Soldier’s Heart

Title: Soldier’s Heart
Author: Gary Paulsen
Pages: 106
Recommended Ages: 14 & up
Star Rating: ★★★★

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Gary Paulsen is the author of the Mr. Tucket series…

The Story.

Fifteen year old Charley Goddard is excited at the prospect of signing up as a soldier. He knows he’s too young, but why should he miss out on all of the adventure and glory of war? Why not lie about his age and join in the excitement? Then, when he returns, he’ll be a hero!

But nothing could have prepared Charley for the carnage and bloodshed of war. As he watches friends and comrades blow up around him, will Charley have the strength – physical and mental – to pull through?

Discussion.

Soldier’s Heart is told in very simple language – so simple an eight year old could read it with comfort. But the words convey deep sorrow, horror, and despair. As a soldier, Charley is brought face to face with the ugly violence of the war. And he records it. All of it. He writes of horses with half their heads missing, of the horrible screams which echo across the fields, of the sweet smell of bloated, decaying bodies, of jaws blown off, appendages missing, and intestines dangling from stomachs. The horrors of war are presented in all of their sickening, revolting, chilling reality. There were several places where I turned my eyes away from my spot on the page to catch a deep breath before rushing through as quickly as I could to the non-violent parts. And all of this experience by fifteen, sixteen, seventeen year olds! No wonder Charley became hardened!

Charley couldn’t stop running and soon found himself in front of the line. He would have been shocked to see himself. His lips were drawn back showing his teeth, and his face was contorted by a savage rage.

He wanted to kill them. He wanted to catch them and run his bayonet through them and kill them. All of them. Stick and jab and shoot them and murder them and kill them all, each and every Rebel’s son of them. Not one would be able to get up. Not one. Kill them all.

Before they could kill him. [pgs. 50-51]

Soldier’s Heart did much to dispel my sentimental, happy-go-lucky, isn’t-this-an-adventure view of war. It showed me the unreasoning power of death. And I am grateful to it for enlightening me. It wasn’t a pleasant read, but it sobered me.

At the end of the story is a brief scene in which it is implied that Charley is considering suicide. However, he does not.

Charley’s family (his mother actually, his father’s dead) only appears in the very beginning of the story, when Charley talks her into letting him join the army. She admits that she has not been able to control him since his father died, however, they do seem to love one another.

Paulsen says that Charley is old. He explains this by saying, “Not old in years – years he still hadn’t started daily shaving or learned about women. But in other ways he was old, old from too much life, old from seeing too much, old from knowing too much.” [pg. 98]

Charley gets into the army by lying about his age.

‘Hell’ is used twice while ‘damn’ is used once. When Charley first hears a man curse, Paulsen writes, “Charley nodded but stopped talking because he did not like profanity, even of a low order.” [pg. 19] Charley thinks/prays several times on the battlefield and uses God’s name freely.

He thought it must be the same with profanity and immoral thinking. Charley believed in Heaven and Hell and God and Jesus and wanted to be with God if he was killed. If he had profane thoughts as he went to war, they might infect his soul as the dirty clothes would infect his wound. And while he did not think he would die, did not think he would even be hit or hurt, did not think of it at all, still it was best to be careful. [pg. 20]

Conclusion. I do not consider Soldier’s Heart to be ‘off-limits’ for all ages. Its bleakness and bloodiness is much too harsh for younger readers. However, older students who are interested in gaining a realistic perspective of war or who are infected with a sentimental view of war may profit from it.

The Summer of the Danes

Title: The Summer of the Danes
Author: Ellis Peters
Pages: 311
Reading Level: 13 & up
Star Rating: ★★★

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I purchased this book back in September of 2010, but never got around to actually reading it until January of 2013. #shameonme

The Story.

When Brother Mark requests Brother Cadfael’s service as translator for an important ecclesiastical envoy which is journeying to Saint Asaph to honor the new Bishop there, Brother Cadfael joyfully accepts. He is relieved to have a change of scenery – the Benedictine Abbey at Shrewbury, while excellent for holy living, is not exciting. Not that Brother Cadfael expects anything cataclysmic to happen on his journey, but it will at least provide some variety to his retired lifestyle.

Brother Cadfael may not have anticipated a catastrophe, but a catastrophe is what he gets! While still engaged in his official duties, Cadfael receives word that a band of marauding Danes have arrived on the Welsh coast. A day later, he is kidnapped by them!

What’s a priest to do? Pray for peace and fight for freedom!

Discussion.

The Summer of the Danes was fun. Although dubbed a ‘Medieval Whodunnit’, I found that it read more like a historical novel. True, a person is murdered. True, nobody knows who did it. But the search for the murderer only occupies a score of pages. The real action involves the interaction between Danish and Welsh forces.

