1956 Newbery Medal: Carry On, Mr. Bowditch by Jean Lee Latham

Carry On, Mr. Bowditch, by Jean Lee Latham, was published in 1955 by Houghton.

Nathaniel Bowditch grew up in a sailor’s world—Salem in the early days, when tall-masted ships from foreign ports crowded the wharves. But Nat didn’t promise to have the makings of a sailor; he was too physically small. Nat may have been slight of build, but no one guessed that he had the persistence and determination to master sea navigation in the days when men sailed only by “log, lead, and lookout.” Nat’s long hours of study and observation, collected in his famous work, The American Practical Navigator (also known as the “Sailors’ Bible”), stunned the sailing community and made him a New England hero.

Rating: 5/5

There are so many historical events and figures I wouldn’t have known if it wasn’t for literature. Ruta Sepetys’s Salt to the Sea taught me about the wreck of the Kaiser Wilhem, and that one review copy I read taught me about Dunkirk. I learned about the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, the harsh child labor and factory work in England, Stalin’s “cleansing” of the Baltic states, and many more things. Carry On, Mr. Bowditch, continues that tradition, with its story of Nathaniel Bowditch.

Nathaniel Bowditch wrote The American Practical Navigator, a book that is still used on Navy ships today. He stopped going to school when he was ten, but taught himself calculus, Latin, French, and Spanish. He figured out a new way of calculating navigation using the moon and the stars, and taught it to the crews he sailed with. He found many mistakes in the current navigation book of the time and wrote his own book as a result. He translated books that helped developed astronomy in America. Basically, Nathaniel Bowditch was an awesome person that for some reason I’d never heard of before.

I’m not sure how much of Latham’s account is fictionalized and how much is reality, but at least the bones of it are grounded in history. The book is actually quite humorous, which is needed because of all the death that occurs. I think maybe ten named people die in this book, as well as a few members of the “faceless masses.” Seriously, Bowditch had a ton of tragedy in his life—reminiscent of the dangers of that day in occupation, as well as in the lack of life-saving medicinal discoveries. And while there’s certainly enough death to be concerned about younger readers, it’s a good opportunity to discuss the perils of the day and why people back then so often died of “consumption” (aka tuberculosis).

It’s also a great book to emphasize how a lack of education doesn’t necessarily spell doom. I mean, Bowditch had no schooling past the age of 10, yet he taught himself calculus and four different languages. Self-teaching and self-motivation are huge factors in educational/intellectual success.

Carry On, Mr. Bowditch, while written simply, is a wonderful portrait of a man who before this I’d never even heard about. The eighteenth century was a great time of discovery and this book highlights a little of the enthusiasm and determination that carried inventors and discoverers through all life’s hardships to better the lives of the people around them.

Recommended Age Range: 8+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Historical Fiction, Children’s

He whistled while he found his slate and pencil. He whistled until he was out of the house and up the street. Then the whistle died.

All the way to Mr. Walsh’s house Nat’s feet seemed to beat out the words: Nine years…nine years…nine years…

Two or three months to study bookkeeping. Then no more school—ever.

Indentured: Nathaniel Bowditch.

You can buy this book here: http://amzn.to/2BBZ4tE

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Black Dove White Raven by Elizabeth Wein

Black Dove White Raven, by Elizabeth Wein, was published in 2015 by Hyperion.

Emilia’s and Teo’s lives changed in a fiery, terrifying instant when a bird strike brought down the plane their stunt-pilot mothers were flying. Teo’s mother died immediately, but Em’s survived, determined to raise Teo according to his late mother’s wishes—in a place where he won’t be discriminated against because of the color of his skin. But in 1930s America, a white woman raising a black adopted son alongside a white daughter is too often seen as a threat. Seeking a home where her children won’t be held back by ethnicity or gender, Rhoda brings Em and Teo to Ethiopia, and all three fall in love with the beautiful, peaceful country. But that peace is shattered by the threat of war with Italy, and teenage Em and Teo are drawn into the conflict. Will their devotion to their country, its culture and people, and to each other be their downfall…or their salvation?

