The Penderwicks by Jeanne Birdsall

The Penderwicks: A Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits, and a Very Interesting Boy, by Jeanne Birdsall, was published in 2005 by Alfred A Knopf.

Meet the Penderwicks, four different sisters with one special bond. There’s responsible, practical Rosalind; stubborn, feisty Skye; dreamy, artistic Jane; and shy little sister Batty, who won’t go anywhere without her butterfly wings. When the girls and their doting father head off for their summer holiday, they are in for a surprise. Instead of the cozy tumbledown cottage they expected, they find themselves in a beautiful estate called Arundel. Soon the girls are busy discovering the summertime magic of Arundel’s sprawling gardens, treasure-filled attic, tame rabbits, and the cook who makes the best gingerbread in Massachusetts. But the most wonderful discovery of all is Jeffrey Tifton, son of Arundel’s owner, who quickly proves to be the perfect companion for their adventures. The icy-hearted Mrs. Tifton is not as pleased with the Penderwicks as Jeffrey is, though, and warns the new friends to stay out of trouble.Which, of course, they will-won’t they? One thing’s for sure: it will be a summer the Penderick’s will never forget.

Rating: 4/5

The Penderwicks reminded me of Elizabeth Enright and Gone-Away Lake and The Saturdays, which is another way of saying that I absolutely loved it. I’ve mentioned before how I love books that have children exploring and playing outside and this book is full of that. The only mention of technology is a computer that Jane uses to type up her story and print it out. The Penderwicks is a charming, fun novel that manages to cram in life lessons for all five children into a relatively short book.

It’s almost perfect, but not quite. I thought some things were a bit too obvious and unoriginal (and slightly contrived, such as Jeffrey’s description of the military academy), although certainly they happen all the time in real life. I did guess some of the plot just from what was happening, and was slightly disappointed when exactly what I guessed happened, but The Penderwicks is a lovely book all the same—especially for children.

The Penderwicks doesn’t quite reach the belovedness of Elizabeth Enright for me, but it’s very close—which basically means that it’s a fantastic children’s story in its own right. I wasn’t quite sure about the realisticness of a few things, and some things felt a little contrived to me, but overall, it’s a beautiful story about, well, four sisters, two rabbits, and a very interesting boy.

Recommended Age Range: 10+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Realistic, Children’s

“JEFFREY!” It was Mrs. Tifton’s voice again, and she sounded very close now.

Skye put her hand over the boy’s mouth and whispered, “Shh, trouble. That’s snooty Mrs. Tifton and she’s a real pain. If she caught us in her gardens, she’d—”

The boy jerked away from her hand and struggled to sit up. He was even more pale than before, so pale she could count every freckle on his face.

“Are you all right? You look like you’re going to be sick,” she said.

“JEFFREY! Where are you?” came Mrs. Tifton’s voice again.

Then Skye finally understood. “Oh, no.”

“Excuse me,” said the boy with great dignity. “My mother’s calling me and you’re in my way.”

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

Fly by Night by Frances Hardinge

Fly by Night, by Frances Hardinge, was published in 2005 by HarperCollins.

Twelve-year-old Mosca Mye hasn’t got much. Her cruel uncle keeps her locked up in his mill, and her only friend is her pet goose, Saracen, who’ll bite anything that crosses his path. But she does have one small, rare thing: the ability to read. She doesn’t know it yet, but in a world where books are dangerous things, this gift will change her life. Enter Eponymous Clent, a smooth-talking con man who seems to love words nearly as much as Mosca herself. Soon Mosca and Clent are living a life of deceit and danger—discovering secret societies, following shady characters onto floating coffeehouses, and entangling themselves with crazed dukes and double crossing racketeers. It would be exactly the kind of tale Mosca has always longed to take part in, until she learns that her one true love—words—may be the death of her.

Rating: 4/5 

My enjoyment of Fly by Night was marred by the slow pace at which I read it; work and other “real” things made it so that I was only reading a small portion at a time, and when I was reading, I was either busy thinking about other things so I wasn’t completely focused on the book, or I was falling asleep while reading (not because the book is boring but because I was tired), or I just did not have enough time to enjoy it properly.

As a result, the book didn’t fit into a cohesive unit for me. I had trouble remembering the world building and what was going on in the plot and who the numerous characters were. All of this, of course, has nothing to do with the quality of the book itself; I’m merely sad that I couldn’t focus more properly on reading this book—because what sunk in and what I remember of it, I really liked. So, I can’t say much about the plot or the world, because as I explained above, a lot of details flew out of the window because of my state of mind and because I read it in much smaller sections over a much longer period of time than I usually read. I did find the world a little confusing, and keeping track of all the characters was hard—but that could be my distraction speaking.

But, distraction and forgetfulness aside, Fly by Night revels in delicious imagery and enjoying words and creating scenarios that seem so strange yet fit right into the world. Hardinge is a fantastic, unique writer and the focus that is placed on the written word—in a book where the written word is heavily restricted, if not banned outright—is detailed and precise. The reader becomes Mosca, enjoying the words that she hears and sees. It’s a beautiful book and I can see why a lot of people make a fuss over Hardinge. For a debut novel, it’s fabulously, beautifully original.

Recommended Age Range: 14+

Warnings: A small amount of violence, death.

Genre: Fantasy, Middle Grade

“I am a writer of ballads—I value gestures. I understand them. I know what I can do with them. Let us suppose, for example, that you allowed this young woman to stay in her carriage, handed her back her money, and wished her and her people godspeed back to Mandelion so that she could find a physician who might save her life—ah, what I could do with that!”

Blythe’s eyes asked silently what Clent could do with that.

“I could write a ballad that would make proverbial the chivalry of Clamoring Captain Blythe. By nightWhen you rode the cold cobbles of a midnight street, you would hear it sung in the taverns you passed, to give you more warmth than that thin coat of yours. When you were hunted across the moors by the constables, hundreds would lie sleepless, hoping that brave Captain Blythe still ran free.

“And when at night you lay on your bed of earth under your dripping roof of bracken, with no company but the wind and your horse champing moss near your head, you would know that in a glittering banquet hall somewhere, some young lady of birth would be thinking of you.

“That is what you stand to lose.”

You can buy this here: http://amzn.to/2bn9S0m

The Caller by Juliet Marillier

The Caller, by Juliet Marillier, was published in 2014 by Alfred A. Knopf. It is the sequel to Raven Flight.

Just one year ago, Neryn had nothing but a canny skill she barely understood and a faint dream that the legendary rebel base of Shadowfell might be real. Now she is the rebels’ secret weapon, and their greatest hope for survival in the fast-approaching ambush of King Keldec at Summerfort. The fate of Alban itself is in her hands. But to be ready for the bloody battle that lies ahead, she must first seek out two more fey Guardians to receive their tutelage. Meanwhile, her beloved, Flint, has been pushed to his breaking point as a spy in the king’s court—and is arousing suspicion in all the wrong quarters. Confidence is stretching thinner by the day when word of another Caller reaches the rebels: a Caller at Keldec’s side with all of Neryn’s power and none of her benevolence or hard-earned control. As the days before the battle drop quickly away, Neryn must find a way to uncover—and exploit—her opponent’s weaknesses. At stake lie freedom for the people of Alban, a life free from hiding for the Good Folk—and a chance for Flint and Neryn to finally be together.

Rating: 4/5

The Caller is a satisfying finish to the story started in Shadowfell and continued in Raven Flight. Though the end is a little vague in explanation (how did all those soldiers get into the fort to fight?), it is suitably awesome and although I wished for Neryn to have a little more struggle, her accomplishment is warranted and reflective of her training and discipline.

My favorite part of the book was Neryn’s impulsive “I need to go infiltrate the king’s court” because it broke up the “travel to see Guardian, get trained by Guardian, rinse and repeat” formula that was starting to develop and I enjoyed the opportunity to see a side of Neryn that we saw in the beginning of Shadowfell before all the Caller-training started.

