Monday, March 21, 2016

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: THE CHARMED CHILDREN OF ROOKSKILL CASTLE by Janet Fox

THE CHARMED CHILDREN OF ROOKSKILL CASTLE by Janet Fox (Viking, March 15, 2016)

What It's About (from Goodreads):
Something is not right at Rookskill Castle, a rundown Scottish manor shrouded in mystery. The castle is a temporary boarding school for children escaping the Blitz, but soon it’s clear there is something terribly wrong. There are clues hinting that a spy is in the house, and there are undeniable signs of a sinister magic. When the children in the castle’s temporary boarding school begin disappearing one by one, it’s a race against the clock for twelve-year-old Kat Bateson, her two younger siblings, and their new best friend.

Opening Lines:
"It is 1863.
The winter winds shriek and moan around the castle turrets as the nightmare finds him, poor cat-boy John.
He runs from room to room until he finds a place to hide, and then he hears but two things: the clattering and the ragged hish, hish of his own breath."

Five Things to Love:

  • Can you say "atmospheric?" This takes place is a Scottish castle, whose corridors are maze-like. The weather is suitably Scottish (a.k.a. foul), and sinister things are afoot. What's left of my hair positively curled, as I read along.
  • Kat Bateson is an independent, skeptical child. She's given a chatelaine by her great-aunt, and told by said great-aunt that the chatelaine is magic. Rational Kat, however, doesn't believe in magic. That is, until the horrors of Rookskill Castle unfold.
  • Speaking of sinister, Lady Craig--referred to as "the Lady"--is one of the creepiest creations of children's literature. She is a soul-stealer, with a chatelaine of her own, and Kat and her younger siblings are her targets.
  • I loved the way the novel shifted effortlessly between time periods--from the 1740s to the 1860s to the 1940s. The writer got all the period details just right.
  • Janet Fox isn't British, but she sure fooled me (someone who's a Brit by birth.) Her feel for British language and idiom was superb. If I ever have the honor to meet her, I'll have to ask her how she does it!
Janet Fox kindly agreed to be my next victim  interviewee:

1) Who are your favorite (middle grade) writers?
Oh, boy. Where do I start? (Where do I end?) I started to answer this and the list got so, so long...let's just say I hate to miss any of my favorites. Let's just add that I love middle grade. And there are so many fabulous middle grade authors and books out there right now. But I'll say this much: I dedicated THE CHARMED CHILDREN OF ROOKSKILL CASTLE to Kathi Appelt. Not only has she been a friend and mentor, but I turn to her books (especially THE UNDERNEATH) for gorgeous language, great character, and richly layered plot.

2) What's on your nightstand now?
Since a picture is worth a thousand words, I'm attaching a photo of my towering pile, which is just where it starts.

3) Pick a favorite scene from your novel, and say why you like it.
My favorite scene is kind of a spoiler, so I'll leave some things unsaid, but it happens near the climax. My protagonist, Kat, sees the antagonist in a new light. Kat recognizes the potential beauty in the hideousness. This is a scene that came to me during a workshop with Donald Maass, and it turned my entire notion of how to create a twist right on its head (if you can follow that weird metaphor combo.) It also causes Kat to hesitate at a critical moment which...well, no spoilers! (MGM: Agreed! That is a magnificent scene. In fact, the whole climax is magnificent.)

4) Fill in the blank: I'm really awesome at....  
finding things. I call it my superpower. I have an uncanny knack for locating lost items, especially those of other people. And I'm really, really good at finding four-leaf clovers. (MGM: Oh my goodness, that is a great talent. You would be in high demand at my house with my three "where is it?" boys.)

5) My favorite breakfast is...
bacon and eggs. With blueberries and yogurt. And strong, strong coffee. And, if I'm really indulging, a chocolate croissant, warmed up a bit so the chocolate is melty. Yum. 

6) If you could visit any place, where would it be?
I'm going to pick a place I haven't been: New Zealand. It looks so gorgeous in photos. It's on my bucket list. (MGM: New Zealand does seem to be a perennial favorite of my interviewees. Maybe we should all go on a writing retreat there...?)

Janet Fox has also produced a series of eerily cool videos about each of the charms of the chatelaine. As I'm the sixth stop on the tour, this video reveals the 6th charm. (To follow along with the video reveals, see the list of blog tour participants on Janet's website):

About The Author:

Janet Fox writes award-winning fiction and non-fiction for children of all ages. Her published works include the non-fiction GET ORGANISED WITHOUT LOSING IT (Free Spirit, 2006) and the YA historical romances FAITHFUL (Penguin 2010), FORGIVEN (Penguin 2011),  and SIRENS (Penguin, 2012). Her debut middle grade novel, THE CHARMED CHILDREN OF ROOKSKILL CASTLE  is a historical fantasy set in 1940 Scotland. Janet is a 2010 graduate of Vermont College's MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults. She lives in Bozeman, Montana.

Website (where you can play her truth or dare game!)  Twitter

Well folks, that was a fun book to review on my birthday! Off to celebrate. Ciao!


  1. I hope to read this soon. It sounds really good. Thanks for the review!
    - Vi

  2. I love books set in Scotland. Sounds like a fantastic story with all the historical settings.

  3. I've heard some buzz on this one and the title is great. Thanks for your thoughts, and I will be looking for a copy soon.

  4. Happy Birthday, Michael! I featured this book last Monday (and gave you a little shout-out). Glad you liked it as much as I did. I said some of the same things about it being atmospheric.

  5. Wow, Michael - first Happy Birthday!! And second - what a gorgeous review. I'm seconding the notion of a New Zealand writer's ...something. Cheers!!

  6. Great interview and review. You have a good "voice" in your writing. I enjoy you blog.


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