The Midwife’s Apprentice, by Karen Cushman

the midwife's apprenticeI’d read this book many years ago. I happened across it in the library and picked it up for some Christmas break reading. Winner of the 1996 Newberry, it is a story of failure, courage, and finding that everybody is somebody, no matter how low their beginnings.

Brat had no name. Cold and hungry, she welcomed the sharp tongue and heavy hand of the town’s midwife, provided they also came with bread. Belittled by her new mistress, bullied by the boys, and treated with contempt by the entire town, Brat, now dubbed (dung) Beetle, did her work without complaining and little by little learned the skills of her new trade. After a man’s kind comment, she also dared to hope she might have some small importance in just being herself. “This face,” she said, “could belong to someone who can read. And has curls. And could have a lover before nightfall. And this is me, Beetle.” At that point, she also gave herself a real name. Alyce. Just when she was beginning to find a measure of confidence in her new skills, she fails.

Midwifery provides a keen metaphor for the growth taking place within Alyce. For just as her profession bring new life into the world, so must she be newborn. “Just because you don’t know everything don’t mean you know nothing,” a friend tells her. As she struggles with her shortcomings, Alyce learns to sing, she finds beauty beneath the dirt of her skin and her life, and she discovers courage and tenacity within her. “Jane Sharp! It is I, Alyce, your apprentice. I have come back. And if you do not let me in, I will try again and again.”

Moms, the book does contain a few earthy references to sexuality (the married baker is caught kissing Jane, the smith’s daughter cuddles the pig boy who “gathers his breeches” and runs). And there is plenty of ale and a few drunks. But it’s also chock full of imagery, colorful characters, witty dialog, medieval context, and the resiliance of the human spirit. I enjoyed it even more my second time through.

Annals of Alasia Series, by Annie Douglass Lima

Over the summer, I started this series by reading the last book. I didn’t do it intentionally; I just didn’t research very well when the title was recommended to me. After I read it (and loved it–my review is here), I realized that the three books in the series stand alone. They can be read in any order, lucky for me. But the really unique thing is, they all describe the same events from three completely different perspectives. I love it! First let me briefly revisit book three. Then I’ll get to one and two.

Prince of MalornIn Prince of Malorn, Korram, the crown prince of Malorn, is only months away from his 18th birthday. But he fears the regent who came to power when his father died will not want to stand down when he comes of age. In fact, he fears for his life. To protect himself, Korram travels to the Impassable Mountains to raise an army from the people group who lives there. But his actions come too late. In Korram’s absense, the wicked regent invades their peaceful neighbor, Alasia.

in the enemy's serviceIn book two, In the Enemy’s Service, the focus changes to Anya, a young Alasian girl who is stolen from her home and forced to work in the castle where the invading Malorn forces have their headquarters. The king and queen are dead, but Prince Jaymin has escaped. In the hope that the prince can eventually reclaim his kingdom, Anya becomes a spy, walking a dangerous line to gather intelligence that is passed through the marketplace. But one Malorian soldier knows more about Anya and her family than he should.

prince of alasiaBook one, Prince of Alasia, shifts (or should I say starts) with Prince Jaymin and the awful day his kingdom is attacked. We learn how he makes his escape, where he hides, and the details of his involvement that finally brings him face to face with Prince Korram. The story comes full circle, filling in those final answers. Of course, had I read the series in the correct order, wrapping up with Prince Korram’s activities would serve the same purpose of fitting the last pieces in order. They’d just be different last pieces.

I highly recommend this series for its clean, crisp prose, a fabulous story, and the totally unique way in which three sides of the same tale are portrayed. I judge these at about a fifth grade independent reading level, though they’d make excellent read-aloud adventures for second or third graders. The series never gave me incredibly high or low emotions, but it did deliver solid, steady entertainment. A job well done. It’s my honor to award Bookworm Blather’s highest recommendation, a Squeaky Award to each individual title. Squeaky Award

Grab your own copy here:

Book 1–Prince of Alasia
Book 2–In the Enemy’s Service
Book 3–Prince of Malorn

New Cover

I’ve been on a mission to re-cover most of my books with professionally done images. D. Robert Pease over at Walking Stick Books has been my go-to guy for covers. He does awesome work. You may remember he re-covered Song on the Mountain back around Halloween. I still love my original image for that one, but readers have spoken. My sales did indeed go up a bit after replacing it. I’ve never liked my cover image for book two. This one’s much, much better.

