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)

Summer of Redwall: Loamhedge

Loamhedge is the sixteenth book in the Redwall series by Brian Jacques. It was published in 2003 by Philomel. The Redwall wiki (spoilers!) can be found here, and info about Brian Jacques can be found here.

Summary/Blurb:

“Loamhedge, the deserted Abbey, forgotten for countless seasons. What secrets do its ruins hold?

Martha Braebuck, a young haremaid, wheelchair-bound since infancy, wonders about a mysterious old poem relating to the ancient Abbey. Could it really be the key to her cure? But how could she get to this Loamhedge? As fate has it, two old warriors, travelers returning to Redwall Abbey, are inspired by the spirit of Martin the Warrior to quest for the ancient place—and three young rebels are determined to go with them.

In another part of Mossflower Country, the giant badger Lonna Bowstripe thirsts for vengeance as he relentlessly hunts down the Searat Raga Bol and his murderous crew. He pursues them unto the very gates of Redwall—and finds valiant Abbeybeasts defending their home against the conniving band of marauding vermin!

~Inside Flap

What I Liked:

I liked that the heroes (two of them, anyway) were old warriors and served as the mentors of the three younger ones. It made the trope of “the heroes of Redwall know everything about fighting despite never going outside the Abbey walls before” much less noticeable. Horty, Fenna, and Springald are inexperienced and rash, and as a result have noticeable character development throughout the book as they journey with Bragoon and Saro.

Although not as good as the Freebooters in Triss, Badredd’s gang are portrayed more sympathetically/comically than other vermin gangs in the Redwall series. Despite their overall inefficiency, they do manage to lay siege to Redwall, and perhaps because of their comic portrayal, all of the named members of the gang that attacked Redwall survive and go off and apparently live off the land for the rest of their lives. Flinky, their Chief when the gang escapes Redwall, is also liked by the rest of the vermin, another rarity. I do enjoy these moments of departure from the Redwall formula, especially in a book that is full of said formula. Also, Ka-chunk!

What I Didn’t Like:

So, how did Sister Amyl get out of her wheelchair? It seems too unlikely that her and Martha’s inability to walk were both psychosomatic. In fact, the entire “willpower cure” that Bragoon and Sara create seems a bit crass, and not at all representative of actual disabilities. Willpower (or positive thinking) is good and does affect certain areas of your life, but having the message of the book be “through willpower your disability will vanish” seems…shortsighted.

So, the “hares are always hungry” gag was mildly funny for the first few books, but Jacques has really amped it up since then and now it’s only annoying. Horty is not as bad as Scarum, but still quite obnoxious. And speaking of formulas, the shrews were definitely only put in there so that there was a band of shrews with an acronym name.

I’m confused as to why Martha didn’t become Abbess, after all the leading she did during the battle, and Fenna, of all creatures, did.

Raga Bol, another vermin to have the most anticlimactic death ever. I’ve noticed that when badger lords are involved, the villain’s death is always swift and always anticlimactic.

Rating: 3/5

Recommended Age Range: 12+

Warnings: Violence/fighting, death.

Genre: Fantasy, Middle Grade

Lonna Bowstripe

Passages/Quotes:

A light smile hovered on Portula’s kind face. “Listen, missy, if you think we were naughty, you should have seen two Dibbuns who were younger than us at the time. Bragoon and Saro, an otter and a squirrel. Now those two really were a twin pestilence!”

Martha turned to Toran. “I’ve heard you telling the young ones tales about Bragoon and Saro, but I always thought they were make-believe creatures. Were they actually real?”

The ottercook nodded vigorously. “Oho, missy, that they were!”

~Jacques 25

It was a breathtaking panorama from the plateau. Horty’s keen eyes spotted a small dark smudge, moving across the scrublands in the distance. He pointed. “I say, you chaps, that could be thingummy, er, Lonna!”

Springald shaded her eyes “So it could! He’s headed northwest, that’s the direction we came from. Saro, d’you suppose he’s going to Redwall?”

Sarobando felt they were wasting time sightseeing. “I couldn’t really say, missy, but one thing’s shore, we ain’t goin’ to Redwall. ‘Tis Loamhedge we want.”

~Jacques 252

Overall Review:

Loamhedge has good development for the three young heroes, and a rare element of old warriors acting as mentors throughout the journey. Badredd’s gang served as a departure from the usual villain formula, as well. However, the rest of the book was nothing special and Jacque’s reliance on past character traits is getting old. Also, the whole quest to find a cure for Martha had a slight “unfortunate implications” ending.

