Paper Things by Jennifer Richard Jacobson

Paper Things, by Jennifer Richard Jacobson, was published in 2015 by Candlewick.

When Ari’s mother died four years ago, she made Ari promise that she and her older brother, Gage, would stay together always. So when Gage decides he can no longer live with their bossy guardian, Janna, Ari knows she has to go with him, even though they don’t have an apartment yet. Instead, Gage and Ari “couch surf,” crashing with friends or sneaking into shelters to escape the cold Maine nights. In all this chaos, there is one thing that gives Ari comfort: her Paper Things. She knows she’s too old to play with the paper people she’s cut out of magazines over the years, but it’s nice to pretend to have a big, happy family and a house with a room all her own. Of course, it would be better if she didn’t have to pretend.

Rating: 3/5

Paper Things, though a little clumsy in execution, is a sweet book about family, love, determination, and the problems and emotions that can arise from keeping (or not keeping) secrets. The problems that Ari faces and the solutions that come about flow naturally from each other, so nothing seems contrived, forced, or too over-the-top to seem unrealistic. Enough is explained of Gage and Janna’s relationship to understand both why Gage left and why Janna didn’t pick much of a fight about Ari leaving. And, though Ari and Gage never seem to be in any real danger, there is enough hinted at that gives the vague feeling of danger for these two siblings while they are without their own home.

The book is marred by only one major thing: the author’s tendency to philosophize, moralize and explain all of Ari’s symbolic decisions through Ari’s thoughts and dialogue. This gets especially bad at the end, when, of course, everything turns out all right and Ari grows up and Learns Things and reflects back on her experiences—basically, a whole lot of telling when it’s not needed, because we’ve already been shown how Ari has changed. Having her philosophize for the last two chapters was gilding the lily and nearly ruined the entire book for me.

Paper Things is good, but it’s prevented from being great by the at-times clumsy writing and the whole lot of “let me tell you what I’ve already showed through my actions” that goes on at the end. Maybe middle grade readers need that sort of thing shoved down their throats, but I doubt it—subtle tends to be much more powerful than explicit and much longer lasting in impact. There’s very little that makes this book bad, but there’s a whole lot stopping it from being great.

Recommended Age Range: 12+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Middle Grade, Realistic

I yank the folder out of his hands and place it at the bottom of the pile of books. He’s still clutching Miles, though.

“Give,” I say, making a grab for him.

But Briggs pulls his arm back playfully. And as quick as that, Miles tears in two.

I can’t believe I’m only holding half of him in my fingers. Miles was the first person I ever cut out of a catalog. I have played with him in our apartment on Crest Street, at Sasha’s, and Janna’s, and every place we’ve stayed since.

My eyes don’t tear up. I don’t say anything. I’m more invisible than invisible.

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

Fairy Tale Friday: The Castle Behind Thorns by Merrie Haskell

The Castle Behind Thorns, by Merrie Haskell, was published in 2014 by Katherine Tegen.

When Sand wakes up alone in a long-abandoned castle, he has no idea how he got there. The stories all said the place was ruined by an earthquake, and Sand did not expect to find everything inside torn in half or smashed to bits. Nothing lives here and nothing grows, except the vicious, thorny bramble that holds Sand prisoner. Why wasn’t this in the stories? To survive, Sand does what he knows best—he fires up the castle’s forge to mend what he needs. But the things he fixes work somehow better than they ought to. Is there magic in the mending? Or have the saints who once guarded this place returned? When Sand finds the castle’s lost heir, Perrotte, they begin to untwine the dark secrets that caused the destruction. Putting together the pieces—of stone and iron, and of a broken life—is harder than Sand ever imagined, but it’s the only way to regain their freedom.

Rating: 2/5

The Castle Behind Thorns is a unique reinvention of the Sleeping Beauty fairytale (although it’s not marketed as such, it’s got Sleeping Beauty written all over it), where Sleeping Beauty wakes up not because of a kiss but because someone is fixing everything that was broken in the abandoned castle. I like adaptations of fairy tales that place the fairy tale somewhere in history, and this particular world is closely tied to the religion and the politics of medieval France.

The message of forgiveness laid out in the novel is good, although laid on a little thick by the end. The moralizing message is a bit much for an adult reader, but it might be just the thing a younger reader might need to hear. Haskell seems to have a much heavier hand here than she did in either Handbook for Dragon Slayers or The Princess Curse, so I’m not quite sure if she had a different audience in mind or if she simply thought a less subtle application of her point was needed because of the world she had built. It’s a good message of forgiveness, but it perhaps could have been communicated in a way that was less moralizing and thus less likely to turn people off from it (though, again, a younger audience may be more receptive).

