Book Review: The King’s Shadow

King's Shadow, The

“You, Shadow!” the slave master shouted, as though Evyn were deaf as well as dumb. Laughter erupted behind him. “Shadow” was what they called dogs or horses. Evyn burned with shame. Uncle Morgan had even stolen his name.

Young Evyn is a Welsh serf in the 11th century. His life is turned upside down when his uncle betrays him and his father, leaving his father dead and Evyn a mute orphan. The uncle then sells Evyn into a life of slavery and pockets the money to repay a debt. Evyn becomes Shadow, a often mistreated and sometimes pitied slave boy. But his fortunes begin to change when he learns to read and write. He becomes a squire to Earl Harold and in time, the two become close friends. When Harold is crowned king, he makes Evyn his foster son. It’s a bond that will throw Evyn into the middle of two of the greatest battles of his time.

It’s funny how some books fade from your memory within a week of reading them, while some linger for years. The King’s Shadow is one that has lingered. I read it in 2008 (wow, is that really six years ago?), yet I still remember feeling furious at Uncle Morgan and deeply sympathetic towards Evyn. And it fits pretty well into the “hodge podge” theme this month because I’ve read very few books about this time period.

What’s your favorite time period to read about? Do you like any other books set in the 11th century?

Book Review: Never*

Never

“Listen to me, kid. It don’t matter what happens. It don’t matter what anybody thinks or does. All that matters is that you keep fightin’ and never, you hear me? never give up.”

I think this is the first time I’ve given a self-published book a five star rating. I found “Never” through a blog scavenger hunt the author did to celebrate the book release. When I downloaded the free sample, I didn’t know what to expect. The sample definitely hooked me.

Travis Hamilton, a scholarly young man, is an unlikely suspect for murder. When he is convicted and sentenced ten years labor in Dead Mines, his brother Ross is determined to clear Travis. Ross knows his brother cannot survive the sentence, and he knows Travis is not the murderer. But the web of deception is more tangled than either brother imagined. As their journeys increase in difficulty, both brothers turn to moral convictions that must “never” be abandoned, no matter what the cost. Can Travis survive the evil rule of the mine boss? Can Ross reach the bottom of an ever deepening mystery before it’s too late to rescue his brother?

Some of Travis’s experiences in the mine might make this book unsuitable for young children. If it was a movie I’d give it a PG rating. That said, this story was refreshing. Even in Christian fiction, it’s rare to see heroes sticking to what they believe as tenaciously as Ross and Travis. The author did a wonderful job showing principled good winning over unprincipled evil. I’ll be looking forward to reading more from this author.

Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a honest review. All opinions expressed are my own.

Author: J Grace Pennington
Audience: Tween–YA
Genre: Historical Adventure
Pages: 318
Publisher: Self-Published

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*Review originally posted January 11, 2013

Book Review: Raising Dragons

Raising DragonsSummary
Arthurian legend meets contemporary fantasy and ties together with an allegorical twist. Billy, the main character, doesn’t know what to do. His struggle with bad breath is getting out of control. It doesn’t just stink, his breath is hot enough to set off the fire detector and sprinkler system in the school bathroom. Billy’s about to learn a secret about his past, make a new friend, and discover an old enemy.

The fact is, Billy is half-dragon. His father is a dragon from the day’s of King Arthur, and took human form to escape renegade dragon hunters that killed good dragons along with the bad. Billy’s new friend, Bonny, is also half dragon. Instead of scalding breath, she has wings she hides in a backpack. Their school principle, a descendant of the dragon hunters, is hunting for them. Billy finds himself struggling to learn to trust God as he tries to stay a step in front of the dragon hunter and come to terms with his father’s identity.