Rating: 5/5

At first I didn’t think I would like Black Dove White Raven. The beginning starts abruptly, in media res, and it took me a moment to get my bearings straight. I also didn’t know how to feel about the craziness of Rhoda/Momma’s backstory, and the odd marriage-but-non-marriage she has. But Emilia and Teo gradually won me over—mostly Emilia.

The novel takes place before and during the Italo-Ethiopian War of the 1930s. It’s funny—I’m not used to reading a book set in the 1930s that doesn’t also mention the Great Depression. But, of course, since the novel is set in Ethiopia, there wouldn’t be mention of it, regardless of the characters’ prior years in the States. What’s more, since Rhoda came from a Quaker family, it’s likely life during the Depression was not too different than life before, which is why it wasn’t mentioned. Wein has an extensive author’s note in the back of the book where she details what is historical and what is poetic license, but the whole thing melds together so well that in the midst of the book you don’t care what things are made up and what aren’t. Everything makes sense, even the crazy stuff that happens at the end, and it’s grounded in the reality of Ethiopia’s history.

I mostly liked the book throughout, but towards the end I started really loving it. I loved Emilia’s adventures at the end; I loved how we didn’t get an adventure from Teo’s more competent and certain point of view but from Emilia’s uneasy, less adept point of view. The only thing I didn’t love about the ending was the lack of resolution we got regarding Emilia’s future.

Black Dove White Raven started out a little shaky for me, but towards the end really solidified into a gripping, exciting read. Emilia is a female character that I actually enjoy; Teo had his moments, too, though I liked him less (too perfect). Rhoda was a bit wild, but I suppose it fit her established character. I learned a lot about the Italo-Ethopian War, as well as about Ethiopia and that time period in general. Overall, I thought Black Dove White Raven was a solid book and I will seek out more Wein books to read.

Recommended Age Range: 8+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Historical Fiction, Young Adult

“Teo’s not here to learn to fly,” Momma said flatly.

There was an awkward silence.

But Colonel Augustus didn’t give up easily. “Teodros Gedeyon was born to be a pilot! Wasn’t his mother one of the earliest licensed fliers of her sex and race in the world? Wasn’t his father one of the earliest African men to take to the skies before his untimely death far from home—?”

(He really did talk like that.)

“—And does the new emperor not dream of an Imperial Air Force of young Ethiopian men born to the skies? The Black Dove’s son is destined to follow his mother into the air and fly for Ethiopia!”

You can buy this book here: http://amzn.to/2ygP0Et

All Rise for the Honorable Perry T. Cook by Leslie Connor

All Rise for the Honorable Perry T. Cook, by Leslie Connor, was published in 2016 by Katherine Tegen.

Eleven-year-old Perry T. Cook shouldn’t be living in a prison; he has committed no crime. Perry was born and raised at the Blue River Co-ed Correctional Facility in tiny Surprise, Nebraska. His mom is a resident on Cell Block C. So far, Warden Daugherty has made it possible for them to be together. Anyone who knows about the arrangement is quietly okay with it. But when Perry is discovered by the new, ambitious district attorney, Thomas VanLeer, everything changes. Forced to foster with the VanLeer family, Perry lives on “the outside” but feels trapped. His mom’s parole hearing is just weeks away, but the rule bending that allowed Perry to stay with her could mean she’ll get more prison time. Desperate to be reunited with his mom, Perry goes on a quest to learn the whole truth behind their Blue River story. But will the facts help them or hurt them? Can he find a way to tell everyone what home truly means?

Rating: 5/5

All Rise for the Honorable Perry T. Cook has a premise that’s hard to buy, but is filled with so much heart, charm, and lovely moments that Connor (who acknowledges the lack of realism) gets away with it. Perry is sweet at the right times and strong at the right times, and although I’m not a huge fan of “kids know better than adults” trope, it works well here—because, let’s face it, sometimes the innocence of kids is exactly what makes them better able to handle and/or know certain things than adults.

