Dog Driven by Terry Lynn Johnson

Dog Driven

Terry Lynn Johnson, Author

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Fiction, Dec. 3, 2019

Suitable for Ages: 10 and up

Themes: Dogsledding, Sled dogs, Visual disabilities, Wilderness, Survival

Synopsis:

Ever since her vision started deteriorating, fourteen-year-old McKenna Barney has felt out of place in the world. Out of place at home and at school and even on the trail with her dogs.

Now, to help her younger sister with her own ongoing battle with an eye disease — Stargardt — McKenna finds herself at the head of her team of eight sled dogs in a race she’s not sure she can even see, let alone win. For three days of shifting lake ice, sudden owl attacks, bitterly cold nights, and frequent show squalls, McKenna faces both the Canadian wilderness and her own terrifying vision loss.

But she hides the truth from everyone, including her toughest rival, Guy, despite their budding alliance during the race. Will McKenna risk her survival as well as that of her dog team to keep her secret?

Why I like this book:

Dog Driven is a thrilling new survival novel by Terry Lynn Johnson, who once owned and raced 18 huskies.  She knows firsthand how breathtaking, peaceful, and unforgiving the wilderness can be. Reading a novel based on Johnson’s knowledge and experience, makes for great realistic fiction and a very vivid setting. Her original plot is fast-paced with high-stakes adventure, danger, courage and hope. The tension is palpable.

McKenna and Guy are the primary characters in the first Great Superior Mail Run sled dog race across Canada. McKenna is passionate about dog sledding because she’s been running dogs since she was very young. She’s a skilled musher who is enthusiastic about her sport and has a deep connection with her dogs, especially Mustard, her lead — they take care of each other. McKenna is running the race to help raise awareness for Stargardt disease. Guy is a good balance in the story and offers a bit of comic relief with his pranks. His trusted lead dog, Zesty, is blind, but they work together. Guy’s running the race to save his sled dogs from being sold by his dad. Together McKenna and Guy look out for each other during the race, until the finish line approaches.

But McKenna has a secret — her vision is rapidly blurring and she fears Stargardt disease. The stakes are high now that she realizes her vision puts her in danger and her dogs at risk on unfamiliar trails under severe weather conditions. They could die. But McKenna sees how her helicopter parents hover over her sister not allowing her to do anything for herself. Their behavior fuels McKenna’s determination to prove to herself and to her parents, that vision loss doesn’t limit her abilities. This is an excellent discussion question to pose to readers. Is Mckenna being selfish/reckless in taking a huge risk that could affect her, her sled dogs and other racers? What would readers do?

During the race, the mushers each carry a mailbag full of letters that they’ve been responsible for getting stamped along the race route. Readers will learn more about the great mail couriers from 1865 to the early 1900s along the White River Trail, an historical mail route between Pukaskwa Depot and White River. Throughout the book, Johnson includes letters from William Desjardins to his family, which give a real sense of a bygone era and a peek into history.  A great deal of research went into Johnson’s creating the race route and story.

Terry Lynn Johnson is the author of Ice Dogs, Sled Dog School, Falcoln Wild and the Survivor Diaries series. She lives at the edge of a lake in Ontario, Canada. For many years she was the owner and operator of a dogsledding business with 18 huskies. She taught dogsledding near Thunder Bay, Ontario. She also worked as a conservation officer with the Ontario Ministry of Natural Reources and Forestry for 17 years. Her lifelong passion for adventure and wilderness continues to inspire her books. Visit her website.

Greg Pattridge hosts Marvelous Middle Grade Monday posts on his wonderful Always in the Middle website. Check out the link to see all of the wonderful reviews by KidLit bloggers and authors.

*Reviewed from a library copy.

Riders of the Realm: Through the Untamed Sky by Jennifer Alvarez

Riders of the Realm #2: Through the Untamed Sky

Jennifer Alvarez, Author

HarperCollins, Fantasy, Mar. 26, 2019

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Themes: Pegasi, Jungles, Giants, Dragons, War, Survival, Loyalty, Bravery, Freedom

Book Synopsis:

After winning the wild Pegasus mare named Echofrost in a contest, Rahkki Stormrunner becomes an official Rider in the Sky Guard army. But Rahkki is terrified of heights, and Echofrost is still difficult to tame. And with Echofrost’s herd captured by the giants and the growing threat of battle looming over the realm, the new Pair will have to work through their fears in order to fly with the army and free the herd.

Meanwhile, back in Rahkki’s village, rebellion is brewing, and Rahkki learns there is a sinister plot to overthrow Queen Lilliam. But the queen suspects Rahkki’s behind it, and he is under intense watch.

As Rahkki and Echofrost travel to Mount Crim to free Storm Herd, Rahkki fears that the greatest danger may not come from the impending battle against the giants, but from within his own clan.

Why I like this book/series:

Fans have waited a year for the release of Jennifer Alvarez’s second novel in the Riders of the Realm series. It was worth the wait. Riders of the Realm: Through the Untamed Skies is an exhilarating and epic journey.  Alvarez’s storytelling is exquisite and her world-building outstanding.

