Princess between Worlds by E. D. Baker

Princess between Worlds, by E. D. Baker, was published in 2016. It is the sequel to Princess in Disguise.

Just as Princess Annie and Prince Liam are making plans to leave Treecrest and travel the world, a witch shows up and gifts them a collection of postcards from the Magic Marketplace. She explain that by simply touching a postcard, it will transport Annie and Liam to exotic lands and far-flung kingdoms. During their adventures, they meet many new friends, but they also encounter people who want to harm them. What the witch doesn’t tell them is how to safely return, so it’ll be up to Annie—with her immunity to magic—to find a way to get Liam and herself home before they find themselves stuck in one place forever.

Rating: 2/5

I wasn’t planning on reading more of Baker’s works, especially not a series that has continuously disappointed me, but I saw Princess between Worlds on the library shelves and decided to pick it up. And…it only reinforced my decision that I’m not a fan of Annie’s story anymore.

I did find the idea of a crossover appealing, and Princess between Worlds has characters from Baker’s Tales of the Frog Princess in it, although I hadn’t gotten far enough in the series to meet those particular characters. Now, since Baker essentially reveals everything that occurs in those books, I no longer have to read them—yes, be warned that Baker spoils the events of the later books in the Frog Princess series with this book. The crossover was clearly fan service, but it was a reasonably good idea, and it was probably the part of the book I found most interesting.

Other than that, Princess between Worlds is same old, same old—Annie and Liam go on an adventure, get into trouble because of Annie’s magic, have stilted conversations with each other and with other people, and are attacked by enemies for no apparent reason other than to create conflict. Baker also gets around Annie’s magical immunity by introducing a new, special magic that is not affected by her gift, and I supposed it makes sense in a way even if it is hand-waving and obviously contrived. These series would be good for children who enjoy these sorts of fairy-tale-esque adventures, but if they want something with more depth and memorability, they should look elsewhere.

Recommended Age Range: 12+

Warnings: Kissing

Genre: Fantasy, Middle Grade

“So you think we should use these postcards?” said Liam. “And all we have to do is touch them?”

Moonbeam nodded. “You have to touch the middle of the card showing the place you want to visit while thinking about how much you want to go there. While you’re on your grand tour, I’ll find Rotan and lock him away for good. With my fair friends helping me, we should find him long before you come home.”

Liam examined the card on the top of the pile. “We could go to this one first. The views from that mountain are amazing! Look, Annie, the picture looks so real, almost as if you could feel the sow.”

“Liam, no!” Annie shouted, grabbing his free hand as he touched the middle of the postcard with the other.

An instant later they were gone, leaving Moonbeam staring at the spot where they’d been standing.

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Museum of Thieves by Lian Tanner

Museum of Thieves, by Lian Tanner, was published in 2010 by Delacorte Press.

Welcome to the tyrannical city of Jewel, where impatience is a sin and boldness is a crime. Goldie Roth has lived in Jewel all her life. Like every child in the city, she wears a silver guard chain and is forced to obey the dreaded Blessed Guardians. She has never done anything by herself and won’t be allowed out on the streets unchained until Separation Day. When Separation Day is canceled, Goldie, who has always been both impatient and bold, runs away, risking not only her own life but also the lives of those she has left behind. In the chaos that follows, she is lured to the mysterious Musuem of Dunt, where she meets the boy Toadspit and discovers terrible secrets. Only the cunning mind of ta thief can understand the museum’s strange, shifting rooms. Fortunately, Goldie has a talent for thieving. Which is just as well, because the leader of the Blessed Guardians has his own plans for the museum—plans that threaten the lives of everyone Goldie loves. And it will take a daring thief to stop him…

Rating: 2/5

Museum of Thieves is a decent, if incredibly generic, middle grade fantasy. Goldie is the standard “impetuous female protagonist,” Toadspit is the standard “strange boy protagonist befriends,” and the villain is the standard “wants control over everything and is incredibly obvious from the beginning.” There are the standard mysterious mentors, the standard mysterious force the protagonist must help protect, the standard thought-legend-but-actually-real beasts, and other standard plot and plot resolutions.

