A Bulgarian peasant boy must convince his mother that he is destined to be a sculptor, not a farmer.
Dobry is the story of a young boy growing up in a Bulgarian village. His grandfather tells him stories and teaches him the ways of the Bulgarian life; his mother shows him farming and the qualities of a hospitable adult. As the tiny blurb suggests, Dobry faces the tension of leaving the “family job” of farming to become a sculptor, though that aspect of the book does not come into play into nearly two-thirds of the way through.
Dobry, like Young Fu of the Upper Yangtze, is mainly a cultural piece. The Bulgarian culture is brought to life in this book, a fine example of how reading takes you to different places and times and allows you to experience people and cultures that you may otherwise never experience. Dobry is fascinating not because of the strength of its plot, but because of the richness of the setting, the glimpse into another country and the things they emphasize and celebrate.
It’s not my favorite book or my favorite Newbery Medal so far, but Dobry highlights the aspects of these award-winning books that I love: the cultural and historical. I suppose I wasn’t expecting so much variety as I started the challenge to read all the Newbery Medal winners. And I especially wasn’t expecting it in the earlier winners. But the glimpses into other countries, other cultures, other ways of life, other worldviews, that this journey is giving me is wonderful and beautiful and so much of what I love about reading.
Recommended Age Range: 8+
Genre: Historical Fiction, Children’s
The grandfather leaned over and announced to the mayor, “Michaelacky, I am going to serve up a little of the wine made the October our Dobry was born. We must drink to the good harvest—nothing frozen.”
The mayor stood up and instead of using his everyday voice used the deeper, ringing tones he kept only for state occasions:
“Let us drink to Now, this very moment!” he called out. “Now! The harvest is in, the storm is over!”
“Na lay! Na lay!” everyone laughed, shouted, and got on his feet to sing the old gypsy melody. And once the music got into their blood, nothing in this world could have kept these peasants from singing.
Will Treaty has come a long way from the small boy with dreams of knighthood. Life had other plans for him, and as an apprentice ranger under Halt, he grew into a legend—the finest Ranger the kingdom has ever known. Yet Will is facing a tragic battle that has left him grim and alone. To add to his problems, the time has come to take on an apprentice of his own, and it’s the last person he ever would have expected. Fighting his person demons, Will has to win the trust and respect of his difficult new companion—a task that at times seems almost impossible.
The Royal Ranger is a good, albeit not entirely necessary, ending to the Ranger’s Apprentice series. It has a tight plot, the same memorable descriptions and hijinks (although toned down a little bit), lots of character development, and introduces a female Ranger. Starting with plot, the main thread of the story was clear and developed well. It perhaps wasn’t as epic in scope as the stand-alone plots of Erak’s Ransom or The Emperor of Nihon-Ja, but since the book is massive, there’s quite a lot of meat to it. It’s convenient that the person Will was looking for just so happened to be so heavily involved, but let’s chalk that up to Flanagan being reluctant to leave things uncertain (and prevent even more page length).
I enjoyed the book, but I didn’t find it particularly necessary. It’s nice to see the old heroes “all grown up,” but since Madelyn’s training is practically the same as Will’s (though Flanagan realizes this and does a few things differently) and since this is clearly not a reboot of the series I don’t really understand why Flanagan felt the need to tell this story. Unless fans were begging him for a female Ranger and this was the result. I really don’t feel like a continuation was necessary; The Emperor of Nihon-Ja was a fine finale and the series really didn’t need a “20 years” later addition. (Also, how does Will have “steel-gray” hair? Assuming he was 20 in Emperor, that would make him 40 in this one, which is normally not a time when someone has completely gray hair. And his dog is still alive, which seems to say it’s been less than 20 years, which would put him in his 30s.Unless he prematurely grayed because of all the stuff he’s done. Or he was way older in Emperor than I thought).
I also found myself missing certain characters. The book focuses only on Will and Madelyn, with the other familiar characters only showing up at the beginning and end. The absence of Horace and Halt really stood out, as there was much less humor and verbal sparring.
I liked The Royal Ranger, but I found it unnecessary and a bit of a setback. After 10 books, I really don’t need Ranger training and technique explained to me again. There was also less humor and I really missed Horace and Halt. Madelyn was a good character, but as Flanagan doesn’t seem to be planning to reboot the series, she’s also an unnecessary one.
