The Mystery of the Wailing Woods by Diane Klein and Tim Knight (8-10 yrs)

The Mystery of the Wailing Woods: An Allegheny National Forest Adventure by [Diane Klein, Tim Knight, Korie Klein]

“The Mystery of the Wailing Woods” is a story of two friends, Griffin and Caleigh, stumbling across a weeping mystical creature in the deep wood. At first there is a discord between them as to how to deal with their discovery – whether to keep it secret or reveal it to the world. The children are enthralled and fascinated, but there are flashes of warning of what’s to come thrown into Griffin’s dreams. Talking to his Grandad and researching mythical creatures, Griffin establishes that the creature may be a Squonk. Caleigh is eager to make friends with him. She embarks on a perilous journey into the woods. I won’t reveal any more other than the ending is enchanting and heart-warming.
I loved the sense of place. The woods are vividly drawn. The sense of mystery and magic is woven into them. The prose is lyrical and atmospheric. The descriptions are dreamy and full of suspense. The writers’ love for nature shines through.
The relationship between Griffin and Caleigh is beautifully presented. Their friendship is tested and their values seem to collide at some point, and that makes them both credible as characters.
A wonderful tale of adventure and communion with the wonders of nature. Recommended for children aged 8-10.

The Last Free City by Tim Stretton – an escape into a world of intrigue and adventure

The Last Free City (Annals of Mondia) by [Tim Stretton]

The Last Free City is a feast of political intrigue, cunning diplomacy, swordfights and assassinations, love, lust and betrayal – and that’s just for starters!

The story is set in one of the last independent city-republics on a peninsula torn between two expansive kingdoms, that of Emmen and Gammerling. This may be fantasy genre, but the settings have a strong historical flavour of Italy before unification. It’s evident in the names, the architecture and the social hierarchy of the city of Tarantanallos. So despite this being a fantasy novel, you will feel like you’ve travelled back in time. It somehow seems authentic and historically accurate. But there are also touches of sheer imaginary ingenuity by the author who has created a self-contained world in its own right, with its own currency, its law enforcement agency called the Consigli, its ruling elite of Specchio, modes of transport astride gallumphers, and time measured in pursuits and activities. Thus you have the Hour of Evening Repast, the Hour of Secret Deeds, the Hour of Noble Pleasures… And so time flies while you’re having fun doing all sorts good and bad things.

Lord Oricien arrives in Tarantanallos in order to secure the city’s submission to Emmen. Factions of influential elites are formed. Nobody can trust anybody. Fortunes are to be made and lost. Dravadan, one of the most powerful and brutal leaders of the city, works on the alliance and the furtherance of his own interests. His younger brother, Malvazan, nurses his resentments while at the same time polishing his fencing skills so that he can climb the greasy pole of influence despite being the second son. Todarko, a poet and skirt-chaser, tries to ignore politics and follow his heart even though it may lead him into the eye of the political storm. The characters are vibrant, complex and full of surprises. That includes the female characters. They are rich and diverse – from impetuous, through treacherous and manipulative to the most noble ones.

The story is written in elegant prose, full of witticism and laced with brisk, intelligent exchanges. The author attributes the inspiration for Todarko’s sonnets to Shakespeare. There is something distinctly Shakespearean in this story, and it isn’t just in the sonnets. It’s in the language, the vivacity, the settings and the elaborate plot. If you want to lose yourself in a world away from home (especially during lockdown), read this book.