The Lemonade Trick



by Scott Corbett

Published 1960

This is the first in a lively little series of books aimed at (I would say) 4th-5th grade.  In this book, we meet Kerby and his dog, Waldo.  Kerby and Waldo, in turn, meet a mysterious old lady in the park, Mrs. Graymalkin.  Kerby helps Mrs. Graymalkin out, and she tells him that if he comes  back the next day, she will give him a present–something that used to belong to her son when he was a little boy.  The gift turns out to be a chemistry set–“Feats o’ Magic!”

Now, obviously, we don’t want children conversing with strangers in the park anymore, much less accepting presents from them, but, nonetheless, I have found these books to be hilarious.  Each story involves the use of a different beaker from the chemistry set, and adventures ensue.  Kerby and his best friend, Fenton, are torn about whether or not the chemistry set really is magic, and whether or not Mrs. Graymalkin is a–“well, you know, something she couldn’t be, not in real life”–(they never actually say “witch”). Fenton is convinced that she actually a very intelligent scientist, but Kerby isn’t so sure.

In The Lemonade Trick, Kerby discovers that mixing one of the beakers with lemonade makes an irresistible drink–and drinking it makes you feel “good”–after drinking it, Kerby spends the rest of the day cleaning out the basement and the garage, much to his parents’ surprise and concern!  It is a funny and sweet book, with a nice ending.

This is the same author who wrote the Inspector Tearle books.  These are illustrated by Paul Galdone, whose line drawings grace many of my old books.  It’s a fun and light-hearted read, an easy 4/5.

Monk’s Hood



by Ellis Peters

Published 1980

In this third Brother Cadfael book, the brothers at the Benedictine Abbey at Shrewsbury are in a state of uncertainty.  Their Father Abbot has been called to a meeting, and there is a strong possibility that he will return without the authority with which he is leaving.  Meantime, he feels that he must leave several pieces of business unfinished, for the new Abbot may not have the same inclinations as the old.  One of these items is the acceptance of an estate in exchange for the life-long care of the current owner and his wife.  When this man dies before that charter can be signed, it is up to Cadfael to determine whether or not the obvious suspect is actually the murderer.

One of the things that I love about these books is the rich background Peters provides.  Between these books and Lloyd Alexander’s Prydain Chronicles, I am quite intrigued by Wales and Welsh culture, if for no other reason than every time I see Welsh names, they seem to include an impossible combination of letters.  This story also includes a meeting between Cadfael and the fiancee of his youth, providing us with more insight into the character that is Cadfael.

You’ll notice that this book cover is from the television series.  I only saw a few episodes, but it was actually a decent rendition.  However, these books are so full of characters and conversations, that, to me, the television version felt a bit abrupt and confusing if you weren’t already familiar with the story.  But it’s been a super long time since I watched, so I could be completely wrong.

Anyway, 5/5 for Cadfael.

The Rescuer

by Dee Henderson

Published 2003

This is the final book in O’Malley series, and focuses on Stephen, who is a paramedic.  Completely burned out from his job (driving a squad to emergencies in Chicago is no tea party), emotionally exhausted from the illness and death of his youngest sister, and frustrated because the rest of his family have all become Christians and he can’t understand why, Stephen leaves for a long break.  When he returns, he buys a small farm in a small town outside of Chicago, and is ready to start his new life.

I really enjoyed this book, as I have the entire series.  This one involved a jewel thief parallel story line that seemed a bit obscure to me, but Stephen’s love interest, Meghan, is one of my favorite characters in the entire series, so the book was a bit of a toss-up for me.  :-D  I will say that it contains more excellent conversations about religion.  I greatly appreciated this exchange–

“Why does it feel like God has conditions on loving me?”

“He doesn’t. You’re projecting your own list of what you think He should expect. It gets pretty intense when you realize He accepts you despite the fact that you’re a mess as the moment … Jesus is the kind who moves in, says I love you anyway, and then starts helping repair the mess. He means it when He says He loves you as you are, not based on what you’ve done. But He loves you too much to leave you in that chaos once you know Him.”

Henderson manages to capture that beautiful tension of the Christian life–Christ accepts us for who we are, without demanding us to “clean up” our lives in order to approach Him, but once we give our lives to Him, He helps us to clean them up, working alongside of us–a holy life is a result of a relationship with Christ, not a prerequisite.

I do feel like this book ends a bit abruptly.  We’ve traveled along with this family for six fat books, and then it’s just sort of “and everyone lived happily ever after” kind of feel and that’s the end.   Still, I really enjoyed this series as a whole, and this book in particular is an easy 4/5.

