Summer of Redwall: Eulalia!

Eulalia! is the nineteenth book in the Redwall series by Brian Jacques. It was published in 2007 by Philomel.

Summary/Blurb:

“Across the seas comes Vizka Longtooth, with a scurrilous crew of Sea Raiders bound for plunder and conquest. Aboard, a young badger lies captive. The aged badger Lord of Salamandastron sends forth a haremaid, questing for his successor. A young thief is exiled from Redwall. A Brownrat Chieftain, with his savage horde, ravages Mossflower Country. The fate of all these creatures, both good and evil, is caught up in this sage of war and destiny.”

What I Liked:

I had the unfortunate pleasure to read this book during a very hectic week of my life, when I was getting ready for school and moving to a different apartment. Because of that, a lot of Eulalia! was very forgettable to me, partly due to the story itself and partly due to the distractions I had while reading it.

The one character that stood out to me was Maudie, mainly because I thought it humorous whenever (the Hon.) showed up in her name. I think she was most likely modeled after Dottie or Hon Rosie (or both), since both characters are fairly popular.

Oh! And Gorath learning not to rely on his Bloodwrath was a nice circumvention of the norm.

What I Didn’t Like:

It’s not that anything in this book I instantly disliked, it’s just that everything was so entirely forgettable. It was just plain “meh” through and through. It wasn’t as funny as some of the Redwall books can get, nor was it as original as some of them. The characters weren’t memorable; neither was the plot nor the lore. In fact, it was so “meh” that I can’t even think of anything to elaborate on.

Rating: 1/5

Recommended Age Range: 12+

Warnings: Violence/fighting, death.

Genre: Fantasy, Middle Grade

Passages/Quotes:

There was not a single cloud on Maudie (the Hon.) Mugsberry Thropple’s horizon. The young haremaid did not even feel the weight of the haversack on her back as she skipped blithely along the dunetops. She, among all other hares at Salamandastron, had been chosen to go on this most important quest. Once more, she went over the instructions, which had been drummed into her by Lord Asheye and Major Mullein.

“Find a bloomin’ badger. One who knows not his own strength. A beast from the simple life, who shuns armour, an’ knows not the sword. Er, what else? Oh, yes, he’s got destiny marked on his blinkin’ brow, an’ er, what’s next?”

She paused on one paw, wrinkling her nose. “Er…er…gottit! He walks with a banished one, an’ a flame, that’s it. Find him an’ haul the blighter back to the jolly old mountain. Oh, well remembered, that, maid!”

~Jacques 44

Overall Review:

Eulalia! was, regrettably, highly forgettable. I don’t know whether it was the book itself or just my state of mind while reading it, but since this is Redwall, and Redwall lacks originality within its own framework, I’m going to say that it was the book that was forgettable.

You can buy this here: Eulalia! (Redwall)

Coming Up Next:

Then There Were Five: Possibly Enright’s Darkest Work

Then There Were Five is written by Elizabeth Enright. It was first published in1944 by Henry Holt; as usual, I read the 1997 Puffin edition. It is the third book in the Melendy family quartet. Learn more about Enright here.

Summary/Blurb:

“Mark Herron is an orphan, forced to work on his brutal guardian’s farm. He’s had no hope and no friends—until he meets the Melendys. Mona, Rush, Randy, and Oliver become almost like family to him, but even they can’t change Mark’s life. Or can they?”

What I Liked:

This is probably the darkest of Enright’s Melendy series due to Mark’s situation, but it still has tons of happy feelings, lightheartedness, and fun amid the seriousness. The dark material is dealt with quite well and carefully for a children’s book, and things that may be treated with more detail in YA and adult novels are glossed over or implied rather than directly stated. It’s a good way to show different family situations without either ruining or romanticizing the Melendy family dynamic.

My favorite part of the book is Mona and Randy’s canning adventure and the fair the children (the children! Not the adults) put on. As I’ve mentioned before, I love reading about children actively doing creative things like fairs and plays and so on. I also love, once again, the adventures and the exploring that goes on. These children could roam the woods and go to strangers’ houses by themselves. Nowadays, you can’t even send your nine-year-old to the playground without getting arrested.

What I Didn’t Like:

The book seems to go on forever when you hit the last three chapters or so. I found myself wondering when it was going to end. The last chapter could have probably been completely cut without much detriment, especially since the previous two chapters already explored the theme of the last (Mark’s obtaining a family).

Rating: 4/5

Recommended Age Range: 10+

Genre: Children’s, Realistic

Warnings: A small amount of dark themes implied (child abuse, mostly, but Orrin’s death is also fairly dark).

Passages/Quotes:

“Hello,” said Randy. It came out in a sort of a croak; she couldn’t tell whether he was going to be fierce or friendly, but risked the greeting anyhow.

“H’lo,” said the boy, and to her astonishment and gratification smiled a shy, radiant smile.

