The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick

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I was at the library with my kids when this unusually thick children’s book caught my eye. Someone at the library had placed a Caldecott sticker on the spine, and I thought it was odd that a novel would win an award for its pictures, so I picked it up and was fascinated by the vivid pencil drawings throughout the book. I soon realized that the pictures tell parts of the story instead of merely providing illustrations. The story looked interesting enough for my eight-year-old, and the pictures would keep my almost-six-year-old engaged, so I checked it out.

All three of us loved this book. There was a bit of a mystery, and there was suspense throughout the story in that you weren’t sure what would happen to Hugo in the end. He is a likable character despite his secrecy, and you don’t want any harm to come to him.

We learned a great deal about early theater and how magicians made some of the early movies. The story takes place in a train station in Paris, which provided a unique setting and a behind-the-scenes look at how some parts of the station worked. This book is based on the work of a real person, so we were able to do a little research and find out more about him.

I would highly recommend this book as a read-aloud for younger kids and for older kids to read on their own.

Composing Amelia: A Novel by Alison Strobel

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I downloaded this book for free on Amazon after receiving an email from David C. Cook. I’m a sucker for free stuff. I have downloaded dozens of books that were free and have only read a few so far. I finished my last new release last week and didn’t have anything else on hand to read, so I scrolled through my Kindle library and picked Composing Amelia: A Novel. A few years ago, I read The Ambition: A Novel by Lee Strobel, Alison’s father, and I thought it was an excellent book. While her writing may not be as polished as her father’s, she has written an interesting, well-researched and thought-provoking novel.

The two main characters are a young, married couple who are trying to succeed in their respective careers, but they end up at odds over where they should live and work. Painful scars from their childhoods and pride prevent them from communicating with each other, and their marriage falls apart. Each character must work through doubts, fears, depression, temptation, and more in order to find God’s will for their lives.

One of the main characters is a pastor, so there is an appropriate amount of prayer and theological discussion in the dialogue. Characters wrestle with their faith, trials, and finding God’s will, while more mature Christians give wise advice and reassurance. I felt the religious aspect was tastefully portrayed without feeling preachy. This book gave me a better understanding of those going through depression.

This book read like a contemporary fiction novel; it was interesting and fast-paced. I would recommend this book.

Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo

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I’m not sure what I was expecting this book to be about, but it was full of surprises. I read this aloud to my older two children, and they both enjoyed it. I don’t care for dogs, but my children like them, so we checked out this book for the kids, but I enjoyed it as much as they did. Just in case you are worried that my kids won’t ever have a dog because of me, don’t be concerned. My in-laws (with whom we share land) have two dogs that can often be found sleeping on our front porch or in our flower beds. Our 16 month old twins absolutely love the dogs, and the older kids play with them too.

Because of Winn-Dixie is a poignant story told by a young girl as she chronicles what happened the summer she moved to Naomi, Florida, and met a dog that she named Winn-Dixie. Opal befriends a variety of people throughout the book and learns some things about herself in the process. She gives credit to the dog (thus the title) for everything that happened that summer, but she had more to do with it than she realized.

The story moves quickly and keeps you engaged throughout the whole book. It is rich with dialogue, and I couldn’t help but read it aloud with a southern accent. My children learned a little about the South during the Civil War and were introduced to Gone with the Wind. Maybe one day we will read that one together. I plan to always read books aloud to my children, so why not?

We thought this Newbery Honor book was fantastic. It is a great read for young (around 6 years and up) and old, dog lovers and the rest of us, children and parents. Kate DiCamillo is a talented author. I also read her book, The Tale of Despereaux to my son a few years ago, and we believe the book is always better than the movie, although “The Tale of Despereaux” was great. We haven’t watched “Because of Winn-Dixie” yet, but we plan to do so soon.

Appalachian Serenade by Sarah Loudin Thomas

I received an email from someone at Bethany House Publishers letting me know about this digital novella that is available for FREE on Amazon. I love free things, so I downloaded it last week and got around to reading it today. It took me less than two hours to read the whole book, and I didn’t want to put it down. I was disappointed when it ended because I was enjoying the story so much and wanted it to keep going. Fortunately, the download includes the first few chapters of the author’s next book, and the setting is the same small town in West Virginia, and the characters are just several years older. I read that too and can’t wait until the book, Miracle in a Dry Season, is released later this summer.

