Black Bottle Man

HOME SCHOOL BOOK REVIEW

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Book: Black Bottle Man

Author: Craig Russell

Publisher: Great Plains, republished 2020

ISBN-13: 978-1894283991

ISBN-10: 1894283996

Related website(s): http://www.greatplains.mb.ca (publisher)

Language level:  3

(1=nothing objectionable; 2=common euphemisms and/or childish slang terms; 3=some cursing and/or profanity; 4=a lot of cursing and/or profanity; 5=obscenity and/or vulgarity)

Recommended reading level: Young adult (ages 16 and up)

Rating: **** 4 stars

(5 stars=EXCELLENT; 4 stars=GOOD; 3 stars=FAIR; 2 stars=POOR; 1 star=VERY POOR; no stars=NOT RECOMMENDED)

Reviewed by Wayne S. Walker

Disclosure:  Many publishers, literary agents, and/or authors provide free copies of their books in exchange for an honest review without requiring a positive opinion.  Any books donated to Home School Book Review for review purposes are in turn donated to a library.  No other compensation has been received for the reviews posted on Home School Book Review.

For more information e-mail homeschoolbookreview@gmail.com

Website: https://homeschoolbookreviewblog.wordpress.com

Russell, CraigBlack Bottle Man (Published in 2010 by Yellow Dog; republished in 2020 by Great Plains Teen Fiction, an imprint of Great Plains Publications, 1173 Wolseley Ave., Winnepeg, MB  R3G 1H1).  The action begins in 2007 with a ninety year old man named Rembrandt who is sleeping at the Salvation Army’s Sally Anne dormitory in Boston, MA, but it quickly goes back to 1927, when ten year old Rembrandt is the only child in the tiny community of Three Farms somewhere out west in Canada.  He lives on one farm with his Pa and Ma.  The other two farms belong to Pa’s brother, Uncle Thompson and his wife Aunt Emma, and to Pa’s sister, Aunt Annie and her husband Uncle Billy.  His two aunts soon grow desperate for babies of their own. A man wearing a black top-coat and a glad-ta-meet-ya smile arrives with a magic bottle, and a deadly deal is made.

Determined to undo the wager, Rembrandt, Pa, and Uncle Thompson embark on the journey of their lives to seek a champion capable of defeating the Black Bottle Man.  But if they stay in one place for more than twelve days terrible things occur.   What happens to the three travelers?  When and where might they find their champion?  And will they ever make it back home?  Black Bottle Man is categorized as “Teen & Young Adult Christian Fantasy.”  One reviewer called it “a young-adult horror story.”  Another said that it speaks “of profound love, of commitment to family, of humility, of grace under pressure.”  It has all that, but it also has references to drinking (even young Rembrandt takes a swig of Uncle Billy’s whiskey) and discussions of engaging in “congress” (i.e., sex) to make babies.  And there is quite a bit of what many feel is bad language, such as the “h” and “d” words (the latter sometimes with the prefix “god”)—even young Rembrandt uses the “d” word.  And there are a few others that I’ll not specify.

Some authors, even of “Christian” fiction feel that they have to include such language to be “realistic.”  Personally I don’t care for it, think that it’s unnecessary, and have trouble highly recommending a book that takes the name of God in vain, but each person will have to make up his own mind.  There is an interesting story in this spiritual fable based on the Faustian concept of selling one’s soul to the devil, and it is well told.  Bits of historical fiction are mixed in with special emphasis on the Great Depression, and some important lessons are found including the dangers of dabbling in the occult and the triumph of good over evil.  Rembrandt is certainly an engaging and sympathetic character.  A few readers may find the hop-skip-and jump-around narrative with all its flashbacks a bit hard to follow. Also the situation with Gail Brewer and her decision is a little unclear for much of the book, but it all eventually ties together in a lovely and satisfying conclusion.

