Tag Archives: tween fiction

Rules, by Cynthia Lord, 2006, Book Review

rules

This was part of my goal to read every Newbery book (this one took honors), and I finished it in one sitting. I started it the last evening of 2012 and enjoyed it enough to forego watching the ball drop. I turned the last page in the earliest hours of 2013. I knew this book had won wide acclaim, but had no idea what it was about. Turns out it shares a similar theme with Mockingbird, by Kathryn Erskine.

Catherine is a normal twelve-year-old girl who would like a normal life, but having a younger brother with autism means nothing is normal. David blurts out odd phrases at inopportune times. He opens cupboard doors at other people’s houses and hunts for their cellars to make sure the door is closed. He embarrasses Catherine and makes a simple thing like inviting the new neighbor girl over not so simple at all. He must be taught the social graces that the rest of us so naturally assume. So Catherine takes it upon herself to help him by creating a list of rules.

Chew with your mouth closed.

Say “thank you” when someone gives you a present (even if you don’t like it).

If the bathroom door is closed, knock (especially if Catherine has a friend over)!

No toys in the fish tank.

A character like David can easily alienate a reader with no basis to relate, but David actually became my favorite. He evokes a great deal of sympathy with a few cute quirks. For instance, every time he puts a toy in the fish tank, he burst into Catherine’s room and tells her, “No toys in the fish tank!” (See, he hates to be wet, and he needs her to take it out.) And every time Catherine’s guinea pigs squeal, he covers his ears and yells, “Quiet pigs!” And my favorite, my absolute favorite quirk is that whenever he can’t find the words he needs, he quotes Frog and Toad, a classic easy reader written by Arnold Lobel.

“‘“What are you laughing at, Frog?”’” David asks, worried lines cutting his forehead.

I touch the tiny frog stamp on his hand and show him mine. “‘“I’m laughing at you, Toad,” said Frog, “because you do look funny in your bathing suit.”’”

David smiles. “‘“Of course I do,” said Toad. Then he picked up his clothes and went home.”’

I feel like I got to know David, and I loved him. But the story focuses on Catherine and her changing emotion from anger and embarrassment to acceptance. And she does this with the help of Jason, a wheelchair-bound boy she befriends who can’t talk. The person under the handicap, she realizes, is a person worthy of love and respect. Rules is a moving, well-written story any way you look at it, one I’d highly recommend.

The Accidental Hero (A Jack Blank Adventure, book one), by Matt Myklousch, 2010, Book Review

This book was recommended to me by Erik, from ThisKidReviewsBooks. In fact, he reviewed it in a guest post here on my blog. This summer, when he reviewed the sequel on his blog, I decided book one might be a great read-aloud to start out my son’s homeschool year. Erik assured me he would love it, so I ordered it from the library.

It was a great way to start out the homeschool year. You see, reading is unimaginably difficult for my son. While he’s old enough that he should be reading novels like this with ease, he’s only just outgrown Magic Tree House books, and he still frequents The Boxcar Children (for which I’m very proud of him—he couldn’t read those independently at the beginning of last year). Anyway, he’s a normal boy who loves high-action, super heroes, things that blow up. He just can’t visit those worlds without help yet. So I read this one to him. (It weighs in at 468 pages.) It took us three weeks and two days, but it blew him away!

Within, Jack Blank is so named because no one actually knows his last name. Or who his parents are. Or his past. As long as he can remember, he’s been a ward of St. Barnaby’s Home for the Hopeless, Abandoned, Forgotten, and Lost. He’s an orphan who doesn’t really fit in anywhere. Not even at St. Barnaby’s. So imagine his thrill when an emissary from the Imagine Nation (a real live world right out of his comic books) comes to take him away. Of course, that was right after a Robo-Zombie emerged from the swampy water of St. Barnaby’s flooded basement and tried to kill him.

The Imagine Nation is the stuff of dreams. There are awesome weapons, flying vehicles, intelligent machines, and an ultimate techno-city, Empire City. (My son loved it!) And everyone who lives there has superpowers–the heroes, the villains, and Jack! But the Empire City is a fearful place. A great battle was fought there in recent memory, and fears that the invading Rustov Robo-Zombies will return is very great. When it’s learned that Jack is resistant to the Rustov virus he’s found to be infected with, he is regarded with deep suspicion, especially by Jonas Smart, one of the ruling Circlemen who is using the public’s fear to grab power for himself.

