Friday, April 29, 2011

The Night Children by Kit Reed

I found this book in the library "mystery" section though it's really not much of a mystery story. I have a soft spot for the kids-on-their-own, clans-and-kingdoms story.

Before I begin I simply must share the opening lines:

When you walk into the mall you expect to come out at the end of the day.
You expect to come out, at least, but it's midnight and Jule Devereaux is locked in a car at the top of the gorgeous WhirlyFunRide, high above the sprawling Castertown MegaMall.

In a nutshell: not really a mystery, but a thriller. Not really fantasy, though quite fantastic. Not really moralizing, but has some very definite morals.
A bit more detailed: The titular Night Children are the runaways {like urban Lost Boys except girls too} who lost their way in the MegaMall and were never reunited with their parents. At least, that's what most of them are.
The MegaMall is the dream of Amos Zozz, the fabulously rich, secretive owner. He seems not to know about the children... or when they're brought to his attention, he pays no heed.
But many of the people connected with the building of the MegaMall have mysteriously disappeared, including Jule's parents. Jule's had an argument with her aunt, and now her aunt is missing as well. She goes to the MegaMall and rides the WhirlyFunRide...too long. It shuts down and she is locked in there for the night. Or so she thinks.
Because the Night Children are on the move, and things are happening, and mysteries of the MegaMall are going to be revealed.

I actually loved this book. For some reason it reminded me of A City in Winter by Mark Helprin; the same fantastic reality, ever so slightly unreal and overblown. The writing style was more Philip Reeve, with its chatty, almost gleeful, enthusiastic/serious narrative.

I must say that, like I said, I am a real softie for children-on-their-own plots. But this one was much more. If anything, I only wish it had been longer. The plot was a little too hurried to really get at all the depths of the intriguing characters that were in it - I felt we were thrown too quickly through the action to get to know them as well as we could have.
Also, there is a bit of an unsatisfied plot thread left at the end... I am understating.

A quote:

...had been captured, Jule said, "He wanted to hurt me. Why should I care what happens to him?"
Tick added, "You want me to risk everything to save a guy who wants to ruin us?"
"Right," Jule said. "Why should we care when I could care less?"
...."Because that's what kids do for kids. We have to help each other, no matter what."
She started, "Even after he tried to..."
"Yes." Tick let her go and stood back. "It's what I do."

Can I express how much I like that attitude, in the avalanche of self-serving little protagonists who cheer at their enemy's downfall?
And I must say, it has a harsh message in the end against consumerism. Of course, that seems not too hard to work in, but it's there.
There's a very villainous villain who's motivated by... hatred and revenge, mostly insane. Must say that's a good thinking point, though - what do we do when people do truly terrible things to us? And are unrepentant? Do we nurse the anger or... leave go and free ourselves?

Age rec: the V. V. V. (very villainous villain) in his insanity proposes some fairly awful things... but since the entire book is unlikely to the extreme {or is it? must ponder this, esp. since I've been to the Mall of America} I don't think it would be a problem. So this one is MG and up. Would make a nice readaloud, I feel, too.

It's not often I tag a book "stellar" on its first reading, but this one has hit me right where I wanted to be hit, and I love it. Of course, I have a succeptibility to this sort of plot, since it's the only sort of hero I feel I could be: a hero who takes care of the others.

Note: Tick also is the first book character I know to use my people as a term to describe the children who depend on him. I say it in my stories and in real life, so this was another point that really touched me.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

The One Left Behind, by Willo Davis Roberts

I found this book at the local library and decided to try it out.

This book, in a nutshell:

Mandy, an eleven-year-old girl whose twin sister has recently died, is left alone in the family house for the weekend. She is initially pleased that she's managed to convince everyone that she's with someone else, but when she hears strange noises the first night, she begins to question whether this was such a good idea after all.
Mandy and her dog Herry investigate the next morning and find a wrecked van in the woods... and then they find more than that... they find a wild adventure the likes of which Mandy has only met in her made-up stories.

