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All of the members of the Prairie Family have been big fans of Jenny Cote’s books about Max and Liz. I have written about these wonderful stories several times on this blog.  This series of books is about a dog named Max, a cat named Liz, and several of their animal friends who are immortal and travel throughout history as they serve the Maker.  The first book, The Ark, the Reed, and the Fire Cloud, introduce the characters of the series as they accompany Noah on the Ark.  The second book, The Dreamer, the Schemer, and the Robeis set in Egypt during the time of Joseph.  The third book is entitled The Prophet, the Shepherd, and the Star and traces the prophecies foretelling the birth of Jesus Christ and how they were fulfilled.  Each of these books has been just wonderful and has brought new appreciation and insights into the various biblical events that they portray.

Jenny Cote has been working on the latest book in the series that is entitled The Roman, the Twelve, and the King.  She just finished writing the manuscript that tells the story of Jesus’ ministry.  She considers this particular book to have been her most “difficult and intense” story to write yet because she really sought to portray her Savior and His Mission accurately, clearly, and personally. My kids have been praying for her as she wrote this book, so we were very delighted to be chosen to be advance readers for this newest Epic Order of the Seven book!

So, what are advanced readers?  Well, in the next few weeks, we should be receiving a pre-publication copy of the manuscript for this book.  It is not completely edited and won’t have the fancy graphics that the final copy will have.  Advanced copies are given to readers to receive feedback and comments that will be printed in the final publication.  So, we are very honored and excited to be part of this process!  We will need to finish reading the book by June 1, and because the book has 781 pages, we will be very busy reading once we receive the copy.

These books make great family read-alouds, and that is how we have enjoyed them.  Jenny writes in such a way as to really bring the animals to life.  The animals are from a variety of countries and have unique accents written into the text–that makes it so much fun to read to the kids!  I really encourage families to have read-aloud time, even for their bigger kids.  We started reading with the kids when they were really little and have just continued through the years. By the time we adopted Kara at the age of three, we were already reading “big kid” chapter books as a family, but she just stepped right in there and has never turned back!  🙂  Each night we read a chapter or two before bed (but it will need to be more than that for this new book!), and it gives us a chance to be together, relax, and enjoy each other without all of the electronic noise that we usually have.  We have read a variety of things from classics, to biographies, to great fiction–Christian and secular.  We have read all of the Max and Liz books several times and see new things to enjoy each time we read them.  Our family reading time is truly one of our favorite times of day, and I suppose that even after the kids are gone, Dan and I will still be reading out loud to each other!  🙂

The final book of The Roman, the Twelve, and the King is scheduled to be released in September 2012.  I am sure that we will be placing a preorder for it even though we will have read the advanced reader version because it will join our collection of loved read-alouds.  When we have finished reading it, I will post a full review on this blog.

We can’t wait to start the latest journey with Max, Liz, Kate, Al, Nigel, Gillamon, and the new mystery friend, otherwise known as the Epic Order of the Seven!

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My son, John, who is in 9th Grade of A Abeka Academy recently wrote this review of A Time to Betray by Reza Kahlili:

A Time to Betray: The Astonishing Double Life of a CIA Agent Inside the Revolutionary Guards of Iran, the autobiography of Reza Kahlili, reveals the atrocities committed by the Islamic Republic of Iran’s government against its citizens and the world.  Reza, a former Revolutionary Guard, witnessed these first hand when his friend Naser was tortured and executed at Evin Prison. Enraged, Reza becomes a spy for the United States, gathering intelligence ranging from the Guards’ missions in Europe to the involvement of the Iranian government in the Lockerbie bombing. Through Reza’s life story, this autobiography reveals how dangerous nations can be that are deceived by false religions such as Islam.

Reza Kahlili, the titular CIA agent, had an interesting life leading up to his writing of this book. The book opens with Reza, an Iranian who had been educated in America, participating in the revolution against the Shah and becoming a Revolutionary Guard. After seeing the Guards execute his friend Naser’s innocent family members, Reza becomes a CIA spy in hopes that America will free Iran from the mullahs.

Reza’s experiences with the Revolutionary Guards show the reader how dangerous Islam is to everyone. Shortly after the execution of Naser’s family but before becoming a spy, Reza contacts Roya, a girl who had been arrested for her husband’s alleged involvement with the Mujahedin.  In Evin Prison, Roya recounts that she had been raped and tortured, first in solitary confinement and later with other female prisoners. She had been given her freedom, but only in exchange for her promising to be a temporary wife to a mullah. After telling Reza about her plight, Roya commits suicide out of the despair she felt at having to sell herself for her freedom.

Throughout the book, Reza witnesses how horribly Iran treated Americans, committing several terrorist attacks against the United States. Before becoming an agent, Reza is present at the demonstration that eventually takes several Americans hostage at the United States’ Consulate in Tehran. He later reveals to the CIA that this entire “spontaneous” demonstration had been planned in advance and approved by Khomeini. Later, after becoming a CIA agent, the author notes that he had heard that the Iranians were more or less directly responsible for the bombing of American and French forces in Beirut. Near the end of the book, Reza learns that the Lockerbie bombing had been planned directly by the Iranian government as revenge against the accidental American attack against an Iranian commercial airliner.  All these attacks are proof of the Iranian government’s insane hatred of the United States.

Iran and other Islamic countries are extremely dangerous to the entire world. This book’s insight into the Iranian government’s terrorist activities was interesting to the reader. The author did a decent job in convincing the reader that his stance was accurate, enraging the reader with the injustices committed.  On a side note, the cultural aspect presented, both Persian and Islamic, were interesting to read about. Using these, the author explained how people such as Ahmadinejad justify their actions. At the same time, the author explains how they are wrong and how he himself was wrong when he believed the Ayatollahs’ form of Islam. Although this book’s topic is extremely complicated, it is explained simply enough that most people can understand it.  The only negative comment I have is that it was full of despair until the very end.  This book is good for people who want to know the true story behind Iran and will not purposefully blind themselves from the truth, living in denial.  This book was enjoyable, and it was definitely worth reading. 

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The Prairie Family recently finished reading Amon’s Adventure: A Family Story for Easter by Arnold Ytreeide duirng our family read-aloud times in the evenings.  This book is actually the 4th book in a series of Biblical fiction books that are written as exciting stories with accompanying devotionals.  We read the first book in the series, Jotham’s Journey, a few years ago, but we had never gotten the next two books in between that one and this one.  The first three stories are set in the time of Christ’s birth, while this most recent volume is set in the time of Christ’s death and resurrection.

Because we had not read the second and third books in the series, it took us awhile to figure out who all of the characters were in this book.  It was interesting to start putting the pieces together, though, because there are definitely tie-ins with those earlier books.  We all agree that we need to go back and read this series from the beginning.  I think that would make this last book even more exciting and enjoyable.

This is a great book, though, and my kids were all riveted to the plot all of the way through the story. It is actually a mystery book that tells the story of a young boy, Amon, who is on a quest to free his father from an unjust sentence. In the process, he meets several Biblical characters, including Jesus Christ and His disciples.  He witnesses the resurrected Jesus, and as a result comes to believe that Jesus is the true Messiah.

I personally enjoy books like this.  Even though the stories are fiction, they bring a personal interaction with Biblical events and people. This book in particular does a masterful job of tying together different people and events. Sometimes it’s easy to see the stories of the Bible as separate, short segments, when in reality, they were an outflowing of daily events in the lives of real people.  This story really pulls that together.

My favorite character in this book is Amon’s friend, Benjamin.  He is a boy I can relate to!  He has a tendency to be about one step behind the other characters and is known to state the obvious.  That personality brought many laughs in the Prairie Family house. One example of this happens after Amon and another one of his friends, Tamar, have a major argument.  Benjamin’s comment when Tamar walks away is, “I think she’s mad at you.”  That was a humorous understatement that the kids have mentioned several times since we read this episode!

Even though this book says it’s a book for Easter and the other books in the series say they are for Advent, really these are appropriate for any time of the year.  It is always beneficial to reflect on the life of our precious Savior, and I definitely recommend this book for families who enjoy adventure, mystery, and solid Biblical teaching.

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Recently John read High Calling by Evelyn Husband for a school book report.  He really enjoyed this book and gained a real appreciation for the space program through it.  He wrote this summary:

High Calling: the Courageous Life and Faith of Space Shuttle Columbia Commander Rick Husband by Evelyn Husband and Donna Vanlier recounts the life story of Rick Husband, the commander of STS-107, the mission on which the Columbia was destroyed. This book points out how Rick Husband, the author’s spouse, had great faith leading up to and during the mission.  Even after the shuttle fell apart, Rick Husband’s legacy of trusting in God affected his wife and children, helping them recover after the incident and reach out to others who have had disasters in their lives.  The author of this book was convincing, using knowledge to which only she had access to build a convincing case for God’s hand in both life and death.  Teaching us to trust God fully as did Rick during his life, this book is one no one, whether currently enduring a tragedy or not, should miss.

