The Westing Game

The Westing Game
By Ellen Raskin 
Published: 2004, Dutton Children’s Books
Genre: Children’s Literature, Mystery

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The sun sets in the west (just about everyone knows that), but Sunset Towers faced east. Strange!
Sunset Towers faced east and had no towers. This glittery, glassy apartment house stood alone on the Lake Michigan shower, five stories high. Five empty stories high.
Then one day (it happened to e the Fourth of July), a most uncommon-looking delivery boy rode around town slipping letters under the doors of the chosen tenants-to-be. The letters were signed Barney Northrup.

And so the mystery begins……

I will be teaching a literature class next fall at my homeschool co-op for 6th-8th graders and I was in search of some “unknown” books to present; this book came as a recommendation to me by a couple of people, so I thought I would give it a read and see what I thought.

I was a little leery at first about a book that revolved around a murder mystery but I was pleasantly surprised with the plot. Ellen Raskin did a great job and kept everything in the book quite clean. Some of the mystery was predictable to me, as an adult, however I did think that the author kept us guessing in a few ways and did a fabulous job of dropping clues through the pages.

I enjoyed how the author wrote from each suspects perspective throughout the book so that we could delve into each of the characters and make our own conclusions. I loved the word puzzles and “games” throughout the book as well. I felt that she also did a great job of tying up all of the loose ends in the final chapters so that you weren’t left guessing or wondering about the characters or the story.

It was a fun mystery novel to read. I definitely recommend it and I have decided to use it in my literature class next year.

I gave it to my 14 year old son to read and see what he thought and he enjoyed the book as well. He said he would certainly recommend it to people and that I should use it for my class next year.

The Westing Game

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If I Run

If I Run
By Terri Blackstock
Published: 2016, Zondervan
Genre: Christian Fiction, Mystery & Suspense

There’s blood on the bottom of my shoes. I rinse the soles, knowing the police will trace the impression of the rubber pattern and determine they’re Skechers. They’ll find the charge for the shoe store on my credit card, proving they’re mine.

It has been a while since I’ve read a good, clean mystery novel so I was excited when this was the book club pick for the month.

“Casey Cox’s DNA is all over the crime scene. There’s no use talk to police; they have failed her abysmally before. She has to flee before she’s arrested….or worse. The truth doesn’t matter anymore.”

After her best friend is murdered, Casey makes a split decision to go on the run because she feels that it is her only option. Dylan Roberts, newly discharged veteran, is hired to find Casey and bring her back; and he seems to be the only one interested in finding out the truth about the Casey and the murder.

As we follow Casey on her journey eluding capture, we learn bits and pieces about why she chose to run and not stay; a story steeped in the past and wrapped up in Casey’s family.

I would not classify the writing within the book as literature, but it definitely was a well written mystery that kept me flipping the pages to find out what happens next.  And the book has an open ending and you will definitely want to read the next book in the series, If I’m Found, just as I did. Once you read the second book, you can pre-order the final one in the series, If I Live

I had hoped there would be a little more of a spiritual journey throughout the book then there was. There were bits and pieces of mention here and there, but I felt like it was just maybe barely enough to place it in the Christian category. Perhaps there will be a little more in the next book. (Which there was; there is definitely a spiritual journey developing throughout the series. I look forward to reading the final book once it is published to see how Casey’s walk finishes.)

Knowing that Jesus will not be disheartened or crushed, that he won’t feel the need to shout in the streets or rail against anything, that he will bring forth justice in the twinkle of an eye, encourages me. Things look grim, but God is still in control.

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This next section was added after my book club met and includes some thoughts and opinions of others on the book and how the discussion may have changed my perspective of the book. 

The majority of the ladies in my book club enjoyed the book as well and a couple had even gone on to read the second book as well. There was also consensus that we had hoped for a little more of a spiritual aspect to the book, but that perhaps it is just the genre of the book or maybe it would develop as the series went on.

We all agreed that we may not be able to do some of the things that Casey did or to put ourselves in her place. Many of the things that she did throughout the book were quite courageous and knowledgeable.
There was also an interesting subplot within the book that some felt was added to just prolong the book and the series, while others felt that it helped to develop Casey’s character traits.

