Until We Find Home by Cathy Gohlke

Disclaimer: Until We Find Home, by Cathy Gohlke, was provided by Tyndale. I received a free copy from the publisher. No review, positive or otherwise, was required—all opinions are my own.

For American Claire Stewart, joining the French Resistance sounded as romantic as the storylines she hopes will one day grace the novels she wants to write. But when she find herself stranded on English shores with five French Jewish children she smuggled across the channel before Nazis stormed Paris, reality feels more akin to fear. With nowhere to go, Claire throws herself on the mercy of an estranged aunt, begging Lady Miranda Langford to take the children into her magnificent estate. Heavily weighted with grief of her own, Miranda reluctantly agrees…if Claire will stay to help. Though desperate to return to France and the man she loves, Claire has few options. But her tumultuous upbringing—spent in the refuge of novels with fictional friends—has ill prepared her for the daily dramas of raising children, or for the way David Campbell, a fellow American boarder, challenges her notions of love. Nor could she foresee how the threat of war will invade their quiet haven, threating all who have come to call Bluebell Wood home, the people who have become her family.

My rating: 3/5 

Until We Find Home has a lot of elements that I really enjoyed: a protagonist that I found interesting, two romances that ran gently underneath the main plot and weren’t too sensual, an interesting setting and conflict, and a good incorporation of Christian elements.

First, the protagonist. Claire had just enough flaws to make her interesting, and her slight anxiety over her faults wasn’t drawn out long enough to become annoying. Her development is believable, and by the end I was whole-heartedly cheering her on. Things didn’t go quite so far in certain areas as I was hoping, and I felt that there were definitely some areas where things were resolved too quickly (especially at the end, where something in particular was glossed over, which really needed its own scene or more explanation, I felt), but overall, Claire’s characterization was great.

The two romances were good, too. I’m glad that David didn’t become the typical male protagonist of Christian romance novels. In fact, he wasn’t around too much at all—this is very much a book much more focused on Claire’s (and Miranda’s) development than romance. I do wish he didn’t seem quite so perfect—there’s multiple times when the characters think, “He always knows exactly what to do and say!”—but his role makes sense, at least. Both of the romances in the book revolve around growth, which is nice.

I always enjoy a novel set during the time of World War II, so of course I enjoyed the setting and conflict of this book. I’m torn as to how I feel about Gohlke’s approach to Judaism in the book—it’s respectful and accurate, but Gohlke seemed unwilling to even try to broach some of the more major differences that would undoubtedly have arisen between Jewish and Christian people living in the same household. Beyond that, I loved the inclusion of C. S. Lewis in the book, and Gohlke gets his voice exactly correct.

The things I didn’t like about Until We Find Home are relatively minor, but overall reduced my rating of the novel. I thought the book was slightly too long and dragged in places. I thought much more could have been done with Claire and her mother, and especially her mother and Miranda. In addition, while the setting and conflict were good, I thought the final bit of tension at the end of the novel was almost too much—a little cartoonish and dramatic.

Until We Find Home has many things going for it: good character development, subtle romance, and an interesting setting. The Christian elements are also done well. However, I thought there were too many missed and wasted opportunities, and occasionally the book’s pace was too slow and the action too clunky.

You can find a Q&A with the author here.

Warnings: None.

Genre: Christian, Historical Fiction

You can buy this here: http://amzn.to/2DNa6xC

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Look to the Hills by Patricia C. McKissack

Look to the Hills: The Diary of Lozette Moreau, a French Slave Girl, by Patricia C. McKissack, was published in 2004 by Scholastic.

In acclaimed author Patricia McKissack’s latest addition to the Dear America line, Lozette, a French slave, whose masters uproot her and bring her to America, must find her place in the New World. Arriving with her French masters in upstate New York at the tail end of the French-Indian War, Lozette, “Zettie,” an orphaned slave girl, is confronted with new landscapes, new conditions, and new conflicts. As her masters are torn between their own nationality and their somewhat reluctant new allegiance to the British colonial government, Zettie, too, must reconsider her own loyalties.

