April 19, 2017
Once each year, the youngest baby in the Protectorate is taken into the woods. The people loathe this practice and parents mourn but it is the only way to keep the witch in the woods from destroying them all.
Xan, coincidentally, is a witch and she lives in the far side of the wood. She doesn’t understand why these sad, sad people keep leaving babies in the woods, but each year she is hiding nearby to save the child. She feeds the baby goats milk and starlight until she can reach a distant city where the children are always taken in and loved.
One year Xan accidentally feeds the baby moonlight along with the star light. She has imbued the child with magic and magic is a trick thing. Knowing that only she can teach the tiny girl how to control her gift, Xan takes her home and raises her as her own granddaughter.
The Elders and the Head Sister know the truth. The youngest elder to take the child into the woods is only a boy when the tiny girl is left behind. He can’t get the horror of what he has done out of his mind and leaves the Elders only to grow up and become a father. A father who one day has the youngest child in the village.
I’m not going to say any more about the plot because I don’t want to give everything away. This is such a timely story. It is about people who sow misery and feed on the people’s sorrow. It is about using grief, fear and agony to distract people from what is going on.
Sounds gloomy, doesn’t it? But the book isn’t. It is also a story about resilience and not giving up. There are dragons (good dragons) and humor and lots of love.
Younger readers, grade 3 or 4 and up, who love fantasy will enjoy this story with a young heroine, Luna, who has to learn who she is, a boy who grows into a man who is determined to end the sorrow, and a funny, delusional dragon. Most of us have had the grave misfortune to have a sorry eater in our lives and it is a moment of power when, reading this book, that fact clicks and we begin both to see and to understand.
August 18, 2016
Just so everyone doesn’t think that I review nothing but nonfiction, today’s book is not only fiction but fantasy.
Father has just been called away and the German’s are bombing London. Kat wants nothing more than time to work with her father who has been teaching her to repair clocks. It’s their time together, but, more than that, Kat is good at it. But Father has other skills and he’s been called away to put those skills to use. Before he leaves he arranges for Kat and her siblings to move to the countryside. That isn’t unusual, not in Britain during World War II, but they are going to a boarding school in a castle that belongs to one of Father’s cousins.
When they arrive, there is no cousin to meet them. Just his tall, beautiful, somehow threatening wife. The boys are all charmed but Kat knows that something is up. So does her sister although the younger girl insists that it involves magic. Kat finds a secret door and behind it a short wave radio. She recognizes the radio and knows immediately that there is a spy somewhere in the castle.
There are strange noises and Kat has nightmares. Then her classmates begin to disappear. Kat allies herself with the only American student at the school and she and Peter work to solve the mystery before they too slip away.
This is fantasy but codes and history also play a part. The books themes also give young readers a lot to think about. What makes a person good or bad? Is it their skills and talents? Or is it how they apply them?
Solidly middle grade, this book isn’t a quick read at 388 pages. That said, it is a solid book with no fluff to be cut. Give this to your young reader who needs something of a challenge but isn’t ready for young adult. This book is thoroughly entertaining but will also make them think.
March 7, 2014
The Genie’s Gift
by Chris Eboch
Thirteen year-old Anise dreads growing up. Her sister seems happy enough marrying the man her father chose for her, but Anise can’t imagine marrying a stranger. Shy and timid, Anise fears she won’t have the courage she needs to live a happy life. What if the man her father choses for her is mean? How will she find the courage to stand up for herself and her children? If only she could be as brave as her friend Cassim.
Then Aunt Farasha arrives at the wedding. A widow, Aunt Farasha has refused to remarry and instead carries on acting as a merchant and trader in her husband’s place. She tells her niece about the genie Shakayak, who gives the Gift of Sweet Speech to those who manage to journey to him atop Mount Quaf, away across the desert.
Anise is convinced that if she had the Gift of Sweet Speech, she would be able to make herself heard and make a good life for herself even if she did have to marry someone chosen by her father. The problem is that as a girl, Anise has seldom ventured beyond her family’s compound. When she does, she is accompanied by male relatives and her mother, all of whom make any decisions for her. If only she could find a way!
Anise convinces Cassim to accompany her to Mount Quaf, thinking that Cassim will handle the many people and situations they will have to deal with. She dresses herself in her brother’s cast off clothing and the pair sets out. Unfortunately, they are soon separated and Anice must decide — will she return to her father in disgrace or journey on alone? She decides to carry on and soon finds saving talking birds, haggling in the market place, and tricking both evil queens and devious genies.
Eboch draws heavily on the traditions that gave rise to One Thousand and One Nights, often known as The Arabian Nights, in writing her story. She has created a young heroine who is both believable for her place and time but also someone that girls today will both identify with and like. In solving her problems, Anise uses her wits intead of the sword she carried at her side and soon readers too will be plotting and considering the options as Anise faces challenge after challenge. Personally, I love a story with a brainy main character.
I wasn’t sure a cross dressing girl in this time and place would be believable — she is so sheltered to be plopped down without help in the larger world. You’ll have to read this to see how Eboch makes it work. I also have to love the range of personalities among her characters — the women are not all weak and sheltered, the men not all harsh or demanding. Even if her “bad guys” have good qualities although that doesn’t stop them from getting in Anise’s way.
Eboch lived in Saudi Arabia and has visited Egypt, Bahrain and Turkey. Her love of the desert and the people complete with their fanciful stories shines through in this middle grade fantasy.
This book is available through Amazon; my Kindle copy was provided by Eboch.
March 21, 2013
The Hero’s Guide to Saving Your Kingdom
by Christopher Healy
Walden Pond Press
Everyone knows that Prince Charming is tall, astonishingly handsome, tenderly romantic, and in control of absolutely every situation.
