Monday, December 29, 2014

The Youngest Templar: Orphan of Destiny (Book 3) by Michael Spradlin

Even though Tristan and his friends escaped Sir Hugh in France, it seems that every stop they make in England was ravaged by Sir Hugh and his men, including the total destruction of St. Alban's monks and monastery. Tristan knows he must eventually face Sir Hugh. And when Tristan's band arrives at the intended monastery in Scotland, Sir Hugh and his forces are waiting for them. Tristan must rely on his courage, his determination, and his friends to help him finally complete his quest of protecting the Holy Grail.

Orphan of Destiny is a satisfying, well-written end to Spradlin's Youngest Templar trilogy. Readers will see the friendship and teamwork, born in the first book, come into full bloom as Tristan, Robard, and Maryam face any challenge. Aside from the three teens' growing comradery, readers will also see more characters and elements of the Robin Hood legend come into play, like Little John, "Brother" Tuck, and Sherwood. A well-researched but action-packed story that deftly mixes history and legend into a fascinating read.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

The Youngest Templar: Trail of Fate (Book 2) by Michael Spradlin

After falling overboard, Tristan washes up on the shores of Southern France. He is discovered by a group of riders lead by Celia, a beautiful Cathar girl whose people are constantly attacked by the Catholic Church for their beliefs. Robard and Maryam meet up with Celia's group and are reunited with Tristan. After witnessing the persecution of Celia's people, Tristan, Robard, and Maryam all agree that they must stay to help defend them, even at the cost of delaying their Holy Grail quest.

Spradlin’s second book maintains the excitement, action, and suspense that started in the first book. But even though this book is a rousing adventure, the story itself has real heart and character depth. When Tristan is reunited with his friends again, he realizes the power and protection that comes from true friendship. This protective friendship is something he desperately needs while transporting the Grail through enemy territory. But that friendship is constantly threatened while Sir Hugh is in the picture. Readers will be glued to Tristan's story as he and his friends help Celia's people and keep the Grail away from Sir Hugh's greedy hands. The final book in the series is Orphan of Destiny.

Monday, December 22, 2014

The Youngest Templar: Keeper of the Grail by Michael Spradlin

Stories of the Crusades have reached fifteen-year-old Tristan and the monks at St. Alban's monastery. But King Richard is calling for reinforcements to defend the Christian settlements in Jerusalem. A group of Templar knights acting upon the king's request lodge at St. Alban's. One knight, Sir Thomas, meets Tristan and convinces him to be his squire. After a treacherous voyage, the Templar knights arrive in Jerusalem to witness a losing battle with the Saladin. During a siege, Sir Thomas reveals to Tristan that he has the Holy Grail and he entrusts it to Tristan to take it to a Scottish monastery. Tristan escapes the battle in hopes of securing a passage back to England.

Spradlin’s expertly mixes both history and legend to create an intense, well-written start to The Youngest Templar series. Readers will be fully immersed in the culture and life of an orphaned teenage boy as they follow Tristan in and out of the failed Crusade. But besides successfully exhibiting the time period, Spradlin also includes major players from the Robin Hood legend. Tristan's friend, Robard Hode is a King's Archer and a Saladin maiden, Maryam, joins their quest to return the grail. Because of the description of war and violence, this book is more appropriate for ages 10 and up. The second book in the The Youngest Templar trilogy is Trail of Fate.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Reading Challenge #4: Historical Fiction

As I mentioned in my reluctant readers post, books can be a doorway leading into the vast reading world. Sometimes the book that leads a child into the reading world is a historical fiction book: a book based on real events or people in history but the story itself is fiction. So to help parents, librarians, and readers looking for more great historical fiction, I have listed several books and the historical event or place it is based on to help fuel the reading flame. Enjoy!

