Tuesday 28 February 2023

Arresting Merlin - Declan Finn - A Magical Short Story Declan Finn

Arresting Merlin
A Magical Short Story
Declan Finn

This is the thirtieth volume I have read from the pen of Declan Finn, that I have read, most in under the last year. This is an excellent story. I was hooked from the first words of the story:

““When you get to be two thousand years old, you won’t look half as good as I do,” the ten-year-old smart mouth informed me. He jerked his arm, still testing the handcuff keeping him to my desk. 

“Probably not, Yoda,” I muttered as I continued to tap out the arrest report on the word processor. Yes, a word processor. My station was high tech compared to the ones still using typewriters. 

The kid looked at me with cynicism. That was standard for most street kids, but this one had an additional air of “been there, done that.” He sat back with a disapproving look, like he was the adult awaiting an explanation from a child. This was undercut by his shaggy black hair and the fact that he was, you know, ten . Though the deep dark eyes were a little off-putting. 

“I am not a measly nine hundred years old,” he objected. “Now, shall I continue with the report, or are you still busy fighting your contraption?””

Even with having read so many works by Finn over the last year this one took me completely by surprise. It is an excellent short story. We are informed that this story was originally Published in The Once and Future King anthology in 2017. I absolutely loved this story and really wish it was part of a series. I have always had a soft spot for Arthurian legend, and this is like an off shot of Saint Tommy and Arthur combined. 

Writing short stories is a very different art form than novels. And Finn is a master of both genres.  And this was an excellent story.  I have read the all the books in Finn’s Saint Tommy NYPD Series, the first 4 in the White Ops Series, and the first in the currently out of print Pius Trilogy of 5 books, as well as several others. And I have loved almost all of his books that I have read, but with that being said, I have an even greater appreciation for his skill and talent after reading this short story! This story was unlike any of the others I have read, and yet Finn’s sense of humour, penetrating critique, and deep insight is evident in this work.
The description of this volume is:

“When the ten year old tried to murder New York City's Mayor with a wrought-iron flamingo, Officer Tinney figured that this was just another day of weird. When the perp insisted that he was two thousand years old, it was another flavor to the stew of strange that came with the job.

But when the runes start exploding and the forces of darkness invade the station, Tinney is going to have to make a choice. He will either have to jump down the rabbit hole or be dragged down, screaming.”

I highlighted one passage while reading this story, which was:

“The kid gave me a dirty look. “Are you stupid? Magic comes from either God or from Satan. Anyone who tries to tell you different is smoking something. Even the nature worshipers should figure out that nature magic uses the power of creation. The short version is that magic is not sufficiently advanced technology, but more like sufficiently advanced biology.””

But I could easily have highlighted a few more. And highlighting in fiction is pretty rare for me. This is a great little story and it increased my appreciation for Finn’s skills and talents as a writer. I can easily recommend this piece and the price point is amazing.  

Note: This book is part of a series of reviews: 2022 Catholic Reading Plan

Books by Declan Finn:
Love At First Bite Series:

Other books:

Anthologies contributed to:
Luna: Planetary Anhtology Series Book 2
Supernatural Streets
Starflight: Tales From The Starport Lounge
Mercury: Planetary Anthology Series Book 4
Venus: Planetary Anthology Series Book 5
Mars: Planetary Anthology Series Book 7
Places Beyond the Wild: A Z-Day Anthology
Shoot the Devil: Ten Tales of Humans Defeating the Demonic
Fantastic Schools, Volume 6

Monday 27 February 2023

Cavalry Hero Casamir Pulaski - Dorothy Adams - Portraits in Faith and Freedom

Cavalry Hero Casamir Pulaski
Portraits in Faith and Freedom
Dorothy Adams
Irena Lorentowicz (Illustrator)
Bethlehem Books
ISBN 9781932350562

This is an interesting read. And by that I do not mean to complain. It is the fourth book in this series, the other three are all either canonized of their cause is in process, or were a martyr. This case is not nearly so clear cut. This specific volume does not give much information on his faith and practice, and there appears to be much speculation he as a Free Mason later in life. And this volume does not touch upon that at all. That being said he was clearly a hero and a freedom fighter in the purest sense of the work. 