I do wish that the feelings of the fey from being called by Esten to being called by Neryn were a little more varied. I don’t know…I feel as if a group of people who had been controlled by a Caller for months would be resistant to another Caller, at least at first. Neryn didn’t get the opportunity to build up a lot of trust with that group, so their response to her call (especially after the group’s angry response to Flint’s “betrayal”) seemed a bit unrealistic, at least in my opinion. The Master of Shadows did say that Neryn called well, so maybe a bit of her nature seeped through, but I still thought it was a little too easy.

I enjoyed The Caller, although I thought the ending was parts cheesy, confusing or a little unrealistic in turns, but I loved the time Neryn spent in Keldec’s court and I still love her and Flint (and the ending, I thought, was particularly good with the two of them going away together). I also enjoyed the moments in the novel when we got to see Flint’s point of view. Marillier, though sleepy at times, has written a grand story here, told a bit more quietly than most but with its own charm and excitement.

Recommended Age Range: 14+

Warnings: Violence, death.

Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult

“The news that came to you may not have mentioned a Caller. That is what I am. I’m seeking the White Lady in the hope of receiving some wisdom. I’m hoping she will teach me the better use of my gift.” I could hardly make it plainer than that.

The invisible presence said nothing; instead, a rippling sound came from the tiny beings. I interpreted it as mocking laughter.

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

A Heart Most Certain by Melissa Jagears

Disclaimer: A Heart Most Certain, by Melissa Jagears, was provided by Bethany House in exchange for an honest review.

Lydia King knows what it’s like to be in need, so she joins the Teaville Moral Society hoping to help the town’s poor. But with her father’s debts increasing by the day and her mother growing sicker by the week, she wonders how long it will be until she ends up in the poorhouse herself. Her best chance at a financially secure future is to impress the politician courting her, and it certainly doesn’t hurt that his mother is the moral society’s president. Lydia’s first task as a moral society member—to obtain a donation from Nicholas Lowe, the wealthiest man in town—seems easy…until the man flat-out refuses. Despite appearances, Nicholas wants to help others but prefers to do it his own way, keeping his charity private. When Lydia proves persistent, they agree to a bargain, though Nicholas has a few surprises up his sleeve. Neither foresees the harrowing complications that will arise from working together, and when town secrets are brought to light, this unlikely pair must decide where their beliefs—and hearts—truly align.

My rating: 5/5

A Heart Most Certain balances a decent romance with a gripping plot that strikes that fine balance between too preachy and not preachy enough—criticizing what it should criticize, showing flaws and improvements in characters, gently persuading and convicting but not being too heavy-handed either way.

The plot is mainly able to accomplish this because of the characters, who are flawed but manage to a.) be likeable despite their weaknesses and b.) improve on their flaws. Both Lydia and Nicholas are wrong on several occasions, sometimes while they’re both criticizing the other. There is no “pick a side” presented—Jagears smoothly shows how both Lydia and Nicholas are flawed in their thinking, and also shows how they improve by seeing things through each other’s eyes.

Also, while the plot itself gets slightly over-the-top at times, the message itself is delivered quite well and only gets heavy-handed very briefly. Like I said, Jagears is not too preachy, but also not so lax on delivering any message that the book seems meaningless as a result. There’s definitely something to get out of A Heart Most Certain, and the choice Jagears made to depict something that historically has been difficult to swallow was a good one. We don’t necessarily treat prostitutes the same way as we did in 1905, but there’s still something that rings true in this book that might match our attitudes towards certain things today more closely than we might think.

I thoroughly enjoyed A Heart Most Certain and its rich plot, likeable (and flawed) characters, and even the romance, for all its hints of insta-love and “this woman is beautiful therefore I love her” trends. I tend to like it when romances get a little angsty (as long as they don’t get melodramatic), and this one had a pretty good balance to it. But its main appeal comes from the excellent way Jagears presented a difficult topic, making A Heart Most Certain stand out from the rest of its peers.

Warnings: None.

Genre: Historical Fiction, Christian

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

The Grimjinx Rebellion by Brian Farrey

The Grimjinx Rebellion, by Brian Farrey, was published in 2014 by HarperCollins. It is the sequel to The Shadowhand Covenant.