I’ll be reviewing more Flanagan, and I haven’t decided if it will be the prequels to this series (The Early Years) or if it will be Brotherband. I think I might take a break from Halt and Rangers and hang out with Skandians. Brotherband will be a nice change of pace.
Recommended Age Range: 12+
Genre: Middle Grade, Fantasy
“[Will] needs to take on an apprentice,” [Halt] said.
They all turned to look at him. The idea, once stated, seemed so obvious. Both Horace and Pauline nodded. This was what they had been getting at, without realizing it.
Gilan looked hopeful for a few seconds, then shook his head in frustration.
“Problem is,” he said, “we have no suitable candidates at the moment. And we can’t offer him someone substandard. He’ll simply refuse to take on someone who’s not up to scratch and he’ll be right. I won’t be able to blame him for that.”
Disclaimer: An Inconvenient Beauty, by Kristi Ann Hunter, was provided by Bethany House. I received a free copy from the publisher. No review, positive or otherwise, was required—all opinions are my own.
Griffith, Duke of Riverton, likes order, logic, and control, so he naturally applies this rational approach to his search for a bride. While he’s certain Miss Frederica St. Claire is the perfect wife for him, she is strangely elusive, and he can’t seem to stop running into her stunningly beautiful cousin, Miss Isabella Breckenridge. Isabella should be enjoying her society debut, but with her family in difficult circumstances, she has no choice but to agree to a bargain that puts her at odds with all her romantic hopes—as well as her conscience. And the more she comes to know Griffith, the more she regrets the unpleasant obligation that prevents her from any dream of a future with him. As all Griffith’s and Isabella’s long-held expectations are shaken to the core, can they set aside their pride and fear long enough to claim a happily-ever-after?
An Inconvenient Beauty is the sequel to An Uncommon Courtship, and the last book (presumably, since there’s no one left to marry off) in the Hawthorne House series. This book follows Griffith in his logical, rational quest to find an appropriate bride. And, of course, since this is an obvious trope, nothing about his quest turns out as he thought it would.
I feel like this book, in particular, is much more humorous than the previous ones that I’ve read. I could, of course, be misremembering, but An Uncommon Courtship had all that awkwardness between Trent and Adelaide and An Elegant Façade had Georgiana angsting over her dyslexia (I don’t mean that in a negative way, simply that she spent a lot of time agonizing over it, for good reason). I don’t remember much humor in those books. An Inconvenient Beauty, however, has lots of funny moments—as much as the trope is overused, Griffith’s preconceptions about “the perfect wife” being completely overturned by Isabella is fun. There’s also some amusing interaction between characters, especially Griffith and his family.
The things that prevented this book from getting a 4 out of 5 rating are Isabella’s beauty and the length of the book. I am so sick of beautiful romantic leads (and not just “beautiful,” but “incomparably beautiful”). I started heartily wishing that Frederica had been the protagonist, instead. I mean, at least Hunter pokes some fun at the idea of “the beauty” and also utilizes Isabella’s beauty as a plot device, but still. I also thought the book went on for slightly too long; the last third of it dragged on and stalled a little bit in terms of plot advancement. At that point, I started getting sick of all the back-and-forth between Griffin and Isabella and started wishing that they would just get together, already.
I also didn’t like how inconsistent the Christian elements were. It’s like Hunter thought she should throw in some mentions of what the characters believed about God, but then never followed through on any of it, particularly Isabella’s. The Christian elements also added nothing to the book and the same message could have been gotten across without them.
An Inconvenient Beauty is a good end to the Hawthorne House series. I think my favorite is still An Elegant Façade because it’s the most unique in terms of plot, but I enjoyed reading all of them. I found it hard to put this book down, even if the last part of it dragged on and I kept wishing that Isabella wasn’t so pretty.
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.
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.”
It’s 1910, and Raise has just traveled alone from a small Polish shtetl all the way to New York City. She is enthralled, overwhelmed, and even frightened, especially when she discovers that her sister has disappeared and she must now fend for herself. How do you survive in a foreign land without a job, a place to live, or a command of the native language? Perseverance and the kindness of handsome young Gavrel lead Raisa to work in the Triangle Shirtwaist factory sewing bodices on the popular shirtwaists…until 1911 dawns, and one March day a spark ignites in the factory. Fabric and thread and life catch fire. And the flames burn hot enough to change Raisa—and the entire city—forever.