You can buy this here: Loamhedge: A Novel of Redwall

Return to Gone-Away: It’s Just A Bit Of A Fixer-Upper…With Hidden Jewels

Return to Gone-Away is written by Elizabeth Enright. It was first published in 1961. It is the sequel to Gone-Away Lake. More information about Enright can be found here.

Summary/Blurb:

“A wish come true. That’s what Portia thinks when her parents buy Villa Caprice, a tumbledown Victorian house along the swampy edge of Gone-Away Lake. A new house is always full of surprises, but Portia is completely unprepared for the extraordinary things that happen when her family moves into a new old house.

Empty for half a century, ugly as a horned toad, Villa Caprice is a mildewy, cobwebby, boarded-up, junk-cluttered museum to a way of life long forgotten. But it is also a wonderland, filled to the rafters with fifty years’ worth of treasures and secrets—small mysteries that Portia and Julian must solve to uncover the greatest secret of all….”

~Back Cover

What I Liked:

I think I like this one even more than Gone-Away. If I had to credit my love for old houses and exploring them to any one thing, it would probably be this book. This book fulfills my itch to go to an old house and explore it, redecorate it, go to the attic and explore the chests, search for secret passages and drawers, find lost and forgotten relics of the past…

Both Gone-Away and Return to Gone-Away have that great exploration and adventure feel to them. Enright has a way of writing that makes everything, every action, word, and thought, seem so natural and accurate. The date of Return’s writing means that it’s free of the oftentimes boring/obvious/sickening plot devices that are commonly used today, making for a refreshing and relaxing read.

Opening the trunks in the attic and discovering the safe are probably my favorite parts of the book. Again, I love exploration and discovery, old houses, and the general adventure-y feel in books, and this book hits all of those points.

What I Didn’t Like:

Nothing!

Rating: 5/5

Recommended Age Range: 10+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Realistic, Children’s, Classic

Passages/Quotes:

Walking briskly, they came to a turn in the drive, the tress thinned out, and there before them stood the Villa Caprice.

There it stood among its dead and brambled lawns, with all its windows boarded up and a big, tough, tangled vine, leafless now, tied round and round the battlements, the turrets, and the gables like a giant’s wrapping twine. Beyond the house the ragged hedges looked black, and the queer tree that was called a monkey-puzzle tree looked black, too, and bristling. The whole scene was shabby and forbidding.

“Oh, dear!” wailed Mrs. Blake. “I didn’t remember it as being quite so—quite so—”

“Bleak,” Mr. Blake supplied. “And this is what we called a bargain! We must have been out of our minds!”

~Enright 33

Among the large trunks there was a very small one, a box really, covered with cowhide and bearing on its curved lid the initial D, made of brass nailheads. She lifted the lid cautiously (she had been very cautious since opening the fur trunk) and saw that the little chest was filled to the brim with yellowed paper bundles.

“Jule, come here; let’s see what these are.”

The paper was so old that it crumbled and powdered when she opened the first bundle; and what it had contained was a seashell, curved and dappled as a little quail.

“Why, how pretty!”

“Look, it’s got a label on it, too.”

And so it had; a tiny glued-on label with the Latin name of the shell written on it in meticulous old-fashion handwriting.

Cypraea zebra,” Julian read, pronouncing the zebra part correctly.

Portia had opened another bundle and held out a brown shell, fancy as a fern.

Murex palmarosae,” read Julian, stabbing wildly at pronunciation.

~Enright 115-116

Overall Review:

Return to Gone-Away is a worthy, and oftentimes better, successor to Gone-Away. The stories of Tarrigo return, and coupled with the exploration of a decades-old house and the discovery of treasures from the past make this book a treasure itself. I’d forgotten how much I love Enright, and these books reminded me.

You can buy this book here: Return to Gone-Away

The Shadow Throne: A Good End

The Shadow Throne is written by Jennifer A. Nielsen. It was published in 2014 by Scholastic. It is the third and final book in the Ascendant Trilogy. My review of the first two books can be found here and here, respectively. Nielsen’s website can be found here.

Summary/Blurb:

“War has come to Carthya. It knocks at every door and window in the land. And when Jaron learns that King Vargan of Avenia has kidnapped Imogen in a plot to bring Carthya to its knees, Jaron knows it is up to him to embark on a daring rescue mission. But everything that can go wrong does.

His friends are flung far and wide across Carthya and its neighboring lands. In a last-ditch effort to stave off what looks to be a devastating loss for the kingdom, Jaron undertakes what may be his last journey to save everything and everyone he loves. But even with his lightning-quick wit, Jaron cannot forestall the terrible danger that descends on him and his country. Along the way, will he lose what matters most? And in the end, who will sit on Carthya’s throne?”

~Inside Flap

This review will contain spoilers. Skip the “What I Didn’t Like” section if you want to remain unspoiled as to one of the plot reveals.

What I Liked:

I enjoyed the fact that Nielsen continued the “I’m not telling you everything” first-person POV that was so prominent in The False Prince. It’s not something you see every day, so it makes for an interesting and memorable read.

I liked the theme of sacrifice and the lessons that Jaron learned during the war. He’s definitely grown from that distrusting thief of the first book. He’s also quite witty and intelligent (most of his dialogue is just him shooting zingers at people), and seems to have a knack for setting things up twenty moves in advance. He’s a Plucky Boy Hero, but a capable one (as opposed to most, who stumble through situations because of luck and their own outrageous behavior).

So…there was no problem at all with Jaron and Imogen getting married despite the difference in social class? Granted, Jaron wouldn’t be the type to take “No” for an answer and would form a law or something that would allow him to marry her. Anyway, it was a cute romance. Also very understated and much less central than most YA romances, which is nice.

What I Didn’t Like:

I said above that I liked the POV, but at the beginning I wasn’t so fond of it. I thought it was frustrating and allowed an excuse for a lack of description. But the end was pretty cool, so I mostly got over it. Mostly.

I would like to know if anyone was surprised to find that Imogen was not dead, after all. The minute she “died” I knew, “Yeah, she’s not dead.” I didn’t believe that Nielsen would kill off her main character’s love interest, and so of course I ardently hoped that just this once, yes, she would be actually dead. Alas. It would been interesting to see Jaron move on without her.

Wait, Connor, what? What did you just do? Why? Did I miss something in an earlier book, or was this a recent development?

Rating: 4/5

Recommended Age Range: 14+

Warnings: War, violence/fighting.

Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult

Passages/Quotes:

“I need to smile. Tell me something not awful.”

“Now?”

“There might never be a better time.”

“Okay.” He grinned as a story came to his mind. “The first two days after we began walking back to Carthya, after hearing of your death, both Amarinda and I were miserable.”

I arched an eyebrow. “This is the worst good story I’ve ever heard.”

“Hush. It’s coming.” Tobias’s eyes glazed as he was transported to that day. “Amarinda barely spoke a word for all that time, and I had no idea what I might say to her. It rained that night, and she and I were forced to take shelter beneath some thick underbrush. It was cold and so dark we could barely see our own fingers, and the night seemed to last forever.”

“I’m beginning to wonder if you understand what ‘not awful’ means,” I muttered.

~Nielsen 94-95

“Will doubt be our enemy now?” I asked them. “Because doubt will defeat us far quicker than any army could. No plan is perfect, but that’s no reason to give up. Unless someone has a better option, then we will go forward as planned.” And hope against reason that I was not leading my men to their deaths.

One of my lieutenants leaned forward. “My king, we will follow you to the end. But we’ve seen their numbers. By my guess, we’re outnumbered as much as five to one.”

I sat back in my chair and smiled. ”Only five to one? We might consider sending home half our army, then, so as not to intimidate them.”

~Nielsen 201

Overall Review:

The Shadow Throne is a good end to the Ascendant Trilogy. Jaron shows his intelligence and his ability to be a good king to the uttermost and in some rather cool ways. There’s a lack of description that I found frustrating and a “twist” that was too obvious to be surprising, but overall, a satisfying conclusion.

You can buy this here: The Shadow Throne: Book 3 of The Ascendance Trilogy

Summer of Redwall: Triss

Triss is the fifteenth book in the Redwall series by Brian Jacques. It was published in 2002 by Philomel.

Summary/Blurb:

“Enslaved by the evil ferret King Agarnu and his daughter Princess Kurda—slavers of shackled hundreds—the brave squirrelmaid Triss, along with Shogg the otter and Welfo the hedgehog, plans a daring escape by sea.