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Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine

Ella lives in a kingdom with giants, elves, ogres, centaurs, and fairies. One unthinking fairy gives Ella the “gift” of obedience when she is born. Any order she is given must be obeyed immediately or she suffers physical distress. She feels cursed and rightly so. She is not allowed to tell anyone about her curse, but someone catches on and uses it to her advantage. Ella is strong-willed and seeks her freedom from constant obedience throughout the book. Towards the end of the book, the story has many similarities to the traditional Cinderella story, but Ella is still bound to obedience.

I read this book aloud to my eight and five year olds, and the older one thoroughly enjoyed it, especially the final two chapters. My five (almost six) year old has a shorter attention span than her big brother had when he was four, so this book might work well with other children her age and even up through middle school. I enjoyed reading this book myself and read ahead because I couldn’t wait to finish. One or two chapters a day isn’t my speed!

Ella Enchanted was the author’s first novel, and she received a Newbery Honor for her story. This work is a fresh take on a timeless classic.

Update: We checked out the movie version of this book from our local library, and it wasn’t nearly as good as the book. The movie portrayed Ella as more of a puppet who was controlled by any and every command others made with no struggle to disobey. It was very unrealistic, which is saying a lot since the book is a fantasy to begin with. There was also an evil character to oppose Ella and the prince, whereas the main antagonist in the book is Ella’s curse to always be obedient.

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Stuck Together by Mary Connealy

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This was my first time to read a book by Mary Connealy, but it won’t be my last. Stuck Together is actually the third volume in her Trouble in Texas series, so I’ll have to go back and read the first two books–Swept Away and Fired Up. I received this book free from Bethany House in exchange for an honest review, so I didn’t take the time to read the previous two books, but they tell the stories of some of the central characters. I didn’t feel like I was missing out by not reading the other books first, but I would now like to get to know the other characters better.

Tina Cahill is a sassy, young woman in a small town in west Texas in the late 1860′s, who has learned to take care of herself because she feels unwanted and unloved. She makes the sidewalk in front of the saloon her mission field and attempts to dissuade men from entering, which sometimes causes more harm than good. She is also the only single woman in town.

Vince Yates is a lawyer and the unpaid sheriff of Broken Wheel. He shares a close friendship with three other men in town. The four of them fought for the union in the Civil War and were held as prisoners-of-war at Andersonville. Through a series of events, Tina and Vince end up “stuck together”, much to their chagrin, on more than one occasion.

Stuck Together is a great summer read–light, funny, and fairly short. The characters were interesting and genuine. The setting was what you’d expect from a western, and the author describes the area vividly. The gospel is woven through a few conversations but doesn’t come across as preachy.

I learned something new in reading this romantic comedy about cowboys. I had never heard of Andersonville before, nor did I know that the South imprisoned POWs during the Civil War. After finishing the book, I did a little research and found the author’s depiction to be quite accurate. I usually enjoy learning something about our nation’s history, but there was nothing enjoyable about Andersonville. Men were lucky if they survived, or maybe the ones who died quickly were the lucky ones. The photos online of emaciated men reminded me of the photos of men in concentration camps during WWII. The book doesn’t go into much detail on this, so you can enjoy the light-hearted romance.

Undetected by Dee Henderson

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I finished reading this book almost two weeks ago but have been debating how to write a review without revealing what happens. I am usually disappointed when a book ends because I want to know what happens later in the characters’ lives. I enjoy reading books in a series because the author provides glimpses into her past main characters’ lives. I felt like this book offered more than a typical stand-alone book, and I appreciated the depth Dee Henderson gave her characters.

I like reading books about characters in the military–I usually learn a lot, and I can live vicariously through the characters. Top Gun was one of my favorite movies growing up, and at one point, I wanted to be a “naval aviator”. Unfortunately, I have terrible vision (very thankful for contacts!), I’m afraid of heights and falling, and I don’t like to hurt anyone or anything (I have a hard time squishing bugs), so I probably wouldn’t make a good fighter pilot. Books like Undetected allow me to get a taste of life in the military–the tension, the suspense, the action and adventure–without leaving the comfort of my home.

Undetected focuses on life in the Navy–on a naval base, on a submarine, visiting family between deployments. Dee Henderson provides many details about life on a submarine without going into too much detail. The characters are deployed for 90 days at a time, but their deployments only span a couple of chapters each, leaving plenty of time to keep the reader engaged in a budding romance while revealing the nuances of life in the Navy.

I believe Dee Henderson has improved her writing style over the years, and this may be her best work. It was thoroughly-researched, well-written, interesting, funny, suspenseful, and romantic. I hope I have convinced you that it is definitely worth reading without spoiling it for you. I tried to be vague but still give you a taste of what to expect.

I received this book for free from Bethany House Publishers in exchange for an honest review.