This book was the fourth I have read in the Portraits in Faith and Freedom Series. The series is broken up into 6 sets, and this volume is part of set 2:

Set 2: Polish Advocates Of Hope And Nationhood
So Young a Queen: Jadwiga of Poland - Lois Mills
Cavalry Hero: Casimir Pulaski - Dorothy Adams
The Lion of Poland: The Story of Paderewski - Ruth and Paul Hume

There are 18 volumes across the sets in the series. And I cannot but hope that Bethlehem Books will extend the series, much as Ignatius Press is now adding new volumes to the Vision Books for Young Readers series. I was asked if I had ever read and reviewed any books in this series, at the time I had not. I read Joseph the Huron by Antoinette Bosco first and loved it so much I have now read three more and now I have the rest of the series in my to be read pile. 

Several volumes in the series grabbed my attention immediately, this one rose to the top after reading about the faith and devotion of Jadwiga. I was asked by someone who had enjoyed my reviews of the Encounter the Saints books by Pauline Books and Media, and who was following now my reviews on the Vision Books for Young Readers now from Ignatius Press to read and review some books in this series. I am very thankful they did, my plan is to read about 1 a week until I have finished the 18 currently available, as mentioned I hope by then there will be more volumes in the series available. 

I will note most of these versions are available on Amazon, but most do not have Kindle eBook editions. I will state that they are very reasonable from the publisher in print or eBook editions. This volume was originally published in 1957 by P. J. Kenedy & Sons, New York. This edition from Bethlehem Books is revised, it has added maps, and other additional material was released in 2016. 

The description of this volume is:

“Casimir Pulaski is most remembered as the dashing Polish cavalry officer who aids the United States’ fight for independence with daring feats of courage and strategy. As a child, already a gifted horseman, he learns from his father Joseph Pulaski, a statesman and landowner, what it means to stand for justice. The love and practical wisdom his mother shares with Casimir and his seven siblings cause him to deeply love his Catholic faith. These two influences converge in his committed enthusiasm to fight for the rights of religious and national freedom. In 1775, after ten unsuccessful years of striving to free Poland from Russia’s oppressive influence upon Polish law and culture, Casimir, falsely accused of treason against the king and exiled from his beloved homeland, travels to France. He convinces Benjamin Franklin of his sincerity in taking up America’s struggle against oppression. Serving under George Washington, Casimir achieves the near impossible feat of building a disciplined Cavalry Legion from American ragtag soldiers. In 1779, the fearless cavalryman dies from wounds after a final blazing charge at the Battle of Savannah—at the age of 32. America’s tribute to Casimir Pulaski’s sacrifice for the sake of freedom is still to be seen in the many places throughout the country that bear his name.”

The sections and chapters in this volume are:

Web Resources
Pronunciation Guide
1. At Winiary
2. Boyhood
3. The Knights
4. The Polish Confederates
5. Exile and Prison
6. The American Dream
7. Washington’s Aide
8. Winter of Disappointment
9. Pulaski’s Legion
10. Treachery at Little Egg Harbor
11. Victory at Charleston
12. The Battle of Savannah
13. A Hero’s End
About the Author
Historical Insights by Daria Sockey
List of titles in Portraits in Faith and Freedom

Those sections at the beginning of the book are excellent for helping young readers, for use in the classroom or for home schooling. The downloadable resources are top quality. And the additional information at both the beginning and end of the story are greatly beneficial for readers of all ages. There are several subjects in this series that I am familiar with a few I have read a number of books about. This was my first encounter with Casamir Pulaski. I devoured this volume over a few sittings. I just could not put it down. It is an excellent story of devotion, and service, and fighting for freedom, first in Poland and then Serving the US against Britain. This life reads like an action or adventure novel. Back and forth across Europe and then  coming to the new world to continue to fight for freedom.