“Your father’s just chased us off your place,” Rush said, as Lorna Doone lowered her head to the roadside weeds. “We wondered if he had any scrap for us, but he didn’t seem to feel like giving any.”

“Aw, he’s means as a rattlesnake,” said the boy carelessly, and seeing the shocked faces bedore him, added, “He’s not my father. He’s m’ second cousin. Took me to live with him when I was orphaned.”

~Enright 38

In the midst of all this, of course, Rush, Mark, Oliver and Willy came in, hungry for lunch. Observing the sea of glass and spilt tomatoes Rush assumed a murderous leer, and prowled to and fro growling, “BL-OOD! BL-OOD!” Then he stood up straight, frowned importantly, and turned to Willy Sloper. “Call Scotland Yard at once, Carstairs. Something extremely fishy has been going on here. A clear case of vegetable homicide!”

“Oh, Rush, it can’t be noon,” wailed Mona. ‘We’ve only started. We haven’t even thought about lunch.”

“They could have some cornflakes,” said Randy helpfully. “And there are some cold noodles in the icebox.”

“Cornflakes. Cold noodles,” commented Rush. Then he crouched again. “BL-OOD! BL-OOD!”

~Enright 149

Overall Review:

Then There Were Five is probably my least favorite Melendy book, which is to say that I like it the least of the four. It drags a little bit at the end, but the rest of it is the same old Melendy shenanigans. The additional, slightly dark material that Enright introduces also makes it a much more mature novel than the others.

You can buy this book here: Then There Were Five (Melendy Quartet)

The Interrupted Tale: Galloping Iambic Pentameter

The Interrupted Tale is written by Maryrose Wood. It was published in 2013 by Balzer + Bray. It is the fourth book in The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place series. My reviews of the first three books can be found here, here, and here. Wood’s website can be found here.

Summary/Blurb:

Of especially naughty children it is sometimes said, “They must have been raised by wolves.”

The Incorrigible children actually were.

Turning sixteen is a bittersweet occasion for Miss Penelope Lumley: Her parents remain disappointingly absent, and her perfectly nice young playwright friend, Simon Harley-Dickinson, has not been heard from since he went to visit his ailing great-uncle Pudge in the old sailors’ home in Brighton.

Luckily, an invitation to speak at the annual Celebrate Alumnae Knowledge Exposition (or CAKE) at the Swanburne Academy for Poor Bright Females provides just the diversion Penelope needs.

Optoomuchstic as ever, Penelope hopes to give her CAKE talk, see some old friends, and show off the Incorrigible children to Miss Mortimer, but instead she finds her beloved school in an uproar. And when Penelope is asked by the Swanburne Academy board of trustees to demonstrate the academic progress of her three wolfish students so the board can judge the true worth of a Swanburne education, the future of her alma mater—and of her job as governess to the Incorrigibles—hangs in the balance.”

What I Liked:

It’s here, it’s here, it’s here! I was so excited when I got this book! And Wood did a really good job of reminding the reader about certain revelations in the past three books, so I wasn’t lost at all despite it being about a year since I read the last book.

The first three Incorrigible Children books were fantastic fun, and this one was no exception. I’m pretty sure I laughed every minute or so, and every single page was so much fun to read. The children, Penelope’s “optoomuchtism” and observations and her entire one-hour-and-three-quarters-long speech about ferns, Lady Constance, Simon Harley-Dickinson, the narrator’s asides about random things a la Lemony Snicket…I can’t even begin to express my delight with this book.

So, my theory is that Penelope is Miss Mortimer’s daughter or related to Agatha Swanburne, and that the three children are somehow related to her (Penelope), due to the color of their hair. Also, Lady Constance is definitely pregnant.

What I Didn’t Like:

Despite what I just said, I do think that more reveals should have been made. The Interrupted Tale was really just a continuation of The Unseen Guest with the mysteries only extended, not solved (well, at least one was confirmed instead of speculated). It’s also a bit of a downer to finish a great book like this one and not have the pleasure of the next one right away.

Rating: 4/5

Recommended Age Range: 12+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Mystery, Fantasy, Historical Fiction, Children’s

Passages/Quotes:

Under the changing leaves of the trees near the house, she entertained them with some vigorous skipping and dancing games that she had recently invented. The games were meant to show the various types of poetic meter: iambic pentameter, for example, which William Shakespeare used to marvelous effect in many of his poems and plays. (Scholars have written lengthy books on the subject of iambic pentameter, a topic of great complexity that can only be mastered by experts, geniuses, college professors, and the like. Fortunately, Penelope did not know this. She thought iambic pentameter sounded like five strides of a gallop—ta-TUM, ta-TUM, ta-TUM, ta-TUM, ta-TUM—and could easily be learned by pretending to have a pony race, after which anyone might read the works of Shakespeare with far greater enjoyment than before.)

~Wood 28-29

“We are ghosts,” Alexander explained to the capsized woman.