The Healer

by Dee Henderson

So, I was just writing a review for the last book in this series (The Protector) when I realized that I had somehow never reviewed The Healer?!?  Which is a shame, because it is a really good one.  So.  We will fix that now.  :-D

This is one of the O’Malley books, and focuses on the story of Rachel.  She works for the Red Cross as a trauma psychologist, traveling to areas that have had some kind of disaster, and working with the people there to overcome their stress and terror.  It involves lots of talking, lots of hugs, and recognizing that we, as humans, cling to things that are simple and small when our lives are spiraling out of control.  Rachel is excellent at giving people back a semblance of normalcy.  More, she doesn’t just abandon people after the initial difficulty has been overcome–she frequently hands out personalized business cards so that people with whom she has spoken can contact her later if they are struggling with returning to normal life.

Rachel is the O’Malley that I admire the most, honestly.  She is calm and steady, the kind of person you automatically turn to in a time of need.

We first met Rachel in-depth in the book prior to this one, The Protector.  While that book focused on her brother Jack, Rachel’s story was also a large part of it.  Between that book and this one, Rachel has also become a Christian, so this book, rather than focusing on her journey to Christ, focuses more on the struggles of a brand-new Christian–learning to roll trouble and confusion onto His shoulders, and to lean on Him when the way becomes rough.

I have to say, one thing that I really, really, really love about these books is the way that they value friendship.  The O’Malleys are a group of adults who have basically pledged to be life-long friends.  They have legally adopted one another by changing their names, and they choose to stay together and support one another.  And even as they are all getting married and such, those new spouses are brought into the family as well–true friends, accepted, loved, protected, challenged.  The friendships exhibited in these books are beautiful to me.

Throughout this book, Jennifer, the sister with cancer, is getting sicker, and that is also part of Rachel’s struggle–trying to understand prayer, healing (or the lack thereof) and how this all works.  The conversations are real and gritty, and I personally fell in love with Rachel’s love interest, Cole.  Such a good man.

Anyway, these books are great; I love them.  The mysteries are decent, the characters good, the conversations excellent.  If all Christian fiction was like this, I would be a much happier woman.



The Long Walk



by Slavomir Rawicz

Published 1956

This is a fascinating book.  It is the true story of a small group of men who escaped from a Siberian prison camp and walked to India.  INDIA, people, from SIBERIA.  ACROSS THE DESERT AND THE MOUNTAINS.

I definitely recommend this book.  It is actually a reasonably fast read.  Rawicz’s narrative is easy to follow and completely fascinating.  Although it is also rather dark and sad (for obvious reasons).  He is obviously a haunted man, but eventually he ended up in England, where he married and had a family, so his life, at least, had a happy ending.

But this story of survival is simply brilliant, and the kind of book that everyone should read, if for no other reason than to remind ourselves of how incredibly easy our lives are.  Books like this make me stop complaining and start being thankful.

To Hell and Back



by Audie Murphy

Published 1949

This is classic World War II reading material, in my mind.  The memoirs of a decorated soldier, who went on to become a movie star (including playing himself in a film based on his book), make for interesting reading.

When studying history, I like to read books that were written during that time as well as books about that time.  The latter can provide retrospective big-picture views, but the former give us insight into the more personal nature of history–history is comprised of people who had feelings and fears and hopes and joys just as we do every day.  Books like this one give us a glimpse of that, reminding us of the very humanness of history.  It is easy to read a log of numbers of people killed; it is something different to read a story that gives names to those deaths.

While Murphy’s account makes for interesting reading, it can also be confusing.  He doesn’t bother a whole lot with telling you where he is or when it is–although, in truth, as a soldier, quite often he didn’t know where he was or when it was, so I suppose that makes sense.  A lot of his book is conversation in the trenches, so it’s stories being told by other soldiers, stories of their past lives, stories of the lives they yearn to have someday.  In some ways, this book is almost dull–day after day of trudging, of death, of waiting for death, of stupidity and frustration and hunger and cold and wet.

I wouldn’t recommend this book for very young readers–there is some language, and some discussion about women that makes the book a bit inappropriate for the pre-teen crowd, but overall a good read.

One Corpse Too Many


by Ellis Peters

Published 1979

This is the second of the Brother Cadfael books.  As I said, this is a series that deserves to be read from beginning to end.  In this book, we are introduced to other new and important recurring characters.  Although part of the fun of this book is trying to determine which of the characters that will be, so I will try to not tell you his name!

