Monday, May 06, 2013

The Brotherband Chronicles

Brotherband Chronicles:  The Outcasts
by John Flanagan

You know a book is good when you catch yourself in the middle of a busy day wondering about the main characters and how things are going for them. And I did find myself thinking about the young members of the newest brotherband of Skandia. John Flanagan draws you into his novel with a raid that takes place twelve years before the main storyline; all of which unfolds in the country of Skandia. The band of seawolves have entered the raiding season with a well planed attack that is to take place on the shores of Iberia where they intend to plunder the depository of Santa Sebilla, a rather small town that is renowned for its many artisans and their fine craftsmanship with gold and precious stones. Erak, skirl of the Wolfwind, has little interest in fine jewelry but “was a fervent believer of the principle of redistribution of wealth”! 

However, the raid takes an unexpected turn and we are launched six years into the future where we learn the sad consequences of this ill fated raid and are introduced to 10 yr old Hal and his mother, Karina Mikkelswife, a former Araluen slave.  In just a few pages we are brought into the lives of Hal, Karina and Thorn, as well as a few other minor players whose roles in the novel will increase as the story unfolds.  Flanagan’s novel moves at a fast pace and before we know it Hal is sixteen and we are caught up in his inventions and the continuous improvements he is constantly making to the tools and instruments of his home and village, some of which end  in disaster and land him in his mother’s bad books. However, he has an ardent fan in Thorn who is captured by the ingeniousness of his many inventions and improvements.  Thorn also sees a little of himself in this young adventurer who dares to redesign the sails of his own small ship from the standard rectangle sails to triangles. The day he tests his new sails, he and his crew slip into Skandia’s harbor at a speed and control previously unseen in a wolfship, even one as small and light as Hal’s. At the last minute Hals best friend, Stig, draws Hal’s attention to the fact that they are headed directly for the Oberjarl’s prize vessel.  Hal’s well disguised panic increases tenfold as he catches a glimpse of Skandia’s Oberjarl, Erak, standing on the wharf with his battle ax in hand, ready to damage anyone fool enough to so much as scratch the Wolfwind!

By this time I was well involved in this novel and very invested in knowing what lay in the future of Hal and his crew of misfits as they prepared to participate  in the brotherhood training which every Skandian male embarked on in his 16th year.  It was difficult to put the book down because Flanagan is well able to keep the action and tension flowing, drawing you further and further into the lives & challenges of Hal and his newly formed brotherhood, the Herons.

Clearly the lifestyle of the inhabitants of Skandia is drawn from the history of the Norsemen, providing an entertaining way for teens (and adults too) to take a peek into a time period that is long past.  While there is violence is the book, (Can there be Norsemen and not be violence?) it is not gory or extremely detailed. When the Magyaran pirate Zavac first makes his appearance, one portion of the battle that ensues is described as; "The deck ran red with their blood and the Skandians trod them underfoot...." and later "the ax smashed the blade in half, then cut deep into the man's shoulder.... Vaguely, he sensed he was on the edge of madness - the beserker's rage that sometimes overtook Skandian warriors at the height of a battle." This is as detailed and bloody as any battle scene gets. I would allow my 12 or 13 year old read this book and it certainly is well within the reading level of a middle school level reader.
I’m looking forward to continuing on with the series so that I can learn more about the second plot that Flanagan craftily weaves into the main story line and finally erupts into the basis for the next book in the Brotherhood Chronicles - spoiler alert The Invaders. I will let you know if I find the rest of the series as enthralling as the first book was. 

Published by Philomel Books, this book is available in many forms; as hardback and paperback it can be purchased here, here and here. It is also available via iTunes, the kindle and the nook. Or, you can do like we did and check a copy out of your local library. However, this is a series worth collecting esp. if you have readers coming on up through the years.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Book Review: The Shining Company

The historical novel is one of my favorite genres. I think the first one I read was War and Peace, which I am really due to reread, given I read it at the ripe old age of eighteen.