Because I entered The Summer of the Danes expecting a mystery, I wasn’t really prepared for the path that the story took and did not feel as engaged by it as I might have, had I known the mystery was not the main focus.

Although most of the relationships in The Summer of the Danes were straightforward, one was complicated – that of Heledd and her father, Canon Meirion. Although legitimately born, Heledd’s existence offends Meirion’s Bishop, who believes that monks should not marry. If Canon Meirion can marry off Heledd, he will rise in the church, but if he does not, he must lay aside his priestly garments. He therefore seeks a suitable mate for Heledd with alacrity and eventually arranges a marriage for her. It is obvious that he has never sought to cultivate a real relationship with his daughter, and although he does seem to love her, he loves his position more. Heledd feels deeply her father’s lack of love and dismissive attitude toward her and is understandably hurt by it. Unfortunately, she responds rebelliously, encouraging an impudent young suitor’s attentions against her father’s will. She has no real interest in the man, nor he in her, but she uses him to show her father that she is not so disposable as he seems to think.

Ms. Peters does not justify either Heledd or her father, but merely records their lack of relationship. It does give rise to interesting questions, the foremost of which being “How could such a dysfunctional relationship be fixed?”

As I mentioned, Heledd encourages a young man who pays slight romantic attention. It isn’t all that serious – mostly sly glances and an occasional arm around the waist, but it is done in the face of her father’s unequivocal command to not do it.

After Heledd is kidnapped by the Danes, Brother Cadfael visits her in their camp and asks her “Have they used you well, here where there are no women?” [pg. 170] She responds that she is fine. He later thinks that it is impossible “that such a woman, one alone in a camp full of men, could continue to the end unviolated.” [pg. 267] However, she is not molested, and in the end, marries a man of her choice.

The main character, Brother Cadfael and Brother Mark are both Catholic monks. Mention is made of several Catholic practices such as going to Vespers, praying at shrines, and making the sign of the cross, but these do not obtrude into the story.

It is mentioned that one man is illegitimate.

‘God’s wounds’ and ‘the devil!’ are each used once.

Conclusion. The Summer of the Danes was not as engaging as most of the mystery novels that I have read, but it was interesting enough to cause me to purchase several other books in the Chronicles of Brother Cadfael series. I look forward to reading and reviewing them soon!

Note: This is a review of The Summer of the Danes, not the entire Chronicles of Brother Cadfael series.

Moonfleet

Title: Moonfleet
Author: J. Meade Falkner
Pages: 254
Recommended Ages: 12 & up
Star Rating: ★★★

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Smugglers. Wahoo!

The Story.

John Trenchard has never known life outside of Moonfleet. He was born there and raised there – raised by his aunt after both of his parents died. Now, at the age of fifteen, he enjoys walking around in the village and looking towards the sea to catch a glimpse of the ships that sometimes sail there. There are even a few ships that smuggle cargo out of his very village! Although, of course, that must be done in the black of night…

But not all is right in the village of Moonfleet. Strange sounds – hollow, echoing sounds – have been emanating from the vault beneath the church. But there is nothing down there! Nothing alive that is…

John is suspicious of these sounds – and scared of them. But when the opportunity comes for him to  satisfy his curiosity, he cannot resist it. What he finds will change the course of his entire life. Is it for the better? You’ll have to read Moonfleet to find out!

Discussion.

Moonfleet is an action/adventure novel written in genuine King James English. It reminded me, actually, of Robinson Crusoe’s style, only without all of the annoying indirect objects.

My biggest complaint about Moonfleet has nothing to do with the acceptable nature of its contents. Moonfleet began as a rip-roaring adventure story replete with a magnificent treasure and villainous bad guys. About halfway through the story this theme faltered, and everything went wrong. I suppose it was more ‘realistic’ than the typical treasure story, but it disappointed me. I wanted John to have the perfect, happy-go-lucky story, not what happened!

John is attracted to a young girl, but it is totally clean. Here’s his account.

We bred up a boy-girl affection, and must needs pledge ourselves to be true to one another, not knowing what such silly words might mean. [pg. 90]

In the end *spoiler* they get married.

A legend is told about Blackbeard, a villainous, deceased Colonel, walking in the church grave yard on nights. John initially believes this tale until he learns the true explanation.

John wears a locket with Scripture verses in it to keep away evil spirits. In one part of the book, John is holed up in a cave with a lame leg.

