Score: 87/100 (8.7 out of 10)
Life is Inevitable by Daniel Santos is an ambitious paranormal/speculative-fiction novel that takes some huge risks as a YA book and definitely stands out as unique. Apparently, this is also the author's first novel, so we count ourselves impressed in that regard.
The premise is really what makes this book special and probably extremely difficult to write. The novel follows Brennan Claufield and Olivia Benning, two teens who have recently attempted suicide. They find themselves in the afterlife, represented in rail terms. The stairway or road to Heaven is looked at like a series of winding and weaving train lines to a train station. Brennan and Olivia both seem confused and regretful. Brennan is incredibly agitated and Olivia is crushed by sorrow. The two meet each other and immediately hit it off. Their bond is actually the most powerful in the entire book, especially considering how much different they are in interacting with each other than with anyone else.
They are met by Haniel, a friendly messenger angel, who tells them that they are being given a second chance at life. He tells them that their goal is to “find peace” and to “achieve closure” but isn't specific about how they can or should go about doing that.
However, there's a twist! It seems as though they may have gotten mixed up on the train rides back to their bodies, so they end up in the other's body. This is probably the most unique yet challenging thing about this book. There are constantly times when either character is referred to by their spirit name while in the other's physical body or vice-versa. So, you'll have family, friends, and schoolmates calling Brennan “Olivia” and Olivia “Brennan.” You even have times when “he” is called “her” and “she” is called “him.” The pronouns change from sentence to sentence or even within the same sentence. This can be incredibly confusing and difficult to keep up with, especially as the perspectives constantly change, seemingly every three paragraphs or so. Yes, there's a rose image that indicates a change in perspective, but it can still be tough to tell who is who and what is what.
Actually, we had a few theories about what was going on because we were so constantly confused. We theorized that Brennan and Olivia might be the exact same person who is either transgender or non-binary or who might be suffering from multiple-personality disorder. However, what squashed those theories is the fact that their experiences with their separate bodies seem unique, although similar. For example, they are abused physically, sexually, emotionally, and psychologically, but by different people. They also discover items that belong to the other (like letters and artwork) that they initially don't recognize. They act as if they're finding and seeing them for the first time. So, yeah, those cool theories went out the window.
The thing that helps you to distinguish between these two similar characters is how they talk and think. They are distinct. Brennan is an incredibly unlikable person. He is rough, gruff, rude, and foul-mouthed. In fact, his foul-mouthed dialogue is a give away whenever he's in action. In contrast, Olivia is a softer, more sensitive, and emotional person in actions, speech, and thought. While Brennan seems hesitant to show any emotion at all, Olivia frequently cries and ponders. You eventually learn why Brennan is so afraid to show his emotions and why he's such a rough-around-the-edges person, even glimpsing an awful scene in which Brennan's mother nearly drowns him in a bucket full of ice water in an attempt to remove his bruises.
Olivia realizes things about Brennan and vice-versa as the story goes along.
This is a decently-written book overall, especially for a first-time author. There are a few small issues. For example, there are section of this book in which there are double-indentations within the same paragraph and a few times when periods occur outside of quotation marks.
There's also the issue that this is probably not the most appropriate book for a YA (young adult) or teen audience as advertised. First of all, strong language is usually fine. We're not prudish. However, it's a bit excessive for a YA novel. And, more importantly, the topics of suicide and abuse of this nature is quite severe for a YA novel. To the author's credit, they do handle the sexual abuse with a little bit of tact, implying it most of the time by showing the aftermath, but the fact still remains: this is some heavy stuff for the supposed target audience.
However, this book still has a high amount of creative merit.
Check it out on Amazon!
Score: 87/100 (8.7 out of 10)
Coldwater Confession is a crime-drama mystery thriller by James Ross that gets progressively suspenseful and better throughout the course of the reading.