Threads and Flames tells the story of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, the deadliest industrial disaster in New York City history. I was given the impression that a lot of the book would focus on the fire, but the book focuses much more on Raisa’s life and what leads her to work at the factory. The fire is not until the last third of the novel, which surprised me, though I can’t say why. I supposed I was just expecting the fire to be a little bit more central to the novel.
The novel is much better in the middle than it is in the beginning and the end. Friesner’s writing is clumsy, moralizing, and stilted in places, especially apparent at the beginning, the end, and in the places where Raisa’s thoughts take up most of the page. Some of the antagonism of the book sometimes comes across as forced, such as the woman whom Raisa first works for who is almost melodramatically villainish, and most of the moments that are the most tense or the most meaningful seem too moralizing, probably because of Friesner’s tendency to tell, not show.
However, the middle of the book flows really well, probably because it’s absent of most of the significant and/or tense moments, and was my favorite part of the book. Friesner is certainly no Ruta Sepetys, but Raisa’s story is mostly engaging and keeps the reader interested into the end, even with the flaws. It’s a pity that the writing style is so obvious and preachy; otherwise, this book would have been excellent. Instead, Threads and Flames is good, but not a novel I would immediately recommend.
Recommended Age Range: 14+
Genre: Historical Fiction, Young Adult
“Your sister?” The man stood up from the table and came closer. He studied her face with as much concentration as if he expected to find a treasure map in her eyes. “You’re her sister? But she was beautiful!”
Raisa swallowed a sharp retort.
“We’re sisters all the same,” she replied mildly. “She was always sending money home so that I could join her over here. I just arrived yesterday, except they tell me she’s bene gone for weeks.”
When Young Fu arrives with his mother in bustling 1920s Chungking, all he has seen of the world is the rural farming village where he has grown up. He knows nothing of city life. But the city, with its wonders and dangers, fascinates the thirteen-year-old boy, and he sets out to make the best of what it has to offer him.
Young Fu of the Upper Yangtze read much more like a modern novel than I was expecting. I suppose I was so used to the style of the 20s and 30s literature I’ve read that I thought Lewis’s writing would follow the same pattern. However, Young Fu was engaging, informative, and reminded me of more recent books such as The Golden Gobletand A Single Shard.
Perhaps the biggest flaw of the book is that it seems long, especially in the middle. Young Fu is basically a series of events in Young Fu’s life and it starts to drag about halfway through. Part of the reason for the slow pace may be that Fu is not the most interesting of characters. He also is not a particularly relatable one, at least to me—I found him a little too smug and thought he conquered things a little too easily. His condescending air, though accurate for a teenager, is very hard to take and I found it hard to feel sorry for him or root for him during the times Lewis wants us to do so.
However, historically I liked the look at the turmoil in China right before the time of WWI and the rise of the Nationalist Party and Mao. It’s not a perspective prevalent in literature and the edition of the book I read (the 75th anniversary edition) included lots of information in the back about the time period and how China was transforming as a nation in terms of technology and politics. Lewis did a good job of weaving the politic tension in and showing the conflict between the “old ways” and the “new ways.”
Young Fu of the Upper Yangtze is slow-going in the middle and I thought that Fu himself was not a particularly relatable character, but I liked the historical aspect of the novel and the way Lewis incorporated it in the novel. The writing style was evocative of a modern novel and lacked a lot of the language and stylistic choices and accompanying problems that I discovered in the earlier Newbery books. Overall, Young Fu is a deserving Newbery Medal winner—though it’s not my favorite so far.
Recommended Age Range: 10+
Genre: Historical Fiction, Children’s
That night on Chair-Maker’s Way, Young Fu told his mother,” Today a foreign man bought a tray in our store.”
“He did not see you, I hope!”
“He did. Tang told me to carry brasses into his presence. Also, he spoke to me.” At his mother’s exclamation of fright, he reassured her, “Do not fear! He was ugly, but harmless.”
Disclaimer: Just Sayin’, by Dandi Daley Mackall, was provided by Tyndale. I received a free copy from the publisher. No review, positive or otherwise, was required—all opinions are my own.
Nick and Cassie almost had their perfect family: their parents were getting married, and that meant a best-friend brother and a sweet little sister for Cassie, and Nick would have Cassie as his partner in crime. When their parents mysteriously call off their wedding and Cassie is left in her Gram’s care, Cassie and Nick become “almost-step” pen pals. Through letters, they scheme about how to get on their favorite game show, The Last Insult Standing, and just maybe figure out how to get their parents back together.
My rating: 3/5
I really enjoyed Larger-Than-Life Lara by Mackall, so seeing another children’s/MG book pop up by her on the Tyndale website was exciting to me. And, while I didn’t enjoy Just Sayin’ quite as much as I did Lara, it was still an engaging read.
I like the whole concept of the “novel of letters”—the entire book consists of letters, texts, e-mails, and what-have-you between the characters, complete with different handwritings and paper backgrounds. It’s a nice touch, though perhaps a little distracting. Mackall does a great job of giving each character a distinct voice and communicating character development through a medium that’s rather restricting in what can be described or expanded.
The plot is a bit simple and resolves simply, too, and I don’t know whether that’s a good or a bad thing. The important part of the book, to me, was Cassie’s development, not Travis and Jen’s relationship, so perhaps the simplicity of that particular aspect of the book doesn’t matter. And, speaking of Cassie’s development, I think the lessons she learned were communicated clearly and effectively, though perhaps her actions at the end during the insult contest were not quite realistic (though the actions themselves don’t contradict her character, so perhaps the realism of it is fine, after all).
Perhaps my biggest problem with Just Sayin’ is that, after the wonderful subtlety of Larger-Than-Life Lara, the straightforwardness of it falls a little flat. I mean, I think it’s great that Cassie was so profoundly affected by what she read about words and by her letter writing to Jesus, but that also could have been communicated effectively without also alienating a large portion of readers who perhaps most need to hear the message. It wasn’t preachy—perhaps cheesy, but not preachy—but I do prefer subtlety in a lot of cases. However, with or without that, Just Sayin’ still has a good message about the power of words, as well as some good things to say about friendship and family.
The house held secrets, Thomas knew, even before he first saw it looming gray and massive on its ledge of rock. It had a century-old legend—two fugitive slaves had been killed by bounty hunters after leaving its passageways, and Dies Drear himself, the abolitionist who had made the house into a station on the Underground Railroad, had been murdered there. The ghosts of the three were said to walk its rooms….Yes, the house held secrets…did it hold danger as well? Thomas was sure it did, but his obsession that the house give up its secrets led him on, through the terror entrapment in its labyrinth of tunnels and to an awesome confrontation with Pluto, the mysterious and formidable “devil” who jealously guarded the house. Then, suddenly, it was alarmingly clear—there was danger, and the Smalls were being warned to flee. But what kind of danger, and why, and what did it have to do with running slaves and the ordeals of a hundred years ago? Thomas searches, and in searching finds not only the answer to these secrets from the past, but a deeper sense of his own connection to that past.
The House of Dies Drear is a bit of a spine-chilling suspense/mystery novel. Hamilton’s sparse writing helps contribute to the overall tension of the book, combining with the history and the mysteries of the past to create a creepy atmosphere. It’s a bit of a strange book, but you can tell how much Hamilton put into this book as it relates to her own history.
I suppose calling this book a mystery is a bit of a misnomer. It’s not really a mystery; it’s more suspense. There is some mystery aspects to it, especially at the beginning, but the mystery is solved midway through and the rest of the book is the characters dealing with what they have discovered.
The House of Dies Drear holds a lot of information about the Underground Railroad and black culture, in general, including things like the church environment which was nice to see in a novel. Most novels these days (and movies) pretend like religion (or, at least, Christianity) doesn’t exist at all, and if it does, it’s some distorted version of it that the author uses as a strawman. Hamilton’s take was both historical and respectful, detailing how important things like church and the church experience are to people, especially when in a new situation.
The House of Dies Drear is an effectively creepy novel, and though it’s not the best thing I’ve read, it was certainly interesting and informative. I appreciated it for the passion so subtly conveyed by the author and for its historical worth. I probably won’t read it again, as it was a little too strange and not quite engaging enough for me, but it’s a good book.
Recommended Age Range: 10+
Genre: Middle Grade, Historical Fiction
As soon as Thomas had entered the room, he understood what old Pluto had tried to do. He had arranged the furniture in a rigid progression, with the two long windows, not the open fireplace, as its focus. Thomas’ eyes swept from the fireplace to the windows, then out into the gray day, on and on, until he could see no farther.
It’s his warning, thought Thomas. He means for us to flee.