Tag Archives: boy reads

The Time Pirate: A Nick McIver Time Adventure (Book Two), by Ted Bell, 2010

Nick’s adventures continue. The Nazis have invaded France, Poland, Belgium, and Holland. England has declared war on Germany. Winston Churchill is the new Prime Minister of England. America has promised aid to England. And the first of four tiny Channel Islands has fallen to the Nazi invasion. Will Nick’s island be next? Not if he can help it!

With is friend Gunner’s help, Nick rebuilds the old Sopwith Camel biplane that his father flew in the first World War and learns to fly it—then stages a one-man, uh, one-boy bombing raid on the Nazi airbase on the neighboring island. He blows it sky-high.

Isn’t a twelve-year-old boy a little young for such an accomplishment? Don’t his parents know what he’s up to? Would the adults Gunner, Hobbes, and Lt. Hawke really condone, even aid, his involvement? Not where I come from! And perhaps not then, either, but sometimes we forget in our modern society that very, very young boys used to hunt, used to enlist as drummer boys, used to strike out on their own. And every war, it seems, draws boys as young as fifteen and sixteen who lie about their age and sneak into the ranks. Perhaps this isn’t quite as unrealistic as it seems at first glance. Either way, it’s fiction, and rousing good fiction. Quite appealing to today’s boys who don’t have such opportunities.

Not only is danger pouring in fast and strong in 1940, the pirate Billy Blood makes another appearance, and the action shifts to 1781. If you know your history at all, you realize what an extremely important year that was for the American colonies, for it brought about the surrender of General Cornwallis at the Battle of Yorktown and ended the Revolution. But Washington could not have led his troops to victory if the French Admiral Francois de Grasse had not cut off Cornwallis’s retreat. And wouldn’t you know it? Billy Blood has it in for de Grasse. He’s amassed a huge pirate armada to ambush the Admiral on his way to the Chesapeake Bay to assist Washington. When Nick finds out, he realizes that if Washington doesn’t win at Yorktown, there will be no America to come to England’s rescue in 1940. He aims to make sure that happens.

I really enjoy all the history in these books. They’re very unique in that Nick finds himself in the thick of action in World War Two as well as at some important points in the past. In this case, readers gets a first-hand look at the Battle of Yorktown and many of its key players. Shucks, Nick is running messages for them! That is, when he’s done blowing up pirate ships.

I must issue a word of caution. There are a lot of mild profanities. Billy Blood has a foul mouth. Of course it’s much tamer than reality, but he’s quite consistent. And book two seemed to me a little more graphically violent than the first–violence Nick is actively participating in. He strafes Nazi officers who “slump over.” He guns down an Indian who is attacking him. Gunner shoots a pirate in the temple. There are several scenes where “blood pools around his boots,” or something similar. And there are also many third person descriptions of the violence of war: the Nazi bombing of a port city, the shooting of 400 starving horses, the dismembered and unburied dead lying about Yorktown.

The Time Pirate is not for the young or squeamish. It’s right on the edge, but I would let it slide for my own kids once they reached twelve-years-old. It’s certain to please today’s boys who still dream of becoming heroes.

Nick of Time, by Ted Bell, 2008, Book Review

Do you like fast-paced adventure? I’ve read few middle grade novels more exciting than Nick of Time.

It’s 1939 and Nick McIver is twelve years old. The Nazis threaten England and the rest of Europe like a black cloud, and U-boats traverse the English Channel on which Nick has spent his whole life as the son of a lighthouse keeper. Authentic historical details such as these give this book a solid foundation within history, one fraught with peril, but then a whole world of fantasy opens up as well. For on one of his many local sailing exploits, Nick finds a time machine, and suddenly his sailing exploits aren’t so local. Suddenly, 1939 is only home base.

Enter Billy Blood, a nineteenth century pirate who holds a second time machine and visits many points in history, kidnapping children for ransom. Enter also the nineteenth century naval hero, Lord Nelson; a twentieth century British millionaire; a British advanced weapons expert and an aging warship gunner and you have a recipe for adrenaline.

The violence in this book does get a little intense. It’s not terribly graphic, but it includes an up-close-and-personal naval battle and a Nazi officer who doesn’t hesitate to shoot his underlings or blow them out a submarine’s torpedo tube. Yet it wasn’t so excessive that I would withhold it from my ten-year-old. In fact, I’d be comfortable placing a 9+ age rating on it. It’s a great boy read with plenty of scrapes and fast action and, well, there are some casualties. It does have a smattering of mild profanities and more than a smattering of typos. But I kind of liked these typos because they originate from a mainstream publishing house. That means the door has been left wide open for Indies like myself to surpass the industry, mwa-ha-ha. (Okay, I borrowed the evil laugh from Erik, who also lent me the book. Thanks Erik!)

What about sweetness? I’m always a sucker for sugar, whether it’s in a cookie or in a book, and the character of Kate, Nick’s little sister, fills this role nicely. She’s adorable, and the bond between the siblings rings true. They squabble like alley cats, but when danger looms, Nick does everything he can to protect her. Kate, however, plays her own brave part. She is unrealistically advanced for a six-year-old, but her innocence and charm make a nice contrast to the more brutal scenes.

Overall, I enjoyed this one very much. It reminded me of the classic boy adventures like Swiss Family Robinson and Treasure Island, and some fantastic illustrations add to that old-fashioned illusion. But I can’t think of a single modern boy I know who wouldn’t get caught up in Nick’s tale and wish he could trade places with him just for a while.

