War Horse by Michael Morpurgo

Published: 1982

Genre: middle grade historical fiction

Length: 165 pages

Setting: mostly Belgium, during WWI

Interest: It was the book chosen for our first American History Club meeting of the school year about WWI

Summary: Joey, the horse, is bought on a whim and raised on a farm in Devon, England. Albert, the son of the family, raises and trains Joey and the two share a close bond. Joey is sold to be a British cavalry horse, but he is captured by the Germans on one of his first cavalry charges. The Germans use him to pull an ambulance from the front lines. He spends the winter on a farm in Belgium, but is requisitioned to pull a cannon for the Germans the next year. Joey gets free during a bombardment and ens up in no-man’s-land. He’s taken back to the British side where he is reunited with Albert, who works at the vet hospital.

Final thoughts: This is a great book for middle-aged kids to read about WWI. It demonstrates many of the changes that WWI brought to fighting war, without being too graphic. We get a taste of the trenches and bombardments, but again, not the gory details of dead and dying bodies in no-man’s-land.

Joey makes an excellent surrogate for a solider in the war. He even had a horse friend that stayed with him most of the story, but dies because he couldn’t handle the stress of the battlefield. We strongly feel Joey’s sense of loss at that time. We also see that Joey engenders a fierce loyalty in the people around him who love animals. He’s willing to do anything for the people, and they’re willing to do the same for him. Overall, an excellent book that I highly recommend to any kid who wants to read about WWI. I’m wondering how well the movie follows the book, and whether or not it’s appropriate for children. Anyone seen it and care to comment?

Title comes from: The main character, Joey, is a horse who goes to war in WWI

Reading challenges fulfilled: 69/100 in my 100 Book Challenge

If you’re interested in purchasing the book, you can click on the cover image to follow an Amazon affiliate link to the book and thanks for supporting my blog!

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A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court by Mark Twain

Published: 1889

Genre: historical fiction with time travel, so I guess technically it’s science fiction, but it feels more historical fiction

Length: 374 pages

Setting: Britain, 13th century

Interest: I was looking for a classic, preferably one from the 1800s for my Back to the Classics challenge. This one jumped out at me as fitting the bill.

Summary: The narrator (only referred to as The Boss in the book) is a 19th century engineer that wakes up one day in 13th century Britain. He ingratiates himself into King Arthur’s court as a magician by predicting an eclipse. Once The Boss is in a position of power, he uses it to undermine the parts of society he doesn’t like (such as wandering knights) and introduce 19th century inventions he does like (such as schools, newspapers, telephones, etc.). The Boss goes wandering as a knight and as a common man, getting into myriad adventures along the way. While he feels he’s made lasting changes on British society, when the Church interdicts him, all his plans and improvements fall to pieces.

Final thoughts: The book was not what I expected. I’ve read some Twain in the past and found it most amusing and a great description of life at that time. We got the same immersion in life of the 13th century (at least what Twain thought it was like), but none of the humor, and I really missed the humor. There were silly parts to the book, particularly when The Boss was introducing a new product to bring down British society, but no laugh-out-loud amusing parts. It is a classic, but that’s about all I can recommend from it. I recommend a different one of Twain’s books than this one.

Title comes from: It’s descriptive of the main plot point.

Reading challenges fulfilled: 68/100 in my 100 Book Challenge, and a 19th Century Classic in my Back to the Classics Challenge

If you’re interested in purchasing the book, you can click on the cover image to follow an Amazon affiliate link to the book and thanks for supporting my blog!


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The Wind Harp by Athena Andreadis

2014CampbellianAnthology_CoverPublished: 2013 in Crossed Genres 2.0 Magazine

Genre: science fiction

Length: 18 pages

Setting: extrasolar planet, some other time

Interest: It is included in the 2014 annual Campbellian Anthology that was available back in January. M. David Blake, the editor of the anthology, had the idea to collect in one place samples of work for everyone who is eligible for the Campbell Award for New Writers (see the writeup here). The Campbell Award for New Writers (there’s also a Memorial Award) is given to the best new writer who was first published in the past two years. Sadly, you can no longer get the anthology, but you can read the story at its original publication spot.

Summary: Antóa has been asked by her ruler/guardian, Némi Ferái Kámi-o, to make a trip to a rival Tower while they are in transition between rulers. Kámi-o hopes to gain influence in that Tower, increasing his power in the area. Antóa is able to convince the Dor-Nys to trust her and succeeds in her mission.

Final thoughts: I had a hard time keeping everyone straight in this story. There was the Dor-Nys and the Gan-Tem, and the Kem-Fir, and others. I’m very bad with names, and these were rival organizations/governments that I couldn’t tell apart. Wait, did the narrator on that group’s side or not? It felt like a piece of a larger story, and I had a hard time immersing myself in this small piece.

Reading challenges fulfilled: None, since this was a short story.

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Weekly Wrap-Up: More Apollo Missions

Last week was a bad week. Between pulled muscles and germs, I was out of it. This week, I was on the mend and much more involved with school. I even have the energy for a weekly wrap-up post. We’re continuing our study of the Apollo missions. Both kids have read quite a bit about the Apollo program, and have moved on to documenting some of their knowledge. Mr. Curiosity has decided to make a timeline of all the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo missions. He’s using Mission Control, This is Apollo: The Story of the First Voyages to the Moon by Andrew Charkin and Alan Bean for his mission details.

Miss Adventure decided she wanted to recreate one of the iconic images from the Apollo 11 mission: AS11-44-6562_thumb

We’ve been practicing different painting techniques to get the correct visuals on the page. We want stars in the blackness, which has been the trickiest part. The grey of the moon isn’t easy, either. Both kids also read Buzz Aldrin’s picture book biography, Reaching for the Moon. He takes you from his childhood, through his studies, becoming an astronaut, and landing on the moon.

Since the moon landing was within the existence of TV, I decided we could watch some of the actual footage. I remembered Apollo 13, and Netflix suggested we might enjoy In the Shadow of the Moon. Why yes, in fact we would enjoy that documentary! Watching actual footage of the launches and listening to the actual astronauts was fascinating for everyone. Highly recommended watching.

And that’s our weekly wrap-up, which I’m linking to Weird, Unsocialized Homeschoolers.



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We by Yevgeny Zamyatin

Published: written in 1921 in Russian, originally published in English in 1924, 2009 in this particular translation

Genre: dystopian science fiction

Length: 216 pages

Setting: the City, a future time

Interest: It was suggested somewhere as an influential, classic science fiction book.

Summary: Δ-503 is a mathematician working on The Integral, a space ship designed to take their perfect, mathematical society to the stars. Society has become perfectly regimented so everyone knows their place and what to do at all times during the day. But things are not as perfect as Δ-503 believes. He becomes involves with I-330, who absolutely fascinates him. She’s part of a conspiracy to bring down the Glass Wall (that separates their perfect city from wild, untamed nature). Δ-503 is willing to do anything to keep I-330’s attentions, but in the end, the conspiracy is crushed and everyone gets their imaginations surgically removed so they are perfectly happy.

Final thoughts: This reminded me a lot of Brave New World and 1984, which it should since We inspired those books. Sadly, neither of those books is high on my list of favorites. It takes a while to get into the book, since you have to get a picture of the society, and Δ-503 isn’t very good at describing the society he takes for granted as absolutely perfect. Of course, not everyone’s going to be happy in the regimented society. It shows the Russian mindset of the author that the State wins in the end, not the revolutionaries. It’s interested to see Δ-503 change from a cog in the wheel (and a happy one at that) to someone who wants something (to be with I-330). He’s willing to do anything to get what he wants, even break out of his mold in society.

Title comes from: The narrator names the book. It is an attempt to record what “we” think about events (since he considers himself a spokesman for society.

Awards won: a Prometheus Award in 1994

Reading challenges fulfilled: 67/100 in my 100 Book Challenge, a Z in my Author’s Alphabet Soup Challenge, and (I didn’t realize until I started the book) a Classic in Translation in my Back to the Classics Challenge

If you’re interested in purchasing the book, you can click on the cover image to follow an Amazon affiliate link to the book and thanks for supporting my blog!

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Pandora’s Clock by John J. Nance

Published: 1995

Genre: thriller

Length: 357 pages

Setting: December 22-24th, present to the time of writing, on board Flight 66

Interest: I was looking for an N author, and this book sounded interesting

Summary: Ernest Helms is exposed to an unknown but highly deadly virus while he is in Germany. When he boards a plane for the U.S., his heart attack starts an international incident. The German minister overseeing the research at the private German company sends up a red flag on the passenger, but offers no real details. The airplane is suddenly a pariah. No one wants a potentially highly infectious and deadly disease on their home soil. In the U.S., a CIA agent decides to kill two birds with one stone. He hires a Russian operative to blow up the plane (removing the vector), and place the blame for the incident on the up-and-coming terrorist group, Aqbah. The captain of the flight manages to avoid being shot down and it turns out the disease was only transmitted via blood.

Final thoughts: I chose the book because I thought the concept was fascinating, and rather topical with the Ebola epidemic ongoing. There’s a horrible disease on an airplane, everyone’s potentially infected. What do you do with the airplane? I thought the scenario played out was fairly realistic, although I’m not sure we needed the rogue CIA agent framing the terrorist group.

I also found the women in the story to be shallow and single noted (“Oh, my, aren’t you a fine, handsome man who will save me from this disaster). Sex and a manly man aren’t the first things I would think of in a disaster. Annoying to say the least. Finally, I kept wondering what the people on board were doing with themselves as this disaster played out over several days. They were able to bring on food and water, but the bathrooms never got cleaned out so would they even be functional after that amount of use? And what did the people do all day? You can only sit so long. Focus on the captain and the action, and it’s all good.

Title comes from: The airplane was a Pandora’s Box of germs and they only had so many supplies to stay up in the air.

Reading challenges fulfilled: 66/100 in my 100 Book Challenge, and an N in my Author’s Alphabet Soup Challenge

If you’re interested in purchasing the book, you can click on the cover image to follow an Amazon affiliate link to the book and thanks for supporting my blog

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Dear Killer by Katherine Ewell

Sorry about the blog silence. I pulled a muscle over my expander, and then caught some kind of virus. Between breathing and sleeping being painful propositions, and now the coughing, I haven’t had a lot of excess energy. I pretty much spent last week on the couch when I wasn’t actively teaching. Things are slowly getting better, but I’m still not up to 100%. I am up to a blog post tonight, so here goes.

Published: 2014

Genre: YA thriller

Length: 359 pages

Setting: London, present day

Interest: I was looking for an E author and I thought YA might be a good place for something random but good.

Summary: Kit is living in two worlds. In one, she’s a high school student who doesn’t really fit in with anyone. In another, she’s the Perfect Killer, a London serial killer who kills with her hands and leaves a letter from an acquaintance asking her to kill the person at the crime scene. Her mother trained her to be a killer, and her father is completely oblivious. Her mother has just decided to become friends with the cop who’s in charge of the Perfect Killer case. Kit takes on a series of new assignments (murders for hire), including a student in her class in high school.

Final thoughts: I couldn’t finish this one. I got about 100 pages in, and just got tired of the earnestness of Kit. Over and over, she’d talk about the rules (Number One: Nothing is right, nothing is wrong) and how perfect she was at killing without any emotions. It is what she was raised to do, after all. But it was like she had to continually remind the reader that she was different from the rest of the sheep in the world, and it got tiresome. There’s lots of good books in the world – no need to keep going with a book I wasn’t enjoying.

Reading challenges fulfilled: none since I didn’t finish the book

If you’re interested in purchasing the book, you can click on the cover image to follow an Amazon affiliate link to the book and thanks for supporting my blog

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