Tag: Juvenile Fic

by Penelope Lively

Post-apocalyptic Britian, with all the humans gone and just animals roaming around the mostly flooded landscape. While many of the animals stick to their own kind- herds of muttering sheep, packs of dogs, etc.- there’s a motley group at the center of the story- a horse, cow, pigeon, cat and dog- later also joined by a parrot. And then there’s Stanley. While the reader can soon guess what kind of animal Stanley is, the five animal friends have no clue. Other animals they run into are baffled by Stanley too, and their reactions vary from avoidance and mockery to aggression (“is it edible? that creature…” inquires an eagle). While the other animals don’t much care about human artifacts, Stanley is fascinated by them and constantly rummages through ruins of buildings for tools and oddities, trying to figure out their purpose. The results are sometimes hilarious, sometimes an ironic commentary about human nature (a lot of reading between the lines will get you that in this book). I laughed out loud at Stanley’s reaction to a typewriter. Then the animals find a sign from something called the London Zoo that depicts an animal like Stanley, so they decide to travel there in search of his kind. Lots of little mishaps, run-ins with other animals and amusing incidents along the way. Especially stuck in my mind was an encounter they had with hordes of animals that held an annual ritual at Stonehenge- without really knowing why they did it so- very unsettling. In the end, they finally reach their destination and do encounter Stanley’s kind, but what the London Zoo has become is something totally unexpected.

This was a quick read, really funny and thoughtful in a tongue-in-cheek sort of way. I especially enjoyed the scenes where the animals found old museums and empty theaters, how baffled they were by the displays (and by Stanley’s attempts at acting, which the others couldn’t understand the purpose of at all). I’ll certainly read more by this author if I come across any of her books in future.

Rating: 3/5
173 pages, 1978

More opinions: Indextrious Reader
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Wings of Fire Book 5

by Tui T. Sutherland

This fifth book wrapped up the plot arc of the dragonet prohecy. It’s narrated by Sunny, the smallest of the five dragon protagonists. I think she’s one of my favorite characters. Sunny is very kind and always the optomistic one. Unfortunately her friends often dismiss her as just being little and cute, not really consequential. But Sunny proves in this book that she’s quite clever, and can be just as bold and brave as any dragon. She’s off on her own in this story, determined to still do something about the war, even after that devestating revelation about the prophecy. She goes to the Sandwing kingdom where she learns more about her parentage (and why she’s different from other dragons), runs into an old enemy, and uncovers quite a few important secrets. Sunny comes up with a real plan to end the dragon war, a thing that seems nearly impossible as there’s plenty of dragons who are happy to drag it on for decades, no matter how many dragons die. I liked seeing more about the human “scavengers” in this book, who yes, do have more of a role to play in what’s going on with all the dragon tribes! Oddly, they seem able to understand the dragons, either that or they have their own knowledge of dragon history, based on some of their actions. I really hope that gets explained in future books in the series. Didn’t mention it before, but the last few books and this one have, alongside the spying, kidnapping and violence, a few love stories developing between certain dragons. And I liked how that was handled- it was just as complicated and confusing as real relationships can be, but these young dragons are figuring things out.

In the end of The Brightest Night, Sunny’s actions along with the support of her friends, draw all the dragons together in a final confrontation with the three warring Sandwing queens. Again, nothing in this final scene went as I expected, which is delightful. I think this series is really growing on me, much in the way the Animorphs did. It’s a story that has a lot more going on than you’d expect at first, with continued surprises for the reader. And a very satisfying ending.

Rating: 3/5
308 pages, 2014

More opinions: Charlotte’s Library
anyone else?

Wings of Fire Book 4

by Tui T. Sutherland

Warning for a pretty big SPOILER below!

This book felt a little darker than the earlier Wings of Fire books, and not just because some dragons die in horrible ways. A lot of it takes place in the Nightwing kingdom, which is doomed- natural disaster looming. The Nightwing dragons are in desparate need of a new home, and their plan is to relocate to the rainforest- ousting the Rainwing dragons by force. Luckily our narrator, Starflight in this case, with his companions starts to figure things out. He meets his father (the encounter is not stellar), finds out the Nightwing dragons do awful experiments, discovers why the Nightwing queen keeps herself hidden, meets the “alternate” dragonets of destiny, and starts to realize what’s really going on behind everything. One of the evil, machinating older Nightwing dragons literally pitches the young dragonets against each other, but instead of succumbing to the temptations to fight Starflight cautiously makes friends with some of his peers. I really like his character, even though he struggled to find his voice. I found him just as interesing as Glory was, for different reasons. Starflight is worried the Rainwing dragons will think he’s come back to the Nightwing kingdom to betray them, but he manages to kind of save the day in the end, getting messages across (via a magical object) and delightfully, the Rainwing dragons in spite of their laidback attitudes and lack of fighting skills, prove they have means to overcome their enemies without using brutal force. The biggest shocker came at the end though, when the scheming older Nightwing reveals to the dragonets that he made up the whole prophecy thing. No wonder he was trying to force things to go his way. The young dragons are reeling from this revelation, it makes everything they’ve worked for so far seem worthless.

There’s so much to like in this story, I can’t help leaving a lot out. In spite of the dark aspects, there’s lots of charming moments between friends, and funny bits. In spite of the violence and distrust going on around them, the five dragonets staunchly keep asserting their goal- to find a way to peacefully end the war. To help the other dragon tribes get along, not solve everything by killing each other. Their ideas seem odd or misguided to most other dragons, but some of them are starting to come around to this new viewpoint.

And I’m getting more intrigued by the glimpses we have of “scavengers” or the humans in this world. I suspect they’re going to have a role in what happens with the dragons at some future point. Every now and then one of our main characters will come across a few scavengers and take pity on them (because the eyes look so intelligent) and carry them to safety or simply refrain from eating them. Then they move on without another thought. I wonder if this is starting to affect the humans- do they notice that some of the dragons have mercy, will it influence their behavior, perhaps they’ll turn a hand to help the dragons out (unexpectedly, because they’re so puny!) hm. Just me speculating here.

Rating: 3/5
295 pages, 2013

More opinions: Charlotte’s Library
anyone else?

Wings of Fire Book 3

by Tui T. Sutherland

Note there are probably some SPOILERS if you haven’t read so far in the series.

This book is from Glory’s viewpoint. Now the dragonets head into the rainforest kingdom. Again, nothing is as they expected. Really, there weren’t many expectations as nobody knows much about the Rainwing dragons, but Glory was hoping to find that the slanders she’s heard all her life about Rainwings being lazy were untrue. Unfortunately, it seems there was a reason for that stereotype. The rainforest dragons certainly are different, and have a very relaxed, unconcerned attitude about almost everything. They reminded me of the futuristic humans in H.G. Well’s Time Machine, and in some ways also a certain rabbit warren in Watership Down where everyone enjoyed the plenty and ignored the dark side of things. Because although the Rainwing dragons are beautiful and life in their kingdom seems easy, some of them have been disappearing- and nobody cares to find out why or look for them. Glory and her friends are appalled at this attitude, and take it upon themselves to solve the mystery and rescue the missing dragons. In the course of their investigation, they find hidden magic passages to other parts of the world, sneak into a Sandwing fortress in disguise, meet an assassin who has the most unlikely personality for that job ever, become acquainted with the third Sandwing queen Blaze (who is just as shallow and unintelligent as the rumors always said). Another big surprise in this book is that the Nightwing dragons don’t appear to be as all-knowing and dangerous as they’ve led others to believe. Some of the dragonets end up in the Nightwing kingdom, which is a dark and dismal place. Also conspiracies are coming to light- apparently the Nightwings and the Talons of Peace each have “replacement” dragonets they’d rather use to fulfill the prophecy, and some of our gallant young five are wanted dead.

No surprise, there’s continued violence and threats in this book. Some of the dragons are downright cruel to each other. Then there are absolutely silly scenes, like when Blaze is going on about throwing a party for the dragonets, totally oblivious to the reality of the situation she’s in. Or when Glory, frustrated at the Rainwing’s lack of action regarding the missing dragons, decides to challenge the current queen, and finds herself in a series of competitions to win the position. Full of squabbles and cheating, just like a bunch of children. It was at turns amusing and intriguing. I did really like reading Glory’s perspective- she realizes that some of her difficulties come from having grown up shut away in a cave, when Rainwing dragons thrive on sunshine (literally, they need to soak up sun to recharge their energy). She’s glad to finally experience the life she was supposed to have lived, but also unsettled by how, well, lazy and unproductive it seems. Among other things. This story kind of barrels through everything and pitches the reader into a cliffhanger, so I’m on to the next soon.

Two other details I found really interesting: the Nightwing dragons appear to have some similarities to komodo monitors, in how they feed. And the sloths in the Rainwing kingdom annoyed me. Not that the dragons kept them as pets, or the constant reference to their cuteness, or their muffled unintelligible noises, but that they were described as scampering or otherwise reacting at normal speed. Maybe in this made-up world sloths aren’t so very slow? Minor thing, but it just kind of threw me off because it was so unlikely, that part of their behavior.


Rating: 3/5
336 pages, 2014

More opinions: Charlotte’s Library
anyone else?

Wings of Fire Book 2

by Tui T. Sutherland

Second book in this series. I didn’t find it quite as good as the first one, but I’m willing to continue and see where this goes. The five young dragons who are supposed to fulfill a prophecy and end the dragon war, are on their way into the undersea kingdom of the Seawings tribe. This book is narrated by Tsunami, who feels certain that her mother the Seawing queen will gladly welcome her home. (They should have realized from Clay’s reception by the Mudwings not to expect too much). Of course it doesn’t go smoothly. Tsunami can’t communicate with the other Seawing dragons, who have their own language to use underwater. Misunderstandings abound. Everyone is suspicious of her companions, because some of them are from rival tribes. The customs and manners of the palace dragons are unfamiliar, and Tsunami quickly gets separated from her friends. She tries to fit in and please her mother, but something’s not quite right. The story quickly dives into a mess of court intrigue and a long-standing murder mystery. I have to say the ending reveal was quite clever. I was getting a tad tiresome of it all by that point, though. Some things were totally unexpected (like the sea queen being a writer who foisted her stories on everyone) and made me laugh, other plot twists I saw coming from far off.

It still bugged me a bit that the dragons talk a lot like people but oh well. And there continues to be random sudden violence. Again, didn’t bother me in this story about dragons in warring tribes, but kind of surprising seeing that the books are aimed at kids? at least the bright covers make you think so. One of the dragonets discovers she had unknowingly killed her own father in the past, and has to deal with that horrible guilt. There’s also flippant, casual mention of suicide that makes me uncomfortable. I did like how Tsunami showed some character development through the story. She starts off very brash and headstrong, but by the end has learned to curb some of her impulsiveness and take her friends’ opinions more into consideration. Sadly the other characters felt a little flat to me- but I suppose it makes sense that a story narrated by an adolescent would be completely wrapped up in that one individual. In the end, the hidden palace is attacked and our five dragonets barely escape with their lives. They do make it out, leaving the sea kingdom a bit wiser- and with an unexpected new companion.

Rating: 3/5
296 pages, 2012

More opinions: Charlotte’s Library

anyone else?

by Patrick Ness

It is hard to know what to say about this short, powerful book without giving too much away. And I am not very clear-thinking right now but I will try. It’s so emotional. About a boy who feels isolated, lonely and upset and very very angry (though he doesn’t want to admit it). His mother has a terminal illness- cancer. It’s never stated outright in the book, but it was obvious not too far into the story how serious that was. Only nobody seems to want to talk about it with Conor. Or they try, but he isn’t ready or can’t face it yet. Kids at school don’t know what to say so they avoid him. Bullies pick on him. When his mother’s illness worsens and she goes into the hospital, Conor has to stay with his grandmother who is strict. His father comes to visit but that’s mostly awkward. Meanwhile, all this time Conor keeps having nightmares. Nightmares in the daytime, too. Where he’s visited by a monster personified in a giant yew tree. The monster tells him stories that have strange outcomes- people not getting what you’d expect (in terms of justice). Those really made me think a lot. They made Conor angry. But in the end, he comes to understand, and to be able to speak his own truth. To accept what’s happening. And even start to patch up a friendship.

This book reminded me very strongly of one I read many years ago, My Friend the Painter by Lygia Bojunga Nunes- also about grief. Looking back through my blog, I’m surprised I haven’t written about that one here yet. I wish I had more to say right now but just can’t. Perhaps I will come back and add to this post or make notes in the comments.

Rating: 4/5
205 pages, 2011

by Scott O'Dell

Bright Dawn is a young Inuit woman (called Eskimo in the book). Her family has recently moved from their native village by the ocean to a town further inland. Her father while out hunting had become stranded on the sea ice, almost lost his life and was traumatized by the incident. He couldn’t face the sea again, so the family uprooted. Bright Dawn is troubled by all this, but in town she finds an unexpected opportunity: to participate in the Iditarod with her sled dog team. The leader, Black Star, is part wolf. Her father never liked Black Star as well as the other dogs due to his willfullness and independent nature, but Bright Dawn finds that an asset in the grueling race. At the start she becomes off-and-on-again companion to another racer, an older man named Oteg. This man wants to camp with her, give her advice, tell her stories. She appreciates some of this, isn’t sure if she believes all the old stories, and then starts to feel like he’s holding her back. In the end, she has to follow her own decisions and trust in her lead dog. They face many dangerous obstacles (including encounters with a wolf pack, angry bull moose, terrifyingly bad weather, and treacherous ice). Bright Dawn really wants to win the race, but she doesn’t hesitate to stop and help others who need it on the way and to care for her dogs properly. I wouldn’t say she finds herself on the race, more that she grows into who she’s been all along. It’s nice to read details that mesh with others from stories I’ve read of Inuit in the past, or of sled-dog mushing. A lot of the traditional Inuit customs, and beliefs recounted by Oteg were ones I hadn’t heard of before. I also liked that at the very end of the story, Bright Dawn’s father has the opportunity to face his fears in order to help his daughter. That felt a little contrived, but not terribly. To me this story felt rather calm, probably due to the understated writing style, but I bet younger readers would find it exciting.

Rating: 3/5
134 pages, 1988

by Jean Craighead George

I was hoping to like this book better than its prequels and I did, but just barely. While it’s mostly from the viewpoint of the bird, there’s still plenty of storyline about people and conservation efforts in here. It would have been nice if the narrative had just focused on the peregrine falcon. Upon being released on the mountain, she struggles to feed herself, used to having a human partner to scare up game. Eventually she strikes up a loose hunting relationship with a half-feral dog (I really liked that part). She meets other wild birds- some attack her, others solicit her company. I never realized before that a wild falcon will take a new mate to help raise the chicks, if the parent of his brood suddenly dies! Frightful takes on this role as an adopted mother, but she doesn’t know how to feed and care for the chicks at first- instinct only nudges her so far. The way that was all written, without making the animals talk or appear too human, was pretty well done, I thought. But then there’s all the stuff about people. Frightful feels the urge to migrate, but is too attached to the area where Sam raised her, and the pull of his company. She roosts on a bridge that is to undergo construction, some local kids see her and start up protests to try and stop the bridge work. Sam himself gets involved in other ways, keeping hidden from everybody because he doesn’t want to get into trouble for “harboring an endangered species” again. So the kids get involved in environmental activism, Sam works hard to save the peregrine nest without being noticed, the bad guys who were illegally catching and selling birds of prey in the second book show up again, and the dog inadvertently helps out when conservation officers and police are tracking them down.The dog’s part made me laugh. But sadly, the book didn’t really engage me the way I’d like. Too much of it felt like a lecture stuffed into the characters’ conversations. Even the facts about the bird’s physiology and habits which interested me, felt a bit forced how they were presented. I don’t know if the younger readers this book is aimed at, would pick up on all that. Probably what feels like flat, somewhat uninteresting writing to me, would be just right for their reading level.

Rating: 3/5
255 pages, 1999

by Jean Craighead George

This is not nearly as good as the first book, but I read it because I have Frightful’s Mountain on my shelf and want to have context for that one. Unfortunately, this was so dull I found myself skimming most of it. The first half of the book is mostly about Sam’s survival skills and things he’s built, complete with explanations of how they work and sketchy pictures (a compass, an oven, a plumping mill to beat acorns into flour, an outdoor firepit with grates for cooking, a smokehouse, a dam (improved by watching how beavers built, when their first attempt failed), even a saw mill! All very clever and a bit unbelievable. You have to admire the boy’s adroitness with tools and skill at building things from the guidance of library books, but honestly just reading about what he made out of what for which purpose, was kind of boring. Through all this we’re filled in with flashbacks from Sam reading his own journal, about what happened after his family showed up at the end of My Side of the Mountain. The father tried to farm on the land for a while, then realized why the original grandfather’s farm had failed, and abandoned the effort. They all left except one sister Alice, who insisted on staying with Sam.

This story really starts going somewhere, when two things happen. A conservation officer confronts him and takes Frightful, because of course it’s illegal for Sam to have an endangered peregrine falcon. He’s worried how he will get enough to eat now, without the falcon to catch game. Then Sam discovers that Alice left the treehouse he’d built for her. At first he thinks she ran away to live by herself, surviving in the wilderness alone like he did, but then he figures instead she’s playing this elaborate game of theirs- where he has to track her by clues she leaves behind. Only this time her track goes all the way across the mountain and beyond. Her clues are left in the landscape, in little notes, and in things she said to people she paused to visit, knowing Sam would stop at the same places and hear about it. She’s got a pig with her too. And Sam has a companion helping him follow her. They’re both concerned about Alice being alone, but she seems pretty resourceful. So this part of the book is all a kind of mystery- where did Alice go? what does this clue mean? and again, I didn’t really find that interesting. Except for the little details here and there about animal communication, and what the pig might have done (that the trackers notice).

The final part of the book rapidly picks up speed and tension, as Sam and his friend finally locate Alice, and also a gang of men from Arabia who are catching birds of prey to sell illegally. They get the law involved and discover what happened to Frightful. Sam has the opportunity to take a young goshawk in place of Frightful, but he decides instead the birds are best left free. It’s a bittersweet ending- but I felt- nothing. I don’t know if it’s from the choppy beginning, with so many flashbacks telling the story, or the long tracking section, with so much about map reading and using a compass- interesting to the right person I’m sure, but that wasn’t me. By the time it got to the end where something was actually happening, I was just ready to be done with the book, honestly.

Borrowed from the public library.

Rating: 2/5
170 pages, 1990

by Marian Rumsey

This boy’s father works fixing power lines in mountainous country in Idaho. There’s a forest fire, the men are up there making repairs and find an orphaned puma kitten. Man brings it home and they raise it in the family. At first of course the kitten is cute and playful, but when it gets bigger they can’t keep it in the house. Boy builds a shelter for it in the yard and takes it for walks on a chain, lets it loose to run beside his bicycle in the woods. He loves the young mountain lion Pepper, but when she reaches maturity they realize they can’t keep her. Friends are no longer allowed to come over and play- other parents worry the mountain lion will hurt somebody, even though she’s gentle and really friendly to people. Then an incident with somebody’s dog in town really brings things to a crisis. Town council demands they get rid of the mountain lion- she has to go into a zoo, live in a cage on an uncle’s property far away, or simply be euthanized. The boy can’t bear any of these options, so he runs away with Pepper into the forested mountains, determined to teach her to hunt so she can live free. He’s glad to get out into the wilderness, but then realizes he doesn’t have any idea how to teach a mountain lion to hunt . . .  This was a pretty good story. It actually had me on tenterhooks for a moment near the end. And the pencil illustrations by Ted Lewin are great, very lively and expressive.

Rating: 3/5
159 pages, 1973


All books reviewed on this site are owned by me, or borrowed from the public library. Exceptions are a very occasional review copy sent to me by a publisher or author, as noted. Receiving a book does not influence my opinion or evaluation of it


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