burning question: who is she going to choose? The 18th century apple farmer-turned-soldier or the 21st century quarterback-turned-thespian?

Love time travel/romance? Love American History? (If not, do you want to love American history?) Then, HELLO! Read this book!

 

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5/5 stars!

Book Review: Defiance by C.J. Redwine

Summary: 

Sixteen-year-old Rachel Adams knows her courier father, Jared, isn’t dead. But he was sent out on a mission 60 days ago and hasn’t come back. In their dictatorial city-state of Baalboden, the law demands that someone be pronounced dead if he hasn’t returned in 60 days. In their society, women who aren’t “Claimed” (married) must live under the supervision of a male “Protector.” It’s against the law for women to walk the streets alone – with a penalty of death. Rachel’s new Protector, Logan McEntire, knows this all too well. His mother was killed by Baalboden’s leader – Commander Chase – for walking to the market alone to buy her son food. Violently made an orphan, Logan was shown kindness by Jared Adams and appointed his apprentice. Now it’s Logan’s task to protect Jared’s daughter.

Rachel would be fine with her new Protector, if she hadn’t confessed her love for him two years ago, only to have him deny her. But none of that matters now. Rachel is a girl with a mission: to escape Baalboden’s confines and find her Father in the Wasteland that lies beyond. But she’s caught making an escape attempt and the Commander makes a bargain with Rachel and Logan: journey through the Wasteland and bring him the package that Jared was meant to deliver. As Rachel and Logan make escape plans of their own, they begin to rediscover one another and their old friendship. Rachel readies herself for the trip by practicing her combat skills with various weapons. Logan spends time building tracking devices and other inventions that could help them be ready for any scenario. But not even Logan’s brilliant logical mind could plan for what the Commander does next.

Review: 

Yes! Fiery redhead heroines for the win! I’ll probably never turn down reading books with gingers on the cover. <–Just kidding. But that’s definitely a selling point. Seriously, though, this novel was fast-paced and riveting from the start. It didn’t take hundreds of pages to get interesting, but made me want to read on after page one. I rarely see an author just dive into the main plot right away.

Another thing that made this book stand out to me was the alternating 1st person POV between Rachel and Logan. As much as I loved Rachel’s bravery, her thoughts became very dark and vengeful as tragedy after tragedy happened around her. But I liked her loyalty, spunk, and defiance (pun intended). She is more of a tomboy (like myself) in a world where women only go to school to learn etiquette. While the other little girls played with dolls, she played with weapons and learned self-defense.

As much as I liked Rachel, my favorite character was Logan. He’s the perfect combination of genius and softie. I kept thinking he’s like Spock with emotions. I liked seeing how he gradually realized he was falling in love with Rachel. It’s rare to hear a male point of view in female-centered ya novels these days. Especially with a girl on the cover, I didn’t know I would be hearing Logan’s side of the story. But I’m so glad the author chose to do this!

This was an exciting dystopian novel that really didn’t fit into a genre. The author describes it as “post-apocalyptic” but there are elements of fantasy (a wingless dragon living under the earth), sci-fi (technological gadgets), and historical, since the world feels medieval. There are no phones, computer, cars, or even lightbulbs. Women’s role in Baalboden society was also very unique. If I have any complaints, I would have liked to learn more about that, and about how Baalboden was started. The town’s name implies that the Cursed One (the wingless dragon) is some sort of demon, but hopefully these questions will be answered in Book 2: Deception.

4.5/5 stars

Book Review: A Daring Sacrifice

**Warning: Contains minor spoilers!

I thought I’d buried my conscience the same day I’d buried the chopped remains of my father’s tortured body, gathered after he’d been drawn and quartered. 