Besides Perry, the adult characters in the novel are all fully fleshed-out. I was especially happy that VanLeer, the “villain” of the novel, was also three-dimensional—his motives are understandable, his failings are understandable, and Perry’s thoughts about him at the end of the novel are spot-on. Brian Morris, the other “villain,” also gets some dimension to his character, though his is not explained as well.

The only thing I’m disappointed in is that the resolution that I wanted to happen with Perry and his father didn’t happen. I suppose it’s understandable, and it’s probably more realistic this way, but I did want to see something there. However, Connor’s message running throughout that entire plot thread was a good one, showing how far someone will go to protect the ones they love and that sometimes, as time passes, the importance of setting things right/meting out proper justice is not as important as saving loved ones. Through Perry’s mother, Connor shows us that, just as Perry and his mother have no regrets, neither should we, the readers, have any regrets as to the revelations and outcomes of the novel.

All Rise for the Honorable Perry T. Cook is a charming, heartwarming novel, chock-full of interesting characters and important messages. Perry’s sweetness is nicely tempered with his bouts of anger at his and his mother’s situation, VanLeer is understandable and relatable in his role as “villain,” and the rest of the characters get their own little moments to shine in ways that minor characters often don’t have. The novel did not end as I hoped it would, but upon reflection, it ended in the way that was best for what Connor was trying to say.

Recommended Age Range: 8+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Realistic, Middle Grade

“You may know, I’m the Butler County district attorney,” Mr. VanLeer says. “Funny thing about that,” Big Ed says. “I always thought the DA was supposed to work for the people. And here it seems to me that you’re working against these people.” He fans his hand toward Mom and me.

“Well, I believe I’m righting a wrong in this case,” Mr. VanLeer says. He is still smiling and nodding. “Which brings me to my business. We all know why I’m here.”

“Here to take away our Morning Son,” Big Ed says.

You can buy this book here: http://amzn.to/2wcgASQ

2002 Newbery Medal: A Single Shard by Linda Sue Park

A Single Shard, by Linda Sue Park, was published in 2001 by Clarion.

Tree-ear is an orphan boy in a twelfth-century Korean potters’ village. For a long time he is content to live with Crane-man under a bridge, barely surviving on scraps of food. All of that changes when Tree-ear sees master potter Min making his beautiful pottery. Tree-ear sneaks into Min’s workplace and dreams of creating his own pots someday. When he accidentally breaks a pot, he must work for the master to pay for the damage. Though the work is long and hard, Tree-ear is eager to learn. Then he is sent to the King’s Court to show the master’s pottery. Little does Tree-ear know that this difficult and dangerous journey will change his life forever.

Rating: 5/5

A Single Shard is a short book, but it’s wonderfully crafted and much more engaging than you would think a book about pottery would be. I found every aspect of the book, to Tree-ear sneaking through the foliage to peek at Min’s work, to working at Min’s shop, to his journey to the royal commissioner, intriguing. It’s a simple little book, but it’s full of soul and charm.

The book also teaches quite a bit about celadon pottery and Park manages to show the process without dragging the book down in unnecessary or boring detail. Even as the centerpiece of the novel, the pottery aspect is balanced just enough so that the book doesn’t seem like a “how-to” guide. Tree-ear’s wonder and curiosity helps with the balance, as well.

I can see why A Single Shard won the Newbery Medal; it’s equal parts informative, delightful, and, yes, even tense. Tree-ear is a darling protagonist, conveying all the politeness that the Korean culture requires but with the inexorable energy of youth. There are good lessons woven throughout in the shape of Crane-man’s advice to Tree-ear, never overly moralizing or out of place. And the background and content is historically rich and informative, showing off the research Park did and melding it with a delightful little story about a boy who wants to make pottery and the journey he must take to do so.

Recommended Age Range: 10+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Historical Fiction, Children’s

“Honorable potter? Sir? Could I not work for you, as payment? Perhaps my help could save you some time…”

Min shook his head impatiently. “What could you do, an untrained child? I have no time to teach you—you would be more trouble than help.”