Alvarez has created a matriarchal culture within the Sandwen seven clans, all ruled by a monarch queen. The men in the clan are honored battle warriors. Their flying steeds (Kihlari) are tame and paired for life with a flyer, but their mission is to protect the clans from giants, dragons, huge snakes, and killer plants.

The story is character-driven. Kind-hearted Rahkki, the 12-year-old stable groom for the wild Echofrost, has won the steed in a contest. He built a relationship of trust with her in the first novel. Rahkki’s goal in competing is to save her life and free the Pegasus so she can find her herd. But now they are bound to each other for life. And Rahkki is her Rider.  Princess I’Lenna is the eldest daughter of Queen Lilliam. Unlike her evil mother, the princess is kind, smart, clever and wants to build peace among the clans. She is Rahkki’s best friend and their relationship is crucial to the future of the realm and freeing Storm Herd from the Giants. But there is an uprising building within the clan and Rahkki isn’t sure who are his friends or enemies.

Alvarez ends the book on a huge cliff hangar which will catch readers completely off-guard and leave them imagining the future of the realm and their favorite characters. They will have to wait for the final volume next year.  This will give new readers an opportunity to check out the original Guardian Herd series, where the Pegasus are free.

Jennifer Lynn Alvarez received a degree in English literature from UC Berkeley. She is an active horsewoman, a volunteer for the US Pony Club, and the proud mother of three children. She also is the author of the Riders of the Realm: Across Dark Waters and the Guardian Herd series. To learn more about her winged universe of novels, please visit her website.

Greg Pattridge hosts Marvelous Middle Grade Monday posts on his wonderful Always in the Middle website. Check out the link to see all of the wonderful reviews by KidLit bloggers and authors.

*Reviewed from a purchased copy.

Survival Tails: Endurance in Antarctica by Katrina Charman

Survival Tails: Endurance in Antarctica (Vol. 2)

Katrina Charman, Author

Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, Historical Fiction, Dec. 11, 2018

Pages: 272

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Themes: Sled Dogs, Antarctica, Perilous Voyage, Survival, The Endurance, History

Synopsis:

Sled dog Samson can’t wait to be part of Ernest Shackleton’s historic voyage to Antarctica in 1914. Samson wants to feel the snow under his paws and the wind on his face as he races across the ice fields. Most of all he wants to help his humans chart the unexplored continent. Fellow sled dog Bummer just wants to get through the voyage in one piece. Why face down a dangerous, icy wasteland when he could stay inside his kennel, warm and safe?

When their ship, the Endurance, becomes trapped in sea ice, the dogs and men have no way home. Their journey becomes not about glory, but about survival in unthinkable conditions. Samson, Bummer and the other dogs will have to put aside their differences and band together to rescue their humans — and themselves.

Why I like this book:

What an impressive way to engage teens in history than to hand them a suspenseful, action-packed animal adventure about the infamous Endurance expedition to Antarctica. Katrina Charman well-crafted novel weaves animal fantasy with a true tale about survival in brutal conditions. Her novel is daring, thrilling and dangerous. The dogs face cracking ice, the loss of their ship, leopard seals, killer whales, starvation, and a drifting ice floe that carries them away from land. Survive they must. This epic tale is packed with grit, courage, determination, teamwork, friendship and humor.

A handful of black and white drawings add significantly to the vivid and urgent survival setting. They show the sled dogs working as a team to save lives, the treacherous conditions, the ship being crushed by ice, whales following the life rafts, and the rescue.

The narrative is told in third person from the dogs point of view, with Samson and Amundsen competing for lead dog. Readers will like Samson because he’s wise, steady, loyal and tough. He compassionately encourages other dogs, like Bummer, to find their strengths. Amundsen is the bold Alpha dog who challenges Samson and is mean. But the high-stakes of surviving their desperate situation outweigh their differences. There are lighter moments with Sally and her four playful puppies, and the ship’s feline, Mrs. Chippy.

Katrina Charman  provides very detailed information at the end of the story about the real journey, with a time-line that matches each chapter and offers real-life information. There is a section with information about the 64 dogs selected for the expedition and their names and detailed information about the expedition, the crew of 26 men and their positions, including Frank Hurley, the official photographer and George Marston, an artist who captured the expedition through his paintings.

Katrina Charman lives in a small village in the middle of South East England with her husband and three daughters. Katrina has wanted to be a children’s writer ever since she was eleven, when her school teacher set her class the task of writing an epilogue to Roald Dahl’s Matilda. Her teacher thought her writing was good enough to send to Roald Dahl himself. Sadly, she never got a reply, but the experience ignited her love of reading and writing. She is the author of the Survival Tails: The Titanic, the first volume in the series. Survival Tails: World War II, will be released in August 2019. She invites you to visit her website.

Greg Pattridge hosts Marvelous Middle Grade Monday posts on his wonderful Always in the Middle website. Check out the link to see all of the wonderful reviews by KidLit bloggers and authors.

*Reviewed from library copy.