Juliana lived a peaceful life in medieval England. Her father was Lord of Wessex land, a prominent nobleman, and Juliana lived lavishly in a castle. Her whole life is upended when Juliana’s uncle usurps her father’s position. Juliana is forced to live with the peasants – poor and disenchanted with high taxes – in humble forest huts. Her father leads a rebellion against the new Lord Wessex, but is captured and brutally killed. Juliana is believed to have perished in the fray, but she lives on in hiding with a group of peasant companions, including the fatherlike Bulldog and his young son, Thatch. Juliana is full of anger and resentment towards all nobles. She spends her days masquerading as a boy, hunting and stealing from the rich in order to feed her homeless friends. Her actions earn her the name of the Cloaked Bandit, and she is a wanted criminal. But Juliana is no match for her Uncle or his guards. There have been some close calls, but she is too good to be caught. Until someone even stealthier than Juliana comes along.

Lord Collin Goodrich is returning home to his estate when he is robbed by a mud-faced bandit. There’s something curious about him: his eyes are too bright and his face too pretty. Collin figures out that the lithe bandit is actually a woman! He allows the criminal to escape, only to follow her and take her back to his home. When he realizes that the “Cloaked Bandit” is Juliana Wessex, a lady of noble birth, Collin is astonished. He remembers her from childhood, when he made a joke about her strawberry-colored hair. [Note: Gingers rule! I’m so happy that Juliana was a strong, survivalist ginger (as I am one myself). Her hair became a character of its own in the book]. Collin is immediately taken with the red-haired beauty, and vows to convince Juliana that not all noblemen are evil. They make a deal to live in each other’s worlds for a week. But can Juliana’s true identity remain secret forever? What will become of her peasant friends? Can Lord Collin earn her love and trust? Read A Daring Sacrifice to find out.

I should note that this book is the second in the “Uncertain Choice” series, but can completely stand on its own. I didn’t read the first book and I had no trouble following this one. It seems like the two have completely different characters and plots, but are both set in the same time period and world.

As for the time period, I would like to clear something up. A lot of people seem to be saying that the book is historically inaccurate, in terms of vocabulary and torture methods. Although the setting is supposed to be Medieval England, the author stated in an interview that her Young Adult books are treated more like fantasy than historical. Keeping that in mind, I had no problem with the historical discrepancies that some found so troublesome.

Now, getting into the nitty gritty. I LOVED this book. At 220 pages, it is one of the shortest YA books I’ve read, but it packs a mean punch. The story is fast-paced, exciting, and poignant. Of course, the book is marketed as a romance, and though the love story is sweet and captivating, it does not overshadow a very powerful message. That message – if you couldn’t guess from the title – is sacrifice. Sometimes the greatest act of love is sacrifice. Two young people, aged just seventeen (Juliana) and twenty (Collin) learn to sacrifice their comfort, pride, and very lives, for the sake of a greater good. There is a passage where Juliana talks about the emotional trauma and beauty of Collin sacrificing himself for her, despite the fact that Juliana confessed to not loving him, which broke his heart. This passage could have easily been talking about Jesus Christ, which brings me to the faith element of his book.

Juliana and Collin are both religious, which I imagine is a correct depiction of Medieval English society. Thus, they discuss God, His will, prayer, and Collin utters “Blessed Mary” a lot when he’s in distress. Juliana spends time talking to God and grappling with stealing; she’s starting to question if this method of achieving justice is right in the Lord’s eyes. In fact, when Juliana is staying with Collin, she tells him that one of her favorite parts of her stay has been to pray in a house of worship, because she’s only talked to God in the woods for so long. So the characters definitely know God and He’s a part of daily life. I liked seeing this; it sets a good example for young people, having characters include God in their thoughts and decisions.

The story was told in first-person point of view, alternating between Juliana and Collin. This spiced things up and made the story more unique than other YA books. The two perspectives were done well because Juliana and Collin had completely different voices. It wasn’t obvious that both their parts were written by the same author. Their inner voices showed so much depth and personality for such a quick read. I only wish I had gotten some more pages, but the story did not seem rushed at all.

I hope my review will make you want to give this book a try. If you like Christian YA historical/fantasy romance, but want something a little different than usual, this book is for you!

5/5 stars

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