The Enchanted Castle: Can You Recommend Me To A Good Hotel?

The Enchanted Castle was written by Edith Nesbit. It was first published in 1907 by Unwin. More information about Nesbit can be found here.

Summary/Blurb:

“The enchanted castle is a country estate in the West Country of England, as seen through the eyes of three children, Gerald, James and Kathleen, who discover it while exploring during the school holidays. The lake, groves and marble statues, with white towers and turrets in the distance, make a fairy-tale setting, and then in the middle of the maze in the rose garden they find a sleeping fairy-tale princess.

The “Princess” tells them that the castle is full of magic, and they almost believe her. She shows them the treasures of the castle, including a ring she says is a ring of invisibility, but when it actually turns her invisible she panics and admits that she is the housekeeper’s niece, Mabel, and was just play acting.

The children soon discover that the ring has other magical powers…”

What I Liked:

Another book I read when I was younger! This one I remembered not nearly as much as Tom’s Midnight Garden and others, though. Nesbit has a way of writing that reminds me quite a bit of Diana Wynne Jones (Nesbit inspired DWJ, I believe); the plot advancement and revelations are very similar.

I loved the dialogue and the way the kids spoke; I don’t know what it is, but earlier writers did such a good job at writing kids that made them actually sound like kids—mature kids, even (mature kids are different from kids who sound too old for their age. Mature kids show their maturity through their actions as well as their words. So says I.). I loved Gerald’s talking like he was the hero of a story and Mabel’s bravery and all the rest. I loved the British slang and the old ways of speech from the late 1800s-early 1900s.

The mystery and the enchantment were almost palpable, especially in the section with the statues. It is at that point where both the children and the reader are starting to realize that there is something more than just the ring at work here, and the moments with the moonlight and the Hall are just beautiful.

This is quite an advanced book for children, and it is all the better for it.

What I Didn’t Like:

I actually found myself a little confused about the whole deal with the Hall, and in places the book dragged.

Rating: 4/5

Recommended Age Range: 8+

Warnings: A tiny bit of scary images, for those who may be younger.

Genre: Fantasy, Children’s, Realistic

Passages/Quotes:

“What are you so cross about?” Gerald was quite calm. “You said you’d be invisible, and you are.”

“I’m not.”

“You are really. Look in the glass.”

“I’m not; I can’t be.”

“Look in the glass,” Gerald repeated, quite unmoved.

“Let go, then,” she said.

Gerald did, and the moment he had done so he found it impossible to believe that he really had been holding invisible hands.

‘You’re just pretending not to see me,” said the Princess anxiously, “aren’t you? Do say you are. You’ve had your joke with me. Don’t keep it up. I don’t like it.”

“On our sacred word of honour,” said Gerald, “you’re still invisible.”

~Nesbit 28-29

“Can you recommend me to a good hotel?” The speaker had no inside to his head. Gerald had the best of reasons for knowing it. The speaker’s coat had no shoulders inside it—only the cross-bar that a jacket is slung on by careful ladies. The hand raised in interrogation was not a hand at all; it was a glove lumpily stuffed with pocket-handkerchiefs and the arm attached to it was only Kathleen’s school umbrella. Yet the whole thing was alive, and was asking a definite, and for anybody else, anybody who really was a body, a reasonable question.

~Nesbit 86

Overall Review:

The Enchanted Castle is an enchanting (ha!) book by an author who influenced such authors as C. S. Lewis, Diana Wynne Jones, and J. K. Rowling. The children’s adventures with the ring are both scary and exciting at times, and some of the most magical and inexplicable moments are some of the most beautiful. It dragged on enough that I can’t picture myself reading it over and over, but it is a delightful book.

You can buy this book here: The Enchanted Castle (Puffin Classics)

The Selection: The Hunger Games Meets The Bachelor

The Selection is written by Kiera Cass. It was published in 2012 by HarperCollins. It is the first in a trilogy. Cass’s website can be found here.

Summary/Blurb:

“For thirty-five girls, the Selection is the chance of a lifetime. The opportunity to escape the life laid out for them since birth. To be swept up in a world of glittering gowns and priceless jewels. To live in a palace and compete for the heart of gorgeous Prince Maxon.

But for America Singer, being Selected is a nightmare. It means turning her back on her secret love with Aspen, who is a caste below her. Leaving her home to enter a fierce competition for a crown she doesn’t want. Living in a place that is constantly threatened by violence rebel attacks.

Then America meets Prince Maxon. Gradually, she starts to question all the plans she’s made for herself—and realizes that the life she’s always dreamed of may not compare to a future she never imagined.”