The writing is engaging, and the biography is well written. It was well researched, The Historical Insights section at the end of the volume is a great starting point for young readers. This is the second volume focusing on Polish Advocates of Hope and Nationhood. It is a wonderful story of about commitment to family, to country, country, and service in the cause of freedom. In the Historical insights section, we are informed that:

“In So Young a Queen, the first book of the “Polish Advocates of Hope and Nationhood” Portraits, the story ended on a high note—the selfless sacrifice and wisdom of Queen Jadwiga resulted in a strong, prosperous, and Catholic Poland. A nation that became a center of trade, culture, education, and also a haven of tolerance for religious minorities.

But as Calvary Hero opens, nearly four centuries have passed, and Poland is dying. Surrounded by several powerful, grasping kingdoms, Poland always struggled for its existence. But a series of horrific wars in the mid-17th century, known collectively as The Deluge, had reduced Poland’s population by 1/3 and robbed much of its treasure. By the early 18th century the weakened nation was already a protectorate of Russia: independent in theory but vulnerable to Russian political intrigue and torn by many factions. Its borders to the west and the south were being nibbled away by Prussia and Austria. Shortly after the events narrated in Calvary Hero, Poland disappeared from the map as an independent nation—swallowed up by Russia, Austria, and Germany (Prussia). Its resurrection wouldn’t occur until 1918.”

This book, and series is attempting to bring back into print a volume that is a great read for tweens and teens today. It is also an important read for us older folks. The example in this story is far less about faith but it is about freedom. This volume is a great read and it leaves you desperate to read others in the set and the series. An very good read that I can easily recommend.

Note: This book is part of a series of reviews: 2023 Catholic Reading Plan!

Books in the Portraits in Faith and Freedom Series:
Set 1: Founding Voices For Freedom In The U.S.
Charles Carroll and the American Revolution - Milton Lomask
Priest, Patriot and Leader: The Story of Archbishop Carroll - Eva K. Betz
Mathew Carey: Pamphleteer for Freedom - Jane F. Hindman

Set 2: Polish Advocates Of Hope And Nationhood
The Lion of Poland: The Story of Paderewski - Ruth and Paul Hume

Set 3: Spanish And Mexican Heroes
The Sea Tiger: The Story of Pedro Menéndez - Frank Kolars

Set 4: Women Of Faith And Courage
Star of the Mohawk: Kateri Tekakwitha - Francis MacDonald
Margaret Haughery: Bread Woman of New Orleans - Flora Strousse
The Door of Hope: The Story of Katharine Drexel - Katherine Burton

Set 5: Missionaries On The Frontier
Simon Bruté and the Western Adventure - Elizabeth Bartelme
Frontier Priest and Congressman: Father Gabriel Richard, S.S. - Brother Alois
Black Robe Peacemaker: Pierre De Smet - J. G. E. Hopkins

Set 6: New York Ambassadors Of Brotherhood
Pierre Toussaint: Pioneer in Brotherhood - Arthur and Elizabeth Sheehan
John Hughes: Eagle of the Church - Doran Hurley
Alfred E. Smith: Sidewalk Statesman - William G. Schofield

Sunday 26 February 2023

Jake Drake, Class Clown - Andrew Clements - Jake Drake Book 4

Jake Drake, Class Clown
Jake Drake Book 4
Andrew Clements
ISBN 9781416949121
eISBN 9781442462335
ASIN B007108PA4

This is the fourth and final book in the Jake Drake Series that we have read. The books seem to have two or even three different order lists. I am uncertain if one is publishing order and the other chronological? But this one is consistently listed as book 4. Much as Narnia was reordered in some editions. So I am really not sure what order the books belong in. But no matter what order you read them in they are great fun. 

When I started reading this series I thought Jake Drake, Bully Buster was book 1. I enjoyed that book so much I mentioned it to my son, and he has since read to me both Jake Drake, Bully Buster in short order has read the rest of the series to me. My son is in grade 9, and yes, these books are below his reading level. But he has been dealing with some serious bullying for a number of years now. Most of it instigated by the same ring leader, a boy that would give Link Baxter, Super Bully, more than a run for his money. My son loved the first story he read and asked if we could read all four together, even though the other Jake Drake books do not deal with bullying, we have loved reading these books together.