While The Shining Company is not in the same league as War and Peace, it is a great read and is actually more driven to the interest level of the teen reader than that of an adult. Nor is it completely appropriate for a younger child of say, eleven or ten. It deals with war in a very realistic manner which will likely appeal to the older teens, especially the male reader, but might be over whelming to a younger lad.

The Shining Company drew my interest in from the very start when the main character, Prosper finds himself at the nearby Monastery dragging his birthday gift behind him, a young slave; a boy his own age. Not only is Prosper annoyed with his father for this gift but worse, the boy is wounded and now Prosper must waste his Name day caring for his servant. Prosper is motherless and his father cares for him little given as Old Nurse is want to say that Prosper is “long-boned and tawny-fair like my mother, who died in giving me life.” It seems that Prosper’s father keeps what ‘ heart warmth’ he has in reserve for his oldest son Owain.

We see later in the day that Prosper does have some feelings when his young cousin begins to ask some very basic questions of this newest member of their household, such as what is your name and Prosper feels some shame that he did not think to ask such a common question as that. Luned, Prosper’s pretty cousin quickly learns Conn’s name as well as his place of origin and in short time we see the beginnings of a friendship being forged between the three youngsters.

The setting for this story is the 600s and the characters in this book are almost all drawn from men who actually lived and fought in the great battle of Catreath (pronounced Katreth and is now known as Catterick) The memories of the three hundred warriors who fought this battle against the Saxon that were invading their homeland have been immortalized in the Poem
Y Gododdin by one of the few survivors of the war, the poet Annerin.

The author of The Shining Company, Rosemary Sutcliff opens the story with our hero speaking to us as an adult and first referencing this poem Gododdin, as well as its author Annerin, but then quickly backtracks to his youth and how he came to be a part of this epic battle. Not only he, but Conn.

Myself, once I arrived at the detailed battle scenes I skipped through the descriptions garnishing only enough to get the general idea of who was winning and moved on as quickly as possible to the next scene. The author does a great job of leading the reader to imagine how difficult life was at that time as well as how brutally war was fought. Again, I believe the male teen reader, especially one who enjoys military history will especially enjoy this book. Still, I believe it can also hold the interest of a young female reader as Sutcliff draws a sympathetic character in Prosper. She also engages our interest in his friendship with Conn which continues throughout the book, with one of them finally winning the heart of the fair Luned.

For those studying early history this book makes a great addition to your library, bringing a very distant time back to life for the reader. It is also somewhat poignant to know that each and every warrior that we are introduced to actually existed and served in the Shining Company under the leadership of King Mynyddog and his son Ceredig, typically referred to as the Fosterling due to the circumstances of his birth, the King only having three legitimate children with his queen - all of them girls.

I highly recommend this book as a good read but again caution you that the battle scenes are detailed and some parents may wish to read the book themselves before deciding which children in their family are ready to read it.

For those interested I have included a link to an interview with the author. This interview took place before Sutcliff had even written The Shining Company, but she finishes the interview mentioning her plans to write it.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Movie Review: Christmas In Connecticut

Last year as I was searching Netflix to create a Christmas watch list for the family, I remembered a movie that I had seen the last part of years before on the Classic Movie channel. I could not remember its title or who had stared in it. I only remembered that it was about a young woman who had created a fictional magazine character who was married and lived on a farm with her husband and their infant child. The crisis comes when the owner of the magazine she is writing for invites himself to her idyllic home for Christmas Eve and she must scramble and conjure up a husband, farm and baby in just a few days. What I had seen of it was extremely funny and I very badly wanted to try and find it again.

Somehow, I managed to stumble across the movie; Christmas in Connecticut staring Barbara Stanwyck and Denis Morgan, directed by Peter Godfrey and was produced by Warner Brothers 1945. While I more or less remembered the plot line, when we watched it as a family I discovered it was even more comical than I recalled and certainly a bit more complex.

