Pippi in the South Seas by Astrid Lindgren

Pippi in the South Seas, by Astrid Lindgren, was published in 1959 by Viking. It is the sequel to Pippi Goes on Board.

Rating: 2/5

Pippi in the South Seas sounds distinctly different from the first two Pippi Longstocking books. At first I thought it was because of the small gap in years of publication between this book and the previous, but then I realized it may have to do with the translator. However, that would only affect language, not characterization, and I felt Pippi was a bit different in this book. Then again, I don’t think Lindgren was especially concerned with consistency.

The book starts with a few adventures in Sweden, but then goes into the main part of the book, which is the journey to Pippi’s father’s island monarchy. This book has the most unbelievable plot incentive in order to get Tommy and Annika to Kurrekurredutt Island, where their mother just cavalierly lets them go, in the middle of the school year, to a remote island for months without any way of knowing when they’d be back (or if they even survived the journey). Okay, yes, yes, children’s book and all that, and certainly when I read this as a child I didn’t even think about things like this.

Anyway, at the island, Pippi and friends have their usual adventures, this time involving pirates/bandits and tropical island activities, and there’s a sweet little scene at the end of the book where the trio return after Christmas and Pippi holds a little Christmas celebration for them anyway.

These books completely lost their shine reading them again as an adult, but I did really enjoy them as a child, and many of the things that disgruntled me now I completely missed or ignored then, so I would say these books are successful children’s books, just not successful enjoyable-for-adults-too books.

Recommended Age Range: 8+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Children’s, Historical Fiction, Fantasy (?)

The Book of Boy by Catherine Gilbert Murdock

The Book of Boy, by Catherine Gilbert Murdock, was published in 2018 by Greenwillow.

Rating: 2/5

The Book of Boy is odd. It reminded me a little bit of The Inquisitor’s Tale, which was also an odd book that I didn’t enjoy. The book starts out innocently enough, with a peasant/servant boy with a humpback, who is only known as “Boy,” falling in with a hermit/pilgrim/stranger who is determined to get his hands on the seven relics of Saint Peter. Then, about halfway through the book, it takes a dive into the strange and supernatural. Let’s just say there is an angel, the key to Hell, a traveler from Hell, and a whole bunch of medieval Catholicism.

So, basically, for the first half of the book, I was mildly enjoying the journey, interested in the medieval aspect and eager to see how Murdock would show some of the more controversial events and ideas. Then, out of nowhere, the book turned heavily supernatural, and then from there on it read like a fantasy novel. It’s a little bit like Murdock decided to turn the medieval beliefs dial up to eleven, but I don’t think it was dealt with at all well. It didn’t come quite out of left field, as there was some indication that things would go in that direction, but overall the whole aspect was puzzling and I’m really not sure why Murdock decided to take it in that direction.

The Book of Boy seems a little experimental in nature, and by its Newbery Honor it was well-received by many. However, I thought the supernatural aspect was odd and ruined the book for me, and the medieval aspect, while informative, was also a little one-sided, as it showcased all the corruption and zealousness of the era with no nuance. I’m also not too fond of the medieval setting in general, so perhaps it was a lost cause from the beginning.

Recommended Age Range: 8+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Children’s, Historical Fiction, Supernatural

The Savage Damsel and the Dwarf by Gerald Morris

The Savage Damsel and the Dwarf, by Gerald Morris, was published in 2000 by Houghton Mifflin. It is the sequel to The Squire, His Knight, & His Lady.

Rating: 4/5

I am enjoying this series more and more with each book that I read. At first I wasn’t sure if Morris was trying to play Arthurian legend straight or be cheeky and humorous. Now, I think I’ve finally got a grasp of his tone, which is…both, really. It’s clear he loves Arthur, but it’s also clear he’s trying to make things enjoyable for his audience, especially those who may not be as familiar with Arthurian legend. The best thing is that all of these books are based off of real stories (usually Malory), explained by Morris in an author’s note at the end.

