Friday, December 30, 2016

Book Review: Mary's Song

Mary’s Song, Book One of the Dream Horse Adventures, by Susan Count is a charming story sure to delight young readers and animal (especially horse) lovers. Young Mary is disabled and life offers very little outlet for her creativity and intelligence. She is a very talented artist and loves horses. Her doting and overprotective widower father spends a lot of time and money on various therapies to try to get Mary back on her feet, walking, running, and leading a normal life. Mary has resigned herself somewhat to life in a wheelchair until the day she meets her neighbour Laura (also twelve), and finds out about the lame foal she had seen hobbling around on the next-door property. Laura couldn’t be more different, but the girls strike up a firm friendship. Then Mary learns that Illusion, the lame little foal, is set to be euthanized because of her club foot, and because it’s not considered worth the time and money to save the little horse. Laura and Mary persuade Laura’s parents to give a six-week stay of execution to enable them to raise the money for Illusion’s very expensive operation. Can they raise enough money in time to save Illusion, and will Mary ever walk again?

There is so much more to this book than just the heartrending story of saving Illusion.  The healing of both horse and young girl finds a wonderful theme in their parallel stories. The backdrop is the 1950s, which casts a completely different light on what kids would be doing, how they would behave, think, and entertain themselves. I found it a refreshing trip back in time, back to when things were perhaps simpler in many ways, but harder in that medicine and science still had some developments to achieve.

There are excellent themes for young readers, and the main one being a love of horses gives readers an idea of various aspects of riding, training, breeding and competing with horses, but without shoving facts down the reader’s throat. The wonderful and strong theme of love and friendship continues throughout, with love of family, not forgetting those once loved who have passed on, discovering new love when Mary’s dad meets someone special, and forging bonds of friendship with like-minded people.

Although there is a Christian theme, I found the author wove it into the story very well, again without overdoing it. That and the concept of faith, not only spiritual faith, but faith in oneself and others comes to the fore. Finally, the idea that a disabled person is not a broken person is very well handled. Interspersed is the idea that less able-bodied people can also achieve as much in their own way as an able-bodied person. Last but not least, I liked how much emphasis the author put on the theme of books, the joy found within the pages of old favourites and treasured books, the pleasure in reading, and indeed the importance of books.

This is an enchanting and moving story in so many ways, and young (and older) readers who are sure to enjoy it will also be delighted to know that the story continues. As the author says, “Saddle up and ride along!”

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Book Review: The King's Ransom

When the King’s Ransom, a wondrous jewelled medallion, is stolen from Pembroke Castle in Wales, it is up to three young heroes to band together to solve this mystery and save a life. Prince Gavin (12), the youngest son of King Wallace and Queen Katherine, and his two friends, Philip (13), an orphan, and Bryan (15), a blacksmith’s apprentice, are an unlikely trio, uneven in terms of social status, but firm and loyal companions. Their friend, the Wild Man, is accused of murdering the king’s advisor and stealing the marvellous medallion, a symbol of absolute power and justice, but only in the right hands. Kings have enemies, and it soon becomes apparent that someone was after the medallion for the prestige it would bestow. Gavin, Bryan, and Philip race against time to find the medallion, reveal the true killer, and save the Wild Man’s life. They have only a few days before the arrival of King Arthur. If the medallion is not found, the Wild Man will be executed in front of Arthur. Can they overcome their fears and fulfil this momentous quest? Is it possible the Wild Man has tricked them all and simply used their friendship to get closer to the medallion?
What a delightful five-star story for young readers in The King’s Ransom. I am familiar with Cheryl Carpinello’s writing from reading and reviewing her first Arthurian book, Guinevere: On the Eve of a Legend. Then I was entranced by the author’s spellbinding descriptions of life in Arthurian times and her meticulous attention to detail. Cheryl’s skills have remained as bright as ever with the unfolding of this fast-paced tale, threaded with mystery, adventure, a bit of magic, danger, darkness, and lovely twists in the end. I so enjoyed the factual information about weapons, clothing, daily life, and places, cleverly interspersed in the text and dialogue to inform without overwhelming young readers. The author has a gift for delving into the depths of each young hero’s psyche. The way each one of the trio faces their fears, learns to believe in themselves, and finds their true meaning and path in life is moving. This is a superb coming-of-age story, set in a time of chivalry and pageantry, and harking back to an age when a hero was truly a hero. Fans will love that there is a FREE Study Guide to help expand their knowledge of King Arthur and his era. You can find out more about Cheryl’s books here.