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Beau Geste: A Condensation

HOME SCHOOL BOOK REVIEW

9780945260332

Book: Beau Geste: A Condensation

Author: Percival Christopher Wren

Illustrator: Stan Galli

Publisher: Readers Digest, republished 1989

ISBN-13: 9780945260332

ISBN: 0945260334

Language level: 3

(1=nothing objectionable; 2=common euphemisms and/or childish slang terms; 3=some cursing and/or profanity; 4=a lot of cursing and/or profanity; 5=obscenity and/or vulgarity)

Recommended reading level: Ages 13 and up

Rating: **** 4 stars

(5 stars=EXCELLENT; 4 stars=GOOD; 3 stars=FAIR; 2 stars=POOR; 1 star=VERY POOR; no stars=NOT RECOMMENDED)

Reviewed by Wayne S. Walker

Disclosure:  Many publishers, literary agents, and/or authors provide free copies of their books in exchange for an honest review without requiring a positive opinion.  Any books donated to Home School Book Review for review purposes are in turn donated to a library.  No other compensation has been received for the reviews posted on Home School Book Review.

For more information e-mail homeschoolbookreview@gmail.com

Website: https://homeschoolbookreviewblog.wordpress.com

Wren, Percival Christopher.  Beau Geste: A Condensation (original first published in 1924; condensation published in 1968 by The Reader’s Digest Association Inc. and republished in 1989 by Choice Publishing Inc., Great Neck, NY  11021).  Michael “Beau” Geste, his twin Digby, and their younger brother John, who narrates the story, are orphans living at Brandon Abbas in England with their aunt Patricia, Lady Hector Brandon, whose family also includes Augustus, nephew of the absent Sir Hector, Isobel, Patricia’s niece and the object of John’s interest, and Claudia, simply identified as a cousin. A precious sapphire of Hector’s known as the “Blue Water” disappears, and suspicion falls on the band of young people, so Beau takes the extreme step of leaving England to join the French Foreign Legion in Algeria, followed by his brothers, separately, John in part to spare Isobel any suspicion of being a thief.  After recruit training in Sidi Bel Abbes and some active service skirmishing with tribesmen in the south, Beau and John are posted to the small garrison of the fictional desert outpost of Fort Zinderneuf, while Digby and his American friends Hank and Buddy are sent to Tokotu to train with a mule mounted company.

The commander at Fort Zinderneuf, after the death of two more senior officers, is the sadistic Sergeant Major Lejaune, who drives his abused subordinates to the verge of mutiny. Only the Geste brothers and a few loyalists are against the scheme, but an attack by Tuaregs prevents mass desertion.  Later, help arrives and finds that every single soldier in the fort is dead.  What happens to Beau, Digby, and John?  Will any of them make it back to England alive?  And who took the “Blue Water” jewel to begin with? Beau Geste is an adventure novel by P. C. Wren, a descendant of the architect Christopher Wren who designed Saint Paul’s Cathedral. Published in 1924, the novel is set in the period before World War I.  The edition which I read was a “Reader’s Digest Best Loved Books for Young Readers” condensation.  Some cursing and swearing occur, though no vulgarity or obscenity, and there are a few references to smoking tobacco and drinking alcoholic beverages.

It is often affirmed that the man who wrote Beau Geste once served with the Foreign Legion himself and based the book on his experiences.  However, others say that the original novel provides such a detailed and fairly authentic description of life in the pre-1914 Foreign Legion, that it has led to unproven suggestions that Wren himself served with the Legion. Before he became a successful writer, Wren’s recorded career was that of a school teacher in India.  He wrote some sequels which also deal with the adventures of the Geste family and tie loose strings together.  In Beau Sabreur, the narrator is a French officer of Spahis who plays a secondary role in Beau Geste, and in Beau Ideal, Wren details what happened the night of the theft of the “Blue Water.” He also wrote Good Gestes, a collection of short tales, about half of them about the Geste brothers and their American friends Hank and Buddy, who also feature prominently in Beau Sabreur and Beau Ideal, and Spanish Maine (or The Desert Heritage), where loose ends are tied up and the successive tales of John Geste’s adventures come to an end.

