Book reviews: The Portal, by Kathryn Lasky

Lasky, Kathryn. The Portal. (Tangled in Time series, book 1). Harper, 2019. $16.99. ISBN 9780062693259. 361 pages. Ages 8-12. P7 Q8

You know that feeling you have when you are holding a book that has a magical adventure just waiting for you? From the cover until the last page, I was drawn in and enraptured. This historical fantasy follows the life of Rose who is orphaned and sent to live with her grandmother. Unfortunately, her grandmother does not always know who she is, which adds to Rose feeling displaced and not connected with family. Her grandmother’s greenhouse becomes a refuge for Rose. Unbeknownst to Rose, the greenhouse contains a portal which transports her back in time five hundred years to Hatfield palace. While living in the past, she meets Franny who has secrets of her own. I enjoyed the mix of present day and past intertwining. While Rose is in present time, she has to deal with three mean girls and her few friends band together to stand up to the girls. In the past, she finds a locket with her mother, a man and herself. Could this locket be a clue to her past and could it affect her future?  The three illustrations are black and white and include Queen Elizabeth’s dress, shoes, and an old bag and dress. I checked the facts about King Henry VIII and princess Elizabeth and the facts in the novel are true. This is book 1 of two in the Tangled series by Lasky, a New York Times bestselling author. The sequel, Tangled in Time : The Burning Queen, was released October 29th, 2019.

Verdict: Historical fantasy is one of my favorite genres and this novel delivered. With a balanced blend of the present–cell phones and texting–along with past, this novel is sure to keep a readers’ interest. Themes of mean girls, being an upstander, searching for one’s biological parent, and trying to find one’s place in life flow through this historical fantasy.

October 2019 review by Tami Harris.


Book review: A Slip of a Girl, by Patricia Reilly Giff

Giff, Patricia Reilly.  A Slip of a Girl. Holiday House, 2019. 234 pgs. Includes glossary. $16.99. ISBN: 978-0-8234-3955-3. Gr. 5+.  P8 Q8

This free-verse story is set in Ireland at the time of the Land Wars when Irish farmers were evicted from their land by the British.  The British landlords raised the rent on the land, forcing tenants unable to pay the rents off the land. They were then replaced by more profitable flocks of sheep. This situation was further complicated by potato rot, whole crops of potatoes were ruined, which resulted in starvation and death.  Anna and her family are just one of the families that were effected by all of this. Immigration to the United States was an option for those who could afford it. Anna’s two brothers and later her sister went to America.  Anna stayed behind taking care of her disabled sister after her mother passed away. The story is rich with the flavor of this time.

Verdict: This is one of the best told stories about this time in Ireland history.

September 2019 review by Carol Bernardi.

Book review: On Snowden Mountain, by Jeri Watts

Watts, Jeri. On Snowden Mountain. Candlewick Press, 2019. 193 pgs. $16.99. ISBN: 978-0-7636-9744-0. Gr. 7+. P8 Q8

Ellen loves her Baltimore school, the books, the subjects, all of it. In school she doesn’t have a lot of friends, they think she draws attention to herself as she always has the answer to the questions the teacher asks. When her father volunteers for active duty in World War II, just  as her mother has gone into another of her deep deep depressions, Ellen, out of options with no food or supervision, calls upon her distant Aunt Pearl for help.  Aunt Pearl takes Ellen and her mother to her remote home on Snowden Mountain, Virginia, a tiny city surrounded by trees and more trees. It is hard for Ellen to see the worth in this remote place without electricity or running water. This well written book deals with mental illness, child abuse, friendship, acceptance, and self discovery. Ellen learns that it is okay to be a young girl and accept the help that comes in many ways.

Verdict: The author writes with compassion of mental illness and with an understanding that the reader is able to connect to. The description of child abuse of one of the secondary characters was hard to deal with but when he finally stands up for himself I cheered.

October 2019 review by Carol Bernardi.