Tree-ear stepped forward eagerly. “You would not need to teach so much as you think, sir. I have been watching you for many months now. I know how you mix the clay and turn the wheel—I have watched you make many things…”

The potter waved one hand to cut off the boy’s words and spoke with derision. “Turn the wheel! Ha! He thinks he can sit and make a pot—just like that!”

You can buy this book here: http://amzn.to/2hl9Nmo

Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers

Redeeming Love, by Francine Rivers, was published in 1991 by Multnomah.

California’s gold country, 1850. A time when men sold their souls for a bag of gold and women sold their bodies for a place to sleep. Angel expects nothing from men but betrayal. Sold into prostitution as a child, she survives by keeping her hatred alive. And what she hates most are the men who use her, leaving her empty and dead inside. Then she meets Michael Hosea, a man who seeks his Father’s heart in everything. Michael obeys God’s call to marry Angel and to love her unconditionally. Slowly, day by day, he defies Angel’s every bitter expectation, until despite her resistance, her frozen heart begins to thaw. But with her unexpected softening comes overwhelming feelings of unworthiness and fear. And so Angel runs. Back to the darkness, away from her husband’s pursuing love, terrified of the truth she no longer can deny: her final healing must come from the One who loves her even more than Michael does…the One who will never let her go.

Rating: 4/5

I think people have been telling me to read Redeeming Love since college. College, at least, is when I first heard the book mentioned. Recently, a coworker of mine recommended it to me after a conversation I had with her about the Christian fiction I review. Then, as I was browsing the book selection at Goodwill, I saw a copy and decided to give it a try.

And I ended up really enjoying it.

Redeeming Love is one of the better historical romances I’ve read. It’s compelling and tense and Angel is such a complex character, developed well so that your heart breaks for her as she struggles to come to grips with the idea of love and redemption. The introduction of side characters to Michael and Angel’s lives keeps the story flowing and prevents it from being the same back-and-forth between the two for its entirety. The novel is rarely, if ever, over-the-top or contrived and, as I’ll discuss next, not overly hokey.

The Christianity aspect of the novel was done very well, especially in terms of Angel’s struggle and the end of the novel. There were very few parts that I thought were hokey and/or cheesy, mostly consisting of when God was speaking to Michael. That part was the hardest to swallow for me and it’s also very hard to pull off in a narrative. Perhaps I’m just too skeptical, but I found it hard to believe that God would have such a constant, inner dialogue with Michael. I mean, I get it, it’s a book and it’s also supposed to reflect Hosea and Gomer, but still—not only did I struggle to relate to those parts of the novel, but it was distracting and, as I said, a little hokey. What was more effective was Angel’s inner thoughts (the devil?) and the brief snatches of “God thoughts” she did get—not a full-blown conversation, but more snatches, glimpses, strong inclinations that resonate more with my experience.

Redeeming Love made me cry and it made me stay up late on a school night in order to finish reading it. That’s high praise from me, especially from a Christian fiction book. It was character-driven, compelling, heart-breaking and ultimately joyful. The whole book was a celebration of love that redeems and picks people up from the darkest, deepest areas of life and changes them forever. Not everything about it was perfect, but it definitely falls into the category of Christian fiction that I would recommend to others—and possibly even reread myself.

Recommended Age Range: 16+

Warnings: Prostitution, mentions of rape, sexual situations.

Genre: Historical Fiction

You can buy this book here: http://amzn.to/2uEpvhS

The Left-Handed Fate by Kate Milford

The Left-Handed Fate, by Kate Milford, was published in 2016 by Henry Holt.

Lucy Bluecrowne and Maxwell Ault are on a mission: find the three pieces of a strange and arcane engine they believe can stop the endless war raging between their home country of England and Napoleon Bonaparte’s France. During the search, however, their ship, the famous privateer the Left-Handed Fate, is taken by the Americans, who have just declared war on England, too. The Fate (and, with it, Lucy and Max) is put under the command of new midshipman Oliver Dexter…who’s only just turned twelve. But Lucy and Max aren’t the only ones trying to assemble the engine; the French are after it, as well as the crew of a mysterious vessel that seems able to appear out of thin air. When Oliver discovers what his prisoners are really up to—and how dangerous the device could be if it falls into the wrong hands—he is faced with a choice: Help Lucy and Max even if it makes him a traitor to his own country? Or follow orders and risk endangering countless lives, including those of the enemies who have somehow become his friends?