I don’t know the exact tale that Morris based this story off of, but the novel itself was delightful. There’s a fierce, yet still ladylike protagonist, a witty dwarf, a bumbling knight, and lots and lots of adventure. Plus, Terence makes a few appearances (and is responsible for maneuvering the characters into the places they’re supposed to be).

I figured out a majority of the plot twists before they were revealed, but I think Morris wasn’t as concerned with keeping things secret as he was with making sure his story was enjoyable. Perhaps the fact that I didn’t recognize the source material meant that I was able to simply enjoy this book as a story, not as an adaptation. Arthurian legend has never been my favorite, so I love that Morris has managed to make it palatable for me.

Romance played a central role in this book, much more so than the others, Perhaps because it’s the focal point of many medieval stories. Lynet is torn between the noble knight Beaumains and the sarcastic, gruff dwarf Roger, but it’s not nearly as love-triangle-y as I’m making it sound. It’s actually a very sweet, if predictable, romance.

The more I read these books, the more I want to read. That’s great praise for a series centered around one of my least favorite topics to read about, but Morris has a great way of making everything fun and interesting—and for filling in the gaps of Arthurian legend in a reasonable and sensible way.

Recommended Age Range: 10+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Middle Grade, Historical Fiction, Fantasy

Archenemies by Marissa Meyer

Archenemies, by Marissa Meyer, was published in 2018 by Feiwel and Friends. It is the sequel to Renegades.

Rating: 4/5

*minor spoilers*

I keep expecting to know how Meyer will do things, but the first book surprised me and this book, though it didn’t surprise me in the same way, still didn’t end the way I expected. The plot is a little more basic in this one: for the entire book, Nova’s goal is to steal Ace Anarchy’s helmet (which somehow amplifies his powers, but we’re never told how or why). There’s some side plots that crop up along the way—Agent N, which was introduced in the first book, and the Vitality Charm—but the main action at the end is focused around the helmet. This is a long book to have such a simple plot, and it definitely shows in areas.

Once again, I expected Nova’s identity as Nightmare to be revealed, and once again, it was not, except now it’s gotten to the point where I have no idea how Meyer can possibly pull any sort of happy ending out of this. Adrian is angry at Nightmare, Nova is angry at Sentinel—how can there be anything large enough to get past that? Will there be a mysterious big villain coming out of nowhere that requires them to team up? Or is Meyer going to use the number of times Nightmare and Sentinel get associated with things that they didn’t actually do be the thing that brings them back together?

Of course, I’m assuming the series will end with their identities being revealed, but now that I think about it, that doesn’t have to be the case. It may, in fact, be more interesting if they were never revealed.

The most interesting thing about these books is that Meyer has stuck strictly to Nova’s ideas of the Renegades throughout, never once showing another side. Not even Adrian’s point of view chapters have much to do with countering Nova’s ideas, and any opposite viewpoint is interspersed with Nova’s curt questions. It’s clear, especially at the end of the book, that Meyer wants us to agree with Nova.

I hope the plot for the third book is a bit more tricky and complex than this one, but otherwise I’m surprised by how much I’ve been enjoying this series. Hopefully Meyer doesn’t pull anything outrageous or annoying in the last book.

Recommended Age Range: 14+

Warnings: LGBTQ+ themes

Genre: Young Adult, Science Fiction/Fantasy

Pippi Goes on Board by Astrid Lindgren

Pippi Goes on Board, by Astrid Lindgren, was published in 1957 by Viking. It is the sequel to Pippi Longstocking.

Rating: 2/5

Most of the time, books I grew up reading I enjoy again while reading as an adult. The Pippi Longstocking books are turning into one of the exceptions, I think. It’s not that they’re bad; it’s just that I spend half the time wincing and half the time rolling my eyes at Pippi’s antics.