Jaxter Grimjinx and his family haven’t had much time for thieving. Through no fault of their own, they’ve been too busy saving the day. But danger in the Five Provinces is only just beginning. The Palatinate Mages are almost ready to unveil their master plan, and legendary monsters will soon roam the land once more. Then Jaxter’s sister, Aubrin, is kidnapped by the Mages. It seems she has a power greater than her family ever realized, and she may be the key to the impending battle for the Five Provinces. Jaxter will do anything to get his little sister back—even if it means pulling off the greatest heist of his life and starting a large-scale rebellion.

Rating: 3/5

The biggest problem I had with The Grimjinx Rebellion was how fast everything happened. There were too many jumpcuts where I felt lost because Farrey eschews development for getting things to a certain point and then explaining how it got there later. There were also too many reveals that were done too quickly, such as Jaxter reading the whisperoaks and then dumping a bunch of information on his comrades. Then Farrey made it blindingly obvious where the Vanguard was, and it made Jaxter look a bit stupid for figuring it out so slowly.

In addition, I thought a number of things didn’t really make much sense (some of it may be because of the quick pace and jumping around, but not all—like why in the world Edilman didn’t take the most powerful thing in the world with him when he could have) and I wish some things had been set up more throughout the trilogy. I also wish that the last two books in the trilogy didn’t make The Vengekeep Prophecies feel entirely unnecessary except as a way to introduce characters.

I did like quite a few things about the book: the capers and heists, for one thing, and the humor is pretty good, too. But The Grimjinx Rebellion seems rushed at best and sloppy at worst, full of lots of things that don’t make much sense because of poor development or pacing or what-have-you. Farrey has a good, fun trilogy, but it lacks some technique that could have made it shine.

Recommended Age Range: 12+

Warnings: Some violence, death.

Genre: Fantasy, Middle Grade

“Hear me!”

Nalia’s voice shook in my chest and seemed to come from everyone at once: down the road, around the corner, right behind me.

“Benevolence? Wisdom? The Soranna family claims to have served the Five Provinces. That may have been true in the past. But this High Laird serves only himself.”

Nalia pointed to the High Laird, who looked bewildered by the sudden betrayal. I almost felt sorry for him.

“The time has come for a new law of the land. The Palatinate will guide you now. Under magical rule, there will be new order.”

You can buy this here: http://amzn.to/2baY5WP

Fairy Tale Friday: Rump: The True Story of Rumpelstiltskin by Liesl Shurtliff

Rump: The True Story of Rumpelstiltskin, by Liesl Shurtliff, was published in 2013 by Yearling.

In a magical kingdom where your name is your destiny, twelve-year-old Rump is the butt of everyone’s joke. But when he finds an old spinning wheel, his luck seems to change. Rump discovers he has a gift for spinning straw into gold—as much gold as he wants! His best friend, Red, warns him that magic is dangerous, and she’s right. With each thread he spins, he weaves himself deeper into a curse. To break the spell, Rump must go on a perilous quest, fighting off pixies, trolls, poison apples, and a wickedly foolish queen. The odds are against him, but with courage and friendship—and a cheeky sense of humor—he just might triumph in the end.

Rating: 2/5

I appreciate Rump for its attempt to retell the fairytale of Rumpelstiltskin from the point of view of the titular character, since 1.) there aren’t many (that I know of) retellings of that particular fairytale and 2.) the obvious (at least, to me) would be to retell it from the miller’s daughter’s point of view.

However, Shurtliff is no Vivian Vande Velde, and I much preferred Vande Velde’s tongue-in-cheek, short retellings in The Rumpelstiltskin Problem than Shurtliff’s more expansive yet more mediocre retelling. I hate to compare fairytale retellings, but I read Rump right after reading The Rumpelstiltskin Problem and the latter was delightful while the former was average.

Rump contains a decent protagonist, but the villain is over-the-top, the book is littered with stale tropes and mechanics, and at times the plot is incredibly obvious, even for a retelling. Perhaps it would be a better read if the reader was not acquainted with the original fairytale as much as I am.

Also, all the kiddy, immature jokes in this book put it squarely in “clearly for younger readers” territory, and I prefer books that don’t so publicly announce their audience. That, combined with the stale and obvious tropes, made Rump more of a chore to read than a delight.

Recommended Age Range: 10+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Fairy Tale, Middle Grade

I gathered the straw from the ground until I had a handful. I sat at the wheel. A few pixies fluttered around my hands and the straw and the bobbin.

“Gold! Gold! Gold!”

I fed the straw into the wheel.

Whir, whir, whir.

I spun the straw.

My breath caught in my chest. I stopped, unable to believe what I was seeing. In my hand were bits of straw, but around the bobbin were glowing, shimmering threads. I brushed my fingers over the threads, smooth and warm. Gold. I had just spun straw into gold.

You can buy this book here: http://amzn.to/2aOfG3f

To Follow Her Heart by Rebecca DeMarino

Disclaimer: To Follow Her Heart, by Rebecca DeMarino, was provided by Revell in exchange for an honest review.

It is 1664 and Patience Terry is devastated to learn that Captain Jeremy Horton’s ship has been shipwrecked off the coast of Barbados. There were no survivors. She had hoped that Jeremy would someday give up the sea and settle down with her in Southold, Long Island. Unaware his memorial service is being planned, Jeremy sails aboard a British warship with secret orders to attack New Amsterdam and claim it for the British Crown. When he makes his surprise return to Southold—and to an overjoyed Patience—it’s not quite the happily-ever-after his beloved had hoped for.

My rating: 2/5

I might have enjoyed To Follow Her Heart more if it wasn’t so obvious that this was the third book in a series. Now, DeMarino does a good job of introducing each character and giving brief descriptions of what has happened to them in the past, but without having read the previous two books, I felt as if I was missing something. Plus, all the characters were hard to keep track of and it was difficult to remember who was related to whom, etc.

The other thing that held me back from enjoying the book is that the most interesting parts are right at the beginning and right at the end. The middle is one long, plodding sequence where not much happens and Patience is impatient. I almost stopped reading the book halfway through because I was so bored. It’s not an exciting book at all and it’s not really a particularly romantic one, at least for me. I liked to see the progression of a romance and this book, presumably because it’s the third one in the series and I didn’t read the first two, starts out with Patience and Jeremy already established as a couple. The only thing left for them to do is get married (which is what the entire book is about). “Established couple” is not a bad thing for a book to start with, but DeMarino didn’t really do much with it beyond the typical “break up and get back together” shtick.

To Follow Her Heart is about as interesting as its title, which is to say, not particularly interesting and a little cliché and unoriginal. Patience spends most of the book wondering when Jeremy will marry her in between cooking, teaching, and taking care of a dog. Jeremy spends most of the book building a ship. They kiss sometimes (actually, quite a lot. It didn’t seem particularly historically accurate to me, but maybe I’m thinking too Regency-England). There’s a good bit at the end. Overall, a mostly dull book with a few interesting parts. Maybe it would be better if I had read the first two books, but maybe not.

Warnings: None.

Genre: Historical Fiction, Christian

You can buy this here: http://amzn.to/2b2owwH

Scones and Sensibility by Lindsay Eland

Scones and Sensibility, by Lindsay Eland, was published in 2010 by Egmont.

Twelve-year-old Polly Madassa is convinced she was born for a more romantic age. A time when Elizabeth Bennet walked along the stone halls of Pemberley, arm in arm with her one true love, Mr. Darcy. A time when Anne Shirley gazed out at the wild seas off Prince Edward Island with her bosom friend, Diana, beside her. A time when a distinguished gentleman called upon a lady of quality, and true love was born in the locked eyes of two young lovers. But alas…Polly was born in twenty-first-century New Jersey. This, however does not hinder our young heroine from finding romance wherever she can conjure it up. So while Polly is burdened with the summer job of delivering backed goods from her parents’ bakery to the people in her small beach town (how delightfully quaint!), she finds a way to force…um…encourage romance to blossom. Indeed, Polly is determined to bring lovers, young and old, together…whether they want to be or not.

Rating: 2/5

I didn’t know whether to laugh or groan when Scones and Sensibility began and I read the Austen-adapted language of the writing. I wanted to laugh because it’s exactly what a twelve-year-old probably would sound like if she decided to speak how she thought Jane Austen sounded like, and I wanted to groan because by the end of the third chapter I was heartily sick of the word “Indeed.” I’m not sure if Eland thinks that the book is in good Austen-speak, or if she’s trying to make it sound like a twelve-year-old’s attempt, but it’s grating if it’s the latter and sort of funny but also annoying if it’s the former.

I really wanted to like Scones and Sensibility because at its heart it’s a sweet book about a girl who goes too far in her imagination. It reminded me a lot of Harriet the Spy, to be honest. But I found too many things unbelievable to be able to really enjoy the book.

First, is the bakery located inside Polly’s house, or is it in a different area entirely? I know that some people have salons and things in their house, but a bakery seems like something much more difficult to do. If it’s in their house, why in the world is it in there??

Second, I found it too hard to believe that during a certain part of the book 1.) Polly wouldn’t be able to tell a game of charades was going on and that 2.) even if she couldn’t tell, the adult she went to fetch surely should have! I’m supposed to buy that the neighbor called the police without even checking for herself? And that the police shouted from their cars with a megaphone rather than, you know, approach the house and knock on the door? Please. I was sort of going along with the book until that sensationalized bit of nonsense.

I think the trick is not to take Scones and Sensibility too seriously, because if you do, you’ll probably find the Austen-esque descriptions and language to be more grating than endearing. I liked it inasmuch as it reminded me of Harriet the Spy, but less sensationalized scenes and more things that actually made sense would have been nice.

Recommended Age Range: 12+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Middle Grade, Realistic

Mr. Nightquist, the kindest, dearest, most well-bred older gentleman in all of New Jersey, was utterly, completely, and sadly alone.

Yet my heart leapt with hope inside me. I would find the perfect match for both Mr. Fisk and dear Mr. Nightquist!

And indeed, though I would not hand my beloved Mr. Nightquist to any woman, I could not help but think of the equally lonely Miss Wiskerton.

I smiled.

Love was truly in the air.

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

Burn Baby Burn by Meg Medina

Burn Baby Burn, by Meg Medina, was published in 2016 by Candlewick.

Nora Lopez is seventeen during the infamous year 1977 in New York. After a freezing winter, a boiling hot summer explodes with arson, a blackout, and a serial killer named Son of Sam, who is shooting young people on the street seemingly at random. Not only is the city a disaster, but Nora has troubles of her own: her brother, Hector, is growing more uncontrollable by the day, her mother is helpless to stop him, and her father is so busy with his new family that he only calls on holidays. And it doesn’t stop there. The super’s after her mother to pay their overdue rent and her teachers are pushing her to apply for college, but all Nora wants is to turn eighteen and be on her own. There is a cute guy who started working with her at the deli, but is dating even worth the risk when the killer especially likes picking off couples who stay out too late?

Rating: 5/5

I kinda loved Burn Baby Burn and I’m not sure why. At least, I’m not sure why the presence of things I don’t like in contemporary young adult literature didn’t make me instantly hate the book. Maybe it was the historical aspect of it, the tension as a result of Son of Sam and the 1977 blackout that resulted in the largest mass arrest in history (3,776). I don’t think I could have ignored the content if it hadn’t been for the historical fiction aspect. Or maybe it was the depiction of juvenile domestic violence, which Medina states in her author’s note as a “chronically underreported issue,” a depiction that made me sit up and say, “Why isn’t this mentioned more often?” Whatever it was, I devoured this book and got lost in the pages.

Most of all, I think this book reminded me of some of the reasons why I used to read contemporary young adult literature (until I finally got sick of all the negative and destructive images and ideas). Good YA lit. is powerful. It packs a punch and takes no prisoners. It’s not afraid to depict the least-heard-of in society, the hard times, the pivotal moments in our history relayed through the eyes of someone who is not ourselves. And yes, there’s bad content in it, and yes, it’s aggravating (at least for me) to read such casual mentions of something that should not be casual at all, but it somehow gripped me anyway—and that’s the mark of a good story.

Burn Baby Burn is not for everyone. But it’s certainly a book that can be read and discussed and raises important questions, especially in reference to domestic violence. It’s also great for its historical aspect alone, which is, now that I think about it, probably the reason I loved it so much. Historical fiction, especially young adult historical fiction, is a great genre, and Burn Baby Burn fits rights in.

Recommended Age Range: 16+

Warnings: Domestic violence, drug abuse, arson, murder, sexual situations, swearing.

Genre: Historical Fiction, Young Adult

 “The whole city is going crazy! And your hermanito is out there.” Her jaw quivers. “Did he take a coat?”

“I don’t remember.”

“What if something happened and he’s cold? What if he doesn’t have spare change to call home?”

I ignore her.

“And what is his fascination with this screaming music? Why are a bunch of grown men yelling and jumping like that, anyway?”

Pass.

I turn up the TV and pretend to concentrate as the news drones on. I can’t stop thinking about this girl’s rag-doll body, the police standing over her, the strange angle of those stylish boots. I’m thinking of the decoy cops who might be sitting down the block right now.

Maybe I should be worried.

You can buy this here: http://amzn.to/2aAeWy1

Crown of Earth by Hilari Bell

Crown of Earth, by Hilari Bell, was published in 2009 by Aladdin. It is the sequel to Sword of Waters.

“As a hostage…I’m afraid Weasel matters only to me.” The moment Prince Edoran hears these words from Weasel’s trusted friend Justice Holis, Edoran knows he has to find a way to rescue Weasel, who has been kidnapped in Edoran’s place. Edoran’s task is far from easy. Life-threatening challenges greet him at every step as he searches for Weasel, forced to hide his true identity from all he meets along the way. The journey is full of surprises and revelations, as Edoran learns for the first time the real meaning of hard labor and the cost of a meal. The story builds to a stunning climax, where the true nature of the magical objects of Deorthas is at last revealed.

Rating: 3/5

Well, I’ve been hoping since Sword of Waters (and to some extent, Shield of Stars) that we would learn more about what the sword and shield actually are—and we do, at last, in Crown of Earth find out. And now the format of the books makes much more sense. I wish that it had been foreshadowed just a little bit more, or that the reveal wasn’t so quick, but all in all, I’m satisfied with how that part of the trilogy turned out.

I liked Edoran’s growth as a character; I’ve always enjoyed the “somewhat weak and powerless prince/king (or princess/queen) becomes awesome” plot, and Edoran has some fine moments in the book where he discovers what it is to be an effective leader. I wish that his background had been more clearly revealed, however, because some things brought up in Sword of Waters weren’t settled very satisfactorily in Crown of Earth, including his banning of the cards. Other things that didn’t make sense were Edoran’s strange visions when Sandeman is laying out the cards and Edoran’s thoughts and exchange with Arisa when Arisa first lays out the cards (pretty much all of Edoran’s attitude with the cards I found muddled and confusing, really, even though Bell was clearly attempting to explain it).

I liked Arisa better in this book, although to be honest I liked her fine in Shield of Stars—it was being inside her head in Sword of Waters that irritated me. And even though we’re outside of her head for this book, the conflict between her and her mother was very well done and the tension of it could easily be seen.

So, all in all, Crown of Earth is a fine end to a fine trilogy (although the closing lines are incredibly cheesy). There’s nothing particularly spectacular about it, but it’s a well-crafted, enjoyable fantasy.

Recommended Age Range: 12+

Warnings: Violence, death.

Genre: Fantasy, Middle Grade

“What are we going to do now?” [Edoran] asked. “Keep following the troop and see if they lead us to your mother? Or check another of those message drops of yours?”

“Those troops couldn’t find my mother for over a decade when they worked for Pettibone,” Arisa said. “What makes you think they can find her now? Besides, I think the men she sent out of the city were just a diversion. I think she escaped by sea and probably took Weasel with her. But I know all her old hideouts, and she’ll be trying to contact me. I can find her.”

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