Six years ago, I discovered the works of Andrew Clements. I was instantly hooked and have now read almost 26 books from his masterful pen. Many consider him the ‘master of school stories’, and I would agree. I have a dual form of dyslexia and did not learn to read until after grade 7. So I never read ‘school stories’ when I was young. That combined with having my own school aged children has instilled a great appreciation for the genre and specifically for the works of Andrew Clements. Clements passed away in 2019 his last novel was The Friendship War, which is another excellent volume. He wrote amazing stories for children, but they are also stories that any of us can learn from. Back then I set the goal of reading all of his works, but as my own children have outgrown these books and they had slid by the wayside. I have now returned to them yet again. I have read 1 a week over the last several weeks and plan to do so for a while yet.

This is another great read in a fantastic series. These are books I wish we had read with my son years ago. It is another excellent read. The description of this book is:

“Miss Bruce is the new student teacher in second grade, and she never smiles. Never. But when Jake cracks up the class during a spelling bee, he sees the tiniest hint of a smile at the corner of her mouth. Suddenly, Jake has a new mission in life: to be so funny that even Miss Bruce will laugh!

     But then things get out of hand, and Jake finds himself in big trouble. Has Jake discovered -- too late -- that not everybody loves a clown?”

The chapters in this volume are:

New Boss
Scared Stiff
Scared Silly
Secret Information
Mr. Funny Bone
Christmas in April
Judge Brattle
No More Clowning

Jake has a new teacher, actually a student teacher. And she is very by the book. She is following what she learned in school, and is afraid of losing control of the class. Because of that she comes across as harsh, mean and even hurtful. Jake tells a joke in class and the students react. And seems to lighten the mood. So Jake starts trying to figure out how to be funny in class. And it is a fine line between a funny guy and a smart Alec, and Jake might just cross it and things go from funny to sad and serious. Can he help undo the mess he has made? To find out how and if Jake can make amends you will need to read this terribly fun little story.

This is a great offering from the masterful pen of Andrew Clements. This is a wonderful early chapter book, for Middle Grade Readers. It is an excellent read for young readers, and for those of us who just love a great story! It will leave you wondering might have happened in further Jake Drake adventures.  

Books by Andrew Clements:
Bird Adalbert
Noah and the Ark and the Animals
Santa's Secret Helper
Temple Cat
Mother Earth's Counting Book
Billy and the Bad Teacher
Who Owns the Cow
Bright Christmas: An Angel Remembers
(Adapter)Philipp's Birthday Book
Riff's BeBop Book
Real Monsters Go for the Mold
Things That Go EEK on Halloween
Real Monsters Stage Fright
Music Time, Any Time
Double Trouble in Walla Walla
Gromble's Haunted Halloween
Hey Dad, Could I Borrow Your Hammer
The Landry News
Look Who's in the Thanksgiving Play
The Mouse Family
The Janitor's Boy
Circus Family Dog
The Christmas Kitten
The School Story
Things Not Seen 
The Jacket 
A Week in the Woods
Slippers at Home
Naptime for Slippers
The Report Card
The Last Holiday Concert
Slippers at School
Slippers Loves to Run
A Million Is a Lot of Dots
Lunch Money
Things Hoped For
Room One: A Mystery or Two
No Talking
Things That Are
Lost and Found
Extra Credit
About Average
The Map Trap
The Friendship War
The Losers Club

Pets to the Rescue Series
Ringo Saves the Day!
Brave Norman
Tara and Tiree, Fearless Friends
Delores and the Big Fire

Jake Drake Series
Jake Drake Know-It-All
Jake Drake, Bully Buster
Jake Drake, Teacher's Pet
Jake Drake, Class Clown

Benjamin Pratt and the Keepers of the School Series
We the Children
Fear Itself
The Whites of Their Eyes
In Harm's Way
We Hold These Truths

Reading Program Books
Karen's Island
Three Wishes for Buster
Bill Picket: An American Original, Texas Style
Hurricane Andrew
Ham and Eggs for Jack
Life in the Desert
Desert Treasure
Inventors: Making Things Better, Steck-Vaughn
Milo's Great Invention