Pippi Goes on Board has a slightly more tolerable Pippi in terms of manners around adults than Pippi Longstocking did, but Lindgren chose instead to focus on “Pippi solves every one’s problems” for every chapter, so (almost) every chapter has Pippi saving the day in some form or fashion. In addition, Pippi continues her tall tales of the countries and islands and people she’s seen, whereupon most of the wincing will occur, as Lindgren peppers her speech with references to the “Hottentots” and to various made-up tribes. Things are made more wince-worthy when Pippi’s father returns, who has been crowned king of a cannibal tribe just as she has always said, and parades around in his cannibal/jungle gear. To be clear, nothing is bad in terms of language—just really ignorant (as one might expect from a book from the 50s, honestly).

However, that being said, Lindgren does a lot to show off the caring side of Pippi, especially when it comes to Tommy and Annika. From the tree that “grows soda” (re: Pippi puts it there) to buying mounds of candy for everyone to comforting Tommy and Annika when they really think they’re shipwrecked forever to foregoing sailing off with her father because she can’t bear to see them sad, Pippi shows that she’s not all rough around the edges.

Plus, there’s a truly delightful illustration where she’s standing fiercely tall with a pistol in hand, glaring at imaginary cannibals.

I’m truly afraid the last Pippi book will be even more wince-worthy than Pippi Goes on Board, as 50s Europe (remember, the book was written in Sweden, though 50s America probably was similar) clearly echoes lots of ideas that modern times have sought so hard to remove or change completely. At least these books are a good lesson in how people in strange cultures/lands were talked about.

Recommended Age Range: 8+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Children’s, Historical Fiction, Fantasy

Out of the Embers by Amanda Cabot

Disclaimer: I received a free copy of Out of the Embers, by Amanda Cabot, from Revell. All opinions are my own.

My rating: 3/5

Out of the Embers tells the story of Evelyn Radcliffe, who, after the orphanage she worked in burned down, flees to Mesquite Springs with a young orphan girl she has befriended. There, she is inspired to start a restaurant where she runs into a number of the local community, including the rancher Wyatt Clark. As expected, the story is a romance, but there’s also a surprising amount of suspense and mystery as Evelyn seeks to escape from the mysterious person who murdered her parents and who burned down the orphanage.

My favorite parts of the book were the ones dedicated to unraveling the mystery behind the Watcher (what Evelyn dubbed the person she felt was watching her throughout her life after her parents were killed), Evelyn’s parents’ deaths, and the orphanage fire. Cabot integrates scarce viewpoints and tantalizing suggestions into the main story—just enough to keep readers curious and the novel suspenseful, but not enough to deflate the tension and make everything obvious. And the end result is pretty interesting and wraps up all three storylines nicely.

The parts of the book that I didn’t enjoy as much unfortunately were what most of the rest was dedicated to. I wasn’t fond of the love square present in the novel, and I’m not fond of “every man falls in love with the new girl” tropes at all, so having both of those present here was a little annoying. In addition, a lot of the dialogue between Wyatt and Evelyn was pretty cheesy and sappy, at least when they’re talking about their feelings. It just didn’t feel natural to me at all; it didn’t feel like anything someone would actually say to someone else.

I also was a little disgruntled that after this huge, tense buildup with Sam, Cabot basically deflated it all with one stroke, making it anticlimactic and a bit cheap. I suppose how she resolved it shows a measure of nuance, but I think the execution could have been a bit less jarring.

Out of the Embers breaks no molds and shatters no expectations for me. If you like the multitude of other Christian historical fiction novels out there, then you’ll like this. There’s decent suspense and mystery in it, though I found the romance clichéd and cheesy. The other plot besides the romance, however, elevated the book in my estimation of it. I deem it better than average, but not fantastic.

Warnings: None.

Genre: Christian, Historical Fiction

Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh

Harriet the Spy, by Louise Fitzhugh, was published in 1964 by Delacorte.

Rating: 3/5

Harriet the Spy was one of my favorite books as a child. I’m not really sure why; I just remember reading it over (and over) again. It’s interesting for me now to think about how many times I read favorite books over and over again when I was young. I don’t really consider myself a “rereader” as such, though I do have a few favorites that I love to return to. Anyway, for whatever reason, I read it quite frequently as a child.

Reading it now, I can see just how strange of a book Harriet the Spy is. It starts with Harriet and her friend Scout randomly going with her nurse Ole Golly to her mother’s house, who is described in unflattering terms as fat and dumb, and then continues with Harriet’s mean-spirited notes about friends and strangers. Harriet sneaks into people’s houses and peers through windows, all for the pleasure of spying. The entire book has a sort of jaunty, cavalier attitude throughout the entire thing that makes it incredibly difficult to transfer across times and cultures. Fitzhugh seems to be playing around quite a bit with perception and attitude and truth, perhaps even attempting to be satirical throughout, but Harriet’s fake apologies towards the end make a cohesive theme difficult to pull from the book. As a child, it didn’t occur to me that Harriet was really mean, or that her apology wasn’t sincere, so at least in that circumstance I don’t think the book is necessarily giving a bad message, but I think Fitzhugh is doing something more complex than her audience would ever be able to grasp.

That being said, I do appreciate Fitzhugh’s unapologetic, solid approach to showing what parents might do for a child who is having problems with change. I rarely read a children’s book with counseling in it, so to have that in this book was actually pretty bold and refreshing, I thought.

Harriet the Spy is a strange book, and one I think kids today might struggle to connect with due to its complex layers, aged language, and the really weird way the book starts. I don’t know if I enjoyed reading it again, but I certainly found it interesting.

Recommended Age Range: 8+

Warnings: Harriet is bluntly honest, which is to say she’s mean; lots of “finks” thrown around; tons of off-hand references to alcoholism, absent parents, and other things that may go over a child’s head due to the 60s slang

Genre: Middle Grade, Historical Fiction

Elizabeth I by Kathryn Lasky

Elizabeth I, Red Rose of the House of Tudor, by Kathryn Lasky, was published in 2002 by Scholastic.

Rating: 3/5

Dear America spawned multiple spin-offs, but probably the most interesting ones are the Royal Diaries, which chronicles the lives of young future queens around the world. I won’t be doing these in chronological order, as I did with Dear America, or by any other ridiculous measure of reading (like by region or country or whatever), but simply in the order that’s listed on the Wikipedia page (and only the ones my library has).

The immediate thing I noticed while reading Elizabeth I is how much longer it was than a standard Dear America novel, as well as how much more time it covered (1544-1547). Lasky tried her best to make Elizabeth seem as much as a normal girl as possible, though in the interest of the series she had to work in all the political intrigue and medieval information that corresponded with the time period. That means, unfortunately, casting a rather poor light on Princess Mary (“Bloody Mary”) who is only ever depicted as vindictive and deceitful (done so that children can realize that she wasn’t a very great queen later on, I realize, but a bit heavy-handed for me, though admittedly I know almost nothing of that time period nor anything about Mary beyond details about her reign that are still taught). It also means having Elizabeth proclaim almost from the beginning of the novel that she would never marry.

I do like how Lasky wove in all the information of Henry VIII and his wives. She played around a little with how Elizabeth must have felt to have a father who killed her mother, and who then married twice afterwards. Lasky is, perhaps, too nice to Henry VIII, but it makes sense in the light of a child’s view of her father.

I think the Royal Diaries is a concept is much more interesting than the standard Dear America novels, and I love political intrigue, so I’m looking forward to seeing where things go. I also know that RD covers a much broader range of cultures and time periods, as they are not limited to simply America, so it will be interesting to see how that is handled.

Recommended Age Range: 8+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Children’s, Historical Fiction

The Lost Treasure of Tuckernuck by Emily Fairlie

The Lost Treasure of Tuckernuck, by Emily Fairlie, was published in 2012 by Katherine Tegen.

Rating: 3/5

The Lost Treasure of Tuckernuck is one of those obscure, random books you pick off the shelf at the library because it sounds kind of interesting, while inwardly you prepare yourself for it to be really cheesy, but then you’re kind of pleasantly surprised by the end.

The book is about two students of Tuckernuck, a school with an interesting background and a looming shut-down date, who start looking for the treasure that the founder of the school hid eighty years ago. Laurie and Bud aren’t really friends when they team up, but, of course, along the way they learn a thing or two about friendship, as well as school spirit and loyalty.

It’s a fast read, and the treasure hunt is fairly interesting. One of the more interesting aspects of the book is the inclusion of memos and post-it notes from various side characters that make things more interesting and fun. It also helps these side characters to stand out more and make the reader actually interested in them. The illustrations were another plus, adding good visual charm.

The Lost Treasure of Tuckernuck is a pretty straightforward treasure hunt book, but it was surprisingly more interesting and less cheesy than I thought it would be. The treasure hunt was pretty intricate, the lessons the characters learned were woven into the story well, and there was a great deal of charm throughout with some good writing decisions and format. Overall, it was much more enjoyable than I originally thought it would be!

Recommended Age Range: 8+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Middle Grade, Realistic

Renegades by Marissa Meyer

Renegades, by Marissa Meyer, was published in 2017 by Feiwel and Friends.

Rating: 4/5

*minor spoilers*

Brandon Sanderson’s Reckoners series gave me a taste for superhero novels, so I decided to give Meyer’s (the author of Cinder) YA trilogy a shot. I liked her Lunar Chronicles well enough, except for Winter, so I figured I might enjoy this though it’s a different genre.

At first, I thought Renegades would be predictable. I mean, there’s only so many ways you can take a “girl infiltrates her enemy’s headquarters and seeks to overthrow them from the inside” plot. So, I figured that Nova would, in the course of her Renegade disguise, fall in love with Sketch/Adrian, but then discover that what she thought about the Renegades wasn’t true and/or get unmasked before she can do anything. The book would end with her true identity as a villain/Anarchist revealed.

Things looked good to be heading in that direction, until the very end when Meyer proved that she wasn’t just following a predictable, overused trope.

For one, Nova isn’t unmasked. For another, she still really and truly sticks to her Anarchist roots throughout, and while she learns a lot about the Renegades, she’s still dissatisfied with the way they run things (this whole book seems to be about Big Government Ruining Things because Nova is very into individual responsibility and not letting beaurocrats make all the decisions and solve all the problems). For a third, Meyer pulls a plot twist out of thin air at the very end of the book, a twist I didn’t see coming—and the great thing is, it didn’t come out of left field at all, AND it wasn’t particularly obvious.

So, in terms of plot, I can’t really fault Meyer. She did a much better job than I thought she would do, though the length of the book seems too long. There’s a stretch in the middle where everyone runs around a library that goes on forever. However, I can fault her for worldbuilding because it made very little sense. She’s simply too vague about the way things happened and nothing really is clear as to how things got the way they are. There’s no sense of place or time to the novel. Meyer seems to be being deliberately vague about many things like technology and other familiar things that would ground the novel, but then casually throws out words from modern day that fly in the face of a world-completely-changed narrative.

In addition, while several of the superpowers are clever (especially Sketch’s power) and most are standard ones you can think of, some are mindboggling strange. Like Ruby/Red Assassin, who swallowed some rubies and then suddenly has blood that turns into crystals??? What? And then there’s continuous mention of “bloodstone” with no reference as to what, exactly, that is…a drop of her blood that she uses as a jewel on her weapons? Or does she make weapons with her blood and then adorns each of them with this drop of blood (if so, why?)?

However, despite those things, as you can tell I still rated this a 4 out of 5, so my issues with the novel weren’t big enough to take away from my overall enjoyment of it, especially when Meyer changed things up and surprised me in a good way. The last (third) book just came out (though the end of this book seems to imply that it was originally only supposed to be 2 books), so I’m glad to read a series that’s actually finished already so I don’t have to wait too long.

Recommended Age Range: 14+

Warnings: Minor LGBTQ+ themes

Genre: Young Adult, Science Fiction/Fantasy