Non-Fiction Review: The Rebels and Revolutionaries of Sound

Playlist by James  Rhodes
Playlist: The Rebels and Revolutionaries of Sound
by James RhodesMartin O’Neill (Goodreads Author) (Illustrations)

3 out of 5 stars on GoodReads


James Rhodes writes about classical music and features seven revolutionary composers who changed the landscape of music forever. With chapters on Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Chopin, Schubert, Rachmaninoff, and Ravel, this book outlines how music developed over time, and how each of these extraordinary musicians overcame the challenges of their era to create beautiful music that still resonates with musicians today.

I was really intrigued by the wild and colorful artwork depicting each composer, with elements of their time and items representing their music pasted into a chaotic blend. Bach is depicted with grand church buildings behind him, and Mozart has angels, flowers, and sunshine around his head like a halo. Chopin has a flaming heart on his chest, and a piano next to him being destroyed by sledgehammers. Rachmaninoff has butterflies and tigers, along with a diagram of a massive hand. (He had really huge hands; the bane of all pianists who try to play his piano compositions.) Continue reading

Book Review: Calico Bush

Calico Bush by Rachel Field
Calico Bush
by Rachel Field,  Gail Herman,  Allen Lewis (Illustrator)

5 out of 5 stars on GoodReads


In 1743, Marguerite is an indentured servant to a colonial family settling in the middle of Indian territory on the coast of Maine. Because she is French, she is scorned and ridiculed by her English employers, and is expected to work hard to tend to the children of the family. During their first winter on the small farm, Marguerite and the family struggle to survive in the harsh conditions, and face the threat of an attack from local tribes.

I was so enchanted with this book! The plot is interesting, the history is fascinating, and the characters feel wonderfully real and honest. It’s no wonder that this book won a Newbery Honor Award! Continue reading

Book Review: Anna of Byzantium

Anna of Byzantium by Tracy Barrett
Anna of Byzantium
by Tracy Barrett 

4 out of 5 stars on Goodreads


This historical novel tells the story of Anna Comnena, daughter of Emperor Alexius I, Princess of the Byzantine Empire in 1083 AD. Anna is in line to inherit the throne and someday rule the entire empire, until her grandmother plots against her to undermine Anna’s right to rule and establish Anna’s little brother, John, as the next emperor.

Anna is incredibly intelligent and well-educated, spending hours pouring over history books in the palace library and learning from the scholars there. She also becomes very good at seeing to the heart of people’s character, using her emotional intelligence to understand their hidden motives.

There are so many manipulative people in the palace, using their words to influence Anna and secure their own futures. Since she is surrounded by lies, Anna becomes obsessed with cherishing the truth, seeking truth in religion and philosophy, and also finding truth in her books and manuscripts. Because others use words as their weapons, Anna learns to play a strategic game with her words, using her speech as a way to protect herself and assert her dominance and power in the political games. Continue reading

Non-Fiction Review: 1,000 Facts About Ancient Egypt

1,000 Facts about Ancient Egypt by Nancy Honovich
1,000 Facts about Ancient Egypt 
by Nancy Honovich

5 out of 5 stars on GoodReads


Everything you ever wanted to know about Ancient Egypt is in this book! There are facts, figures, and wild details about mummies, pyramids, the sphinx, the pharaohs, and the everyday lives of regular Egyptians.

I loved how the information is presented in small sections that would keep a child’s attention, and make it easy to read. Each two-page spread focuses on a category of Egyptian life: inventions, government, religion and temples, women rulers, games and art, food and trade, royal life, beauty and fashion, weapons and soldiers, the Nile river, and of course mummies and pyramids, along with a dozen other fascinating subjects. Continue reading

Graphic Novel Review: Queen of the Sea

Queen of the Sea by Dylan Meconis
Queen of the Sea 
by Dylan Meconis

4 out of 5 stars on GoodReads

Margaret was left with an island convent when she was a baby, never knowing her true heritage. When the exiled Queen Eleanor is sent to the island, she befriends Margaret and tries to unravel the secret of the girl’s unknown parentage. The nuns of the convent have dark secrets, and the rough life on the island holds many dangers.

Margaret is a beautifully complex character. She loves her home on the harsh island, despite the simple life there. She loves the nuns who raised her, and enjoys her work and her lessons. When their simple routine is disrupted by the arrival of Queen Eleanor, Margaret rises to the challenges and welcomes the danger with admirable courage.