At the same time, far away in Salamandastron, three young companions, Scarum the hare, Sagax the badger and Kroova the otter, are driven to sail away from their mountain home, too, but for a different reason: they are seeking the adventures of their lives! Something far from family and home.

And in Mossflower Woods, a pair of wandering Dibbuns accidentally discovers the long-lost entrance to Brockhall, the most ancient hall of the badger Lords.

The journeyers could not seem more remote from one another in pursuit or kind. Yet fate relentlessly draws them together when, in her flight from Kurda, Triss happens upon Redwall, and the abbey creatures discover a new hero in her. Someone brave enough to carry the sword of Martin and face the evil that threatens them.”

~Inside Flap

What I Liked:

So, Triss is the first female carrier-of-the-Sword-of-Martin, and Kurda is the second female main villain. That’s pretty cool.

My favorite part of the book was anything with the Freebooters, probably the most likeable group of villains in Redwall. Not only are they the only vermin group to actually mourn their captain’s loss, and seem genuinely devastated by his death, but they also write a poem about him. Captain Plugg is also great, in that he is very self-conscious about the loss of his tail and sticks it on with resin, but then in the heat of the moment, when he gets overexcited, he pulls it off and waves it around his head. Do we have fan art of that moment? We need fan art of that moment. Finally, Grubbage takes a place next to Blaggut in the friendly vermin category, as it is stated that he stays on with the Redwallers after the rest of the Freebooters are defeated.

Really, the Freebooters were the best part of the book. I also quite liked the fact that the rescue of the slaves was written in journal entry form, which was a nice departure from the usual.

Log a Log’s comment to Triss about justice versus revenge was really good, too, emphasizing the fact that Jacques has his good characters fight and kill honorably and justly.

What I Didn’t Like:

Scarum is by far the most annoying, unlikeable hare in the Redwall series. Jacques took the gag of the “bottomless stomach” that he uses with his hares and amped it up to eleven. Not only that, but Scarum and Sagax (and Kroova to an extent) are completely unnecessary characters. In fact, once they join up with Triss and Shogg, they’re barely mentioned at all (that is, Kroova and Sagax are. Scarum is the annoying comic relief mentioned far too often).

What is it with Jacques and anticlimactic endings? The adders spend three quarters of the book terrorizing the forest and die in three sentences, one for each adder. They were also far more dangerous and killed more creatures than did Kurda and Co., and yet Kurda got a more extensive death scene.

While the addition of the adders and Brockhall was interesting, it seemed a bit strange to have that the focus of the book, while the rescue of the slaves from Riftgard only takes up one chapter at the end. It’s more original than the usual Redwall fare, but it just seemed out of place.

Rating: 3/5

Recommended Age Range: 12+

Warnings: Violence/fighting, death

Genre: Fantasy, Middle Grade

~WinstonOffBeat1

Passages/Quotes:

“Th-there’s another sound, like somethin’ moving through the grass towards us!”

Then they smelt the odour, musty and bittersweet. It grew stronger. The grass swished in both directions, then it swished behind them, getting closer. Crikulus’s voice was tight with terror. He swallowed hard.

“That sound…th-the smell…We’re being hunted by somebeast we c-c-can’t see!”

Malbun felt every hair on her body standing up. The sounds and the vile, powerful smell were almost upon them. Her voice was little more than a petrified squeak. “There’s m-more than one of th-th-them. Yaaaaaaaah!”

~Jacques 119

Plugg set off at her side, but felt himself pulled back by Grubbage. He turned irately on the fat searat. “Will ye stop tuggin’ at me, wot is it?”

Grubbage held the tail up. “This just fell off, Cap’n, must’ve been the heat from that fire,” he whispered.

With a swift motion, Plugg grabbed the tail and punched Grubbage on the nose. “Why don’t ye shout a bit louder an’ let the ’ole woodlands know, bigmouth!”

Running stooped, Scummy panted as he fixed Plugg’s tail back in place, with the fox marching forward boldly. Scummy muttered to Grubbage, “I ‘ope this Redwall place ain’t too far!”

Grubbage nodded agreement. “Aye, mebbe we shoulda used tar!”
~Jacques 294-295

Overall Review:

Triss has a fair number of useless characters, including two of the main “heroes,” and Triss herself rings of a Mary Sue. The entire plot is also a bit strange, as well as anticlimactic. The Freebooters, though, were great. Keep waving your tail around your head, Plugg Firetail.