Rating: 3/5

Look to the Hills describes a period of time not too often depicted in historical fiction, at least from what I can tell—the French and Indian War. Or at least, the time period between that war and the Revolutionary War. McKissack deftly describes the tension between the colonists and the Indians, and the struggles of those who try to keep the peace. There’s also a good balance between the two opposing sides: the characters who want to drive off the Indians and the ones who want to let them be, or even integrate into their society.

Lozette Moreau is an interesting protagonist, in that she’s a slave, but a French one, so that she has to deal with the inevitable clash when she arrives in the colonies, where slaves are treated much differently than in France. McKissack does a good job of describing Lozette’s relationship with Ree and Lozette’s frustration with feeling like an object rather than a person. It’s a good thing to remember that cruelty towards the slaves, exhibited in places such as Haiti and the Southern United States at the time, is not what makes slavery so terrible. McKissack emphasizes how it’s the mere act of “owning” another human being that is wrong, regardless of how well that human is treated.

Look to the Hills was a bit long and boring in places; the middle, especially was something of a trudge to get through. That’s the problem with the Dear America books in general, I feel—in order to fit all the events they want to fit in that meet that historical time period, the authors have to waste some time with fiddly things, like chores and random conversations and sometimes one sentence entries. The ones that can grab you from start to finish are the ones that stand out, in my opinion. Look to the Hills is almost there, but loses ground because of the middle.

Look to the Hills is a unique, and rare, look at the aftermath of the French and Indian War. It also has an interesting look at different forms of slavery and the tension that can result when different forms meet and clash. I like the perspective and the historical information, but the middle of the book is too slow to make it a particularly engaging read.

Recommended Age Range: 8+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Historical Fiction, Children’s

“What’s a companion do?” Sam asked.

“Compan,” Sally answered, shrugging. We all laughed in good spirit.

In a short while we were talking like old friends. I shared my story from my birth on Captain Moreau’s ship to the adventures that had brought me to Fort Niagara.

“You’re lucky,” said Sally. “Being a companion isn’t like being a slave.”

“A slave is a slave,” I said. “I want to be free.”

You can buy this book here: http://amzn.to/2DaswaI

1937 Newbery Medal: Roller Skates by Ruth Sawyer

Roller Skates, by Ruth Sawyer, was published in 1936 by Viking.

A year on roller skates! A whole year when Lucinda was free to stop and chat with Patrolman M’Gonegal, and make friends with old Rags-an’-Bottles the junkman, and even play with Tony, whose father kept a fruit stand down the street. That was Lucinda’s year in New York City in the 1890s, when her family went to Europe and left her—not, thank heaven, with Aunt Emily and her four docile, ladylike daughters, but with the Misses Peters, who understood that a girl of ten wanted to roller-skate to school, and who weren’t always worrying about a little lady’s social dignity!

Rating: 3/5

Despite the fact that Roller Skates has the protagonist-type that I can’t stand (the breaks-propriety, too-wild-to-handle type), I actually enjoyed reading the book. I’m not fond of New York City as a place to live, but I really enjoy stories about old New York, the New York of the 1800s and early 1900s. Sawyer portrays both the glamourous bustle and the peaceful parks of the city, and also includes a small glimpse of a slightly seedier underbelly. Though it’s not focused on so much as to make it a prominent theme, there’s definitely class tension in the novel as well—Lucinda runs into many characters that function on different social levels than she, whether it be Tony at the fruit stand, Rags-an’-Bottles the junkman, her rich uncle, or the mysterious “princess.”