I was not wowed by this book - it needed to be longer. The ending was not satisfactory, with a number of things left hanging. Also I got the impression that the book was a jumble of different things all thrown together with a slight lack of cohesion: Mandy's grief, her uncle's mental problems, the boy in the woods and his story...
But then, this book was published posthumously, and I imagine that Ms. Roberts may not have had the chance to do all the revisions she wanted. So I allow slack for that.
It's a simple and well-written tale, though, and the opening chapters are quite good. The descriptions of noises in the night captured exactly what it feels like to be awake and hearing things.

Age rec - eight to fifteen. A sweet book.
Mandy's faith is not discussed often, but there is a mention of God answering prayers that I find quite touchingly written.

I hope to read more of Willo Davis Roberts's books when I can, to see what the others are like. The dustjacket says that this was the 100th book of hers published.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Waiting On Wednesday: Nightspell by Leah Cypess

I'm looking forward to Nightspell by Leah Cypess.


Here be ghosts, the maps said, and that was all.

In this haunted kingdom, ghosts linger—not just in the deepest forests or the darkest caverns, but alongside the living, as part of a twisted palace court that revels all night and sleeps through the daylight hours.

Darri's sister was trapped in this place of fear and shadows as a child. And now Darri has a chance to save her sister . . . if she agrees to a betrothal with the prince of the dead. But nothing is simple in this eerie kingdom—not her sister, who has changed beyond recognition; not her plan, which will be thrown off track almost at once; and not the undead prince, who seems more alive than anyone else.

In a court seething with the desire for vengeance, Darri holds the key to the balance between life and death. Can her warrior heart withstand the most wrenching choice of all?


Mistwood was an amazing book, exciting and with real heart and feeling in it. I eagerly await what Ms. Cypess does next, and I'm glad it's not that much longer till I can beg the library to order it. In Mistwood she took a very interesting premise and entirely lived up to it. I hope she does the same thing with Nightspell!

Waiting on Wednesday is hosted by and I am pleased to participate in my first one.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Courage & Fantasy

I recently commented on a post on Charlotte's Library:

"I LOVE this book. I have re-read it a large number of times and recently acquired my own copy. Usually I am a very timid person - not too long ago I was running away from large dogs - but for some reason Maddie's story was a good one"

I've thought more about that now, and I intend to go a little further - I believe that I love that book precisely because it's not so long since I ran away from large dogs.

We learn our courage in two ways. We learn courage in practice, by doing courageous things. And we can learn it in theory, by hearing about courage and being inspired by it. I've learned it both ways. I'm sure all of us have. Sometimes it's easier to see courage when its expressions are different enough from ours, when it's a little further from home, so to speak. If we hear about someone giving a speech in the other county, right before we have to give a speech, it smacks vaguely of a moral - especially if our people are telling us the story constantly, with a certain look in their eye.

But in a fantasy book it's distant from us, this courage. It's something in another place, another time, maybe even another world entirely. Because it's not thrown in our faces as an example for us, we are sometimes more willing to accept it as our own.

I have never faced a werewolf to save the life of my friend. But I've cried and prayed through a choice on whether to follow my own desires or go and sacrifice to help someone else. I have never fought a dragon, but I've taken the SAT. I've never defended my city in hand-to-hand combat, but I've watched my hopes slowly and methodically slip away till I'm left staring at nothing. I've never gone on a dangerous mission to rescue someone from the enemy fortress, but I've had to make the decision to speak out for my beliefs or stay unobtrusively silent.

Courage isn't one thing in what we call "fantasy" and another in what we call "reality." When I invoke myself to bravery I do not say "Remember the great usefulness of doing what I ought to!" I have my journal entry to prove that I said not that, but: "Shall I not be Maddie-brave also?"

I was, that time. It wasn't easy.