You can buy this here: Triss: A Novel of Redwall

Summer of Redwall: Taggerung

Taggerung is the fourteenth book in the Redwall series by Brian Jacques. It was published in 2001 by Philomel. It is the sequel to Marlfox. The Redwall wiki (spoilers!) can be found here, and info about Brian Jacques can be found here.

Summary/Blurb:

“The vermin clan of Sawney Rath has long awaited their Taggerung—the chosen beast who will lead them to victory against any foe. Now at last the seer Grissoul has foretold the Taggerung’s birth: they will find him by the river, and know him by the birthmark on one paw.

But the marked beast that they discover is neither stoat nor fox nor rat, but an otterbabe! Nonetheless, the vermin take and raise him. It is only when the young otter steps into his famed and fearsome role that he sense something is wrong. Very wrong!

Is he the Taggerung after all? And if he is not, who is he?”

~Inside Flap

What I Liked:

I mentioned way back in my review of Mossflower that Taggerung was my favorite Redwall book, but I didn’t know if that would change or not because of this reread.

It’s still true. Taggerung is, by far, my favorite Redwall book. And the reason why is because, despite still sticking to several familiar Redwall formulas, Taggerung is an incredibly unique book in the series. Not only does Jacques stay away from some of the more familiar and getting-old symbols of the series, he also circumvents some of them.

Example one: the puzzle quest. Not only does Mhera fail to solve the puzzle, it’s also not a puzzle set out seasons in advance by some wise, ancient creature (although Song did lead the way). There’s also no treasure/reward/goal for the puzzle; it’s purely a test of character.

Example two: the villains. Usually, the main villain is either smarter than his cohorts or strong enough that brains don’t matter. However, almost every single vermin in Gruven’s tracking party are competent, cunning and knowledgable, notably Vallug and Eefera. For once, they’re not blundering around. Vallug and Eefera, by themselves, also manage to do quite a bit of damage to Redwall.

Example three: the side characters, Nimbalo especially. I don’t think any character has a background like Nimbalo’s. The side characters also sound unique for their staple species, so that Boorab doesn’t just sound like a regular hare, he sounds like Boorab and not some interchangeable hare.

My final reason for liking Taggerung so much is that Deyna is awesome, and a nice departure from the usual heroes of Redwall.

What I Didn’t Like:

Just like Veil was Automatically Evil, Deyna is Automatically Good. Not even being raised in a vermin camp by a vermin can shake his morals. A nice plot device and a nice sentiment, one that I liked in fact, but I don’t know how realistic it is.

Russano’s arrival is a bit Deus Ex Machina.

Rating: 5/5

Recommended Age Range: 12+

Warnings: Violence/fighting, war, death

Genre: Fantasy, Middle Grade

Great fan art by KaiserFlames!

Passages/Quotes:

“So then, Grissoul, is this what we came seeking? Tell me.”

The Seer opened the cloak and inspected Deyna. She held up the infant’s right paw, showing Sawney the marked pad. “See!”

The four-petal mark was pink and clear, like a tiny blossom. Sawney looked anxiously at Grissoul. “Well, is it really him?”

For answer the Seer took Sawney’s paw and placed it against the otterbabe’s footpaws. Then she spoke.

“Zann Juskarath Taggerung!”

Sawney recognized the ancient words, and translated them.

“Mighty warrior of our clan. Taggerung!”

~Jacques 25-26

Boorab called out, loud and curt. “We’re listenin’. Who are you and what d’you want?”

Vallug’s voice came back a moment later. “Never mind who we are. Send out the Taggerung!”

Boorab looked at Mhera, who gave a mystified shrug. “What in the blazes d’you mean?” he shouted back.

This time it was Eefera’s voice that replied. “We’ve come fer the Taggerung!”

The hare had been binding his kerchief to the end of the ladle he carried about as a swagger stick. He sprang up waving it. “Truce, chaps, truce!” He sidestepped smartly, but was not quick enough to stop Vallug’s arrow slicing a wound in his cheek as it zipped by.

“No truce, rabbit. Send the Taggerung out to us, or yore all deadbeasts, that’s all!”

~Jacques 319

Overall Review:

Taggerung is my favorite Redwall book, and definitely one of the best due to the unique features and the departures and circumventions of the usual Redwall formulas. The villains are actually competent and genuinely terrifying when two, and then I think six total, manage to wreak havoc in Redwall. Before Deyna goes all awesome on them, I mean.

You can buy this here: Taggerung (Redwall)

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