I have said that I was melancholy; but worse followed, for I grew timid, and fearful of the wild night, and the loneliness, and the darkness. And all sorts of evil tales came to my mind, and I thought much of baleful heathen gods that St. Aldhelm had banished to these underground cellars, and of the Mandrive who leaped on people in the dark and strangled them. And then fancy played another trick on me, and I seemed to see a man lying on the cave floor with a drawn white face upturned, and a red hole in the forehead; and at last could bear the dark no longer, but got up with my lame leg and groped round till I found a candle, for we had two or three in store. [pgs. 131-132]

John goes on to read the verses to himself. He has a conversation with his comrade about the topic – both of them hold to superstitious views on the subject.

In the main turning point of the story *BIG SPOILER*, John makes his way into an underground vault which tunnels under the village church. There, he hides behind a coffin when several smugglers make their way into the vault. After they leave, he gets up to go, but trips against the coffin. It splinters and he accidentally pulls the beard off of the man’s body. It is not a grotesque scene, just an eerie one.

Conclusion. An interesting story – not the best ever, but certainly worth reading for those who enjoy treasure/adventure stories.

Stormy

Title: Stormy
Author: Jim Kjelgaard
Pages: 150
Recommended Ages: 11 & up
Star Rating: ★★★

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Remember A Nose for Trouble? This is by the same author, Jim Kjelgaard.

The Story.

The Morley’s hunting reserve used to be overrun – swamped, really – with geese and the men who came to hunt them. Those were good times for Allan and his father, Bill. But then, crusty old Bert Torrance picked a fight with Bill and Bill’s excitable temper landed Bert in a hospital for one month and himself in jail for thirty months. Now the hunters don’t come to the Morley’s reserve. But the geese sure do. If only Allan had a reliable dog to help him with the hunting…

And then, seemingly from nowhere, a dog does come. A huge mutt of a dog with superior tracking and retrieving abilities, Stormy arrives one day with no collar and a 30-30 slug buried in his side.

Allan is ecstatic to have a companion, but his joy turns to worry when he finds out that Stormy is an outlaw dog who is to be shot on sight. Can Allan prove that Stormy is not a killer? And can he do it before someone picks off Stormy?

Discussion.

I didn’t enjoy Stormy as much as A Nose for Trouble, probably because the action seemed reactionary as opposed to assertive. The main action of A Nose for Trouble involved the stalking and capture of a gang of poachers. The main theme of Stormy was Allan’s endeavors to keep himself alive and financially independent while he waited for his father to get out of jail. He and Stormy hunt together, canoe together, and even get lost in a storm together, but the whole time they are waiting. Waiting for Allan’s father. Waiting for life to begin again.

Although Allan’s father is removed from most of the action of the story, his presence is very real. Rather than glorying in his independence, Allan misses his father a great deal and looks forward to his father’s release. He never thinks disparagingly of his father, but is eager to carry on his work. It is obvious that they are very close.

I can’t remember how old Allan was – I’m not even sure his age was mentioned – but he behaves responsibly throughout the difficult circumstances that test him. He is obviously regarded as and thinks of himself as a man. When he goes into town, he speaks with the townsmen as an equal, occasionally spitting out retorts and petty sarcasms. It’s all taken in stride. I thought Allan could have displayed a little more respect to these men, but I’m also not familiar with the terms on which trappers relate to one another. Prickly might demonstrate affection. ;)

Also, I appreciated Allan’s conduct when he was challenged to fight by one of his father’s enemies. He recognizes that no good can come of it, and even though it casts his bravery into question, he refuses to engage. Later, when the opportunity arises to make peace with his enemies, Allan accepts it.

I found this commentary on the ‘protection’ of certain species to be interesting.

As winter progressed and available food was consumed, all would be hungry. By the time the spring sun ate into the snowdrifts, there would be numerous dead deer in this swamp for there simply was not enough food for all. Foxes, coyotes, and other carnivores that always haunted such a place as deer began to die, would be rolling in fat.

Man himself was to blame for that, Allan reflected bitterly. Over-zealous to protect deer, which he wanted for his own hunting pleasure, man had eliminated many four-footed hunters that normally preyed upon deer and in consequence had succeeded in establishing large herds. Now, for the most part, there was only man to keep the herds in check. This resulted in too many deer for the available range. Allan thought suddenly of a magazine story he’d read.