Rating: 5/5

Kate Milford has done it again. I loved her book Greenglass House and The Left-Handed Fate is—nearly—as perfect. It’s a well-written, intriguing, fascinating historical fiction with hints (and more than hints) of fantasy woven through it. It gives a great deal of information about the War of 1812 and seamanship in general. Every character is interesting and they interact in ways that are believable in each circumstance they run into.

Apparently this book is a continuation/companion of other books Milford has written about Nagspeake, but it’s not necessary to have read them. I had no trouble at all understanding the world and I have only read Greenglass House before this one. There is enough explained with the characters that nothing seems missing; backstory is given when necessary and when not, small details are given that fill in possible gaps. Milford does a great job of bringing in an audience who may not be familiar with her other books.

I said The Left-Handed Fate was nearly perfect, so now here’s the ways I felt it faltered a bit—not enough to drop its rating, ultimately, but enough for me to comment on.

First, there’s a conversation between Liao and Max that is really odd, or maybe teeth-clenching irritating, or simply nonsensical. Basically, Liao believes that weapons have feelings and that they like it better if they’re used for good rather than evil, which makes absolutely no sense but he’s nine, so whatever. Then Max starts thinking about cannons/gunpowder being chemical reactions and then thinks about how people are exactly like that. Yes, people are exactly like cannons. Just chemical reactions. That explains why we have thoughts and emotions. You know, just like cannons. *eyeroll*

Second, the whole Copley thing is very hard to believe. Even harder to believe than a black ship that appears out of nowhere. I mean, the latter is clearly magic. The former is…some combination of magic and science fiction? An artificial intelligence brought to life by a golden elixir? I don’t know—for some reason, I had a hard time accepting that part of the book. I can do ghostly black ships and blue lights appearing out of nowhere. I can’t do a computer that functions on magical juice.

However, those flaws are not serious enough to significantly affect my liking of The Left-Handed Fate. Overall, I thought it was well written, engaging, and a wonderful historical fiction novel.

Recommended Age Range: 12+

Warnings: N/A

Genre: Historical Fiction, Middle Grade

“I had that piece for years,” Jeton said. “It was brought to me damaged and the repairs were complicated, but they only took as long as they did because I made them take that long. I strung the work out as long as I possibly could, in hopes that your father would answer my letter or turn up. If either he or you had managed to get here before war had been declared, you could have had it, and welcome. I would have lied to the owner, claimed the shop had been robbed—I had the whole story worked out. But you didn’t arrive in time.”

“My father couldn’t come because he was dead,” Max retorted. “It made traveling difficult for him, you understand.”

Jeton’s eyes hardened at the sarcasm. “It was more than a year and a half ago that your father passed, may he rest in peace.”

“I came as soon as I could!” Max said wretchedly. “And then we were attacked twice in the Chesapeake. If not for that, we should have been here before—”

“But you weren’t here, and we are at war, and I will not turn traitor. There are those who might do it, but I am not one of them.”

You can buy this book here: http://amzn.to/2pUH2k5

Fairy Tale Friday: Book of a Thousand Days by Shannon Hale

Book of a Thousand Days, by Shannon Hale, was published in 2007 by Bloomsbury.

When Dashti, a maid, and Lady Saren, her mistress, are shut in a tower for seven years because of Saren’s refusal to marry a man she despise, the two prepare for a very long and dark imprisonment. As food runs low and the days go from broiling hot to freezing cold, it is all Dashti can do to keep them fed and comfortable. With the arrival outside the tower of Saren’s two suitors—one welcome, the other decidedly less so—the girls are confronted with both hope and great danger, and Dashti must make the desperate choices of a girl whose life is worth more than she knows.

Rating: 5/5

Based off of the little-known Grimm’s fairy tale “Maid Maleen,” Book of a Thousand Days is an engaging, beautiful read of a girl who has to hold herself and her mistress together as they are imprisoned in a tower and then forced into hiding in another country. Dashti is the heart and soul of the book, a female protagonist who is not overtly strong or rebellious against societal conventions, but quietly steadfast and persistent and brave. She’s clever and witty, but not overly outspoken, and she’s basically everything I want in a female protagonist.

Simply put, I devoured this book and its lovely romance. I liked that even though Dashti is the narrator, there are still things the reader will catch onto before she does, such as the nature of Saren’s relationship with Tegus and even, perhaps, the secret of Lord Khasar. I liked that Saren, as annoying as she could get, was at least understandable, in a way, and that she develops, too, and becomes less of an obstacle that Dashti must endure and more of a character.

Book of a Thousand Days is lovely, an adaptation of a fairy tale I’d never heard of (though Hale states she wasn’t particularly true to the original) that is simple, yet engaging all the same. I liked the sweet moments scattered between all the tense and unsure moments; the book has a very good balance of low and high points. This book has redeemed Hale in my eyes a bit after the disappointing sequels to Princess Academy.

Recommended Age Range: 12+

Warnings: N/A

Genre: Fantasy, Fairy Tales, Young Adult

My lady removed her hand and started to pace and fret and rub her head. She looked as if she’d like to run away, had there been anywhere to run. My poor lady.

“Say you are me.”

“What?” But why, my lady?”

“You are my maid, Dashti,” she said, and though she still shook like a rabbit, her voice was hard and full of the knowledge that she’s gentry. “It is my right to have my maid speak for me. I don’t’ like to speak to someone directly. What if it isn’t really him? What if he means us harm?”

You can buy this book here: http://amzn.to/2qBiM6s

The Golden Goblet by Eloise Jarvis McGraw

The Golden Goblet, by Eloise Jarvis McGraw, was published in 1961 by Puffin.

Ranofer wants only one thing in the world: to be a master goldsmith like his beloved father was. But how can he when he is all but imprisoned by his evil half-brother, Gebu? Ranofer knows the only way he can escape Gebu’s abuse is by changing his destiny. But can a poor boy with no skills survive on the cutthroat streets of ancient Thebes? Then Ranofer finds a priceless golden goblet in Gebu’s room and he knows his luck—and his destiny—are about to change…

Rating: 5/5

Filled with rich imagery, detailed description, and enough tension to keep the reader satisfied between pictures of goldsmithing and stonecutting, The Golden Goblet is a wonderful book about bravery, standing up for what’s right, and striving to achieve one’s goal. This book is a worthy Newbery Honor winner (beaten by The Bronze Bow; McGraw also had two other Newbery Honor books).

The distinct style and vocabulary might make it hard for some readers to get into the book, but it lends itself well to the setting and after a little bit you get used to it (and it makes Ranofer sound even more daydreamy and wishful than he is already portrayed, which fits). It would feel strange for a book set in ancient Egypt (roughly around 1360 BC, if the Queen Tiy in the book was supposed to be Queen Tiye, the wife of Amenhotep III) to have modernized vocabulary, so the wordy, sometimes flowery sentences fit the book better.

The summary is a little deceptive, in that it takes a very long time for Ranofer to actually find the goblet and the summary makes it seem as if it happens fairly early on (at least it seemed that way to me), but it’s only a small hitch in an otherwise intriguing and captivating book. I would recommend this book to 4th graders and up. Its lack of female characters should not deter girls from reading it, as 1.) the Queen plays a large role in the end and 2.)it’s an accurate representation of ancient Egyptian society—which means The Golden Goblet could also be read as a supplement to a history class.

Recommended Age Range: 10+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Historical Fiction, Children’s

“But if Gebu is seized for the thefts—”

“Gebu will never be seized. Only Ibni, or I.”

Heqet thought a moment. “You refused to take that wineskin yesterday.”

