Book Review: The View from Saturday

Finally, I have read something worth doing a book review, or read something that I was actually interested in doing a book review on. And it happens to be middle grade. Don’t bash those books for younger folks, there are some real gems among them.

Presenting ‘The View from Saturday’ by E. L. Konigsburg.

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How has Mrs. Olinski chosen her sixth-grade Academic Bowl team? She had a number of answers. But were any of them true? (yes) How had she really chosen Noah and Nadia and Ethan and Julian? And why did they make such a good team? It was a surprise to a lot of people when Mrs. Olinski’s team won the sixth-grade Academic Bowl contest at Epiphany Middle School. It was an even bigger surprise when they beat the seventh grade and the eighth grade, too. And when they went on to even greater victories, everyone began to ask: How did it happen? (yeah, not that many people do in the book)

It happened at least partly because Noah had been the best man (quite by accident) at the wedding of Ethan’s grandmother and Nadia’s grandfather. It happened because Nadia discovered that she could not let a lot of baby turtles die.
(well duh, what heartless maniac would let turtles die?) It happened when Ethan could not let Julian face disaster alone. (disaster? what disaster? Oh yeah, eh. It was of small size) And it happened because Julian valued something important in himself and saw in the other three something he also valued.

Mrs. Olinski, returning to teaching after having been injured in an automobile accident, found that her Academic Bowl team became her answer to finding confidence and success.
(piffle, she never thinks that) What she did not know, at least at first, was that her team knew more than she did the answer to why they had been chosen.

This is a tale about a team, a class, a school, a series of contests and, set in the midst of this, four jewel-like short stories
(I wouldn’t call them short stories, they felt more like chapters to me)— one for each of the team members — that ask questions and demonstrate surprising answers.

I have seen this book on list after list of books that you-absolutely-must-read-before-you-die. I finally got around to it, I read it before I died. Yay me.

I don’t think I would have liked it in middle school. At that age I was more about fairies than a thoughtful book about relationships and people.

If you liked ‘Bridge to Terebithia’, you will like this book, and ‘The View From Saturday’ has the bonus of having a much happier ending.

While yes, the Academic Bowl was a big part of the book, it wasn’t about the Academic Bowl. There were no extended scenes of them practicing, nothing said about the nerves of the students before the contests.

Mostly, the book was about the four kids, Noah, Nadia, Ethan, and Julian. Each of their stories was a journey, a deeply personal journey for each of them that intertwined with each others in sometimes unexpected ways.

I really enjoyed seeing each character from the other point of view, and how one character who might be annoying to some, is endearing to another. I also liked the chance to be inside each of the characters heads. It was an interesting study from a writers perspective in how the author made each point of view so distinct. You would never mess up whose point of view it was. They were each so unique.

My favorite character was Ethan. I loved his rich inner world, and the sometimes expected, sometimes unexpected places that his thoughts led him. But while he was quiet, he was not passive. He impacted the world around him whether he liked or not. They all did.

After you get a chapter with each of the kids, you settle into Mrs. Olinski’s point of view. Their teacher and coach in the Academic Bowl who is also on a journey of her own. A long one that started way before the book began. She is a very nostalgic sort of person, and the whole book feels that way. Like the whole story is being told by Mrs. Olinski after she has retired from teaching. She has a wistful smile and a faraway look as she tells you the story, and as she tells it you almost wish you could sit down for tea with the Souls. (Almost? Ha. Totally wish.)

And there were turtles. I love turtles, and therefore enjoyed the book.

Shaina Merrick

Obligatory Work In Progress Post

You know those blog posts were a funny blogger reveals that they are actually writing a story and they just have to tell you about their glorious brain child?

You guessed it, I am writing one of those.

Valai

Yes, that is its name. Yes, I plan on changing it. Someday. You know, whenever this rambling novel decides to finish itself and reveal what it wants to be called.

In a nutshell, the country of Valai has been overtaken by a tyrant and the only surviving member of the royal family has to get his country back.

Woooow. Real original there girl. Sounds just like every other plot out there. And look at that, you even have elves. And pegasi. No dragons though. Just have to stick one in there somewhere and you can join the ranks of wannabe Lord of the Rings and Narnia novels.

I even have a magic system. Yup. I sunk that far. Doesn’t matter that mind readers are called wizards and magic is basically forced hallucinations, it is still a magic system. Did I mention that I had the idea for this book more than five years ago? I know, it doesn’t. But I thought I’d try.

And to top it all off, there is a love story. Congratulations girl, just had to follow the trend there too.

Yes, I sank so low as to put in a love story. Do me a favor and do NOT ask me for the ship name. I am still in denial that my two characters are in love, and don’t even want to think about it. You see, I have never actually written a love story from start to finish before. It is a sloooow burn, and at the moment my characters haven’t admitted to themselves that they like each other. Well, he hasn’t, I haven’t checked in with her recently… Anyway, considering this is my first functional love story I would suggest steering clear of it.

Speaking of the characters, excuse me while I go bang my head against the wall.

Kerina and Terrence simply refuse to do as they are told. Refuse. They have decided to do whatever they want with my poor story. I have almost completely given up figuring out how to stuff my plot into their shenanigans, and am basically just following them around as they do stuff. Yup. Lack of a coherent plot and rebellious characters. Sounds like my life.

Have I ever read a book like that and enjoyed it? No. Is that what editing is for? Yes, but that is beside the point.

Terrence with his ‘I’m going to save the world all by myself’ mentality is going to drive me crazy. Though I do feel sorry for him because his family is kind of, well, dead. Yeah. I wrote an orphan. Two of them actually. How cliche. He thinks he has to live up to his father and his brothers legacy by the age of 21, as well as rescue his country from a tyrant. I keep trying to tell him that he can’t, but he isn’t listening. Maybe this is where I need to put a dragon in, or something.

Kerina isn’t much better. Half elf and half human means she doesn’t belong in either world, but instead of trying to make the best of it, she decides to hide that she is part elf. On top of that, she is immune to magic, the lifeblood of the entire country. Another thing she hides from the world. When you are so different, fitting in is a little hard. Am I right? I may have, uh, made her life a tad bit too hard. But hey, she gets to go on this fantastic adventure and paint the ocean. That makes up for it. Totally.

And then you add the rest of my odd ball characters. An elf with a chip on his shoulder that may or may not have to do with Kerina, his woodsman best friend with endless exuberance and unexpected wisdom, Kerina’s uncle who never gets lost until he starts raising a girl, the thoughtful wizard who regards the world as a puzzle waiting to be solved, and countless others. They are all cluttering up my pages and clamoring to be heard. Guys, speak one at a time. Please!

Blegh. Did you ever see such a crew of cliche characters? At least I avoided the all become one big happy family trope. So far anyway. Though I have seemed to bumble into every other trope that exists!

Unless you actually like reading cliche stories that meander around the main point, stay far away. Though really, the chances of this book ever getting published at all are really, really small.

Royalty that bonds to pegasi? Telepathic wizards? Nomadic elves? A character immune to magic? Pshaw, no one wants to read about that.

If some, um, odd person ever decides to publish it, I’ll let you know so you don’t pick it up by accident.

Shaina Merrick

Tales of Lunnoor: The Rescue

And we’re back in the dangerous world of Lunnoor. Where faeries aren’t the only thing to lurk in the dark woods…

Run, Lannie, run. Lannie forced her legs to keep pumping. Grass and dirt fell away under her feet as she raced towards the marching army. Her legs screamed at her as she jumped over a hollow log, ignoring the faerie that scowled up at her. She didn’t have time for faerie hunting today. This was more important. She had to get to the king in time. She had to.

Her lungs began to burn. She was accustomed to loping along mile after mile. Not this mad dash through the woods. But still she ran.

The gold and blue flag of the army appeared through the trees. Run, Lannie! One more burst of speed, and she was standing in front of a captain.

“Where’s the king?” she gasped out. He shrugged, and her heart sank. The ones she had left behind didn’t have time for her to go looking.

“What’s wrong?” The general walked up beside her. He would have to do instead.

“Attack on the forward guard, rebel ambush.” Her legs felt wobbly, but she made them be still.

The general’s face tightened. “Where?” he asked as he gestured for the drummer boy.

“Two miles from here, just outside our intended camp.” Finally at their destination, and now this.

The general barked a command to the boy, who began a staccato beat he had to shout to be heard over. “Can you lead the second phalanx to their position?” He gestured to the captain still awkwardly standing next to them. “The rest will join you as soon as we are able.”