It was an impassioned and over-sentimentalized plea for wildlife and at the same time a vitriolic denunciation of hunters. The author painted vivid word pictures of wild creatures shot down. He called deer “the forest’s innocents,” and railed about the viciousness of shooting them with firearms. Allan decided as he walked along that he would like to bring that author to this yard about the middle of March and let him see for himself what happened to many of “the forest’s innocents” when there was too little browse to go around. A bullet offered a far kinder death than slow starvation. If deer were harvested sensibly rather than sentimentally, a fair share of those that died every winter anyhow would provide valuable food for humans. [pgs. 69-70]

I appreciated Allan’s level-headed evaluation of how often men set natural processes on their head whenever they try to provide exaggerated protection to one species.  Later, Allan criticizes those who commit wholesale slaughter against waterfowl, advocating a more regulated approach.

Allan thinks that a duck’s fate is “a part of nature” and that “nature is indifferent as to how much suffering they endure before death relieves them.” [pg. 3] He says later that a goose’s cry is “the incarnation of nature itself.” [pg. 76]

Kjelgaard writes

 “At various times he [Allan] had heard people assert that dogs are better than humans, and thought such arguments silly. Dogs were not humans, nor humans dogs, and there was no sane basis for comparing the tow. But as an animal, a fellow mortal, Allan could not help sensing and admiring the superiority of this great beast.” [pg. 37, emphasis mine]

When Stormy first appears, Kjelgaard writes, “He had wished for a dog, and as though some good fairy had waved a magic wand, there was a dog.” [pg. 4] Stormy’s appearance is also attributed to luck.

Allan regards the appearance of two drakes on his lake as a lucky omen.

When Allan returns home and finds his front door blocked, he comments to Stormy that “it doesn’t look as though any good fairy’s going to open that door for us, so I reckon we’ll have to do it ourselves.” [pg. 59]

When on his way to visit his father, Allan’s mind

harked back to the mother he couldn’t remember. He’d been a baby when she left Bill Marley and her infant son to cast her lot with a young engineer. There were as many versions of the story as there were gossips who cared to discuss it, but all sprang from only two basic beliefs. Some said that even his wife had finally become unable to bear Bill Marley’s temper; others claimed that Bill had never had a temper until after Mary left. [pg. 29]

It’s mentioned that the storekeeper’s niece was “no small attraction insofar as men customers were concerned.” [pg. 93]

Once again, I was pleased with the cleanness of Jim Kjelgaard’s writing. ‘Darn’ and ‘Goshalmighty’ are each used only once, while one man tells another “Don’t be an ass!” meaning, of course, not to be stupid.

Conclusion. Not as engaging as A Nose for Trouble, but worth the read if you like hunting/trapping stories.

Sword Song

Title: Sword Song
Author: Rosemary Sutcliff
Pages: 272
Recommended Ages: 13 & up
Star Rating: ★★★

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Remember Rosemary Sutcliff and her book The Eagle which I raved over? Sword Song is another of her works!

The Story.

Bjarni Sigurdson is sentenced to five years away from his settlement, the settlement where Rafn Cedricson sits as Chief of the Hall. His crime is no small matter in the eyes of the Thing; he has killed a priest of the White Christ, a group whom Rafn had sworn would be assured of safety in his settlement. He has made an oath-breaker out of Rafn, the Chief, and Rafn is displeased.

As punishment, Rafn temporarily exiles Bjarni from the settlement. Five years must he wait before he can return home. Bjarni determines to hire out his services to another liege-lord. He will become a great warrior, and return to his settlement with glory!

But can Bjarni withstand the dangers and loneliness of these five years? Will death swallow him up in the next great battle? Will he ever see his home settlement again?

Discussion.

I did not realize this until I had purchased it and carefully escorted it home, but Sword Song is the last book that Rosemary Sutcliff wrote. She actually died before she had completed the second drafting of it. And, I hate to say this, but it showed. Oh, it was still an interesting, adventurous work, but it didn’t have the zip and zing of The Eagle. Most importantly, it didn’t have the gel.

What I mean, is, that the storyline wasn’t as coherent or purpose-driven as some of her other works. In The Eagle, the purpose is clear – recover the Eagle or die – and the story is concentrated on this theme. Sword Song, on the other hand, does not have this driving purpose. At the beginning of the story, Bjarni is exiled. For the rest of the story, he is finding a way to occupy his time until he will be allowed back home. The whole story felt as though it were waiting for the action to happen. Why? Because the hero’s goal was to get back home, and the only way he could get back home was to burn up five years. In those five years he fights in many battles, but none of them concerns his ultimate goal of returning back home. They are simply battles that he fought because he was hired to fight them.

Also, the cast of characters shifted multiple times. There were at least three sets of main secondary characters in a two hundred seventy page book. I felt that I barely had time to get to know them (much less remember their oulandish names!) before I was whisked off to another setting so that Bjarni could fight in more battles so that eventually he could get home. He wasn’t working towards his goal, just, well… drifting towards it?