What I Liked:

So, this is basically The Hunger Games meets The Bachelor, without the profundity of the former and the drama of the latter. I can see glimmers of an interesting world peeking through, though, and the love triangle is sort of interesting, in a “I hope this isn’t as obvious as it appears” way.

I have to say, once America got to the palace it was very tough for me to put the book down. There’s something in those middle pages that kept wanting me to read more. Perhaps it was Maxon, who had some interesting and often amusing scenes with America. He’s probably my favorite character.

What I Didn’t Like:

This is an unabashed Hunger Games rip-off, plain and simple. You don’t even have to squint to see the similarities. And unfortunately, it doesn’t have the strength of The Hunger Games to carry it through the rough patches. The worldbuilding is incredibly expositional and info-dumpy, instead of woven in and developed more tightly. We’re just given a bunch of information about how the world got this way; basically, we’re told about it rather than shown it, if that makes sense.

I know we’re supposed to feel something for Aspen, since he’s America’s love or whatever, but he’s really just a flat character. Maxon is way more interesting than he is. I hope we learn more about Aspen, because I want him to actually be a dynamic character. Love triangles are bad enough, but to have a static character in there just makes the whole thing lopsided.

I was hoping that America would actually have to work to gain Maxon’s affections, but all she really has to do is yell at him and do things that people normally wouldn’t do around him and bam, he’s done. It’s the typical way this sort of romance is portrayed, but I wish people were a bit more inventive.

Rating: 2/5

Recommended Age Range: 14+

Warnings: Violence.

Genre: Dystopian, Young Adult

Passages/Quotes:

I wondered if any of the other girls were sad today. I imagined that everyone except for me was celebrating. And I at least needed to look like I was too, because everyone would be watching.

I braced myself for all that was coming, and I made myself be brave. As for everything I was leaving behind, I decided I’d do just that: leave him behind. The palace would be my sanctuary. I‘d never think or say his name again. He wasn’t allowed to come with me there—my own rule for this little adventure.

No more.

Good-bye, Aspen.

~Cass 79

“Could you please stop poking around and complete an entire thought?”

Maxon sighed. “Fine. What I was thinking was that you and I could have a sign or something, some way of communicating that we need to speak to each other that no one else would catch onto. Perhaps rubbing our noses?” Maxon ran a finger back and forth just above his lips.

~Cass 173

Overall Review:

The overall presentation was below average; there was so much mediocrity, clichés, and unoriginal thinking in the characters and the world. But something had me hooked in the middle section of the book, and because of that I’m curious to finish the series and see what happens.

You can buy this here: The Selection

Wrap-Up of Redwall

Series Rating: 3/5

It was a long journey, but I finally made it through all 22 Redwall books! Here’s a series that follows that old rhyme about the little girl with the little curl in the middle of her forehead: when it’s good, it’s really good (or at least pretty good), but when it’s bad it’s horrid. Jacques recycles plots and character types like mad, resulting in stale and predictable stories, sometimes with forgettable heroes and useless villains.

However, there are also times when Jacques spins a wonderful yarn, with engaging characters and subversions of his own formulas. He also can pull at your heartstrings with the deaths of sweet, innocent characters (the most notable example is Rose) or the deaths of awesome warriors (Clary and Thyme!). The entire Redwall series revolves around a strict Black and White, Justice Prevails system, which can be quite refreshing–and makes the books with more “grey” characters stand out from the rest,  in a good way, as subversions of his own theme. His best books are those that have most or all of these good things, coupled with a focused plot and a decent villain.

I must admit, though, that it’s not necessary at all to read all of the Redwall books. The top four on my list below, and the first book Redwall, are the ones I would recommend reading from the series. Redwall and/or Mossflower are sufficient to get a look at what the series is about, but the other three feature the most unique (in my opinion) plot and characters (Taggerung); the most heart-wrenching story (Martin the Warrior); and the best Invasion/War plot (The Long Patrol). I’ll even go a step further and name the books to read for specific categories:

For Best Puzzle Quest, read Pearls of Lutra (although Redwall has a good one).

For Best Villain, read The Sable Quean.

For Best Redwall Story, read “In The Wake of the Red Ship” from The Legend of Luke.

For Best Female Warrior, read Mariel of Redwall and The Bellmaker, because even though I didn’t like Mariel much, Mariel and Bellmaker also feature Hon. Rosie, who is awesome.

These are all entirely based on my opinion, of course.

Speaking of opinion, here is my list of favorites, from most to least:

1.) Taggerung

2.) Martin the Warrior

3.) Mossflower

4.) The Long Patrol

5.) Rakkety Tam

6.) The Sable Quean
7.) The Bellmaker

8.) The Legend of Luke

9.) Pearls of Lutra

10.) Marlfox

11.) Redwall

12.) Mattimeo

13.) Lord Brocktree

14.) Doomwyte

15.) High Rhulain

16.) Loamhedge

17.) Triss

18.) Mariel of Redwall

19.) Outcast of Redwall

20.)The Rogue Crew

21.) Salamandastron

22.) Eulalia!

