Book Review: The Halloween Tree

October 30, 2009

The Halloween Tree
Ray Bradbury
Time Travel
Middle Grade
145 pages

An Ode to Halloween

An Ode to Halloween

Have you ever wondered why we dress up for Halloween? Or how the tradition of trick-or-treating begin? Or, how about why we associate witches, skeletons and ghosts with Halloween? This novel cleverly answers these questions and so much more.

An ode to Halloween, this book packs a brain full of facts into your head in the most entertaining way. The Halloween Tree is a children’s novel (that will also appeal to adults) about eight 13-year-old boys who go on a journey to discover the history of Halloween and in the process save the ninth member of their group, Pipkin, from the hands of death.

“Anyone could see that the wind was a special wind this night, and the darkness took on a special feel because it was All Hallows’ Eve. Everything seemed cut from soft black velvet or gold or orange velvet. Smoke panted up out of a thousand chimneys like the plumes of funeral parades. From kitchen windows drifted two pumpkin smells: gourds being cut, pies being baked.”

I don’t usually get caught up in “the beauty of prose”, but I have to say the book is filled with passages like the example above. The sentences just flow off the tongue. Listening to the book read made it even more apparent. There really was a lyrical rhythm to the prose that even I, a hard person to impress, fell in love with.

A time travel novel, The Halloween Tree takes the reader back to multiple points in time to visit the mummies of Ancient Egypt, England during the time of the Druids, the gargoyles of Norte Dame in the Middle Ages and the cemeteries of Mexico on el Dia de los Meurtos (The Day of the Dead). At each stop, the reader learns something new about how the traditions of Halloween were shaped by different cultures across the centuries, culminating in the holiday we know today.

This novel (the audio version especially) moves a break-neck speed. You don’t have two seconds to stop and breathe throughout the entire story. The pace is fast, from the first pages, and it pulls you into the plot and doesn’t give you time to realize that facts are being thrown at you from the get go. Even after two readings, I was still catching things I missed the first and second time.

I listened to the audio version done by the Colonial Radio Theatre on Air. After listening, I was so enthralled I read the printed version. I have to say I’m not sure I’d have been quite as entertained if I had read the novel first. The printed version was wonderful, but the audio was amazing. It employed a full cast, sound effects and music, not just background music, but turned some of the text into song. And it never allowed me to slow down in reading it so I got the full effect of the pacing. This is one book were I recommend the audio over the book.

However you think of October 31st: All Souls, All Saints, Day of the Dead, The Feast of Samhain, the time of the dead ones, el Dia de los Muertos, All Hallows Eve, or Halloween, The Halloween Tree is to Halloween what The Christmas Carol is to Christmas—a classic that I believe will still continue to delight readers in the decades to come.


Halloween (historical) Facts

October 28, 2009

In the spirit of Halloween here are some fun facts on Halloween’s origins:

  • Halloween was originally a Celtic holiday celebrated on October 31.
  • Jack-o-lanterns originated in Ireland where people placed candles in hollowed-out turnips to keep away spirits and ghosts on the Samhain holiday.
  • It is believed that the Irish began the tradition of Trick or Treating. In preparation for All Hallow’s Eve, Irish townsfolk would visit neighbors and ask for contributions of food for a feast in the town.
  • The ancient Celts thought that spirits and ghosts roamed the countryside on Halloween night. They began wearing masks and costumes to avoid being recognized as human.
  • A pumpkin is a berry in the cucurbitaceae family, which also includes melons, cucumbers, squash and gourds. All these plants are native to the Americas. (so this last on isn’t technically historical but it’s cool!  And it does give you an idea of when pumpkins were introduced to Halloween.)
  • halloween-jackolantern-1

    Happy Halloween from the Damsels

Common Cooking

October 26, 2009

America Frugal Housewife


A plain, unexpensive apple pudding may be made by rolling out a bit of common pie-crust, and filling it full of quartered apples; tied up in a bag, and boiled an hour and a half; if the apples are sweet, it will take two hours; for acid things cook easily. Some people like little dumplings, made by rolling up one apple, pared and cored, in a piece of crust, and tying them up in spots all over the bag. These do not need to be boiled more than an hour: three quarters is enough, if the apples are tender.

Take sweet, or pleasant flavored apples, pare them, and bore out the core, without cutting the apple in two Pill up the holes with washed rice, boil them in a bag, tied very tight, an hour, or hour and a half. Each apple should be tied up separately, in different corners of the pudding bag.

…presented to you from The American Frugal Housewife – Dedicated to those who are not ashamed of economy, by Mrs. Child…

Winner of Marjorie Watkins’ Books

October 23, 2009

The winner of both Rotaida and the Runestone and Royal Spy, our giveaway books for this month, is Lara!  Please send your snail-mail address to damselsinregress [at] gmail [dot] com so we can send you the books!

Book Review: The Book of Time by Guillaume Prevost

October 22, 2009

The Book of Time
Guillaume Prevost
Time Travel
Age 12+
224 pages

Eye-catching Cover

Eye-catching Cover

I have a hard time finding good time travel books. I’ve read my fair share, but I can’t name a single time travel book that I love. I think in part I am overly critical when it comes to time travel books since it’s what I write.  That said, I did enjoy this book overall despite its problems.  The set up was long winded but presented a strong and interesting concept. And once the author created his time travel rules he followed them—little pet peeve of mine, so liked that.

After the death of his mother in a car accident, Sam and his father move into an old house where his father sets up a bookstore specializing in antique books. Sam’s father disappears and the adventure begins as Sam decides, unintentionally at first, to go back in time to search for him.

There are some good plot elements in this book, but they get lost at times in a very slow start and a few tediously slow passages towards the end. Within all the slow parts is a very clever plot, and a very different spin on time travel. The “way” Sam travels from past to present is clever and actually ties into the whole story. The author sets up specific guidelines and sticks to them, which I appreciated. My favorite plot element was the fact that Sam 1) moved back and forth between the past and present and 2) he never went back to the same place twice. I’d have liked to have seen the author take fuller advantage of this (though I think I will get my wish on this count in the second book).

Sam was an okay character. He deals with self-doubt issues in the present, but is a much stronger character when he is in the past. I’d have liked to see Lily, Sam’s cousin, introduced much sooner. She was by far the more interesting character to me, and it was when she became a part of the story that the plot started to pick up its pace. There are a variety of antagonists in the book, both historical and contemporary. I hope that the sequel explores them more, especially Sam’s Aunt’s boyfriend.

In a nut shell, this book felt more like a set up for a sequel than a standalone novel. A lot of editing and quicker start would have really made this book stand out.

It’s also important to note that this novel is a translation. The author is French and this is his first children’s book. I’d love to get my hand on the French version and read it. Having attended a French high school and read my fair share of French books, there are many instances in this book where I feel like the story might have been changed to fit an English translation, which might account for some of my issues with the novel.

I’m a big book cover person. I’ll pick up a bad book and read it just because of an amazing cover. I have to say this is one of the better covers I’ve seen this year. I’ve felt like this past year there’s been a lack of good cover art in children’s fiction, so it’s always nice to see an exciting cover.

If you read this book you’re going to have to be patient, really patient. It takes a good half of the book before the story really begins. That said, I still think it’s worth the read—especially if you want to study the mechanics of time travel. If you make it to the end…it’s a cliffhanger. You’ve been forewarned. You’ll want to request Gates of Time, the sequel, which I predict will be a much better read.

For those interested here’s an INTERVIEW done with the author.

Type 2: Save Someone

October 20, 2009

Mini Time Travel Series

Type 2: Save Someone

The second type of time travel novel is what I call “save someone.”  As implied by the title, these novels focus on saving a character.  Like most time travels, this type is very plot driven. Often the beginning is slow (a trait common to most time travel) as the protagonist discovers what has happened and who he must save.  From there the story gains momentum as the protagonist discovers his goal and works toward achieving it.  Whether the character in need of rescuing is from the past or the present will also have some important implications for the story structure.

When the character to be saved in the past is actually from the past, the novel usually starts out with an accidental journey.  The protagonist is dragged into the past unexpectedly and usually unwillingly.  The beginning lacks focus until the protagonist discovers what is happening.  The pace then quickens and builds to a dramatic end where the character is rescued from his fate in the nick of time.  In On Etruscan Time, by Tracey Barrett, Hector spends the first half of the novel time traveling between the past and present with no clue as to why he’s been pulled back in time.  After he learns that he needs to save a young boy from his execution, the frequency of his visits increases, and the stakes are raised as times starts to run out.  One trait common to this version is that the present day is changed.  Altering just one event from the past, even a small one, affects the present, but typically only the protagonist realizes the change has happened.

While the protagonist is usually vaulted back in time with no warning to rescue a character from the past, he often makes the trip intentionally when trying to save a character from the present.  Usually the protagonist realizes someone is missing and actively searches for them from the beginning.  While the protagonist knows he needs to save someone he generally doesn’t know how to go about it at first.  In The Book of Time, by Guillaume Prevost, Sam realizes his father has disappeared, but it takes two trips to the past before he begins to understand how to manipulate his time travel to get to his father.  There is generally little to no change in the present in this case, probably because the past is used as a setting only and historic events and people are unchanged by the protagonist’s journey.

The time period will determine the plot, but the setting in these novels can be anywhere.    Recent past or ancient history, it doesn’t matter, you can save someone in any time period.    If the author wants the story to take place in Pharaohs Egypt, Medieval France or 1800s Wild West then all he has to do is create a plot that works for that time period.  Because I wanted to write about seven completely different time periods, most of the books in my Abigail Wenworth Series fall into this type.  This is probably the most adaptable of all types of time travel and therefore one of the most common.

Don’t miss any of the Time Travel Mini Series!
Type 1: Walk in my Shoes

Contest: Rotaida and the Runestone AND Royal Spy

October 16, 2009

This week we’re once again giving away two books in one contest!

Is there a historical figure you’d like to read about or write about? Tell us who it is and why. Each comment will be entered in a drawing to win a copy of Marjorie Watkins’ books, Rotaida and the Runestone and Royal Spy. The winner will be announced next Friday, October 23. Good luck!