Sutcliff still managed to create a definite world and give an atmosphere to her story. And the writing was still spectacular – there were bursts of brilliance and excitement. It was the story idea that bugged me, partly because I couldn’t help comparing it to her magnum opus, The Eagle.

Also, unlike in The Eagle, the Norse religion does play a larger role in the story. There are many references to Thor and Odin and the legends that accompany them. Because the readers of the story will have to be mature in order to handle the reading level, I don’t think that this makes the story inappropriate. To the contrary, it adds a certain authenticity to the story. What I did think was interesting, was how, about two-thirds into the story, Bjarni becomes a ‘prime-signed’ Christian. To be a prime-signed Christian meant that “you were accepted into the following of the White Christ, which made life much simpler if for instance you wanted to take sword-service with a Christian chief; but you were still free to turn back to your own gods in time of real need.” [pgs. 113-114] Syncretism, anyone?

Bjarni fought in many battles, and thus, violence played a huge role in the story. For the most part it was not gruesome, but it was intense. This was probably the most bloody passage.

There was no time for another, or maybe no more shafts in the man’s quiver. He flung his bow aside and crouched, his knife in his hand, the bog behind him, as Bjarni hurled himself forward over the last short distance between. The ground was beginning to feel soft and hungry at his feet, but he was not aware of that; not aware of anything save the man waiting for him, dirk in hand, and the dirk in his own hand and the high red killer-singing inside his own head. Only the two of them in the dream; even the rest of the hunt had ceased to exist. For an instant he saw the bared teeth and widened eyes of the man who had killed Red Thorstein, his lord, as he dived in under the snake strike of the Pictish blade. He felt the dull shock, and grating of blade on bone as his own blade went in above the collar bones into the taut throat. And the thrust burst the dream and let in reality. Let in the faint shiver of cool air off the bog, and the sharp cry of a raven sweeping overhead – and the man still rocking on his feet for a moment before sagging to his knees, twisting over as he fell, so that he lay face up among the bog grasses.

There was a great deal of blood, pumping from the red gash in the man’s neck, then from other wounds on his breast and belly and flanks, as others of the hunt came crowding round, each fiercely eager to have a share in kill. [pgs. 172-173]

As far as romance goes, early in the book he comes upon a girl named Thara who has sprained her ankle. He carries her back to her home.

He glanced down, and found speedwell-blue eyes surrounded by feathery silver-gilt lashes gazing up at him, and noticed for the first time how bonny she was in a kitten-witted kind of way. He had never carried a girl before, and the feel of her in his arms was warm and soft and pleasant. But she was heavier than she looked, and there was still quite a way to go. [pgs. 36-37]

Bjarni isn’t interested in Thara, but she is enamored of him and pursues him. When he returns from a battle, he’s sees her…

She passed close to Bjarni, slanting her eyes at him and holding her shoulders back to make the most of her little round apple breasts. But he never saw her, because his face was buried in Hugin’s neck and his hands were up, working into the warm hollows behind the great hound’s ears. [pg. 66]

Later, during the festivities that follow the warrior’s return home, she tries again.

Bjarni, watching the girls circling by, saw Thara’s pretty, stupid little face go by with bursts of coloured silk twisted into the pale bright braids of her hair. Three times he saw her go by. Then, circling still, the girls slipped their arms free of each other and the steps became wider and looser, the circle swifter and more ragged as each girl darted out from it to catch whichever of the young men caught her fancy and swung him back with her into the dance. Bjarni found Thara’s face close to him, flushed and foolish, and next moment she had flung herself upon his chest, her arms round him, laughing, trying to kiss him wetly, trying to drag him into the jigging, bounding circle behind her.

If he had been stone-cold sober he would not have done it. He would have had too much sense or maybe too much kindness. But the bride-ale was strong and he had drunk a good deal of it, and he did not want to find himself caught up with Thara Priestsdaughter, who seemed to be forever hanging round him. He pulled her arms away and thrust her cheerfully into the arms of the man next beside him, and himself grabbed the next girl to spin by and swung her off her feet as he pranced out with her into the ring of dancers. He scarcely knew the girl, but she came willingly, squealing with laughter, and they danced together in the ragged spinning circle. The whole night was spinning, swimming and circling under the yellow moon to the lit of the pipes and the fog of ale and the nearing scent of thunder in the air. [pgs. 73-74]

Bjarni’s treatment of her makes Thara angry, and she is no longer interested in him. It is not until the end of the story, when Bjarni meets Angharad that romance reappears.

He searched around in his weary mind for the right thing to do, the right thing to say. He was not practiced in love talk, but suddenly his arms were round her and his face was buried in the side of her neck, speaking softly where the red flare was.