As Jack seeks to prove himself, he does eventually find out who he is, and the revelation is earth-shattering. (I didn’t see it coming at all!) The fate he’s facing is so monstrous that he decides it’s better to simply leave the Imagine Nation altogether. But one wise super has this to say to Jack: “It is a great burden, of that there is no question, but the future is not written. It lies in the choices you make. Our future is ours to decide. Always.”

And that is the positive message I was sort of surprised to uncover in this ultra-techie, blow ‘em up, bigger-than-life superhero story. That, along with themes of loyalty, friendship, courage, and honor—all developed without one single profanity. Wow! I have to hand it to Mr. Myklusch. He managed to thrill my son with supers, intrigue, suspense, and mega-imagination, and he did in a positive way. Two thumbs way up for The Accidental Hero!

Summer of the Gypsy Moths, by Sara Pennypacker, 2012

If you’re looking for a sweet story, you probably wouldn’t consider one in which two twelve-year-old girls bury an old lady in the garden and lie about her death so they don’t have to be shipped off into foster care. But that’s just what Stella and Angel do, and sweet is just the word I’d use for this one.

Stella has spent her whole life searching for threads to tie her to the earth. She’s always felt she’s spinning out of control, ever since her mom left her. Grams’ house was well-grounded, but then Gram died and Aunt Louise took her in, along with a second foster girl named Angel who mixed with Stella like oil and water. But Aunt Louise never mentioned her bad heart. When she dies, both girls need to buy a little time. Stella is sure her mom is going to come for her by the end of summer, and Angel is waiting for her own aunt to get approval from the state to become her legal guardian. And George and the summer cottages where Aunt Louise worked are right next door. They could cover for her. Surely it wouldn’t hurt to hide the truth for just a little while.

From such crude beginnings, this story takes a decidedly poignant twist. Friendship grows up between the two girls, though they are complete opposites. The summer becomes one of self-reliance, discovery, and maturity. They grow like the gypsy moths that are wrecking havoc on Cape Cod that summer: “They’d fed on the leaves in the dark of the night, until they were able to fly. You had to admire them for that. They did what they needed to do, in the dark so nobody would bother them, getting ready for their big adventure of becoming moths.”

Both of these girls have had a tough past. Angel, in particular, is deceitful, bitter, and conniving. She’s also in the habit of saying “Jesus querido,” which is Portuguese and the only reason I haven’t granted this one the Squeaky Award. The book does have a feeling of desperation, a dose of all that’s wrong with culture in America today. But there’s also hope and love and redemption. I enjoyed this one a great deal. If you’re in need of a dose of sugar, pick up a bad of Dom-Doms and Summer of the Gypsy Moths. 10+

On Book Reviews (a.k.a. Standing Naked Before the World) and The Sound and the Echoes, by Dew Pellucid, 2012

There is a certain amount of vulnerability in submitting a book for review. I’ve been there. You hand your work–your time, your sweat, your soul–off to a stranger so they can pass judgement on it. It’s like standing naked before a large audience, and there’s no guarantee that what they say will be positive. Every time I do it, part of me wants to say, “I’m fragile! Please handle with care!” But that doesn’t always happen.

As a writer, I’ve learned to develop a thick skin. I expect criticism. I even go looking for it. I know I’ll never become a better writer without it. But when the book is done, when the editing has ended, the flaws are fixed, the prose is perfect, at that point I really want to hear good things. Opinions vary widely, of course. Not everyone will like my subject, my style, my characters, my plot. The world would be a boring place if we were all the same. I tell myself this. I prepare for it. But when I get a bad review, it’s still difficult.

Perhaps having my own work criticized has made me a better reviewer. More balanced, more polite. Even when I don’t like a particular book, I try to find something worth commending in it, and I like to back up my dislikes with examples or solid reasoning. I want my reviews, even the bad ones, to be constructive.

But objectivity can get really difficult when an author gifts me a book and asks for a review. When I’ve had personal contact with an author I feel more pressure to give a good review. I don’t expect this of reviewers I contact, and I know it’s not expected of me, but it can be really hard to let down someone I’ve “met.” A review is worthless, however, if it isn’t honest, so I point out the bad AND the good, and I try to do it in a way as helpful as possible.

This policy has held me in good stead. I’ve met some neat people, made some great contacts, and even made some friends despite reviews that aren’t always one hundred percent positive. All because of a simple word called respect.

This entire reflective post was prompted by an incident that happened last month that could have ended badly but turned out to be a fairly positive experience. I was gifted a book that I really enjoyed at first, and then my attention wavered. It was an odd case. Usually the books I put down are of poor quality and never make it onto this blog. This book was quite well-written, but the setting was losing me and I did eventually put the book down. It was a matter of personal opinion. But of course that’s hard for anyone to hear, and this happened to be the first negative review this author had received. The blow was softened, however, by the inclusion of the good with the bad, and by the very short list of typos I passed along. Overall, the rejection was easier to take because it came with a dose of courtesy, respect, and honest goodwill. I think the contact was professional and gracious on both sides, and I really enjoyed meeting another author. I wish her all the best.

Because this was a new release, the author didn’t want the negative reviews posted on Amazon and Goodreads–yet. And I can respect that. But I still wanted to post it on my blog because it is such an interesting case. I bet you’re really curious now, aren’t you? I won’t disappoint you.

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The Sound and The Echoes, by Dew Pellucid, 2012, Book Review

This story has a great premise. Every life in our world has a matching life in another world. Sort of like how every picture has a negative. We are the Sounds; they are the Echoes. And according to Echo law, if a Sound dies, the Echo must be put to death. Unfortunately for 12-year-old Will Cleary, his Echo is the crown prince of the Echo realm. And the easiest way for political schemers to remove the prince…is to kill Will.

The book opens with a very engaging note from the author, a participant in the story, inviting the reader into the Echo realm. It’s laden with hints and foreshadowing. I was hooked at once. The first chapters are also very well-written, with just enough information given and just enough withheld. But as the story progressed and the pace slackened, I began to lose interest. I finally put the book down at 57%.

This is so unfortunate, because Ms. Pellucid has a fabulous writing style. It’s a very pretty style, with lots of imagery and an easy-to-read word flow. But the plot’s momentum began to slow, and I was having a hard time assimilating all the unfamiliar details of the Echo realm. Eventually, I simply disengaged.

I do have to mention the fabulous artwork within the book. And I want to mention that the content is perfectly appropriate for kids. I really appreciate that, along with all the hard work the author put into a professional product. I don’t want to turn people off to trying it, because it is very unique. But I also need be honest and say that it lost me before the end.

I received a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Ages 10+

If you’d like to make your own judgement call about The Sound and the Echoes, you can purchase the ebook here, or the paperback here.

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Now some questions for you, fellow bloggers: Do you accept review submissions? Do you accept indie submissions? Have you ever had to tell an author you didn’t like their work? How’d you handle it?

The Fires Beneath the Sea, by Lydia Millet, 2011, Book Review

Fires Beneath the SeaThe jury’s still out on how much I liked this one. It has some beautiful moments. It also has some awkward moments. The story is entertaining, but I’m really not compelled to find out when the next book of the series comes out. The characters are all likeable, but I didn’t fall in love with any of them. I found the title on a list of noteworthy books of 2011, but I’m not sure I’d laud it among the best. I guess I’d have to say it’s a middle of the road middle grade read.

Here’s what happens: Cara Sykes lives on Cape Cod with her father, two brothers and an aging Labrador. Her mother, however, disappeared just prior to the tourist season, leaving a note that warned them all of danger. Then a series of events, including the delivery of a message by a Pacific coast sea otter, a vision, and instructions in a poem convince Cara and her brothers that their mother needs their help. Their adventure leads them beneath the sea during a red tide where they encounter the ghost crew of a pirate ship and a soldier of “the Cold One.”

I’m still confused at the end of the book. I have absolutely no idea what’s going on in this “worldwide conflict” that Cara’s mother is a part of. Indeed, I’ve hardly seen evidence of it. Who, exactly, is the Cold One? The book feels more like a scavenger hunt than a rescue mission, and at the end the kids have accomplished virtually nothing. I know there are more books coming in the series that will further the adventure, but right now I’m so in the dark that I don’t much care if I press on. A little more information, a little peek at what’s really going on globally, a little hint into the evil opposition would have been much more intriguing.

This book contains a LOT of global warming, the polar bears are dying, save the world science that I get so tired of. And it pretty much bashes all us idiots who don’t agree. There’s also a fair splashing of mild profanities.

On a positive note, I really enjoyed the beauty of the scenery: the sand cliffs at the edge of the ocean, the smell of salt, the seafood restaurants, the crowded tourist towns just beginning to slow for fall, the new chill in the air. It’s appealing. I also loved the scene that takes place beneath the sea at two in the morning during the phosphorescent glow of a red tide. Very cool and original!

Sweet adventure rating – The adventure could have been a bit meatier, though I suspect it will pick up in later books. It has to. The sweetness lies in the setting and within Cara’s strong, stick-together family. I haven’t any sweet treat recommendations for you; however, if you like seafood as much as I do, you’ll probably have to take a trip to Red Lobster after reading The Fires Beneath the Sea.

The Floating Islands, by Rachel Neumeier, 2011, Book Review

I found this book on a library list of notable middle grade books for 2011, and I loved the cover, so I picked it up. I’m glad I did. It turned out to be one of my favorite adventures of this year.

The book opens with Trei on his way to the Floating Islands. His family has recently been buried in a volcanic eruption and his kin in Tolounn, the country of his birth, have turned him away. So he’s searching out his mother’s brother in the Islands where she was raised. As he draws near, he catches sight of the kajuraihi, the Island men who use dragon magic (the same magic that holds up the Islands) to fly, and he knows immediately that he must become one of them. He must fly!

Meanwhile, Trei’s cousin Araenè is rebelling against the limited freedom given to girls within Island culture. Well-bred women should never go out unescorted, may only become wives and mothers, and are expected to spend their lives doing needlework and gossiping politely. But Araenè has a gift for the culinary arts (try to read this one without visiting the sweet shop!) and a rising tide of magic within her.

Then Tolounn wages war against the tiny Island country. Trei must determine where his true loyalties lie, and Araenè must make some difficult choices about her future.

This is a fun read: dragons, magic, and plenty of excitement. Araenè has a habit of dressing as a boy and sneaking off, so we’re lead all over the city—through narrow cobbled alleyways with second stories meeting overhead, to the University campus, to the tall, spindly towers overlooking the ocean far below. Trei takes us soaring through the clouds, turning somersaults and floating on warm currents. And the hidden Mage school is particularly enjoyable. It shifts location in the city constantly, the rooms reconfigure themselves, and doors open in empty walls and lead to who-know-where. The book is perfectly clean, it’s written in a pretty, lyrical style, the characters are likeable, the setting gorgeous, and the children’s problems believable.

But I have three complaints. First, the fairly important character of Prince Ceirfei is altogether too perfect. A few rough edges would benefit him. Second, the author does just a bit too much explaining in those moments when we should be left to exclaim “ah-ha!” on our own. And last, I couldn’t pronounce a single name in the book: Araenè Naseida, Hiraisi Tegana, Anerii Pencara, Tenarii Hanerè… I’d recommend writing them down as you go. I didn’t, and I never really did sort everyone out. Oh, and don’t read it out loud unless you plan to do a lot of fudging!

Speaking of fudge, The Floating Islands is plenty sweet for any palette and quite literally offers high-flying excitement. I strongly recommend it.

At 388 pages, I’d probably place this at 10+.

Seeds of Rebellion (Beyonders, book two), by Brandon Mull, 2012, Book Review

I’ve been waiting exactly a year for the second Beyonders book. I read the A World Without Heroes at family camp last year. This year I checked out Seeds of Rebellion to read at camp once again. We leave today but, ahem, I finished the book last night. Drat! (Note: This was written three weeks ago.) I did have a little trouble recalling details from the first book. People and places were mentioned that I couldn’t remember right away, but most of the time I figured them out through context. I fear I’ll have the same trouble next time; the final book of the trilogy releases in the spring of 2013.

This one felt a little nebulous. After the very definite quest of book one, I felt like Jason’s return to Lyrian didn’t really have much point. He was such a brave hero in the first go-round, but this time he’s more of a tag-along, a liability almost, dependent on others stronger than himself. They all seem stronger than him. Rachel discovers a powerful knack for the magical language; Aram, the half-giant, is bastion of strength—at least half the time; Ned has tremendous cunning and knowledge of poisons; Tark turns out rather courageous; Ferrin the displacer is irreplaceable; and even old, blind Galloran finds unexpected strength and resolve. But no one seemed to have much of a plan about how to defeat Maldor.

Once the tiny group of rebels assembles, they journey to the land of the Seed People—they know they need all the allies they can gather—and they find plenty of adventure along the way. But when the Amar Kabal hesitate to join them and openly defy Maldor, a mixed company is formed to travel to the oracle and learn whether resistance against the evil wizard has even the slightest chance of success. They make it to the oracle, barely, and learn they have one chance in a million, which is more than they hoped for. But to succeed, they must split forces. Two tasks must be accomplished, one by Galloran and one by Jason, if they are to succeed. And I was rather glad to hear it. That means the little band with have a purpose once again in book three, and Jason will return to prominence.

Though I enjoyed book one more (once I got into it), this one did keep me reading. There are plenty of casualties, but the few squeamish moments of book one are absent. It’s a bit milder. In his Author’s Note, Mr. Mull mentions that he’s been working on this series ten years. That’s amazing, and I applaud his efforts. But I’m afraid the series will never place among my favorites. I do have to say he knows how to plug in excitement; the wandering band finds danger at every turn. And he’s endlessly creative. But the humor is just a bit bland, and the series never attains much depth. It does have purpose—defeat the Great Evil—and it has danger and magic, courage and honor, but those deep moments of reflection, of inner discovery, are few and far between. I must mention a very nicely written scene, however, in which Ferrin is examining his motives for betraying Maldor and joining the rebellion. He’s uncertain of himself and his loyalties. In my opinion, that is the most powerful, most emotional, most honest moment in the series. I wish there were more like it.

Content is clean and so is the language. It is violent in a fantasy adventure sort of way but not inappropriate. I’d give Seeds of Rebellion a 10+ rating because of length, though there’s no reason to prevent younger readers from picking it up.

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.

Peter and the Shadow Thieves (Starcatchers Series, book 2), by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson, 2006

Peter and the shadow thievesThe pre-adventures of Peter Pan continue, and they’re just as fun and fantastic in Peter and the Shadow Thieves as they are in book one. Peter chose to stay in Never Land with the lost boys rather than live with Molly and her family in London. But when he learns the Others (evil ones who seek to rule the world with the power of stardust) have tracked the huge shipment of stardust to the Asters, he doesn’t hesitate to travel to their rescue. But he and Tink have to stow away on the very boat that carries the Others. The old villain Slank is among their number, along with a new nemesis, Captain Nerezza, and a cold, raspy creature called Lord Ombra who controls people by stealing their shadows. Peter must help the Asters return the stardust to the heavens before the Others get ahold of it, but Ombra proves a much cannier adversary than any he’s yet faced.

I’m really enjoying this series (again). Like book one, the sequel continues to tie well-known details from the classic story into new adventures. The new story explains the old one. In this case, Mr. Pearson and Mr. Barry take the shadow theme and give it a huge new significance. They also continue to exercise their superb talent for funny dialogue and keep their characters on the brink of disaster. I lose track of time in these books. Before I know it, I’m another hundred pages in.

This one isn’t quite as violent as the first book, which featured pirates. Ombra is an entirely different kind of evil. A scarier, more serious kind of evil. Appearing in the form of a cloaked man, he glides around, oozing in and out of tight spaces. He is what nightmares are made of. The threat in this one is slower, less slap-stick, and less violent, but more menacing. Still, it’s entirely appropriate for kids 10+. In fact, I don’t recall any profanities in this one at all.

This time around, I realized that the authors gave James Barrie, the author of Peter and Wendy, a cameo appearance in this book. I didn’t catch it last time I read it, maybe because I’m accustomed to seeing his name written as J. M. Barrie. But he’s in here for a brief “ah-ha” kind of scene, along with a St. Bernard (remember Nana?). Very cute.

I also want to mention the illustrations before I close out. They’re extremely well done–detailed black and white drawings (charcoal?) drawn on gray paper. Illustrator Greg Call does a wonderful job capturing the soul of each character in his expressions. They add greatly to the story.

I’m off now to read book three…

Read my reviews of the other books in this series:

The High King, by Lloyd Alexander, 1968, Book Review

I’ve so enjoyed this series. If you’ve never read it, check out my other reviews (scroll to bottom) then get thee to a library and check out book one. These are among the cream of the crop in children’s literature, and all five books are chock full of fantastic adventure and fabulous writing. They relate the story of Taran, a lowly Assistant Pig-Keeper with a valiant heart. He is only a rash eleven-year-old child at book one’s outset, wanting desperately to find glory on the battlefield—and he does, more often than he’d like—but his repeated quests serve to fill him with a good deal of wisdom. The takeaway value of these books is so rich. Book two, The Black Cauldron, received Newbery honors but this last book, The High King, took the crown (sorry, bad pun), and it well deserves its Newbery medal.

In my book four review, I made several easy predictions, including my guess that Taran would get the throne of Prydain. With a title like The High King, I don’t think it’s really a spoiler to say I was right. My dog could have seen it coming. Taran does fight the evil Lord Arawn and comes out successful, but it’s the getting there that is so fantastic. It’s the journey, the growing, the struggling along the way that make this such a fit ending to the series. Yet Taran finds out that kingship is “like jumping headfirst into a thorn bush” and a crown “more discomfort than adornment.”

I also guessed that Princess Eilonwy would return to the storyline, and I’m so glad she did. I just adore her character. She’s brave, yet Mr. Alexander doesn’t have her fighting unrealistically on the front lines. She’s sharp and outspoken, but she balances Taran so well. And she’s completely miffed over everyone’s expectation that she wash her hair and act like a lady. The banter between Taran and Eilonwy is still funny and light, but there is now a depth to it, a maturity, an adult awakening, a realization of what losing the other would mean. Taran and Eilonwy have grown up.

All the characters I’ve come to love have returned for this final installment, each comically consistent with their snapping harp strings, buzzing ears, and unique styles of speech, but not all of them make it to the end. War is costly and painful, but some things are worth dying for. Taran and company once again prove themselves valiant, honorable, and brave.

As in my four previous reviews, I have a whole list of fabulous quotes I want to share. Quotes that illustrate the rich quality of the series:

“Surprising how easy it is. The planning, at any rate. The doing, for some reason, always seems a little harder.”

“A man’s life weighs more than glory, and a price paid in blood is a heavy reckoning.”

“Every man is a hero if he strives more for others than for himself alone.”

“The deeds of man, not the words of a prophecy, are what shape his destiny.”

And when Taran is asked sharply asked in the heat of battle “Are you a warlord or a pig-keeper?” he replies gently, “Must you ask, friend? I am a pig-keeper.”

But my favorite quote is from Princess Eilonwy: “It’s been long since I’ve slept on comfortable roots and rocks. What a pleasant change from goose feathers!”

So much good stuff! I want to conclude, however, with a quote from Mr. Alexander:

“(Book five’s) structure is somewhat different, its range wider. If there is more external conflict, I have tried to add more inner content; if the form follows that of the traditional hero tale, the individuals, I hope, are genuinely human. And although it deals with a battle on an epic scale, where Taran, Princess Eilonwy, Fflewddur Fflam, even the oracular pig Hen Wen, are pressed to the limits of their strength, it is a battle whose aftermath is deeper in consequences than the struggle itself.”

The High King is indeed a grand finale. Mr. Alexander, you’ve been successful on every level.

Here are my reviews of the other books in the series: