Disclaimer: Dawn of the Night, by Idazle Hunter, was provided by the author. No review was required. All opinions are my own.
Paul grew up as the son of a most revered knight, Sir Lawrence Hunter. It had always been his dream to be like his father. At least, that was until he met those he would be training with. Unicorns, dragons, dark spirits, and werecats are brought to life as Paul works to rise from a mere page to something much, much more important in the medieval world .Follow Paul from Cahal to Asthla as he not only searches for power, but for love.
I actually know the author of this book, so writing this review will be interesting. Luckily, I live in a different state than she does, so it will be difficult for her to track me down and hurt me. I kid. I don’t think she actually expected me to adore the book. In fact, she warned me about some of the more egregious grammar mistakes.
Basically, this is a NaNoWriMo novel that the author wrote in her teens. So, it’s about as good as you’d expect a NaNoWriMo novel written by a teenager to be. So, not particularly good, and filled with some really strange characterization and anachronistic plot details (like the use of the word “oxygen” in a medieval setting before the word “oxygen” was coined). Although, to be honest, this novel might be better than the novel I wrote in college, which was basically a NaNoWriMo novel if NaNoWriMo was a year long (NaNoWriYe?).
The one thing, above all else, that really threw me for a loop was the whole idea that the protagonist is not actually the protagonist. Or, he is, and is just possessed. But, anyway, at some point, “Paul Hunter” stops becoming the protagonist and “dark spirit that took over Paul Hunter’s body” becomes the protagonist. It’s hard to cheer for something so obviously evil. I suppose the dark spirit thing might be just a metaphor, but personified as it is, at some point I stopped hoping that Paul would succeed in what he was doing and simply hoped that Dark Spirit Guy would leave and that the Real Paul Hunter would come back and save the day (from…something. Himself.)
So….yeah. I don’t really have much else to say. Dawn of the Night is not a great book. It’s interesting in a “oh my goodness, how much more dramatic can these characters get” kind of way. The shadow-controlling power is cool, but Dark Spirit Guy needs to leave. Also, I’m not really sure why Paul hates his family. Or why that one king apparently was hated by his guards so much that they had no problems dethroning him on the word of a seventeen-year-old (or however old Paul was). Or why “whom” was so egregiously misused.
So, Idazle Hunter. Thanks for the book. Also, I didn’t like it. Sorry. I’ll still read the sequel, though, because you asked me to.
When Professor William Waterman Sherman leaves San Francisco in a hot-air balloon, he intends to fly across the Pacific Ocean. Instead, through a twist of fate, he lands on Krakatoa, a legendary island of unimaginable wealth, eccentric inhabitants, and fantastic balloon inventions. Once Professor Sherman learns the secrets of Krakatoa, he must remain there forever—unless he can find a means of escape.
The Twenty-One Balloons reminds me a great deal of the Dolittle books, or the Oz books, or The Pushcart War or any number of inventive, imaginative novels that describe a lot of things that somehow manage to keep being interesting despite the wealth of information. This book is a fond memory from my childhood and I enjoyed rereading it and remembering all the little bits and moments that stood out to me back then.
I wish the beginning of the novel was quicker-paced; it’s a little tedious and takes a long time to get into the meat of the story, which is William Waterman Sherman’s trip. It’s hard, especially with a book as descriptive as this, to start in media res without being boring. I mean, the beginning is interesting, but not nearly as interesting as Sherman’s journey.
I like that du Bois took a real event (the volcanic eruption on Krakatoa) and expounded a fictional story on that, as far-fetched as it is. I really do like “shipwrecked on an island” stories (aka The Black Stallion, The Swiss Family Robinson, etc.), or survival stories in general, and I feel like this was an especially common trope in the mid-20th century, for some reason (perhaps inspired by Robinson Crusoe or by shows such as Gilligan’s Island). Du Bois’s story, though unrealistic as I said, is fascinating, fun, and quite worthy of a children’s book.
Recommended Age Range: 8+
Genre: Historical Fiction, Children’s
“Wake up, wake up; you’ve got to get in the shade!”
I shook my head and opened my eyes again. There was a man kneeling over me. He wasn’t a native, and didn’t suggest an explorer or a traveler. He was wearing a correctly tailored white morning suit, with pin-stripe pants, white ascot tie, and a white cork bowler.
“Am I dead?” I asked. “Is this Heaven?”
“No, my good man,” he answered, “this isn’t Heaven. This is the Pacific Island of Krakatoa.”
Meet Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle! She’s the kind of grown-up you would like to have for a friend—and all her friends are children. She is a little lady with brown sparkly eyes. She lives in an upside-down house, with a kitchen that is always full of freshly baked cookies. Her husband was a pirate, and she likes to have her friends dig in the back yard for the pirate treasure he buried there. Best of all, she knows everything there is to know about children. When a distraught parent calls her because Mary has turned into an Answer-Backer or Dick has become Selfish or Allen has decided to be as Slow-Eater-Tiny-Bite-Taker, Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle has the answer. And her solutions always work, with plenty of laughs along the way. So join the crowd at Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle’s hose—and enjoy the comical, common-sense cures that have won her so many friends.
Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle is one of the most beloved series of my childhood. I read those books over and over again (my favorite being Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle’s Magic) and, rereading them however many years later, it’s like I never left. I still remember almost every word of the book and reading it brought me back to all the times I would read it growing up.
There’s bound to be a little bit of a culture gap with children who read Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle today. The book was published in 1947 and so, while many aspects are the same or similar, the attitude is certainly different. This was especially apparent to me when reading the Selfish Cure and the Slow-Eater-Tiny-Bite-Taker Cure. While Dick is certainly a menace, Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle’s cure is something that certainly would not fly today, especially considering it was basically encouraging bullying as a way to get kids to share things. I do think shame or embarrassment, which is so often today considered something negative, can do wonders for character development (there have been many times when it has been shame over something I have done that has forced me to seek to better myself), but MacDonald exaggerates it to the point of cringe-worthiness, in my opinion.
In addition, the Slow-Eater cure was basically to let Allen not eat for a couple of days. I know today that certainly wouldn’t fly, considering how many arguments I’ve seen erupt over not giving children food (not in the extreme sense, as in truly neglecting them, but in the sense of “If you don’t eat your dinner, you will go to bed hungry”).
Now, of course Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle is clearly exaggerated, but it still highlights the culture gap from 70 years ago. I enjoyed the book and I think kids today would enjoy it, too, but a lot of interesting questions would probably arise because of reading it—which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
Recommended Age Range: 6+
“That’s what I called about,” said Mrs. Prentiss. “Can you suggest a way to make Hubert want to pick up his toys? His room looks like a toy store after an earthquake.”
“Why don’t you call this Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle? I have heard she is perfectly wonderful. All the children in town adore her and she has a cure for everything.”
Artemis Fowl, by Eoin Colfer, was published in 2001 by Hyperion.
Twelve-year-old Artemis Fowl is a millionaire, a genius, and, above all, a criminal mastermind. But even Artemis doesn’t know what he’s taken on when he kidnaps a fairy, Captain Holly Short of the LEPrecon unit. These aren’t the fairies of bedtime stories; these fairies are armed and dangerous. Artemis thinks he has them right where he wants them…but then they stop playing by the rules.
I loved Artemis Fowl when I was a kid. I read every book except for the very last one, which was published after I had moved on to other genres. So, I was excited to reread this series and relive my enjoyment of them, or at least see what had attracted them to me.
To be honest, though, I really didn’t like the book at all. I’m not sure why I liked it so much when I was younger (probably still developing my sense of what I like in books), but it absolutely irritated me now. I hate the penchant a lot of male authors have for detailing things like guns/weapons, fighting, and technology in general in absurdly minute detail (I say male authors because I’ve only seen this writing style in male authors). I really don’t care what type of gun Butler carries or what its force is when it hits an object. I really don’t care what the name of Holly’s gun is or what it can do. Sometimes I can ignore things like that, but those sorts of details were so central to the book that I couldn’t.
The humor is also profoundly kiddish, which may have been what I liked about them as a kid. Now, as an adult, I find it grating. None of the humor in the book made me laugh. I can see that Colfer thinks he was being very clever with his development of the fairy world, and maybe he is being clever, but it did not appeal to me at all. I have no interest in finding out more about the world.
I’ve enjoyed rereading a lot of the books I read when I was child, but Artemis Fowl is one I did not like revisiting and have no wish to continue with the series. The writing style, the humor aimed at children, and even the world and story itself irritated me. I suppose not every childhood favorite can be an adulthood favorite, and Artemis Fowl certainly misses the mark by a long shot.
Recommended Age Range: 12+
Genre: Fantasy, Realistic, Middle Grade
“Captain Short!” he roared, mindless of her headache. “What in the name of sanity happened here?”
Holly rose shakily to her feet. “I…That is…There was…” The sentences just wouldn’t come.
“You disobeyed a direct order. I told you to hang back! You know it’s forbidden to enter a human building without an invitation.”
Ever since he can remember, Robin, child of Sir John de Bureford, has been told what is expected of him as the son of a nobleman. He must learn the ways of knighthood. But Robin’s destiny is changed suddenly when he falls ill and loses the use of his legs. Fearing a plague, his servants abandon him, and Robin is left alone. A monk named Brother Luke rescues Robin and takes him to the hospice of St. Mark’s, where is taught woodcarving and patience and strength. Says Brother Luke, “Thou hast only to follow the wall far enough and there will be a door in it.” Robin learns soon enough what Brother Luke means. When the great castle of Lindsay is in danger, Robin discovers that there is more than one way to serve his king.
I’m really not sure what’s going on in the 2005 cover of The Door in the Wall. It makes it seem as if the novel is some sort of roadtrip comedy or something along the lines of The Court Jester. On the contrary, The Door in the Wall is a fairly serious historical fiction set in medieval times, describing the various political, military, and physical dangers that were present at the time.
The book is, perhaps, a bit more bright and sparkling than the historical background warrants, but this is a book for children, and Robin’s personal journey as he undergoes illness and becomes a hero despite of his physical weakness is heartwarming. De Angeli also portrays the weight the culture at the time placed on knighthood, familial duty and inheritance, and independence in general through Robin’s misgivings and anxieties over not fulfilling these roles. There’s also much in this book about how central monasteries and monasticism were to medieval society.
The Door in the Wall is a short book, but its historicity is surprisingly deep and immersive. The story is not particularly exciting, but it is uplifting. I must give some mention of the illustrations, which were wonderful (I read the Yearling edition, but I couldn’t find an illustrator listed). The language of the writing may make it hard for younger readers to get involved, but even that lends itself to the historicity of the novel as a whole. I’m not sure why the cover is so slapstick, but don’t let the inevitable jarring that will result as the cover and the contents clash deter you from reading the book.
Recommended Age Range: 10+
Genre: Children’s, Historical Fiction
“Will I go back home soon?” asked Robin fearfully, for the gate had clanged shut behind them as if it had been closed forever. “Will a message be sent to my father? Or to my mother?”
“Be comforted, my child,” Brother Luke answered. “As soon as the plague is somewhat quieted in London, a messenger will be sent to thy father. Meanwhile, we shall care for thee.”
There’s little joy left in the kingdom of Caux: the evil King Nightshade rules with terrible tyranny and the law of the land is poison or be poisoned. Worse, eleven-year-old Ivy’s uncle, a famous healer, has disappeared, and Ivy sets out to find him, joined by a young taster named Rowan. But these are corrupt times, and the children—enemies of the realm—are not alone. What exactly do Ivy and Rowan’s pursuers want? Is it Ivy’s prized red bettle, which, unlike any other gemstone in Caux, appears—impossibly—to be hollow? Is it the elixir she concocted—the one with the mysterious healing powers? Or could it be Ivy herself?
As I started The Hollow Bettle, I wasn’t sure whether or not I was going to enjoy it. It seemed the type of quirky that I don’t like, the type of quirky to cover up mediocre plot and characters, the type of quirky that seems self-indulgent and unnecessary.
However, as the story wore on, I started to enjoy myself more and more. The world is pretty interesting, and even though the major plot trope is unoriginal, the setting and the characters themselves are intriguing enough to carry through. I wasn’t really a fan of the bouncing viewpoints or the narrator interposing his/herself for the sole purpose of suspense, but Ivy and Rowan grew on me over time, even if some of their fights started and ended abruptly.
The ending of the book was also good, if just a teensy bit convenient and a whole lot confusing. I’m not sure if the events warranted what happened and the thing with King Nightshade at the end was particularly difficult to swallow, if only because it seemed so abrupt and didn’t seem to follow from the events that occurred. However, Appelbaum manages the difficult task of both wrapping up the book and also leaving lots of things in suspense, without relying solely on a Wam! cliffhanger ending.
The Hollow Bettle is a little bit amateurish and clumsy, especially in terms of the plot and occasionally the interaction between the characters, but it is interesting and, eventually, endearing despite its flaws. The quirkiness grew on me and the end of the book was decent enough to make me curious to see what happens next. It’s not the most brilliant or the most groundbreaking fantasy out there, but it is interesting.
Recommended Age Range: 10+
Genre: Fantasy, Middle Grade
“But, Axle.” Ivy couldn’t hold back. “You said that the Good King Verdigris created great things, things to marvel at. This is just a doo! Show me this Rocamadour place! Got any drawings of that?”
Rowan bristled at the mention of the dark city of the Guild and thought how he’d be quite happy staring at either side of a plain old door instead. He looked in closer.
“Ah, Ivy. You are right—it is just a door. But there is an important question you need to ask yourself.” Axle sighed.