‘I have done something that I never did before. Last night I ran from a fight for your sake. Because I would not see you killed.’

And this time she did not draw away. Instead she put her arm around his neck, and he felt the beginning flicker of warmth, of life in her. ‘I have a dowry to bring,’ she said with a kind of weary laughter. ‘I have a horse and a ring that cures warts.’

‘And that’s a fine dowry after all,’ Bjarni said as they slipped down into the growing warmth of the streamside grass. [pg. 263]

This is where the chapter ends, so I’m not sure what happened after they “slipped down”.

Female dogs are referred to as bitches. When Bjarni and Angharad communicate with one another, Sutcliff writes that they speak “in a bastard Norse and British tongue that they seemed to be weaving between them.” [pg. 229]

Exclamations are often made in the name of Norse gods, and later in the book by ‘Our Lady’s Grace’ or the ‘Holy Mother’.

Conclusion. Not as masterful as her work The Eagle, but still a worthwhile piece of historical fiction.

A Nose for Trouble

Title: A Nose for Trouble
Author: Jim Kjelgaard
Pages: 195
Recommended Ages: 12 & up
Star Rating: ★★★★★

Hi there! As of October 2013, I have upgraded to a new site – The Blithering Bookster – where I have posted all of my old reviews and continue to post new ones. Hoist yourself over to join the fun!

—–

I had heard of Jim Kjelgaard only in relation to his book Big Red (which I have not read and don’t really know anything about except that it’s about a dog – presumably Big Red). But when A Nose for Trouble threw itself in my path at a recent booksale, I picked it up without even really thinking about it. Maybe that’s because I have a nose for trouble, too…. =)

The Story.

Tom Rainse really has no business buying a horse. His trip to Tanner’s Mountain is only scheduled to last a few days – just long enough for him to pick up his gear from his former home and high-tail it back to California where he’s been livin’ for the last five years. But this horse… a beautiful white pinto with black splotches…. Surely Fred Larsen will give him the horse for cheap, and when he’s done with him, he can give him to Bill Tolliver. Tolliver can appreciate good horseflesh.

But Larsen is inclined to be suspicious. He loads a passel of questions off on Rainse: Who is he? Why is he here? How long will he be staying? Gone is the simple trust that once prevailed in Hilldale. Rainse knows that something is different on his mountain, something is wrong. But what can it be? He intends to find out.

It turns out that a ring of poachers led by the dangerous man who identifies himself as Black Elk – a man not known by any but his followers – has been ruthless in its devastation of the wildlife on Tanner’s Mountain. In defiance of the gaming statutes and the residing warden, this ring openly kills and commercially sells the pelts of deer, beaver, and elk.

But not any more. Rainse, in retaliation to a threat, has decided to join the warden, Buck Brunt, in his pursuit of these outlaws. With the help of his new dog, Smoky, and his pinto, Pete, Rainse’s outfit  begins to stalk the poachers. As the stakes fly high, will Rainse and Smoky pull through? Will they capture the poachers or be razed down as the evil doers continue to exploit the mountain?

Cautions.

A Nose for Trouble is a remarkably clean book. Although it is a higher reading level adventure story set in the untamed mountain area, there were no curse words. ‘Gosh’ is used twice, ‘goshalmighty’, ‘tarnation’, ‘darn’, and ‘dang’ are each used once.

A man calls himself a jackass after during something unintelligent.

In a very serious situation, Buck says that he’ll find out who tried to kill his friend “If it takes me from now until hell freezes over.” [pg. 84]

The story is based on the premise that the civil government has passed certain laws regarding how many animals may be killed and when. However, Tom and Buck don’t attempt to prosecute the mild offenders; their real concern is the poachers who are exploiting the land. Parents could use this as an excellent opportunity to discuss the dominion mandate, man’s duty to cultivate the earth (not abuse it) while also questioning whether it is the duty of the civil government to protect the earth from exploitation.

Conclusion. A Nose for Trouble was a delight to read; it was long enough to be well-developed, but not so long that it dragged. I highly recommend that you purchase a copy here.

Drummer Boy At Bull Run

Title: Drummer Boy At Bull Run
Author: Gilbert Morris
Pages: 182
Reading Level: 12 & up
Star Rating: ★★

Hi there! As of October 2013, I have upgraded to a new site – The Blithering Bookster – where I have posted all of my old reviews and continue to post new ones. Hoist yourself over to join the fun!

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I bought this book not expecting much and I got what I expected.

The Story.

