Sunday, June 23, 2013

Mountain Top Mystery (The Boxcar Children #9) by Gertrude Chandler Warner


*** Warning: This review contains spoilers! ***

Gertrude Chandler Warner seems to have a special interest in Native American Indians... This book is somewhat reminiscent of The Yellow House Mystery in that, once again, the children meet an isolated Indian woman who makes baskets.

On the one hand, this story had a lot of interesting pieces - I liked the mountain setting and the Indian boy - but on the other hand, the mystery itself was pretty contrived, requiring quite a bit of set-up. I also wasn't really fond of the way Grandfather, within minutes of meeting the Indian woman, decides to help her by buying an entire forest. The message seems to be, "Money solves all problems, it's a good thing I have so much of it!" I was also bothered by the way the rangers brought in and interrogated the Indian boy simply because he was not from the area. I know they were just trying to help, but it seemed more like they were taking him into custody, even though he hadn't done anything wrong.

One other interesting thing of note: In this book, for the first time that I can tell, the kids don't drink milk - they drink Coke!

Friday, June 14, 2013

Benny Uncovers a Mystery (The Boxcar Children #19) by Gertrude Chandler Warner


Even though I still have more Boxcar Children books to read (I plan to read all 19 of the original series), I actually feel a bit sad knowing that this is the last book of the series written by Gertrude Chandler Warner.

I haven't read all the books in the series yet, but this book differs from many of the others in that not all of the children are present for the mystery. Some of the earlier books do focus more on Benny, but Henry and the girls were at least always around. In this book, Benny is almost as big as Henry (as depicted in the illustrations), and he and Henry are the main characters. Though it was nice to see Henry in a front-and-center role again, Violet and Jessie basically only showed up in the beginning and end of the book.

The mystery itself was a good one, I thought. Maybe even one of my favorites, though that might be because of the nostalgia I felt for the old-fashioned department store that delivered small items to its customers. Basically, some strange things happen at the store, and everyone wonders who is behind it all.

I also liked that this book included a wider range of emotions than most others in this series. Usually, the family is happy and friendly and everyone likes them. But in this book, Henry and Benny find that other people actually resent them for the advantages they enjoy by being the grandchildren of the wealthy and powerful James Alden. Henry and Benny even find themselves feeling angry and indignant!

Anyway, I do wonder if the author knew this would be her last book of the series... I was hoping to find some kind of closure to wrap up the series - What does Henry do when he graduates from college? Does Jessie marry Mr. Carter? - but was disappointed in that regard.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

The Lighthouse Mystery (The Boxcar Children #8) by Gertrude Chandler Warner


For the first time, I thought the children - though it's hard to call Henry a child since he is now in college - came across as spoiled! The family drives by a lighthouse for sale, and the kids ask Grandfather to buy it as if it's no big deal! It's weird, too, because later on, when the kids want to go swimming but don't have any bathing suits, Jessie is hesitant to ask for new ones because "four new suits would cost too much." Their money sense just seems to be out of whack.

While many of the books include some thing or other that dates the writing - e.g., a reference to "long distance phone calls", or illustrations of the kids boating without life jackets - this one included something that seemed a bit much even for "the old days". The family wants to have a place to eat outdoors, so they move around the rocks to form chairs and a table, and then they cement the rocks in place! This activity just doesn't sit well with me in today's heightened environmental consciousness, and there really isn't even any sense of nostalgia to redeem it. It seemed like an arrogant and entitled thing to do.

I was also kind of bummed that the author seems to have made up the names of the towns in this book. We know the Boxcar Children live some place in New England, but are they in MA? Or CT? This book mentions two towns: Conley and Ashland. There is an Ashland in MA, but it's not a seaside community, and I can't find any Conley anywhere in New England. Oh, well.

Finally, I don't know if I'm just getting tired of the Boxcar Children's we'll-fix-the-world adventures, but for the first time, their interest in other people's activities seemed to border on meddling. Sure, this "Cook boy" was gruff and seemingly unhappy, but was it really any of the Aldens' business? I can understand their interest in any goings-on at the house next to the lighthouse, but beyond that, why are they so interested in other people's affairs?