Elizabeth Lane, (Stanwyck) is the authoress of a magazine column in Smart Housekeeping owned by tycoon Alexander Yardley (Sydney Greenstreet). Just as I recalled she had indeed invented a sham housewife, husband and infant, along with a fictional farm life in Connecticut for the magazine. However, she had also become famous for the wonderful gourmet meals she provides recipes for in her column, as well as the serene family life she has spun for her readers. In cahoots with Lane, is Dudley Beecham (Robert Shayne) her editor. When the big boss, Yardley, calls editor Beecham to demand that Mrs. Lane drop by his home and discuss the arrangements that he has made to have a homeless war hero spend Christmas with her and family on the farm in Connecticut both Lane and Beecham begin to learn the true meaning of the expression “Oh what tangle webs we weave, when first we begin to deceive!”

Rather than admit the truth to Yardley who is a stickler for honesty and integrity, they dig themselves further into the hole by conjuring up a dream farm and family and then whilst Lane struggles to play the part of the happily married wife of architect John Sloan (Reginald Gardiner), we watch her fall in love with the war hero Jefferson Jones (Denis Morgan). Adding to the comedy of the situation are the 'stand in' babies who keep changing sex as their mothers drop them off for Sloan’s housekeeper to baby-sit. Then there is the problem that Lane can not even boil water, let alone create these master pieces she has been cooking these past years in her fantasy double life. Enter the adorable Felix, (S.Z. Sakall) the chef who worships Lane as the result of some favor she did for him in the distant past, and who has been providing her with the recipes for her column. All of this adds up to a huge mix of laughs, funny lines and good fun for the family to watch.

Our whole family enjoyed this movie, bringing lots of guffaws from the older ones in the gang. Today when I watched it again on my laptop to refresh my memories, even Nathaniel, six, and Emma, four, happily sat by my side and watched it intently, often discussing together what was happening.
“That man is leaving now.”
No he’s not. See, they is still dancing!”
Perhaps it was more the treat of spending time alone with Mummy but they did appear to remain engaged the whole movie.

This movie, still available in black and white, can be found on DVD and can be purchased through Amazon or Movies Unlimited. I believe though that I bought our copy for less than you will find it for on either of these sites though, including shipping. This movie, in my humble opinion, is well worth harboring in any family movie library.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Movie Review: The Great Rupert

The Great Rupert, now sold under the name of A Christmas Wish, was produced by George Pal Productions in 1950, and appears to be often listed as a class B film, sometimes not even showing in some of the actors’ bios. However, it is quite a delightful little movie, especially if you are a Jimmy Durante fan.

We came across it quite by accident when our oldest daughter was here for Thanksgiving and she grabbed some one dollar DVD’s on a rack as she checked out at a local grocery store. Looking for something different to watch Sunday while home with an ill child I stuck the DVD in the player, never thinking it would be worth reviewing, after all it was only a one dollar rack special.

Durante quite steals the show while Rupert, the creation of George Pal and one of Hollywood’s earliest attempts at animation comes in at a close second. It is Rupert’s tricks that turns the Amendola family's fortune around. When we are introduced to this out of work, vaudeville family act we learn that they are both homeless and penniless. When Mrs. Amendola (Queenie Smith) asks Mr Amendola (Durante) if he has checked their other account in Chicago, Durante pulls a letter out of a coat pocket and reads to his wife, and daughter Rosalinda;

“Dear Mr. Amendole:

This is the last monthly statement we will mail you as we believe it is hardly worth the three cents to tell you that you have two cents.”

They then run into another luckless vaudeville act, Joe Mahoney the once famous lion tamer, who now is trying to convince others that his dancing squirrel (Rupert) is box office material. Amendola, after blowing a lot of smoke and mirrors about how they have been booked in Europe where a good human pyramid act is still appreciated, he learns that Mahoney has just been evicted this last half hour and better yet, managed to live at this location for six months without paying the rent. All pretext is dropped as Mr. Amendola grills Joe for the details, and they leave poor Mahoney in the park while Amendola quickly drags his girls to the address provided by the former lion tamer before some other misfortunate should stumble upon the vacancy.