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Robot Wars

Robot Wars is a five-volume series written by Sigmund Brouwer.  Each of the books actually contains two complete books, so there are 10 stories in the series.  We just finished reading the first book, Death Trap, in our family’s read-aloud time.  I was a little skeptical about this–it really didn’t sound like “my kind” of book, but my kids had been reading the series, and they all thought that I would like it.

I must admit that I was pleasantly surprised by this book.  The title is a little misleading. The story does involve a robot, but there really isn’t a war, at least in this first book. It’s kind of hard to explain the plot of this book without giving too much away, but I will give it my best shot!

This story is about a boy who lives on Mars in an experimental colony that is doing research about making the planet more appropriate for humans.  This boy has–how do I say this–a “unique” way of contributing to this research and gets into many adventures along the way.  In the first story of this book, the colony races against the clock to avoid running out of oxygen.  The second story involves some unique life-forms that are encountered on Mars.  (I know that this sounds like an alien-type story, but our family does not approve of aliens and actually considers them to be demonic, so I can assure you that this book does not contradict our beliefs).  I would consider this book to be a high-tech, space mystery more than a book of battles.

This author is a Christian writer and is married to the Christian singer Cindy Morgan.  This book definitely has Christian themes as the main character searches for the meaning and purpose of life.  It also raises some great questions about moral issues that lead our family into some interesting discussions.  One such discussion focused on the ethics of genetic experimentation in the plant and animal realms and ultimately into the human realm as well.  (yeah, kind of deep for a bedtime story!)

There are many things about this book that I like.  For one thing, the main character, Tyce Sanders, is just a neat kid.  There are parts of the book that are just simply hilarious.  Judging from the book’s cover, I thought it would be a very serious book, and in ways it is, but in other ways it is funny and light.  Tyce has a very innocent crush on a girl that moves to Mars, and the interaction between those two kids had my kids literally laughing out loud on several occasions.

So, overall I give this book a thumbs-up as a family read-aloud.  I wish I could say more about it, but it really is hard to tell very much about it without giving away too much.  It is very clean and enjoyable, and ultimately there was nothing in the stories that contradicted our Christian worldview.  If your tweens and teens enjoy a fast-action mystery, this one is a good choice.

By the way, my kids enjoyed this whole series so much, that I have found them playing “Robot Wars” on several occasions.  I’m glad I have read the first one–at least I understand what they are talking about!  Luke drew a neat picture to go along with the book, so I will scan it and add it to this entry.

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Our family really enjoys read-aloud time.  We started reading long chapter books many years ago, and it has just become part of our nightly routine.  I have struggled from time-to-time to try to pick appropriate, quality books, and often search the internet for suggestions.  I have decided to make a conscious effort to write reviews of the books that we read as a family in case others are also looking for similar suggestions.

We just finished up a wonderful book called Understood Betsy by Dorothy Canfield Fisher.  I had been looking for this book because there is a humorous chapter from it in one of our A Beka readers.  We always get such a laugh when we read that selection, that I figured that the whole book would be a good read-aloud choice.  I was delighted when I found out that Understood Betsy is one of the books that can be downloaded onto Kindle for free at this link.

This book is about a girl who lives in the early 1900’s.  Betsy had been raised by her aunt to be quite a spoiled, sheltered child who was completely self-centered.  Because of her aunt’s illness, Betsy moves to another household where her life changes dramatically.  She is not very impressed with her new home at first.  She was appalled by the simple, country life of her new family, and had no idea how to do the simplest of household chores.  As time goes on, however, Betsy learns that she can do many things that she didn’t think she could do, and that this simple life was actually fun.  In the process, she gets her focus off of herself and onto loving and serving others.  By the end of the book, Betsy’s life has completely transformed, and when given the opportunity to return to her spoiled ways, she chooses to remain in her simple, country home.

There was only one thing that kind of bothered me as we read this book, but it ended up resolving itself within a chapter or two.  Betsy meets a boy who is raggedy and neglected.  She and her friends come up with a plan to help this boy by trying to “fix him up” to be “desirable” in hopes that a man will adopt him.  As an adoptive parent, this kind-of bothered me.  I definitely did not want our adopted daughter to get the idea that we adopted her simply because she was “cute” and “fancy” enough.  We openly discussed this issue and explained to all of our kids that every child is worthy of a loving home, no matter how “cute” or “homely” one is.  What was interesting in Understood Betsy, however, is that even though Betsy and her friends did make nice clothes to “fix up” this boy, his step-father ruined the clothes.  It wasn’t until the boy was back to his bedraggled self that he was adopted into a new home.  I was pleased with that–it’s not outward appearance that makes one worthy.