Number the Stars by Lois Lowry (WWII in Denmark)
The Boy Who Dared by Susan Campbell Bartoletti (WWII in Germany)
Boston Jane series by Jennifer Holms (Early settlement of Washington territory)
Jason’s Gold and Down the Yukon by Will Hobbs (Alaskan Gold rush)
Double Eagle by Sneed B. Collard III (set in 1970’s but searching for Civil War gold)
Elephant Run by Roland Smith (WWII in Burma)
Al Capone Does My Shirts series Gennifer Choldenko (teenage boy living on Alcatrtaz Island)
The Kilpfish Code by Mary Casanova (WWII in Norway)
March Toward the Thunder by Joseph Bruchac (Abenaki Indian fighting in the Civil War)
Don’t You Know There’s a War On? by Avi (WWII in New York)
The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle by Avi (1830’s London)
Crispin series by Avi (Fourteenth-century medieval England)
Year of Impossible Goodbyes and Echoes of the White Giraffe by Sook Nyui Choi (WWII in Korea and South Korea)
Titanic: The Long Night by Diane Hoh (1912 Titanic disaster)
A Long Way from Chicago series by Richard Peck (series starting from the Great Depression to 1950s in rural Illinois)
Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse (1930s Dust Bowl)
Summer of the Monkeys by Wilson Rawls (1900s rural Oklahoma)
Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred Taylor (1930s Mississippi)
The Guild of Specialists series by Joshua Mowll (1920s China)
Pie by Sarah Weeks (1950s Pennsylvania)
Between Shades of Grey by Ruta Sepetys (1940s Lithuania & Siberia)
Time of the Witches by Anna Myers (Salem Witch Trials)
The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd (1960s South Carolina)
Yellow Star by Jennifer Roy (WWII in Poland)
Across Five Aprils by Irene Hunt (Civil War)
Sarah Bishop by Scott O'Dell (Revolutionary War/Early America)
The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare (Salem Witch Trials)
The Youngest Templar series by Michael Spradlin (Crusades in Jerusalem and medieval England)
Island of the Blue Dolphins and Zia by Scott O'Dell (Early Native Americans)
Little Women series by Louisa May Alcott (Civil War America)
The de Granville Trilogy by K.M. Grant (Crusades in Jerusalem)
Out of the Hitler Time series by Judith Kerr (WWII in Germany)
Breathing Room by Marsha Hayles (1940s tuberculosis epidemic in United States)
Elijah of Buxton by Christopher Paul Curtis (Runaway slave colony in Canada)
Chu Ju's House by Gloria Whelan (traditional China)
Homeless Bird by Gloria Whelan (traditional India)
When My Name Was Keoko by Linda Sue Park (WWII in Korea)
Banner in the Sky by James Ramsey Ullman (Swiss Alps)

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Pastworld by Ian Beck

Eve cannot remember her childhood. All she can remember is living with her blind guardian, Jack, in Victorian London. One night Jack gives Eve the news that a dangerous man wants to take Eve away. Eve runs away but she is pursued by a ragged beggar. A street performer, Jago, rescues Eve and invites her to join his traveling show. But Eve’s whole world crumbles when she learns that her “Victorian London” home is just a huge immersive amusement park, called Pastworld. People from the technologically advanced world visit Pastworld to get a taste of Victorian London life. Unbeknownst to Eve, she is a key component to the biggest attraction to the park: a re-creation of Jack the Ripper’s murders.  

Pastworld is an intriguing, spell-binding read that is completely original and creative. At the beginning, Eve’s story mirrors such works by classic mystery writers like Wilkie Collins, Sir Conan Doyle, and Agathe Christie. Yet as the story progresses into the science-fiction realm, the setting seems influenced by such science-fiction authors like Orson Scott Card and Garth Nix. However, parents and librarians need to know that this book is intended for teenage readers, ages 14 and up, due to the graphic descriptions of murder scenes. 

Monday, December 15, 2014

Shayla Witherwood: A Half-Faerie Tale by Tamra Torero

Shayla Witherwood is half-faerie, half-human. For most of her life, Shayla has been raised and educated by her human grandparents. Once Shayla turns sixteen and her grandfather passes away, her grandmother decides that Shayla is ready to face the real world by entering high school. Shayla is able to make friends quickly and begins living a semi-normal life, if she can keep her faerie powers under control. But when a mysterious new girl shows up at school, Shayla's human and faerie worlds come crashing together.

Torero weaves together a witty, wholesome, and heart-felt story in Shayla Witherwood. Even though Shayla has not lived a “normal” lifestyle, readers can still identify with Shayla’s character as she faces many firsts in her life: making new friends, entering a new school, dealing with teachers, or having a crush. Like the Harry Potter series, this story is another clever re-imagining of many classic magical elements: fairies, witches, wizards, etc. Shayla Witherwood: A Half-Faerie Tale is a fun read for ages twelve and up.  

Friday, December 12, 2014

Storyteller by Edward Myers

Jack is a farm boy gifted with telling stories. At seventeen Jack leaves home to seek his fortune as a storyteller in the royal city. Soon after his arrival, a lucky coincident causes Jack to become the king's royal storyteller. But Jack’s life takes a shocking blow when the king unexpectedly dies and his spoiled son, Prince Yoss, succeeds his father. Once on the throne, King Yoss and his right-hand man, illusionist Zephyrio, attempt to brain-wash the kingdom into thinking that Yoss will make all his subjects' hardships disappear. Jack, his talking bird, Loquasto, and the king’s sister, Princess Stelinda, must work together to stop Yoss and Zephyrio’s evil plans.

