Tag Archives: Youth Books

Reviews of books aimed at youths.

Book Review: The Castle in the Attic by Elizabeth Winthrop

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Did you ever dream about your toys coming to life, speaking to you, playing with you, and becoming your best friends, readers? I used to do that. I loved the characters in all the stories I read about or watched on TV. I wanted to romp with 101 Dalmatians come to life, to pilot a zoid across Zi’s burning deserts, to travel through the Stargate with SG-1. I even wanted to hang out with Lieutenant Harmon Rabb Jr. from JAG.

So this means that stories such as The Castle in the Attic were tailor made for me. If I could not convince my toys to come to life and talk to me, I could read about toys that did do this for their owners.

William Lawrence is a ten year old American boy. Since he was little, while his parents have been away at work he has been cared for by Mrs. Phillips. Mrs. Phillips is from England. She lost her husband in World War II, and aside from William and his parents her only family is her brother, who still lives in England.

Coming back from gym class one day, William learns that Mrs. Phillips is going back to England. She is homesick and wants to go back. This upsets William mightily. He loves the old woman like she was his own grandmother and he does not want her to leave.

So he takes the picture of her husband and her pearl pin and hides them, hoping that this will make her stay. But Mrs. Phillips knows him too well not to guess what he has done, and eventually William returns the items. In order to make their parting a little easier, Mrs. Phillips gives William a model castle which has been in her family for generations.

There is only one toy that goes with the fully equipped, articulated castle: a knight carrying a dagger, sword, and shield. Called the Silver Knight, William puts the toy and the box it came in on the castle courtyard.

Later, after he has been put to bed, William waits until everyone has gone off to sleep. Then he sneaks upstairs, opens the box, and takes out the Silver Knight.

But the Knight does not feel like a toy. He feels warm. And squishy. And he is moving!

William is so surprised that he drops the Knight in the castle courtyard. Once he is upright, the Silver Knight challenges William to a duel. Once the preliminary arguments are dispensed with, the two go to their separate beds. William is not quite sure that he has not dreamed the entire encounter, so he goes up to the attic again next morning to see if the Knight is still there and alive.

Turns out, he is.

The adventure continues on from here, readers, but I do not want to spoil more of the story. If you want to know what else happens in the book, you shall have to cross that drawbridge yourselves! I would not want to spoil your fun.

Also, be sure to look for the sequel, Battle for the Castle. It is not my favorite of the two, but it never hurts to read the sequel at least once.

See you around!

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Book Review: That Fine Summer by Ella Manuel

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That Fine Summer, by Ella Manuel, is a short children’s book set in Fox Cove, Newfoundland. Never heard of Newfoundland? I am not terribly surprised; The Rock, as her people call her, is not the most popular tourist destination in the world.

Newfoundland was discovered by Norsemen and colonized by them at the turn of the Dark Ages, if my memory serves me correctly. But it was not until after Christopher Columbus discovered America that a more permanent colony was set up. Over time English, Scottish, and Irish settlers came to Newfoundland to make their living on the bountiful cod, as well as the natural wealth of the rugged island itself. By the twentieth century, Newfoundland was its own island nation. I do not know the year, but Canada eventually annexed the island through Confederation.

I believe That Fine Summer is set before Confederation, back when Newfoundland was an independent country. In this short novel, Mahala “Malie” Jacobs marches out to her Grandfather’s house in a right fury. When asked what the matter is, she tells him that her mother has made her wear a new dress and a new set of shoes first thing in the morning.

Mahala is a tomboy who likes to go fishing and sailing, things she can only really do with her Grandfather. Her mother, her grandfather’s only child, wants Mahala to act and dress like a proper lady. The only things the two agree on are that they love each other, they love Grandfather, and they are ardent piano players.

That evening, Mahala’s mother springs another unwelcome surprise on her daughter. She tells Malie that they are going to St. John’s, the capitol city of Newfoundland, for the summer.

Malie is thunderstruck. She does not want to go to the city. She wants to stay in Fox Cove with her grandfather, fishing, exploring the beaches, and just having fun in her own native place. She has had it all planned out for the last few months.

This leads to an explosive family argument, and Malie goes to the person who understands her best to solve the dilemma: Grandfather. Grandfather talks to Mahala’s mother and convinces her to let Malie stay with him throughout the summer… That fine summer.