“‘Sheeted ghosts.’ As in Longfellow,” Beowulf explained.

“He means Hespawoo,” Cassiopeia added, for indeed, “sheeted ghost” was a phrase taken from “The Wreck of the Hesperus,” an absolutely thrilling poem about a ship wreck that the children knew quite well.

~Wood 163

Overall Review:

I’m thinking I actually prefer this series to A Series of Unfortunate Events, but the one note of concern I have is that the Incorrigible Children seem to be going the same way as Snicket’s series, which is to Unsolved Mysteries Forever territory. But the books are still some of the most entertaining I’ve read.

You can buy this here: The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place: Book IV: The Interrupted Tale

Summer of Redwall: High Rhulain

High Rhulain is the eighteenth book in the Redwall series by Brian Jacques. It was published in 2005 by Philomel. The Redwall wiki (spoilers!) can be found here, and info about Brian Jacques can be found here.

Summary/Blurb:

“Young Tiria Wildlough is an ottermaid touched by the paw of destiny. Her epic adventure takes her on a journey from Redwall Abbey across the Great Western Sea, to the mysterious Green Isle. There she must fulfill an ancient prophecy and gain her inheritance.

Green Isle is home to the otterclans, but they are beset by dangers from wildcat chieftain Riggu Felis and his catguard slave masters. Aided by two birds and a platoon of Long Patrol hares, Tiria joins forces with the outlaw leader of the otterclans in a battle that will test all their courage and skill.”

What I Liked:

This was a good, if unnecessary, “girl power” installment of Redwall. Tiria doesn’t do much fighting, but what she does is pretty impressive. She’s also one of the only main non-badger heroes to take out the main villain herself, albeit anticlimactically (but very poetically just).

I totally think that Brantalis was the best part of this book. I just love the way he talks. Also, I loved Zillo the Bard and pretty much all of the parts with the rogue otters on Green Isle, although it struck me a bit strange that they had never gone to Holt Summerdale before this. Ah, plot conveniences.

I also enjoyed the lore aspect of this book regarding the High Rhulain and the story that Quelt and the others find in Redwall. Jacques always has lore in some form or another in these books, but this one really struck me since the plot was really built around it.

Oh, and since I can’t read a book without pairing off all the characters…I totally ship Tiria/Leatho.

What I Didn’t Like:

I didn’t much like Skipper berating Tiria over feeling bad about killing someone. Yes, she stopped that creature from causing any more harm to other creatures, but that doesn’t mean she should enjoy it or whatever Skipper was implying. Personally, I think Tiria’s shock just humanizes her (creaturizes her?) and makes her more likeable than the bland, generic Skipper.

I called the “girl power” of this book unnecessary because it really is. Jacques has had both female warriors and female protagonists in Redwall before, and has done them more memorably and better than this rendition. The whole book just felt off because of the “you’re a girl and can’t do anything well” vibe, which has never been brought up in Redwall before and has never been assumed of any of the females in previous Redwall books.

Rating: 3/5

Recommended Age Range: 12+

Warnings: Violence/fighting, death.

Genre: Fantasy, Middle Grade

~silverbirch

Passages/Quotes:

Tiria started immediately with Brantalis. “Listen, my friend. I know I can’t fly like you, but I must find the way to Green Isle. Are you willing to help?”

The barnacle goose clacked his beak resolutely. “I am thinking that I will help you, Tiria, after all your kindness to me. Here is the way Skyfurrows always take to Green Isle. Every autumn season we are flying down from the far northlands. Always we fly south, aye, fly south and follow the coast, until we are reaching the old mountain, home of the longears and great stripedog lords. Know you of it?”

Skipper Banjon did. “Aye, that’d be Salamandastron, where the fightin’ hares an’ Badger Lords dwell. I’ve heard of it but never been there meself. ‘Tis a mighty trek from Redwall to that mountain, I can tell ye!”

Brantalis nodded sagely. “A mighty trek, indeed, for earthcrawlers such as you. But I am thinking, there is a better route. If Brantalis could not fly, he would use the River Moss, north of here. I could speak the way to you, whilst you mark it down. The creatures of the Red Walls are good at marking ways down I am thinking.”

~Jacques 91

Colour Sergeant O’Cragg gave his eyes another wipe before returning the captain’s kerchief. “Bless ye, miss that’s h’a very nice thought.”

Big Kolun got the situation back on an even keel with his next remark. “I’ll give ye a very nice thought, Sergeant. Just ‘ow in the name o’ seasons do we get out o’ this crater?”

~Jacques 332

Overall Review:

High Rhulain has some good moments in the forms of the lore, the rogue otters, and Brantalis the goose, but overall it is mostly forgettable. The “girl power” doesn’t sit well with the book as a whole and seems oddly out of place in a series that has never been shy with its female characters.

You can buy this here: High Rhulain (Redwall)

The Four-Story Mistake: Old Country House! Secret Room! Exploring!

The Four-Story Mistake is written by Elizabeth Enright. It was first published in 1942 by Henry Holt; I read the 1997 Puffin version. It is the second book in the Melendy family quartet. Learn more about Enright and her books here.

Summary/Blurb:

“It’s a house full of secrets—and it’s all theirs!

Mona, Rush, Randy, and Oliver Melendy have lived in the city their whole lives. How can they move to a house in the country that they’ve never seen? But what their father says goes, and soon they’re on a train to the Four-Story Mistake—an old almost-mansion full of places to hide, old stories to uncover, and more adventures than the Melendys could have imagined!”

What I Liked:

You can probably tell from my review of Return to Gone-Away how much I love old country houses, and although the Four-Story Mistake isn’t quite as old, it’s still a house with secrets, and I loved discovering them with the Melendys. I especially loved all the kids’ exclamations of disgust at how dumb they are as they discover the secret room because what I love most about Enright is her realistic capturing of children and their dialogue. I feel as if the Melendys could have actually existed, as if they were actually real children who grew up during the 40s.

I loved the fact that the children played outdoors all the time (no television!), that they explored and biked and swam all day, every day. As I’ve mentioned in previous reviews, Enright’s books are deliciously free of PC, angst and dark material that so many children’s and YA books tend to have nowadays. Reading these books is like a refreshing spring breeze blowing across your face, something to delight and revel in. I wish more books were written about children making their own fun, hearing stories, discovering secret treasures, making plays and shows, working to help with the war effort and with the family finances, being active participants in the world, rather than being passive participants.

I’ve always thought this was my least favorite book in the quartet, but it’s really not. I love this book a lot; it’s a nice departure from the formula of The Saturdays while still keeping that old Enright charm and humor.

What I Didn’t Like:

Nothing, but that shouldn’t surprise you.

Rating: 5/5

Recommended Age Range: 10+ (or younger!)

Warnings: None.

Genre: Realistic, Children’s

Passages/Quotes:

“Why, look at the walls!” cried Oliver. “There’s pictures and writing all over them!”

It was true. From the ceiling to the floor the sloping walls were covered with pages of pictures and stories cut out of old papers and magazines. They were yellowish brown with age, and here and there were dark stains where the rain had leaked in, but on the whole they were remarkably well preserved, for at the tops of some of the pages there were dates. April 17, 1881, said one of them. September 19, 1879, said another.

~Enright 28

“You want to catch your death? Pile into bed now, it’s almost nine.”

Randy threw her arms around Cuffy’s neck. “Oh, I love Christmas Eve!” she cried. “Even better than Christmas I love it. Because everything’s just about to happen!”

“Influenza’s about to happen if you don’t get into bed with them windows open,” growled Cuffy, giving her a kiss and a shove both at once.

~Enright 113

Overall Review:

I’m really only repeating myself at this point, since I’ve reviewed four Enright books already. She’s amazing and her books are amazing. The Four-Story Mistake is about children having fun in their new house in the country, before things like television and technology kept children inside. Not only do they have fun, but they also each do their own part to help out around the house, through chores and jobs, etc. I love the Melendy family, what else can I say?

You can buy this book here: The Four-Story Mistake (Melendy Quartet)

The Girl Who Soared Over Fairyland And Cut The Moon In Two: Sadly Disappointing

The Girl Who Soared Over Fairyland and Cut the Moon in Two is written by Catherynne M. Valente. It was published in 2013 by Feiwel and Friends. My reviews of the first two books in the Fairyland series can be found here and here. Valente’s website can be found here.

Summary/Blurb:

“September misses Fairyland and her friends Ell, the Wyverary, and the boy Saturday. She longs to leave the routines of home and embark on a new adventure. Little does she know that this time, she will be spirited away to the moon, reunited with her friends, and find herself faced with saving Fairyland from a moon-Yeti with great and mysterious powers.”

~Inside Flap

What I Liked:

I talked in my reviews of the first two books that September’s voice sounded really off to me. In this one, I feel that September finally grew into her voice. It was just right, finally.

I love the unique aspects of Fairyland that Valente has shown us in each book. It reminds me greatly of the Oz books, where L. Frank Baum did something similar with showing something new each book. I especially loved the Land of Photographs and the paper circus in the whelk shell.

The ending was pretty intense, although not as awesome as The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland’s ending was. I’m intrigued as to how September is going to get out of this mess, and also profoundly glad that this cliffhanger was not in the second book, but in the third—a rare departure from the FSASCH formula (although Fairyland is not a trilogy, so maybe that explains it).

What I Didn’t Like:

Nitpicky: the title is a little misleading. I mean, September doesn’t actually cut the moon in two and actually has nothing to do with the “cutting in two” of the moon at all. But I guess The Girl Who Soared Over Fairyland and Was a Passive Bystander to All That Went On There is not as catchy (before anyone complains, I’m being a bit hyperbolic. But really, September didn’t actually do much besides drive around).