Thanks for sticking with me for this enormously long series!

 

Heidi: The Origin Of My Love For Swiss Mountains

Heidi is written by Johanna Spyri. It was first published in 1880. The copy I read is the 2000 Aladdin Classics edition.

Summary/Blurb:

“Orphaned Heidi lives with her gruff but caring grandfather on the side of a Swiss mountain, where she befriends young Peter the goatherd. She leads an idyllic life, until she is forced to leave the mountain she has always known to go and live with a sickly girl in the city. Will Heidi ever see her grandfather again?”

What I Liked:

Just like Elizabeth Enright’s books, Heidi is one of the books I read over and over and loved when I was younger. I remember watching the Shirley Temple film, too. This is one of the classic children’s books that must be read since, you know, it’s classic. Having traveled to Switzerland, I perfectly understand Heidi’s longing for the mountains. Switzerland is gorgeous. And, just like Heidi, I much prefer the country over the city.

I LOVE this cover!

I loved the completely PC-free setting, dialogue, themes, etc. It does get a little bit preachy, but in a way that makes me like the book more because of the complete naturalness that flows from the preachiness, as if it was common for a book to include it (and it was, back then). It’s very straight-forward, and it’s not bad preaching, either.

Honestly, I think the Frankfurt part of the book is my favorite part. It’s much different than the first and last part of the book (which can get a little monotonous) and is also more humorous, at least in my opinion.

What I Didn’t Like:

There is virtually no characterization. Heidi is perfect. Rottenmeier is the conveniently nasty housekeeper. The rest of the characters just revolve around Heidi and are changed by her. Heidi actually annoyed me at times. It’s an old book, so I can’t really fault it as much as I would fault a contemporary book that has characters like the ones in Heidi (because some tropes were still fairly new back then as opposed to now). And I think Spyri is trying to teach children something through this book and the characters and not just necessarily trying to entertain them. But it’s something I thought I would mention, since character is something I normally pay attention to and comment on.

Rating: 3/5

Recommended Age Range: 8+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Realistic, Children’s, Classic

058

Switzerland

Passages/Quotes:

“Let me be, child. I can’t see any better even in the light of the snow. I’m always in the dark.”

“Even in summer, Grannie?” Heidi persisted anxiously. ‘Surely you can see the sunshine and watch it say goodnight to the mountains and make them all red like fire. Can’t you?”

“No, child, nor that either. I shall never see them again.”

Heidi burst into tears. “Can’t anyone make you see?” she sobbed. “Isn’t there anyone who can?”

~Spyri 45

“I dream every night that I’m back with Grandfather and can hear the wind whistling through the fir trees. I know in my dream the stars must be shining brightly outside, and I get up quickly and open the door of the hut—and it’s so beautiful. But when I wake up I’m always still here in Frankfurt.” A lump came in her throat and she tried to swallow it.

“Have you a pain anywhere?” asked the doctor. “In your head or your back?”

“No, but I feel as though there’s a great stone in my throat.”

“As though you’d taken a large bit of something and can’t swallow it?”

Heidi shook her head. “No, as if I wanted to cry.”

~Spyri 137-138

Overall Review:

Heidi, as a classic children’s book, should be read if you haven’t, but on this read-through I actually found the characters a bit tedious and annoying, Heidi especially. The parts of the book that get a little preachy are really quite refreshing to read, simply because it’s not something you find in books like this one nowadays. I gave it a 3 because I can’t reconcile the classic-ness of it with the complete boredom that I sometimes felt reading it, but I still love this book and hold it in a high position among children’s lit.

You can buy this book here: Heidi (Dover Children’s Evergreen Classics)

Moon Over Manifest: Jumping Through Time

Moon Over Manifest is written by Clare Vanderpool. It was published in 2010 by Delacorte. It is a Newbery Medal book. Vanderpool’s website can be found here.

Summary/Blurb:

“Abilene Tucker feels abandoned. Her father has put her on a train, sending her off to live with an old friend for the summer while he works a railroad job. Armed only with a few possessions and her list of universals, Abilene jumps off the train in Manifest, Kansas, aiming to learn about the boy her father once was.

Having heard stories about Manifest, Abilene is disappointed to find that it’s just a worn-out old town. But her disappointment quickly turns to excitement when she discovers a hidden cigar box full of mementos, including some old letters that mention a spy known as the Rattler. These mysterious letters send Abilene and her new friends, Lettie and Ruthanne, on an honest-to-goodness spy hunt, even though they are warned to “Leave Well Enough Alone.”