Except for those times when he’s not.
Sometimes Prince Charming is a clothes horse whose afraid of his own shadow. Other times, he’s the dopey little guy who would follow a bunny off a cliff, assuming of course that the bunny was that dim. Then there are those days where he’s big, bad tempered and more than a tiny bit sarcastic.
Then there are those days where the hero isn’t even male and the princess saves herself.
Apparently, the bards aren’t particularly good at getting the details right. They just want to put together a catchy number that will get everyone singing and tapping their toes, and that’s what starts the whole problem.
Four different princes feature in four different ballads but they are all astonished that the girls get top billing. Perhaps most astonished of all is Prince Liam who rescued Sleeping Beauty. She may be a sight to behold but she’s got a tongue that could cut diamonds. Everyone knows about her and her infamous temper but they still believe all the awful things she says about him.
Think of this book as a buddy movie set in a fantasy kingdom with giants, dragons, trolls and a very wicked witch. The four heroes want to prove to everyone, including themselves and the ladies in question, that they really do have what it takes to be heroes. Unfortunately, this is going to require working together which takes a few tries to get right.
There isn’t much I can say about the plot without giving something away. Suffice it to say, with these four goof balls adventuring together, there was bound to be funny and Healy delivers.
Pick this one up expecting humor and adventure in equal portions. It might be a bit daunting for a reluctant reader given that there are so many characters but it is a fun, fast-paced read. Middle graders will identify with the characters who can’t be everything that is expected of them, no matter how hard they try.
March 7, 2013
The Prairie Thief
by Melissa Wiley
Margaret K. McElderry
Louisa Brody knows her papa is no thief. She knows it for a fact.
But she can’t deny that their neighbor’s hatchet, pocket watch and china doll were found in the abandoned dugout on their farm either. And that’s all it takes to get the sheriff to haul Papa off to jail. Louisa can’t stay on the isolated farm by herself (Mama died when Louisa was hardly more than a baby) so she’s taken in by Mr. Smirch, the very man who sent for the sheriff.
Their little cabin might not have been perfect, but Louisa soon learns that not every family is a loving place to grow up. Mr. Smirch is kind enough, in a gruff way, but he doesn’t interfer when his wife thunks Louisa on top of the head with a metal ladle. Their little boys are no better, constantly telling Louisa that they know her Papa is going to hang. Louisa knows they are just repeating their mama’s words but she doesn’t understand why the woman is so mean.
The only bright spot at the Smirch home is Jessamine, a cousin who was forced to move in with the family when her own parents and brother died. She and Louisa quickly become friends and allies even as they search for the wee little man that Jessamine saw disappearing into the hazel grove.
On a brief trip back to her family cabin, Louisa discovers that several items are missing. She knows this should be enough evidence to save Papa but how will she make it to town, 13 miles away, across the prairie?
Fleeing from Mrs. Smirch one dark night, Louisa finds out who has taken everything and why he has hidden it in the dugout. The only problem is that like her Mama, she has promised to keep his existence a secret. Will she find a way to prove Papa is innocent without breaking her promise?
Wiley has created a fun story full of old world magic and charm. I loved the way the old stories come to life amid a new world of tricksters (coyotes) and fleet footed prong horn.
If the story seems a bit slow initially, be patient. As soon as Louisa decided to escape from the Smirch’s things start moving at a much faster pace.
In Louisa, Wiley has created a character that young girls will love. She’s smart, she’s compassionate and she’s up for the adventure of a life time. This story combines mystery, fantasy and a satisfying story of family and friendship.
Why not share it aloud with the young book lover in your life?
January 3, 2013
We’ve all known a kid like Ariel. She’s the curious one whose always asking why. She doesn’t easily accept limits and because of this decisions can be tough. After all, choosing one thing means ruling out so many other possibilities. That’s the reality that she faces as naming day looms near.
Choose a vocation. Pass the test. Be locked in for the rest of her life.
She supposes that, like her mother, she will opt for healer. She knows the plants and where most of them grow. She can tell you what they’re good for and how to use them. She’s much less good with the sick themselves but knows that it comes with the job. If only she felt truly called like her friend Zeke.
There’s no doubt in anyone’s mind that Zeke is a Treetalker. After all, he has his special tree. He sings to it and it answers questions except that lately it has been strangely quiet. At least, its quiet until Zeke brings Ariel to the tree and she climbs up into its branches.
There she finds a strange brass dart — an artifact once sent from one place to another with a message that only one person could read. Who has managed to send out a dart after all of this time and who was supposed to get it?
As Zeke and Ariel try to decide what to do with something so important, two strangers arrive in the village. Ariel doesn’t know why but she immediately distrusts the two men. She doesn’t have much time to think about them though because it is Naming Day. But then the unthinkable happens and Ariel fails her test.
What could be worse than that? She has her answer when she is kidnapped in the night.
I don’t want to say anything more about the plot of this book. Suffice it to say that it will keep you turning the pages as Ariel learns to tell friend from foe and overcomes her squeamishness as she uses her healing skills to stitch up wounds and seek out healing herbs. Zeke too discovers new found skills as the trees seek to speak to him but he hears another set of voices. A slow, ponderous set of voices that speak low and quiet.
This book is hard to categories. It reads like fantasy with the people living in far flung villages and their stories of time past. But many of these stories involve technologies that no longer work including bicycles and lights and so much more.
With a female main character who is strong and adventurous and her male best friend, this book will appeal to both boys and girls. There are some scary bits because the bad guys really are quite bad — thus the need to stitch someone up. But it is an amazing story of strength and courage and not letting the fears and indecision of yourself or others hold you back.