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So They Went to the Country

HOME SCHOOL BOOK REVIEW

country

Book: So They Went to the Country

Author and Illustrator: Eve DiLorenzo

Publisher: Exposition Press, reprinted 1954

Library of Congress catalog card number: 53-9790

Language level: 1

(1=nothing objectionable; 2=common euphemisms and/or childish slang terms; 3=some cursing and/or profanity; 4=a lot of cursing and/or profanity; 5=obscenity and/or vulgarity)

Recommended reading level:  Ages 7-10

Rating: ***** 5 stars

(5 stars=EXCELLENT; 4 stars=GOOD; 3 stars=FAIR; 2 stars=POOR; 1 star=VERY POOR; no stars=NOT RECOMMENDED)

Reviewed by Wayne S. Walker

Disclosure:  Many publishers, literary agents, and/or authors provide free copies of their books in exchange for an honest review without requiring a positive opinion.  Any books donated to Home School Book Review for review purposes are in turn donated to a library.  No other compensation has been received for the reviews posted on Home School Book Review.

For more information e-mail homeschoolbookreview@gmail.com

Website: https://homeschoolbookreviewblog.wordpress.com

DiLorenzo, Eve.  So They Went to the Country (Published in 1953 by Exposition Press Inc., 386 Fourth Ave., New York City, NY  10016).  Six year old John Barry lives with his parents and his five year old sister Betty in the heart of the city.  The children have never been to their grandparents’ farm in the country, nearly a thousand miles from New York.  They had seen photographs of it, and Grampy and Grammy had visited them in the city a few times.  But on Betty’s fifth birthday, their businessman father tells them that he has to go on a long business trip and that they and their mother will be spending the entire spring and summer on the farm.

John and Betty are both sure that they will be quite bored in the country.   What can they find to see and do?  Will they ever get used to living on the farm?  How do they react when it’s time to return to the city?  And what great news does Daddy have when he comes back?  So They Went to the Country is a book in which author Eve DiLorenzo strives to introduce urban youngsters to rural life.  It is a pleasant story that would make a great early reader.  Learning about families who love one another, pray at meal times, and go to church services is always nice.

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The Iron Ring

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iron ring

Book: The Iron Ring

Author: Lloyd Alexander

Cover Illustrator: Jane Ray

Publisher: Puffin Books, republished 1999

ISBN-13: 978-0525455974 Hardcover

ISBN-10: 0525455973 Hardcover

ISBN-13: 978-0141303482 Paperback

ISBN-10: 0141303484 Paperback

Language level: 3 (the “d” word is used as a curse once)

(1=nothing objectionable; 2=common euphemisms and/or childish slang terms; 3=some cursing and/or profanity; 4=a lot of cursing and/or profanity; 5=obscenity and/or vulgarity)

Recommended reading level: Ages 10-12 and up

Rating: **** 4 stars

(5 stars=EXCELLENT; 4 stars=GOOD; 3 stars=FAIR; 2 stars=POOR; 1 star=VERY POOR; no stars=NOT RECOMMENDED)

Reviewed by Wayne S. Walker

Disclosure:  Many publishers, literary agents, and/or authors provide free copies of their books in exchange for an honest review without requiring a positive opinion.  Any books donated to Home School Book Review for review purposes are in turn donated to a library.  No other compensation has been received for the reviews posted on Home School Book Review.

For more information e-mail homeschoolbookreview@gmail.com

Website: https://homeschoolbookreviewblog.wordpress.com

Alexander, Lloyd.  The Iron Ring (Published in 1997 by Dutton Children’s Books, a division of Penguin Putnam Inc., 375 Hudson St., New York City, NY 10014). Tamar is the young king of Sundari, a kingdom in ancient India.  One night King Jaya of Mahapura comes and challenges him to a game of aksha in the presence of Tamar’s advisor Rajaswami and the commander of his army Darshan .  When the young king loses the dice game, he loses everything he owns –his kingdom, its riches, and even the right to call his life his own. His bondage is symbolized by the iron ring that appears mysteriously on his finger. To Tamar, born to the warrior caste, honor is everything. So he sets out for Mahapura on a magical journey to make good on his debt, to atone for his mistake, to learn about honor, goodness, and the preciousness of life –and even to give up his life if necessary.  His quest takes him into a world of magic, where animals can talk, the seemingly foolish are surprisingly wise, and danger awaits.

Along the way Tamar meets several new friends, both animal and human, such as Hashkat, king of the monkeys, Ashwara, the rightful king of Ranapura, and Mirri, a beautiful girl cowherd with whom he falls in love.  But he also makes some powerful enemies, including Nahusha, Ashwara’s traitorous cousin who has usurped the throne of Ranapura.  The concept of dharma, or code of ethics for proper conduct, and the rigid caste system, which he comes to abhor, deeply affect Tamar’s actions.   What happens when Tamar tries to help Ashwara fight Nahusha to regain his kingdom?  Will Tamar and his companions ever make it to the mysterious Jaya’s realm?  And was the original challenge that prompted it all actually a reality or only a dream? This semi-mystical epic adventure by author Lloyd Alexander, who also wrote the “Prydain Chronicles” series, draws loosely on the great Hindu myths from the literature of India like the Ramayana and Mahabharata.

The book is said to be for ages 10 and up, but a few of the descriptions, especially of the warfare and its results, may be a bit intense for some younger readers.  Also, others may be put off by the sheer length of the story, the large cast of characters, all the long names, and the liberal use of Indian terms and concepts (a glossary is provided).  But those willing to wade through these things will find an enjoyable adventure with many twists and turns that will make them think. School Library Journal wrote, “The author’s flexible style moves smoothly from comedy to tragedy and back again; from battle scenes to ridiculous situations, Alexander never loses the thread.”  Booklist noted, “Alexander offers a tale that is thoughtful without being leaden and moral without being moralistic.”  And Publishers Weekly said, “The imaginative scope of the story and its philosophical complexities will make this an exciting journey for the reader.”

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Noah Drake And The Return Of The Dragon Hunters

HOME SCHOOL BOOK REVIEW

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Book: Noah Drake And The Return Of The Dragon Hunters: A Christian, Fiction Adventure That Teaches Biblical Creation (Volume 2)

Author: Ben Russell

Cover Illustrator: Jonna Blankenship

Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2017

ISBN-13: 978-1981290802

ISBN-10: 198129080X

Related website(s): http://www.CreationTales.com (series)

Language level: 2

(1=nothing objectionable; 2=common euphemisms and/or childish slang terms; 3=some cursing and/or profanity; 4=a lot of cursing and/or profanity; 5=obscenity and/or vulgarity)

Recommended reading level: Ages 8-12

Rating: ***** 5 stars

(5 stars=EXCELLENT; 4 stars=GOOD; 3 stars=FAIR; 2 stars=POOR; 1 star=VERY POOR; no stars=NOT RECOMMENDED)

Reviewed by Wayne S. Walker

Disclosure:  Many publishers, literary agents, and/or authors provide free copies of their books in exchange for an honest review without requiring a positive opinion.  Any books donated to Home School Book Review for review purposes are in turn donated to a library.  No other compensation has been received for the reviews posted on Home School Book Review.

For more information e-mail homeschoolbookreview@gmail.com

Website: https://homeschoolbookreviewblog.wordpress.com

Russell, Ben.  Noah Drake And The Return Of The Dragon Hunters: A Christian, Fiction Adventure That Teaches Biblical Creation, Volume 2 (Published in 2017 by CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform). What if there was still a living dinosaur?  Twelve-year-old, homeschooled student Noah Drake loves everything about dinosaurs.  He lives with his dad John, mom Marie, ten-year-old younger brother Nathan, who volunteers in a creation museum, and two-year-old little sister Norah.  Noah, who likes to go on dinosaur fossil digs, believes that dinosaurs still exist and claims to have seen one, Champ, the legendary lake monster of Lake Champlain.  With their parents away at a week-long homeschool conference, Noah, Nathan and Norah are visiting their Uncle Jim in Vermont and hope to see Champ again.