The land lord’s son, Peter Dingle (Tom Drake) is in the apartment practicing on his tuba and when he sees the beautiful Rosalinda, ( Terry More) he is smitten and easily bamboozled out of the first months rent, putting him squarely in his father’s (Frank Orth) miserly bad books. Before long we are drawn in a tale that has both an innocent romance between Peter Dingle and Rosalinda which is marred only by the foil provided by theatrical agent Phil Davis (Chick Chandler) and a touch of the story of Scrooge while we get to watch Mr. Dingle’s miserly ways slowly become his ruin and Mr. Amendala’s generous soul become his salvation . All of this is aided by the antics of Rupert who moved right back into the apartment the same day his trainer had set him free in the nearby park.

All in all, the whole family enjoyed this film, even while in black and white. The music when Durante sometimes played piano and sang in his typical style that he was so famous for caught the baby’s attention and the other children were quite amused by the simple actions of the animated squirrel. While we are tempted to laugh at this 1950’s attempt at animation, it is interesting to know that “This technique is where it all started and the same basic process is the building block of all computer CGI today from JURASSIC PARK to TOY STORY.” (To read more click here. ) As well, I was fascinated to learn through my research about this film, that Rupert's producer, George Pal, had his office directly across from Gene Roddenberry who received a lot of advice from Pal on the making of his Star Trek series.

This DVD can be rented from Netflix and is also available for sale online from various websites. If you decide that you wish to own your own copy it can be found for as little as 9.95 but be sure to search about if you come across some the ones I found at 24.99. Although I liked the movie very much, I would be hesitant to spend more than ten dollars on it myself, but then I am not an avid Jimmy Durante fan!

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

101 Inspirational Stories of Reconcilliation

When 101 Inspirational "Stories of the Sacrament of Reconciliation" came in the mail, I was interested in it. My mum had written an article in it about teaching children the Sacrament of Reconciliation. However as I skimmed, through the pages in search of my mum's article, the titles of these true stories of Reconciliation caught my attention, 'Why Are You Here?', 'A Heavy Burden', and 'I was Forgiven'. I wondered what they were about. Finally, I found my mum's piece. After reading it, I decided to read one of the stories. Once I had read one, I had to read another.

The different stories and experiences, all ending with the same joyful feeling of miraculously complete forgiveness, have me always looking forward to the next one I read.

I find that the best time to read these stories is when I am cuddled up in bed. I look carefully at my conscience, thinking of all I have done well that day, and what I have not done well that day. Then I read a true story of God's merciful forgiveness. I know that no matter what I did wrong, He is waiting to forgive me!

This book has helped me in a real way because each story I have read seems even happier and more wonderful than the last. Reading about other peoples' fears and troubles with this sacrament, and how they were corrected, has helped me to see that my fears are nothing to worry about -- they even seem silly. At last I found myself wishing, with all my heart, that I could go soon to Reconciliation, instead of dreading the next time I had to. I have always loved this sacrament very much, but normally I hate actually confessing my sins, even though I know I will feel sooo wonderful and clean afterwards!

This is not a book I would have normally thought of reading. I usually like nice long ongoing stories whether true, or fictional. I am so glad that I did start reading it though and I think it would make a great addition to any family’s library and any parish library as well.

This book can be bought online HERE and you can learn more about the editor of this book HERE. If you do read it, be sure to come back and let the rest of know what you thought of it.

The author of this review is 13 yr old Anna G.
owner of the blog:
Beans are Gross and Other Interesting Thoughts.

Movie Review; Eloise at the Plaza

This made for TV movie is based on the main character of the classic book series about Eloise, in particular Eloise at the Plaza. Eloise was born into being one day in1948 when her creator, Kay Thompson late for work was asked;
“Who do you think you are? Coming here five minutes late.”
To which she responded with an airy, childish voice: ” I am Eloise. I am six.” From this statement a classic was born and continued to grow and develop until finally in 1955 Kay Thompson and the artist Hilary Knight locked themselves in a suite at the Plaza and stayed there until they emerged book in hand; Kay Thompson's Eloise: A book for precocious grownups.