Thirteen year old Leah Carter is full of life – almost to the point of annoying her best friend, Jeff Majors. A year older than Leah, Jeff tolerates her buoyancy and bossy eagerness; he actually likes it. Together they roam the Kentuckian woods they call home rustling up wild-life and beauty. But their golden springtime is about to fall apart.

A war is brewing – and it’s brewing quickly. All around them tempers are erupting and friendships are breaking. The Carters are for the Union; the Majors support states’ rights. The two families maintain a relationship but are separated when Jeff’s father decides to move his family back to Virginia. There Jeff, his father, and his brothers all join the Confederate army. Leah and her father begin traveling between the Union camps selling supplies and distributing Bibles to the soldiers.

Can Leah and Jeff remain friends despite their political differences? What will be left of their two families when the war is complete?

Discussion.

I am unable to call Drummer Boy at Bull Run fine historical fiction. It is basically a set of modern characters conversing in modern dialogue cramped into a historical time setting. The characters are one-dimensional and are always bursting into indignant exclamations; the battle descriptions would pain any lover of war novels, and the relationships between the characters are just plain sappy.

That complained, I did appreciate the historical accuracy exhibited on one or two points.  Stonewall Jackson is presented as being a devout Christian who prays and speaks regularly of God. Also, the right reasons are assigned as the foundation of the War Between the States.

“Do you think there’ll be a war, Nelson?” The question was asked by his wife, Irene, a frail woman who wore a worried expression. In her youth, she had been a great beauty, but sickness had drained her, and now she looked frightened.

“I hope not,” Mr. Majors said quickly. But his eyes met those of Daniel Carter – and he knew they were thinking the same thing.

“There’ll have to be a war,” Tom insisted. “The Yankees will force it on us.”

“Why, you don’t own any slaves, Tom,” Royal said.

“No, and I never will. But a state has the right to decide for itself what to do!”

That was the real issue that faced the country – whether or not a state could leave the Union if it so decided. And though the two families said no more, the celebration was spoiled for them. [pg. 14]

I also appreciated that the War Between the States was treated ‘fairly’; by this I mean that both sides were portrayed as they defined themselves. Portions of the story are written from Jeff’s perspective and parts from Leah’s which created sympathy for both sides rather than a stringent ‘this side was right’ attitude.

Christianity was included in the story but mainly as pietistic phrases slapped onto the dialogue instead of as deep convictions which drove the characters.

Tom and Sarah kiss twice (they are engaged to be married by the end of the story).

The soldiers tease Leah about being a certain soldier’s girlfriend.

Tom teases Jeff about Leah several times, and on the second-to-last page of the book, Leah kisses Jeff. These interactions are neither passionate nor extensively described, but they’re there.

There is no inappropriate language.

If you have any curiosity in regards to the story, then you’ll be forced to purchase the sequel (and for all I know the rest of the series) to discover the end of the story.

Conclusion. Drummer Boy at Bull Run certainly isn’t evil, but it’s not that spectacular, either. If you like sappy, simplistic fiction, then you’ll probably enjoy it; if not, then you’ll find it a teensy bit irksome.

Note: Drummer Boy at Bull Run is the first in the Bonnets and Bugles series. My review is a review only of this particular book, not the series.

The Eagle

Title: The Eagle
Author: Rosemary Sutcliff
Pages: 210
Recommended Ages: 13 & up
Star Rating: ★★★★★

Hi there! As of October 2013, I have upgraded to a new site – The Blithering Bookster – where I have posted all of my old reviews and continue to post new ones. Hoist yourself over to join the fun!

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I heard of Rosemary Sutcliff nearly two years ago – her name was mentioned by another author of historical novels whom I respect and enjoy. Ever since then I’ve kept her name in the back of my mind and kept my eyes open for her works, not actively searching for them, just waiting. Four weeks ago I found her book The Eagle (also published as The Eagle of the Ninth) at a thrift store. I was so excited that I spent a few weeks anticipating my enjoyment before I actually allowed myself to read it. And then I started in on the first page. Oh, my.

The Story.

In the year A.D. 117 the Ninth Legion of the Roman army marched through Britain. Its mission? To subjugate the savage Caledonian tribes which had banded together in a rebellion against the august reign of Emperor Hadrian. The Legion marched in splendor and confidence across the border – and was never seen or heard from again. The Eagle of the Ninth was lost.

Now, 20 years later, Marcus Flavius Aquila, son of the late cohort commander, sets out to redeem his family’s honor from the disgrace into which it has sunk.