I found all the supporting characters really interesting and complex too. All the nuns tell the stories of their secret past, and the various people who visit the island have their own stories to tell as well.  Continue reading

Non-Fiction Review: The Fellowship

The Fellowship by Philip Zaleski
The Fellowship: The Literary Lives of the Inklings: J.R.R. Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, Owen Barfield, Charles Williams 
by Philip Zaleski , Carol Zaleski 

4 out of 5 stars on GoodReads


I read this book by listening to the audiobook, and really enjoyed the voice of the narrator and the structure of the book. Following a chronological and sometimes topical format, this book covers the lives of four of the most famous members of the Inklings. Starting from their childhoods and following them through both World Wars, their academic careers, and their writing, this book also includes details of their family lives and personal friendships right up until their deaths.

I already know a lot about these men, because Tolkien and Lewis are my two favorite authors, and I’ve already read other biographies about the Inklings. But I was really impressed with the depth of information and careful research in this book. There are some really wonderful details and anecdotes that bring these historical figures close to the reader. Continue reading

Graphic Novel Review: Amelia Earhart

Amelia Earhart by James Buckley Jr.
Amelia Earhart: Pioneer of the Sky! 
by James Buckley Jr.Kelly Tindall(Illustrations), John Roshell (Illustrations)

3 out of 5 stars on GoodReads

This graphic novel gives an overview of the life and disappearance of Amelia Earhart, focusing on her courage and daring as a pilot, but also honoring her generous spirit and kindness to the poor.

I liked the cartoony artwork, but it sort of looked hastily drawn. It could have been a little more polished. But I liked the bright colors and energetic panels!

This is a good synopsis of Amelia Earhart’s life, from her childhood when she constructed her own roller coaster in her backyard, then through her education and early adulthood, through her growing fame as a pilot and many accomplishments, and following her final record-breaking flight until her disappearance. It does a wonderful job of capturing the spirit and enthusiasm of Amelia, and inspiring the reader to do amazing things! Continue reading

Graphic Novel Review: Abraham Lincoln

Abraham Lincoln by Mark Shulman
Abraham Lincoln: Defender of the Union! 
by Mark Shulman ,Tom Martin (Illustrations)

4 out of 5 stars on GoodReads


This graphic novel tells the history of Abraham Lincoln, from his childhood to his death, how he became president, his tragic family grief, and how he guided the American nation through the Civil War, and was ultimately assassinated.

I loved this overview of Lincoln’s life! The cartoony artwork is colorful and bright, with lots of funny details in the background that bring the story to life.

I think the writers did a wonderful job of condensing such a rich life story into so few pages, but still highlighting the most important and memorable aspects of Lincoln’s presidency and personal life. There were many details that I found interesting and engaging, as well as some cute jokes and anecdotes that were entertaining to read. Continue reading

Graphic Novel Review: Alexander Hamilton

Alexander Hamilton by Mark Shulman
Alexander Hamilton: The Fighting Founding Father! (Show Me History!) 
by Mark Shulman ,Kelly Tindall (Illustrator)John Roshell (Illustrator)

3 out of 5 stars on GoodReads


This graphic novel follows an overview of Hamilton’s life, his service in the Revolutionary War, and his involvement in constructing the financial laws of the new American government.

It’s difficult to squeeze an entire life into 96 pages, and I thought the balance of story-telling could have been better. Interesting parts of Hamilton’s military career were skimmed over, and a lot more time was dedicated to his political battles to establish a federal government with a national currency, etc… I thought the book would have been more engaging if they had spent slightly less time on the politics, since it doesn’t have as much action.

The art style is cartoony and bright, with a lot of funny details in the background. The art is unpolished, and I think it could have been a little more refined. But still, it’s cute, and the panels have lots of energy. Continue reading

Graphic Novel Review: Martin Luther King, Jr.

Martin Luther King Jr. by James Buckley Jr.
Martin Luther King Jr.: Voice for Equality! 
by James Buckley Jr.Youneek Studios (Illustrations)John Roshell (Illustrations)

4 out of 5 stars on GoodReads


This graphic novel wonderfully summarizes the powerful life story of Martin Luther King, Jr. and his peaceful fight for civil rights in the United States.

I especially liked that many exact quotes from MLK, Jr. and others are used as the dialogue, but some of the dialogue is conjecture and added to enhance the story, imagining what might have been said in various situations. I’m always on the lookout for reputable historical books, and I felt that the history here was accurate and true to actual events.  Continue reading