However, their old enemy, Edwin Slaughter, breaks his grandson Seth out of prison to make a second attempt to capture the sea dragon and takes the Drake family hostage in the process.  What happens to the Drakes?  Will the criminals destroy the last of this dinosaur species?  Or can Noah and Nathan put aside their differences long enough to work together and come up with a solution to rescue Champ?  This is Book 2 in the “Noah Drake the Dragon Hunters” Series.  Not only is it a fun and exciting story told with a good deal of humor, but it also has a lot of actual information about dinosaurs and creationism, all from a Biblical perspective.

Along the way youngsters will read about what it means to love God and to love one’s family, especially learning how to deal with the issue of sibling rivalry.  There is no sex, gore, or bad language.  It’s always nice to have a wholesome book that can be read together as a family without worrying about inappropriate content.  Kids will appreciate the comical, engaging, and endearing characters in addition to the well written plot that is filled with action, excitement, and adventure and will keep them on the edge of their seats to find out what happens next.  The ending is conclusive and satisfying but still sets the stage for Book 3.

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Pictures of Hollis Woods

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holliswoods

Book: Pictures of Hollis Woods

Author: Patricia Reilly Giff

Publisher: Yearling, reprinted 2004

ISBN-13: 978-0385326551 Hardcover

ISBN-10: 0385326556 Hardcover

ISBN-13: 978-0439692397 Paperback

ISBN-10: 0440415787 Paperback

Related website(s): http://www.randomhouse.com/kids (publisher)

Language level: 2

(1=nothing objectionable; 2=common euphemisms and/or childish slang terms; 3=some cursing and/or profanity; 4=a lot of cursing and/or profanity; 5=obscenity and/or vulgarity)

Recommended reading level: Ages 8 – 12

Rating: **** 4 stars

(5 stars=EXCELLENT; 4 stars=GOOD; 3 stars=FAIR; 2 stars=POOR; 1 star=VERY POOR; no stars=NOT RECOMMENDED)

Reviewed by Wayne S. Walker

Disclosure:  Many publishers, literary agents, and/or authors provide free copies of their books in exchange for an honest review without requiring a positive opinion.  Any books donated to Home School Book Review for review purposes are in turn donated to a library.  No other compensation has been received for the reviews posted on Home School Book Review.

For more information e-mail homeschoolbookreview@gmail.com

Website: https://homeschoolbookreviewblog.wordpress.com

Giff, Patricia Reilly.  Pictures of Hollis Woods (Published in 2002 by Wendy Lamb Books, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books, a division of Random House Inc., 1540 Broadway, New York City, NY  10036). Twelve-year-old Hollis Woods, named for the place in New York City where she found was abandoned at birth, has lived in about a half dozen foster homes, so many that she can hardly remember them all, and has always wished for a real family. One of those foster caretakers describes her as “a mountain of trouble.”  She even runs away from the Regans, the one family who offers her a home. When Hollis is sent to Josie Cahill an elderly retired art teacher and artist who is slightly eccentric but very affectionate, she wants to stay in her home on Long Island, NY.  The two bond almost immediately as the artistically talented Hollis draws pictures with colored pencils and Josie carves branches into people.

However, it soon becomes clear that Josie has trouble remembering things, and is growing more forgetful every day, so Hollis becomes the caregiver. When she stops attending school, a social worker comes by to investigate.  If Social Services finds out what is going on, they’ll take Hollis away and move Josie into a home.  But Hollis won’t let anyone separate them. She’s escaped the system before, and this time she takes Josie with her. Still, even as she plans her future with Josie, Hollis dreams of the past summer with the Regans and longs for her life with them, fixing each special moment of her days with them in pictures she’ll never forget.  Where do Hollis and Josie go?  How can they survive?  And will Hollis ever find a family?

In this warmhearted Newbery Honor Book about a girl who has never known family fighting for her first true home, author Patricia Reilly Giff, who also wrote Lily’s Crossing, another Newbery Honor Book, captures the yearning for a place to belong, stressing the importance of artistic vision, creativity, and above all, family.  The interspersed flashbacks which slowly illuminate Hollis’s life with the Regan family—motherly Izzy, her architect husband John, and their mischievous yet compassionate son Steven—who had hoped to adopt her and why this didn’t happen, may make following the action a little confusing for some younger readers, as the tense circumstances under which she left them are only gradually made clear. However, the two threads are woven together in a surprising and satisfactory conclusion.