Overall, we agreed that it was a decently written book and we enjoyed reading something out of the “normal” Christian genre.

I recommend the book, as well as the series if you are looking for a good, clean murder mystery.

If I Run

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The City Baker’s Guide to Country Living

The City Baker’s Guide to Country Living: A Novel
By Louise Miller
Published: 2017, Penguin Books
Genre: Romantic Comedy, Fiction

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The night I lit the Emerson Club on fire had been perfect for making meringue. I had been worrying about the humidity all week, but that night, dry, cool air drifted in through an open window.

I do not typically read a whole lot of romance books, but I have seen this one recommended by a few people on Bookstagram, and I have been reading some more intense books lately, so I thought I’d give it a try.

I was pleasantly surprised by this book. I don’t normally read this genre because I find it predictable and cheesy. While it was a little bit predictable and cheesy, it is written in a fun, lighthearted way that I was able to still enjoy. It also helped that the main story line of the novel was not the aforementioned romance.

In The City Baker’s Guide, we meet Olivia Rawlings, a pastry chef, who inadvertently causes a fire with her latest creation. Running from embarrassment, she ends up in the small town of Guthrie, Vermont. Growing up with virtually no family around her, Livvy becomes overwhelmed with the small town, everyone is family kind of life.

“With the joys of a fragrant kitchen, the sound of banjos and fiddles being tuned in a barn, the crisp scent of the orchard just outside the front door Livvy soon finds herself immersed in small-town life.”

As we watch Livvy begin to fall in love with the town and people of Guthrie, we learn that despite living in the city her whole life and having a career as a well-known pastry chef, Olivia just yearns for a family and a home to call her own.

There are only a few moments in my life that I have ever wanted to bask in—driving up the coast of Maine beside my father on an autumn afternoon, when I pulled my first chocolate souffle out of the oven, the first time Salty rested his muzzle in my lap and sighed. And now this. I would have given anything to pause time right here.

This is a very light read, the writing is done quite well and the characters are lovable. I recommend it as a wonderful “beach type” read.

The City Baker’s Guide to Country Living: A Novel

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The Last Magician

The Last Magician
By Lisa Maxwell
Published: 2017, Simon Pulse
Genre: Fantasy Fiction, Science Fiction

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I have seen a lot of chatter about this particular book on Instagram in the Bookstagram community, so I wanted to see if it lived up to its expectations. I also wanted to give it a pre-read to see if it would be appropriate for my 13 year old son to read since this is a genre he greatly enjoys.

In modern-day New York, magic is all but extinct. The remaining few who have an affinity for magic–the Mageus–live in the shadows, hiding who they are. Any Mageus who enters Manhattan becomes trapped by the Brink, a dark, energy barrier that confines them to the island. Crossing it means losing their power–and often their lives. 

Lisa Maxwell does a phenomenal job of weaving together the stories a modern-day New York with the past history of the city.
I was concerned as the story began jumping back and forth from the perspective of many characters that I would have a difficult time keeping track of all the characters and where each one fit into the story.
However, as you travel through the pages, you will see how all of those characters intertwine and relate to each other and they each become well-known in your memory.
The author created rich characters that add depth to the story as well as giving them background and relevance to the current situation in New York.

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The book is quite long (498 pages), yet I got so wrapped up in the story that I could not put the book down nor did I notice the length of the book. The pages are packed with mystery, adventure, fantasy, futuristic science fiction and characters that you will grow to love and/or hate.

The Magician had pulled a vanishing act, because the boy before her could have been any factory worker, any laborer in the city…….He looked more unbuttoned and human than she’d ever seen him. 

Along with the mystery and science fiction within the book, the author weaves through some points of social injustice in a way that is relevant to the story but prompts you to think about the current situations in our own country.

 He wasn’t sorry for using their fears and their hopes, their prejudices and their sense of righteousness against them. For distracting them from the truth. He was simply surviving in a world that hated what he was.

I highly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys the fantasy fiction or science fiction genre. I greatly enjoyed it.

The author left an undetermined conclusion to the end of the story so I hope that there are going to be future books and continue it as a series.

