Reviews

Keep Calm and Creep On: The Charmed Children of Rookskill Castle

Fox, Janet S. The Charmed Children of Rookskill Castle. Viking, 2016. 388 pages. Hardcover $14.59, ISBN 978-0-451-47633-3; PLB $13.86, ISBN 978-1-51818-650-9; TR $7.69, ISBN 978-0-14-751713-5

TL;DR: Do I recommend this book? Yes … ish

Genre: Fantasy, Historical Fiction, Science Fiction, Steampunk (?)

Part of a series? Not at this time.

Plot Summary:

London is in the grips of the Blitz — it is World War II, and children are being sent away from London in order to remain safe from constant bombings. Safety is the foremost concern for the Bateson family; Mr. Bateson is a spy on a mission for MI6 — but before leaving, he secures three places at Rookskill Castle in Scotland for his children. There, the Lady Eleanor has opened an academy for children displaced by the bombings. Kat, the eldest Bateson, feels responsible for her younger siblings and does her best to remind them to “Keep Calm and Carry On” as they must leave their mother and Great-Aunt Margaret behind in London. Before seeing the children off, once-sharp Great-Aunt Margaret passes a family heirloom on to Kat. She gives the girl a châtelaine and explains that it is an extremely magical item that will help keep her safe. Kat, a lover of math, logic, and puzzles, is disturbed by this explanation, particularly since it just goes to show that Great-Aunt Margaret really is losing her marbles. 

Rookskill Castle is creepy from go, and Kat finds herself facing mystery and weirdness galore. Why is there a shortwave radio hidden in a secret room? What is Lady Eleanor trying to hide? And — most disturbing of all — why are so many secrets in the castle unexplainable by logic and common sense? Is there a spy at Rookskill Castle … or is there something much worse at hand?

Critical Evaluation/Reader’s Comments:

This book had a lot of potential. Historical fiction plus fantasy? SOLD! The premise was amazing. World War II plus creepy age-old magic sounds delicious. Unfortunately, the execution of the novel was a tiny bit disappointing. (This caught me by surprise given the starred reviews from Booklist, Kirkus, and Publishers Weekly.) The start of the novel is very strong, but not long after the Batesons arrive at Rookskill Castle, the story begins to meander. Quixotic episodes repeat with little impact on the plot, and major problems are set up that either fall by the wayside or are resolved in the blink of an eye. Every few pages we are reminded about how logical Kat is … to the point that you start to wonder when it will crop up again (hardly a mysterious thing can happen without the reader being reminded of Kat’s logic). Anachronisms also crop up throughout the text as well as dialectical issues that just don’t sound right. 

That said, however, the book does deliver on tone, so I would still recommend it to my readers looking for something creepy and set in a castle/past period. I also have to think that perhaps the book just didn’t speak to what I wanted from it, especially given its reception by major reviewing outlets.

Curriculum Ties/Library Use:

I would hand this book to anyone looking for a readalike for Coraline, The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, or Elizabeth and Zenobia.

Grade Level: 5-8

Awards and Starred Reviews:

Booklist starred 01/01/16

Kirkus Reviews starred 12/15/15

Publishers Weekly starred 01/04/16

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Reviews

Courage, Love, and Strength: The War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

Brubaker Bradley, Kimberly. The War That Saved My Life. Puffin Books, 2016. 336 pages. Hardcover $10.36 ISBN 978-0147510488


img_0143Ada and Jamie have never had it easy, and for Ada, life has been nothing but pain. Born with a clubfoot that her mother never sought treatment for, Ada is raised in a single room, forbidden by her mother to ever walk, let alone  leave their flat, even as Jamie, Ada’s 6 year old younger brother, is given free run of the neighborhood. When it is announced that children are being evacuated out of London in preparation for bombs that Germany may drop on the town, Ada learns that her mother intends only to send Jamie out into the country. Ada sneaks away with Jamie armed with the ability to walk — a skill she taught herself over the summer months in preparation for Jamie’s start at school. The country is not like home — there are many things they don’t know, and there are a lot of people who are upset by the influx of evacuees. There is also, however, a pony named Butter, and he lives with a woman named Susan Smith who is made to take them in. While Susan never wanted children, she takes care of Ada and Jamie, buying and making them new clothes and keeping them well fed and educated. Will Ma ever reply and let Ada get surgery for her clubfoot? Will they be sent home to London? What does “home” mean?

I really enjoyed this book. It’s completely gripping, and Ada’s voice is very clear. Her PTSD that she suffers resulting from her mother’s verbal and physical abuse is written realistically, and her fits are never meant to make readers think she is silly or stupid — readers are  upset on her behalf. This is a powerful historical fiction read, especially as context for a unit on the start of the war in Britain and the preparation for the bombings. While a fictional character, Ada is a realistic lower-class London girl. This is also a great read for kids who like horses and ponies, as equestrian activities take up a good portion of the action as well. This is a powerful recommendation for kids who want more context or who simply are interested in World War II.