However, I didn’t enjoy The Castle Behind Thorns as much as I enjoyed Haskell’s other works, and I’m not quite sure why. The lack of subtlety may have been one reason. Ultimately, though, I just didn’t find much about the book incredibly interesting. I’m not all that fond of Sleeping Beauty and Haskell wasn’t so unique in the telling of it as to make me really involved in the world and the plot. The premise was good and so was the reimagining of the fairytale as a whole, but the book wasn’t strong as a whole. I’ve read better versions of Sleeping Beauty and better books by Haskell. The Castle Behind Thorns is good, but not great; interesting, but not enticing; imaginative, but not groundbreaking. I’d much rather read The Princess Curse again.

Recommended Age Range: 12+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Historical Fiction, Fairy Tales, Middle Grade

He, Sand, had done all this. He had saved these things, sorted them, repurposed them, and made them work again.

With his mended broom held above his head like a sword, he shouted: “I am Sand, lord of this kitchen!”

Even though when he said it out loud, he could hear how silly it sounded, he knew that it was incomplete. There was no one here to challenge his rule, no one here to tell him otherwise.

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

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

Sandpiper Cove by Irene Hannon

Disclaimer: Sandpiper Cove, by Irene Hannon, was provided by Revell. I received a free copy. No review, positive or otherwise, was required—all opinions are my own.

Hope Harbor police chief and single mom Lexie Graham has zero time for extracurricular activities—including romance. Ex-con Adam Stone isn’t looking for love either—but how ironic is it that the first woman to catch his eye is a police chief? When Lexie enlists Adam’s help to keep a troubled young man from heading down the wrong path, sparks begin to fly. Could it be that God may have a different—and better—future planned for them than either could imagine?

My rating: 1/5

Sandpiper Cove is the story of a police chief and an ex-con who help out a teenager who gets in trouble for vandalism and who fall in love with each other along the way. If you imagine any contemporary Christian romance novel, that’s what you get here, complete with love at first sight, electric touches, lots of kissing (and even kissing in grandiose ways like in the movies; just imagine Aragorn kissing Arwen after he’s crowned in Minas Tirith. That’s literally what happens here), romantic angst, and, of course, lengthy descriptions about how beautiful/handsome the main characters are.

Full-disclosure here, I’m going to try and get through this review without getting scathing, but I may not be successful because this book was a nightmare to get through.

First of all, let me just say that I almost stopped reading after the second page when Hannon describes a sigh “like C02 whooshing out of a soft drink can.” Uh, what? Just say he sighed and move on!

Second, Sandpiper Cove revealed a convention of romance in general, and of the Christian romance I’ve been reading in particular, that I utterly despise: the beautiful couple. I know there’s beautiful people out there. I know they meet, fall in love, and get married. But that doesn’t mean every romance I read needs to be between a “drop-dead gorgeous” woman with “full lips” and “stunning eyes” and a man who has “rippling muscles,” “sun-kissed skin” and a “chiseled jaw.” Give me someone who wears sweatpants and maybe has some acne and has scraggly hair and spin me a romance out of that, please, because that also happens and is way more relatable.

Also, Lexie and Adam’s romance was cheesy and cliché to the extreme. It was conventional, it was predictable, it was fake angst drawn out over predictable tension, and the sappiest stuff you can think of. Did you think I was joking about the Aragorn/Arwen kiss above? Because I’m not. There’s literally a scene where Adam goes down the aisle during church and kisses Lexie in front of a crowd of people because why not, it’s romantic.

Oh, and the vandalism sideplot? There’s a whole lot of tension because all the evidence is circumstantial and people’s careers might be in danger and stuff, and then all of a sudden, Lexie and Adam are getting married and the entire vandalism plot is swept under the rug. I get that Hannon is trying to say that all the uncertainty and the career misgivings weren’t important and shouldn’t stop people from moving on with their lives, but after all the time spent on it, you’d think there’d be a little closure. Instead, there’s a lot of handwaving and more of the predictable, boring romance.

I could barely get through Sandpiper Cove and almost stopped reading on multiple occasions. I really don’t understand how people like this sort of boring, predictable romance, with a faux-tense plot that’s swept aside the minute the characters get together and is there only as an obvious means of getting them together. This is why I so much prefer historical romance—at least it’s more interesting than this kind of romantic nonsense.

Warnings: None.

Genre: Realistic, Christian

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

Rilla of Ingleside by L. M. Montgomery

Rilla of Ingleside, by Lucy Maud Montgomery, was first published in 1921. It is the sequel to Rainbow Valley.

