Mouseheart by Lisa Fiedler

Hopper is an ordinary pet-shop mouse—or is he? Is he really The Chosen One? The mouse who will bring glory to Atlantia, the rat kingdom below the streets of New York City?

This rat/mouse world is almost as violent and rich in folklore as the rabbit world of Watership Down. The book is certainly not for cat lovers; the cats in this fantasy world are downright evil. Hopper is a bit slow on the uptake and naive, and his sister, Pinkie, is so full of herself that one is tempted to shake her out of her pride and foolhardiness.

The characters and the plot twists carry this 313 page introduction to the utopian/dystopian world of Atlantia. Hopper is endearing if dim. His friend Zucker the Rat Prince is hilariously brave and faithful. The Emperor Titus, Zucker’s father, is enigmatic in a Star Wars Darth Vader way. It took a while for this reader to figure out whether Titus was a good guy, misunderstood, or a really bad guy. (My only excuse is that it takes Hopper a lot longer to figure things out.) Zucker’s friend, Firren, is undeveloped as yet, but promising. And Pinkie is annoying.

I should also mention the illustrations by Vivienne To. They’re brilliant. I’m no art critic, but I can say that I paid attention to the illustrations far more than I usually do, and they added a great deal to my understanding and enjoyment of the story.

Mouseheart is obviously the beginning of a series. The ending reveals that: “A war had begun. Somehow Zucker and his new friends were going to have to win it. Deep in his heart, he knew that they would.” If you want to learn more about the world or about the follow-up books in the series, you can try the Mouseheart website. The second book, Hopper’s Destiny, is promised for March 2015, and the third book is as yet unnamed and without a projected publication date.

The Warden and the Wolf King by Andrew Peterson

Andrew Peterson is one talented guy. I’ve been a big fan of his songs for quite a while now, but I haven’t read any of his Wingfeather Saga books because, well, I just didn’t want to commit myself to a big, huge, sprawling, saga series of books. And the idea that the man could sing and play and write songs and lyrics and write fantasy books for children was a little too much to be believed. So, sometimes God gives a wealth of talent to one person.

I should have taken the plunge and made the commitment with the first book in the series, On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness. Then I could have read the second and third books, North! Or Be Eaten and The Monster in the Hollows, and all of the characters that I came to love in The Warden and the Wolf King–Janner and Kalmar and Leeli and Arthram and Podo and Sara and Maraly— would have been old friends already. I’m sure I would have enjoyed the fourth and final book in the saga even more if I were equipped with the background and history behind it, but I really enjoyed The Warden and the Wolf King anyway.

Even the one book is a saga, and it is a commitment, 519 pages worth of commitment. Obviously, I recommend starting at the beginning of the sage with Book 1, which makes it even more of a commitment. However, dare I say that it’s worth it? Definitely influenced by Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, this series is nevertheless no Tolkien imitation and no Lewis copycat. There are lots of battles and adventures and hair’s breadth escapes for those who like that sort of things. But the themes and characters are what drew me in. I loved reading the description of Janner’s battle with the jealousy and mixed motives and sin that tears his heart apart as he tries desperately to be the strong, courageous and protective older brother that he is called to be. I liked reading about the “cloven”, creatures part human and part animal or insect who struggle to deal with their dual natures and their disturbed memories of the past. Oood the troll provided some comic relief and a few moments of heroism and rescue. And the ending to the entire book, and the entire series, was pure genius. Enough said.

The Silence of God is one of my favorite Andrew Peterson songs, and I would say that it pairs well with the themes of The Warden and the Wolf King. Several times in the book the “good guys” just have to grit their teeth and keep going, without answers, without a clear word from the Maker, just persevering and hoping and working toward the best goal they know.

I find that the Christian life is a lot like that song and a lot like Janner’s and Kalmar’s journey in this book. “What about the times when even followers get lost? We all get lost sometimes.” “The aching may remain but the breaking does not.”

Another Day as Emily by Eileen Spinelli

I don’t care much for verse novels. I really liked this story, but why was it written as a verse novel? (Disclaimer: I have the same complaint about most verse novels.) Maybe it was billed as poetry because of the Emily Dickinson tie-in? If so, the poetic nature of the poems was lost on me. It felt like prose with funny line breaks.

On the other hand, did I say I really liked the story? Suzy is a bit jealous of her little brother who is getting all of the attention because of his heroic act of calling 911 when their elderly neighbor has a medical emergency, and so Suzy decides to become Emily Dickinson, reclusiveness and long white dresses and all. I went through some weird phases myself when I was eleven or twelve (and even older), and I can well imagine an eleven year old becoming an Emily Dickinson wannabe.

I liked the way Suzy/Emily’s parents decided to be patient and wait for the phase to end, but how they made Suzy go to church with the family on Sunday, Emily Dickinson or not. I liked how Suzy’s best friend wasn’t perfect, but was a good friend. I liked Suzy. As I said, I went through some phases myself. Did I ever mention how in sixth grade I had a large rag doll that went everywhere with me for a few weeks, even to the sixth grade skating party? Then, in junior high, my best friends decided to go to Narnia. Really. They set a date and wrote good-bye notes. We were in college when we decided to form a Baptist convent. Yeah, an Emily Dickinson phase would have fit right into my childhood and adolescence without a ripple.

Ms. Spinelli has a record of winning me over with her characters and story (The Dancing Pancake), but I would prefer straight prose with a bit of poetic license thrown into the mix. Oh, well, I’m not her editor, and Ms. Spinelli is a a highly successful children’s author while I’m just an adult with an aversion to so-called verse novels.

The Mark of the Dragonfly by Jaleigh Johnson

Piper has never seen the mark of the dragonfly until she finds the girl amid the wreckage of a caravan in the meteor fields.
The girl doesn’t remember a thing about her life, but the intricate tattoo on her arm is proof that she’s from the Dragonfly Territories and that she’s protected by the king. Which means a reward for Piper if she can get the girl home.
The one sure way to the Dragonfly Territories is the 401, a great old beauty of a train. But a ticket costs more coin than Piper could make in a year. And stowing away is a difficult prospect–everyone knows that getting past the peculiar green-eyed boy who stands guard is nearly impossible.
Life for Piper just turned dangerous. A little bit magical. And very exciting, if she can manage to survive the journey. ~from Jaleigh Johnson’s website

Techno-steampunk fantasy science fiction. With the exception of a couple of “blips” in the plot (Where did Anna get the money to run away on the express train? How did King Aren know about the traitors?), The Mark of the Dragonfly was an absorbing, worthy entry in the middle grade steampunk genre.

Most of the story takes place on a train, the 401, which makes the story automatically attractive to those of us who have an interest in trains. The fact that this novel doesn’t read as if it is the first in a trilogy makes it inviting for those of us who are tired of trilogies. And the characters and the world of the novel are appealing. Piper and the girl she finds, Anna, are a fine pair of friends, and the green-eyed guard, Gee, makes a good foil to Piper’s feisty, combative nature.

I would recommend this one to anyone who’s interested in trains, dystopia, futuristic sci-fi, or spunky female protagonists. Unfortunately, the characters in the novel pray to “the goddess”—who is never described or fleshed out, only mentioned, so if that mention offends, you want to skip or skim over those brief references.

Ms. Johnson does say on her FAQ page: “In 2014 I’ll be working on the companion novel to The Mark of the Dragonfly. It’s set in the world of Solace but follows different characters.” So no sequel or trilogy, but a companion. Not too much commitment required.

The Boys of Blur by N.D. Wilson

“Stay right with your brothers. Stay right with the Lord. Hit like thunder, and run like the devil’s nightmare.”

It sounds like a quote from Friday Night Lights, doesn’t it?