Miss Eloise, (Sofia Vassilieva ) a most precocious six year old, is a permanent fixture of the Plaza Hotel of Fifth Avenue at Central Park South, New York, much to the bane of Mr Salamore, (Jeff Tambore) the manager of the Plaza. Nanny (Julie Andrews) is the sole caregiver of Miss Eloise, but the whole staff are often pulled into her antics and thus are also engaged in the care of this incredible child who has ‘everything’ listed at the top of her to do list.

In Eloise at the Plaza , directed by Kevin Lima, we are introduced to this highly articulate child who at first glimpse appears to be parentless. While her father is never referred to in the movie, Eloise does have a mother who is never really home but calls daily or Eloise would miss her too terribly to bear. One would normally be tempted to feel sorry for a child living such a lonely lifestyle, wandering alone about the hotel, charging her lunch to her account and seemingly answering to no one, and only her Nanny to say ‘I love you’ to at bedtime; but her enthusiasm for life and ability to turn the whole world around upside down and seemingly into complete chaos, quickly chases away any sorrow you might otherwise feel for her. She is too busy having an incredibly, deliciously, busy life to feel sorry for.

Almost immediately in the movie we discover that the Plaza is awaiting the arrival of a Prince, and Mr. Salamore is in mortal dread of Eloise learning of said arrival. Adding to his discomposure is the reality that on this same date the Plaza is hosting the annual Debutante Ball, the very same that Eloise’s mother attended so many years ago. We learn from Nanny and Eloise that Eloise’s mother “has grace” and wore a Dior dress with rose buds in her hair. It is Eloise’s plan to attend the ball this year so as to begin to prepare for her year as a Debutante, but is the staff’s job to make sure that Eloise neither learns of the secret arrival nor attend the Ball. Too much is riding on it for her to be allowed to carry out her usual antics. Yet Eloise is way ahead of them all and we, the audience, are captivated as we watch it all unravel. Somehow Eloise pulls us along with her complete confidence that all will turn out well and for the better, no matter how badly it all seems to turning out.

Tambore is perfect in his role as the harried and zealous general manager of the Plaza and hints of Mary Poppins peek out at us while we watch Julie Andrews play the part of Eloise’s Nanny. Other main characters in the movie are Philip, Eloise’s dreaded French tutor and Linda the debutante whom Eloise focus’s her Cupid’s arrow on. Linda’s mother's self imposed importance is painful to watch as she directs, bullies and harangues her daughter throughout the movie. And we can not forget Sir Wilkes (Canadian Kenneth Welsh) whose heart strings are being pulled unknowingly by Nanny, much to Eloise's delight.

Not having read the original books I can not account as to how accurately the movie portrays the written Eloise, but in this movie the actress looks remarkably like Knight’s renderings of her and her character as portrayed by Vasalievia is a real charmer.
It is great fun to see how she and Nanny take so much delight in each other company and the ending leaves you hungry for more of Eloise.

The movie ends with a hint as to the fun to come in the next movie Eloise at Christmas Time when Christine Baranski is introduced as Prunella Stickler, the newly hired event co-ordinator, in the last scenes of Eloise at the Plaza. Look for a review to be posted soon for Eloise at Christmas Time.

Although there is not a lot of depth to the movie, it will make an adorable addition to any home’s collection of DVDs and would make wonderful holiday viewing. So reserve or pick up a DVD of Eloise at the Plaza from your favourite movie rental proprietor, pick up your favorite snacks and sit down with your family and sit back to laugh, maybe tear up a little and generally have a good time.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Book Review; A Whisper in My Heart

Based on a true story, A Whisper In My Heart, is the touching account of an 'orphan’s’ transition from feeling abandoned to knowing she is loved by the family that forgot her behind the Communist curtain in Europe in 1956 . We meet with Klari, for the first time, as well as her mother and extended family when at nearly 10 years of age Klari is reunited with her parents in Toronto, Canada. Only we are privy to her private thoughts while she struggles with the difficulties of being unable to speak the language of her new country and the fears she faces as she becomes acquainted with her parents as well as the Canadian way of life. Angry with her parents for leaving her behind when her mother, father, aunt, uncle and cousin escaped seven years earlier from Hungary, Klari is determined not to share her fears and frustrations with those whom she feels betrayed her, first by leaving her behind and then by ripping her away from all she knew and was comfortable with.

