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Captain Blood by Rafael Sabatini

Very piratical. And romantical.

Not really bloody. Or violent. Well, not very. I mean, there are pirates. But Captain Peter Blood (that’s his real name) is a gentleman pirate. He only kills bad guys. And a lot of the really bad, violent stuff occurs off-stage, so to speak. Captain Blood reminds me of Captain Jack Sparrow, sort of quirky and not always trustworthy. He lives by his own code of honor and morality, and it’s not exactly the traditional one of his time and culture. Still, Captain Blood sees himself, and others mostly see him, as a gentleman, forced into piracy by circumstances beyond his control and trying to make the best of it.

The story begins in England, 1685. (You can read an article with detailed historical background to the novel here.) Peter Blood is a “bachelor of medicine and several other things besides.” He becomes inadvertently involved in the Monmouth Rebellion against King James II of England. Although he is innocent, guilty only of sheltering and assisting medically one of the fleeing rebels, Blood is convicted of treason, and in lieu of a sentence of execution, he is sent to Barbados as a slave. Eventually after years of captivity, Peter Blood escapes from his master in Barbados, but since he is an outlaw and an escaped slave with a price on his head, he has little choice but to become a buccaneer, or privateer, or in common parlance, a pirate.

Some of the events in Peter Blood’s career as a pirate sound very similar to the exploits of the actual pirate Henry Morgan, fictionalized in John and Patricia Beatty’s book, Pirate Royal. Sabatini explains this similarity in his book by saying that Captain Morgan’s biographer, Esquemeling, must have read the ship’s log of Captain BLood’s ship. “Esquemeling must have obtained access to these records, and he plucked from them the brilliant feathers of several exploits to stick them into the tale of his own hero, Captain Morgan. I mention it chiefly as a warning, for when presently I come to relate the affair of Maracaybo, those of you who have read Esquemeling may be in danger of supposing that Henry Morgan really performed those things which are veraciously attributed to Peter Blood.”

So, Captain Blood, the epitome of the pirate adventure story, published in 1922, is a good bet to recommend to teens and adults looking for pirate books. The Sea Hawk is another pirate story from the pen of the prolific Sabatini. Both of these novels were adapted into movies by the Hollywood film machine of the 1920’s and 1930’s, twice each, first as silent films and again as “talkies”, the latter starring the swashbuckling film hero, Errol Flynn.

Silent to the Bone by e.l. konigsburg

When Z-baby was about nine years old, her favorite book was E.L. Konigsburg’s From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. She mostly listened to the audiobook, sometimes following along in the print book, and she listened so many times that she had portions of the book memorized. It’s a book perfectly suited for eight, nine, ten and eleven year olds who enjoy the adventure of Claudia and her little brother Jamie, running away from home to live in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC.

All that to say, Silent to the Bone is not Mixed-up Files. Silent to the Bone is a good mystery/psychological thriller YA book, rated PG13. The seduction scenes and the details about male adolescent physicality are appropriate for teens, but not really very relatable for the eight-twelve year old audience of Mixed-up Files.

Connor, our narrator, is willing to help his friend Branwell, but it would help a lot if Branwell would just tell everybody what really happened when Bramwell’s baby sister Nikki fell ill and went into a coma. The au pair, Vivian, says that Branwell must have dropped the baby, but she didn’t really witness the injury. And Branwell won’t, or can’t, talk at all. So it’s up to Connor to find a way to communicate with Branwell and to figure out what really happened to Nikki.

Ms. Kongisburg told a good story in this YA novel. Connor and Branwell are fine young men, thirteen years old, dealing with family tensions, growing up, and adolescent sexual changes. I would recommend this story to any twelve or thirteen year old who is beginning to deal with adolescent issues in himself or in friends. It’s a decent, well-written mystery with underlying themes that will speak to young adolescents, especially boys.

Code of Honor by Alan Gratz

Kamran Smith, football star, West Point applicant, and homecoming king, has spent his entire life admiring, following, and emulating his older brother, Darius. But now Darius is accused of a heinous crime: Darius’s face is all over the news, and he’s acting like a terrorist. Can an Army Ranger, West Point graduate, and all-around good guy like Darius really be brainwashed or persuaded into joining al-Qaeda or some shadowy group of radical Muslim terrorists?