N.D. Wilson is a talented and prolific author. In addition to publishing Empire of Bones, the last in the Ashtown Burials series, last October, he also has a new stand-alone called The Boys of Blur that is getting a lot of notice and good reviews. (I haven’t read Empire of Bones yet, but I’ve heard good things about it, too.)

The Boys of Blur is a combination of football, sugarcane, and Beowulf. If you don’t see how those subjects fit together, you’ll have to read the book. Well, the video teaser above might give you some idea about the football and the sugarcane, I suppose.

Saturday Review of Books: June 21, 2014


“It was still in good condition, probably because most people checked out the electronic versions of books. I preferred the real thing. I liked the way I could fold over the oversized cover flap on this one to mark a place. I liked the way I could fan through the pages and create a small breeze that smelled of paper and ink and old brick building with tall streaked windows and polished dark wood floors and warm oval rugs.” ~Epitaph Road by David Patenaude

SatReviewbutton

Welcome to the Saturday Review of Books at Semicolon. Here’s how it usually works. Find a book review on your blog posted sometime during the previous week. The review doesn’t have to be a formal sort of thing. You can link to your thoughts on a particular book, a few ideas inspired by reading the book, your evaluation, quotations, whatever.

Then on Friday night/Saturday, you post a link here at Semicolon in Mr. Linky to the specific post where you’ve written your book review. Don’t link to your main blog page because this kind of link makes it hard to find the book review, especially when people drop in later after you’ve added new content to your blog. In parentheses after your name, add the title of the book you’re reviewing. This addition will help people to find the reviews they’re most interested in reading.

After linking to your own reviews, you can spend as long as you want reading the reviews of other bloggers for the week and adding to your wishlist of books to read. That’s how my own TBR list has become completely unmanageable and the reason I can’t join any reading challenges. I have my own personal challenge that never ends.

Saturday Review of Books: June 14, 2014


“If in our day young Christians are not only to nurture a life of the soul, if they are not only to provide a life of covenantal succession, a life of nurture in the gospel of grace, if they are also to fulfill their great callings and to shape the world around them, if they are to enter into life missionally – to make a difference – if they are to go out and change the world, then they will need to be prepared; they will need to think; they will need to read.” ~George Grant

SatReviewbutton

Welcome to the Saturday Review of Books at Semicolon. Here’s how it usually works. Find a book review on your blog posted sometime during the previous week. The review doesn’t have to be a formal sort of thing. You can link to your thoughts on a particular book, a few ideas inspired by reading the book, your evaluation, quotations, whatever.

Then on Friday night/Saturday, you post a link here at Semicolon in Mr. Linky to the specific post where you’ve written your book review. Don’t link to your main blog page because this kind of link makes it hard to find the book review, especially when people drop in later after you’ve added new content to your blog. In parentheses after your name, add the title of the book you’re reviewing. This addition will help people to find the reviews they’re most interested in reading.

After linking to your own reviews, you can spend as long as you want reading the reviews of other bloggers for the week and adding to your wishlist of books to read. That’s how my own TBR list has become completely unmanageable and the reason I can’t join any reading challenges. I have my own personal challenge that never ends.

P.K. Pinkerton and the Pistol-Packing Widows by Caroline Lawrence

P.K. Pinkerton fills yet another niche in detective fiction for middle graders with a high-functioning autistic detective who is half Lakota Sioux/half white. I haven’t read the first two books in this series, but I want to read them both after having enjoyed The Pistol-Packing Widows. There are a few caveats that might discourage some readers:

1) Some reviewers have lambasted the first two books as stereotypical and offensive in their portrayal of Native Americans. I didn’t find this book to be so, but I may not be as sensitive to this issue as other people are.

2) P.K. is supposed to be a devout Methodist Christian, and for the most part he acts like a Christian. However, there is a brief scene in which P.K. consults his “spirit guide” (who turns out to be a worm?). I wish the author hadn’t included that scene since it’s not really integral to the plot or characterization, but there it is.