“Aye.” Ranofer gave an involuntary shiver. “I’ll not refuse the next one, you may be sure of it. Gebu is a devil, I tell you. I do not want to go on thieving for him, yet I must until Rekh is told.”

“Then Rekh must be told.”

“Aye, but I cannot do it. I cannot, Heqet! Therefore—”

“Therefore what?”

“Therefore I want you to tell him!”

You can buy this book here: http://amzn.to/2o9GNko

Erak’s Ransom by John Flanagan

Erak’s Ransom, by John Flanagan, was published in 2007 by Philomel. It is the sequel (but chronologically the prequel) to The Siege of Macindaw.

What does it mean to earn the Silver Oakleaf? So few men have done so. For Will, a mere boy and apprentice to the most difficult Ranger to please, that symbol of honor has long seemed out of reach. If he is to ever earn it, he must prove himself in ways he never imagined. Now, in the wake of Araluen’s uneasy truce with the raiding Skandians comes word that the Skandian leader, Erak, has been captured by a desert tribe. The Rangers, along with a small party of warriors, are sent to free him. But the desert is like nothing else these warriors have seen before. Strangers in a strange land, they are brutalized by sandstorms, beaten by the unrelenting heat, tricked by one tribe that plays by its own rules, and surprisingly befriended by another. Like a mirage, nothing is as it seems. Yet one thing is constant: the bravery of the Rangers.

Rating: 5/5

After four books that were two sets of two-parters, it’s refreshing to read the jam-packed, stand-alone Erak’s Ransom. It actually highlights the weaknesses of the two-parter books, especially the Part 1s, which is the uneven pace and the overly long set-up. Erak’s Ransom, as a “filler” book telling the story of how Will got his silver oakleaf, a story that was skipped over between The Battle for Skandia and The Sorcerer of the North, is understandably a stand-alone—and works phenomenally well because of it.

There are only a few missteps in this book, at least in my opinion, one of them being Tug’s manipulation of another horse during a race. I suppose it’s plausible, but it didn’t quite fit the story, as impressive and heartwarming as the actual moment was. Otherwise, the book is a perfect combination of humor, tension, and action, with enough plausibility behind events that when everything comes together in the end, it’s believable. Flanagan also does quite a bit of foreshadowing, at least with regards to one character, and while it’s a bit of a Chekhov’s Gun, it’s also awesome and very fitting.

I think Erak’s Ransom may be my favorite Ranger’s Apprentice book so far. It’s also the one I remember the most, probably because I also really liked it when I first read it. This is the first stand-alone book since The Icebound Land (arguably the first one in the series, since the first two books connect) and it works: the pace is fast, but not too fast so as to seem rushed, the action is well distributed and the tension is executed well. Erak’s Ransom, being the story of Will becoming a fully-fledged Ranger, is, appropriately enough, also the novel that takes the series to a whole new level.

Recommended Age Range: 12+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Fantasy, Middle Grade

“You know the old saying: ‘one riot, one Ranger.’”

The saying stemmed from a legendary event in the past. A minor fief had risen up against their cruel and avaricious lord, with hundreds of people surrounding his manor house, threatening to burn it to the ground. The panicked nobleman’s message for help was answered by the arrival of a single Ranger. Aghast, the nobleman confronted the solitary cowled figure.

“They sent one Ranger?” he said incredulously. “One man?”

“How many riots do you have?” the Ranger replied.

On this occasion, however, Duncan was not incline to be swayed by legend. “I have a new saying,” he replied. “One daughter, two Rangers.”

“Two and a half,” Will corrected him. The king couldn’t help smiling at the eager young face before him.

“Don’t sell yourself short,” he said. “Two and three-quarters.”

You can buy this here: http://amzn.to/2nQ743a

Fairy Tale Friday: Daughter of the Forest by Juliet Marillier

Daughter of the Forest, by Juliet Marillier, was published in 2000 by Tor.

Lovely young Sorcha is the seventh child and only daughter of Lord Colum of Sevenwaters. Bereft of a mother, she is comforted by the brothers who love and protect her: Liam, the natural leader; Diarmid, with his passion for adventure; the twins, Cormack and Conor, each with a different calling; the young, compassionate Padriac…and her other heart, rebellious Finbar, grown old before his time by his gift of the Sight. Sorcha is the light in their lives, and in her young life she has known only peace and happiness. But that joy is destroyed when her father is bewitched by the woman who has won his hear and her brothers are bound by a spell that only Sorcha can lift. To reclaim the lives of her brothers, Sorcha leaves the only safe place she has ever known and embarks on a journey filled with pain, loss, and terror. When she is kidnapped by enemy forces and taken to a foreign land, it seems that there will be no way for Sorcha to break the spell that condemns all that she loves. But magic knows now boundaries, and Sorcha must choose between the life she has always known, promises made…and a love that comes only once. And in that choice, perhaps shattering her world.

Rating: 5/5

Daughter of the Forest is a stunning retelling of “The Wild Swans” fairytale. Marillier beautifully combines the fairytale with a Celtic setting, blending history with fantasy seamlessly. While the novel starts off slowly, once the initial set-up to the fairytale begins, the book flies by as the reader is swept up into Sorcha’s journey.

And what a journey it is. Sorcha is a wonderful protagonist, quietly strong and steadfast in the face of seemingly insurmountable obstacles. I love female protagonists of this sort, so it helped me connect with Sorcha even more. Marillier has perfectly crafted the circumstances and the effects; everything Sorcha does is explainable and believable in light of the world and the plot and what happens to her is also so, even the terrible parts. Fair warning, there is quite a violent, difficult scene to read at the beginning of Sorcha’s quest to free her brothers. It’s not graphically detailed, but it’s not glossed over at all—so, in a way, it’s much more graphically detailed than you might expect. Sometimes authors use things like this as a device or as another obstacle the protagonist must climb, but I feel like Marillier included it more for worldbuilding’s sake, to depict just how cruel the world can be at times. Or perhaps it’s to show how deep Sorcha’s bond with Red became, or perhaps it’s both. In any case, it’s handled deftly by Marillier.

That leads me to the thing I adored most about this book, which was Sorcha and Red. I think I’ve mentioned before that I tend to love the “agonizing” types of romance more than most other types, and Daughter of the Forest is full of agonizing—from Red, from Sorcha, from the people around them who see what’s happening and feel powerless to do anything about it. The relationship is slowly and beautifully developed, to the point where I cried at a particular part of the book that is poignant and beautiful and made me not want to put the book down even though I had to go to bed. And the romance ends perfectly, too, in a wonderfully satisfying way—usually I feel disappointed at the end of a book, or at the moment the love interests get together. But not in this book. In this book, I felt nothing but satisfaction.

I thought I loved Marillier already from reading her previous books, like Shadowfell and Wildwood Dancing, but Daughter of the Forest made me adore her. It’s a fantastic fairy tale adaptation, but it’s also a fantastic story, filled with love, loss, sorrow, pain, hope, and all the other things that make a particularly good book stand out from the rest. There are some hard things to read in this book, but there are many more beautiful things, and, like Sorcha, the reader comes to the end with a remembrance of the pain but with the knowledge that things are, as much as they can be in that world, going towards “happily ever after.”

Recommended Age Range: 16+

Warnings: Violence, death, rape.

Genre: Fantasy, Fairy Tale

“Listen to me, Sorcha. No matter where we are, or what we do, the seven of us will never be truly separate. We’ll always be the same for one another. But we are growing up; and grown up people do marry, and move away, and let other people into their lives. Even you will do that one day.”

“Me!” I was aghast.

“You must know that.” He moved closer and took my hand, and I noticed that his were large and rough, a man’s hands. He was seventeen now. “Father already plans a marriage for you, in a few years’ time, and doubtless then you will go away to live with your husband’s family. We will not all remain here.”

“Go away? I would never go away from Sevenwaters! This is home! I would die before I’d move away!”

You can buy this book here: http://amzn.to/2mEPqig