Other than that, the book was very humorous and enjoyable.  Many chapters had my kids laughing out loud.  We especially enjoyed one of the final chapters in which Betsy and her Aunt are discussing her future.  They both don’t want to hurt each others’ feelings, so they beat around the bush to an almost ridiculous degree!  Isn’t that how things often go?!  This book is very clean–something that is very much appreciated by the Prairie Family.

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Our family recently finished reading Jenny Cote’s newest book, The Prophet, The Shepherd, and the Star. It is the third book in her series that features a dog named Max, a cat named Liz, and their friends as they observe and participate in Biblical events.  This latest book is quite long–it has 517 pages and includes the stories of Isaiah, Daniel, and the events surrounding the birth of Christ. It is currently available at The Epic Order of the Seven website as well as Christianbook.com .  It will be more widely available in the coming months.

This book begins in the times of the Old Testament even though its main plot involves the birth of Jesus Christ.  Max and Liz are present as prophecies about the coming Messiah are written, and they follow Daniel into his Babylonian captivity where he leaves instructions for the future Magi to identify the Messiah’s star.  One of the most captivating scenes occurs at the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the fiery furnace. As they bravely refuse to bow to the king’s golden image and are thrown into the furnace, the animals recognize that the 4th Person in the furnace is the Messiah, and it is quite a worshipful scene.

The lengthy background information that is given in this book causes the reader to see how historical events relate to one another.  God works in longer periods than a single lifetime.  His purposes are great, timeless, and extend world-wide. Human life-times are not always sufficient to see the working out of His plans. Growing up, I knew the Bible stories from Sunday School, but it wasn’t until I was an adult that I understood the sequencing of the stories and how the Bible is really an unfolding of God’s redemptive plan.  The stories of Abraham, Joseph, Isaiah, Daniel and other Biblical characters are all vital steps in  His overall plan, and this book helps the reader to tie some of those pieces together.

Of course, the story of the birth of Christ is the central message of this book, and it is very well written.  One of my family’s favorite characters, Rabbi Isaac, appears in this portion.  He is a Jewish rabbi in Nazareth who has studied the prophecies concerning the coming Messiah and is looking for His soon appearance.  He knows Mary and Joseph and is quick to believe that God was working out His glorious plan through them and helps others to believe the same.  Eventually he even loans them his beloved donkey, Amos, for their difficult journey to Bethlehem.  Rabbi Isaac is a  precious character–very funny, but sincere.  He has a habit of saying, “True?  Of course, true!”  and that has become a familiar phrase in our house too!  🙂  We would love to see Rabbi Isaac make future appearances as Mrs. Cote continues her Max and Liz series.

My son Brock had an interesting comment about the portions of the book that portray Jesus as a baby.  He said it made him feel strange to hear Jesus referred to as “cooing,”  crawling, and doing other normal baby things.  When I asked him why, he responded that it just seemed kind of irreverent or humiliating to think of Jesus like that.  I pointed out that that is the whole point of the incarnation!  Jesus purposefully humbled Himself to take on the form of a baby, live a perfect life, and as a Man sacrifice His life so that we might be forgiven and receive eternal life.  It was a giant, lowly step for Him to do this. So, yes, it does sound a little strange to read about Jesus being a baby, but it is a great reminder of His great sacrifice for us.

The Prairie Family highly recommends this book.  We read it together throughout the Christmas season, and it made a wonderful addition to our holiday.  It definitely helped us to focus on the reality of what we are celebrating.  It is rather long having 76 chapters.  I am not sure when we began reading it, but it did take us several weeks to complete.  It was, however, well worth the investment of time, and my kids did not in the least lose interest through the entire book.

The Prophet, the Shepherd, and the Star ends with quite a cliff-hanger!  There is a new member that is to join the Epic Order of the Seven, but that member is never clearly identified.  Of course, we have our suspicions on who that member will be, but we are looking forward to reading the next book in the series when it is completed to know for sure!  The next book will be about Jesus Christ’s ministry, and I believe that it will include the crucifixion.  I’m not sure when it is to be finished, but I know that we will be reading it as soon as it is available!

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