“May I?” Rowan was hoping to turn back the page to get a better look at the first image. Axle nodded and continued.
Murder. One of the Allerdon sisters has been charged with a premeditated killing and taken to jail. It doesn’t seem possible—but it’s happening. What was supposed to be a typical summer is anything but for this seemingly ordinary family. Shortly after the Allerdons arrive at their cozy family cottage on the river, Lander meets and is smitten with a handsome young man, and they begin to date. Miranda has a bad feeling about her perfect sister’s new boyfriend. And when the family must suddenly deal with an unimaginable nightmare. Miranda can’t help feeling that the boyfriend has something to do with it. The police say they have solid evidence against Lander. Miranda wants to believe in her sister when she swears she is innocent. But as Miranda digs deeper into the past few weeks of Lander’s life, she wonders why everything keeps pointing to Lander’s guilt.
Caroline B. Cooney was one of my favorite authors of my teenage years, offering the sort of mildly dark and angsty reads that I devoured at the time. I’ve wanted to return to her older books as an adult to see if my perception of them has changed any, but one of her newer books caught my attention instead.
No Such Person is a murder mystery, and a fairly tame one at that despite some of the more intense scenes at the end. Unfortunately, it’s pretty predictable, especially once some more details are revealed throughout the investigation. I started losing interest in the book once it became obvious what exactly had happened and the characters were still floundering around trying to figure it out.
The strongest aspect of the book is probably the setting and the characterization and interaction. Lander doesn’t do much but cry the whole time (I guess that’s not surprising, considering her position), but I liked the riverside interactions and the whole idea of the tranquil river community shocked by murder (a common trope in murder mysteries, but still done well here).
However, since this is a murder mystery, the atmosphere and setting of the book were not enough for me to think particularly highly of it. I liked it, yes, but I found the motive and the “behind the scenes” of the murder to be, if not far-fetched, at least poorly executed and a little random. I love intricate, detailed plots in mysteries, and No Such Person has no such thing. It’s simplified for the audience, perhaps, but I’ve had better murder mysteries in books like Between and even Before I Fall. This one was a little tame in comparison.
Recommended Age Range: 14+
Genre: Mystery, Young Adult
She wants to warn her sister again—to cry out, He’s bad news! Stay away from him!
But her sister is so happy.
And their mother, seeing this happiness, also lets it go. Lander’s happiness is worth a lot to her.
Younger Brother is only eight years old, but already he knows he will be a Navaho medicine man. He has seen signs and has had a vision. It will take many years of hard work for Younger Brother to learn how to use his gifts. As he grows, he must also master skills for survival, such as how to read a trail, train a horse, and find water in the desert….This deeply moving and authentic account of young Navaho’s childhood and spiritual journey is filled with wonder and respect for the natural world.
Newbery Medal winners have always been cultural and historical in scope, but I feel as if the earlier ones tend to be so without focusing so much on the darker side of life (self-esteem problems, bullying, loss, etc.) Waterless Mountain is a celebration of life and of the Navajo people, told through the eyes of a poetic, deeply-thinking boy.
I wish I could have appreciated this book more, but I read it at a time when I was working long hours and I would always be falling asleep while reading it. I don’t really think that has anything to do with the quality of the book, although perhaps a more exciting book, or a book I was more excited to read, would have helped me stay awake. In any case, the book blurred together for me, although I do know that I thought Younger Brother’s trip across the country was a little strange. Not that he would go on it, but that it made the book have a kind of Western movie feel to it, complete with bandits.
If you don’t really know much about the Navajo culture, this book will certainly teach you a lot—and it shows, also, how separated the culture was, at least back then in the 1930s, from the Western country it lived in. I’m not sure how integrated Native culture is today (presumably more so now), but seeing that the Navajos managed to keep their culture and their way of life years after all the big forces that moved them around and took away their land is heartwarming.
Waterless Mountain maybe isn’t the most interesting Newbery I’ve read, but it’s definitely one of the most informative and one of the most culturally imbued. I’m not sure if it’s a “pick up and read again and again” book but I do think it’s a book that needs to be read.
Recommended Age Range: 10+
Genre: Historical Fiction, Children’s
“Uncle, where does the Turquoise Woman live?”
“On an island in the wide water of the west. There she waits every day in her turquoise house for her husband, who carries the sun.”
“And when the Sun Bearer reaches his home in the west, what does he do with the sun, Uncle?”
“He hangs it up on a turquoise peg on the turquoise wall of the turquoise house of the Turquoise Woman.”