Now, this book takes a lot of patience, and that's perhaps the thing we didn't like the most about it. The first 150 or so pages are incredibly slow and seem to drag and meander, bombarding us with details and family subplots that seem to have no rhyme or reason (initially). Well, there are some payoffs to all this methodical buildup, but you need to be willing to wait. You need to be willing to endure. If you're someone equipped and ready for a true crime thriller, then this isn't the book for you. This is more of a whodunnit detective mystery starring a Wincester-esque team of detective brothers, the Morgan brothers.
The Morgan brothers, Tom and Joe, have a long history of solving mysteries since childhood including solving some sort of bioterrorist scheme to poison the town's water supply in the last book (from what we gather). They are intelligent, determined, and curious. They seem to come from a family with a legacy of law enforcement including a paternal line of sheriffs. Their father, it seems, helped to take down a sadistic Latino gang that was trafficking drugs through the town. Seemingly as a result of this, he was brutally murdered, given a “Columbian necktie” in which his tongue was pulled through a hole in his throat. However, the mystery behind this murder lingers and the brothers wonder if he was actually murdered by the gangsters or by someone else who may have been interested in stopping him...
Now, remember when we told you that the first 150 pages drag and meander? Well, they do. But you do get a lot of things happening, they just seem disjointed. You meet a lady who encounters a snake. Her husband apparently kills the snake. There's a storm (a “hurricane” or tornado) outside. A child has ingested a bottle full of anti-psychotic pills that a parent seemingly left out in the open.
Oh, yeah, there's information about the battle of Iwo Jima, information about high school/junior high school life, and information about the Soviet-Afghan War in the 1980s. Oh, yeah, by the way, the Soviet-Afghan stuff is apparently relevant to the main plot because a bunch of stingers missiles went missing from the conflict and the town of Coldwater is apparently connected to their disappearance.
Geez! This town has more drama than Gotham or Metropolis!
Now, the central plot in this book is a bit muddled, but we'll explain it as best as we can. So, a 50-something-year-old asthmatic woman named Dee Dee is found to have suspiciously drowned in the water channel outside of town, supposedly training for a triathlon. What's suspicious is that her “drowning” looks more like asphyxiation. It turns out that Dee Dee had a lot of enemies and an allergy that only a few people were aware of.
You'll need to read the book to find out the secret to this murder, the father's murder, and the missing missiles!
Check it out here!
Score: 87/100 (8.7 out of 10)
Cupid's Arrow is the second book in the Shambhala Saga by Susan English, a series that seems to mirror the author's own incredible real-life journey in the Peace Corps. The book follows a number of mostly-female and gender fluid characters, chief of which is Pavani, the love of interest of Callisto (Calli) in the previous novel.
Although this book overlaps several genres and sub-genres like science-fiction, space marines, space colonization, and space operas, this book seems to be largely an LGBTQ+, feminist romantic drama with a sprinkling of sci-fi elements. We've seen some great LGBTQ+ and feminist books come our way including Bacon Grief by Joel Shoemaker (arguably the funniest book we've ever read), Valiente by A.G. Castillo (one of the best sports novels we've ever read), THAW by A.C. Kabukuru (former winner in science-fiction), and My Famous Brain by Diane Wald (with a gay character who won our “Best Supporting Character” award and an interesting plot). So, that's not an issue at all. In fact, it adds to the uniqueness.
With that said, there seems to be something...off or lacking with this particular book in our opinion. We weren't as entertained or engaged as we wanted to be. That might just be us, who knows. But we can only speak honestly and from our perspective. It felt like nothing significant was happening most of the time. Pavani's longing and quest to be reunited with Castillo is relegated to the back-end of the book, long after we'd started losing interest. Perhaps the one quote from this book that summarized our feelings most of the time is: “...were we in junior high? Some things never change.” That quote spoke to us the most. It was the way we felt about the characters and their struggles. They seem to be acting like immature, love-drunk teenagers with the intelligence of the cast of Big Bang Theory. Meanwhile, there didn't seem to be a strong or clear over-arching plot or villain and the book got stuck in the weeds.