Code of Honor is a timely and opportune look at honor and treachery and the psychology of the family member of an accused terrorist. The action in the book is pretty much non-stop, and yet Kamran has time to think a lot about trust and and loyalty and commitment and whether or not people are good or bad or some mixture of the two. Karan’s unrelenting faith in his brother is a little hard to swallow since by all appearances Darius has changed and become an adherent of jihadism. And Kamran’s escape from a secure government facility (CIA prison) was really difficult to read without a large dose of suspension of disbelief. However, I went along for the ride and enjoyed it for the most part.

The book could have taken a deeper look at what makes someone decide to become a jihadist or terrorist, but that’s not the direction the author chose to take. Instead, it’s an action thriller for young adults with an understated moral lesson about not judging by appearances and keeping faith with friends and family. I can deal with that.

Other YA books about Afghanistan, terrorism, American military in Muslim countries, etc.:

If You’re Reading This by Trent Reedy. As his senior year in high school begins, Mike receives a series of letters from his father who died in Afghanistan when Mike was eight years old.

Words in the Dust by Trent Reedy. The fictional story of Zulaikha, a Muslim girl living in northern Afghanistan, based on the story of the real Zulaikha and on the stories of other people Mr. Reedy met during his time in Afghanistan.

Bull Rider by Suzanne Morgan Williams. When Cam’s brother, Ben, returns from Iraq with TBI (traumatic brain injury) and confined to a wheelchair, Cam sees only one way to impress Ben and get him to work at his own recovery: a bull-riding challenge.

The Last Thing I Remember by Andrew Klavan (and sequels). A thriller series that celebrates faith, karate, self-defense, and American values without being didactic or cheesy.

If We Survive by Andrew Klavan. Teenager Will Peterson and three friends, along with their youth director from church, go to some unspecified country in Central America to build a school. While they are there, a revolution takes place, and Will and his group are caught up in the violence and politics of the country.

The Terrorist by Caroline B. Cooney. Eleven year old American Billy is handed a mysterious package in a London Underground station, and his family’s lives are changed forever.

Venture at Midsummer by Eva-Lis Wuorio

I picked this book out of a bunch of ex-library discards because I had heard of the author somewhere. In fact, I have one of Ms. Wuorio’s books, To Fight in Silence, a fictional World War II story based on interviews with “hundreds of Norwegians who were training in Canada for the war, and dozens of Danish officials who were trying to explain their country’s predicament to the outside world,” on my To-Be-Read list. Someone, somewhere recommended the book to me, and I thought it sounded good.

So, Venture at Midsummer is set after World War II, maybe in the 1960’s; it was published in 1967. Lisa, a Finnish girl, has invited two boarding school friends, Gavin and Jordain, to spend the summer with her family in Finland, near the border with Russia, or the Soviet Union as it was called back then. The young people experience traditional Finnish customs such as a sauna bath and the celebration of Juhannis, Midsummer’s Day, and then they become involved in a dangerous journey across the border into Soviet Russia to help a new friend, Kai, pay a “debt of honor” to his guardian. The four teens kayak into a part of the country that used to be part of Finland, but was given to the Russians after World War II. There they find, of course, much more than they were looking for, and they learn to trust one another and work together as a team.

The setting in the borderlands of eastern Finland is particularly vivid and interesting since I didn’t know much about post-war Finland. I didn’t know that part of Finland was turned over to the Russians after the war or that thousands of Finns, given the option to swear allegiance to the Communist government of Soviet Russia, instead decided to leave their homes and make new lives within the new borders of Finland. In fact, I didn’t know much about Finland at all before reading this book, and now I know a little more.

I’m planning an around the world reading project, and I just realized that this book can be my first one for that project. I found this blog post about author Eva-Lis Wuorio and learned that she was a Finnish Canadian, having emigrated to Canada with her family when she was thirteen years old. I picked up another book by the same author from the same discard pile, Return of the Viking, and I’m looking forward to reading it. According to what I read, it’s a time travel book about some children who meet Norse explorer Leif Erickson.