This exciting and emotion filled narrative keeps you engaged through to the very end. It holds appeal for children as young as eight and kept my attention as well. My daughters, aged 12 and 14 also enjoyed it thoroughly and could not put it down until finished. Something that occasionally caused a problem at chore time.

Catholic writer, Kathy Clark, author of A Whisper in My Heart is the only daughter of a Holocaust survivor. Both her mother and aunt were two of hundreds of Jewish children who escaped certain death by being hidden in monasteries all across Europe during the genocide of WWII. In their case they were hidden in the convent of the Daughters of St. Vincent de Paul (Nicknamed Angel Guardian House) in Hungary.

Later in life Kathy’s mother and step-father, along with other family members, escaped communist Hungary in the dead of night. Believing the journey too dangerous for her enfant daughter, her mother had to make the heart wrenching decision to leave the then two year old Kathy behind in the care of her maternal grandparents. Little did any of them realize that it would be seven years before the Communist government of Hungary could be convinced, through the tireless efforts of Kathy’s grand father, to release Kathy and allow her to emigrate to Canada so as to re-join her parents.

Born Jewish, Kathy Clark later converted to the Catholic faith and, with her husband Bruce Clark, has raised six children. It was her daughter’s questions about Kathy’s childhood and the memories that these evoked that led to her writing A Whisper In My Heart.

This book not only entertains, but also educates and can be used as the spring board for many ideas and questions well worth discussing. After sharing in Klari’s struggles in a new country we can discuss with our children (or students) how we can make new emigrants feel welcome in our country. This book also provides an opener to discussing the blessings and benefits of living here, in the free world, when we are faced with the question as to why a family would take the risks that Klari’s family took so as to come to North America. It also provides a doorway to history when children ask us about Communism. No home library should be without it.

You can buy directly from the author by writing to:


Or you can click HERE to order this book.
I have ordered from this company and received good service as well as quick delivery of my purchases.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

White Christmas - a Classic

White Christmas was produced in 1954 and starred Bing Crosby , Danny Kaye , Rosemary Clooney and Vera-Ellen . We watched this last night and it was thoroughly enjoyed by all the age groups represented by our family which run from being in the late forties down through the early twenties, teens, single digits and ultimately finishes with infancy. Okay – Elsa, at 7 months, might be a little young to add her two bits to this review but she was often engaged, glancing at the TV screen with interest and cooing along with the melodies.

I read an original review and was struck by how the writer had not particularly enjoyed the movie in stark contrast to our family's enjoyment and our wish that there were more innocent movies of this type still produced today. Little did the author of this review realize that this would become a Christmas Classic.

We enjoyed the dance routines as well as the slick timing of Danny Kay as Bing's foil in this musical. Many of the lines while possibly considered corny by some, brought laughs from all ages groups in this family of 14.

The story line is that of an army general fallen on hard times and a Captain (Bing Crosby) and a Private (Danny Kay) from his army career become a successful music act and while in pursuit of a sister act (Clooney & Vera-Ellen) they show up at his Ski Resort in Vermont; where no snow has brought business to a stand still. Wallace and Davis (Crosby & Kaye) decide to bring their act to the inn so as to generate some income for the General and help him save his inn.

There is a slight romance plot to it, tastefully done and adds to the enjoyment of the story line. The dance routines are awesome and Kaye, I think, completely steals the show with his perfect delivery as well as his dancing. Crosby is at his usual best but Kaye shone, so much so that I am inspired to look for other movies that he is in.

If you have forgotten this classic or have never watched it, take time to include it in your Christmas line up this season as it is very enjoyable and takes you back to a time of innocence as well as when it was still okay to wish one another a Merry Christmas without fear of being ‘un PC’.

We rented this through Netflix, but it can be found on Amazon and, no doubt, in your local movie rental store.