Abilene throws all caution aside when she heads down the mysterious Path to Perdition to pay a debt to the reclusive Miss Sadie, a diviner who only tells stories form the past. It seems that Manifest’s history is full of colorful and shadowy characters—and long-held secrets. And as those secrets are laid bare one by one, Abilene begins to weave her own story into the fabric of the town.”

What I Liked:

Wow! I don’t know what I was expecting from this book, but it certainly wasn’t this! The narration has a great interweaving between past and present, and the book isn’t so much about Abilene in 1936 as it is about Ned and Jinx and the town of Manifest in 1918.

I love the sort of “double blind” that Vanderpool plays on the reader here. As soon as Jinx shows up in Miss Sadie’s stories, I thought, “Yeah, I know who he is.” Then, when Abilene starts thinking that she knows who Jinx is, and pinning all her hopes on it, I thought, “Well, Jinx can’t be him now.” It’s a common plot trope to have the main character think one thing and then find out in the end that it’s something completely different. But then Vanderpool’s all “Psyche! You were right the first time!” and I thought, “Wow, you got me!” So, yeah, what I’m trying to say is that Vanderpool does some great things in terms of plot twists/revelations. Jinx’s was obvious, but the other I didn’t see coming at all.

Loved the newspaper articles included after the past history segments. Abilene didn’t explain the articles, either, even though the text makes it clear that us reading them is like her reading them. The reader has to piece it together, and it is wonderful.

What I Didn’t Like:

This is really just nitpicky, but at one point Abilene says something along the lines of “…then I’m the queen of England!” Was that a legit saying back then with the person just inserting “queen” or “king” as appropriate?

Rating: 5/5

Recommended Age Range: 12+

Warnings: A little bit of scary situations and details, war, and death.

Genre: Historical Fiction, Middle Grade, Realistic

Passages/Quotes:

“Well, say there was a spy. What do you think he was spying on?”

Lettie and I looked at Ruthanne. She rolled her eyes and gave a sigh, like she was disgusted to have to explain something so simple. I figured she was just stalling till she could think up an answer.

“There was a war going on, you know,” Ruthanne said.

We kept staring.

“And in wartimes there’s always secrets that need keeping from the enemy.”

Still staring.

“So what makes you think Manifest didn’t have a few secrets of its own that some spy might want to find out about?” Ruthanne asked.

~Vanderpool 43

Jinx placed the money on the bar and took a seat behind the counter next to Shady, his one sure ally in the room.

“We have bigger problems at hand,” Casimir Cybulskis said, resuming the discussion. “How to raise a thousand dollars without being noticed by Burton. It is impossible.”

The room erupted in a din of agreement. Then Shady had an idea. “From the look of things, the mine owners and bootleggers aren’t the only ones making money after all.” He fanned the stack of bills in front of him.

“What are you saying, Shady?” asked Hadley.

“I’m saying that this young man may have an idea that we would do well to listen to.”

“You’re not suggesting we take advice from a con artist?” Mrs. Larkin asked in horror.

“All I’m saying is drastic times call for drastic measures.”

~Vanderpool 192

Overall Review:

Moon Over Manifest is a delightful book where the stories told of the past are almost better than the present happenings. At one point I didn’t want to stop reading because I was so caught up in Miss Sadie’s tales. I also loved my waffling about Jinx due to Abilene’s certainty, which endeared this book to me more for some reason. This Newbery Medal is truly deserved.

You can buy this here: Moon Over Manifest

Summer of Redwall: The Rogue Crew

The Rogue Crew is the twenty-second book in the Redwall series by Brian Jacques. It was published in 2011 by Philomel, and I believe it was done so posthumously. The Redwall wiki (spoilers!) can be found here, and info about Brian Jacques can be found here.

Summary/Blurb:

 “Redwall Abbey has never seen a creature more evil or more hideous than Razzid Wearat. Captain of the Greenshroud, a ship with wheels that can sail through water as well as the forest, this beast is a terror of both land and sea, traveling Mossflower Country, killing nearly everything—and everyone—in his path. And his goal? To conquer Redwall Abbey.

From Salamandastron to the High North Coast, the brave hares of the Long Patrol team up with the fearless sea otters of the Rogue Crew to form a pack so tough, so rough, only they can defend the Abbey and defeat Razzid Wearat once and for all.”

Thoughts:

Unfortunately, the last Redwall book is also a forgettable one. Characters remain the same and are indistinguishable from each other, the villain is flat and boring, the plot is exactly the same as numerous other Redwall plots (and not even as good as others that deal with invasions, such as The Long Patrol) and the first three-quarters of the book are set-up for the last quarter, which makes for an anticlimactic invasion and end. It was sad to end the series on this note, especially since The Sable Quean was such a nice departure from the monotonous regularity of Redwall.