Myers weaves a beautifully complex tale with Storyteller. In many ways, Myers work is reminiscent of such YA fantasy authors like Avi, Lloyd Alexander, Susan Cooper, and Shannon Hale. Storyteller has all the right ingredients for a successful fantasy: heart-pounding adventure, witty humor, blooming romance, and mesmerizing magic. Yet there is great depth to the story as Jack struggles through his hardships to save both the kingdom and girl he loves. A satisfying read for ages twelve and up looking for a stand-alone book.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

On Little Wings by Regina Sirois

When Jennifer stumbles upon an old photo of a familiar-looking girl, she discovers an aunt and a life her mother has hidden from her for sixteen years. Jennifer secretly contacts her aunt, Sarah, and buys a plane ticket to visit her. Her parents reluctantly grant Jennifer permission and she travels to Sarah’s home in Maine. Once there Jennifer starts to unfold the truth of her mother’s and aunt’s lost past.

On Little Wings is an uncensored voice of a teenage girl struggling to understand herself, her family, and her first love. As the book opens, readers meet Jennifer—an insecure, Nebraska teen whose world is shattered by a single photograph. But this picture gives her the courage to uncover her mother’s history. To help illustrate the emotional state of Sirois’ three main characters, Sirois has them meeting every evening to quote their favorite poetry. Readers will be re-introduced to such prolific poets as Dickinson, Longfellow, and Tennyson as their words add greater depth to Jennifer’s story. On Little Wings is a heart-wrenching but hopeful coming-of-age story for readers fourteen and up.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Introducing Regina Sirois

I first met Regina Sirois at the 2013 Warrensburg Children's Literature Festival at the University of Central Missouri. I was extremely impressed by the power and confidence she instilled into her attentive audience of middle-school to high-school students--a VERY rare thing to see with author presentations. Then when my husband and I moved into her city, she and her family welcomed us with arms outstretched in love, acceptance, and friendship. I am incredibly grateful for you, Regina! 

To get to know Regina better, here is her bio taken from her website:

"Regina Sirois believes in a lot of things: running outside when it's raining, walking to the mailbox barefoot, banana popsicles on hot days, crisp, white sheets, and especially the power of words.

She identifies herself as a reader first and a writer second, and as such her loyalty lies with readers. She believes that a book should not just mildly entertain- it should change us.

She graduated summa cum laude from Missouri State's Departments of History and English and settled in the golden wheat fields of Kansas with her High School love. She is currently doing laundry (probably) and raising her two daughters. She fell in love the day she learned to read and cried the first time she did a word problem in math ("But it's not a problem..." sob, sob. "It's a story!")."


I asked Regina some questions about her reading, writing, and inspiration. Here is what she said:

1. What was the first book that made you become an avid reader?
Wait Till Helen Comes by Mary Downing Hahn had a huge impact on me as a third grade reader. It is the first time I remember feeling completely transported by a story. I read it over and over and to this day I can remember so many exact details and lines from the story. The funny thing is that I don't like ghost stories. I've never read any others. But Wait Till Helen Comes never felt like a ghost story to me. That was my first lesson in a book transcending its genre and breaking the traditional rules of writing.

2. Who inspired you to become an author?
Dodie Smith. She is best known for writing 101 Dalmations, which ironically, I didn't enjoy very much. Her lesser known novels, particularly I Capture the Castle, are her real works of genius. I first read I Capture the Castle when I was 17 and I did it reluctantly because the cover was old and the blurb didn't excite me. I am forever grateful I tried it anyway. Her first-person narration stunned me. I read her pages over and over, trying to imagine ever having such power to describe a moment. My every attempt at writing since that day I first read her has been in one way or another a vain attempt to imitate her brilliance.

3. How powerful is poetry to you?
Life changing. Poetry is life changing. I still have my first book of poetry. I treasured it as a child and I treasure it more now. I keep a book of Emily Dickinson's complete works in my room and read it every day. Almost every page is dog-eared. I never get through one page without wanting to cry at her triumph. She did something amazing with words and it changes how I see the world. Poets- the truly great ones- sit in the same category as prophets for me. While a prophet is God's voice to man, a poet is man's voice to God. They voice the human condition. My novels rely heavily on poetic devices, not because I mean to, but because that is how I hear words in my head. After ingesting poetry all my life it flavors my every thought and word.

