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Once Upon a Castle Paperback – July 24, 2012
About the Author
Alan S. Blood worked in the Civil Service, Advertising and journalism (edited three publications) before qualifying as a Teacher from the University of Reading. He enjoyed a long, distinguished career in the Teaching Profession, in both Primary and Secondary levels of education, in several parts of the UK which eventually led to Senior Management. His main subject area was English and, at one time, he was Head of English and Drama. Throughout, he gained considerable knowledge of literature that children and adolescents enjoy. Alan now devotes his time to writing novels, plays, screenplays and poetry. He won top award in the ‘Hastings International Poetry Festival’ (2003) with his controversial ‘litter’ poem ‘CONTRITE CAN CANNOT’. The paranormal genre features in much of his work. ‘ONCE UPON A CASTLE’ is a ghost story written for young people (but also enjoyed by adults) set in World War 11. It concerns both a real and a phantom castle based upon Alan’s experience of strange castles on the wild Northumbrian coast of England on cold, dark wintry afternoon. Alan Blood has widely travelled the world and undertook research in Chile where some of his supernatural crime thriller ‘CRY OF THE MACHI A Suffolk Murder Mystery’ is set. He was previously a Cotswold Morris Dancer and the novel is a conflict between the forces of good and evil linking a Chilean ‘Machi’ and ‘organised crime’ to murders in a Suffolk Morris Men side. Alan enjoys wildlife photography in the Welsh countryside, painting and scraperboard engraving and lives in a rambling Victorian (1873) house.
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It's the early 1940's, when World War II is beginning, and the children have to go live with their cousin Victoria and Uncle Leslie while their mother, a nurse, is needed for the war efforts. Plus, their father, a naval captain, is already on the front lines, so the children have no choice but to stay with their relatives.
Everything goes well until they meet a strange but friendly mutt they named "Scamp." They try to chase after it, but lose its trail before long. Although they continue to look for the dog, they never find it.
A couple of weeks later, while staying with Victoria and Uncle Leslie, Miss Urquart, a retired headmistress, comes to privately tutor them. The kids hate it so much, they decide to find that castle and shirk their educational duties. This is what begins their "adventure." Once they finally arrive at the crest of the huge hill near the castle, a fog rolls in, and VIKINGS appear! They seem to be in battle, and a few notice the children. Mary and Tom are naturally scared, and they hear Scamp barking away, trying to get to them. Just as they fear the Vikings have them in their grasp, the children lose consciousness, and wind up on a boat; but it's not a Viking boat.
It's an English Carrier of some sort, and the ship's Captain knows their father, ironically enough, but cannot believe the children's story of meeting the Vikings when they relate it to him. The captain and crew decide to return the kids back to the hill, where they are discovered and rescued by Victoria, Uncle Leslie, and Ms. M, the housekeeper. The relief the adults experience in finding the kids is obvious, but even they don't believe their story. Except...Uncle Leslie does.
A visit from the children's father prompts them to revisit the story. The father does some research, and when he returns to his post, he sends a communique' that floors everyone. I'll leave it as a surprise, but suffice it to say, it confirms what the children had been saying all along: the Vikings were real.
The story increases in eeriness when the Mary and Tom's mother arrive to spend time with the children. Once again, the children tell their mother what happened. The mother, just like the father, does some investigation; however, she takes the entire family with her to the hill, to find out what happened exactly.
Several things happen to further cement the story of the children, and a disastrous incident happens to Uncle Leslie which brings several factors to light, including the fact that his family history has Scandinavian and Viking heritage. It's interesting the way they tie Uncle Leslie to the Viking story, but I wasn't sure how his "incident" reinforced the story of the Viking battle and the castle.
"Once Upon a Castle" is an interesting ghost story. I thought it would be longer, so it could flesh out some more details about the Vikings, the castle, and how everything developed to create the ghost story. But other than that, it was good, and I enjoyed it. I give it 3.5 stars.
Tom and Mary Lovell are two twelve year old twins who are evacuated from London during World War II. They are sent to live with their Aunt Victoria and Uncle Leslie in Northumberland, and are anticipating a dreadful time. However, once they arrive they find it is not so bad after all, and begin to explore, being especially interested in a castle that they can see from the house. After having a terrible former headmistress inflicted on them as a tutor, they decided to run away to the castle, to potentially disastrous consequences.
Unfortunately, I have to say that I had a different experience from some of the other reviewers. I read this book to my sons - 10 and 7 - both of whom are in the gifted program at school, who are good readers and have fairly good vocabularies. The first thing that we noticed is that if this is to be a book for children, there are many words and phrases that a child would not know. The vocabulary is just too hard for a children's book. Some examples: "intermittent drizzle wafted in", "effervescent chaos", "N.C.O.'s barked orders", "soporific", "emancipation", "introspective", "albeit", "chauvinistic", "massif", "precocious", "idyllic", "tirade", "screed", and "coincided" just to name a few. As my 10 year old said, "It's pretty hard to pick up what a lot of these words mean just using context clues."
Truthfully, I may not have noticed the vocabulary if I had just been reading the book to myself, but I always like to test out children's books on my children.
I really wanted to like this book. I think that the underlying story was good, and could have been expanded upon. In my opinion, we got just the bare bones, no back story, not much description, nothing to make the book really flow. The narrative just seemed very choppy.
And then there was the ending. From the middle of Chapter 6 to the end of the book, both my kids, and to some extent I, struggled to understand what was happening. It was never really clear how the kids got on the boat, and what happened with the German ship. Then the book just came very abruptly to the end in Chapter 10. One event in Chapter 10 would have normally saddened me and put tears in my eyes, but it came so abruptly and was glossed over so quickly that it was almost like a non-event.
So, in summary, I think that the premise behind this book has a lot of potential. I do think that the author needs to decide who his audience is, and to write to the level of that audience. The book should be "fleshed out" a little more, and the events in the last chapter expanded upon over several chapters. With the right care taken, I could see giving this book a 4, but not in its present state.
Most recent customer reviews
I loved the story concept, but just felt it was lacking some.Read more