The Black Cauldron (Book Review)

The Black Cauldron (Book Review)

You’ll love it if
you want to read a high fantasy rescue story filled with dramatic dilemmas

This book review contains affiliate links. Here’s my disclosure policy.

The Black Cauldron

By Lloyd Alexander

Character
Plot & Pacing
Writing Craft
Moral Value

Everyone’s favorite assistant pig-keeper is off on another adventure, but this one will test him to the core.

Dilemmas. That’s why this book is so good. The characters are faced with one impossible choice after another until the very last chapter. My boys and I really enjoyed this second installment in the Prydain Chronicles.

The evil Arwan is gaining power. To stop him, Gwydion gathers a crew of loyal Prydainians to sneak into his fortress and steal the black cauldron—the wicked pot he uses to create undead warriors for his army. Naturally, everything goes wrong, and Taran must learn what it means to make hard choices—all by himself.

This book was better than the first one, and I think it’s worth reading the first book in order to experience this sequel more richly.

This is HIGH fantasy in the same vein as Tolkien. It’s hard to miss the parallels between LOTR and these books. But, these books are much shorter and accessible to a younger audience. My 7- and 8-year-olds wouldn’t be able to read them solo, but they can understand them perfectly well when I read aloud (and clarify some of the high-brow vocab). The books are written in a lofty, grand tone.

Again, this book was great because of the series of difficult choices that the characters faced. I felt like the plot was tight and economical. Overall, YES.

Content warnings: Nothing overly concerning. Several characters die, and one must sacrifice him/herself in one scenario.

4.9
The Many Assassinations of Samir, the Seller of Dreams (Book Review)

The Many Assassinations of Samir, the Seller of Dreams (Book Review)

You’ll love it if
only the most creative of children’s books will do

This book review contains affiliate links. Here’s my disclosure policy.

The Many Assassinations of Samir, the Seller of Dreams

By Daniel Nayeri

Character
Plot & Pacing
Writing Craft
Moral Value

It started slow.

Reading this at night as a fabulous yet decidedly middle-aged mommy who is worn-out tired by the end of the day…I will admit that I found myself nodding off during the first half of this book.

But the second half is worth it!

It’s been a long time since I’ve read a kids’ book with such a grand payoff at the end. I almost don’t want to write anything more so that you can enter this book as blindly as I did.

Now, I will say that the first line of this book is a knockout, but after that, I was a little disoriented and unsure where it was all going. It took me a few chapters to get my bearings and figure out which characters were important. This book isn’t nearly as disjointed as Everything Sad Is Untrue, Nayeri’s debut. It’s much more cohesive with a linear plot and all that. It just took me a bit to sink in.

The plot picks up greatly after we learn that Samir, who is not the protagonist, is being pursued by several colorful bounty hunters. What could be a tense chase is rendered by Nayeri into a thumping frolic along the Silk Road.

I’m a sucker for a solid theme, and this book has one. Friendship and family—what are they, and is life worth living if you have none? What are friendship and family worth, and what would you trade them for? The worldview is not overtly Christian, but there is good moral soil here.

HOWEVER, this book does not shy away from the truth that people are complex. For example, Samir is kind and loyal, but he’s the folkloric version of a used car salesman, exaggerating and outright lying on the regular. Most characters are a mix of good and bad, which makes them interesting, but some young readers will need guidance here.

Content warnings: Samir is almost assassinated six times, but these encounters are not overly gruesome or graphic. As long as your kids are mature enough to understand what a bounty hunter is, then they’ll be fine. Some parents will want to know that a mix of faiths are shown here, and none with great reverence. Samir often lies that he belongs to a certain religion so he can butter up a customer. I find this good material for age-appropriate discussion with kids.

4.5
The Breeder Cycle (Book Series Review)

The Breeder Cycle (Book Series Review)

You’ll love it if
you wish you could reread The Hunger Games for the first time

This book review contains affiliate links. Here’s my disclosure policy.

The Breeder Cycle (Breeder, Criminal, Clone)

By K. B. Hoyle

Character
Plot & Pacing
Writing Craft
Moral Value

Here’s a YA dystopia that isn’t bleak

Wow. I inhaled this trilogy, and I’m very picky when it comes to my teen dystopias. This series has a lot in common with The Hunger Games, but it’s much less depressing. In fact, it is incredibly life-affirming. But it’s most definitely for teens—no younger.

So, we’ve got a strong female lead, who lives in a futuristic society that’s tried to rid the world of inequality by making people the same—as “same” as they can get them. All aspects of life are controlled by the powers that be. Our young, female protagonist works as a Breeder. Her job is to birth babies for the new world. You already recognize a slew of elements from other popular YA books, right?

Well, something happens to our main character, Pria. She begins to feel discontented with her “perfect” life. She begins to ask questions—gasp! This puts her in danger, and she must face the truth about her society and the role she plays within it.

The strength of this series is the plot and pacing. It’s tight and effortless to read. There is a satisfying character-driven B plot.

Honestly, if you’ve got a thing for YA dystopia, this series is a really great choice!

4