Black Dove White Raven by Elizabeth Wein

Emilia and Teo have always lived unorthodox lives in a free-spirited and unconventional family. Emilia’s Momma is a pilot and a barnstorming performer, as is Teo’s mom, Delia. The two pilots travel the country and perform together as the Black Dove and the White Raven, since Momma Rhoda Menotti is white while Delia is black. Papa Menotti is an Italian aviator, but Emilia and her mom haven’t seen him since Em was a baby. Theo’s father is Ethiopian, and he died in France when the two children were infants. So, Teo and Em have grown up together as brother and sister.

Delia’s dream is for all of them to move to Ethiopia where Teo can grow up without the prejudice and racism that is prevalent in the U.S. in the 1930’s. When tragedy strikes, derailing the dream, the little family is more determined than ever to fly away to Ethiopia, even though things in Africa aren’t all good. Slavery is still legal, although restricted, in Ethiopia, and the European powers of France, Britain, and Italy are squabbling over who will influence and exercise power in the kingdom ruled by Emperor Haile Selassie.

This historical novel, by the author of Code Name Verity and Rose Under Fire, was riveting. It’s mostly set in a place I know very little about, Ethiopia, and chronicles events that I knew nothing about. Mussolini’s troops used mustard gas in 1936 on Ethiopian soldiers armed with only spears and on civilians? Emperor Haile Selassie himself fought the Italians, shooting at their planes from the ground? Eight black American aviators tried to go to Ethiopia as military support for the Ethiopians during the Italian invasion, but the U.S. would not approve their passports? There’s lots of other history embedded in the story, but aside from that, it’s just a fine tale of adventure and friendship and war and flying and growing up.

Some of the religious and political ideas of the main characters are debatable, to say the least. But that display of odd and varying opinions and beliefs just made me want to meet the characters in the book and talk to them and really understand their beliefs and attitudes, especially in regard to Christianity, better. Momma Rhoda Menotti grew up in a Quaker family, and her attitude toward marriage and religion is liberal and far from orthodox. Teo finds meaning in the liturgy and practices of the Ethiopian Coptic Church as he watches it in Ethiopia, but he realizes that the Ethiopian church is not his church, since he is really an American despite his having an Ethiopian father. Em is not very religious at all, but she has the best lines in the book in regard to religion, telling Teo when he is having a superstitious moment of blaming himself and God for bad things that happen, “God works through us. Through people doing the right thing. Through you. Through Momma giving you her gas mask and covering you up.” She’s acquired sort of a Quaker/Inner Light attitude toward God and religion.

Anyway, it’s a good book with much fodder for discussion. It’s billed as a YA fiction, but I think it’s essentially an adult book, aside from the fact that the two narrators and protagonists are in their late teens. Certainly, adults, both young and old, can enjoy this between-the-wars story of friendship and resilience.

Beneath by Roland Smith

So, first I thought the premise of this young adult novel was intriguing:

“Exactly one year to the day after my brother, Coop, ditched me, I got a package in the mail.
It came to the school, not our home.
The secretary handed me the package with a warning that I was never to use the school as my personal address.
I was going to tell her that I hadn’t when I saw my name: Pat Meatloaf O’Toole, scrawled in Coop’s familiar handwriting.
Meatloaf is not my middle name.
I told her that I would never do it again, grabbed he package, locked myself in a restroom stall, and tore the box open.
Inside was a handheld digital voice recorder, a supply of memory sticks, and a note written on a greasy hamburger wrapper.”

As the story continued, and Pat began to fill in the background about himself and his runaway older brother, Cooper, I began to think the details were a little corny. Coop is an oddball, to say the least. He sleeps in school and stays awake all night. He spends his nights either digging tunnels or tap dancing on bridges and overpasses. The entire family is odd. Mother, a former astronaut turned astrophysicist, and father, a molecular biologist and Nobel laureate, are somewhat uninvolved parents–but loving, nonetheless. The boys have identical twin nannies who speak only Spanish and can’t be distinguished from one another. It was all just a little too quirky, but still intriguing enough to keep me reading.

Then, Pat goes to New York City to look for Coop, gets involved with a homeless community of underground dwellers, and goes from danger into disaster. Maybe I’m easily amused and easily befuddled, but I didn’t see the twists and turns coming. I enjoyed the “thriller” aspects of the novel, and I was able to suspend disbelief, even though the whole story is pretty unbelievable.

Throw in murder, terrorism,, a love interest for Coop (nothing explicit), sophisticated criminal activity underneath the sidewalks, homes and buildings of NYC, and a couple of brothers who are the only ones between those master criminals and the destruction of great swaths of the United States. It was a fun ride, and there’s a set-up for a sequel. However, the ending was satisfying, not frustrating.

Recommended for those who like this sort of story (maybe fans of Kiki Strike or of Carolyn Cooney and Margaret Peterson Haddix) –ages twelve and up.

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Soulprint by Megan Miranda

The premise of this YA novel is that souls enter new bodies when people die, i.e. human reincarnation. And someone has a computer database record of whose soul has gone where and what that soul did in a past life. This database is controversial, secret, and important because of the other premise in the novel: souls of evil people (in new bodies with new identities) tend to repeat their past crimes. In other words, if I was thief in this life, my thieving soul gets passed on to the next person who inherits my soul.

So, in spite of the philosophically flawed idea of reincarnation, I found the book’s questions intriguing. Nature vs. nurture. Can we overcome or transcend our own past mistakes and sins, even those in this life? How? Why do we often repeat those bad decisions and sinful patterns? How do we become something better than what people expect us to be?

The book begins with seventeen year old Alina Chase, in seclusion on an island by order of the government to keep her from repeating the crimes of her past life. Alina doesn’t know much about who she was in her past life or what she did, but she’s tired of being blamed for something she didn’t really do and can’t even remember. When three other young people help Alina to escape the island, the four go on the run together, but Alina finds that the others have their own agendas and want to use her to gain their own ends. There’s romance, a bit of a triangle, but it’s fairly chaste as YA novels go these days: lots of heavy breathing and some intense kissing.

I liked the book, but the reincarnation thing bothered me because I just don’t believe in it. I found it hard to suspend disbelief and take the “database of past lives” seriously. However, that’s a flaw in my imagination. Otherwise, I thought it was deftly plotted and intriguing enough. It’s for teens looking for a psychological romance thriller in a sci-fi world.

12 Favorite Young Adult Ficton Books I Read in 2014

Not all of these YA fiction books were published in 2014, but several of them were.

The Winter Horses by Phillip Kerr. Historical fiction/magical realism set in the Ukraine, winter, 1941. If you like horses or World War II stories, check it out.

The Windy Hill by Cornelia Meigs. If this one were published now, it would be YA since it features teenaged protagonists. It’s not at all like contemporary YA, though.

Out of the Easy by Ruta Sepetys. 1950’s New Orleans, on the seamy side of town.

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart. This novel hit way too close to home for me to be able to write an objective, or even subjective, review. However, I found it quite haunting and memorable.

If You’re Reading This by Trent Reedy. As his senior year in high school begins, Mike receives a series of letters from his father who died in Afghanistan when Mike was eight years old.

Merlin’s Blade by Robert Treskillard. Good Arthurian fiction series, The Merlin Spiral also includes Merlin’s Shadow, and Merlin’s Nightmare.

Always Emily by Michaela McColl. An atmospheric mystery featuring Emily Bronte and her sister Charlotte as a mismatched but effective detective duo.

The Extra by Kathryn Lasky. A fictionalization of the true story of how Hitler’s pet film director, Leni Riefenstahl, enslaved Sinti and Roma gypsies to have them work as extras in her movies.

I Kill the Mockingbird by Paul Acampora. Borderline between middle grade and YA and lots of fun for bookish types.

The Screaming Staircase by Jonathan Stroud. Maybe middle grade, maybe YA, but good anyway.

The Whispering Skull by Jonathan Stroud. Book #2 in the Lockwood & Co. series about ghost-busting adolescents in an alternate history Victorian world.

Belzhar by Meg Wolitzer. I just read this one yesterday, but I liked it a lot despite some flaws. My review will be posted in 2015.

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The Jupiter Pirates: Hunt for the Hydra by Jason Fry


Good old-fashioned Robert Heinlein-style juvenile science fiction. The story takes place in our own solar system. The characters are all human (well, except for Grandpa who’s mostly cyborg by now). The unfamiliar words are mostly space travel jargon (fireship, grav-sled, transponder) and pirate talk (belay, burgoo, avast, barky). There’s politics and adventure and espionage, and girls and guys take part equally in the adventure and in the drudge work.