4. How has your family inspired your writing?
My family's biggest inspiration to me is that they take my writing for granted. That might sound strange, but it is a huge comfort for me. When I am stuck, when the sentences won't lay down straight, when I think I have nothing left to say, my family shrugs and ignores my complaints. It's not because they don't care. I know it is because they believe so deeply in my abilities that they have no sympathy for my worries. They are never afraid I won't find the words because they think that is impossible. They think my words are like my heartbeat- pulsing inside of me as long as I have breath. When I see how little my husband and daughters worry about my ability to write, I feel inspired to earn that trust.

5. What books are you working on now?
I am working on two novels, but preparing one for publication in early 2015. It is a young adult novel set in my hometown of Kansas City. It is narrated by Megan, a 17-year-old girl who is only alive because a man died saving her when she was a toddler. The guilt she carries is compounded when she meets that man's 14-year-old daughter who never knew her father. Together the two girls must find a way to make peace with a past that they didn't choose and honor a man's choice that neither can understand. They form a grudging alliance when they decide to finish his bucket list together. It is only when they realize what one life truly cost that they will understand what every life is worth. It is a book that I wrote in celebration of holding on to the lessons of the past while letting go of the pains.

Discover more about Regina Sirois at

Friday, December 5, 2014

The Clockwork Three by Matthew J. Kirby

An unlikely friendship is born among three children: Giuseppe, Frederick, and Hannah. Giuseppe is an orphaned boy gifted in music, but cursed with a malicious employer. Frederick is also orphaned, but blessed as an apprentice to a gifted clock-maker. Hannah, the only support for her large family, is a maid at the Gilbert Hotel. As their friendship grows, the children find that by working together they can help solve each other’s personal problems midst many perilous adventures.

In his author's note, Kirby states that he based the character of Giuseppe on an actual person. However, readers need to be aware that this story is not historical fiction. The supernatural is a key theme in the book. One item that would have helped strengthen Kirby's story would be an illustrated map of the children's city. Some readers may find it difficult to imagine the city’s layout and remember important locations without any visual reference. On the whole, Kirby seems to mix the best elements of Oliver Twist, The Invention of Hugo Cabret, and The Mysterious Benedict Society into crafting a successful debut novel.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Escape Under the Forever Sky by Eve Yohalem

Lucy feels trapped by her over-protective mother, the new American ambassador to Ethiopia. With her father constantly away on business, Lucy feels alone. To curb her loneliness, Lucy yearns to explore her Ethiopian surroundings. But her mother's political connections keep her at home under constant surveillance. Any chance Lucy has to get away she takes it. While sneaking out, Lucy is kidnapped by a renowned drug dealer. Lucy must control her fear to survive both her captors and the wilds of Ethiopia. 

Escape Under the Forever Sky is a story of willpower, courage, and determination. Lucy is both a complex and endearing heroine. At the beginning of the book, Lucy desperately wants freedom from the bonds created by her mother's job. But when she enters the dangerous world her mother is fighting against, she develops more understanding and love for her parents. Yohalem states in her Author's Note that the book is based on a true story of a kidnapped girl who was protected from her enemies by a pack of wild lions. But along with Lucy's character, Yohalem also paints a riveting and poignant picture of Ethiopia.  A great book for middle or high school students who enjoy African-based stories.

Monday, December 1, 2014

The Princess Curse by Merrie Haskell

Young Reveka is an herbalist's apprentice at the court of the cursed twelve princesses. When Reveka combines her knowledge of both plants and magic, she uncovers the princesses' nightly excursion to the Underworld. Once there the princesses go to the castle of a zmeu, a humanoid dragon. The zmeu gives each princess two choices: accept his marriage proposal or dance with him. Only by accepting the zmeu's hand will the curse be broken. Reveka willingly offers herself to the zmeu to free the princesses. However, accepting the zmeu's marriage offer holds more power and responsibility than anything Reveka could have imagined.

Haskell’s debut novel is a clever combination of “The Twelve Dancing Princesses”, “Beauty and the Beast”, and the Persephone story from Greek mythology. Even though readers are familiar with these three tales, Haskell braids them together into an intriguing, unpredictable story. But Haskell's book is not just based on tales and myths. Haskell also adds in facts about the herbs and plants Reveka comes across. One thing that may deter adults from encouraging young readers to this book is that Reveka is only thirteen when she becomes engaged to the zmeu. However, no physical affection is shown between these two characters. Appropriate for ages 14 and up.