I must admit, I found most of the book to be a bit…boring. The ending was better than the rest of it, but I think The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland set too high of a bar in terms of plot, and as a result the rest of the series just can’t stand up to that, in my opinion. I’m also disappointed in the lack of a solid villain, and the subsequent undermining of the villain once he appeared. It makes all the tension just fizzle out in the worst way. The best thing about the Marquess was that no one truly understood her or her past, and yet once she told September (i.e., when September “understood” her), she stayed the villain anyway. Ciderskin was even worse than September’s shadow in his “misunderstoodness.” I got to that part of the book and thought, “I just read 200 pages for this?” The ending made up for a little, but only a little.

Also, the fact that people continuously spoke in run-on sentences was a little annoying.

Rating: 3/5

Recommended Age Range: 12+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Fantasy, Fairy Tale, Middle Grade

Passages/Quotes:

September wriggled out from under the Blue Wind’s fingers, which prodded her forehead for further evidence of devilry. “But I’m not a criminal! I know all that sounds bad, but there were such good reasons for it all! What else could I have done? The Marquess was terribly cruel and my shadow would have driven all the magic out of Fairyland. And as for lying, the Green Wind told me to do it!”

The Blue Wind patted her shoulder convivially. “Oh, we all have such good reasons. It’s the reasons that make it sweet.”

“I am not a criminal,” September repeated, pulling away from the Win. “Just calling me one doesn’t make it so.”

“Well, of course you’re not a Criminal!” chuckled the Calcatrix. “Not yet. You’re not licensed to commit crimes! A fine place we’d be in if we let just anyone go about infringing and infracting!”


 

“Oh, forgive us, of course we don’t know you yet,” said the boy, whose long, tall body was covered in blocks of text, little birthmarks of fourteen lines each. He was made of sonnets, from head to toe. His hair was a flutter of motley ribbon marks. An intricate origami looked September in the eye, folded and smoothed and peaked into a friendly, narrow face.

“But we feel as though we do!” cried the girl, whose body was the warm, expensive gold of old letters, an elegant calligraphy covering every inch of her round, excited cheeks, her acrobat’s costume, her long, red, sealing-wax hair, the postmarks like freckles on her shoulders. September could make out a number of addresses and signatures, words like Dearest, Darling, Yours Foerever, Heart of My Heart: love letters, woven together to make a girl. “I’m Valentine,” she said, holding out her angular hand.

“I’m Pentameter,” said the sonnet boy.

Overall Review:

The Girl Who Soared Over Fairyland continues the great portrayal of Valente’s Fairyland, with new places to see that are equal parts Alice in Wonderland, Oz, and something new all together. However, I did find it a bit boring, and a little disappointing. The ending made up for it a little, but not quite. I would read The Girl Who Circumnavigated again, but not this one.

You can buy this here: The Girl Who Soared Over Fairyland and Cut the Moon in Two

The Story Keeper: Review Copy

Disclaimer: The Story Keeper is a review copy provided by Tyndale. Therefore, the format of this review will deviate from my normal blog review format.

 “Successful New York editor Jen Gibbs is at the top of her game with her new position at Vida House Publishing—until a mysterious manuscript from an old slush pile appears on her desk. Turning the pages, Jen finds herself drawn in to the life of Sarra, a mixed-race Melungeon girl trapped by dangerous men in Appalachia at the turn of the twentieth century. A risky hunch may lead to the book’s hidden origins and its unknown author, but when the trial turns toward the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains, a place Jen thought she’d left behind forever, the price of a blockbuster book deal may be high than she’s willing to pay.” 

The review blurb on the front of the cover of The Story Keeper compares it to To Kill A Mockingbird, and while I thought such a comparison was both unnecessary and untrue (The Story Keeper is neither as historically significant nor as rich in depth as Mockingbird), The Story Keeper does have its moments. While it has its flaws, for the most part The Story Keeper effectively communicates its themes about confronting one’s past, striving to change things for the better, and forging a new path from a previously stagnant life.

The Story Keeper starts out slow, but the moment Jen reaches Looking Glass Gap, it picks up noticeably with the tension created by the manuscript, Jen’s clashes with Evan Hall, and Jen’s family. Indeed, the second half of the book is noticeably better than the first, when Wingate ditches set-up and exposition to focus on moving the plot along.

The second half is also when less of “The Story Keeper” appears, which is also why this half is better than the first. The use of “The Story Keeper” in the novel was mostly unnecessary as a plot device, and was neither as interesting nor as compelling as Jen’s own story. It’s also difficult to believe that a boy younger than nineteen wrote those first eight chapters, even based off someone else’s story as they were. To be frank, The Story Keeper would have been a much better novel if it was entirely about Jen, her past, and her trip back to her childhood home. Including a mediocre story about an unoriginal romance that reads more like a novel for teenagers only brings down the quality of the novel as a whole and detracts from the real meat of the story, which is Jen’s development. But perhaps I am being too harsh.

The Story Keeper also suffers from a lack of a clear theology. Jen spends a good deal of time thinking about how the Lane’s Hill Brethren used Scripture incorrectly, but never about the correct application. Wingate seems to narrow down faith/Christianity to simply hope for the future, and then only focuses on prayer as the outflow of faith as if prayer was the only way to express faith (“I admire her blind faith, even as I realize that all faith is blind. We can never really know, except in hindsight, how prayers will be answered.” Wingate equates prayer and faith as if they were interchangeable, as if faith was only about prayer. In reality, those two sentences read as non sequiturs. Either both sentences should be about faith or both should be about prayer, but equating “blind faith” with “prayer” is faulty in both theology and syntax. Her assertion that “all faith is blind” is also problematic, since “blind faith” is hardly an accurate definition of faith). Having a clearer theology in the background of the novel would have made Jen’s development even more powerful. As it stands, they both remain slightly murky and unclear.

Essentially, story-wise I felt Jen’s story was better than Rand and Sarra’s, and as a result the second half of the novel was much better than the first. Indeed, I found Rand and Sarra’s distracting and unoriginal. Jen’s story communicated the themes of the novel more clearly and more powerfully. The Story Keeper also suffers from unclear theology and a sweeping generalization of faith that is discouraging to read in a Christian novel.

My rating: 3/5

Warnings: None.

Genre: Realistic, Christian

Summer of Redwall: Rakkety Tam

Rakkety Tam is the seventeenth book in the Redwall series by Brian Jacques. It was published in 2004 by Philomel. The Redwall wiki (spoilers!) can be found here, and info about Brian Jacques can be found here.

Summary/Blurb:

“From beyond the cold northern seas and the lands of ice, a terrifying beast arrives on the shores of Mossflower Country: Gulo the Savage! With his crew of white-furred vermin, this creature out of nightmare comes to murder his brother and seize the fabled Walking Stone. Nobeast is safe from the mighty Gulo, who feasts on the flesh of his enemies.

But something stands between Gulo and what he seeks: the ancient Abbey of Redwall. Who will come to the aid of Abbot Humble and his peaceful woodlanders? The mercenary warriors from the borders, Rakkety Tam MacBurl, that’s who! With his mate Wild Doogy Plumm, the brave squirrel sets forth on a quest to rescue two kidnapped Redwall maidens, and joins forces with one hundred perilous hares from the Long Patrol. Together they face a battle that ranges far over the plains, streams and woodlands of Mossflower in this epic tale of war, courage and comradeship.”

What I Liked:

This is definitely the most indulgent of the Redwall books. You can tell that Jacques wrote it because he wanted a protagonist with a Scottish accent. And this indulgent feel makes the book tons of fun to read. Plus, Tam and Doogy are some of the more endearing heroes of the series as a whole.

Rakkety Tam also does away with the annoying “hares are constantly hungry” trope taken up to eleven, and instead focuses on the “hares are perilous beasts” trope which is much, much better (hence why The Long Patrol is so good). Really, any book with The Long Patrol taking center stage is good, because it focuses more on military technique than the overused “where’s the scoff?” aspect of the hares.

I LOVE this art!!

And speaking of military technique, I loved the strategy used by the creatures in this book, especially the “use the terrain against your enemy” strategy and the “let’s let them think their plan worked” strategy. It’s all the more satisfying because the villain of this book, Gulo, is from the start described as Awful and Terrible, even more so than other villains. He doesn’t just kill innocents, he eats them. And speaking of Gulo, hooray for a death scene that is not anticlimactic!

Also, there are moments of humor in this book that I found especially good and memorable, notably the scene where Brooky is sure that the snake threatening Armel is a grass snake, only to wipe away the mud and find out that it was an adder as Armel thought and thinks it’s hilarious. Oh, and “cwown pwince Woopert.”

What I Didn’t Like:

Hmmm…for the most part, I think this book did a very good job of avoiding or subverting a lot of the tropes that Jacques has used in the previous Redwall books. However, it’s still the same basic plot as all the Redwall books. It’s just less noticeable because of the aforementioned avoidance of tropes.

Rating: 5/5

Recommended Age Range: 12+

Warnings: Violence/fighting, death.

Genre: Fantasy, Middle Grade

~chichapie

Passages/Quotes:

Sister Screeve spread her parchment upon the ground. “Thank you kindly, sir. If Miss Brookflow can stop her merriment for just a moment, I’ll read the rhyme. Are you finished miss?”

The jolly ottermaid stifled her mouth with both paws. “Whoohoohoo…Oops! Sorry, Sister, just once more. Whoohoohaha! There, that’s better. Right, let’s get on with unpuzzling the riddle, or unrizzling the puddle. Whoohaha…”

Brooky looked about at the stern faces. “Sorry.”