Twelve year old twins Tycho and Yana, and older brother Carlo Hashoone are the three probable heirs to the Hashoone family business: a privateering starship called the Shadow Comet. Their mom, Diocletia, is the captain, and dad, Mavry, is the first mate. However, since only one of the three siblings can become captain when mom retires, there’s a lot of rivalry mixed in with the teamwork as the entire family, including Grandpa, work together to find and take prizes, namely Earth cargo ships. Because the Jovian Union, where the Hashoons are from, and Earth are technically at war, the Shadow Comet operates under letters of marquee to capture and hold for ransom any starships from Earth that might cross their path.

Besides just being a lot of fun, the book might bring up some interesting class or family discussions:

What is the difference between a pirate and a privateer? (Reference and compare Sir Francis Drake and also U.S. privateers of the American revolution.) How are the crew of the Shadow Comet different from historical pirates like Jean Lafitte? How are they similar? Are privateers really just “pirates with papers”? Is it justifiable to be a pirate (or privateer) if you’re fighting for your country while you you take a little profit for yourself?

Can family members work as a team and also be rivals for the same position? How would that work in real life? Have you seen families pull together in a crisis? Do they always?

Did you think it was unusual to have the mom be the captain of the Shadow Comet, with the dad serving under her authority as first mate? What did you think of Captain Diocletia giving orders to her father, her husband, and her children? Why do you think the author wrote the characters’ roles this way?

Yana is impulsive and decisive, whereas Tycho is more thoughtful and indecisive. Which twin are you more like? Which one do you think would make a better captain someday? Or would you choose Carlo, since he’s older and a better pilot?

What do you think about Grandpa’s decision at the end of the book? Was he right? If not, do you understand why he did what he did?

You can probably think of other avenues for discussion as you read the book. Jupiter Pirates: Hunt for the Hydra is the first book in a series about the Hashoone family and their piratical (privateering!) adventures. The second book is Curse of the Iris, due out December 16, 2014.

Amazon Affiliate. If you click on a book cover here to go to Amazon and buy something, I receive a very small percentage of the purchase price.
This book is also nominated for a Cybil Award, but the views expressed here are strictly my own and do not reflect or determine the judging panel’s opinions.

Shipwreck Island by S.A. Bodeen

WARNING: DO NOT READ THIS BOOK UNLESS YOU ARE WILLING TO WAIT THREE YEARS TO SEE HOW IT ENDS!

A book like this one should come with a warning label. It’s not a whole book. It’s short, 184 pages, and it just ends . . . in the middle of the story. It ends like an episode of LOST. In fact, it reads a lot like an episode of LOST. Anyway, I felt cheated. The book should have something on the cover that says it’s the first installment in a series. And I find that there are to be four books in all, and the next book in the series won’t be out until July, 2015. Not. nice.

Publisher? Editor? Author? Whoever is in charge? If you have a story that is this unfinished, just wait and publish all four volumes at the same time. Or publish the whole thing in one book. Something. At least with LOST, we only had to wait a week to see what happened next. A year is too long for me, and it’s certainly too long for the ten and eleven year olds that this series is written for. Do you know how long a year is in a pre-teen’s life? It’s forever. (Yes, the kids waited for the next installment of Harry Potter—because each of those books told a complete story. And the HP kids grew as the series went along.) Shipwreck Island is not Harry Potter, although HP is a book that one of the characters takes along to the desert island, and no one is going to remember—or care—what happened in this book by next July.

In Shipwreck Island, we have three kids and a mom and a dad who are shipwrecked on a mysterious island. I don’t see how the kids can grow much older or have the books’ themes and plots become more mature as they progress unless the author plans to have them stay on this island for a very long time. The first book only covers about two days on the island. So in next year’s exciting episode, are we going to have a time marker that says, “One year later . . .”?

Shipwreck Island could have been a good solid read for middle grade students who like adventure and a bit of mystery and horror. Those ten and eleven year olds don’t even remember LOST, anyway. However, somebody blew it as far as pre-publication planning goes. If you really, really love desert island stories with weird and scary creatures, wait three more years and buy the complete book in four volumes.

Amazon Affiliate. If you click on a book cover here to go to Amazon and buy something, I receive a very small percentage of the purchase price.
This book is also nominated for a Cybil Award, but the views expressed here are strictly my own and do not reflect or determine the judging panel’s opinions.