**Note** There is some innuendos to adult content. There is a kiss and some other small innuendos within the book. I personally think my 13 year old is too young to read it, but it would certainly be fine for an older teenager to read.

The Last Magician

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Child of the River

Child of the River
By Irma Joubert


Child of the River was the book club read chosen for this month. It is described as “A compelling coming of age story with an unlikely and utterly memorable heroine, Child of the River is a timeless tale of heartbreak and triumph set in South Africa at the dawn of apartheid.”

If, like me, you do not know what apartheid means, here is the definition for you.

apartheid
racial segregation; specifically :a former policy of segregation and political and economic discrimination against non-European groups in the Republic of South Africa

I have to admit, I had a hard time with this book. There is quite a bit of political pieces throughout the book that did not interest me. I usually enjoy historical fiction a great deal, but a lot of the political parts of the story line were difficult for me to follow; perhaps because it is of a time and culture that I do not know a lot about?
I am not sure if it was the language from the translation or if it was just not a topic that I found particularly interesting.

I enjoyed the story of Persomi and following her throughout her life. Child of the River is a story of how an individual can overcome the life they have been born into and choose to follow a different path in order to find something better for themselves. Persomi shows us that your path in life can be a choice you make rather then just letting life happen to you.

I did struggle with understanding how this book fit into the Christian fiction category. The author touched on tiny bits and pieces of the Word and God, but there was certainly not an overall Christian theme within the book.
I continually expected to read how God was going to work in Persomi’s life (a theme that is typically found within Christian Fiction) and unfortunately I felt that was never portrayed well within the story.

Overall, it was a good book, but it is not one that I would have chosen to read on my own.

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This next section was added after my book club met and includes some thoughts and opinions of others on the book and how the discussion may have changed my perspective of the book. 

The discussion during book club was quite good. Many ladies brought up a lot of points that I had not thought about on my own. There were also quite a few questions that we had as a group for the author that seem to go unanswered that may have helped me connect to the story just a little bit more than I did. I wish I could share those thoughts and questions with you, but I feel it would take away from your own personal reading of the story.

After the discussion, I did like the book a little more and I think seeing it in a different perspective gave the book new merit for me. It is definitely a book worth reading.

Child of the River

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The Lightkeeper’s Daughters

The Lightkeeper’s Daughters: A Novel
By Jean E. Pendziwol

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I had seen many people on Instagram saying they were reading this and that it was fabulous, so I was intrigued and willing to give it a read.

“In her mesmerizing adult debut set on the shores of the Great Lakes, critically acclaimed children’s author Jean E. Pendziwol delivers an affecting story of family, identity, and art involving a decades-old mystery.”

So lovely was the loneliness
Of a wild lake, with black rock bound,
And the tall pines that towered around

The Lake
Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849)

I really enjoyed this book. It was not exciting and adventurous, but it had a wonderful story line that evolved and intertwined with all of the well developed characters. The story was set in a part of the world that I have never been to and it was nice getting to experience it through the author’s words and the characters’ stories. Jean Pendziwol did a wonderful job with the descriptions of the setting that you could picture it clearly and feel like you were right there with Elizabeth.

I loved how the book explores the ideas of knowing your past, where you come from and learning how that can shape who you become. There are also some undertones of the argument nature versus nurture. I think the author does a fantastic job of getting you to think about which one is the underlying reason of who you turn out to be.

The novel is full of family secrets and choices that change the course of things, lost loves, bullying, acceptance, unconditional love despite your circumstances and the journey of a young girl desperate to find her roots and a sense of belonging.

As I said above, the book is not chalk full of adventure, but it contains its own kind of mystery that keeps you intrigued all the way up until the end of the story. It was a great read that was not too in depth or made me think too much but had just enough to keep me hooked. I would definitely recommend it to anyone who is looking for a quick, “lighter” book to read.

 

*Note* There is a little bit of adult language in the book. However, I think it lends to some authenticity of the character and the story.

The Lightkeeper’s Daughters: A Novel

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What Alice Forgot

What Alice Forgot
By Liane Moriarty

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Alice has just been moving along through life; 3 children, impending divorce, fitness aficionado, and trying to make her mark on the world. Busy, busy, busy. Then one day while at the gym, she falls and hits her head which results in the loss of her memories from the last 10 years of her life.