Anne’s children were almost grown up, except for pretty, high-spirited Rilla. No one could resist her bright hazel eyes and dazzling smile. Rilla, almost fifteen, can’t think any further ahead than going to her very first dance at the Four Winds lighthouse and getting her first kiss from handsome Kenneth Ford. But undreamed-of challenges await the irrepressible Rilla when the world of Ingleside becomes endangered by a far-off war. Her brothers go off to fight, and Rilla brings home an orphaned newborn in a soup tureen. She is swept into a drama that tests her courage and leaves her changed forever.

Rating: 2/5

Rilla of Ingleside would be a wonderful tale of the effect of World War I on families if it wasn’t for its one major flaw, which is that it’s boring. The familiar Montgomery shenanigans are swept away for pages-long conversations and depictions of battles in WWI, and while some small amount of ridiculous antics are present, the mood of this book is much more gloomy and dark than previous Anne books. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as the grave tone fits the setting, but the book seemed unnecessarily long and dragged on and on.

Also, I felt that Rilla and Kenneth’s relationship wasn’t nearly as well developed as, say, Anne and Gilbert’s, or even Mr. Meredith’s and Rosemary’s from the last book. It’s a background piece, really, and perhaps that’s how Montgomery meant it, but it did seem to me to fall a little flat. I do appreciate Rilla’s character growth throughout the book, however, and how she matured as she grew up and as the war required her to do things that she would not normally have had to do.

I applaud Montgomery for the more serious nature of the book, as befitting of the time period, but she definitely does “silly nonsense” better, as Rilla of Ingleside seemed overly long, spent too much time dwelling on Susan Baker recapping battles of the war (spent too much time with Susan in general, actually), and its little intersperses of humor were sporadic and jagged. I do appreciate that Shirley, at least, got a little more limelight and wasn’t treated as a nonexistent character—a step up from my complaints from the previous two books!

Recommended Age Range: 10+

Warnings: Character death.

Genre: Historical Fiction, Children’s

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

1924 Newbery Medal: The Dark Frigate by Charles Boardman Hawes

The Dark Frigate, by Charles Boardman Hawes, was first published in 1923. I read the Little, Brown and Co. edition from 1971.

In seventeenth century England, a terrible accident forces orphaned Philip Marsham to flee London in fear for his life. Bred to the sea, he signs on with the “Rose of Devon,” a dark frigate bound for the quiet shores of Newfoundland. Philip’s bold spirit and knowledge of the sea soon win him his captain’s regard. But when the “Rose of Devon” is seized in midocean by a devious group of men plucked from a floating wreck, Philip is forced to accompany these “gentlemen of fortune” on their murderous expeditions. Like it or not, Philip Marsham is now a pirate–with only the hangman awaiting his return to England. With its bloody battles, brutal buccaneers, and bold, spirited hero, this rousing tale will enthrall young listeners in search of seafaring adventure.

Rating: 1/5

Aside from The Voyages of Dr. Doolittle, I’ve found the early Newbery Medal-winning books to be dry and boring. The Dark Frigate adds “hard to follow” to that list. The vocabulary Hawes uses, while perhaps echoing reality, makes the plot dense and convoluted, with viewpoints switching frequently with no warning and very little of the character connections explained well enough to ward off confusion.

There is much mention of characters “knowing” one thing or another, or doing things that are never explained that apparently the reader is supposed to know about. For example, what was the bundle that Philip tossed overboard? Who was it that Will was signaling? Are the innkeeper and Martin’s brother two separate people, and if so, why was Martin hiding from the innkeeper and how did Nell know his brother? What is the connection between Mother Taylor, Tom Jordan, and Martin? Perhaps Hawes does explain this in the book, or at least infer it, but if so, I found the book so muddy and confusing that any meaning failed to make an appearance to me.

Lloyd Alexander gushes over the book in the introduction, and while The Dark Frigate may have been the perfect book to read in the 1920s, it is now certainly dated, with little in it of substance, besides the promise of pirates, to tempt young readers today. I can see why it would win a Newbery, especially in the award’s early years, but the book has not aged well and there are much better non-Newbery books about pirates out there.

Recommended Age Range: 10+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Children’s, Historical Fiction

So Phil waited; and the broad hat that hung on the bulkhead scraped backward and forward as the ship plunged into the trough and rose on the swell; and Captain Candle remained intent on his thoughts; and a sea bird circled over the wake of the ship.

After a long time the master turned about and walked into the cabin and, there espying Philip Marsham, he smiled and said, “I was remiss. I had forgotten you.” He threw aside the cloak that lay on the chair and sat down.

