The Blue Sword

10 May

The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley

The Protagonist: Angharad “Harry” Crewe, who moves to an isolated colonial outpost in the foreign desert country of Istan after her father dies.

The Story: Harry feels strangely at home in the foreign country of Istan, where she has moved to be near her brother, and is intrigued by Corlath, the native king of the country, which he calls Damar.  Corlath has a psychic ability called kelar, which prompts him to kidnap Harry, believing her to be vital in defending his people from invading northern tribes.  Harry adapts quickly to the culture, and even begins having kelar related visions of Lady Aerin, a heroic figure from Damarian legend.  When Harry is given Lady Aerin’s blue sword as a gift, she believes she knows the best strategy for fending off the invaders – even if it means disobeying Corlath, who she has fallen in love with.

Review: Harry is the very definition of a heroine – she’s clever, independent, and capable of holding her own in battle.  In addition to her training as a warrior, she is sensitive to cultural differences and willing to let herself fall in love.  This novel really has it all – action, romance, and fantasy.  Plus, if readers enjoy this book, they can read Robin McKinley’s next book about Damar, a prequel that tells the story of Aerin before she became a heroine of legendary status.

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The Goose Girl

10 May

The Goose Girl by Shannon Hale

The Protagonist: Anidori-Kiladra Talianna Isilee, who goes by “Ani” and is the Crown Princess of Kildenree.

The Story: Ani, the oldest child of the king and queen of Kildenree, has been raised in anticipation of inheriting the throne from her parents, even though speaking in front of people is not one of her strengths.  She is, however, gifted with the ability to speak with some animals, including her stallion, Falada.  When her father dies, Ani learns that her younger brother, Calib, is named as heir to the kingdom, and Ani has been promised in marriage to the prince of their neighboring kingdom, Bayern, in an attempt to avoid war.  On the journey to Bayern, her treasonous lady-in-waiting, Selia, tries to have her killed so she can impersonate the princess.  Ani escapes through the woods and ends up working as the goose girl at the castle.  Will she be able to set things right?

Review: What an incredible story!  Based on a lesser known Grimm’s story (incidentally called “The Goose Girl”), it contains all the elements of familiar fairy tales, while remaining original enough to keep us guessing at the surprising sequence of events.  Ani’s gift of speaking to animals will appeal to readers, who will also enjoy her love story with Geric, who claims to be one of the prince’s guards.  In addition, Shannon Hale is a talented author, and readers will love her turn of phrase.  I would highly recommend this book for tweens – I would even recommend this for adult readers!

Book Talk: Listen to our audio book talk on The Goose Girl:

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The Penderwicks on Gardam Street

10 May

The Penderwicks on Gardam Street by Jeanne Birdsall

The Protagonist: You’ll remember these four sisters from The Penderwicks – Rosalind, Skye, Jane, and Batty, back at home on Gardam Street!

The Story: If you’ve read Birdsall’s first book about the Penderwicks, you’ll know that their mother sadly passed away from cancer shortly after Batty was born.  It has been over four years, and although the girls miss their mother, they are very happy living together with their widowed father, and anticipating visits from their wonderful Aunt Claire.  When Aunt Claire surprises them with gifts, they know it must mean she has bad news – and it’s the worst: She thinks that it is time for their Daddy to start dating again, and has even set him up on a blind date!  The Penderwick girls recognize that this is an awful idea, so they come up with the Save Daddy Plan!

Review: The Penderwicks books are easily my favorite tween books that I’ve read recently, and are fast becoming some of my favorite books in general!  I’ve recently discovered that Jeanne Birdsall plans to write five Penderwicks books in total, so I have much to look forward to.  In Gardam Street, the family has returned home after their eventful stay at Arundel in the first book.  The girls are as excellent as ever – I’m amazed by how distinct their characters are, yet they complement each other so well.  Their humorous exploits in this book, trying to prevent their father from dating, is contrasted with their own feelings for boys.

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Ever After

10 May

The Protagonist: Danielle de Barbarac, a young woman who was raised by her cruel stepmother after her father died.

The Story: The Grimm brothers, collectors of folk and fairy tales, learn that the story of Cinderella is based on the life of Danielle de Barbarac.  Danielle’s beloved father died when she was very young, and she was raised by her stepmother that preferred her own daughters and treated Danielle like a servant in her own house.  She is an idealist, inspired by the book Utopia by Thomas More, and impresses Prince Henry when he meets her – disguised as a courtier and using the name Nicole de Lancret.  They continue to meet and are falling in love, but she hasn’t revealed her true identity to him.  Will he still love her when he finds out that she’s not who he believes her to be?

Review: I’ve loved this movie since I was a tween, and I think it has a wide appeal.  The beautiful historical setting and costumes, the convincing love story with a likable prince , and especially the genuinely humorous moments make it a wonderful adaptation of Cinderella.  One of my favorite characters, and a great historical reference, is Leonardo da Vinci, who jokingly states that he “shall go down in history as the man who opened a door” after helping release Danielle so she can attend the masquerade ball.  Although this movie was created for adults, there is no objectionable content and it would be completely appropriate for a young audience.

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Scones and Sensibility

10 May

Scones and Sensibility by Lindsay Eland

The Protagonist: 12 year old Polly Madassa, a hopeless romantic and book lover who delivers pastries from her family bakery.

The Story: Inspired by her favorite literary heroines, Anne Shirley from Anne of Green Gables and Lizzie Bennet from Pride and Prejudice, young Polly Madassa is determined to behave with the propriety of a well-mannered lady.  She has a very romantic view of life, and adores living above her family’s bakery in a lovely seaside town.  Soft summer breezes are wafting through town and Polly feels her calling to become a matchmaker for three particular people – her older sister, Clementine, who is dating a most unsuitable boy; Miss Wiskerton, an elderly neighbor who enjoys complaining but also reads Jane Austen; and her best friend’s father, Mr. Fisk, who has been alone ever since his wife abandoned them three years earlier.  When her mother enlists her to become the bakery’s delivery service, will Polly have time to help them find true love?

Review: What an enjoyable book!  Polly has one of the most unique voices I’ve experienced in the young adult literature I’ve been reading lately.  She loves speaking eloquently and using antiquated words, which results in humorous conversations, especially when contrasted with the modern speech of her family and friends.  There are many allusions to her two favorite books, and even an unfortunate incident with cordial – although it’s not what you think!  Polly’s firm belief in the existence of true love and ability to see beauty in each day make this book a treat to read – not to mention that Polly admires some pretty awesome female protagonists herself!

Book Talk: Listen to our audio book talk of Scones and Sensibility:

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When You Reach Me

10 May

When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead

The Protagonist: Miranda, who lives in New York City in 1978.  Her favorite book is A Wrinkle in Time.

The Story: Miranda has been receiving odd notes from an unknown person.  They are able to predict things that haven’t even happened yet, like her mom being selected as a contestant on their favorite television show, The $20,000 Pyramid.  But they also predict that something bad is going to happen unless she follows the instructions.  Thinking back, strange things have been happening ever since the day that her best friend, Sal, was punched for no reason by a schoolmate named Marcus.  Now Sal is avoiding her, the laughing homeless man on the street is behaving oddly, and Marcus turns out to be a pretty cool guy, who believes that time travel, like in Miranda’s favorite book, A Wrinkle in Time, is possible.

Review: The winner of the 2010 Newbery Medal, When You Reach Me is a fantastic science fiction mystery that will keep readers intrigued as they piece together the threads of the story.  Miranda is a great character, capable of moments of great clarity and insight, but also perplexed by the complexities of preadolescent life and the strange behavior of her peers – although in her case there are more strange event occurring than the average preteen has to deal with!  As we follow Miranda as she solves the mystery, we see her lose and make friends, learn valuable lessons, and even find her first love – experiences that everyone can relate to.

Book Talk: Listen to our audio book talk on When You Reach Me.

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Ella Enchanted

10 May

Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine

The Protagonist: Eleanor “Ella” of Frell, who was given the “gift” of obedience when she was born by the foolish fairy Lucinda.

The Story: In this adaptation of the fairy tale Cinderella, Ella’s mother dies when she is 15 years old.  Her merchant father is distant, and her new stepmother, Dame Olga, prefers her own daughters, Hattie and Olive.  Fortunately, Ella has the devotion of her fairy godmother, Mandy, and the friendship of Prince Charmont, “Char,” whom she met at her mother’s funeral.  When she is sent away to finishing school with her stepsisters, she learns that the fairy that cursed her with obedience will be attending a wedding, so she escapes and tries to convince her to undo the spell.  She also runs into Char, who she is beginning to fall in love with.  When she realizes that she can never marry him without compromising the security of the country (because of her curse), Ella must figure out how to break the spell herself.

Review: Levine’s version of Cinderella is excellent for many reasons, but primarily because of the heroine, Ella.  Although the spell that she lives under can be easily taken advantage of by manipulators, she doesn’t despair and chooses to make the best of her situation as she tries to escape from it.  She is very gifted in languages, and is likewise very respectful of other cultures and the different creatures that populate Frell.  Char falls in love with her not for her looks but for her intellect and personality – while the story shares elements with the Cinderella tale, Levine has expanded Ella’s character from the archetypal beauty into a fascinating character.

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Tell us what you thought about Mandy in the comments.