3) P.K. also talks about and associates with ladies he calls “soiled doves”, a euphemism for prostitutes. He’s tolerant of their profession, if he really understands what it is they do. P.K. is fairly innocent about the world, and he may be oblivious to the true nature of prostitution.

All that stuff aside, I loved this book. P.K. is an engaging character, something of a savant and quite an astute observer, even if he doesn’t always understand what he is observing. In this particular episode in the career of P.K. Pinkerton, private detective, P.K. is observing the Nevada politicians in Carson City as they give out toll road franchises to the highest bidders and negotiate with one another over the possibility of Nevada Territory’s becoming a state. He’s also trying to save his friend Poker Face Jace from the clutches of a “black widow” named Violetta de Baskerville, and in his spare time, he’s helping his new friend Miss Carrie Pixley keep an eye on her beloved, Mr. Sam Clemens. P.K. has a busy life.

There’s a big reveal about three-fourths of the way through the book, and I didn’t see it coming. For those who have read the first two books, I think the cat is already out of the bag. But for me, it was an adjustment to my thinking. Anyway, it’s a fun read with plenty of action and a thoroughly likable young detective. Reading this one not only made me want to read the first two books in this series, but it also made me interested in looking up Ms. Lawrence’s Roman Mysteries series.

Saving Kabul Corner by N.H. Senzai

A middle grade mystery story set among Afghan immigrants to the United States with a Muslim girl detective protagonist whose main interests are origami and other paper crafts—it’s definitely a niche that needed to be filled.

Just kidding, this kid’s mystery is really a good story with an interesting setting and likable characters. Ariana, the main character, is a twelve year old tomboy/artist who has a special skin sensitivity that makes her have to wear soft, seamless clothing with the tags removed. These quirks, interests, and idiosyncrasies make Ariana a real character who comes across as more than just a Muslim stand-in for developing multi-cultural awareness.

At the same time that Ariana is a well-rounded character, not just Afghan or just Muslim, she and her family are both of those things, and readers con learn a lot from this book about Afghan culture, food, and traditions. When it seems as if a family feud from two generations back has been carried over to the same families in America, Ariana must find a way to end the fighting and work together with the family that may be her own family’s enemies.

Shooting Kabul was a good book about an Afghan family emigrating to the U.S. just after 9/11, and Saving Kabul Corner takes the same Afghan immigrant community into the next decade as they learn to combine American culture with the traditions brought over from Afghanistan to make a new place for themselves in San Francisco.

Saturday Review of Books: June 7, 2014


“A bookseller is the link between mind and mind, the feeder of the hungry, very often the binder up of wounds. There he sits, your bookseller, surrounded by a thousand minds all done up neatly in cardboard cases; beautiful minds, courageous minds, strong minds, wise minds, all sorts of conditions. And there come into him other minds, hungry for beauty, for knowledge, for truth, for love, and to the best of his ability he satisfies them all…Yes…it’s a great vocation.”
~Elizabeth Goudge

SatReviewbutton

Welcome to the Saturday Review of Books at Semicolon. Here’s how it usually works. Find a book review on your blog posted sometime during the previous week. The review doesn’t have to be a formal sort of thing. You can link to your thoughts on a particular book, a few ideas inspired by reading the book, your evaluation, quotations, whatever.

Then on Friday night/Saturday, you post a link here at Semicolon in Mr. Linky to the specific post where you’ve written your book review. Don’t link to your main blog page because this kind of link makes it hard to find the book review, especially when people drop in later after you’ve added new content to your blog. In parentheses after your name, add the title of the book you’re reviewing. This addition will help people to find the reviews they’re most interested in reading.

After linking to your own reviews, you can spend as long as you want reading the reviews of other bloggers for the week and adding to your wishlist of books to read. That’s how my own TBR list has become completely unmanageable and the reason I can’t join any reading challenges. I have my own personal challenge that never ends.