Can you imagine losing 10 years of your life? Can you imagine living in a world where everyone is telling you all about your current life situations but all you can remember is how it was 10 years ago? Can you imagine how strange and difficult that would be to wrap your head around?

How different would your life be if you could go back to your youth when you still had some innocence left and a fresh outlook on life? What would you do differently? What would you change about your current life? What about going back 10 years but having the maturity and knowledge that you have gained?

As you follow Alice through the book trying to regain her memories, confused and unhappy with the person she has become, it makes you reflect and ponder your own life and the choices you have made.
Are you the same person you were 10 years ago? Have you become the person you had hoped to be? What led you to the season of life that you are currently in?
Would you change anything at all if you could?

One of the reader questions in the back of the book is “What would surprise your younger self most about the life you’re currently leading? What would disappoint you?”
Please leave your response in the comments; I would love to hear your answers.

 

Now it seemed like she could twist the lens on her life and see it from two entirely different perspectives. The perspective of her younger self. Her younger, sillier, innocent self. And her older, wiser, more cynical and sensible self.

 

I highly recommend this book. It is a fantastic read that gets you thinking and reflecting on your own personal life choices and how your decisions can and have affected your future self. Liane Moriarty does a wonderful job of creating a fiction story that gets you working on your own personal development. I hope to be able to read more of her books in the future.

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 What Alice Forgot

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Harry Potter

Harry Potter
By J.K. Rowling

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I feel like THE worst bibliophile and Harry Potter fan on the planet!
Apparently, yesterday was the 20th Anniversary (that makes me feel super old, by the way) of the release of the very first Harry Potter book, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone and I did not do a single post about it.

I can still remember the excitement of reading that very first book in the series; cracking it open and smelling the pages of a fresh book. I also remember the anticipation and dread when we had to wait for the next book in the series to arrive; it always felt like an eternity.
I was not always able to go to the midnight release of the next book, but I did go to a few of them. How about you? Did you attend any midnight release parties?

Those that have never read the books just cannot seem to understand the culture that has developed around Harry Potter.
Yes I am old. By society’s standards, I should not be so infatuated with a youth fiction book series. However, when I first began reading them, I was not, by any means, considered “old”. I grew up with Harry, Ron, Hermione and Hagrid. It led me to a whole unexplored genre of literature. And now, I have passed that world down to my oldest son. We have read every single Harry Potter book together, me reading aloud to him. After each book was completed, we watched the corresponding movie together. It has been a wonderful bonding time for us and it has given me some common ground to stay connected to my teenager.

Harry Potter has created memories for people, bonded families over shared literature, and helped children delve into reading when they otherwise would have had no interest. Harry Potter has provided an escape from real life for those whom need it, created a shared culture for those who may have never known such fabulous people existed, and opened up a love of reading for many that never saw reading as enjoyable.

Yes, there has been some controversy, but is that not what makes a book great?

I have read each book multiple times (too many than I will admit to) and each time I still feel that wonderful flutter that happens when you open a book for the first time; a book that you know is going to be incredible.

The Harry Potter Movies were never as good as the books; movies never are. There really is just not enough time to capture the true heart of the story or to develop the unmistakable essence of each character in a 2-3 hour movie. Overall, the movies were decent. My only complaint was that they completely changed some of the story-line. I can understand that there is not room to put everything into the movie, but I do not understand why it is necessary to change the original story.

For fun, here are some Harry Potter websites you can peruse to relive some of those favorite moments, 20 years later.

Pottermore
Why Harry Potter Matters 20 Years Later

84 Magical Facts about Harry Potter

25 Harry Potter Facts That Will Knock You Off Your Broomstick
8 Books J.K. Rowling Recommends
Reading Harry Potter with My Older Brother
A Magical Harry Potter Wonderland
Harry Potter Snowflakes
20 Years of Harry Potter
Harry Potter: 10 Most Highlighted lines on the Kindle

I would love to hear in the comments how Harry Potter has touched or changed YOUR life or the lives of your children.

Harry Potter

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