Thoughts
The writing in this story (and subsequent books) is amazing. Bryan Davis keeps the story moving at rip-roaring speed and you never want to put it down. At the end of book one, you can’t get to book two fast enough. That said, books that combine ‘other worldliness’ (i.e. Dragon’s that can turn into humans) with real world (God and salvation) always make me a little uncomfortable. I feel more doctrinally safe in worlds like Narnia that are separate from ours and allow our world’s rules to stay the same while allowing the allegorical stuff to work beautifully in the other world. Maybe that’s just me. In any case, that overlapping of worlds is the only concern I have with these books. On the other hand, dragons, half-dragons, and dragon hunters running around in modern day US and England is kinda fun! 🙂 Also, if you read it, try thinking of the sword Excalibur as a picture of the Bible. I totally missed that parallel my first time through the series and it gives the books a whole new depth.

P.S. Scary content might make this book/series unsuitable for kids under 13.

What do you think of combining real life faith with fantasy elements like dragons?

Book Review: The Royal Ranger

Royal Ranger, The

“I’ve been telling you, Maddie. You are no longer a princess. And you can no longer behave as if you are. You are my apprentice. You are no better than anyone else here in Redmont–Not Jenny, not the stable boy at the castle, not the youngest of the Battleschool apprentices.

“On the other hand, you are no worse than any of those people either. You’re an equal among equals.”

Story Synopsis
Will Treaty, now a grown man in possession of just as much fame as Halt, is consumed with a need for revenge. With the person closest to his heart dead because of the actions of an outlaw band, he is determined to hunt down every responsible person and kill them. He doesn’t care what he has to sacrifice to reach this objective. His worried friend and the current ranger commander, Gilan, is on the brink of being forced to expel Will from the ranger corps.

Gilan isn’t the only one with someone to worry about either. Horace and Cassandra (aka Evenlyn) are frustrated and worried about their daughter, Madelyn. Headstrong, spoiled, and a little too full of herself, Maddie seems determined to defy her parents wishes. It’s only a matter of time before she gets herself into significant trouble. Something must be done.

And so it’s decided. It’s time for Will to take an apprentice and for the ranger corps to accept it’s very first female apprentice. Only time will tell the wisdom and effectiveness of the decision.

My Thoughts
From the first rumors about a female ranger’s apprentice, I was apprehensive about this book. The last thing I wanted to see was the well loved characters in this well loved series used to promote a feminist agenda. Or even just to tell a story with feminist overtones. I was pleasantly surprised. The overall concept could be considered feminist, but even if a message of this type was intended, it didn’t take precedence over good story telling. Yay!

The whole story was great. Maddie’s journey from spoiled princess to thoughtful, self-sacrificing ranger was delightful. It reminded me a little of Hugh’s similar journey in Sir Malcolm and the Missing Prince. The rest of the story was typical John Flanagan adventure and humor. Fans of the series won’t be disappointed!

Any other Ranger’s Apprentice fans out there?

Book Review: By Darkness Hid

By Darkness Hid

“Come to the stables an hour before sunrise tomorrow. Your training mustn’t interfere with your duties to the manor. Tell no one of this for now. If I decide you’re worthy, I’ll talk to Lord Nathak about reassignment to me.”

Young Achan Cham’s life is worse than that of a slaves. As a stray, he’s the lowest of the low, destined for a life of servitude and degradation. Despite his unpromising future, Achan’s a fighter. When a famous but enigmatic knight shows an interest in training Achan, the young man jumps for the opportunity. Maybe someday he can make something of himself after all. If the strange voices in his head don’t make him insane first.

I read this book early in 2013 and didn’t have any complaints when my brother purchased the other two books in the trilogy. The beginning is admittedly cliched–a slave with dreams of bettering himself and a girl posing as a boy (she’s the other main character). Starts like that never bother me. Especially the slave one. And By Darkness Hid soon leaves any such complaints in the dust. You’ll be drawn into the characters struggle to protect the people they love and tell friends from enemies. And by the end of the book…well, don’t blame me if you can’t wait to buy the next one.

Book Review: The False Prince

False Prince, The

“Hail His Majesty, the scourge of my life,” Conner said to Roden and Tobias as he stomped up the stairs. “I fear the devils no longer, because I have the worst of them right here in my home!”

The Ranger’s Apprentice meets The Prince and the Pauper in this exciting story. Sage, a young orphan boy, has plenty of wit and daring. When Connor, a nobleman with questionable intentions, selects Sage and four other orphans for something special, it doesn’t take Sage long to determine the man’s intentions. The country is on the brink of civil war, enemy nations are poised to attack, and the royal family is dead. Connor needs someone to fill the throne. At the end of their training, one boy will be selected as the false prince. The other boys will be disposed of.

It’s not often I read, much less enjoy, a recently published, secular book. The False Prince was an enjoyable exception. After reading a couple positive reviews from friends, I reserved this book at the library. Once I got into it, I couldn’t put it down. While Sage does possess some undesirable traits (i.e. a penchant for theft), he generally exhibits good character qualities. The book as a whole contains no inappropriate content that would make me hesitant to recommend it (refreshing!). I couldn’t wait to get my brother to read it.

Have any of you read The False Prince yet? Does it sound like something you would like?

Book Review: Death Cloud

Death Cloud At fourteen years old, Sherlock Holmes thinks he is facing a boring vacation in exile. His brother Mycroft sends him off live with his eccentric Aunt and Uncle and study beneath an American tutor named Amyus Crowe. Instead of boredom, he finds himself confronted with his first mystery, a new friend, and relentless enemies. Even if he manages to escape with his life, Sherlock’s life is changed forever.

In my personal opinion, the adventure element in this book (and book two of the series) far outweigh the mystery element. But, it’s Sherlock Holmes, and you can’t go wrong with Sherlock Holmes when you’re doing a mystery theme. Besides, 240 people classified it as a mystery on Goodreads, so we’re all good. 🙂 I really enjoyed the fast action of this story, and the glimpse of Sherlock as he might have been as a boy. I tend to doubt this version of young Sherlock is quite what all you BBC Sherlock fans imagine, but I bet you’d enjoy the book anyway. After all, the author is English and, judging from his author bio, seems to have a thing for BBC TV shows.

P.S. If the weird and slightly grotesque bother you, this book might not be for you. There’s nothing over the top, but it’s worth the warning.

What is your favorite Sherlock Holmes story, whether from the original books, old movies, BBC Sherlock, or side shoots like this.

Book Review: Moccasin Trail

Moccasin TrailI’m still trying to work out exactly what to call this month’s theme. Frontier stories or stories with a native american theme or frontier stories with a native american theme. Anyway. You get the general idea. 😉 I’ve decided to try a new take on the monthly theme. I’ll still be announcing one, but I won’t tell you which books I plan to review. There are two reasons for this. One: to keep you in suspense. 🙂 Two: to give myself a bit more flexibility. If you have any feedback on this idea, please let me know. I’d love to hear it! Now, the review of one of my newest favorites.

Jim, if you’re still alive, come help us….If you ever cared anything for mother or any of us, then come. It’s our only chance.

Moccasin Trail encases a powerful story about the strength of family in a page turning adventure from the days of the pioneers. Jim Keath ran away from home as a young boy and now, at the age of 19, is more Indian than white. When he receives a letter from his younger brother pleading for help in staking a claim, Jim rejoins what is left of the family he ran away from nine long years ago and finds himself stuck between two worlds.

Jim’s confusion over how to fit in and the pain of rejection that he tried to hide even from himself makes him an easy character to like. Eloise Jarvis McGraw does an amazing job of showing his struggle and inability to understand what his family expects of him while maintaining his rugged, impenetrable personality. You will be rooting for him the entire time as he transforms from a rugged, wandering loner to an equally rugged but devoted, responsible family man. A masterfully told story.

Author: Eloise Jarvis McGraw
Audience: All Ages (Intended for Middle Grade readers, but this seriously isn’t a book you want to limit to 8-12 year olds.)
Genre: Historical Fiction
Pages: 247

What is your favorite frontier/wild west story?