However, how Razzid is defeated is pretty unique for the series. It reminded me a little bit of the demise of Zwilt the Shade in The Sable Quean. It’s definitely not how the reader expects Razzid to be killed. Also, speaking of uniqueness, Lady Violet is not the typical Badger Lord, which is refreshing. Sadly, she only appears twice, at the beginning and at the end.

Poor Swiffo! I mean, it was pretty obvious what was going to happen to you, but still. Jacques seems to like making the genuinely likable characters die so that everyone is sad, including the reader.

 Rating: 2/5

Recommended Age Range: 12+

Warnings: Violence/fighting, death.

Genre: Fantasy, Middle Grade

Tapestry by chichapie. Featuring many of the heroes from Redwall.

Passages/Quotes:

Skor rose, hefting his massive battleaxe. “So, what think ye, Nightfur? We number three an’ a half score—that’s mine an’ Ruggan’s crew with yore Long Patrol warriors. Are ye game t’go up agin’ a shipload o’ vermin?”

Rake needed no second invitation. “Ye have mah paw, mah blades an’ mah heart on it, Skor. Taegether we’ll find ‘em. ‘Tis guid tae be with a Rogue Crew again. Sergeant, form up the column tae march!”

~Jacques 193

Overall Review:

The Rogue Crew, despite being the last book, is not a good finish for the series. Granted, all the books have separate arcs, but I would much rather have the last book in Redwall be The Sable Quean then The Rogue Crew. The Rogue Crew is too formulaic, too predictable, too indistinguishable from other Redwall books to be a good Redwall book.

You can buy this here: The Rogue Crew (Redwall)

Johnny Tremain: Wow, Character Development

Johnny Tremain is written by Esther Forbes. It was first published in 1943 by Houghton Mifflin. Find out more about Esther Forbes here.

Summary/Blurb:

“The year is 1773; the scene is Boston. Johnny Tremain is fourteen and apprenticed to a silversmith. He is gifted and knows it. He is gay and clever and lords it over the other apprentices until the tragic day when a crucible of molten silver breaks and Johnny’s right hand is so burned as to be useless. After a period of despair and humiliation, Johnny becomes a dispatch rider for the Committee of Public Safety, a job that brings him in touch with Otis, Hancock, John and Samuel Adams, and other Boston patriots, and with all the exciting currents and undercurrents that were to lead to the Tea Party and the Battle of Lexington. There, on the battlefield, he learns from Dr. Warren that his maimed hand can be cured so that he can use a musket and some day return to his trade.”

What I Liked:

So, this is probably one of the best historical fiction novels I’ve ever read for young people (although I haven’t read that many; most of the historical fiction that I’ve read consists of Dear America). Not only that, but it’s also a wonderful story of pride and humility, and it’s got some incredible dimensionality to its characters.

At the beginning, I strongly disliked Johnny because he was so arrogant and proud. Then I wanted to give him a hug, and then by the end all I could do was sit back and think, “Now that’s how you do character development.” Not many authors intentionally make their protagonist so unlikeable at the start, but I wish they would because it’s so fantastic to see that change in the protagonist from unlikeable to likeable.

I loved the portrayal of the British. I thought it was incredibly realistic that Johnny both liked and disliked them, that while he wanted them gone he realized how hard it was to make them go, that while the British had their “bad” moments there were also good ones, as well. There’s a great passage where (I think) Johnny and Rab are talking and while Rab is eager to start the fight, Johnny is more hesitant because he can’t see the British as targets yet. I loved that Forbes strayed from the “The British are EVIL AND MEAN” one-dimensionality that can be found in a lot of middle grade “villains.” I have to say, there was something about children’s authors who wrote in the 40s and 50s that just got realistic dialogue and scenes. Enright has it, Forbes has it, Pearce has it, Nesbit (early 1900s) has it. I love it.

This book made me want to see 1776 again.

What I Didn’t Like:

Johnny was so aggravating at the beginning. Really, he can only blame himself when he goes to Lyte a second time after everyone warns him not to and gets his cup taken away from him. Then again, he was still proud at that point.

Rating: 4/5

Recommended Age Range: 12+

Warnings: Violence, war, death.

Genre: Middle Grade, Historical Fiction

Passages/Quotes:

He was utterly unprepared for the sight of his hand when finally it was unwrapped and lay in the midwife’s aproned lap. Mrs. Lapham, Madge, Dorcas, all had crowded into the little birth and death room. Cilla and Isannah were in the kitchen, too frightened to go near him.

“My!” said Madge, “isn’t that funny-looking? The top part, Johnny, looks all right, although a little narrow, but, Johnny, your thumb ad palm have grown together.”

This was true. He bent and twisted his fingers. He could not get the thumb to meet the forefinger. Such a hand was completely useless. For the first time he faced the fact that his hand was crippled.

“Oh, let me see!” Dorcas was leaning over him. She gave her most elegant little screech of horror, just like a great lady who has seen a mouse.

“My!” said Mrs. Lapham, “that’s worse than anything I had imagined. Now isn’t that a shame! Bright boy like Johnny just ruined. No more good than a horse with sprung knees.”

~Forbes 35

James Otis was on his feet, his head close against the rafters that cut down into the attic, making it the shape of a tent. Otis put out his arms.

“It is all so much simpler than you think,” he said. He lifted his hands and pushed against the rafters.

“We give all we have, lives, property, safety, skills…we fight, we die, for a simple thing. Only that a man can stand up.”

~Forbes 180

Overall Review:

Johnny Tremain has such wonderful character development and portrayal, and there’s a realistic air to it that, so far, ranks it at the top of my historical fiction list. It has wonderful historicity and does a great job of showing both the Tory and the Whig side. The British are portrayed as humans rather than monsters and the ending has a great hopeful-bittersweet note. Fantastic all around.

You can buy this book here: Johnny Tremain

Burn: Too Many Unanswered Questions

Potential spoilers!

Burn is written by Julianna Baggott. It was published in 2014 by Grand Central. It is the sequel to Fuse. Baggott’s website can be found here.

Summary/Blurb:

“With his father now dead, Partridge has assumed leadership of the Dome, one of the last few refuges from the ravaged wastelands of the outside world. At first, Partridge is intent on exposing his father’s lies, taking down the rigid order of the Dome, and uniting its citizens with the disfigured Wretches on the outside. But from his new position of power, things are far more complex and potentially dangerous than he could have ever imagined.

On the outside, a band of survivors faces a treacherous journey to the Dome. Pressia carries with her the key to salvation. If she can get it to the Dome, the Wretches could one day be healed and everyone might be able to put the horrors of the past behind them. Bradwell, the revolutionary, cannot forgive so easily. Despite Pressia’s pleas, he is determined to bring down the Dome and hold its citizens accountable for leaving the rest of the world to burn. El Capitan, the former rebel leader, wants to help Pressia save as many lives as possible—but he’s struggling to reconcile his new found compassion with his vicious past.”

~Inside Flap

What I Liked:

I absolutely love that, for once, a dystopian series has actually had its characters express their thoughts about God, the afterlife, etc. Most dystopians tend to either ignore religion completely, or give it some cultic form. Burn has the cult (the Dome Worshippers), but it also has Bradwell, El Capitan, and Pressia discuss and struggle with the concept of God. Especially poignant was El Capitan’s struggle in the chapel, and his feeling of freedom after saying “I’m sorry.”

Speaking of El Capitan, he’s still awesome (and sweet). And now, given Bradwell’s ending (which I totally called back in Fuse), I have hope for El Capitan/Pressia.

And Pressia is awesome, too, mostly because she marches into the Dome and does to Partridge what every single reader wanted to do to him during his chapters.

What I Didn’t Like:

Partridge. PARTRIDGE. It’s uncomfortable to read about adults manipulating teenagers, but it’s aggravating when the teenagers know, can do something about it, and yet ultimately don’t. Partridge was so passive in this book that I wanted to step into the book and shake some sense into him. Partridge, you can’t just let people walk all over you like that! And you especially can’t think, “Oh, I’m letting them walk all over me,” and then continue to do nothing about it! And Partridge made such stupid decisions—like with Hastings and Bradwell, Partridge what were you thinking—but the worst decision he made was to follow Iralene at the end. You can’t just pick and choose what’s real or not, Partridge, and wishing or thinking that you’re in reality doesn’t mean you are.

El Capitan and Helmud (by anawin)

The plot threads left dangling at the end of this trilogy are so massive I’m surprised that there is not going to be a fourth book. Does Weed succeed in making a cure? Do the Pures survive in the wild? Does Pressia find her father? What about Lyda’s baby? What about the babies in the tubes? What’s up with the baby clone at the end? Okay, I get it that it ends with Pressia moving on and stepping into a new world, blah blah, but there’s absolutely no indication of what that new world is going to be like and that’s upsetting. For all we know, Pressia and El Capitan could be blown up by a spider grenade thrown by the mothers or shot down by Special Forces in the next minute. That’s hardly a satisfying ending. I’m not asking for an “X amount of years later” epilogue, but some closure would have been nice.

Rating: 3/5

Recommended Age Range: 16+

Warnings: Violence, disturbing and graphic images, swearing.

Genre: Dystopian, Young Adult

Passages/Quotes:

And then it hits him, and he looks around the room again—this time seeing it the way she sees it. Is this all for show? His father must have worked on this for years—long before he’d planned to use Partridge’s body to move on. Is this room some kind of prank? Are all of these photos and stupid letters an attempt to wrench Partridge’s heart? Or maybe it was originally designed to mess with Sedge He was the rightful heir.

Is this all fake? A ploy to garner sympathy? A final power grab at love?

~Baggott 61

He whispers, “Saint Wi.” He tries to imagine who she was. Did she help chidlrne? What were her miracles? He thinks of her face. HE doesn’t have to look at her. Her face is locked in his mind—her way of gazing. She’s waiting patiently. For El Capitan? For him to say what he needs to say?

Say it, he hears the words in his head whisper. Say it.

He takes a breath. He feels sick. Say it. He gulps air.

He knows he should ask for forgiveness. The thought is there in his head.

Say it. Say it.

He opens his mouth, but instead of saying I’m sorry, he says, “We got to go.”

~Baggott 214

Overall Review:

Burn has some good dialogue between its characters and an overall excellent world and expression of that world through the characters. El Capitan is amazing, and Pressia has her moments. However, the questions left unresolved at the end of the trilogy are entirely unsatisfying, and throw a bad light on the book as a result.

You can buy this here: Burn (Pure Trilogy)

Summer of Redwall: The Sable Quean

The Sable Quean is the twenty-first book in the Redwall series by Brian Jacques. It was published in 2010 by Philomel. The Redwall wiki (spoilers!) can be found here, and info about Brian Jacques can be found here.

Summary/Blurb:

“He appears out of thin air, and vanishes just as quickly. He is Zwilt the Shade, and he is evil. Yet he is no match for his ruler, Vilaya, the Sable Quean. Along with their hordes of vermin, these two have devised a plan to conquer Redwall Abbey. And when the Dibbuns go missing, captured one by one, their plan is revealed.

Will the Redwallers risk the fate of their Abbey and all of Mossflower Wood to save their precious young ones? Perhaps Buckler, Blademaster of the Long Patrol, can save the day. He has a score of his own to settle. And fear not, these Dibbuns are not as innocent as they appear. After all, they’re from Redwall.”

Thoughts:

Unfortunate title aside (“Quean” means a “disreputable woman,” but specifically a prostitute. Not sure why the publishers let that through, unless Jacques was aiming for the Scottish, which means “a young or unmarried woman”), The Sable Quean is a really refreshing Redwall book. There’s a competent, smart female villain who doesn’t go mad and who mourns the loss of her counselor; a sinister, albeit inferior threat that has an awesome death scene; a mole warrior; and a fairly realistic side-plot about what’s it like to travel with a bunch of infants and young children.

Vilaya and Zwilt the Shade are very good Redwall villains; two of the best, in fact. It’s rare to have competent villains, and both are. Vilaya’s plan just makes so much more sense than the usual “Let’s go attack Redwall Abbey” villain plan, and it probably would have worked very effectively if our Plucky Heroes hadn’t interfered. While Vilaya’s death is very quick, Zwilt has a prolonged fight with Buckler, and the end of that fight is one of the more striking scenes in the series.

I don’t know why it took Jacques twenty-one books to introduce a mole warrior, but there is finally one in this book and he is awesome. Moles are too good to be sidekicks. They deserve to swing massive hammers like Thor and kill all the enemies with just the help of a badger. Wow, if Axtel is Thor, then that means Ambry is, I don’t know, the Hulk? Redwall Avengers, assemble!

The most refreshing thing about this book was the absence of any Puzzle/Fetch Quest. Jacques tends to switch between Fetch Quest and War/Invasion with each book, but for some reason I feel that the last few books have been heavy on riddles. There were no riddles in this book, and, actually, very few songs. More time was dedicated to things like plot and development, which is a good thing.

Rating: 4/5

Recommended Age Range: 12+

Warnings: Violence/fighting, death.

Genre: Fantasy, Middle Grade

Passages/Quotes:

“Woodlanders with families, relatives and friends. The young ones, their babes, their kindred, are the hope of the future, the very lifeblood of peaceful creatures. They would do anything to protect their brood, even fight. But how can they fight what is not there? The worry, the grief and sorrow at the loss of their dearest treasure. Where are their young ones? Are they alive or dead? No woodlander or Abbeydweller will know until I speak to them on my terms. Give me what I want, and your families will be allowed to live. They will, believe me, because the alternative would be too awful for them to image. That is my plan, Zwilt.”

~Jacques 49-50

Overall Review:

I enjoyed reading The Sable Quean and I would deem it one of the better Redwall books. I do think the war books are better than the riddle ones in general, and this one has smart villains and some new character types (such as a mole warrior!). It came as a welcome relief after the last few bad Redwall books, and I’ll be honest, it’s nice to know there’s only one book left.

You can buy this here: The Sable Quean (Redwall)

Tom’s Midnight Garden: Come Into The Garden, Maud

Tom’s Midnight Garden is written by Philippa Pearce (random note: if the author’s dead, should that be “was written”? I like the present tense, but I’ve always wondered if it’s actually correct to use it that way…). It was published in 1958 by HarperCollins. More information about Pearce can be found here.

Summary/Blurb:

“Tom was a cross and resentful boy when he was sent to stay with his uncle and aunt because his brother, Peter, had caught the measles. As soon as he joined his relatives in their small apartment, he knew he would be bored and lonely. He would miss Peter as well as the garden at home where they used to play. Now he had no friends his own age, and, instead of a garden to explore, there was only a paved yard and a row of garbage cans outside the back door.

When the time came for Tom to go home, however, he did everything he could to prolong his visit. For he had made a strange and wonderful discovery—a discovery that he could share with no one, except Peter. And Peter believed it all, and even, for one brief moment, came to share in Tom’s fantastic midnight adventure.”

What I Liked:

Another classic children’s book that I read as a kid. Seeing the cover was like meeting an old friend that you haven’t seen in a long time and are excited to get to know again.

I love the fact that Pearce doesn’t dumb down the material or waste time mincing words. Tom’s Midnight Garden has quite a complicated plot and mechanic, and it’s handled wonderfully. It’s hard to believe, after reading it, that you just read about one boy’s adventures in a garden, and that was the entire book, because so much is packed in that you feel like you’re getting so much more (I actually thought, around chapter 5 or 6, “Is this whole book about Tom’s garden adventures? Because that sounds a little boring.” I promptly forgot about that in the next chapter because I was so immersed). It’s a coming-of-age story, except it really isn’t, but it is about growing up—but not Tom. It’s about life-long friendship, and a boy’s time-traveling (time-slipping?) adventures in a garden. Seriously, Pearce makes gardens seem like the best places to be and to play.

I love the fact that the premise of the time-slipping is partially based on Revelation. I love the references to Biblical verses and stories and the inclusion of people like Abel that is so few and far between in today’s lit (and when it is included, it is usually mocked). I wondered while reading why Abel could see Tom, since the revelation at the end shows exactly how Tom managed to get into the garden in the first place. Since it was all Hatty, how could Abel see him? Maybe it was because Abel was the type of person he was.

What I Didn’t Like:

Nothing! Well, actually, I felt Tom was a little annoying in places, mainly because I thought he was a bit dense and uncaring at times.

Rating: 5/5

Recommended Age Range: 10+ (only because I don’t usually go lower than age 10; but most of the time 10+ also means 8+)

Warnings: None.

Genre: Fantasy (sort of), Realistic, Children’s

Apparently someone made a movie/show/play about it!

Passages/Quotes:

Tom opened the door wide and let in the moonlight. It flooded in, as bright as daylight—the white daylight that comes before the full rising of the sun. The illumination was perfect, but Tom did not at once turn to see what it showed him of the clock-face. Instead he took a step forward onto the doorstep. He was staring, at first in surprise, then with indignation, at what he saw outside. That they should have deceived him—lied to him—like this! They had said, ‘It’s not worth your while going out at the back, Tom.’ So carelessly they had described it: ‘A sort of backyard, very poky, with rubbish bins. Really, there’s nothing to see.’

Nothing…Only this: a great lawn where flower-beds bloomed; a towering fir-tree, and thick, beetle-browed yews that humped their shapes down two sides of the lawn; on the third side, to the right, a greenhouse almost the size of a real house; from each corner of the lawn, a path that twisted away to some other depths of garden, with other trees.

~Pearce 19-20

He jumped to his feet and shouted: ‘I’m not a ghost!’

‘Don’t be silly, Tom,’ Hatty said. ‘You forget that I saw you go right through the orchard door when it was shut.’

‘That proves what I say!’ said Tom. ‘I’m not a ghost, but the orchard door is, and that was why I could go through it. The door’s a ghost, and the garden’s a ghost; and so are you, too!’

“Indeed I’m not; you are!’

~Pearce 106

Overall Review:

Tom’s Midnight Garden is not only a classic children’s story, but also a classic “time story.” Time-travel stories are some of my favorites, and this one is done so well. Somehow Pearce makes the story of a boy playing in a garden exciting, heartwarming, at times heartbreaking, and most of all memorable. These sorts of books are ones that every child needs to read.

You can buy this book here: Tom’s Midnight Garden

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