Brooky broke out into laughter again. “That’s right! Oh, you are an old cleverclogs, Armel. No wonder they made you Infirmary Sister. But I was the best pebble chucker—I hit the sun more times than you did. They should’ve made me Abbey Pebble Chucker. Hahahahaha!”

She looked around at the stern faces, and the laughter faded on her lips. “Oh, you lot are about as funny as a boiled frog!”

~Jacques 92-93, 97

Tam grinned wolfishly. “Right, that’s what we’ll do then!”

Yoofus looked aghast. “Ye mean, go into the pine groves?”

It was Doogy’s turn to look superior. “Och, ye wee pudden-headed robber! Lissen now, an’ get yore own eddication completed. Rakkety Tam MacBurl’s got a braw brain for plannin’. Tell him, mate!”

The border squirrel outlined his scheme. “We’ve got to get Gulo to take his vermin into those pine groves. He doesn’t know about the big black birds.”
~Jacques 197

Overall Review:

Rakkety Tam has an indulgent feel that just makes it fun to read, and in this book Jacques avoids or is more subtle with the tropes he has used to death in previous Redwall books, making for a Redwall book that at least feels different. The military aspect of the book is very good and the inclusion of The Long Patrol does away with the “solitary hungry hare” that is so ridiculous in previous books. It’s a fun book, and a welcome relief from the monotony of Redwall plots.

You can buy this here: Rakkety Tam: A Novel of Redwall

The Saturdays: Hello, My Dear Old Friend

The Saturdays is written by Elizabeth Enright. It was first published in 1941 by Henry Holt; the one I read is the 1997 Puffin edition. This is the first book in Enright’s Melendy family quartet. Learn more about Enright and her books here.

Summary/Blurb:

“Imagine if you had one day a week that was all your own, with enough money to do whatever you wanted…

The four Melendys do. In fact, they’ve started their own club, I.S.A.A.C. (the Independent Saturday Afternoon Adventure Club). They’ll pool their allowances, and each Saturday one of them will explore New York City—where there are enough things to do for a lifetime of adventures. And no one knows how to have adventures like Mona, Rush, Randy, and Oliver Melendy!”

~Back Cover

What I Liked:

As much as I love the Gone-Away books, I love this series even more. I’ve read it so many times that I know the lines, the scenes, etc. The Melendy family is like an old friend that I go to visit every once in a while, and enjoy spending time with them every time.

This book is funny, much funnier (in my opinion) than Gone-Away, but maybe that’s because there’s simply more people in it (or seems to be more people, anyway). The Melendy children all have their own quirks, their own interests and dislikes, and that makes them seem much more like real people. The dialogue is also very realistic and seems more like things that children will actually say and think and do.

I absolutely love the oldies feel to it (this is set in the WWII era, and was published during the same time) and the absence of PC. I love that the kids can walk in New York City by themselves, that policemen are viewed in a positive light (rather than the often negative, manipulative, or incompetent light found in a lot of children’s and YA books today), and the old expressions, technology, etc. I love the family’s outrage at Mona’s painted nails. I love the stories, the shenanigans, the small bits of drama. I simply love everything about this book (and the series, for that matter).

What I Didn’t Like:

Nothing.

Rating: 5/5

Recommended Age Range: 10+

Genre: Children’s, Realistic

Warnings: None.

Passages/Quotes:

“If you do get lost,” she continued, “you can always go up and ask—”
“A policeman!” shouted Mona and Randy and Rush in unison.

“Do you think it’s polite to take the words right out of people’s mouths?” inquired Cuffy, pretending to be offended. “And another thing—”

“DON’T TALK TO STRANGERS!” they cried.

“Well,” said Cuffy, giving up. “I can’t say much for your manners but I’m glad to see you’ve got the right ideas at least.”

“What about strange policemen?” said Rush, looking innocent.

~Enright 22

“I guess I’m going to get a scolding when I go home,” Oliver told the policeman. “Maybe I’ll get a spanking too.” All the shine was gone off the day.

“Why, what did you do?”

“Will you promise not to arrest me?” said Oliver cautiously.

“I doubt if it will be necessary,” said the policeman, so Oliver told him.

“Well, I’ll let your family take care of the penalty,” the policeman decided. “It’s a very serious offense all right, but it seems to me you’ve been punished almost enough as it is.”

The traffic cop at Fifth Avenue looked at the mounted policeman and Oliver and said, “You’ve run in another big-time gang leader, I see.”
~Enright 115

Overall Review:

The Saturdays is a wonderful beginning to the Melendy family quartet. It’s a classic children’s book, to be sure, and one that is incredibly realistic in its dialogue and scenes. You will immediately fall in love with the characters and eagerly await their next adventure. Enright knows how to make a book interesting, and keep it interesting, for people of all ages.

You can buy this here: The Saturdays (Melendy Quartet)

Never Fade: The Trilogy Format Strikes Again

Never Fade is written by Alexandra Bracken. It was published in 2013 by Hyperion. It is the sequel to The Darkest Minds. The last book of the trilogy is due out in October. Bracken’s website can be found here.

General spoilers for The Darkest Minds and Never Fade

Summary/Blurb:

“Ruby never asked for the abilities that almost cost her her life. Now she must call upon them on a daily basis, leading dangerous missions to bring down a corrupt government and breaking into the minds of her enemies. Other kids in the Children’s League call Ruby “Leader,” but she knows what she really is: a monster.

When Ruby is entrusted with an explosive secret, she must embark on her most dangerous mission yet: leaving the Children’s League behind. Crucial information about the disease that killed most of America’s children—and turned Ruby and the others who lived into feared and hated outcasts—has survived every attempt to destroy it. But the truth is saved in only one place: a flash drive in the hands of Liam Stewart, the boy Ruby once believed was her future—and who now wouldn’t recognize her.

As Ruby sets out across a desperate, lawless country to find Liam—and answers about the catastrophe that has ripped both her life and America apart—she is torn between old friends and the promise she made to serve the League. Ruby will do anything to protect the people she loves. But what if winning the war means losing herself?”

What I Liked:

I’ve been waiting to read this book for so long, ever since I read The Darkest Minds and absolutely loved it. And this book is a worthy successor: it has plot twists/reveals spread all throughout the book, it has enough revelatory information that it doesn’t seem like all just set-up for the last Bam, Plot! book (coughAllegiantcough), and Ruby, while still struggling with her powers, seems to be heading in a direction that won’t lead her to self-angst anymore.

I was totally expecting Ruby to completely destroy Clancy at the end, as a sort of turning point for her character, but upon reflection, her turning point really came with Rob in the truck. It made her longing for a cure that much more powerful at the end.

Interesting development with Cole. I wonder if we’ll see more people like him in the next book…?

I don’t particularly like self-empowerment plots; the last sentencing of the summary makes me cringe: “But what if winning the war means losing herself?” Yeah, okay, because “losing yourself,” whatever that means, is so much more detrimental than a destructive war that is killing people. But before you start wondering why this is in “Like” rather than “Dislike,” I found that this plot is actually pretty bearable and more interesting than most. Or perhaps I’m too invested in the characters and the situation to care too much. We’ll see what happens in the last book.

What I Didn’t Like:

CLIFFHANGER NOOOOO! Dislike for two reasons: one, because it means I have to wait probably a year or so before I get to read the next book, and two, because I am so sick of the FSASCH (for the unaware: First Stands Alone, Second Cliff Hangs) formula. A good book shouldn’t need a cliffhanger to want people to read the next one; and doubly so because this is the second book. If people were likely to stop reading, they would do so after the first one. If they read the second book, they’re probably in for the long haul (not always, of course. It was the second book of the volcano eruption survival book, Ashen Winter, which made me stop).

I don’t like when authors establish character purely through language use. Vida’s vocabulary was almost entirely swear words, and to me it just seemed like Bracken was using profanity as a crutch; i.e. as an excuse not to show Vida’s character in other ways. I’ve always felt that the use of profanity in books is a crutch or an excuse, but it really stood out here with Vida. You shouldn’t have to depend on profanity to establish character.

I’m kind of annoyed that Liam’s mind wasn’t completely wiped and that he remembered Ruby in the space of about five seconds (hyperbolically). I think there would have been more potential character development in Liam’s “amnesia” then in the fact that he remembers and is mad at her for it.

Rating: 4/5

Recommended Age Range: 16+

Warnings: Swearing, violence, kissing, graphic imagery, death.

Genre: Dystopian, Supernatural, Young Adult

An appropriate description of both books (and I just couldn’t resist)

Passages/Quotes:

My brain was firing at a rapid pace, drumming up one horribly possibility after another. “So the intel on that flash drive—it was research that you stole?”

“Yeah, something like that.”

“Something like that?” I repeated in disbelief. “I don’t even get to know what’s on the stupid thing?”

He hesitated long enough that I was sure he wouldn’t actually tell me. “Think about it—what’s the one thing every parent of a dead kid wants to know? The one thing scientists have been after for years?”

The cause of the Psi disease.

~Bracken 82

Knox had made sure to warp him up real pretty in a series of robes and chains. There was a bandanna over his mouth, clenched between yellow teeth, and all I could think was, I wish they had covered his eyes instead.

Rimmed with crust and lined with bruises, his eyes pierced through the shadows between us, black and bottomless. He was looking at us, straight through us, into us.

I knew what Olivia had been calling out to me now. I could hear her voice ringing high and clear in my mind.

Red, Ruby, Red.

Overall Review:

Never Fade continues the high-paced action, the reveals, and the cool powers of the previous book. However, I had more problems with this book, such as the getting-old-fast cliffhanger ending and Liam’s convenient “my mind isn’t wiped after all” situation. I still can’t wait for the last book, though.

You can buy this here: Never Fade (A Darkest Minds Novel)

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