Saturday 25 February 2023

Under An Orange Sky - Manuel Alfonseca - Solar System Book 1

Under An Orange Sky
Solar System Book 1
Manuel Alfonseca
ISBN 9781540889058

This is the sixteenth time I have read a book by Manuel Alfonseca, and I have read thirteen different books a few of them twice. I have had this one for a few years now, I believe I have had the eBook for 5 years, but had not got around to reading it. While researching for this review I found I have already picked up the other two volumes in this series, the second from the same eBook retailor and book three from another. This one grabbed my attention again while writing a review of another volume by Alfonseca. I am very thankful it did. For this is another excellent offering from Alfonseca’s pen. One of the descriptions of this volume states:

“By the year 2041, the Earth government has decided to start the colonizacion of Mars. On October 3rd,the space ship Adventure leaves towards the planet with reporter Irene Pinedo, who will transmit to the Earth the incidents of the exciting hourney. After they reach Mars, Irene makes two sensational discoveries that put her in confrontation with her chiefs and the Earth government, in a conflict of interest.

A disturbing science-fiction novel, where strange adventures mix with a critical view of the selfishness of colonization.”

The last sentence in this description is not included in most online descriptions but I find it is of great importance. Once I started reading this volume I could hardly put it down. And much like while I was reading The History of the Earth-9 Colony
I often thought of other books that have had a great influence on me over the years. The three volumes that came to mind are:

Solaris - Stanisław Lem
The Space Trilogy – C.S. Lewis
Ishmael Trilogy – Daniel Quinn

Also the whole time I was reading this I could not help but picture author ML Clark as the main character and even hear the story in her voice. I even reached out to Clark to mention that. This volume ends with a clear lead into the next volume. While researching for this review I discovered it was part of a trilogy. One of my favourite table top games is Terraforming Mars, and I have been reading the academic work Terraforming Mars edited by Martin Beech, Joseph Seckbach, Richard Gordon. This volume looks at the science and also the ethics of possible human terraforming of mars. I have also recently read In the Shadow of Deimos by Jane Killick Terraforming Mars Book 1 a novelization based on the game and gameplay. This story could easily be a prelude or back story to both of those works.   

This was a fascinating story. It is a short volume and as mentioned the ending leads directly into the next volume in the series. It truly does echo C.S. Lewis’s space trilogy. I was hooked from beginning to end. I could hardly put the book down. Manual’s writing in this story is excellent, even though I felt echoes of other stories the way he has handled the material and the themes and consequences he presents are very well written. Alfonseca does his own translation work in this and other stories. I have stated before that for me there is a feel of Jose Saramango and Gabriel García Márquez in his works.  

This is an excellent science fiction story and I can easily recommend it.

Note: When I first reviewed this I noted that “The big difference is this story ends very abruptly. I even went back and downloaded the book again in case it was an incomplete download.” The author reached out and informed me that an early upload of the book was missing a section. If your copy ends with “Stipulation one. The people of Mars engage to:” in a chapter called The Treaty it is missing about 7% of the book. Reach out to your eBook retailer support.

Note: This book is part of a series of reviews: 2023 Catholic Reading Plan!

Books by Manuel Alfonseca in English:
Jacob's Ladder
The Ruby of the Ganges
The Last Dinosaur
Ennia in Faerie
The Heirloom of King Scorpion
Beyond the Black Hole
The Water of Life

The Sleuths of the Spanish Transition Series:
Quetzalcoatl's Zahir

The Mystery of the Haunted House
The Mystery of the Sapphire Bracelet
The Mystery of the Honeymoon
The Mystery of the Egyptian Vulture Country House

Chronicles of the Magic Jigsaw Puzzle Series:
The Journey of Tivo the Dauntless
The Mystery of the Black Lake
The Silver Swan
The Secret of the Ice Field
The Lost Continent

The Chronicles of the Aeolian Family Series:

Human Cultures & Evolution
World Population: Past, Present, & Future
The Fifth Level of Evolution

