Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Night Birds on Nantucket, by Joan Aiken, 1966

Improbability reigns supreme in this sequel to Black Hearts in Battersea. Dido Twite, lashed to a beam and lost at sea, is rescued by a Nantucket whaler, nursed on blubber soup for nine months, and awakens to find herself in the merciful grip of a Quaker sea captain obsessed with a pink whale. Dido agrees to stay on in Nantucket and help Captain Casket's timid daughter, Dutiful Penitence, adjust to life with Aunt Tribulation. But Hanoverian plotters and foul imposters are never far away, and it takes all of Dido's pluck and sauce to stop a mad scientist from firing a gun across the Atlantic and hitting St. James Cathedral. Recommended.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

A Mouse Called Wolf, by Dick King-Smith, 1997

Wolfgang Amadeus Mouse, so named because the smallest mouse baby in the litter needed a big name to back him up, has rare musical gifts, which neither his siblings nor his mother can fully appreciate. But the old lady who plays the piano next to the mouse-hole soon discovers her pest protege, and there springs a warm and chocolaty friendship between them. Simple, sweet without sentimentality, with cleverly understated wit. Well suited to elementary readers but older readers will enjoy it also. Strongly recommended.

Black Hearts in Battersea, by Joan Aiken, 1964

Simon journeys to London to find his friend, Dr. Gabriel Field, under whose direction he intends to enter art school, but the doctor seems to have vanished. He meets the despicable Twites, his landlords, and their irrascible daughter Dido; and rediscovers his good friend Sophy, now lady's maid to the Duchess of Battersea. But a chorus of rascals comes and goes between the Twite home and Battersea Castle, and when Simon discovers an arsenal of weapons in the Twite's cellar, he suspects a Hanoverian plot against Good King James. Rollicking good fun set in an alternate England where the Glorious Revolution never happened, full-fledged danger and villainry that isn't watered down for the kiddies, and a literary original you'll not soon forget, Dido Twite. Most strongly recommended; read The Wolves of Willoughby Chase first.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

The Squire, His Knight, and His Lady, by Gerald Morris, 1999 (Sequel to The Squire's Tale)

Terence, squire par excellence to Sir Gawain of the Round Table, has grown a few years older and developed an eye for the ladies. On a quest in which Sir Gawain seeks a Green Knight who's obligated to chop off Gawain's head (don't ask why, there's a lofty chivalric reason), Terence rescues, or is rescued by, the feisty Lady Eileen of Irish blood and temperament. Monsters, villians, and slightly naughty courtly love abound in this Arthurian coming-of-age romance. Minor stylistic hiccoughs don't interfere with this retelling of "Gawain and the Green Knight's" humor, charm, and good fun. Recommended.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Belle Prater's Boy, by Ruth White, 1996

When Gypsy's aunt, Belle Prater, up and disappears from out of her bed, and Uncle Everett takes to drink, pretty soon her cousin Woodrow moves in next door with Granny and Grandpa Ball. Woodrow wears Coke-bottle glasses and bears the brunt of their Virginia mining town's curiosity over his mother's disappearance. Middle-grade realism; warm, thoughtful, unsentimentalized, unexpected. Strongly recommended.

The Monster's Ring, by Bruce Coville, 1982

If only Russell Crannaker could really turn into Frankenstein's monster on Halloween, and frighten off Eddie who keeps beating him up! When a wrong turn to escape the bully leads him to Mr. Elives' Magic Shop, Russel buys the Monster's Ring for a dollar, and gets a lot more than he bargained for. Upper elementary fantasy, with just the right blend of thrills, naughtiness, and cafeteria humor. Strongly recommended, a great choice for children just starting to read novels.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Mister Monday, by Garth Nix, 2003. The Keys to the Kingdom, Book One

Arthur Penhaligon ought to have died from his gym class asthma attack. Instead, he has a hallucination of a bedraggled butler named Sneezer and an idle aristocrat named Monday giving him a metal key which restores his breathing. When foul-smelling, dog-faced Fetchers invade his school, and people start dropping ill with Sleepy Plague, Arthur begins to realize what's been thrust upon him. This extraordinarily inventive middle-grade fantasy suggests shades of Oz and Wonderland in its elaborate depictions of the House governed by Monday and the Morrow Days. But its premise is much more ordered and deliberate, leaving a hearty appetite for sequels. Strongly recommended.