Guest Book Review: The Escape of Princess Madeline by Kirstin Pulioff

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Book Review: The Escape of Princess Madeline
Paperback: 120 pages
Publisher: Malachite Quills Publishing (November 28, 2012)
ISBN-13: 978-1623750367
Genre: Fantasy/magic/adventure
Age: 12+

4 stars

Princess Madeline lives in the fairy tale kingdom of Soron, with a loving father and twin brother, Braden, a castle of servants at her beck and call, a charmed and pampered existence … and yet, she is not happy. For one thing, her father King Theodore has decided that at the ball to celebrate her sixteenth birthday, a suitor will be chosen for her. This indignity totally offends Madeline who is quite capable of making her own decisions. She wants freedom, independence, the ability to make her own choices, and—very importantly—to choose her future husband for herself. The only thing to do is run away; desperate measures for sure, but a drastic situation calls for an equally drastic response. Her disappearance throws the castle and indeed the whole kingdom into total turmoil, with Knight Daniel, her champion and protector, setting off to find her. Various princely suitors (mostly unsuitable!), but eager to court favour with the king, also set off on their own missions to retrieve the princess. Madeline, however brave she feels inside, is completely unprepared for life in the real world. Her inexperience and ignorance land her in the clutches of brigands. Daniel, meanwhile, has done the unforgivable; he has approached the wizards, now banished from the kingdom, for their help. Will he find Madeleine in time? Have the wizards betrayed him? And why is the creepy Prince Paulsen so interested in saving Madeleine?

This is a traditional fairy tale with a realistic twist. The princess does start out as a bit spoiled, but a few nights on her own, braving brigands and an inhospitable environment soon shake her up. Parents reading this will smile at the part where Madeline deeply regrets giving up what she had for what she thought she wanted: isn’t that what life is all about? This is a life lesson in a dynamic package as she comes to terms with her own selfish desires versus what her responsibilities as future princess would be. She also realises how much pain she has caused those who love her. The author’s strength lies in wonderful, rich descriptions that entice all the readers’ senses. From the opulence of the palace, to the terrors of the forest, to the magicality and enchantment of the wizard realm, the readers will experience it first-hand. Although the story seems simple, there is a strong back history that no doubt comes into play with the subsequent books. There is also a strong hint that certain people are not who they appear to be. I would have liked a more detailed back history, instead of a prologue to create Soron’s past and delve deeper into King Theodore’s painful memories. I hope this is developed more in the following books. Charming, and with enough fairy tale elements to satisfy young readers, this book sets a nice beginning for the Princess Madeleine Trilogy by Kirstin Pulioff.

 

Reviewer’s bio: Fiona Ingram is an award-winning middle grade author who is passionate about getting kids interested in reading. Find out more about Fiona and her books on www.FionaIngram.com. She reviews books for the Jozikids Blog.

Guest Book Review: Tortoise Soup by Nick Holland

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Book Review: Tortoise Soup by Nick Holland
Print Length: 234 pages
Publisher: Kimono Press (December 8, 2013)
ASIN: B00C89CK9U
Genre: Juvenile Fiction
Ages: 8+

Five Stars

Ruby Tinker is an orphan at St. Therese’s Children’s home in England. She has lived there since a terrible car accident that robbed her of her parents and the full use of her legs. But Ruby is not quite alone in the world. She has a beloved companion, tortoise extraordinaire (to say the least) Byron Tinker. No ordinary reptile, Byron can read (albeit slowly), run fast (for a tortoise), he can climb, make up poems, and he loves Ruby with all his heart and soul. Although neither Ruby nor Byron can imagine life without the other, dark and dreadful plans are afoot courtesy of the grim-faced, cold-hearted Miss Scratbakk, owner of the children’s home. Her plans for creating untold wealth depend upon Byron Tinker’s demise. However, a malevolent Fate seems to be assisting her ghastly plot when Ruby’s Uncle Peter informs her he is giving up his career as a globe-trotting diplomat and will be settling in Scotland, and creating a home for his niece. One thing is certain: Uncle Peter will not have pets in the house and Byron is not coming with. To Ruby’s horror, Uncle Peter’s driver collects her for the long drive to Scotland, and Byron is left behind. Before Miss Scratbakk can plonk Byron in a pot of soup (as was her plan), Bryon manages to escape. Will Byron survive the numerous adventures and dangers that face him? Will Miss Scratbakk succeed in her evil plans for the children at the home? Will Byron and Ruby be reunited?

Byron’s escapades are numerous, but this intrepid tortoise takes it all in his stride. His enduring love for Ruby keeps him plodding onward. He meets some kind creatures (the snakes in the pet shop and the wild crane), some helpful people (Miss Tigerlily and the bin men), and even comes close to the Rainbow Bridge, where all animals wait for their owners to cross over with them. But it’s not time for Byron to cross over; he still has lots of life and fun ahead of him with Ruby. This book is about love, friendship, hope, faith, sharing and caring, and belief in a better tomorrow. Kids will quickly absorb these important life lessons, couched as they are in this enchanting story of bravery and adventure. Author Nick Holland (no doubt with Bryon’s valuable input) has created a tale where the wicked are hilariously evil; the various characters have a quirky charm; the animals stand tall, and there is such a brightness that overcomes any doom or gloom as all loose ends are neatly tied up. There is poetry, songs, and many delightful details to put smiles on the faces of readers of all ages. You also learn quite a lot about tortoises, how to care for them, and what they like to eat. PS: They don’t like corned beef-and-mustard sandwiches.

 

Reviewer’s bio: Fiona Ingram is an award-winning middle grade author who is passionate about getting kids interested in reading. Find out more about Fiona and her books on www.FionaIngram.com. She reviews books for the Jozikids Blog.

Guest Book Review: The Yogi’s Curse (Zoe and Zak Series) by Lars Guignard

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The Yogi’s Curse by Lars Guignard
Print Length: 340 pages
Publisher: Fantastic Press (July 23, 2013)
ASIN: B00E4WFG2C
Genre: Juvenile fiction; Fantasy/magic; Action/adventure
Age: 10+

Five stars

Zoe and Zak are back in India again. And this time they’re attending Moonstock Himalayan Academy for Boys and Girls, which might seem fun except for the fact that the school itself is more than a little strange. This is no Hogwarts in the Himalayas, where with the wave of a wand one can conjure up delicious feasts and fun stuff. For one thing, the food is terrible, toilet paper must be purchased, the hot water is erratic, there’s no technology (like Internet) and the teachers are eccentric bordering on weird. Anyone who ever attended boarding school will remember how often reality diverged from the brochure. But attending the school might just be more important than the kids think; after all, Moonstock has the reputation for turning out achievers and those who go on to change the world in some way.

The crazy part of Moonstock becomes apparent when Zoe and Zak discover students ride elephants instead of school buses, snarling monkeys work as security guards, and vigilant (talking) parrots monitor the halls. But living with a bunch of other kids their age can be a lot of fun too, or at least it seems that way until Zoe’s roommate Anita goes missing. Following the directions written on a steamy bathroom mirror, Zoe and Zak fly off on their magic carpet to learn that they have been chosen yet again for an important mission. This time they’ve been asked to lift the Yogi’s Curse except that Zoe and Zak don’t even know what the Yogi’s Curse is, let alone how to lift it. But like it or not, they soon discover that a whole lot of people are depending on them. To make matters worse and just when they need all the extra help they can get, Zak’s whip Stryker (which turns into a two-headed cobra) and the magic carpet (masquerading as a humble Doormat to escape detection) are confiscated by the school owners as ‘prohibited items.’ The tension mounts as the kids are pursued by giant fire-winged birds with malicious intentions, a talking elephant informs them that elephants are on the brink of death unless the curse is lifted, and they have a formidable demon enemy to defeat. Can Zoe and Zak save the day?

I really enjoyed this read. For me, the second book has cemented the series and made a lovely springboard for Book 3. Zak and Zoe’s success in the first book created a domino effect of events that take them into this adventure. Back story keeps new readers attuned so both plots link up nicely. Zak really comes into his own here and takes the word ‘intrepid’ to new heights. He stares down Amanda Mean, the school bully; goes into partnership with another student running an informal tuck-shop (that stocks lots of decent toilet paper); starts a vlog; and has some really inventive ideas using whatever comes to hand (including a flying feather!). He may not have Zoe’s powers, but he makes some surprising decisions that work out just fine. Zoe stops being so self-pitying and starts to think about just why her mother chose Moonstock as a boarding school. The action is non-stop and plot twists and turns keep readers hanging onto their magic carpets as they fly along with our heroes. The magicality is wonderful, using legends and fantasy elements from Indian culture and mythology. There are no instant spells ‘imported’ into the story: all the enchantment belongs firmly in India, using cultural and folkloric aspects that will no doubt get young readers interested in reading up more about the background. I thought the constant reference to ghastly food making the students sick, and the chemistry teacher’s unfortunate tendency to flatulence a bit repetitive, but no doubt kids will just crack up laughing each time they read it, so this is a minor issue. Zoe narrates, as in Book 1, and the lovely dry humor in her comments will appeal to adults as well as kids. The ending wraps up nicely with both Zoe and Zak having grown and matured, and learned some important life lessons. I really am looking forward to reading Book 3.

Reviewer’s bio: Fiona Ingram is an award-winning middle grade author who is passionate about getting kids interested in reading. Find out more about Fiona and her books on www.FionaIngram.com. She reviews books for the Jozikids Blog.

Guest Book Review: Arabella, the Moon and the Magic Mongongo Nut by Hamilton Wende

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Length: 126 pages
Publisher: Tafelberg; 1 edition (July 20, 2013)
Genre: Juvenile Fiction, ages 9+
ASIN: B00GA25PRA

Stars: 4.5

Arabella lives with her mom and dad in Parkview, Johannesburg, South Africa. She has a happy, stable life, with all the love anyone could imagine from her parents and (four!) grandparents. Her eleventh birthday is the turning point in her life. She receives some unusual gifts, which change Arabella’s life forever.  But then things go horribly wrong. Her dad dies, and life turns dark, bleak, and hopeless. Thanks to her unusual birthday gifts, Arabella discovers a magical world at the bottom of her garden and amazing things happen. She is able to speak to the animals there, and discovers she has a special role to play once she is given a magic Mongongo nut by Khanyi, the mealie lady. Suddenly, the ordinary becomes the extraordinary and Arabella and her new friends must battle against the evil hadedas, led by their nasty king, Ozymandias, who has a wicked plan. At the same time, Arabella finds hope in the Book of Echoes; hope that with this new-found magic, she can turn back the clock to the happy times before her dad died. Is the magic this strong? Can Arabella defeat the hadedas’ nefarious plans?

Although all young readers will love this charming book, young South African readers will particularly relish it. Familiar names, places, creatures, and cultural references will resonate with readers, bringing this adventure right into their own back gardens. Arabella faces enormous challenges, and the biggest one is within. As the use of magic changes her, perhaps bringing out selfish desires, she has to learn to do what is right. Acceptance of grief is very difficult for a young person, and this is one of Arabella’s saddest tests. Self-sacrifice, loyalty, the meaning of friendship, and doing the right thing are also highlighted as Arabella’s final choice will sway the outcome of the battle. Author Hamilton Wende has perfectly captured Arabella’s character, giving poignant insight into just how difficult life choices are at that age. The hadedas are brilliantly malevolent … but fun! Lovely atmospherics abound, painting the most incredible pictures for a young imagination to enjoy. The author has a real gift for scenarios and I am sure this book will linger in readers’ minds long after the last page has been read. I would suggest a glossary at the back for non South African readers to understand several local terms. I must mention the superb cover by Rob Foote which adds to the ethereal, magical quality of the book.

First reviewed for Jozi Kids, South Africa

Reviewer’s bio: Fiona Ingram is an award-winning middle grade author who is passionate about getting kids interested in reading. Find out more about Fiona and her books on www.FionaIngram.com. She reviews books for the Jozikids Blog.

Guest Book Review: The Shadow of the Trojan Horse by Wendy Leighton-Porter

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Publisher: Mauve Square Publishing
Language: English
ASIN: B009NUKBRA
Genre: Juvenile fiction, adventure, fantasy, mythology, history
Size: 236 pages
Age group: 10-13

Five Stars

Jemima and Joe Lancelot, along with their talking cat Max, and their best friend Charlie, are off on another adventure. The twins live with their Uncle Richard since their parents’ mysterious disappearance several months earlier. Only the children and Max know what really happened—Mr. and Mrs. Lancelot, with the aid of a mysterious book, have become trapped in the past. Using the book and a special key, the kids are desperately dipping in and out of time to track down the adults. Oddly enough, when Uncle Richard gives them their (eleventh) birthday presents—an Xbox game of the Trojan War for Joe and a special charm bracelet for Jemima as well as a book on Troy—it is more than enough of a hint as to where they are going next. The kids, Charlie, and Max end up in the middle of the Trojan War. They do their best to stay alive, find out more about where the twins’ parents were last seen, and do all they can to turn the tide of events in a war that has been raging for ten years.

I love this series and have become hooked on it since book one, The Shadow of Atlantis. Max is really coming into his own, and the adventures would not be the same without him. This time, Max has a significant role to play, although his efforts to help end in disaster. However, in one of the funniest scenes of the book, he gets the chance to make amends although it’s not quite the heroic role he anticipated. Dressed as Hermes, the winged messenger of the gods, Max tries to intervene to alter the fortunes of war. Alas, one cannot change the past, and those who must perish cannot be saved. Once again, author Wendy Leighton-Porter skilfully weaves a world of mythology, fantasy, and fact, and immerses her young protagonists slap bang in the middle of Homer’s epic poem, The Iliad.

The adventure is a turning point for the kids and Max as they face the reality of brutal war, death, and destruction when Troy falls through treachery. The author conveys a subtle message about violence that will help kids decide what is and is not acceptable. Other life lessons come when they realise they cannot turn the tide of history. For once, they are mere small pawns in a gigantic battle involving no less than the gods of Olympus, who prove to be as weak and fickle as the humans whose lives they dominate. The kids learn about human qualities, some good, some bad: King Priam’s pride and stubbornness; Hector’s bravery, Agamemnon’s cruelty, Cassandra’s compassion and self-sacrifice. I found a change in the series at this point, as the book embraces deeper, darker, and more mature themes. The author does a wonderful job of not sugar coating significant events and life’s realities.

However, all is not lost, history is fulfilled, and the kids return with a fragment of information on the adults’ whereabouts. Cassandra’s gift of prophecy has given them a glimmer of hope. Back home, Uncle Richard—hugely impressed by their avid interest in history and archaeology—provides them with some reassuring facts about the final fate of several characters. In addition, some interesting changes emerge on the domestic front. Uncle Richard and Charlie’s mum Ellen are going out for a drink! Could this be something significant? We’ll have to wait and see what transpires in the next adventure…

A helpful map, pronunciation guide, a list of characters, and the author’s note placing Homer, Troy, history, and Greek mythology in context will add to young readers’ enjoyment. If you are a parent wanting to get your kids entranced with reading, start them on this series. It’s a great learning curve, with fun, action, adventure, and a unique story line.

Purchase at Amazon!

Reviewer’s bio: Fiona Ingram is an award-winning middle grade author who is passionate about getting kids interested in reading. Find out more about Fiona and her books on www.FionaIngram.com. She reviews books for the Jozikids Blog.