Tag Archives: children’s stories

Book Review: Sword of Clontarf by Charles A. Brady

Sword of Clontarf : Charles Brady : 9780976638681

Whew! After that streak of Star Wars reviews, some of you might have been worried that I had no other books to talk about. Fear not, hardy readers! There are a couple of different novels which I have up my sleave, one of which we will discuss today. Since we are only a few weeks from December (where did the year go?!?!), however, I will have time for just one more book review this year. That slot is going to another Dean Koontz book, as promised to Mr. Bookstooge. All others will have to wait until January of 2019.

There will be more Star Wars reviews next year, though, so stay tuned for them! I have had to postpone one of my promised Spotlight! articles – the one I described as rollingly entertaining here – until January, too. This is on account not only with the focus of the upcoming Spotlight! post, but of the last article discussing Wedge Antilles. Still, he had to do a lot of rolling in his X-Wing, so maybe we can count him as the promised Spotlight! discussion. Next year’s first two Spotlight! foci will be different, however. Trust me. 😉

All right, with that out of the way, let us turn to today’s subject. This would be Sword of Clontarf, by Charles A. Brady. Sword is a children’s book, obviously, centered on a fictional character who shows us a piece of history. Originally published in 1960, the reprint I have came out in 2006, so you can buy a good copy of this story new if you desire, readers.

The book begins with Niall (pronounced like “Neil”) Arneson being shaken awake by his Irish, Christian mother. Taken to Iceland after being captured by Vikings during a raid on Ireland, Etain the Fair is known throughout Eaglewaterheath, Iceland, as the Dumb Woman. No one means disrespect to her with this title – especially since she is the second wife of the steading’s master, Arne Helgison. Etain is known as the Dumb Woman because she can’t speak.

Only, now she suddenly is speaking to Niall. And she is speaking in Irish!

Finally on his feet, Niall learns from his mother and his uncle, Hjalti, that his father has been murdered. Clearly, this is bad, but on it’s own it is not enough to warrant such an urgent wake up call. Nor is it cause for Niall to flee his home all of a sudden. By rights, Niall should be out with his three older half brothers hunting his father’s murderers.

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But you see, that is where the crunch comes. Niall is a Christian. His older half brothers are pagan, just like his father. Arne allowed Etain to keep her faith and have Niall baptized, but he retained his pagan views. His first three sons followed his example, but they have never liked Etain or their kid half brother. With Arne gone they are likely to seize the chance to murder Niall themselves before chasing down Arne’s killers.

Etain, naturally, does not want that for her son. While Hjalti would be happy to offer Niall protection and care, being fonder of him than of his other nephews, the idea of having to kill his brother’s other sons to defend the youngest does not appeal to him anymore than it does to Etain. Thus the two have come at this early hour to prepare Niall either to flee or to fight. It is his choice.

Seeing the reason behind their arguments (eventually), Niall accepts their plan and dresses quickly. As he is preparing to leave, his mother drops another bombshell on him. Through her, he is related to the former high king of Ireland, who now serves as the current High King’s chief advisor and friend.

Who is the High King – the present Ard Rhi – of Ireland in this year of 1000? The answer to your question is Brian Boru.

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Brian Boru

Unlike King Arthur, Brian Boru is confirmed to have lived. Around the year 1000, Brian united all the clans of Ireland under one banner, becoming the High King of the island. Traditionally, the position of Ard Rhi didn’t mean what we would think today. The head of every clan in Ireland had a king; becoming Ard Rhi or High King wasn’t like becoming King of England or King of France. It was a somewhat temporary position and it didn’t have a lot of power attached to it.

Biran Boru changed that. For ten years he ruled a united Ireland, keeping the peace and making it the safest it had ever been. There is a legend that, during Brian’s reign, a well dressed young lady with a solid gold ring walked the length of Ireland (35 miles) completely unmolested. That is the type of peace Brian brought to the country.

In the year 1014 the pagan Norsemen – known better to modern audiences simply as “Vikings” – tried to invade Ireland. They raided the country pretty regularly prior to Brian’s reign; I believe he might have become Ard Rhi mainly to drive them from the Emerald Isle’s shores, though it is possible that I am remembering my history incorrectly. Either way, in 1014, on Good Friday, the Norsemen tried again to take Ireland at the Battle of Clontarf.