They were mysterious. Some claim they were merely the stuff of legend—the Rangers with their mottled green-and-gray cloaks and their reputation as defenders of the Kingdom. Reports of their brave battles vary, but we know of at least ten accounts, most of which feature the boy—turned man—named Will and his mentor, Halt. There are reports, as well, of others who fought alongside the Rangers, such as the young warrior Horace, a courageous process named Evanlyn, and a cunning diplomat named Alyss. Yet this crew left very little behind and their existence has never been able to be proved. Until now, that is…Behold the Lost Stories.
I thought that The Lost Stories was a prequel to the Ranger’s Apprentice series, but it’s not. It’s actually a bunch of filler stories, telling stories about what the characters were up to in the time between The Emperor of Nihon-Ja and The Royal Ranger, the next and last book. Some of the stories are prequels, but most of them tell about things like Horace’s wedding, Will’s wedding, and other odds-and-ends.
As a collection of filler stories, The Lost Stories stands out as a filler book, ultimately unnecessary and only important for completionists’ sake. I enjoyed the stories, but their shortness and the switch from one issue to another made everything choppy and disjointed. Plus, I’ve never liked the “talking horses” aspect of Ranger’s Apprentice and there is too much of that going on in multiple stories.
My favorite story is the one with Jenny because it was so strange and hilariously random. There’s another good one, too, where Will decides to use a bigger vocabulary, and then Horace’s wedding is also fairly memorable. The rest, however, are mostly forgettable and I think in one or two of them Flanagan forgets his own worldbuilding (or I’m misremembering details). It’s nice to get a look at some of the early years, but it’s not entirely necessary—especially since Flanagan now has a spin-off series dealing with young Halt.
The Lost Stories also serves almost as a set-up for Flanagan’s Brotherband series, which again marks the book as a filler or a bridge rather than as a cohesive, entertaining unit by itself. Of all of the Ranger’s Apprentice books, I suppose the collection of stories is the best candidate to be the worst book. I’ve never understood the desire of authors to “fill in the gaps,” although I suppose in this case, Flanagan was just trying to extend his ending since The Royal Ranger came afterward. The Lost Stories is a good addition if you like Ranger’s Apprentice, but it doesn’t go beyond mild charm and memorability.
Recommended Age Range: 12+
Genre: Middle Grade, Fantasy
“I’m trying to track down a man called Foldar,” Gilan said. “You may have heard of him.”
Now Philip’s face darkened, anger replacing the former nervousness. “Foldar?” he said. “I’ve never know a man so evil. In my opinion, he was worse than Morgarath himself.”
This is the story of a little cat who came to the home of a poor Japanese artist and, by humility and devotion, brought him good fortune. Commissioned to paint the death of the lord Buddha for the village temple, the artist lovingly entered on his scroll of silk the animals who came to receive the blessing of the dying Buddha. The little cat sat patiently by, seeming to implore that she too be included. At least, the compassionate artist—knowing well that the cat alone of all the animals had refused to accept the teachings of Buddha—took up his brush and drew a cat, and thus brought about a Buddhist miracle.
The Cat Who Went to Heaven is a very short, but very sweet, book. It’s the story of an artist and his cat, but’s it’s also a story about Buddha and what he did. Basically, before the artist paints each animal, he imagines himself as that animal and how it relates to Buddha, so there’s a lot of information about the story of Buddha. The drawings (by Lynd Ward) are excellent and really capture the spirit of the book.
The book is short, so I can’t really say too much about it. I do think the title is Coatsworth trying to make the book more appealing to a Western audience, since heaven in Buddhism is much different than what an American in the 1930s would think it was, but the concept does get across even if the only thing you know about Buddhism is what you learn from this book.
The Cat Who Went to Heaven is definitely the Newbery book that most fits the traditional “children’s book” vibe so far. A lot of the Newbery’s I’ve read fit more in a Middle Grade spectrum, at least in my opinion (then again, that division of genres didn’t exist back then, so maybe that explains it), but this book has a read-aloud feel to it with the length to match. Of course, reading this book might require a discussion of Buddhism, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. If there’s one thing I’ve liked about all the Newbery Medal winners so far, it’s that they represent a wide-range of cultural and historical areas. The Cat Who Went to Heaven merely touches on a whole concept and culture, but it’s respectful and beautiful while it does so.
Recommended Age Range: 7+
Genre: Historical Fiction, Children’s
“But where is the cat?” thought the artist to himself, for even in his vision he remembered that in none of the paintings he had ever seen of the death of Buddha, was a cat represented among the other animals.
“Ah, the cat refused homage to Buddha,” he remembered, “and so by her own independent act, only the cat has the doors of Paradise closed in her face.”