Book Review

Fiction Fridays

          If you have read any of my previous Weekend Book Reviews, then you know that I’m an avid reader. I love books and often, if not always, have multiple books open at once. As a homeschooling mom, I try to instill the same passion into my children as well. Which means, on any given week, we may be listening to a book on audio at mealtimes, reading a book about a famous person in history and enjoying another book just for fun!

          Today, I thought I would share with you a few of our favorite series. Except for the Genius Files collection, each book in the series has familiar characters but can be read separately from the others. This is great if you aren’t sure you want to start a whole series or are limited on time. So take a look, maybe it will spark a reading passion in you!

My Weird School

By: Dan Gutman    This is actually the first series in the set of three: My Weird School, My Weird School Daze and My Weirder School. We love to read these books on Fun Fridays because they are so quirky and usually make my kids laugh. We are currently reading Mr. Harrison is Embarrasin!—although we have definitely not gone in order. We like to skip around in the series and pick the book with the best cover art and/or title (most titles include the name of a Mr., Mrs. or Ms. and a matching rhyme with a funny adjective) or fits the time of year (i.e. Deck the Halls, We’re off the Walls at Christmastime). Each book tells a new story about A.J. and his classmates at Ella Mentry School.

Dan Gutman is a clever writer who loves to play with words. The illustrations by Jim Paillot fit perfectly with the storyline and are equally amusing. These chapter books are written around a third grade reading level; however, everyone from my kindergartner to my fifth grader and even mom gets into the fun!

My only caution to readers is that the books can contain a reference or two to “potty humor,” which my kids think is hilarious but may be offensive to some. Also, at times the attitude or disrespect of the students to one another and adults seems to cross the line, in my opinion. Although meant to be taken light heartedly, I admittedly skip over the occasional “gosh” (a slang term not permitted in our house) or wince at a joke with a bit of a punch. Overall, the books in their entirety make reading more enjoyable—especially when we read together!

Genius Files

By: Dan Gutman

This series, intended for older readers, tells the story of twins Coke and Pep (short for Pepsi) and their eccentric parents. Before leaving for a cross-country road trip in the family’s RV, the pair find out they are a couple of geniuses and are being sent on a mission. The books chronicle their journey complete with deciphering codes, bad guys and heroic moves. They also include, as per Gutman’s style, a good dose of humorous fun!

For this series, we chose the audio books which we usually listen to around the lunch table. In order for an audio book to be captivating, it has to have a good reader. This one certainly does. Narrated by Michael Goldstrom (we also like the 39 Clues audio series narrated by David Pittu), these books have my kids hanging on until the very end. The downside is that for the occasional slang term (not cuss words) not allowed in my house, I can’t “skip over” like I do while reading to them. It has been a long time since we listened to book three, but I can’t recall a specific time they ever used a word stronger than “gosh” (i.e. taking God’s name in vain).*

We look forward to reading more of Gutman’s books in the future!

Rock Harbor Mystery

By: Colleen Coble

Drawn in by a story told on one of the Great Lakes, I immediately fell in love with the first book of Coble’s I have read: Without a Trace. The main character even lives in a lighthouse! Bree and her search and rescue dog, Samson, are great at finding lost people in the thick forest nearby, but she hasn’t been able to find the crashed plane that carried her husband and young son. The small town believes she should move on, but she is not ready to give up.

An intriguing mystery interlaced with a little bit of romance, I could not stop turning the pages. It was one of the highlights of my day to be able to sit down and read another chapter. The best fiction book I have read in a while! I love how Coble included scripture and Biblical principles in a modern day story for everyday readers! This book was an eReader edition that I probably downloaded for free, and now, I’m chomping at the bit to read more in the series!

Hope Beach

By: Colleen Coble

I think I must really miss my beach (ok, it really belongs to the state, but it is the place that makes my heart sing) because I am now a few chapters into the second book in another one of Coble’s “beach books”—Rosemary Cottage. Rather than a Great Lake, the setting of this series is a small island off the east coast (which means an occasional shark might cross the page, eek!).

Coble writes with a perfect harmony of mystery and romance combined with a spiritual awakening. Although the books do not have to be read in order, starting with the first in the series, Tidewater Inn, gives the reader more background information on the lives and personality of characters like Libby and Alec. This story had more romance than mystery, but it was still quite a page-turner. There were times, I felt like “mothering” the adult couple and shouting, “Wait! Be careful! You need a chaperone!” Coble may have not stuck to the “no-kissing-before-marriage” rule, but she still stayed true to her Christian character. The book carried such themes as seeking God’s will/wisdom, being gracious and offering forgiveness.

Can’t wait to see what’s in store for the characters in book two!

          As many of you already know, my son was recently diagnosed with medulloblastoma, a form of brain cancer. We are currently in the middle of a six week cycle of chemotherapy and radiation. Listening to audio books during long car rides and reading during treatments and throughout the day is a great form of distraction. Although I am certainly not advocating (ever) a book (fiction or non, Christian or secular) replacing the importance of daily scripture reading, I do believe that God has given us this hobby as a gift. It is something we can enjoy no matter where we are—whether a temporary home, hospital room or riding in a car. So I can say, along with the many other forms of God’s grace, “Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift” (2 Corinthians 9:15)!


*If you have read any of these books, or others in the series, I’d love to know what you think! I strive to be honest and straight forward in my reviews, but I am only human so I may err at times (or my convictions may vary from yours). Your job is to keep me on my toes! 🙂

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