Lorna Doone

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Lorna Doone
by Richard D. Blackmore
written for ages 15-18 | highly recommended
published in 2010 (1869) | | 388 pages

The story tells of the adventures of John Ridd after his father is murdered by the Doones. After falling in love with Lorna Doone his life is put in great danger and we follow his perilous adventures to a conclusion which narrowly avoids tragedy.

This novel is not only a fine story of adventure and romance but it also has an interesting historical background and powerful descriptions of the Somerset countryside. The feud between John Ridd and the bloodthirsty Doones gives the book a dark and sinister tone. For me, one of the most gripping scenes is the final confrontation between John Ridd and Carver Doone in which Carver is sucked into the mire.

Tim Golden is a computer programmer in London.  He is also the editor of the Good-to-Read website.

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The Door in the Forest

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The Door in the Forest
by Roderick Townley
written for ages 9-12 | recommended with reservations
published in 2011 | Knopf Books | 256 pages

Daniel Crowley has spent nearly all thirteen years of his life longing to get onto the mysterious island in the river near his hometown. Some say the island is haunted; others that it is guarded by enormous snakes. Daniel does not care. He is simply looking for adventure and for a place where no one has ever told a lie. Why? Because when Daniel tries to lie he becomes physically ill, and it is hard to make friends when no one trusts you to keep a secret.

Meanwhile, Emily arrives with the refugees fleeing to the countryside to escape government oppression. Emily stays with her grandmother, Birdey, an eccentric woman who knows the mystery of the island. Emily, Daniel and Daniel's younger brother Wesley discover the way onto the island with the help of a map from Emily's mother. In the process, they unwittingly open this formerly protected sanctuary to the soldiers occupying their town.

Roderick Townley weaves small town… click here to read whole article and make comments



The Demonata Series

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Lord Loss
by Darren Shan
written for ages 13-16 | not recommended
published in 2006 (2005) | Little, Brown Books for Young Readers | 240 pages

Grubbs Grady sees his family horribly killed and is taken in by his father's mysterious brother who explains that the family is cursed and that he must learn to defend himself from demons and to play chess to help fight the curse. Along with Billy, a local lad, Grubbs believes that his uncle is secretly a werewolf but things turn out differently and Grubbs finds himself battling a demon master and his demon servants.

I won't keep you long: if you have any reservations about demons, black magic, grotesque and horrific deaths or werewolfs then walk away from this book. If, however, you're not that bothered about lightweight horror-fodder aimed at young teenage boys then read on...

While the story's definitely not for the squeamish, the demons are just stock-uglies from a parallel dimension, and their master a grotesque enemy with a suave manner and penchant for playing chess. There is a black-magic-style ritual carried out by Dervish to summon… click here to read whole article and make comments



Francis Woke Up Early

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Francis Woke Up Early
by Josephine Nobisso
written for ages 2-7 | recommended
published in 2011 | Gingerbread House | 32 pages

No saint outside of the Bible is as widely known as St Francis of Assisi, yet he can be little more than a garden statue in children's minds. Francis Woke Up Early gives children a chance to enter into a day in the life of the child Francis and see that all saints began life like them, seeking outdoor adventures, and loving their family, yet, his future spiritual greatness is foreshadowed in this enchanting book.

What is best known about Francis is his bond with animals, particularly his sermon to the birds and his befriending the fierce wolf of Gubbio. Using these events as inspiration, author Josephine Nobisso paints a charming yet thoughtful portrait of the young saint. Imagine a sunny morning, which awakened Francis at dawn, and coaxed him to venture outdoors past a sleeping household in search of a breakfast of goat's milk, all frothy and warm.

Dramatic storytelling paired with brilliant illustrations fires imaginations both young and old,… click here to read whole article and make comments



Look to the Lady

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Look to the Lady
by Margery Allingham
written for ages 13-16 | recommended
published in 2006 (1931) | Felony and Mayhem | 274 pages

Val Gyrth, son of a nobleman, is down on his luck when he is rather mysteriously invited to meet Albert Campion, escaping abduction on the way. Campion reveals a plan to steal the chalice from Val's ancestral home and proposes that they both go down there, Val to make peace with his father and Campion to prevent the theft, ultimately by killing the thief.

Soon after they arrive, Val's slightly batty aunt is found dead in the woods and the chalice stolen. With the help of some gypsies camped nearby, Campion recovers the chalice (which is a fake) and just prevents the real one from being stolen.

What makes this book so readable is the unexpectedness of most things; even when you think you now know everything there is to know, there's another surprise around the corner.

Tim Golden is a computer programmer in London.  He is also the editor of the Good-to-Read website.

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A Virginia Lee Burton Treasury

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Mike Mulligan and More
by Virginia Lee Burton
written for ages 2-7 | highly recommended
published in 2002 (1939-1952) | Houghton Mifflin | 208 pages

Although written decades ago, Virginia Lee Burton's books continue to enthrall young children. With the help of her charming illustrations, Burton succeeds in bringing to life inanimate objects, giving them their own personality.

Mike Mulligan's steam shovel Mary Anne is hardworking and cheerful. Even when society seems to have no need for them, Mike and his shovel prove that perseverance and industriousness have their own rewards.

The Little House demonstrates great patience as the world around her changes. Burton uses the facade of the house to express a variety of human emotions that will draw young children's empathy.

No one can resist the determination of Katy the tractor. She does not rest until she has finished her job well, in spite of fatigue.

Finally, Maybelle the cable car teaches respect for tradition and experience. She and her fellow cable cars love to serve the people of San Francisco.

This treasury would make a perfect holiday gift for young children.

Jennifer… click here to read whole article and make comments



The Looking Glass Wars

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The Looking Glass Wars
by Frank Beddor
written for ages 13-16 | recommended
published in 2007 (2004) | Speak | 400 pages

Princess Alyss Heart flees to 19th-Century England when her aunt stages a palace coup in their home of Wondertropolis, killing Alyss' parents, the King & Queen. Stranded in Victorian London, she tells her tragic story to the Rev. Dodgson, only to be appalled to discover that he's turned it into a whimsical children's fantasy. Meanwhile royal bodyguard Maddigan Hatter is frantically searching the world for Alyss but the years pass and Redd Heart, armed like all the royal family with tremendous powers of Imagination, tightens her control over Wondertropolis and the all-important Heart Crystal. A tiny remnant remains loyal to the Heart family, forming the Alyssians in hiding and preparing for the day when Alyss can return to lead them against Redd.

In this retelling, Wonderland is a real place, Alice (Alyss) is an exiled princess of the royal Heart family. The characters in Carrolls' book are themselves distorted reflections of real Wonderlanders. Tweedledum & Tweedledee are the gallant General… click here to read whole article and make comments



Prized (Birthmarked #2)

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Prized (Birthmarked #2)
by Caragh M. O'Brien
written for ages 18 + | not recommended
published in 2011 | Roaring Brook Press | 368 pages

This is one of the hardest reviews I’ve ever had to write, both because the book left me heartbroken, and because it was so confusing that it left me quite exhausted. It is also difficult because I highly respect the author, especially for her openness to honest feedback, and though I disagree with some of the things in this book I continue to respect her and will eagerly await whatever else she may write. The other difficulty is that the themes dealt with are highly controversial, and yet they are too important to leave undiscussed.

So the following review will contain some spoilers which I have tried to explain with as little detail as possible. I would have preferred to know these things before reading the book, and perhaps others may too.

I considered the first book in this series, Birthmarked, to be a rare find in contemporary YA literature. In my review I couldn’t praise it highly enough.

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The Luck of the Buttons

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The Luck of the Buttons
by Anne Ylvisaker
written for ages 9-12 | recommended
published in 2011 | Candlewick Press | 224 pages

Every member of the Button family suffers from bad luck, especially twelve-year-old Tugs Esther. Tugs always manages to say and do the wrong thing. She even annoys some of her own luckless family by winning three prizes on the fourth of July. Despite her social ineptness (or perhaps because of it), Tugs has developed keen observation skills. When the smooth-talking, handsome Harvey Moore arrives in Goodhue, presumably to establish a local newspaper, Tugs becomes suspicious. Everyone in town thinks Harvey is going to put Goodhue on the map. Could Tugs be wrong to suggest they should not invest in this venture until they have more information about his past?

Tugs presents a delightful mixture of a sweet little girl and a budding adolescent. While she struggles to be accepted by her peers, she does not lose her compassion, sincerity or her respect for her elders. Although most of her family and neighbors do not appreciate her, Tugs' parents understand her… click here to read whole article and make comments



A Little Love Song

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A Little Love Song
by Michelle Magorian
written for ages 13-16 | not recommended
published in 1993 (1991) | Mammoth | 288 pages

Rose (17) and her older sister Diana are left unchaperoned after their aunt is taken ill, but decide to hide the fact from their actor mother, off on a tour. The cottage they are renting was owned by "Mad Hilda" whose diary Rose finds. It turns out that Hilda had a child before she was married. Her rigid parents had her locked up in an asylum for nearly ten years and the baby taken away and adopted. Diana helps out in the village and becomes quite a popular figure, while Rose grows closer to two boys, Derry and Alec, and starts to write her first book.

Told in the author's usual style, the book manages to keep a wider story going while focusing on the thoughts of the main character. The story portrays one young woman's struggle to find her own way, in spite of her well-meaning family and friends, and reflects the obstacles put in the way of another woman, treated cruelly by… click here to read whole article and make comments


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Reading Matters is MercatorNet’s blog about children’s literature. Our goal is to enable parents and educators to find quality books for young people. For an explanation of our evaluation system, click here. We welcome reader input and new reviewers. We love comments on the book reviews. Write to us at

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