“Sit you down,” he said with a nod. “You are a practiced seaman, no lame, decrepit fellow who serves for underwages. Have you mastered the theory?”

“Why, sir, I am no unacquainted with astrolabe and quadrant, and on scales and tables I have spent much labour.”

You can buy this here: http://amzn.to/2nCk6VO

1925 Newbery Medal: Tales from Silver Lands

Tales from Silver Lands, by Charles J. Finger, was first published in 1924. I read the original from Doubleday.

Tales from Silver Lands is a collection of nineteen folktales, which Finger collected during his travels in South America. In them an assortment of animals, magical creatures, witches, giants, and children struggle for a life in which good overcomes evil. These fast-moving and adventuresome fantasies provide insight into the values and culture of native South American peoples. They stress the importance of close relationships, hard work, bravery, gentleness, and beauty, and contain colorful explanations of natural phenomena.

Rating: 2/5

Tales from Silver Lands is a quaint, interesting book of fairy tales and myths hailing from South America. I can see why it won a Newbery; the language echoes a story-teller/oral tradition voice, the myths are varied, and there is a discernible message that I would assume would be important to the 1920s audience, when obvious morals in literature were still in vogue.

However, the myths are not as enchanting or as memorable as other collections of myths, and after the fifth or so they start to run together and sound the same. The latter half of the book I ended up skimming, not particularly on purpose, but because my mind wandered to other things—never a good sign when reading a book. In addition, while some of the myths were connected (“sequels,” in a way), they were given a rather odd order. The first two were back-to-back, while the third was five or six stories later.

Tales of Silver Lands would be good reading if one wanted to know more about South American myths (although I wonder if there is not a better source out there). I think these in particular are best suited to reading out loud. However, the myths themselves are not particular memorable or remarkable, and although I wasn’t bored while reading, I certainly didn’t get much enjoyment out of the book as a whole. These sorts of books should ignite a curiosity to learning more about a different culture than one’s own, and unfortunately, Finger fails to do so.

Recommended Age Range: 10+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Children’s, Fantasy/Myth

Again old Hunbatz flew through the air to the father and tried to set him against the boys, and again that night, when the boys were home, their task was set for the next day twice as much as the day before.

It was the same the third day, and the fourth, until at last the boys came to a point where by the mightiest working they could not move a stick or a blade of grass more. And yet, because of old Hunbatz, the father set them a task still greater.

On the fifth day things looked very hopeless for the boys, and their hearts were sad as they looked at the forest and saw the task that their father had set them to do. They went to work feeling for the first time it would be impossible for the sun to go down on their finished task, and the heat of old Hunbatz was glad.

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

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

Castle of Shadows by Ellen Renner

Castle of Shadows, by Ellen Renner, was published in 2012 by Houghton Mifflin.

Ever since the Queen mysteriously disappeared and the King went mad five years ago, eleven-year-old Princess Charlie has lived a wild and mostly unsupervised life in the country of Quale, running amok through the castle instead of following affairs of state. Now revolution whispers through the air, and Charlie is powerless to stop it. Then she discovers a clue: a desperate, unfinished letter scribbled years before by the missing Queen. Charlie doesn’t understand the danger her mother writes of, but she does know that she absolutely must be found—together, they can surely save the King and the kingdom. So plucky Charlie embarks on a quest to track down her mother, armed with the precious scrap of paper and with Tobias, the gardener’s boy, as an unlikely ally. Putting away her tattered old clothes, she must deal with games of political intrigue, the rebels’ rough-laid schemes, and the prime minister’s sudden interest in the forgotten princess’s well-being. And every step closer to the Queen pulls Charlie deeper into an entangling web of lies and secrets, where nothing is as it seems and people are not who they say.

Rating: 3/5

I relatively enjoyed Castle of Shadows, though there were parts of it that made me sigh. The book is what you might expect from a “castle/monarch fallen into a bad state” plot, complete with a wild and untrained princess, villainous servants, and absent parents. The ambience of it does appropriately fit the name; the castle is always described in gloomy and cold terms and nothing about it brings forth the image of a bright, friendly castle, such as in Jessica Day George’s Castle Glower series. There’s enough mystery and intrigue and villainy to fit that tone, and the main villain, at least, is a complex one. You never quite know what he actually thinks or what his actual plan is, and he has that air of simple regret that makes it hard to violently hate him as one might the housekeeper, O’Dair, and her mustache-twirling ways.

I’m not overly fond of Charlie and her character type; I don’t like “wild” characters or ones that do stupid things because they think they know better than everyone else around them. But she does improve over time, and she does have a few flaws to even out all her impulsive actions that usually turn out all right for her. She’s described as being “afraid of the dark” but her fear is actually claustrophobia; she’s fine running around the castle at night, but she can’t handle enclosed spaces. Or perhaps it’s the complete absence of light she fears, rather than the ambiguous dark?