Here’s it is! You can see the matching set over in my sidebar. I think they look pretty darn cool!

FireOnTheMountain_cover (1)

 

I’m hoping to get the final book in this trilogy written later this year, but, well, you know, sometimes other ideas jump in line. But that’s the plan as of tonight. I’ll sneak it in between books 1 and 2 of my new Ella Wood series. (Updates on that very soon!)

The Adventures of Robin Hood, by Roger Lancelyn Green, 1956

robin hoodRoger Lancelyn Green has put together a fabulous retelling of Robin Hood. Drawing on old folk tales and ballads, he’s compiled the sometimes disjointed pieces and created a single comprehensive narrative. It’s a rousing tale of chivalry, adventure, and courage.

Robin lives in the days of Richard the Lionheart, Norman king of England during the days of the Crusades. But when Richard fails to return from the wars, his brother John abuses his power and usurps the throne. Robin alone stands in his way. But Robin proves a most formidable adversary.

Robin is rather swashbuckling. Knocking each other unconscious with staves is the general pre-dinner amusement in Sherwood Forest. Robin does his fair share of bashing and gets his own pate smashed in a few times as well, which he laughs about merrily afterward. Sometimes his bravery borders on idiocy as he goes looking for trouble for the fun of it. But he always outshoots, outsmarts, and outruns Prince John’s supporters.

This is a classic adventure for boys, still a hit with my tweens despite the passing of sixty years (or 1,000, depending on how you look at it). Lots of bows and arrows, swords and staves, knights in shining armor, and one particular kick-butt Maid Marian who was way ahead of her time. But it’s also a good dose of loyalty and goodness in the honest figure of Robin Hood.

Each chapter starts with a snippet from an actual poem or ballad. It’s a great accompaniment to medieval history and an introduction to the English literary hero. The book contains some difficult (dated) vocabulary, but I’d still estimate about a 6th grade reading level. I read it out loud to my tween low readers. There was a lot of Nerf swordplay going on in our house those two weeks, as well as more learning than they realized. Two thumbs way up!

Grab the Kindle version for just $4.74.

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                                      CLICK ON THIS BUTTON TO START YOUR QUEST!

Happy New Year from all the Authors in the Ultimate Reading Quest!

What is the Ultimate Reading Quest? It’s the brainchild of teacher and MG author Sharon Skretting–a unique choose-a-book experience that I found myself a part of. Sharon runs the Quest Teaching blog, that seeks to equip teachers to use literature in the classroom. I’ve contributed several lesson plans and classroom ideas over the past year. So when Sharon put together this fun event, several of my books were included.

This is the second Quest. I was too busy last year to take part, but this year it’s bigger and better. Here’s your chance to fill your ereader with titles that match your tastes. It’s sort of a treasure hunt where you track down your “perfect” book by clicking on a series of choices. A golden cache of books is waiting to be discovered! Participating authors are also giving away oodles of prizes.

Enjoy your journey as you travel through the QUEST! Don’t forget to enter the raffle on the first page. And don’t hesitate to leave comments or questions for the authors. We’d love to hear from you. What are you waiting for? Click on the button above or below to get started on your QUEST for the next ULTIMATE READ!

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                                       CLICK ON THE BUTTON TO START YOUR QUEST!

Wish You Weren’t, by Sherrie Peterson

wish you weren't

I came across this book through a friend and was struck immediately by the cover. Then I read the first chapter, which is posted on Ms. Peterson’s website. I loved it and bought the book.

That first chapter sets up the problem beautifully. Marten’s family is moving. His parents expect a lot from him. And his kid brother is a real pain in the you-know-what. The scene is beautiful. The family is sprawled out watching a meteor shower in the darkest part of the night, and I was feeling Marten’s pain. I also love stargazing and was totally mesmerized by the scene. I knew what was coming. A brilliant star whizzes past and Marten wishes his brother wasn’t. It’s age-old sibling rivalry. How was this author going to handle it?

That’s when the book took a turn for the bizarre. Marten meets a wild-haired figured named Tör and gets dragged on an adventure through time and space. Whoa! Back up the bus! I thought this was going to be a serious thought-provoker. Don’t get me wrong. The story was beautifully written and flawlessly edited. It just wasn’t at all what I was expecting. Ironically, that’s sort of the moral of the story.