Here are a list of characters from the novel: Pavani, Naomi, Diana, Izumi, Hiroki, Annie, Max, Simon, Sasha, Nalah, Fatima, Rika, Yuri, Raven, Asha, General Khoza, Yasmin, Akari, and Sook (to name a few). These characters just seem to get thrown at you with little to no explanation of who they are or if they're important enough for you to remember their names. From what we gather, Pavani is the main character and the prospective we take, Naomi is a mad scientist/botanist/zoologist trying to clone extinct things Jurassic-Park-style, Fatima is a soldier and is tough and stuff, Nalah is around a lot and says stuff occasionally to provide exposition, Izumi & Diana are being wrongly accused of being bioterrorists by a clearly-evil government called the World Government that is sidelined for most of the book, and Hiroki owns a media outlet called SMC and seems to be up to no good in the neighborhood.
So, a lot is actually happening, just none of it seems coherent to us. We don't know what parts are relevant to the other parts. It's like the parts don't feel like they work together. It feels like the author just really liked raisins and decided to put it in the chocolate chip cookie mix or the rice for the heck of it. That may not be the case, but it just feels that way. It's really hard to describe.
Perhaps the whole problem we have stems from not being able to read the first book, Castillo 2.0, first. That'll do it. This book seems to lean on the idea that you've already read the previous one, which isn't the case because this one was submitted first. However, even then, we found ourselves not feeling like this book had a clear direction. One minute, the characters are having will-they/won't-they discussions like this is some werebear shapeshifter romance, then the next minute, they're talking about warp-drives or Hiroki's mystery or anthrax or 3D-printing quokkas.
We're not exaggerating, that's literally how this book jumps from one thing to another thing to another thing. And it just doesn't seem to mesh or mix. We were just dying for the author to focus on one main thing, but we kept having side-quests. The most egregious of these side-quests is definitely the 3D printing/cloning of the pikas (little mountain mammals that look like gofers) and later quokkas. So much time is spent on this subplot with Pavani coming in and out of the lab to see the progress and have a chat. It's a bit much. Yes, it does have a higher meaning in that it warns us what could happen if we don't conserve the environment and protect the planet. The extinction of beautiful creatures due to humanity's negligence and abuse is a very real possibility.
We have to admit something: the pika subplot was probably our favorite part of the book. We personally got a bit attached to the cute little buggers and wanted to see them thrive and do well.
This book does have a lot to offer and a lot to say about humanity, death, gender, the environment, and a whole lot of other things.
You can check it out on Amazon!
Score: 85/100 (8.5 out of 10)
Powerless But Not Helpless by Buddy C is an admirable, high-spirited, well-researched book about breaking the chains of addictive behavior through the meditative verses of Tao Te Ching.
Now, we're a bit familiar with Taoism and Buddhism with many of us growing up in Asian or Pacific-Asian cultures, but we did not expect to see it applied so well to helping alcoholics and drugs addicts. It actually fits.
From what we gather, the author encourages us to break the chains of alcoholism and addiction by following the Buddhist teaching of letting go of attachments and the suffering they cause. We allow things like drugs and alcohol to control us and to have power over us—our thoughts and our emotions. We want these things like sex or bad food, but they are wants and desires, not needs. We don't need drugs. We don't need alcohol. Happiness and inner-peace come from love. The author equates love to God—it's a feeling that gives you peace, happiness, joy, and—he stoutly proclaims—freedom! Love is a liberating feeling, the one thing more powerful than an addiction.
Would you give up an addiction if it meant saving the life you love? What if it meant saving or reconciling with your family? Your spouse? You community? What if it meant not spending all the money you have on chasing that next high? What if it meant having self-discipline and self-control? What if it meant having self-respect and dignity again?
What's incredible is that, although the author doesn't always state these things, presenting the information in the form of Taoist proverbs (mostly), that's what we were able to gather from as little as 80 pages and probably less than 8,000 words. That's actually an incredible achievement on part of the author!
Check this out on Amazon!
Score: 95/100 (9.5 out of 10)
What a phenomenal, incredible book of poetry and prose from the mind and life of an extraordinary person!
Applauding Life by Barry S. Savits, MD is surprisingly long for a poetry book at a hefty 400+ pages, but it never overstays or outstays its welcome. This is a dense, complex book with a lot to say and explore. It is, without a doubt, substantial and significant in a way rivaled only by the works of previous winners like Anthony Toomer and Mike Cook.
Let's dive into this incredible book!
This book has a feeling out period in the first hundred or so pages. That's more typical of something like a fantasy novel than a poetry book. Many of the better poems like “Photos” and “Only Human” are near the middle and end. However, that's not to say that the first hundred pages are dull or uneventful. Actually, the first hundred pages really introduce you to the character and extraordinary circumstances of the writer. Get this: the author literally became a doctor because there were no other doctors in town who could perform a life-saving surgery on his mother. He had to step up and do the surgery based on things he read and diagrams he saw. WOW! Could you imagine being in his shoes? Any of us would be sweating bullets! But that's the kind of person this writer is: they're a go-getter and a survivor who will do whatever it takes. There are few things more admirable and inspirational than that.
There are a few mundane poems in this first half of the book including one about a bird and one about a door. However, the author is able to make these mundane things interesting to us. These simple things are actually rather complex concepts. A bird who ventures away from her young to find food or a “friend” must have a story to tell, especially when it then chooses to ignore its new “friend” in favor of its young. A door is more than a rectangular slab of painted wood or steel with a knob, it's a separation that could divide two people or open a pathway in a wall to bring them together.
This first half is really about the writer finding and piecing together themselves. The writer, it turns out, is not just a doctor who performed surgery on his own mom, he's also Jewish and gay—a gay Jew who spent years wrestling with these feelings and paradoxes at a time when it was far less acceptable to be anything other that heterosexual. Oh, yeah, he also served in the Navy and participated in the Vietnam War. So, this guy's life is the stuff of legend.
Sprinkled throughout this back like red checker marks on a checkerboard are little stories and what-if scenarios that sarcastically pick apart historical and literary figures/events like the Spanish Inquisition, Christopher Columbus, and Hamlet by Othello. There is one clever, poetic piece regarding a figurative chess match between Aphrodite and Ares (love and hate). There's a section in here in which the writer reflects on the binding of Isaac and compares Abraham's knife cleverly to the knife (scalpel) he chose as a doctor. There's also a rather impressive collection of haikus in here.
But let's talk about what we want to talk about: the hard-hitting, jaw-dropping poems that hit about 3/4ths of the way into this book. The best of these is arguably “Photos.” Just look at the elegance of these excerpts:
“...run the gauntlet of possibilities”
“...siren songs of my beginnings”
“...whispers of my past”
And perhaps the best line in the book: “Those who make memories possible are not dead or far away. They are just sleeping silently. Awaiting being remembered to awake...”
The poem “Only Human” also contends for the #1 spot in this book. It makes impressive use of anaphora, repeating the phrases “If I were” and “As a/an” at the beginning of each line. The writer continues to use alliteration as in “As a bird, I would sing sweet summer songs.”
There's powerful subtext to all of that too. All of these comparisons to things like bells and animals are drawing attention to the fact that the writer (and readers) are human beings—human beings with something that makes them unique: a voice with which to speak and use language. Ultimately:
“As a simple human being, I speak in words”
How about this beautiful line from the poem titled “Place”:
“The tumultuous world raged outside.”
Now, this book isn't perfect. There are especially some issues with wrong-word usage such as “magna” instead of “magma” in the context of a volcanic eruption or “breach the canyon” instead of “bridge the canyon.” The almost-perfect line “repair this broken agenda,s[sic]” is ruined by the typo at the end of it.
We'll conclude by going over probably the best theme in the book: the perseverance and freedom of ideas and defending them in language. A lot of this book concerns the use of “voices” to spread ideas and the “process of absorption and digestion of ideas.” The writer warns that the destruction of ideas and varied views (“no need for human oriented news”) would lead to “No humans, only wasteland, only ashes.”
Check this out on Amazon!