As a rule, my husband doesn’t even try to keep up with my reading material, but he did question why I was reading a book with such a picture on the cover!  :-D  But, as I said in the review of A Morbid Taste for Bonesthese stories are set during a civil war in England around 1140 (I think this book takes place in 1138).  In this story, King Stephen’s forces overrun Shrewsbury, which had been in the territory of the Empress Maud.  All of the garrison are unceremoniously hung (hence the cover picture).  The monks are given permission to care for the bodies, making them ready for burial, and allowing the people of the town an opportunity to collect their dead.  But in the midst of this rather gruesome, but necessary, task, Brother Cadfael discovers that there is one more body than there ought to be–a murderer has taken advantage of the fact that over 90 men were hung and thrown into one terrible pile, and added his own victim to them.

I so admire Cafael’s shrewd wisdom, and the battle of wits between himself and a younger foe makes for fantastic reading.

I can’t recommend these books highly enough.  5/5.

The Starlight Barking



by Dodie Smith

Published 1967

So, as I mentioned in my review of The One Hundred and One Dalmatiansthat book has been a favorite of mine for many years.  However, I was SO surprised to find out only a couple of months ago that Smith write a sequel ten years after publishing the original.  I ordered it off of Amazon immediately, especially when I learned that the sequel, despite it’s suspect cover, was, in fact, illustrated by the same duo (Janet and Anne Grahame-Johnstone) as the first book.

I really enjoyed this little book, but I  must say–it was odd.  The first book, despite the talking dogs and all that, still somehow seemed plausible.  (Because I grew up pretending animals could talk??  Maybe…)  But this book–well, it begins with Pongo, Missis, Prince, and Perdita waking up one morning several years after the end of the first book.  However, although the dogs are awake, no one else is.  As the morning progresses, they realize that only dogs are awake everywhere.  All humans and all other animals are fast asleep.

So, right away this book takes on more of an other-worldly feel.  I guess the first book was completely devoid of any kind of magic or anything like that, so it was a bit of a surprise to come across and enchanted sleep right out of the box on the second book.  Long story condensed, Pongo and Missis and many other dogs, end up traveling to London to meet up with Cadpig, who has become the Prime Minister’s dog, to try and figure out what is going on.

I really enjoyed this story a lot, and there were actually some very good thoughts in it, but it somehow gave me the weirds, too, and I can’t exactly explain why.  Still, the illustrations were perfect, it was lots of fun to see what happened with all of my beloved characters, and the story was still sweet (even though a little bizarre), so a high 3/5, almost a 4.

The Hundred and One Dalmatians


by Dodie Smith

Published 1956

(Don’t even bother reading an edition that isn’t illustrated by Janet and Anne Grahame-Johnstone.  I didn’t even imagine that there was an edition without their perfect illustrations, and then I ordered a copy for my niece for Christmas and was devastated to find perfectly dreadful drawings inside…  such tragedy!)

Wow, today has been all about book raves rather than rants, hasn’t it??  And here is yet another–I love this book!  Actually, I love this book so much that it is physically painful for me to watch the Disney version.  I am usually quite skilled at separating movies from their books (I think to myself, This isn’t my book.  It just happens to have the same title as my book.  But it’s actually a completely unrelated movie.  And that helps), but even as adorable and delightful as the movie is (the animated version, that is–I like to pretend that the live-action version doesn’t even exist), it just doesn’t hold a candle to this perfect, perfect book.

It’s a book that I’ve read easily a score of times, probably more, because I would guess that I’ve read it at least once a year since I could read, and that’s been quite some time now.  But this story never gets old for me.  I love Pongo, Missis, Perdita, and the puppies.  I love the Nannies, and I love the Dearlys.  I even love the wild and crazy villain of Cruella.  I love the Great Dane near Hampstead and the Colonel and Tib and little Tommy and the elderly Spaniel.  Most of all, I love Smith’s narration; her descriptions and word play are wonderful.  (“Mr. Dearly … was particularly good at arithmetic.  Many people called him a wizard of finance–which is not the same thing as a wizard of magic, though sometimes fairly similar.”)

I am starting to sound like  a broken record; I hope you’ve been making a list of all the books I’ve recommended today.  Add this one to it, possibly at the top–this book is most definitely worth a read.  5/5.

The Case of the Silver Skull



by Scott Corbett

Published 1974

In this installment of the Inspector Tearle series, Roger, Shirley, and Thumbs attempt to be proactive about solving a case–by trying to prevent it from occurring in the first place.  unfortunately, the intended victim isn’t really interested in assistance.

I think that I really enjoy these books because, as I have mentioned before, of the small-town feel.  Everyone knows everyone else, and the kids go zipping about from place to place on their bicycles.  This books has the additional fun of an obnoxious flock of starlings and a passionate ornithology club.  These books are just lots of fun, and Paul Frame’s illustrations are fantastic.  4/5.