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Parenting: Illustrated with Crappy Pictures by Amber Dusick


This book is hilarious!

Despite looking like a normal-sized book, half the contents are illustrations, and I read it cover to cover in about an hour. For what it is - a book that grew out of a blog - I thought it was pretty good. I admit, however, that I was not at all familiar with the blog, and so everything in the book was new material to me.

My friend Sarah was given this book as a gift when she had her second child, and she thought it was so funny that she let me borrow it when she was done. The short, anecdotal pieces definitely make this book well-suited for intermittent reading - maybe something to pick up every now and then while breastfeeding a newborn.

I honestly found almost every insight to be true to my experience. While my first thought was that this book would be a good gift for new mothers, I quickly changed my mind. In fact, I think this book would be a great gift for second-time mothers, just as it was given to my friend Sarah. A first-time mother reading this book might think the incidents were exaggerated, or might not believe that such things could actually happen, or worse, might be discouraged by the unpleasant and undesirable situations described. A second or third-time mother would, I hope, see the humor in these stories, and recognize them as part and parcel of parenting.

Anne of Green Gables (1985)


After reading Anne of Green Gables, I thought it would be fun to watch the movie with Isabelle. At first, she didn't want to watch it because she's not really into movies in general. But, I talked to her into it, and she loved it!!

It's actually a mini-series about 3 1/2 hours long. We took a break for dinner, and Isabelle wanted to go right back to it after eating. We ended up watching it straight through bedtime!

I've seen the mini-series on PBS a number of times, but no matter how many times I watch it, it never fails to make me cry. A lot. :P

I love that the movie follows the book so closely, and any time additional scenes were added, I thought they were very fitting.

Friday, June 7, 2013

The Woodshed Mystery (The Boxcar Children #7) by Gertrude Chandler Warner


*** WARNING: This review contains spoilers!! ***

Don't get me wrong. With a rating of 3 1/2 stars, I still liked this book - just not as much as some of the others.

Let's start with the positives. I liked that in the end, the mystery actually served as a history lesson on the American Revolution. Very cool discoveries were made. I liked the old-fashioned references to "long distance" phone calls and the concern over how much they cost. Kids today probably wouldn't understand what all the fuss was about! I also chuckled at the way New Englanders were portrayed - taking things slowly and never being in a rush. Haha. Finally, it's obvious now that there's something between Jessie and Mr. Carter! Can't wait to see where it leads.

Overall, though, besides the American Revolution angle, the book was just a little too reminiscent of The Yellow House Mystery in one major respect. Basically, years ago, a young man leaves town and is never heard from again, only to re-surface in the present day as an old man. Despite the passage of time, relationships pick up exactly where they left off.

Also, a caveat to anyone reading this book to young children: the mystery involves a gun. It's an old flintlock from the American Revolution, but a gun nonetheless.

Anne of Green Gables (Anne of Green Gables #1) by Lucy Maud Montgomery


Oh, what can I say about this classic?! It's clear why this book has earned the recognition it has.

I love the Megan Follows movie adaptation, but I had never read the book - until now. It was especially satisfying to see how closely the movie followed the book, so even though this was my first time reading it, almost all the chapters had some sense of familiarity. Oftentimes, I recognized dialogue as having been directly quoted in the movie.

I love Anne Shirley. She is so uplifting!! She's optimistic, loyal, devoted, and sincere. She's hard-working and honest and altogether just filled with life. With her talk of bosom friends and kindred spirits, who wouldn't want one, too?! Especially one like her.

Lucy Maud Montgomery writes beautifully, artfully describing all the colors and seasons of Avonlea. When I first started reading this book out loud to Isabelle, I did wonder if all the descriptions might get tiresome... But no, they didn't! In fact, they were well-suited for reading aloud, almost like reading poetry.