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Why Save Alexander

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alexander

Book: Why Save Alexander

Author: Phillip Telfer

Publisher: Elm Hill, 2019

ISBN-13: 978-1400328284 Hardcover

ISBN-10: 1400328284 Hardcover

ISBN-13: 978-1400328277 Paperback

ISBN-10: 1400328276 Paperback

Related website(s): http://www.whysavealexander.com (book), http://www.philliptelfer.com (author), http://www.elmhillbooks (publisher)

Language level: 1

(1=nothing objectionable; 2=common euphemisms and/or childish slang terms; 3=some cursing and/or profanity; 4=a lot of cursing and/or profanity; 5=obscenity and/or vulgarity)

Recommended reading level: Ages 14 and up

Rating: ***** 5 stars

(5 stars=EXCELLENT; 4 stars=GOOD; 3 stars=FAIR; 2 stars=POOR; 1 star=VERY POOR; no stars=NOT RECOMMENDED)

Reviewed by Wayne S. Walker

Disclosure:  Many publishers, literary agents, and/or authors provide free copies of their books in exchange for an honest review without requiring a positive opinion.  Any books donated to Home School Book Review for review purposes are in turn donated to a library.  No other compensation has been received for the reviews posted on Home School Book Review.

For more information e-mail homeschoolbookreview@gmail.com

Website: https://homeschoolbookreviewblog.wordpress.com

Telfer, Phillip.  Why Save Alexander (Published in 2019 by Elm Hill, an imprint of Thomas Nelson, a trademark of HarperCollins Children’s Publishing Inc., Nashville, TN). Seventeen-year-old Alexander Brooks Jr., or Alex, is somewhat of a spoiled brat.  His parents are divorced.  His father, Alexander Sr., owns Paradigm Technology Innovations Inc., an up-and-coming tech business in Silicon Valley outside of San Francisco, CA, that is about to launch a revolutionary product.  Alex lives in Los Angeles, CA, with his mother Allison, a Hollywood television producer.  The teen is a hardcore gamer, so his mom casts her son in a reality show about young gaming hopefuls seeking fame and fortune.  On a flight to Seoul, South Korea, for a world-wide gaming conference, he has an encounter with an elderly missionary lady named Agnes who talks to him about God and gives him a pocket New Testament.

Alex isn’t much interested in what Agnes has to say but accepts her gift.  Then when he reaches Seoul, he is kidnapped by three men whom he mistakenly thinks are his father’s agents but are actually crooks who plan to ransom him for Mr. Brooks’s new technology.  They take him to what they think is a deserted island, but his abductors are killed by the natives, while Alex is adopted by an elderly man named Setiawan, who happens to be a Christian.  However, the other islanders don’t trust the foreign boy and talk about killing him too.  What happens to Alex?  Can this hardcore gamer survive a real-world crisis?  Will he ever be rescued?  Author Phillip Telfer is a creative communicator who now directs the non-profit ministry Media Talk 101, wrote the book Media Choices: Convictions or Compromise?, produced and co-directed the award-winning documentary Captivated: Finding Freedom in a Media Captive Culture,  and founded the annual Christian Worldview Film Festival and Filmmakers Guild.

This coming-of-age story is filled with adventure, mystery, danger, romance, survival, despair, and Providence.  It is good to see Alex’s character growth as he goes from being an obnoxious, self-centered jerk with an over-inflated ego, through realizing the cavernous void in his life that nothing seems to fill, to gaining a new perspective on what it means to become a man and what it takes to be a hero.  The reader follows Alex as he faces a life or death struggle in a foreign culture that doesn’t have a power grid and is forced to grow up the hard way through extraordinary circumstances, which cause him to re-evaluate what’s important in life, his need for God, and the positive influence of older mentors.  The real question is, for those who truly know Alexander, why would anyone want to save him? The plot is unique and has some unexpected twists but contains some enduring values that undergird the story.

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