His first post is as commander of the northern Roman fortress, Isca Dumnoniorum. There he is to ensure the continued submission of the British tribes. Marcus forms wary friendships with a few of the Britons, enjoying their company, but bearing in mind that a blast of the horn could make them blood enemies. Very shortly that blast comes, and Isca Dumnoniorum is attacked suddenly and savagely by the very Britons Marcus had befriended. His fortress is hard pressed; many of his men are wounded or killed and they are in desperate need of reinforcements. The reinforcements arrive but not before Marcus’s right leg is shattered in hand to hand combat. Marcus is awarded a gold bracelet for bravery, relieved of his post, and sent home to his Uncle Aquila’s to recover.

It is during his convalescence at Uncle Aquila’s house that Marcus finds Esca. Esca had formerly been the son of a British chieftain before he was captured and forced to fight in gladiatorial events. After saving his life, Marcus purchases Esca and installs him as his body servant. They form a peculiar attachment to each other – as a Roman to a Briton, master to slave, man to man.

One day Marcus’s uncle has a visitor – Claudius Hieronimianus, Legate of the Sixth Legion. He brings a strange tale from Eburacum; rumors have been circulating that that an Eagle – a golden eagle – is held by the Outland tribes and is receiving divine honors in a temple there.

Marcus is sure that this is the Eagle of the Ninth. He dreams that if he can recapture it, perhaps the Senate will re-form the Ninth Legion and place him at his command where his father once was. But if the Eagle is not reclaimed and war breaks out between the nations, it will be a powerful weapon in the hands of the Britons. Marcus’s honor, his family’s honor, and the well-being of Rome all rest on the repossession of the Eagle. Marcus determines to trek across the lands pretending to be a skilled oculist and gathering information about the Eagle. But will Marcus and Esca be able to penetrate the wild of northern Britain without being destroyed as the Legion was? And even if they capture the eagle, how can two men hope to escape with an object which every man in Britain would die to repossess?

Praises.

Few novels, especially modern ones, concern themselves with family honor. The family is more often portrayed as an oppressive barrier or a nonexistent appendage; something that is negative or unimportant. But The Eagle is a magnificent exception to this trend. If I were forced to name the one over-riding theme to be found in The Eagle it would be precisely that element which is so often missing from stories – the immense significance of a family’s honour. In a large sense, Marcus’s past, present, and future are shaped by his father’s life – its failures, and its successes. His desire to restore his family’s good name is what drives his actions, forcing him to choose difficult and often dangerous paths.

Most novels set in Roman times reek with lasciviousness; lecherous actions and words are considered standard, and immorality acceptable. The Eagle is, once again, an enormous exception; Marcus’s relationship with Cottia (which occupied so little of the novel that I never even mentioned it in the synopsis) is entirely honorable and, unlike most romances, is based largely on conversations. Physically, there is never even a kiss between the two. It is refreshingly clean.

My final praise goes to Miss Sutcliff for her superb storytelling. I have read a great many historical novels, but I find that The Eagle is without rival in its pacing and style. Many authors attempt to intensify action scenes by rushing through them at a break-neck speed. But this style is so disjointed that it jolts the reader out of the world of the book by its very impetuosity. Other novelists seek to creative a more impressive atmosphere by meandering along describing landscapes we never cared to see and situations which have nothing really to do with the story. Miss Sutcliff managed to combine the two so that the action – while intense – is not rushed and the setting – while comprehensively related – is not stuffy.

Note. For those of you who don’t know what the Eagle was, it was a golden figurine that served as a symbol for the Roman Empire. It was borne as a standard by the armies, somewhat like our men march under the American flag. If the Eagle was captured it was considered an ultimate disgrace.

Cautions.

As an accurately written historical novel set in the second century Roman Empire, I found this book to be remarkably clean. Marcus prays to Mithras, the Light of the Sun, but this is done very sporadically (perhaps on five occasions in two hundred pages) and is not fleshed out.

Marcus is present when a northern tribe initiates its boys into the status of warriors. The scene is very similar to Indian war councils; there is some dancing, much beating on drums, and the appearance of a priest in an outlandish headdress.

This next one is a bit of a spoiler. Sorry! When Marcus and Esca finally discover the Eagle, they must raid one of the pagan temples to recover it. While removing the eagle from its standard, they feel oppressed by the evil of the place and the darkness that is closing in around them. They manage to avert the darkness by concentrating intensely on Light and they then escape into the night.

I wasn’t bothered by any of these things; paganism is a reality, and ancient priests didn’t gain so much power over the people by mere charisma. There were undoubtedly powers (devils, if you will) which fueled their activities.

Conclusion. The Eagle is one of the most splendidly written historical novels that I have ever read. I commend it wholeheartedly to its appropriate audience and promise that lovers of historical fiction will find it immensely gratifying. Purchase a used copy of The Eagle here.