It was a pitched battle, and if the Norsemen had won, Western civilization might never have risen as quickly or as well from Rome’s ashes. As it is, the Irish turned the assault aside when the tide went out, taking the Norsemen’s boats with it. Some might say this was coincidence, or good planning on the part of the Irish. It was neither; it was Providence, pure and plain and true.

The Battle of Clontarf was a great engagement, and the Irish distinguished themselves well there. But the fight had a cost, too. During the battle Brian Boru was slain in his tent, where he was praying for victory. His death ended Ireland’s unity, though not her civilization, nor her contributions to the West. But it was a sad loss nonetheless.

Before all of this happens in the novel, however, Niall receives something precious and deadly from his mother. Etain didn’t feign dumbness when she was captured by the Norsemen. Not on purpose, anyway. The reason she did not speak when the Norsemen captured her was because she had something in her mouth. It was a talisman they valued highly called Thor’s Ring.

Now the Thor you encounter in this novel isn’t the jovial, knightly, Christianized hero of Marvel Comics’ fame. (Yes, I said ‘Christianized,’ readers. What is more, I meant it; let the new Marvel hierarchy gnash their teeth about it if they like, but the truth is that Stan Lee Christianized the old Norse myths. That includes Thor Odinson.) The Thor in this novel is like the original Norse interpretation: fierce, bloodthirsty, and dangerous. And the Norsemen worship him and his fellow Asgardians accordingly.

Whether one believes such a talisman ever existed or that it had some kind of power does not matter. What matters is that the Norsemen believed it had power. As long as the Irish held the Ring and two other talismen of import in the novel, they could force a truce on the Norsemen. But if the heathen Northmen ever got their hands on the three talismen, it would mean all out, open war between the two factions again.

In order to protect the Ring and her people, Etain hid it in her mouth during the raid. She couldn’t speak without giving away her secret and, when the Norsemen came to the conclusion that she had been born dumb, she kept up the charade out of fear for her life. This fear extended to her husband, whom she came to love deeply. Eventually she felt guilty for keeping him in the dark about her ability to speak. She kept trying to work up the nerve to tell him the truth, but put it off every time. Now, of course, it is too late to set the record straight for him.

Anyway, that is the set up for the first chapter. After saying his good-byes, Niall sets out from Eaglewaterheath with an Irish thrall his mother and uncle have freed. After a series of adventures, he reaches Ireland and joins his mother’s kin…..

….And that is the last of the spoilers you are getting, readers! If you want to know what befalls Niall in Sword of Clontarf, pick the novel up today. A good read that is full of history, it is well worth the purchase price. Enjoy it, readers!

‘Til next time!

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Book Review: The Menagerie Trilogy by Tui and Kari Sutherland

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Did you know that unicorns and mermaids actually have superiority complexes and are mega-jerks?  If you have read the Sutherland sisters’ The Menagerie trilogy, then you know that and more!

Logan Wilde and his father moved to Xanadu, Wyoming, back in the summer.  After his mother sent them a postcard saying she has left them for a new job opportunity, Logan’s dad packed them up, quit his well-paying legal job in Chicago, and moved them to Xanadu.

It is October now, and Logan has yet to make any new friends in school.  His father also has yet to find his mom.  So it is a big zero all the way around for the two Wilde men.

One morning, Logan wakes up to find feathers scattered all over his room.  His first thought is that his cat, Purrsimmon, had a midnight snack on the floor of his bedroom.  Except his cat is hiding on the top shelf at the back of his closet, and she shredded his sweaters while she was up there during the night.  His betta fish and pet mice are similarly distressed; the mice are hiding in a corner of the terrarium, and the fish is swimming madly about the tank.

Confused, but in a hurry to get to school on time, Logan changes and grabs a Pop-Tart on his way out of the house.  But he never checks under his bed to see if there is anything there….

On his way to school, Logan sees more feathers, along with damage caused by something all over town.  To add to the perplexities of the day, he meets two of his classmates on his way to school:  Blue Merevy and his friend Zoe Khan, the weirdest girl in school.  Zoe looks like she is in the middle of a panic attack she is desperately hoping no one will notice.  Blue, in contrast, is as cool as a cucumber.  Logan asks what the problem is and Zoe says she has lost her dog.  Logan offers to help her find it, but she dismisses his offer as politely as possible.

The day gets weirder when he learns someone ate all the food in the school cafeteria.  (Except the lettuce – that is virtually untouched.)  But the day takes a turn for the magnificent when Logan gets home and finds a griffin cub hiding under his bed!!!

Logan soon discovers the cub’s home is behind Zoe’s house.  After sneaking in, Logan finds the place is a big zoo filled with mythological creatures:  dragons, unicorns, griffins, hellhounds, a yeti – and a whole lot more!

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Zoe, however, is somewhat horrified to find the new kid from school has gotten into her family’s top-secret Menagerie.  A bad experience with her older sister’s boyfriend has made her family crack down on absolutely ever letting anyone know of the Menagerie’s existence.  The rules were already strict before this fiasco, but afterward, they are even tighter.  How is she going to explain this to her parents?!

The return of the griffin cub mollifies her somewhat, but it does not solve the problem entirely.  See, Logan is only part of the problem.  The bigger problem is that there are six cubs missing from the Menagerie.  If any of the other five are spotted in town, the secret is out.

And that will be THE ABSOLUTE END OF HER WORLD AND THE MENAGERIE!!!!

One of the wonderful and frankly unexpected things I found enjoyable in this trilogy is that all but one of the characters comes from an unbroken family.  Blue’s parents are divorced, but Zoe’s and Logan’s parents remain true to each other throughout the trilogy, as do their friends’ parents.  Since one of the writers is the author of the Wings of Fire series, where almost none of the main characters have an intact family, this is something of a happy surprise.  It is nice to know the broken family cliché can actually be tossed aside by modern writers.  It is a bit of an over-relied upon plot device in my opinion.

These are all the tantalizing tidbits that you are getting out of me today, readers.  If you want to learn more, grab The Menagerie and its sequels – Dragon on Trial and Krakens and Lies as soon as you can.  You will want to borrow all three books at once, because you will not be able to put these books down of your own free will.  They are gripping!

Happy Griffin Tracking!  ; )

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Book Review: The Night Fairy by Laura Amy Schlitz

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Did you know that fairies make bad parents?  Neither did I until I read Miss Schlitz’ The Night Fairy.

The Night Fairy revolves around Flory, a Night Fairy who loses her wings to a bat when she is three months old.  And these are not ordinary wings, like most night fairies’.  They usually have nondescript, bland wings.  Flory’s were like a Luna moth’s wings, which is why they got bitten off by the bat.

Without her wings, Flory has to make do walking.  Also, without her wings, she has to be even more careful of the large animals in the woods that can hurt her.

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Eventually, Flory sets up shop in an abandoned birdhouse.  She makes herself a set of clothes and befriends a squirrel named Skuggle.  Using Skuggle’s weight, Flory helps him to get seeds from the local “giantess’s” birdfeeder.  In exchange, he lets her have some of the seeds for her food stores.  In order to get these seeds, Flory has to learn to work in the day time, going between the day-lit and moonlit worlds, unlike most Night Fairies.

But the big change comes when she sees her first hummingbird.  From then on, Flory wants nothing so badly as to ride a hummingbird, entranced by their beauty as she is.

However, hummingbirds are not the nicest, most friendly birds in the air.  Flory can hardly get any of them to talk to her, forget about giving her a ride.  By the time she actually gets to make a complete request of a female hummingbird, she is firmly and sharply rebuked, since the hummingbird has no interest in being the slave of a fairy, night or day.

Things sort of grow from here, readers, but this is all I can tell you.  The Night Fairy is a short children’s story, and if I say any more I will tell you the whole adventure – and that would never do!

Pick up The Night Fairy from your local library when you can.  It is a relaxing read, and any young girls you know are sure to love it!

Later,

The Mithril Guardian

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Book Review: The Penderwicks series by Jeanne Birdsall

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Here we have another book review, readers!  This review, however, focuses on a series which can loosely be referred to as The Penderwicks, from the title of the first novel.  If you know any young girls (or girls who are young at heart), start taking notes!

Mr. Penderwick is a professor of botany.  His wife died roughly four years ago, but she did not leave him alone.  Together, Mr. and Mrs. Penderwick had four daughters.  The last and youngest, Batty, was born just before her mother died of cancer.

The first Penderwicks novel – The Penderwicks – mentions that the family’s old vacation house was sold at the last minute.  This meant they could not rent it, as they had in years past. And so it appeared that the family would be stuck in Cameron, Massachusetts, for summer vacation.  Cameron is great, but summer vacation usually includes at least a little trip outside of town for a few days.  Right?

Luckily, Mr. Penderwick finds a replacement cottage where the family can spend their summer in the nick of time.  Off the family drives, going out on the adventure of a lifetime…!

Until they become hopelessly lost, that is.

Who are the Penderwicks, you ask?  The first and oldest daughter is Rosalind.  Twelve years old (in this novel), Rosalind has been mothering her sisters since their real mother died.  She keeps them all running on schedule and makes sure they do not roughhouse too much.  (Or she tries to do that.)

Next is eleven year old Skye.  Blue eyed and blonde, Skye is the only Penderwick who directly resembles the deceased Mrs. Penderwick.  All the other Penderwick girls have brown hair and brown eyes.  Skye is a tomboy; she loves science and mathematics, and keeps everything neat and orderly.  However, despite all this, she has the most ferocious temper of the sisters.  Any little thing can set her off, and a mountain of little things is a recipe for a lot of trouble from Skye.  Cross her at your own peril!

Then there is Jane.  Dreamy and disorganized, Jane’s half of the room she shares with Skye is painted purple and looks like a dozen girls live in that part of the two sisters’ domain.  Ten years old, Jane and Skye tend to get into a lot of arguments.  Skye cannot stand Jane’s tendency to romanticize the mundane every waking minute.  With the dream of becoming an author someday, Jane has very little filter between her brain and her mouth – yet another reason she is almost always at odds with Skye.

Finally, there is Batty.  The youngest of the sisters, Batty was born four years ago.  Shy and quiet around strangers, Batty can hold her own when it comes to sisterly battles of temper.  Otherwise, she is the sweetest and most innocent of the Penderwicks.  During the first book, she never goes anywhere without wearing a special set of butterfly wings.  A lover of animals, Batty seems to be considering a career as a vet – though she is awfully young to settle on an idea as yet.

Ooops, I almost forgot a member of the Penderwick family!  That would be Hound, the family’s big, black, goofy dog.  All the sisters love him to pieces and coddle him unmercifully.  Hound knows nothing but that love, and so he is a very friendly dog.  Just make sure you do not feed him road maps.  Or pizza.  Or pie.  Or meat loaf.  He has a tendency to regurgitate that sort of stuff, and at the worst times!  He is also Batty’s constant companion.

Following The Penderwicks are three sequels:  The Penderwicks on Gardam Street, The Penderwicks at Point Mouette, and The Penderwicks in Spring.  They are all wonderful books; something like Little Women and every novelization of the adventures/relationships any set of siblings has ever experienced.

There is no way to recommend this series any more highly than this, readers.  It is likely that your local library has copies of the books, but if they do not, you should request them.  And if they do not buy them, then I promise you that this series is worth your money.  It is practically impossible to go wrong with Jeanne Birdsall’s Penderwicks series!

Vale!

The Mithril Guardian

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Book Review: The Rescuers by Margery Sharp

Hello again, readers! This post is about a book by Miss Margery Sharp called The Rescuers. Now, any of you who are remotely familiar with Disney films will probably recognize the title. Disney made two movies featuring the famous Rescuing mice Miss Bianca and Bernard: The Rescuers and The Rescuers Down Under. (The latter was my favorite of the two.)

These animated features were based on Margery Sharp’s books. But beyond the Prisoners’ Aid Society, Bernard, and Miss Bianca, there is not much that the books and the films have in common.

In the films, Miss Bianca and Bernard both work for the Prisoners’ Aid Society from the get-go. In the books, this is not so. Bernard certainly is part of the Prisoners’ Aid Society at the start of the novel. He even has a medal for “Gallantry in the Face of Cats”!

But in the books, Miss Bianca is the pet of the Ambassador’s son. She lives in a cage, inside a Porcelain Pagoda, and is waited on hand and paw. And she has no fear of cats!!!

Now, the premise of the book The Rescuers is this: the Madam Chairwoman of the Prisoners’ Aid Society branch in (presumably) England has heard about a certain political prisoner being held in a terrible, horrible place called the Black Castle. This particular prison is infamous even among mice. The assembled mice all shiver and shudder at the very name of it. Only one mouse ever got in and out of the Black Castle, and he is now a very old fellow well out of his prime.

This particular political prisoner is Norwegian, and he is a poet. All this sounds very sad to the mice, until Madam Chairwoman drops a bombshell on them. She does not want to send someone to the Black Castle to be the Norwegian poet’s companion and comfort in his suffering. No, she wants to send at least two mice to the Castle to rescue him!! And what is more, she wants the help of the pampered Miss Bianca in this venture!

This leaves many heads awhirl with confusion, anger, resentment, and astonishment. No one has ever escaped the Black Castle. It is a bare, black building built into a bare, black mountain. It is seated on bare, desert moor country, and the track leading to the front gate is littered with the bones of prisoners who died on their forced march to the Castle.

But the most startling thing is the Madam Chairwoman’s choice of Miss Bianca to help accomplish the rescue. Miss Bianca is rumored to be an idle mouse, having lived her whole life in luxury. Does she have the courage to do something so daring?

Madam Chairwoman only wants Miss Bianca’s help in finding and securing the aid of a Norwegian mouse for the rescue. After all, the prisoner she wants to free is Norwegian, and it is not likely that he will understand English. They need someone who will be able to speak to him in his native language. (Mice have a universal tongue which they all understand, and naturally speak the language of whichever country they were born and raised in, so they have no problem communicating with each other.)

Well, Madam Chairwoman selects Bernard to ask or even bully Miss Bianca into helping them. Since the Ambassador is headed to Norway with his family, and since Miss Bianca goes wherever the Boy goes, she will be perfectly capable of finding a Norwegian mouse to assist in the rescue.

Well, Bernard makes his way up to the Boy’s room and finds that the rumors are at least partly true: Miss Bianca has been raised in the lap of luxury and therefore has no practical experience in the outside world. But the rumors never mentioned her beauty, which strikes Bernard to the heart. From the moment he sees her, he is madly in love with her. His love and courage are what inspire Miss Bianca to agree, hesitantly, to the plan. And from there the adventure really begins!

This is all that I am going to spoil of The Rescuers, readers. It is a very good little adventure story, and I was glad to read it. I do not think it will usurp the place in my heart where The Rescuers Down Under resides, though. But I am glad to know where Disney’s Miss Bianca and Bernard came from. After all, without Margery Sharp’s stories, there would be no movies!

If you can grab a copy of this book, I highly recommend it. It is well written and fun, especially for children, its target audience. It is certainly worth checking out of the library, anyway!

Adieu!

The Mithril Guardian

Book Review: The Mouse of Amherst by Elizabeth Spires

I’m Nobody! Who are you?

Are you – Nobody – too?

Then there’s a pair of us!

Don’t tell! they’d banish us – you know!

How dreary – to be – Somebody!

How public – like a Frog –

To tell your name – the livelong June –

To an admiring Bog! –

by Emily Dickinson

This poem by Emily Dickinson is one of my favorites. I have read poetry – or have had it read to me – for years. There is nothing like hearing words cascading on the ear in a pleasurable rhythm!

But I did not find Emily Dickinson’s poem I’m Nobody in a book of poetry, readers. I discovered it on the back of The Mouse of Amherst. In this case that would be Amherst, Massachusetts, home of the famous Emily Dickinson. It seems that Miss Dickinson’s poetry has undergone some sort of revival of late. Her work is fantastic, certainly, but she received next to no recognition for it during her lifetime. Most of her poetry was published posthumously.

Part of the reason for this is that the publishers of the time had no idea how to categorize her work. Miss Dickinson’s poetry did not conform to the poetry published during her time. In fact, many of her verses seemed “uncontrolled” and out of sync with what was considered “real” poetry.