Though Lucinda is supposed to be ten, she sounds, especially in her journal entries, much more like fifteen, and I imagined her as such throughout—which made for sometimes quite jarring scenes when Sawyer reminded me that Lucinda was younger than how I imagined her. Perhaps it’s due to the time period and the culture gap, but Lucinda says and does a great many things that I can’t imagine a ten-year-old articulating or doing today.

The book is a little bit wild and all-over-the-place (much like Lucinda) in terms of pace and development. There’s a few odd events scattered throughout that I sort of blinked and shook my head at in confusion, such as what Lucinda discovered on her last visit to “Princess Zayda,” which was so unexpected and strange that I’m not sure why Sawyer felt the need to include it (unless it was to illustrate the seedy side of New York). I also shook my head a bit when Trinket got sick, because Sawyer was so vague and mysterious about her treatment that I’m not sure even Sawyer knew what illness Trinket had. It works because Lucinda is ten and knows nothing about medicine, but still, it was an odd scene to me.

I can’t say I loved Roller Skates, but I did enjoy most of it. I thought there were some odd scenes here and there, but there were some amusing moments and I do really like the setting. I just wish I had enjoyed the protagonist a little bit more. I found her voice older than her age, and I don’t like her character type at all. However, I suppose a nice little girl who follows the rules wouldn’t make for such an adventurous book.

Recommended Age Range: 8+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Children’s, Historical Fiction

“What’s your name?”

“Trinket,” said the little girl.

“Caroline Browdowski,” said the woman, “but she is our very own trinket. It’s a pet name.”

“Oh! I never had a pet name. I’m called Lucinda, and sometimes severely—Lucinda Wyman! And I never had curls, either.”

You can buy this book here: http://amzn.to/2Fy2Zd2

 

The Scrivener’s Bones by Brandon Sanderson

Alcatraz versus the Scrivener’s Bones (republished title The Scrivener’s Bones), by Brandon Sanderson, was published in 2008 by Scholastic. It is the sequel to Alcatraz versus the Evil Librarians.

Alcatraz Smedry has an incredible talent…for breaking things! It generally gets him into a lot of trouble, but can he use it to save the day? In this second Alcatraz adventure, Alcatraz finds himself on a mission to meet Grandpa Smedry when he gets swept up by a flying glass dragon filled with his unusual and mouthy Smedry cohorts. Their mission? A dangerous library-filled one, of course! They are on their way to the ancient and mysterious Library of Alexandria (which some silly people think was long ago destroyed!) where they must find Grandpa Smedry, look for clues leading to Alcatraz’s potentially undead dead father, and battle the creepy, dangerous soul-sucking curators who await them.

Rating: 4/5

I found Evil Librarians to be annoyingly self-indulgent, but either I was more prepared for it in Scrivener’s Bones or I didn’t notice it as much, because I enjoyed the tone much more in this book. The humor is definitely pointed at a select group of people (I think you have to enjoy a certain type of humor to really enjoy these books), but Sanderson utilizes the humor to give some important (and funny) lessons on author manipulation and other plot devices, all while selling his Alcatraz narration as someone who desperately wants everyone to know how much of a liar he is, even while telling a story he wants people to believe.

Sanderson also starts peeling back at his intricate plot in this book. Most of the book takes place in one location, the library of Alexandria, but you tend to forget that because it’s so fast-paced and interesting once the characters reach that point. There’s the overall plot being developed, as Alcatraz and Bastille wonder about and puzzle over the nature of technology and magic in general and Alcatraz’s Talent in particular. Then, there’s the “book plot” being developed, as they make their way through traps to rescue Grandpa Smedry and discover more about Alcatraz’s father along the way. Even while being funny and self-indulgent, Sanderson knows how to craft a plot.

Perhaps the one thing holding this book back from a higher rating is, well, for one, I do tend to do the gymnastics-judge thing of holding back higher scores for later books, but, for another, a few things struck me as a little odd and out-of-place that kept me from really enjoying this book.

It wasn’t so self-indulgent as before (or I didn’t notice it as much), but there were still points when Alcatraz backing away from the action to wax philosophical about bunnies and bazookas was a little annoying. However, the one thing that struck me the most at the end was Grandpa Smedry’s apparent lie that no one bothered to correct, or even appeared to think, “Why did he lie?” The only thing I can think of is that I’m misremembering details and that what I thought was a lie really wasn’t; if not, it means that Sanderson goofed up. I’m willing to guess it was my mistake, but still, that didn’t stop me from being completely and utterly thrown at the end of the book by an apparent authorial error.

I found Alcatraz versus the Scrivener’s Bones much more entertaining and much less self-indulgent than the first book. I was able to get into the tone of the book more easily and enjoy myself throughout the adventure, admiring some of the more prominent bits of foreshadowing Sanderson is throwing in (as I’ve mentioned, I’ve read this series before, up until the most recent book). Some things still threw me off a bit, but, overall, this book was an improvement over the first.

Recommended Age Range: 12+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Fantasy, Middle Grade

“Do you really have the Talent of Breaking Things?”

I shrugged. “That’s what they tell me. What’s your Talent?”

Australia smiled. “I can wake up in the morning looking incredibly ugly!”

“Oh…how wonderful.” I still wasn’t certain how to respond to Smedry Talents. I usually couldn’t ever tell if the person telling me was excited or disappointed by the power.

Australia, it seemed, was excited by pretty much everything. She nodded perkily. “I know. It’s a fun Talent—nothing like breaking things—but I make it work for me!”

You can buy this book here: http://amzn.to/2CTNZ7q

Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle’s Farm by Betty MacDonald

Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle’s Farm, by Betty MacDonald, was published in 1954 by Harper. It is the sequel to Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle’s Magic.

How do you cure a Fraidy-Cat or a Pet Forgetter? What do you do with someone who has become Destructive or Not Truthful? Send them to stay with Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle! The delightfully wise lady with the sparkly eyes now lives on a farm, where she performs her amazing cures for the well-known ailments that drive other grown-ups to distraction. With the help of her exceptional animals—Penelope the parrot, Lester the pig, Trotsky the horse, and the rest—Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle uses her practical wisdom, common sense, and love of children and large quantities of hot gingerbread and fresh sugar cookies, to help her young friends get rid of some bad habits. Each cure is an entertaining adventures, as well as a chance to visit a farm as the guest of the inventive, lovable, incomparably hospitable Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle.

Rating: 3/5

Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle’s Farm is a bit of an odd Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle book, in that it’s not at all like Hello, Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle or Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle’s Magic, but it’s also not like Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle, either.

Basically, Farm doesn’t have either the magical cures present in Hello or Magic, or the slightly-more-realistic parenting techniques of the first book. In fact, Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle doesn’t even seem to do much in this book, beyond providing a little bit of discipline and a farm where the kids can get rid of their behavioral problems through hard work.

Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle doesn’t give any advice in this book, nor does she dispense any cures. All she does is invite the child into her home, give them chores to do, and lets the circumstances of farm work cure them of bad habits. A kid who forgets to feed her pets? Take her to a farm where the cost of not feeding pets is much higher. A “scaredy-cat”? Take her to a farm where scary things are everywhere and add in enough danger that she has to act despite her fear. The cures of this book are much more plot- and situational-based than the previous ones; MacDonald has never shown herself more so than in this book, where she uses Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle as a thin veneer to cover up her own ideas.

I actually like the idea that responsibility and hard work will cure a lot of bad behavior, but after one book of modestly realistic cures and two books of magical cures, Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle’s Farm stands out as the forgettable, weak link of the book—which is a shame, because I feel as if the cures in this book are perhaps the most realistic of them all.

Also, as a side note, the names of the parents in these book, especially the husbands, are hysterical. I lost it at “Hearthrug Phillips.” I also enjoyed MacDonald’s subtle tongue-in-cheek commentary of ladies’ societies and the food they serve.

I’ve enjoyed reading this book series again, and I may even pick up the Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle book I’ve never read, just to see if it has the same “feel” as these.

Recommended Age Range: 6+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Children’s

“[Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle] is a dear little woman who adores children and knows just how to handle them. Really she has cured almost every child in this town of faults.”

“But how does she cure them?” asked Mrs. Harroway beginning to cry again as visions of Fetlock locked in a dark cellar and being beaten with chains floated in front of her eyes.

“Oh, she has many ways,” said Mrs. Workbasket. “Some magic and some not. But I’ll tell you this, Helen, every single child in this town adores her and she has cured most of them of faults. Actually the ones she has cured love her the most of all.”

You can buy this book here: http://amzn.to/2meKKQP

The Shepherd of Weeds by Susannah Appelbaum

The Shepherd of Weeds, by Susannah Appelbaum, was published in 2011 by Knopf. It is the sequel to The Tasters Guild.

Back in the Kingdom of Caux after her journey to its sisterland, Ivy wakes up in a dismal orphanage alongside her friend Rue. Accompanied by a strange woman named Lumpen—who looks suspiciously like a scarecrow—the girls make their way back to Templar to plan a massive battle against the Tasters Guild, where Vidal Verjouce is making ink out of the deadly Scourge Bracken weed. Rocamadour grows darker and more dangerous with every drop. With an army of scarecrows, a legion of birds, and her friends and uncle by her side, it’s up to Ivy—the true “Shepherd of Weeds”—to wage war against the Guild, defeat her own father, and restore order to the plant world. Susannah Appelbaum’s imagination soars in this stunning and utterly satisfying final volume of the Poisons of Caux trilogy.

Rating: 2/5

I’m semi-glad that I finished The Poisons of Caux trilogy, if only because I’m a completionist at heart and I like seeing story lines wrap up—plus, if I’ve invested in the first two books, I may as well read the third, no matter how I felt about the first two (a la the trainwreck The Selection).

I did enjoy seeing all the characters unite together to defeat the Big Bad(s), and I liked the slight twist at the end in the hierarchy of villainy. Each hero got his or her own little moment to shine, even the ones whose loyalties were in question until that moment. Everything was wrapped up quite neatly—more neatly than I expected, considering the sloppy ending of The Hollow Bettle.

However, my main complaint of the story is still the jumping around, the darting from scene to scene and filling in the gaps later. I’m still unsure as to why the novel started the way it did, or how Ivy got in that situation. I’m still not sure how Lumpen ended up in the city, and then in the catacombs. Characters jump around from place to place with almost no explanation as to how they got there. Ivy leaves one city before her uncle and flies to another, only to ask if her uncle has arrived—as if she expected him to magically be able to travel faster than her. Also, characters end one scene doing one thing, and then, when we catch up to them again, they are doing something completely different. Is Dumbcane at the city wall with Clothilde, or is he in the Tasters Guild making ink? Apparently he travels between both in mere minutes, being able to do Clothilde’s bidding at one scene and then sneak up on Rowan in the next one.

The Shepherd of Weeds, and the trilogy in general, is a creative fantasy, which I like, and has some interesting characters, but the whole thing is such a mish-mash of time jumps, strange characterization, and at times sloppy plot, that though I was compelled enough to finish the trilogy, I also didn’t much enjoy myself at the very end. The cover art is quite eye-catching, though, which is what drew me to the books in the first place, and I liked the use of different color ink in the books. Appelbaum is creative, but the story was a mess.

Recommended Age Range: 12+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Fantasy, Middle Grade

“Where did you get this?” Her voice cracked.

“Dumbkin,” Lumpen Gorse confirmed. “That scoundrel paid me with it the first time he came scrounging around.”

“Hemsen Dumbcane gave you this?” Ivy asked sharply. She knew the scribe’s troves of valuable parchments were stolen from ancient, magical texts. “Are there others?”

“Lumpen Gorse shrugged.

“I’ve got to go—” Ivy was suddenly, overwhelmingly worried about the safety of her stones. “I need to show this to my uncle.”

You can buy this book here: http://amzn.to/2F3Atj5

Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library by Chris Grabenstein

Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library, by Chris Grabenstein, was published in 2013 by Yearling (Random House).

When Kyle learns that the world’s most famous game maker has designed the town’s new library and is having an invitation-only lock-in on the first night, he is determined to be there. But the trick part isn’t getting into the library—it’s getting out. Kyle’s going to need all his smarts, because a good roll of the dice or lucky draw of the cards is not enough to win in Mr. Lemoncello’s library.

Rating: 4/5

Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library is a puzzle-based adventure filled with as much fun and charm as you might expect from the title and the cover art. The puzzles are intricate and the whole idea of being “trapped in the library” is entertaining. Perhaps inspired by the book Help! I’m a Prisoner in the Library!, even.

Several times the kid protagonists solve puzzles that seem a bit beyond a normal person’s grasp and range of knowledge (especially some of the more obscure trivia that apparently all of these kids have studied up on beforehand), but the whole tone of the book is so wacky anyway that it really isn’t jarring in the least. When a book contains a giant library containing holograms and massive puzzles, built by a man with noise-making shoes, obscure-trivia-knowing-kids are the least of the strangeness.

The puzzles are very clever and I loved all the literary references scattered throughout. I liked that Grabenstein included classic literature references as well as more modern references. I liked less the characters of the kids, since the outcome of the contest was obvious from the start due to their one-dimensional personalities, and I kept expecting some sort of sinister turn for no apparent reason, but let’s face it, the appeal of this book isn’t the characterization. It’s the riddles.

Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library is one of those puzzle-filled adventure books that are light and fun and nice to read after more “serious” works. I enjoyed it immensely, though the characterization wasn’t great and the entire thing had slightly too much of an unrealistic feel overall for me to really be absorbed in it. But, I can definitely see many kids loving it—and maybe seeking out all those literary references for themselves!

Recommended Age Range: 10+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Realistic, Middle Grade

“So, Kyle,” said Akimi, “you want to form an alliance?”

“What do you mean?”

“It’s what people do on reality shows like Survivor. We help each other until, you know, everybody else is eliminated and we have to stab each other in the back.”

“Um, I don’t remember hearing anything about ‘eliminations.’”

“Oh. Right.”

You can buy this book here: http://amzn.to/2CrOeGI

Holding the Fort by Regina Jennings

Disclaimer: Holding the Fort, by Regina Jennings, was provided by Bethany House. I received a free copy from the publisher. No review, positive or otherwise, was required—all opinions are my own.

Dance hall singer Louisa Bell has always lived one step from destitution. When she loses her job at the Cat-Eye Saloon, she has nowhere else to go but to her brother, a cavalry soldier stationed in Indian Territory. But he’s run afoul of his commanding officer. Unsure what she can do to help him and desperate for a job, she doesn’t protest when she’s mistaken for a governess at the fort. How hard can teaching really be? Major Daniel Adams has his hands full at Fort Reno, especially raising tow adolescent daughters alone. If this new governess doesn’t work out, his mother-in-law insists she’ll raise the girls herself—far away from the fort. Miss Bell bears little resemblance to Daniel’s notion of a governess—they’re not supposed to be so blamed pretty—but he finds himself turning a blind eye to her unconventional methods. Louisa has never faced so important a performance. Can she keep her act together long enough to help her brother and to secure the respectable future she’s sought for so long?

My rating: 3/5 

Holding the Fort tells the story of a woman pretending to be a governess and the difficulties she has to overcome as a result of her own lack of education. There’s a little more to it than that, but that story is the one I enjoyed the most. In fact, I wish there had been a little bit more bumbling in regards to Louisa’s ability to teach—there is a little bit at the beginning, but then it gets brushed aside in favor of the romantic plot. Jennings excellently portrayed Louisa as someone pretending to be something she’s not—saying the wrong things, doing the wrong things, etc.

Louisa herself is a more controversial character for me, as she is the sort who every other character seems to like immediately, or at least very soon after meeting her. I also thought the romance plot would have been better if she and the major hadn’t met prior to her traveling to the fort, and if she hadn’t been the only woman at the fort (which is far more realistic than the alternative, I know). But I enjoyed her journey, even as I predicted most of it, and the romance between her and the major was done well, too.

There were humorous moments scattered throughout the novel, which really served it well—I hope Lieutenant Hennessey comes back in future novels because he was a delight, as was Bradley. Those two were really the only fleshed out characters besides the daughters and, of course, Louisa and Daniel—and Hennessey barely. The rest were simply faceless extras.

Holding the Fort is an enjoyable historical romance. It has a few bobbles here and there, especially in regards to Louisa’s portrayal, but overall the pacing was good, the romance was good, and it held my attention throughout. I would have preferred if it hadn’t been quite so much of a “you’re the only woman around and therefore I will fall in love with you” and I think the book would have been more interesting if there hadn’t been a shared moment between Daniel and Louisa before she comes to the fort, but it’s one of the better novels I’ve read from Bethany House.

Warnings: None.

Genre: Christian, Historical Fiction

You can buy this here: http://amzn.to/2Dyq8ue

1990 Newbery Medal: Number the Stars by Lois Lowry

Number the Stars, by Lois Lowry, was published in 1989 by Houghton.

Ten-year-old Annemarie Johansen and her best friend, Ellen Rosen, often think about the way life was before the war. But it’s now 1943, and their life in Copenhagen is filled with school, food shortages, and Nazi soldiers marching in their town. The Nazis won’t stop. The Jews of Denmark are being “relocated,” so Ellen moves in with the Johansens and pretends to be part of the family. Then Annemarie is asked to go on a dangerous mission. Somehow she must find the strength and courage to save her best friend’s life. There’s no turning back now.

Rating: 4/5

Number the Stars is yet another historical fiction book that told me a story I didn’t know. I’ve always considered myself pretty cognizant of World War II, and a majority of historical fiction I’ve read and enjoyed have taken place in that time period. However, I knew nothing about the amazing story of the Danish Jews and their escape from the Nazis due to their fellow Danes smuggling them across to Sweden. Thanks to Danish efforts, 99% of the Danish Jews survived the Holocaust.

Number the Stars is an assigned reader in my fourth-grade English class. From their reactions, I know that a majority of my students love the book. They may not completely understand everything about the time period, but the story has just enough suspense and mystery for them to really enjoy it. And Lowry does a great job of ramping up the tension: first, the undercurrent of danger as the Rosens leave and Ellen hides with the Johansens. Then, the mysterious death of Great-Aunt Birte and the empty coffin. Finally, the mystery package that Annemarie must deliver to her uncle. All of it exactly conveys the hush-hush nature of the entire operation the Danes were carrying out, and conveys it in such a way that children will be able to grasp the seriousness of the situation.

The one thing holding me back from outright absorption and enjoyment of the book is that I’m really not a fan of Lowry’s writing style here. And, having read it out loud to my class, I’m even more aware of some of the awkwardness of expression that is more apparent when verbalizing the sentences. It’s a little clunky, basically, and, since I’m big on writing style, it’s just enough to mildly bother me throughout the book.

However, the story, of course, is fantastic, a tribute to the Danes and what they did for the Jews during World War II, a story that conveys the horror that took place during World War II, but also dwells on a positive story, one of bravery and hope. Number the Stars would probably be the first book I would recommend for children to learn about World War II and some of the lesser-known events that took place. I wish that I had more time to really discuss it with my fourth graders, but it’s enough that they get to read it.