Lannie’s breath still came in large gulps, but she nodded. Hurry. They didn’t have much time.

The captain of the second phalanx yelled at his men, then nodded at her. “Lead the way.”

 Lannie was grateful she was still in her messenger clothes. The soft fabric was perfect for running. And cooler than chain mail. The air was hot and close under the trees, or was that just her? Sweat threatened to run into her eyes. But if she blinked, she would lose her gaze on the ground in front of her.

Lannie willed her trembling limbs to keep moving. The advance guard couldn’t hold out for long. She had known that from the moment the rebels appeared from the trees. There were too many of them.

Had she run fast enough? It was hard to keep track of time when your feet thudded against the ground, and your lungs burned for lack of air.

She had to go faster. Dappled shadows hid lumps and hollows in the ground. She had to watch where she was going. Had to keep track of the men behind her. She could hear their clinking armor; were they keeping up? Lannie risked a glance back, her eyes found them even as her feet found a root. Pinwheeling her arms just kept her from eating the dirt. But her momentum was lost and felt impossible to gain again. Her jelly legs screamed at her. Lannie gritted her teeth and ran on, brushing off worried questions. They had men to save.

Jump over a stream, round a stump. The clangs and shouts of a sword fight reached her ears. They were still fighting, good. Run, Lannie. Do not be late!

Lannie reached the edge of the clearing, the edge of the battle, and stopped. The second phalanx streamed around her to aid their friends.

The brown and green rebels had surrounded the blue clad troops, more of which lay still on the ground than up and fighting. But now the rebels were surrounded.

Her body longed to rest, but her work was not done. There was little she could do in the battle in front of her. Small quarters were for men trained for war, not a messenger with small skill in daggers.

Lannie drew her daggers and faded back into the trees. If she could not fight, she would make sure there were no more surprises this day.

She skulked through the trees, keeping one eye on the battle and one on the forest. It was no coincidence the rebels chose the deepest part of the forest for their ambush. The question was whether they had chosen it for the darkness or for what lurked in the darkness.

Halfway around the clearing she found what she was looking for. Two naiads and a dryad giggling to each other as they crept towards the battle. Already men were pausing mid fight, looking around for the siren song of rest. Her men paused. The rebels did not. As Lannie watched one of the king’s men fell to the song and sword. 

Lannie froze behind a bush. The rebels knew, and she was willing to bet her sword there was cotton stuffed in their ears to keep out the song. The faeries came closer, close enough for her to hear their chittering language. Near enough she could see the bloodlust in their eyes. Lannie took a breath and threw her daggers.

One found its mark, the other was knocked off course by the naiad. The surviving naiad and dryad hissed, their dark eyes finding her hiding place faster than any man. Lannie drew her sword and leaped. No more surprises. 

Her leap fell short of the faeries. Her legs screamed at her as she hit the ground. She had done too much, but she still had to lift her sword. A cry wrenched from her lips as she attacked the naiad. Was it from the exertion or the claws gouging her arm? In her hurry she had forgotten how sharp a dryads claws were. She would not forget again. 

Now there was only the dryad left. Lannie gasped for breath as the faeries circled her. Let it think she was exhausted, and attack first. She was exhausted, but she would never, ever let a faerie win. The dryad jumped at her, but it’s attack ended on the tip of Lannie’s sword. 

The men shook off the faerie song and renewed their attack. In the time it took Lannie to retrieve her daggers, the battle was over. The rebels were defeated, either still on the ground or kneeling at sword point.

Lannie found the nearest boulder and sank down onto it with a grateful sigh. She was going to stay put until the rest of the army caught up. Nothing was going to move her until she was able to make a full report to the king. Even then, would he mind if she gave her report from the boulder? 

Lannie took a breath, then froze as a sharp command rang through the clearing. Every soldier who was still able turned to Lannie and saluted. What do I do, what do I do? It wasn’t like she had done anything. Except run. And kill three faeries. All in a day’s work, right? What did father do when this happened? Oh.

“At ease,” Lannie croaked, and breathed out as they relaxed. This was why she stuck to the forest. No one felt the need to thank her afterwards. And thankfulness was awkward. Anyway, she had just done her job. And she would continue to do so until the king was restored to his throne.

Shaina Merrick