This has led to innumerable stories being published about the reclusive Miss Dickinson in recent memory. The Mouse of Amherst is one such novel. Written for young children, The Mouse of Amherst introduces the reader to Emily Dickinson and her poetry from a unique perspective – through the eyes of a mouse that has moved into the wainscoting in Miss Dickinson’s room!

This young white mouse is Emmaline. As any other young mouse, Emmaline’s primary concerns are avoiding the cat and surviving. Yet she senses something about such a life is not fulfilling. It is dull and monotonous; there is nothing to fill her hours except eating, sleeping, and avoiding danger.

Until she moves into her new room, and discovers a welcome gift from Miss Dickinson. It is an inkwell and a feather pen, both mouse-sized. Underneath the inkwell is a poem from Emily Dickinson to Emmaline Mouse (though naturally Miss Dickinson has no idea of her new roommate’s name).

Thus begins the pen pal relationship between the great poet and the small mouse. The two exchange poems and Emmaline encourages Miss Dickinson when her poetry is once again rejected for publication. The strange friendship, however, has its risks – a ball of fur with nine lives, teeth, and claws!

The Mouse of Amherst is a sweet little book fit for any child, though it will probably appeal more quickly to girls than to boys. Everyone should be exposed to good poetry in their life at some point. The Mouse of Amherst is a fine introduction for children to the ticklish, tightrope world of poetry.

Until next time!

The Mithril Guardian

Book Review: Escape from Warsaw (formerly The Silver Sword) by Ian Serraillier

Warsaw, Poland. 1942. Germany has invaded, and for the Balicki family, this is very bad news. The family consists of Joseph, his wife, and his three children: Ruth, Edek, and Bronia. Joseph is taken to a Nazi prison camp called Zakyna not long after the occupation begins. He escapes back to Warsaw about a year later, only to find his home rubble, his wife taken to Germany by Nazi storm troopers, and his children assumed dead.

With nowhere else to go, Joseph decides to head to Switzerland. He and his wife had decided that this was where they would meet if they were separated, and the children know to head there as soon as they can. With the help of an orphan boy he meets prowling the ruins of his house, Joseph escapes Poland. But not before telling the boy, Jan, to keep an eye out for his three children. He also entrusts a silver letter opener he once gave to his wife, shaped like a sword, to the street urchin who found it in the rubble.

For the rest of the war Ruth, Edek, and Bronia manage to scrape a living from the ruins of Warsaw. Things become harder for the girls when Edek is caught by the Nazis and shipped to Germany to labor on their farms. It is not long after this that they meet Jan, who joins up with the two Balicki girls.

To keep herself busy, Ruth starts a makeshift school for the other Polish orphans living amid the rubble. When the war ends, Ruth begins searching for her parents and younger brother. She seeks help from the local Russian outpost and, when one of the soldiers comes to deliver supplies for her school, he tangles with Jan. In the process, Jan’s treasure box, which he always has with him, is smashed.

Out falls the silver sword, sending Ruth into a fit of tears since she recognizes the letter opener her father gave to her mother. Jan reveals that, with the intervening years, he had forgotten his promise to their father. But, now that he remembers, he is willing to help the two Balicki girls find their parents.

Thus begins the trek of the three children as they head to Switzerland in search of Mr. and Mrs. Balicki. They pick up Edek, who has contracted tuberculosis and is in rough shape, along the way. The four endure many deprivations and hardships, but also manage to make a great many friends on their journey. Ruth manages the four of them, protects and leads them, and is the only one who can handle the kleptomaniac Jan.

Throughout their adventures, friend and foe alike are impressed with the Balicki children’s determination to find their parents. This fidelity to a mother and father who might well be dead inspires many to help them, even at great risk to themselves.

Escape from Warsaw is a good story, and I quite enjoyed reading it. It is easy to read. If you know someone who is a World War II buff, then this book would not be a bad recommendation for them, whether they are adults or children.

It is important to note that Escape from Warsaw puts Poland in the spotlight, highlighting much of what it and Eastern Europe endured during World War II and its aftermath. While the details of Communist treatment of the Polish are not dwelt on in this story, it should be noted that the Balicki children left Poland before the U.S.S.R. had cemented its control over the country. Given their determination to reach Switzerland, I do not blame any of the characters for deciding to stay in that country rather than returning to a Poland under Soviet rule.

Until next time,

The Mithril Guardian