88+/100 (8.8+ out of 10)
The Eves by Grace Sammon is a classically-styled novel that follows a bereaved and grieving woman named Jessica who is seemingly entering the twilight of her life. Little does she know that there are new people to meet and more adventures to be had.
What's incredible about this book is that, despite Jessica being in her 60s, we easily mistook her for being much younger. This is because she eventually shows the spunk and adventurous nature of a 30 or 40-year-old. And, perhaps, that's the point. Jessica is a powerful example to everyone that your life isn't over until it's over. Just because Jessica is considered “elderly” by societal standards and just because she doesn't have the strong relationships with loved ones that she once had doesn't mean that her story is “over.” In fact, it has only just begun. New chapters—a new saga—await her.
So, let's get a bit into it. when we first meet Jessica, it is very apparent that she's a broken woman who has just suffered the trauma of losing her children and her husband. Ok, well, it's not exactly what it sounds like. Actually, we had to reread this a few times to figure out what actually happened. Apparently, her children aren't dead and they aren't children. However, Jessica takes it as if both of these things are true. You feel like they're dead, and you feel like they're children. And, let's face it, our babies are ALWAYS our babies regardless of their ages, so we can empathize there.
Jessica was involved in a trial in which she felt compelled to testify against her ex-husband, James, the father of her kids. James, apparently, was rolling like Walter White from Breaking Bad: trafficking illegal substances and committing various kinds of fraud. Jessica's children, Ryn and Adam, both testify as character witnesses for their dad on the opposite side while also threatening to cut their mother out of their lives if she goes through with it.
Well, she goes with her moral compass and goes through with it, losing her connection with both her children and her husband.
Jessica finds solace only at the bottom of a bottle, particularly Vodka. She becomes a miserable alcoholic to stops taking care of her home, health, and hygiene.
Fortunately, Jessica has a very strong-minded friend named Sonia, a lifelong people-fixer, who adopts Jessica as her “project.” Sonia picks Jessica up by her britches and tells her that there's more ahead of her than she realizes. Sonia gives us a few of the book's best quotes including the apparent thesis: “we can write our own story, change the ending.” Sonia may be a candidate for “Best Supporting Character.”
She encourages Jessica to go to Maryland and spend some time in a historic estate known as “the Grange” or the “Grange House” where she can spend time with the women who live there.
Much of the story involves Jessica hearing, documenting, and learning from the various stories of the women in the Grange House as well as the men who visit them. These women include Deidre, probably our favorite, Elizabeth, Jan, Ali, Sydney, Tia, and Erica. They range in age from 15 to their 90s. Jessica also encounters some men of experience in the process including Malcolm, Roy, and Tobias.
Tobias teaches Jessica that “This life is not a dress rehearsal. It's a journey and I think our job is to do it well along the way.”
So, why is this book not quite a 9/10? Let's address this. This book can be very slow. There's a lot of meandering, it seems. The author is an educator, clearly, and seems to feel the need to teach the reader about anything and everything—whether they're relevant to building a coherent plot or not. This is essentially the equivalent of world-building.
The author attempts to craft worlds upon worlds, it seems—giving us detailed descriptions of Maryland, Washington D.C., Norway, Ireland, and even Africa. The book seems to skip from here and there, never fully focusing on one thing. This makes it come across as disjointed. You get information about the Civil War, information about slavery, information about LGBTQ+ issues, information about flowers, information about elephants, information about Irish culture, information about Hopi culture, information about the constitution, information about racial issues, information about Shakespeare, information about the annexation of Puerto Rico—ok, maybe not that—but you get the point. There is such a staggering amount of information and teaching in this book that it becomes cloying. It becomes more like a collection of Wikipedia articles than a story about human beings doing human being stuff, and what becomes depressing is that the plot doesn't really move along until about 200 pages in. By then, you've already asked yourself if you want to keep reading or not.
All the small talk, we know, is supposed to be character-building, but it comes across like busy work, stuff we have to get past to get to the good stuff—the meat of the plot. You really, really need to be patient and get through the weeds to get to it.
This book is actually very comparable in subject matter to Gary Lee Miller's Finding Grace, one of the best books we've ever read. Both books involve a woman leaving home and going on a trip to meet new people and discover herself, learning more and more as she gets deeper into her tour. The thing is, Finding Grace was a tighter-told story where every single character was memorable and likable. Everything that happened seemed to matter, it wasn't there for decorations or to go on a tangent about a social issue or two or three or four or five. That book legit made us cry multiple times, it was that powerful. So, we had a strong reference for comparison.
All in all, this is a worthwhile book with a lot to say. It's solidly-written and definitely shows the enormous amount of knowledge and research that went into it. You might actually love it, especially if you're into classical women's literature or calmer, more mellow stories.
Check it out on Amazon!
There are few things more powerful and valuable than prayer—giving you direct access to the Almighty through Christ Jesus. Prayer is a practice that demonstrates and exercises your relationship with God similar to how eating with and spending time with your partner demonstrates and exercises your relationship with them. We've all found prayer to be a valuable part of our lives. Like we said in our review of Flame of Healing by Freda Emmons, prayer is a lot like a cup of coffee in the morning—that little, big something that picks you up and gets you going.
Most of our reviewers would consider us God-loving believers.
With that said, Painful Knee Happy Heart by Evangelist Elizabeth Akomalafe presents a lot of problems to us as a literary work/book. For one, it is incredibly, entirely miscategorized. This is NOT a children's book, nor is it an autobiography. Again, this is not a children's book, regardless of what it says in the subtitle of the book. This is clearly a book for parents containing prayers for their children. Secondly, this can hardly be considered an autobiography. We learn little to nothing about the author herself.
Next, we struggle to think of this as a prayer book. Yes, you could probably craft prayers from the content of this book, but almost all of the “prayers” are actually just absolute statements and affirmations based on Bible verses. Now, it's really cool and commendable that the author actually took the time to research and list the Bible verses that these absolute statements and affirmations are based on, but that doesn't change the fact that, well, they're absolute statements and affirmations.
Some of these absolute statements and affirmations range from simple things like food, shelter, and work to downright bizarre. One of these bizarre prayer requests is that the believer's child not grow up to become a murderer. Yes, really. There's at least one prayer request for the believer's child not grow up to become a lesbian. Yes, really. There's yet another prayer request that the believer's child “not do a laborer's job” and another that they “not do slavery.” Ok...
So, like, we understand that the Bible asked us to pray over all things. This book takes “ALL THINGS” very literally. How much do you have to cover your bases to ensure that your child not grow up to be a murderer, a laborer, or a slave? Parents actually feel the need to pray that their kid not get angry enough to kill anyone that day? That's pretty dang scary.
We have to compare this book directly to Flame of Healing by Fred Emmons because they are similar books in the same genre, but at least Emmons's work was something a believer could somewhat work with. It was a workbook. You had places to write your devotionals, prayers, and responses to certain verses. This book seems to be a book of lists. Lists upon lists upon lists of statements. This book flies by, perhaps only being about 25-40 minutes of reading long despite being 70+ pages.
Now, this book may be worthwhile if you are already a very strong, devout believer who loves doing daily devotionals and studying Bible verses.
You can check this out on Amazon
Score: 93/100 (9.3 out of 10)
Michael Cook has consistently proven himself to be one of the most prolific and well-rounded authors to come our way, making waves in fiction, non-fiction, and even poetry. Cook has a heart for education and learning, and it really shows with works like this activity book.
Passamaquoddy Legends Puzzle Book Vol. 2: Lox the Mischief Maker is what we'd consider an educational activity book intended to accompany and enhance your understanding of the book Passamaquoddy Legends, a tremendous collection of culturally-significant stories passed on by the Passamaquoddy people who long called Maine their home. This particular activity book focuses on the second part of the source text which focused on the misadventures and misdeeds of the mischievous Lox.
It would be unfair and incomplete to review this activity book without rereading the source text, so we'll cover that for context.