Note: Similar to The Chronicles of Nathaniel Childe, by Timothy Davis.

Dead End in Norvelt, Jack Gantos, 2011, Book Review

Dead End is a worthy title for this book. It deals with death on several levels, but it’s done in a comic, light-hearted way. Jack Gantos, age 12, lives in a town started for the poor by Eleanor Roosevelt during the Great Depression. It’s a socialist type of community (communist, as Jack’s dad, who desperately wants to leave, calls it) where everyone looks out for each other and trade is based on a barter system. But it’s a dying way of life and a dying town. Not only have folks started demanding cash for services, but the original residents are actually dying off. Quickly. Suspiciously. And old Miss Volker, the town’s official nurse, medical examiner, and obituary writer—and Jack’s neighbor—comes under suspicion. And as Jack has been grounded for the summer with the additional sentence of being arthritic Miss Volker’s new assistant, he’s right in on the action.

I grabbed up this book eagerly when I learned it won this year’s Newbery medal, but I wasn’t crazy about it. It’s being heralded as a great “boy read.” What that actually translates to is “irreverent and a little disgusting.” For example, we get a thorough explanation of the rotten meat in the fridge, a graphic play-by-play of Miss Volker boiling the flesh off her arms (she’s actually treating her arthritis with hot paraffin), and some descriptive visits to the embalming room at the local funeral parlor run by Jack’s friend’s father. Mr. Gantos (the author, not the character) also has a good deal of fun with Jack’s nose bleed problem, which is constantly saturating the landscape in scarlet. It doesn’t contain anything to be alarmed over; I simply wasn’t taken with Mr. Gantos’s style.  On the bright side, the book does contain a fair bit of humor that even I chuckled at. I also enjoyed the history lessons that are woven throughout. And the story actually has a good deal of depth to it. The characters are endlessly original and quirky as well.

The content, aside from being blunt and a little gross at times, is fairly clean. I don’t recall any swearing. If so, it was infrequent and mild. Jack does, however, make up his own brand of profanity, “Cheese-us crust,” which I, like Jack’s mother, still found offensive. A few broad social statements are made through the viewpoint of Miss Volker, like war can only be won by the most brutal, and all religions are essentially the same. But the primary message is that history, if it is not learned, is bound to repeat itself.

Not a bad book, yet not as good as I hoped from a Newbery winner. 10+

Trail of Fate (the Youngest Templar, book two), by Michael P. Spradlin, 2009, Book Review

This is the second book in The Youngest Templar series. If you are unfamiliar with the first one, read my review.

Wow!  Michael P. Spradlin knows how to write a cliffhanger! I need to write this quickly and start the next book. It’s sitting here beside me.

Tristin, Maryam and Robard survive book one’s shipwreck, of course, and wash up on the shore of France. There, they become entangled in a conflict involving a local religious sect, the Cathars, and the Catholic Church, which culminates in a standoff high in the Pyrenees Mountains. Tristin also becomes entangled with a mysterious, enchanting young lady who captures his heart. However, his mission remains. He must get the Holy Grail to England. But just as he looks to succeed, the trio is captured. The book ends with unsettling hints about Tristan’s heritage, an unholy alliance between Sir Hugh and the Queen Mother, and the stroke that will kill Maryam. AAHHHGG!

So, the adventure is exciting. How’s the content? Pretty innocent. There are some battle scenes, including killings, led by the teens, and Spradlin goes right up to the edge while still avoiding profanity, but I would not discourage my own kids from this read. It’s high-action and loaded with medieval historical context.

There are a few details that stretch reality. Tristin was raised by monks, then after being a knight’s squire only a year and a half, he emerges this incredible leader that even more experienced men follow. And Angel, the little yellow mutt, is endearing but almost smart enough to be human. Both a bit unbelievable. And, a point I’d discuss with my own kids, Christ and Mohammad are put on equal plane and gifted by the same God to lead their religions (Maryam is Islamic). That doesn’t add up. But overall, Trail of Fate gets the okay. I’d say it’s best for age 10+.

And now, on to book three…

Anabar Rises, by Will Granger, 2011, Book Review

This is the second book of the Anabar series.  If you haven’t read my review for Anabar’s Run, click that first.

Anabar RisesWhen we left Anabar at the end of book one, he had successfully completed training to become a scout for his home country of Semdela. Book two picks up where Anabar’s Run leaves off. Anabar is given his first tasks. Initially, he guards a vital port city, then he is assigned a section of the border with Ricamareth, where tensions with that country are heating up. He makes plenty of mistakes, unintentionally calling attention to himself in several instances, which gains him the ire of his instructor. And then Anabar is captured and hauled off to a work camp in Ricamareth.

To his surprise, he finds a culture similar to his own and people as friendly and likable as the Semdelans. Then Anabar falls in love with Princess Astrida, daughter of the foreign king. Don’t worry, boys, the romance is very low-key, but it complicates things tremendously. As the two countries draw toward war, Anabar’s loyalties are pulled in many directions, and it becomes harder and harder for him to know what to do.

I like this second installment better than the first. The prose flows more easily, the plot thickens, and readers are forced to think on many different levels. What’s right? It’s often hard to tell in times of war. But through everything, Anabar keeps his honor, making him an incredibly easy character to rally behind. The story is full of adventure, and the message is one of conscience, integrity and peace. It’s a great choice for kids as young as eight.

Read my 5-Q Interview with author Will Granger.

Mr. Granger has a really cool website dedicated to the series that I think kids will enjoy.

Anabar Rises is available as an ebook only. Find it on Amazon.