“Wishes don’t always turn out the way we plan, do they?” Tör asks. Um, neither do stories!

Then I thought, you know, my boys would really like this. I tend to gravitate toward realism, but they love the wild and unpredictable. They’d really get on board with Tör and his magic watches and the adventure through the cosmos. And I have absolutely no qualms about sharing it with them. It’s a fun, clean, quality adventure. In the end, Marten even learns a thing or two about family and friendship. Not what I expected, but unquestionably thumbs up.

Grab the Kindle copy for just $2.99.

(I read this last summer. Since that time, Sherrie Petersen has become a super addition to our Emblazon team!)

The Hobbit

the hobbit

Now that I’ve seen the final Hobbit movie and laid Peter Jackson’s trilogy to rest, it’s time to return to the book review I wrote two years ago in anticipation of the first installment, which included a few predictions. Let’s see how I did…

Bilbo Baggins was a respectable hobbit. He “never had any adventures or did anything unexpected.” Until the wizard Gandalf and an unexpected party of 13 dwarves arrived one day on his doorstep. Suddenly, he found himself off to the Lonely Mountain to retrieve the dwarves’ stolen treasure from Smaug the dragon. The Hobbit is a year-long journey with classic Tolkien adventure.

The Hobbit explains how Bilbo came to find the ring of power and sets the stage for The Lord of the Rings trilogy. It introduces hobbits, elves, dwarves, and wizards and some of how they each came to be on Middle Earth. It also, in a veiled way, tells part of Sauron’s tale. It’s a fun, event-filled story all its own but it is NOT a sweeping epic with desperate stakes like LOTR. It is merely an exciting treasure hunt.

And this vast difference is why I wonder if The Hobbit will be as successful on the big screen as The Lord of the Rings. The stakes simply are not as high. Don’t get me wrong, it’s loaded with suspense and high action which I expect will make the movie highly entertaining. But it lacks the purpose given to Frodo’s task as well as the deep friendship that develops between Sam and Frodo. Bilbo is on his own among dwarves and his quest rather frivolous. It’s simply not as weighty.

Yet the story holds some surprises and ends with a history-altering event that trumps the quest for gold. In fact, by the end the value of wealth is quite called into question and a few hard lessons are learned. And once again, or rather for the first time, we are shown the nobility of this race called hobbits.

Whether the on-screen version lives up to the book or to the LOTR films remains to be seen, but either way, I think we’re in for amazing special effects, some great performances and a story with its own charm. “There are no safe paths in this part of the world. Remember you are over the Edge of the Wild now, and in for all sorts of fun wherever you go.” 

Hmmmm…I guess I’ve proven rather prophetic, haven’t I? The creators of the movie had to invent a villian for this one–the white orc with his personal vendetta against Thorin’s family–to try to up the stakes. And instead of focusing on the book’s main objective, that of reclaiming the dwarves’ treasure, they attempted to instill some nobility by turning it into a quest to reclaim the dwarves’ mountain “homeland”. Finally, they cooked up a special friendship between Thorin and Bilbo to try to recreate some of the magic of LOTR. I predicted all these issues, and all attempts to make The Hobbit more than it really is fell flat.

Though I didn’t say so, I also predicted a trilogy would be WAY TOO MUCH movie for this story. At the time of my review, the trilogy hadn’t been announced yet, and I thought maybe they could squeak a two-part movie out of the text. Maybe. I was so disgusted when I found out it would be three parts. And that has been my biggest complaint each time. They’re too long! Which makes them too slow. And the battles are way over done. It detracts from the simple charm of the book.

However, I was also right about the special effects. Peter Jackson has an amazing ability to create the impossible on the screen. And I was also right about the great performances. Ian McKellan is always incredible. But it was Martin Freeman’s Bilbo Baggins that salvages a scrap of charm. I’ll even go so far as to say he singlehandedly saves the trilogy from being a total flop. He alone is the reason I went back to see each new movie. (Okay, I did like Turiel, Kili, and Bard, too.)

My final thoughts? The Lord of the Rings is still my all-time favorite epic, both book and movie. I’ve read the trilogy at least half a dozen times and watched the movies enough to memorize large chunks of dialogue. The Hobbit (the book) is charming, but it’s a distant cousin, notable mainly because of the background it provides. I’ll probably never watch the movies again. However, I’ve become a true Martin Freeman fan. When does the next season of Sherlock come out?