Who is Lox? Well, if it peaks your interest, Lox shares a lot of similarities to the Norse god Loki. He may have even been directly inspired by Loki when the Vikings interacted with the Native American Indians in Newfoundland, Greenland, and, of course, the North American continent itself. So, you may be more familiar with this character than you think.
Lox is a lot of things, but he's often called the “Indian devil.” One of the unique aspects of him in many of his stories is that he apparently rose from the dead and is now unkillable/immortal. Lox is very often mutilated and inflicted with injuries that would kill a normal person, but he never dies. Lox even mutilates himself and “kills” himself on some occasions such as when he cuts both his feet off because he thinks they'll “talk” and give up his guilt or when he deals himself a gruesome and seemingly fatal wound just to scare and terrorize some hapless creatures. He seems to do this as a prank.
Speaking of pranks, Lox doesn't seem to act maliciously for evil's sake, he seems to do it because it brings him joy. That's something we really took away from Lox's stories: he's actually not pure evil. He's more like a clown or a prankster. Yes, he did behead a woman and throw her head in a boiling pot to hide the evidence, but that was one case. His actions are not usually so brutal toward others, they're more comical.
Being a magician, he often transforms himself into various creatures. His favorite form seems to be the wolverine, a creature with a fearsome reputation among the Passamaquoddy people. His second favorite form seems to be the raccoon, a sneaky, shifty creature. Lox in his animal forms is more rude than evil, deciding not to show courtesy to a crane ferryman who is letting his ego get the best of him.
So, we've gotten some context on what this section of the source material, let's get into the activity book itself.
The activity book mostly accomplishes its goal of reviewing the source material. Remember the story of Lox the raccoon and the bear? Well, there's a fill-in-the-blank activity to review that. Remember the Mahtigwess the rabbit story? Well, there's a brain-busting maze activity about that too. We had a lot of fun particularly with the fill-in-the-blank, crossword, and word-puzzle activities, even when they included such names and terms like Begemkessiek, Qwahbeetis, and Wiwillnekq--not things you'd immediately think to plug into boxes. But this book does a good job at familiarizing you with the characters and the terms.
The more familiar you are with the stories in Passamaquoddy Legends, the easier some of these become. A good example is the crossword puzzle “Lox Told a Lie” which provides useful hints based on the text.
If we had any complaints at all, it was with the maze-type activities. They seemed borderline ridiculous or absurd in their difficulty. Maybe we just lacked the brain-power and patience at the time to endure them. They're pretty much the equivalent of when your extension cord or water hose gets tangled cause someone decided to just bent it up into a ball and throw it on the side somewhere. However, we know there are some next-level people out there who will find joy in penciling their way out of those mazes.
Another issue we had was that the numbers, for whatever reason, looked so much smaller and blurrier than the rest of the book. So, it was sometimes hard to see the corresponding numbers without zooming in a whole lot.
Other than these small things, this activity book excels at what it was intended for: to teach people about the incredible culture of the Passamaquoddy people.
Check it out on Amazon!
Score: 94/100 (9.4 out of 10)
What is Heaven Like? by Richard R. Eng is a very, very, very special children's book. Initially, when we went through it and noticed its wordiness, a small error (in the capitalization of one word), and complexity, we averaged giving it a 9.2/10 rating. However, after rereading and rethinking this book, we had to boost the score. It really is something unique and special.
It's really difficult to describe what makes this book so extraordinary for a children's book, but we'll give it our best shot. First of all, the art is beautiful. The illustrations are very well-done. They're bright and eye-catching. The human characters look great, falling under the uncanny valley and in the sweet spot between that and cartoons.
Where this book really shines is in its message, especially for its very specific target audience. This was a book that was made for Sunday schools, youth groups, and Christian households. It accomplishes its task superbly.
See, normally when we see a wordy children's book like this, we consider the short attention spans of the children. However, in a Sunday school or youth group environment, children often consume information from a text like this and answer a worksheet testing them on what they learned. This book is perfect for that, even supplying a few questions at the end that Sunday school teachers can use.
This book explores many of the stranger, lesser acknowledged questions that children (and adults) have about Heaven. What will it be like? Will we sing all the time? Will we work all the time? Will we be bored?
What's very interesting about this book is that it presents the answers the way Jesus might present them, in the form of a physical situation familiar to the people he's talking to. The dad in this situation takes his son, Jessie, out to the lake to fish. Many of us can relate to the experience of fishing, hunting, or hiking with our parents on a cold, foggy morning. This makes Jessie think about existential things like where we go after this life and if it'll be nearly as enjoyable.
One of the first things he thinks about is if Heaven will be foggy like the foggy river, but his dad eases his mind and tells him that there aren't bad things in Heaven, only good. So, logically, why would God make it hard to see there? Second, Jessie ponders the Bible verses that talk about all the singing in Heaven and whether or not he'll actually enjoy that. His dad tells him that there's more to it than just singing, it's like a calling. When we love something like a sport, a hobby, a toy, or a person, we want to talk about them all the time because it's important and fascinating to us.
Similarly, Jessie worries that there'll be work like chores in Heaven, but his dad has him think about his dream job. Jessie imagines being an astronaut helping in the colonization of Mars. His dad tells him that that dream is unique to him and that God must've put it on his heart—it's something he WANTS to do, DESIRES to do, and ENJOYS doing. It's something he was, in theory, MADE for. His dad tells him that we are made by God to accomplish certain tasks on Earth, and that we'll have a very special task in Heaven that was made just for us.
A very interesting part of this book considers what the fish see. The dad says that the fish are made to see in the green, murky water, but that the light above the water is blinding to them because they're not used to it. Similarly, human beings on Earth live in relative darkness, not fully grasping or understanding what is above, not fully comprehending how great it is up there.
This is a phenomenal Christian children's book, especially if your kids have some patience, introspection, and existential curiosity.
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Score: 92/100 (9.2 out of 10)
Join Angel, a kind, adventurous kitten, as she explores her farmland and considers the wonders of the world beyond it...
The Adventures of Angel is a unique book written from the naive perspective of a pet. These types of stories are always a little extra special. There's just something about seeing the world from the perspective of one of God's littler creatures as opposed to the human beings we're so accustomed to.
Kids will laugh and jeer as the curious kitten gets herself into a lot of shenanigans throughout the course of the book.
The one thing about this book that slightly holds it back is that it seems to lack a clear plot. Yes, there are times where there is tension such as when Angel gets herself locked out of the screen and separated from Mamakitty or when Angel encounters a mean, hungry fox in the field, but there isn't really a traditional plot with a rising and falling action. It's more episodic. Things just happen to Angel or Angel experiences a new thing.
The closest thing we can think of to a plot is in Angel trying to earn her stripes and respect among her peers, namely the barn kittens Long Tails, Jasper, and Calico Girl. They are all passionate and adept hide-and-go-seekers, playing the game daily. Calico Girl is especially skilled at this, pretty much being the Lebron James or Tom Brady of their hide-and-go-seek crew. Angel learns that by being the one to discover Calico Girl's secret hiding spot, she could rise in the hierarchy of their crew.
What this book really excels all is in capturing the naivity and innocence of a young person (in this case a kitten) as they see and experience things they've never seen or experienced before. One of the best examples of this is when Angel goes to the veterinarian for the very first time. She has no idea what's going on, but she's fascinated by all the other animals there and their different situations. One of our favorite animals at the vet was Stinky, a smelly cat who obviously earns his name.
Another aspect of interest in this book is that of a young person realizing that there's more to the world than meets the eye. When Angel goes on a short road trip, she returns to tell Long Tail all about how the world is bigger than just the farm, that there are rivers, lakes, and mountains out there.
Lastly, the illustrations in this book are cute and beautiful. They are a cherry on top.
So, while this book left a lot to be desired in terms of a tangible plot, it did have some cute and interesting moments and characters as well as solid illustrations.
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