Tag Archives: fiction

The Capture (Guardians of Ga’Hoole #1)

Title: The Capture

Author: Kathryn Lasky

Series: Guardians of Ga’Hoole #1

Soren is a young barn owl with loving parents, a cute little sister, and a terrifying older brother. When he prematurely leaves the nest, he’s snatched up by owls who take him to their home. St. Aegolius has its own ideas about what an owl should be: numbered, unthinking, obedient. Above all, don’t ask questions. But Soren refuses to succumb, and with the help of Gylfie, an elf owl, he makes plans to escape . . .

I liked Soren, and the various owl kingdoms, and the little details of their lives. Especially the flying. The various types of owls have their own abilities according to their species, which shows up more towards the end when those abilities come into play. And Soren and Gylfie are both very cute characters. I like Gylfie’s faculty with language, and Soren’s sensitivity. I liked how the stories of bravery kept them going and inspired them to break free.

I am, however, tired of extremely dysfunctional societies. It’s just not fun to have the constant terror of brainwashing, monitors, and slavery drowning out all the possible moments of joy. The book being a clear first in the series means that the end doesn’t really wrap anything up, either.

Overall this isn’t a bad start. I found it a bit too depressing to be a favorite, but it was a decent read, and I’ll likely go on with the next book. I rate this book Recommended.

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The Blackthorn Key

Title: The Blackthorn Key

Author: Kevin Sands

Christopher Rowe–once-orphan, now alchemist’s apprentice–had a happy life with his master, even if his days were filled with study and work. (The explosions were a regrettable side effect of the combination of bold curiosity and a disregard for certain rules.) But someone is targeting alchemists in a series of brutal murders. When Christopher finds himself closer than he ever wanted to be to the scene of the crime, he has two goals: find the killers. And get out alive.

This is a fun bit of historical fiction. Set in England in 1665, it follows young Christopher through the perils and wonder of being an alchemist, who at the time functioned a bit like a scientist, doctor, researcher, cryptographer, and businessman all at once. I liked how the book underlines the sheer amount of study and work it took Christopher to get where he is; too often it’s easy for the the main character to stumble into the right answer. That can be fun too, but it’s nice to see people who earned their place living up to their full potential.

The book offers a lot of puzzles and codes, even spelling them out for the enterprising reader who would like to take a crack at it himself before reading onward. And the murders, as they unfold, offer another layer of mystery, because it’s not just about who, but why. Also things explode or otherwise get set on fire quite a lot, which is great fun, but tempered with the reality that when things go boom sometimes people get hurt. Or have the potential to be hurt.

I also liked Tom’s friendship with Christopher. This is a friendship that weathers some pretty bad events, and Tom’s wise enough to know what’s really needed when Christopher’s cleverness might otherwise have left him in a very bad place.

Overall it’s a gripping read, and I would recommend it easily.

Omega City

Title: Omega City

Author: Diana Peterfreund

Gillian Seagret believes her father’s theories, even when the rest of the world has turned against him. After publishing a book on a Cold War scientist named Dr. Aloysius Underberg, her father lost his job, his reputation, and his marriage. Now Gillian gets the chance to prove her father was right all along—only she never expects the danger she’ll run into on the hunt.

This is a fun book. Older readers will recognize many of the conspiracy theories Gillian mentions, from Area 51 to JFK and more. She’s very willing to take her father’s side in all these matters, while her younger brother, Eric, is less trusting. That said, Nate is easily my favorite character. The lone high schooler in this pack of middle-graders, him doing his brother a favor quickly turns into him feeling responsible to protect the group from the danger they’ve brought upon themselves. Not to mention his humorous introduction and his interactions with Savannah.

All of the characters are well-drawn. Howard could’ve easily been a one-dimensional kid whose only interest is space, but he’s got layers, too. The villains are a bit too straightforward, but then again, this is a middle-grade book, and having the villain spell out her motivation helps give some context to the overall framework for the story. I particularly enjoyed Gillian calling her out on her double-talk.

Overall this is a quick read and full of laughs despite the scares. I rate this book Recommended.

The Swiss Family Robinson

Title: The Swiss Family Robinson

Author: Johann David Wyss

After a violent storm wrecks their ship, the Robinson family is abandoned by the sailors to sink with the vessel. But their situation proves a blessing in disguise. The wreck is close enough to a deserted island that the family manages an escape, and from there the story chronicles how they carve out a new life in this wilderness.

I can’t remember how many times I’ve re-read this book. It’s been a staple since early childhood, and I was recently thinking about it, so I dug it out, curious to see how well it would hold up under a re-read this many years later.

This is, in short, the quintessential wilderness survival novel. With several homages to Robinson Crusoe, the narrator relates the saga of building shelter, obtaining food, taming animals, and crafting various implements. The story, in contrast to survival novels like My Side of the Mountain and Hatchet, presents the majority of the trials as a joyous adventure, and it’s the positive outlook that makes this so much more readable. In fact, towards the end when the novel begins to delve more into a variety of misfortunes, it loses some of that charm.

The level of diction is certainly higher than in a standard children’s novel these days, but that being said, I would still encourage kids to read it, as the book rarely bogs down. It’s also an amusing contrast to many of the overly-PC kids books I see these days, as this family is much more interested in shooting new animals for a bit of variety at the dinner table or cutting down trees to use in constructing a house than pushing some “we must preserve the environment at all costs” message (and to be fair, the narrator does mention at one point being reluctant to cut down certain trees for fear of spoiling the beauty of the area around his home; the book has some interesting thoughts about sustainability).

That said, the novel is not without its flaws. The island somewhat magically has all sorts of foreign plants and animals, including lions, tigers, and elephants, with a merry disregard for actual habitat. (Honestly, I was good until the elephants showed up…. that seemed a strange thing to not notice for several years of living on the island and suddenly find out near the end, as elephants are rather noisy as well as big.) I also feel like the end is haphazard. Suddenly the family finds another castaway, but they hardly have time to react to this when the ship they’ve been longing for finally arrives.

This novel, more than any other, influenced so many of my childhood imaginings. Being stranded in a deserted place not only looked possible, but fun. If you haven’t read it yet, and you have any taste at all for this kind of adventure fiction, you’re missing out. I rate this book Highly Recommended.