Recommended Age Range: 8+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Children’s, Historical Fiction

[Annemarie] turned to her father. “Papa, do you remember what you heard the boy say to the soldier? That all of Denmark would be the king’s bodyguard?”

Her father smiled. “I have never forgotten it,” he said.

“Well,” Annemarie said slowly, “now I think that all of Denmark must be bodyguard for the Jews, as well.”

“So we shall be,” Papa replied.

You can buy this book here: http://amzn.to/2DgPjBi

Winterling by Sarah Prineas

Winterling, by Sarah Prineas, was published in 2012 by Harper.

With her boundless curiosity and wild spirit, Fer has always felt that she doesn’t belong. Not when the forest is calling to her, when the rush of wind through branches feels more real than school or the quiet farms near her house. Then she saves an injured creature—he looks like a boy, but he’s really something else. He knows who Fer truly is, and incites her through the Way, a passage to a strange, dangerous land. Fer feels an instant attachment to this realm, where magic is real and oaths forge bonds stronger than iron. But a powerful huntress named the Mór rules here, and Fer can sense that the land is perilously out of balance. Fer must unlock the secrets about the parents she never knew and claim her true place before the worlds on both sides of the Way descend into endless winter.

Rating: 2/5

I kind of have this love-hate relationship with Sarah Prineas. On the one hand, I love her Magic Thief series. On the other hand, her fairy-tale retellings (like Ash & Bramble) have been somewhat disappointing. Winterling falls a little bit in the middle for me, or perhaps, if you go by the rating that I gave it, much further away from even Ash & Bramble.

One reason is that I’m simply not a fan of the genre of this novel. I don’t like reading fantasies involving fairies, or animal-human hybrids/melds/whatever, or really any sort of “portal” fantasy involving fairy-type lands. That’s part of the reason I had difficulty really enjoying The Evil Wizard Smallbone, because of the human-animal transformations going on. I can’t really say why I dislike this genre. I just don’t like it.

(Mild spoilers follow)

I’m also not a fan of the protagonist-type that Fer is. Fer does some really dumb things in this novel, and the dumbest ones are when she knows that the Mór is evil and is planning evil things, yet somehow thinks going along with her is a good idea. Part of that is the magic talking, but there’s a part towards the end when Fer has more or less thrown off the glamorie and still thinks, “Well, you know, I need to bring back the spring and the Mór says doing this will bring back the spring, so I should do what she says,” despite the fact that she knows the Mór is not helping things at all. Then we get this tiresome hunt scene (which is immediately followed by two others) only for Fer to figure out what she’s known all along.

Fer also makes some astounding leaps of logic, like when she reads her father’s letter again and goes from that to immediately knowing that the Mór is a usurper. That whole “revelation” paragraph was written so clumsily that I had to read it multiple times just to try and follow Fer’s logic (which was really her realizing what the reader has known all along, but with a rather impressive logical assumption that doesn’t seem to follow from what she knows).

Basically, I didn’t really like Fer in general. I rarely like female protagonists of her sort. Perhaps they’re perfect for younger readers, but I find them annoying.

There’s also no explanation as to where Grand-Jane got all her knowledge of the other world from. Presumably her son, I suppose, though it’s poorly explained if so.

To be honest, the whole reason I didn’t really enjoy Winterling is probably because of Fer. I simply found her irritating. That, and I don’t particularly like this genre of fantasy. I like Prineas as an author, but this trilogy of hers is definitely not for me.

Recommended Age Range: 10+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Fantasy, Middle Grade

“The Way is open,” he said. He meant it as a warning.

The old woman blinked, and then scowled. “You must close it again.”

He shrugged, feeling the sharp ache of the wolf bites. “I can’t.” He nodded at the girl, still kneeling on the rug. “It opened for her, not for me,” he said. “You know as well as I do what she is.”

You can buy this book here: http://amzn.to/2zhiTnV