But I want to do better next time. It's not like I haven't had enough examples. I want to be brave like Frodo, I want to be brave like Maddie, I want to be brave like Henry York, I want to be brave like Kate Sutton, I want to be brave like Katniss, I want to be brave like Sabriel Abhorsen. Heavens, I sometimes think I would settle for being brave like Arwen, who stayed and waited and endured when everyone else was out doing something, while she patiently stitched her banner of hopefulness.

Maybe next summer I can go off the zipline with my eyes open. Maybe tomorrow I can stop cringing away from the dogs in the yard back behind of mine. Maybe next month I can keep my knees from knocking together as I go onstage. Maybe next week I can speak up when I know I ought to. Maybe next autumn I can be quicker to leave my selfishness behind as I go to serve another.

Maybe I'll go read another book.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

A lovely link by Sherwood Smith

Fine article here. Oh, yes, and my two cents:

In Defense Of Cloaks:

Well, hey, cloaks swirl. They do dramatic stuff. They bob a little when you walk. You can hide in the hood. You can scrinch up the cloth in your hands when you're bored or nervous. You can pull it around to the side or the front or wherever. It doesn't itch. You don't grow out of the sleeves. And best of all, they come in the nicest fabrics, just so soft and pettable, not like stiff modern coats. Cloaks have style.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Mara, Daughter of the Nile by Eloise Jarvis McGraw

All credit to the discovery of this book goes to my mother, who read it to my brother and I when we were younger.

Historical fiction, as you've probably already learned from my blog, is not a genre I often get excited about. It's a wonderful genre and needs more good books, but what's in it now is not always that great.
By which same token, this book was originally published in 1953.

So what's it about?
Mara, Daughter of the Nile is about a revolutionary, and a revolution; about the Pharoah Hatshepsut who is not a good ruler, and the imprisoned Prince Thutmose who some believe could be. But it's also about Mara the slave-girl, brilliant and street-smart and tricky and proud and somehow utterly engaging. She is sold to an agent of the Pharoah and told to act as a spy for them, and then finds herself caught up in working for the other side, for the revolutionaries.
At first she intends to please her new master and turn the revolutionaries in... but the leader of the revolution is a young man named Sheftu, and Mara finds herself disliking the idea of causing his death...

This is an amazing book. Yes, it is a romance. But it's also an espionage story, a political story, a revolution story, a story set in the vivid and far-off world of Ancient Egypt. It's incredibly well-written and action-packed enough to satisfy anyone.
As one of my friends (Sylvia let's call her) said just a few days ago, "It looks like one of those books your parents give you for your education. But it's good!"

Some quotes:

...He gave Nekonkh a moment to absorb that thought, then added casually, "So you would overthrow the queen?"
"By the Feather of Truth, I said no such thing!" gasped Nekonkh. He darted an agonized glance up and down the deck, then strode to a deserted spot in the bows.
Sheftu followed, his face amused. "A wise precaution.... They say the queen's spies are everywhere."
"No doubt!" Nekonkh was convinced he was talking to one that minute.


"Egypt is not pharoah, Mara, nor is it this long, green valley with its black mud that is so different from what I know. Egypt is neither the Nile nor the cities - "
"Then what is it?"
"You, Mara."
"And all the others - the people, all those you have told me of, and the fishermen yonder on the river, and the potters and carpenters and their like... - and their friends, and their kin...."

{Writing that last quote makes me want to cry because of a certain later part.}

Perhaps you've gathered by now how much I love this book. I think it should be on everyone's list. It does also make an excellent read-aloud.
Age recommendations: anyone old enough to appreciate a good thrilling plot. There's some kissing and some violence, but I was about nine years old when I read it, so I don't think it's a problem. People do swear by the Egyptian gods; I don't find that offensive, but some might. Parents worried by any moral ambiguity of the protagonist may relax in the fact that things do change by the end.
In fact, (highlight for hidden spoiler) Mara's final decision to keep her word and be selfless is what saves the day in the end. Don't think I'm a wimp, but I honestly find those parts near the end almost heartbreakingly wonderful.

What are you waiting for? Go forth and read.

Monday, April 18, 2011

There will come more reviews

I am planning an en masse review of Susan Cooper's series The Dark Is Rising; all I have to do is finish Silver on the Tree. Some of my comments include:

- Opinion on the "mind-control/memory-clearing" that the Light practices? I am yet undecided whether I approve of it or not, and I think I don't.

- Is it only me, or is The Grey King a quite superior book to the first three?

- I want to learn Welsh and go to England!

Saturday, April 16, 2011

The Broken Citadel, by Joyce Ballou Gregorian

I found this book because it had been spoken well of on various sites. It was cheap on Amazon, hence...

For some reason, it took me a few tries to get this book finished. I tried it first on a car trip, then again one night when I had the flu and couldn't sleep, unsuccessfully brought it to a retreat and didn't so much as crack the cover open, and finally read it all the way through it on this latest long drive.

This begins as one's basic crossover fantasy: a girl walking home from school enters an abandoned house, explores, and finds a window that opens onto a strange beach instead of the city. Being healthily curious, she steps through... into somewhere else entirely.
She joins a group of three who are traveling to rescue the daughter of the Deathless Queen from her imprisonment, but when Princess Dastra is freed, that only begins their problems. For it's been prophesied that the child of the Deathless Queen would be the one to cause her death...

The Broken Citadel is a beauty of a book, full of color and strangeness and wonder, legends and songs. Ms. Gregorian can write very passable poetry; there's one song that I actually have sung to myself, albeit on the night when I had the flu.
Unfortunately, the plot is not precisely fast-paced, which is likely why I took so long to read this book. There's certainly no lack of things happening, but they do not happen very fast or often.
Sibby is a sweet girl and a good one, though she isn't the most intriguing character. She's eleven and acts accordingly in the beginning, but matures believably as the book goes on.
This is a good book for the twelve-and-up crowd; there are some hazy mentions of things that might not be appropriate for younger ones. {a woman leaves her husband with another man, another one "marries" a man for a single day and a night, also some more allusions to topics of that nature - nothing nasty or indecent, and might be ignored entirely}

Points worth thinking about:

Sibby's realization near the end (ellipses, bold-print mine):

"You see, the trouble is, all I've ever really done is read... That's how I knew how to rescue you. People are always getting out of prison in adventure stories. It's my favorite kind of story. But none of it was real. My whole life was really stories. When I wasn't reading them or watching them, I was making them up in my head. And then I came here...I haven't read or watched anything, everything's really happened. And I haven't missed books at all...It's the first time I think I've ever really known people or done real things. And that's why it was my fault about _____....I kind of forgot it was real. In stories you never have to worry... I forgot it was real life, and now he's dead. Just because I forgot."

Uh, 'nuff said.

And the ending of the book - is this a "happy ending" or not?

This is an old book - 1975 - and there are two more in the series. I may get them if I see a good time to.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins... Not really a review

I have just re-read Suzanne Collins' The Hunger Games.

I do not think I am capable of reviewing this one. At least not until I'm in a cooler head. Besides, unless you've been living under a rock for the last year or so, you probably have been bombarded with so much information about them that little I can say will surprise you.

On the other hand, there's a chance that someone will happen upon this blog who has heard about this book but never quite made up their mind whether to read it or not. I'm speaking to you now, person undecided. And I say, Yes. Read it.


- you are thirteen or older and can handle a lot of violence and emotion in your reading {fourteen might be better yet}
- you are willing to be immersed in a wild and cruel world where many questions are asked and unanswered
- you are ready to have your entire outlook on life shifted for the next year or so.

This is not a book to read and forget; much less to read and forget are the next two in the series. It's a book that squirms down into your subconscious.
And I love it.

There are some quotes I would adore to put up here, but they're probably too spoilery. Take it from me; Ms. Collins is a good writer.

On the further positive side... it's exceptionally decent as YA books go - hey, as any books go... as long as romance is not objectionable in itself.
Not a Christian book, but intensely moral. Discussion points abound.
In fact, if you're here and you're not the Undecided I mentioned, feel free to Discuss things in the comments.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Urchin of the Riding Stars, by M. I. Mcallister

This one is thanks to a friend of mine - we'll call her Southern Elf because she lives sort of south of me. She liked the Mistmantle Chronicles a good deal.

I think of this book {indeed, the whole series} as "like Redwall but a whole lot better." No offense to Redwall fans, of course, or to the memory of the author. The premise is not dissimilar: a world of medieval-style tech and lifestyle, inhabited by anthropomorphic small animals. It's squirrels, otters, hedgehogs, and moles in this case... with some swans, but more on them later.
However, I find the setting very interesting - the isle of Mistmantle, surrounded by protective mists that keep out most of the outside world... occasionally a ship gets through, but rarely, and not even island natives who leave by water can ever return by water.

Urchin the squirrel is found on the seashore of the island of Mistmantle, on a night of "riding stars" {meteor shower of sorts, as far as I can make out}, newly born and with no mother in sight. We the readers are treated to learning that his mother had escaped from another island because of a prophecy made about her baby: "He will bring down a great ruler." The mother dies, but Urchin survives, and is found by Captain Crispin and Brother Fir, two squirrels who are walking along the beach. He is raised on Mistmantle but knows he is a foundling.
Meanwhile, there's something up with the government of Mistmantle. King Brushen the hedgehog has been making strange laws - forced work parties, food rationing, and the "culling" {killing} of the newborn animals who are weak or disabled.
Captain Crispin invites Urchin to Mistmantle Tower to be his page when Urchin is old enough, but before Urchin is there a day, tragedy strikes: the young prince is found dead, murdered. Crispin is accused of the murder and, though he denies his guilt, he's exiled off the island and made to sail away alone.
Urchin becomes page to Captain Padra the otter instead, and he begins to discover odd secrets and what's really going on on the island... eventually leading him to dare the crossing of the mists himself... but that is far from the end of the story.

I fear my summary doesn't do it justice - this is a beautiful book. The plot is gripping and entertaining, and the many characters that come on and off are well-drawn and memorable. The villain {there is a villain} is a signifigant danger and a smart animal. Our heroes are a varied group, male and female, all ages and species and personalities. And Ms. Mcallister can write a very good fight scene, in my opinion. The writing style doesn't always hold up to scrutiny, but the point is, no one wants to spend time scrutinizing it after a while... why look at the trees when the forest is so interesting?

One of the reasons I prefer this series over Redwall: "Vermin" is how you act, not who you're born. There is no racial division of good/evil in Mistmantle.

This book is marked for middle-grade readers, but I consider it {and its sequels, more on them later} to be worth reading up through adulthood. These books are not fluff. The plots are solid and the characters believable.
There are consequences and bad things happening, though. Animals die, and there is mention of baby animals being killed due to weakness. There's a scene from the villain's perspective that might be unpleasant for sensitive or younger readers. A main character falls into a pit-trap meant for someone else. The lines of right and wrong are never blurred, though - the characters who are "good" run a secret nursery for young ones saved from the culling, and the heroes never stoop to the same underhanded and wicked tactics as their opponents do.
If a child has read the Redwall books, there's probably no reason they shouldn't go on to Mistmantle - and for the child {or teen, or grown-up} who feels they want the next thing after Redwall, I definitely recommend Urchin and its sequels.

Edited shortly after posting to add:
I can't believe I went through a whole review without mentioning one of the best things about Urchin and the rest of the series: the animals follow a religion almost synonymous with Christianity. Their beliefs are portrayed subtly, permeating into almost all parts of their lives, but never preachy or inserted in the least. {Needless to say, the villains do not adhere to this creed. If they did, many problems would be averted.} In fact, I think that it is almost exactly how a group of animals would view God. There are a few points that do not carry over to the real world, but in general, it's one of the best-written fictional Christianity-analogs. The priest Brother Fir is portrayed as one of the wisest characters on the island, as well.
Church librarians should keep an eye out for this series and see if it would be a good match for their childrens' department.