Friday 24 February 2023

The SharkHeaded Bear Thing - Barry Hutchison and Chris Mould - Benjamin Blank Book 1

The Shark-Headed Bear-Thing
Benjamin Blank Book 1
Chris Mould (Illustrator)
ISBN 9780857632692
eISBN 9780857632708

Early last year before reading this I encountered the works of J.D. Kirk I also discovered that Kirk publishes children’s books as Barry Hutchison, and other adult fiction as Barry J. Hutchison. I have read 20 stories published under the Kirk Name and I am now branching out to the ones under the Hutchinson names. He is coming up on 175 books across the three pen names, according to his website. But I have been unable to find a complete list. This is the ninth under one of the Hutchison names. If I had known that or I might not have picked up this first one. Friends call me a ‘completionist’ in that when I find an author I like, I try to read everything they have published. I have enjoyed all I have read from his pen and this one was no different.

The description of this novel is:

“In an alternate 15th century, where dragons roam, sailing ships transform into submarines, and blacksmiths build steampunk robots, ten-year-old orphan Benjamin Blank battles monsters, rescues maidens and discovers fantastic new lands, but never quite manages to get his homework handed in on time. Each adventure sees Ben and his friends, Paradise Little and Wesley Chant, face a new monstrous menace.”

This is a good early chapter book or middle grade read. It is recommended for readers 7-9 years of age but I could see readers who are reluctant readers or who struggle with reading enjoying it up to ages 12 or 13. There are numerous illustrations by Chris Mould done in a pen and ink style. The illustrations add to the story, and are often as humorous as the words by Hutchison. Our main cast of characters include:

Benjamin Blank
Paradise Little
Uncle Tavish
The Mayor of Loosh
Wesley Chant
Shark-Headed Bear-Thing

And in a minor role a Troll.

The story ends with these words:

“As he walked over to join his new friends, Ben couldn’t shake the feeling that, after today, life was about to get a whole lot more interesting.”

This story is an adventure or quest. Paradise shows up looking for a hero, she expects it to be Tavish, which I cannot read or hear as anything other than MacTavish. Tavish says no, and Benjamin is persistent that he can fight the monster and that he has fought many before. And so Paradise and Benjamin are off to rescue the town of Loosh. They journey, encounter and befriend Wesley a wizard in training along the way, a brief side incident with the troll, and a battle against a menagerie of monsters. All of that in just this first volume, it leaves you wondering what is instore for readers in the next two volumes. 

The story was fun. As is often the case with Hutchison’s writings for young readers it has wonderful characters, swift action. It is a story young readers would love. The style reminds me a lot of the works of Dan Gutman, Tony Abbot, Andrew Clements, and Chris d'Lacey. It was an entreating read and I look forward to exploring more books for younger readers under the pen name of Barry Hutchinson.  

Books by J.D. Kirk:

DCI Logan Series:

Robert Hoon Thrillers:

DI Heather Filson Series:

Contributed to:
Everyday Kindness: A Collection of Uplifting Tales to Brighten Your Day

Books as Barry J. Hutchison:
Dan Deadman Space Detective Series:

Space Team Series:
The Search for Splurt 
Song of the Space Siren 
The Guns of Nana Joan 
Return of the Dead Guy 
Planet of the Japes 
The Time Titan of Tomorrow 
The King of Space Must Die 
Sting of the Mustard Mines 
Sentienced to Death
The Hunt for Reduk Topa
A Lot of Weird Space Shizz: Collected Short Stories

Sidekicks Initiative Series:

The Bug Books Series:
Episode 1
Episode 2
Episode 3
Complete Season One

Other Books:

Children’s books as Barry Hutchison:
Invisible Fiends Series:
The Crowmaster 
Doc Mortis 
The Beast 
The Darkest Corners 

The Missing Remote of the Apocalypse
The Book of Doom 

Benjamin Blank Series:

Beaky Malone Series:

Generator Rex Series:

Living Ted Series:
Revenge of the Living Ted
Invasion of the Living Ted

Spectre Collectors Series:
Too Ghoul for School
A New York Nightmare!

Other works: