Category Archives: Reviews

Rereading: HENRY REED, INC. by Keith Robertson

Front cover of Henry Reed, Inc. art by Robert McCloskey.

I’m not sure if this was the first Keith Robertson book I read, but it was an early one, first published in 1958. I would have found it in my grade school library some time after spring 1960. I was probably already familiar with the illustrator, Robert McCloskey, even if I didn’t know it, as we had his picture book for young children, Make Way For Ducklings. His style is full of charm and humor, just right for this book, which is not unlike McCloskey’s own novels for children, Homer Price and Centerburg Tales, which I also enjoyed.

Henry Reed’s father is an American diplomat in Italy, where the family lives. In a series of journal entries we learn that Henry is spending the summer in the tiny community of Grover’s Corner, New Jersey (near Princeton) with his mother’s brother Uncle Al and Aunt Mabel, who live close to where Henry’s uncle and mother grew up. That family home is gone, but a large barn remains, which Henry is delighted to discover he owns, along with the property it’s on. Before long, Henry and his new friend Midge Glass as well as Henry’s beagle pet Agony, have opened a research center in the barn. Henry’s been asked by his teacher in Italy to engage in some free enterprise business on his vacation, and that’s how he decides to do it.

Henry and company seem to attract trouble and excitement like honey attracts bees, which Uncle Al says was also true of his mother. Midge offers to contribute a pair of tame rabbits to the pigeons and turtles Henry soon accumulates, but one of them escapes, and the kids and Agony spend the rest of the summer trying to catch Jedediah. Meanwhile, Agony also tangles with Siegfried, the cat of neighbor family The Apples. Mr. Apple has something odd going on in his back yard that the kids can’t figure out, but if they or their animals set foot in it, they’re in big trouble, which happens a lot.

Henry and Midge manage to make a surprising amount of money in various ways while chaos happens around them, or because of them, with adventures like Agony getting stuck in a pipe, Midge dousing successfully for oil, Henry finding a rare pot, and Jedediah jumping out of a mailbox into the face of the mailman. Their final adventure involves a hot air balloon carrying both Siegfried the cat and Agony the dog inadvertently into the sky. Several of these adventures end up in the local paper, entertaining Uncle Al, but Mr. Apple is not amused.

Not only is this a great read, as are all Keith Robertson’s many books, but it held a particular fascination for me because I lived not too far from Princeton, NJ when I read it, and had been there a few times. Henry Reed returned in several more books that I’ll be rereading this summer, and I think they all are easy to find online.

Recommended.

Robert McCloskey

Keith Robertson

And Then I Read: A BRIGHTNESS LONG AGO by Guy Gavriel Kay

Kay’s newest novel takes place in the same slightly fantastic version of Europe as his Sarantium books. The only fantasy elements really are the fact that this world has two moons, a speaking role for a ghost, and the power of some characters to foresee the future. Otherwise it’s as accurately historical to medieval Italy (mostly) as the author can make it.

Guidano Cerra is the narrator and storyteller, an old man retelling events from his youth that changed his life, and the course of the country’s history. We begin in the city of Mylasia where Guidano is serving in the household of the ruler, Count Uberto, nicknamed “The Beast” because of his habit of raping and killing young women periodically in his private rooms. Guidano and the other staff are horrified by this, but can do little to stop it. Guidano recognizes one young woman brought to the Count’s bedroom, though, as a noblewoman in disguise, Adria Ripoli. Her presence signals something different is going to happen this time, and it does. Adria succeeds in poisoning Count Uberto, but not before being stabbed in the thigh by him. Adria has an escape plan, the entire operation has been planned by her cousin the warlord Folco D’Accorsi in order to create chaos in Mylasia that he can exploit. Not quite understanding why himself, Guidano helps Adria escape, and remains haunted by her. Their paths will cross again.

This is only one of the stories told in the book, which includes battles, court intrigues, romance, power struggles, and the craziest horse race since Ben Hur, where Adria is one of the riders. Like all of Kay’s books I’ve read, it’s engaging, with great characters and wise insights into human nature along with surprising plot twists. The overall feel of the book is one of melancholy as the aged Guidano looks back on the bright moments of his youth and mourns what he’s lost, but often the story is so involving you forget that and are absorbed in the moment. Beautifully written and recommended.

Guy Gavriel Kay’s website.

Other books of his I’ve reviewed:

A Song For Arbonne

Tigana

Ysabel

And Then I Read: POGO, The Complete Syndicated Comic Strips Volume 5

Front cover of Pogo, Out Of This World At Home.
Cover art by Walt Kelly and Linda Medley.

Volume Five of this delightful hardcover series includes the daily and Sunday strips (in color) for 1957 and 1958. There is surprisingly little political satire in these years, but plenty of wonderful art, slapstick humor, wordplay, character confusion, silliness, superstition, arcane knowledge, animal misbehavior, excitement and so much more I’ve run out of descriptors. We meet Pogo’s sister and her family for the first time, with her children looking like ever-smaller versions of Pogo, leading to some funny moments. The whole book is pretty funny, really. One nice thing about the series is you can pick up any one and enjoy it without having read the previous volumes. Volume Five is a particularly good place to start I would say. Walt’s Pogo strip is fully developed and brimming with charm and fun here, yet not bogged down by any one theme, a fine variety.

Highly recommended.

Previous volumes are reviewed here:

Volume 4

Volume 3

Volume 2

Volume 1

Publisher and series website.

Rereading: THE BORROWERS AVENGED by Mary Norton

The Borrowers Avenged front cover art by Beth and Joe Krush

The final book in the Borrowers series, number five, was published in 1982, twenty-one years after book four, The Borrowers Aloft, which Mary Norton had presented as the end of the series. Avenged is about twice as long as the others. Despite that, it’s exactly the same in tone and style, and continues from the end of Aloft. I read the first four books when I was a child myself, probably several times, and rereading them recently I remembered many events in those books. I read this one when it came out, but I was 31 then, and only read it once. I didn’t remember a single thing about it! That actually made it more fun to read, a brand new book to me, and a fine one.

The Clock family: Pod, Homily and Arrietty, the tiny people of the race of Borrowers, have escaped from the attic prison in the home of The Platters by balloon, as told in The Borrowers Aloft. First they return to their previous home in the model village of Mr. Pott, but they know they can’t stay there long. Reuniting with their friend, the wild Borrower, Spiller, he and Pod scout for a new home. They find on in the rectory in the nearby town of Little Fordham. The church itself has Borrowers, the family of Hendreary and Lupy, who the Clocks lived with for a while in The Borrowers Afloat. Homily is quite firm on the fact that they should not try that again, but the rectory seems a good alternative, and is right next to the church. Spiller brings the Clocks to the rectory with all their belongings, and just in time, as their former captors, the Platters arrive at the model village to try to catch them again.

In the rectory, the Clocks find one young Borrower living on his own, a boy with a bad leg who was left behind by his family years earlier when they moved away. Peagreen has made a life for himself, and recently moved to a different home in the rectory, opening up his former one for the Clocks, who are happy to get it. Pod is soon busy converting the space inside an old chimney to a comfortable new home for them, and Arrietty is happy to be allowed to go out borrowing herself at last, gathering food from the rectory garden. The Clocks find the two humans living in the rectory easy to avoid, and have no trouble getting what they need. Arrietty and Peagreen become friends and spend time together, and Arrietty also goes borrowing with her young cousin Timmus, and explores the church with him.

Trouble begins again with The Platters when they learn there may be Borrowers in the church, and soon they are on the hunt for the Clock family again during a festival when there is lots of coming and going at the church. How will things work out this time? Can the Clocks finally find peace and freedom and get the revenge on the Platters promised in the book’s title? The path to that is fraught with danger.

Of course you would want to read the other books first, but this final one is an excellent and satisfying conclusion. Recommended.

Reviews of previous books in the series:

The Borrowers Aloft

The Borrowers Afloat

The Borrowers Afield

The Borrowers

And Then I Read: THE MYSTERIOUS BENEDICT SOCIETY AND THE RIDDLE OF THE AGES by Trenton Lee Stewart

Front cover The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Riddle of the Ages by Manu Montoya
Cover and illustrations by Manu Montoya

It’s been a while since I read the previous books in this series, and the cast continues to grow, so it took a few chapters to settle into this new adventure and remember who everyone was. Once I did, it was a great adventure. Mr. Benedict, the founder of the Society, is absent for most of the book, in fact the mission is partly to rescue him. His students have been well trained, and are older now, though still fraught with doubt and anxious about whether they are up to the situation. Their deadly enemies, the Ten Men, have escaped from prison, and are not only intent on finding them but also freeing their worst enemy, Mr. Curtain from his maximum security prison on an island just outside their home city of Stonetown. Mr. Benedict is there with him, the two locked away in separate but adjacent rooms. The Ten Men have a plan to break in, but so does the Benedict Society. Each side has information the other doesn’t, but things are made more complicated by two telepaths.

The Benedict Society are Reynie, a brilliant problem solver, Sticky, a science whiz, Kate, an action-loving secret agent-in-training and Constance, a troubled and angry girl with the ability to read minds. She’s angry because the Ten Men have also found a telepath, and the two of them are in a constant mental battle for information. These four are joined by a young boy, Tai, who has been sent to them for protection because he also has latent mental abilities that must be protected from the Ten Men.

The first half of this book is about the group regathering after going their separate ways for a while and relearning how well they can work together. Then plans must be laid, and clues sent by Mr. Benedict unraveled. Kate has an encounter with some of the Ten Men, who are dangerous indeed. The second half of the book is the caper, as the Society breaks into the prison with all the traps and tests of that before them and the Ten Men hot on their heels. It’s thrilling stuff, and beautifully plotted.

I like the characters and the writing of this series. There are some quirks: there are almost no guns in the world of the story except for one dart gun, and the violence is kept relatively tame, more a threat than a reality. Also, the pun-laced names of some characters and places are distracting at times. On the whole, this is good fun and entertaining for readers of any age. Recommended.

Reviews of previous books in the series:

The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Prisoner’s Dilemma

The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Perilous Journey

The Mysterious Benedict Society