Book review: Words on Fire, by Jennifer A. Nielsen

Nielsen, Jennifer A. Words on Fire. Scholastic Press, 2019. 322 pgs. $17.99. ISBN: 978-1-338-27547-6. Gr. 6+. P7 Q8

Living in Lithuanian under the occupation of Russia and the Russian Cossack soliders is difficult. Audra is 12-years-old the year she learns what her mother’s and father’s secret missions entail. The Cossack soldiers break into Audra’s farm house and arrest her parents. She escapes with the secret package in a back pack. The package holds a book written the in Lithuanian language, a language banned by the Russian government. The Russians feel that banning these books the will erase the Lithuanian culture and language, making it easier for the Russians to assimulate them into their country. People like Audra’s parents have defied the Russians by smuggling books, in their language, to the people of Lithuania. They will do anything to get the books, even if it means your home will be burned and you imprisoned. This hurls Audra into a secret group who smuggle and hide books for the people of Lithuania.

Verdict: This book deals with many different topics, death of parents, the Cossacks, occupation by another country and the determination of a country to retain their language and culture. Nielsen melds these topics into a fast paced adventure that a portrays Audra as a courageous, heroic girl determined to fight the Cossacks at all costs.

October 2019 review by Carol Bernardi.

Book review: Allies, by Alan Gratz

Gratz, Alan. Allies. Scholastic Press, 2019. 322 pgs. $17.99. ISBN: 978-1-338-24572-1. Gr. 6+. P8 Q8

The Allied invasion of Normandy, France, the first step to set Europe free, comes to life in several stories told through the lives of his characters, beginning with two young American soliders in a landing craft heading for the beaches of Normandy. One of them is an American Jew, the other is a German American, but both keep these secrets to themselves. The fear that these two feel on the landing craft and their rush out to the beach, with bullets flying around them and men dying, was horrendous. Gratz’s other characters include a Canadian paratrooper, an African American medic, and a French resistance fighter. The story is told through these different voices which are brought together in the final charpter of the book. Gratz weaves this story which gives a true rendition of D-Day without foul language or sex.

Verdict: Buy it! I love the way the author is able to combine all of these different chracters to give a very clear dramatic senseof what this day was like.

October 2019 review by Carol Bernardi.

Book review: A Squirrelly Situation, by Jacqueline Kelly, illustrated by Jennifer L. Meyer

Kelly, Jacqueline. A Squirrelly Situation. (Calpurnia Tate Girl Vet series, book 5). Illus. by Jennifer L. Meyer. Holt, 2019. 100p. $15.99. ISBN 978-1-62779-877-8. Ages 8-11. P8Q8

Characters from Kelly’s Newbery Honor Book The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate and the setting of early 20th century Texas have evolved into an easy series of chapter books in which Callie Vee, who wants to become a veterinarian, typically encounters wounded animals. In this book, her brother brings home an abandoned baby squirrel which is adopted by the family cat. The injury comes when Fluffy the squirrel breaks his tale in a slamming screen door. The book culminates in Emily’s discovery of why a small, lumpy squirrel weighs so much in the community contest to produce the heaviest squirrel.

Verdict: Fluffy’s escapade in the kitchen and the different reactions of family members to the new addition provide the humor in the book, and the black and white drawings enhance the delight of the book. A simple read with some adventure but not a lot of fright.

June 2019 review by Nel Ward.

Book review: Captain Rosalie, by Timothée de Fombelle, illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault, translated by Sam Gordon

de Fombelle, Timothée. Captain Rosalie. Illus. by Isabelle Arsenault. Trans. by Sam Gordon. Candlewick, 2018. 60p. $15.99. ISBN 978-1-5362-0520-6. Ages 10+. P7Q10

As her father fights in World War I and her mother works in a factory, 5-year-old Rosalie believes she is on a secret mission spying on the enemy while disguised as a little girl. She goes to school early in her French village and sits in the back of the classroom with older children and listens to her mother read letters from her father in the evening. Rosalie’s life changes when her mother receives a blue envelope and the father’s letters stop coming. Determined to discover what has happened, she runs away from school to find the envelope and read the letters. Instead of the happy descriptions of life at home when her father returns her mother “read” from the letters, she finds the dirty, misery of her father’s life and the revelation that he has died. Watercolor and ink sketches accompany two-page spreads with dark backgrounds highlighted by Rosalie’s flame-colored hair or the blue ink of the letters.

Verdict: The grimness of war is relieved by the love of Rosalie’s mother for her daughter, the warm understanding by one of the older students for Rosalie, and Rosalie’s own resilience. A tremendously powerful story in quiet, spare tones.

June 2019 review by Nel Ward.