The plot is fairly complex, though it’s ruined a bit by the actions of O’Dair and Watch, who act a little too absurdly and a little too one-dimensionally to be taken completely seriously as villains. But, of course, there must be villainous servants in these types of stories to add an extra layer of tension and another obstacle for our plucky princess to overcome before confronting the real villain.

Castle of Shadows has a fitting name, as Renner uses description quite effectively to really give the sense of a shadowy, eerie setting. The plot and Charlie herself aren’t particularly original, and the plot in particular, though complex and twisty, is marred by the presence of two-bit villains such as O’Dair. Also, I’m not sure I like the ending—everything ends a bit too neatly and perfectly. However, I enjoyed a majority of the book, and its flaws are nothing too glaring and distracting to spoil it much.

Recommended Age Range: 12+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Fantasy, Middle Grade

“Where did you find this? Have you shown it to anyone else?”

The look in his eyes scared her. “I-I found it in a book.” Why was he so upset? “A book I took from the library. I remember my mother reading it to me just before she disappeared. And of course I haven’t shown it to anyone else.”

“Good! Do not! Promise me. Let me keep this letter for you…or, better yet, let me destroy it—” He made a movement towards the hob and its glowing fire.

You can buy this here: http://amzn.to/2o7qDa5

The Cardturner by Louis Sachar

The Cardturner, by Louis Sachar, was published in 2010 by Delacorte Press.

The summer after junior year of high school looks bleak for Alton Richards. His girlfriend has dumped him to hook up with his best friend. He has no money and no job. His parents insist that he drive his great-uncle Lester to his bridge club four times a week and be his cardturner—whatever that means. Alton’s uncle is old, blind, very sick, and very rich. But Alton’s parents aren’t the only ones trying to worm their way into Lester Trapp’s good graces. They’re in competition with his longtime housekeeper, his alluring young nurse, and the crazy Castaneda family, who seem to have a mysterious influence over him. Alton soon finds himself intrigued by his uncle, by the game of bridge, and especially by the pretty and shy Toni Castaneda. As the summer goes on, he struggles to figure out what it all means, and ultimately to figure out the meaning of his own life.

Rating: 4/5

The Cardturner is a story about bridge. That’s really the simplest way to put it. It’s a story about how to play bridge wrapped up in the story of a boy and his uncle. And Sachar manages to describe the complicated game in a perfect way, lessening its complexity, putting the rules into the voice of a teenager also learning to play bridge, and describing scenarios with helpful diagrams so that the reader knows, by the time Alton and Toni get to nationals, how important/amazing certain hands/rounds are.

I’ve read this book before, and it sucked me in for a reason I couldn’t—and still can’t—identify. I recently read Fuzzy Mud by Sachar, which was a disappointing read, and so going into this book I was a little worried that my memory of it would let me down. However, perhaps I just enjoy stories about beginners who start out with a sport or a game, not knowing how to play, and then, through practice and study, work their way up to the big leagues. Perhaps it’s the way Sachar explains the game, or the way he interweaves humor into its explanation, or the backstory given about Trapp. Whatever it is, I found The Cardturner compelling and, pun definitely intended, a page turner, exactly like I did the first time.

Now, that’s not to say there weren’t any parts I didn’t like. The entire conversation with Trapp and Alton about how ideas are the only thing that are alive was nonsensical, although I suppose Sachar did it so that he could include Alton and Toni hearing voices without going the psychological or supernatural route. Speaking of which, that part of the novel is a little hard to swallow, though it does make for a good read and emphasizes Alton’s grit and success in a way that would have been lacking without it. However, The Cardturner is best when it’s not philosophizing and sticks to describing bridge, a game I almost never play but definitely enjoy knowing more about, thanks to this book.

Recommended Age Range: 14+

Warnings: Some innuendo, mentions of domestic abuse.

Genre: Realistic, Young Adult

I learned what I was supposed to do if Trapp was dealt a hand with no cards in one suit. I’d say the word void. So when telling him his hand, I’d say something like “Spades: ten, nine, eight, seven, six. Hearts: king, queen, jack. Diamonds: void. Clubs: ace, nine, six, three, two.”

I also began to understand how the game was played. I learned what trump meant. I wouldn’t admit it to my uncle, but the game began to intrigue me. I would sometimes try to guess what card he’s play before he told me to play it, but don’t worry, I never asked, “Are you sure?”

Toni Castaneda must have been out of her mind.

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