I’ll not spoil the rest of the book for you, readers. It is a sweet little story, with lots of local color and language. If you do not understand the Newfoundland slang, the BREAKWATER edition has a short glossary of Newfoundland expressions included in it. But between the jigs and the reels, the story should be easy for children to read and understand.

Have fun fishing for this book and learning about The Rock, readers!

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Book Review: The Trumpeter of Krakow by Eric P. Kelly

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In the Church of Our Lady Mary in Krakow, Poland, there is a special tradition. Every hour of every day, on the hour, one of the firemen of Krakow goes to the tower in the church and plays a special hymn on the trumpet. This hymn is called the Heynal, the Hymn to Our Lady. You can hear it in this video here:

If you listen carefully, you will notice that the hymn ends abruptly. It actually ends on a broken note. Why?

In thirteenth century Poland, the Tartars were invading. They were almost at the gates of the city of Krakow when they heard a song. It was a boy in the brick cathedral of the Church of Our Lady Mary, which at that time was outside the walls of the city. All the other buildings around the church had been burned by the invading Tartars. Only the church remained standing.

The boy was blowing the Heynal on his trumpet, as he had sworn to do in times of emergency. He knew doing this would get the Tartars attention and let them spot him. But it was his duty to play the Heynal on the hour, and the time had come for him to play. So he played.

And a Tartar took aim and fired at him, killing him with the arrow. This left the broken note of the Heynal, as the boy died before he could finish the tune. All who play the hymn today end the tune on the broken note, in memory of the boy who died fulfilling his duty to country, God, and church. Even during the years when the Communists had control of Poland, the Heynal would be played from the tower of the Church of Our Lady Mary.

In the twentieth century, a student and teacher named Eric P. Kelly heard the Heynal being played from the tower of the Church of Our Lady Mary in Krakow. The melody enchanted him almost as much as Poland did. And it inspired him to write The Trumpeter of Krakow.

In later centuries, after the Tartars were driven out of Poland, the Heynal was played not only on the hour, but to alert the city to the danger of fire. The watchman who would play the Heynal on the hour during the day or night (they rotated shifts, of course), would ring the bell and play the hymn to warn the city of invasion and other such dangers. But for the most part, during the fifteenth century, it was to warn against fires.

Krakow had a lot of wooden buildings at the time. One little set of sparks in the right place at the right time and – whoosh! There goes a third of the city up in smoke.

Pan (Mr.) Andrew Charnetski, his wife, and his son Joseph are headed into Krakow one day in July of 1461. Joseph is sitting on the back of the cart with the last possession of his family besides the cart itself, the horses, and the clothes on their backs – a pumpkin. The Charnetskis lived in the Ukraine until their house and property were burned to the ground by raiders.

Now they are headed to Krakow, on a market day. The road to the city is full of farmers headed to market with their goods, as well as with those coming to buy those goods. The Charnetskis are the only refugees of any import in this story.

As Joseph sits on the back of the cart, watching the world go by, he suddenly sees a man riding toward them. Getting his father’s attention, Joseph dives at once to catch hold of the animal’s reins when the stranger commands him to mind the horse. Young though he is – Joseph is fifteen – the youth senses something amiss with the stranger. There is something dangerous, something evil, in his expression.

The man introduces himself to Pan Andrew and talks to him rapidly in a low voice. Whatever he says, Pan Andrew does not like it. In fact, though no one can tell from his expression, the stranger’s words frighten him. He tells the man to be off, but the stranger is stubborn. He then asks how much Pan Andrew will take for the pumpkin.

Pan Andrew tells him it is not for sale, despite the fact that the man offers him far more than any pumpkin ought to be worth. When Pan Andrew continues to refuse to sell the pumpkin, the stranger draws his sword –

But Pan Andrew is better. He knocks the man off of the cart and to the ground. Thinking quickly, Joseph turns the man’s horse and slaps its rump, sending it running. He jumps aboard the cart and his father takes off, leaving the stranger cursing and shouting in the mud beside the road.

The family makes it to the city safely. On their way in Joseph hears the Heynal as it is played from the tower of the Church of Our Lady Mary. Pan Andrew promises to tell him the story of the broken hymn later on. What poor Pan Andrew does not yet know is that all is not well in Krakow. Pan Andrew goes to see his relatives but finds his cousin has been killed in a feud between the tradesmen and the nobles. This leaves the Charnetskis with no place to stay, no money and, worst of all, no protection.

If you want to know what else happens in the story, readers, you shall have to chase down a copy of The Trumpeter of Krakow yourselves. I have whet your appetite, I hope, for this charming story. Someone I know read and went into raptures over the book a long time ago. I waited a long time to read the novel, unfortunately. Perhaps, if I had read it earlier, I would have enjoyed it more than I did.

Poland is left in the dust these days. For twenty years it did not even exist; it was divided between Germany, Russia, and Austria. By far Austria treated the Poles better than the Germans or the Russians. Poland has suffered much throughout her long history.

However, as the Japanese say, “Fall seven times, stand up eight!” Poland has suffered, but she has always stood back up at some point. It is time she was recognized for this strength. This post and, perhaps, others will help to put her back in the world consciousness, where she belongs.

God go with you, readers!

Book Review: Forerunner Foray by Andre Norton

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And we are back in one of Andre Norton’s amazing stories, readers! Today’s title is one of her space novels, Forerunner Foray. This story focuses on a girl with the talent of psychometry.   For those of you who do not know, psychometry is the ability of someone with extrasensory abilities to see the history of any object they touch. The “sniffers” in the film Push are psychometrics. They touch an object, handle it, and can tell who used it before they picked it up. There are other characters in other stories that can do the same thing. Jedi Knight Quinlan Vos, for example, was a psychometric. This was not through any special skill of his in the Force but due to an inherent ability in his humanoid species.

Parapsychology and telepathy are standbys of Andre Norton novels, which you probably know by now, readers. Forerunner Foray is set in the far future, on a world called Korwar. A pleasure world, the wealthy come here to play, while the poor live in a place amid the splendor called the Dipple.

The Dipple began life as a “temporary” refuge for people fleeing some sort of war – or series of wars – in the galaxy. Gradually it turned into a permanent camp of poor people. It is a little like the Undercity on Taris in the Knights of the Old Republic game. If you are sent down there, you stay there, unless you are only visiting. No one born in the Dipple ever gets out on their own, either.

Ziantha was lucky. Her telepathic talent and psychometric ability attracted the attention of one of the highest members of the Thieves’ Guild: Yasa, a feline/humanoid Salarika. Yasa plucked Ziantha out of the Dipple and had her taught everything she needed to know to become a skilled thief. Because of this and the oath Ziantha took to become part of the Guild, Yasa as good as owns her.

At first, though, Ziantha does not really seem to mind this. Especially as she goes on her first major “foray” into the apartments of a member of the Guild who was kicked off-world. Yasa wants some information from the data cubes this guy keeps in his treasure rooms. What is the safest way to get the information without his knowledge? Psychometric readings.

So Ziantha is sent to retrieve the information on these cubes. She gets in safely, finds the cubes, “downloads”’ the information from them into her mind, and heads out…

Only to stop by a table filled with, presumably, other valuable artifacts. I say presumably because the one which has caught Ziantha’s mental eye is a nondescript lump of clay or stone. Whatever this thing is, it is dragging her attention toward it.

Ziantha reaches out to touch it, then snatches her hand back. These apartments and rooms are the property of a head honcho in the Thieves’ Guild. Just because the government caught him in illegal dealings and kicked him off of Korwar does not mean the booby traps littering his residence have been deactivated. If she so much as touches that object, she could set off an alarm.

And so Ziantha does not pick the object up as she desires. She instead escapes back to Yasa’s villa and delivers the information safely. The mission is so successful that Yasa promises Ziantha whatever she wants as a reward. While considering this in her rooms, Ziantha realizes that what she really wants is that lump of clay.

So she goes back to get it – and the adventure begins.

Forerunner Foray is a complicated story. You have to follow Ziantha carefully or you will get lost as her adventures take her out of herself and, perhaps, even out of time. During the course of her adventures, she learns what she is really made of – and what it means to be free.

That’s all you will be getting out of me, people! If you want to know more, then you will have to go on your own “foray” to find a copy of this novel to peruse at your leisure. This is as far as I am taking you. Happy hunting!

Book Review: The Reb and the Redcoats by Constance Savery

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If there is one thing I love more than a good story, it is history. Notice, readers, what that word is made of: his and story. His story – the story of man.

And oh, what a palette history is! Great heroes, megalomaniacal villains, comedy, tragedy – history has it all. Every fictional story draws something from history. Star Wars draws a great deal from the Japanese style of swordsmanship. It is hard not to see how the Nazis inspired the Galactic Empire, or how the gunfighters and gamblers of the Old West inspired Han Solo and Lando Calrissian. Without history, we would never have fiction.

This brings us to the topic for today, one of my favorite novels of all time. I have been meaning to write about it for some time, and at last I shall do what I have wished. The historical novel I present to you today, readers, was written by Constance Savery. The Reb and the Redcoats is set during the American War for Independence. But it comes with a twist – the entire story takes place in England!

Charlotte Darrington and her siblings – Joseph, George, and Kitty – are met one day with an old friend come back from the war in America. An injury has laid him up, and he will not be fighting in any more battles. The man has brought along a box of gifts from the children’s father, as well as letters written by him for their mother, since Mr. Darrington is an officer in the British army fighting for his country against the American rebels.

But Old Harry, the soldier returned home with an injury, has a special present for Charlotte. According to George, she was always his favorite among the Darrington children. He has brought along a child’s doll he discovered when he and the British contingent with him raided an American plantation in Virginia. The doll has a little American flag pinned to her chest with a poem on the back. The poem names the doll and her former owner as Patty, and so Patty is what Charlotte calls the doll.

Later on word comes that the children’s uncle, Laurence Templeton, needs their mother’s help to nurse their ill grandparents at the White Priory. For a while it seems the children will have to be left in the care of the girls’ governess. The boys quickly blame the rebel doll for the trouble. They claim that she is full of black magic and set a trap for her so that she will not be able to cast spells on them in the middle of the night.

Unfortunately, the trap catches the governess – who quits in an absolute fury after having a bucket of water land on her head!

With no one else available to mind the four, Mrs. Darrington must take her children with her to the White Priory. This decision is cemented that night by the appearance of a young prisoner of war looking in the window. Charlotte only catches a glimpse of the man’s countenance before telling her mother to run. With rebel prisoners on the loose in the area, Mrs. Darrington decides emphatically that she will not leave her precious young alone with a few servants to guard them.

All five depart for the White Priory the next day, where they meet their Uncle Laurence. Laurence, an officer in the British army, has been sent home on leave to convalesce after an injury to the leg during the war overseas. The children once got on famously with him, as he was always cheerful and fun-loving. But since his return from America, Uncle Laurence has been grim, stern, and temperamental. None of the children know why; one day he was their friendly uncle, the next he was an old ogre.

Anyway, as they settle in to the White Priory, someone mentions the escaped prisoners in the vicinity of the Darrington home. Laurence happens to know something of the affair. It seems there is a prison near the White Priory full of American POWs. There have been several escape attempts from the place led by a young soldier, one Randal Everard Baltimore.

This young man has helped his fellows to escape the prison camp time and again. The only reason he has not escaped himself is because of one of his friends, Timothy Wingate. A complete klutz, Wingate is always messing up the plan somehow. Oh, he does not do it on purpose – the poor young fellow simply cannot help himself. He trips and breaks his leg, makes a noise when all are supposed to be quiet, and before you can say Jack Robinson, the entire crew is running for their lives and leaving him to face the British alone. Randal is the only one who ever stays behind to take care of him after these blunders, since the two have been friends from boyhood and are accustomed to taking care of each other.

The children learn that because Randal has been such a nuisance to the camp, the commander of said camp has given him to Laurence to guard. Laurence seems to take a fiendish delight in tormenting the young Reb, as the children call him, offering a half crown to whichever one of the little ones can guess his name. When George tries, he insults the young officer so badly that Charlotte and Joseph, the oldest of the Darrington children, try to make amends for the slight their brother has given.

But in trying to do this, they accidentally help the Reb to escape again. He is eventually recaptured, along with Wingate, and locked in the penance cell beneath the White Priory. (The White Priory, in centuries past, was a monastery or an abbey; now it is a manor house.) Though the servants have been ordered to treat him well, Charlotte and Laurence discover that they have not done what they were ordered to do at all. His escape in the midst of winter and his confinement in the cold cell have made the Reb terribly sick…

And now, readers, it is your turn to read the novel! I will say nothing more about this touching, sweet story. Find yourself a copy and read the book in your own time!

Constance Savery wrote something on the order of fifty books and died at the age of one hundred one years old in 1997. I have read only one other book by this magnificent author, but you will have to stay tuned to learn which one that is. I hope someday to read more of her books – she wrote very well.

Until 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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