Nothing surprised me in Museum of Thieves and nothing really disappointed me, either. It wasn’t a book I disliked reading, but I didn’t love reading it, either. It is an average, run-of-the-mill novel and the only thing wrong with it is that it’s too generic. Nothing stands out, nothing screams “read more!”, nothing compels me to want to know more about Goldie and Toadspit. And that’s probably the most disappointing thing about the book.

Recommended Age Range: 16+

Warnings: Some violence.

Genre: Fantasy, Middle Grade

The man’s face was as forbidding as stone. “You’ve stolen something,” he said. “What was it?”

“Nothing!” said Goldie quickly.

Above the doorway the slaughterbird shifted on its perch. Goldie flinched. The man looked up. “Morg,” he said. “Come here.”

The slaughterbird peered down at him. Then, with a great clumsy hope, it dropped onto his shoulder.

Goldie gasped. The man called out, “Olga Ciavolga, if you please!”

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The Ruins of Gorlan by John Flanagan

The Ruins of Gorlan, by John Flanagan, was published in 2005 by Philomel.

They have always scared him in the past—the Rangers with their dark cloaks and mysterious ways. Folks in the village claim that Rangers have the power to become invisible at will. A skill Will would now dearly love to have. Will’s heart had been set on Battleschool, on becoming a hero to the kingdom. But Will is small for his fifteen years, too small to be a warrior. He possesses other skills, though—a Ranger’s skills. He can move silent as a shadow. He can climb. And he is brave. He will need all these skills and more. For Morgarath, Lord of the Mountains of Rain and Night, is gathering his forces. A battle for the kingdom is destined to begin. A battle the likes of which Will cannot even imagine.

Rating: 3/5

I first stumbled across the Ranger’s Apprentice series a few years ago. I’m not sure what caused me to start reading them; the pull towards the word “apprentice,” perhaps, or the vaguely appealing summary. Whatever it was, I picked up The Ruins of Gorlan—and fell headfirst into the world of Will and of the Rangers.

The world of Ranger’s Apprentice is an alternate universe, of sorts, to ours: Araluen is England, Gallica is France, Skandia is Scandinavia. Having more recently read the Brotherband series (the companion series to Ranger’s Apprentice), I’d forgotten how supernatural/vaguely eerie these first couple of books are. The Ruins of Gorlan starts with a shadowy evil lord moody over the loss of his kingdom and wanting revenge, dives immediately into descriptions of “Wargals” (groan) that bring up bad memories of Eragon and other LotR-imitations, and basically starts in a basic “bad fantasy” way.

And then Will comes into the picture, and Horace, and Halt, and incredibly precise and detailed maneuvers and fights are described, and suddenly not only do you realize that, holy smokes, John Flanagan knows his stuff, but you’ve forgotten the bad fantasy vibes and are only swept up in a “give me more of this awesomely intricate way of sneaking up on someone” feeling.

At least, that’s my experience with The Ruins of Gorlan.

The best part is that the books only get better from here, and I’m looking forward to seeing that improvement. The Ruins of Gorlan is a good start—but there’s a little too much of that bad fantasy vibe attached to it for it to be fantastic. But that’s okay, because then the series has the opportunity to sneak up on you just like a Ranger would. Suddenly, without warning, and being incredibly awesome.

Recommended Age Range: 14+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Fantasy, Middle Grade

Will coughed again.

“Got a cold, boy?” asked the Ranger, without turning around.

“Er…no, sir.”

“Then why are you coughing?” asked Halt, turning around to face him. Will hesitated. “Well, sir,” he began uncertainly, “I just wanted to ask you…what does a Ranger actually do?”

“He doesn’t ask pointless questions, boy!” said Halt. “He keeps his eyes and ears open and he looks and listens and eventually, if he hasn’t got too much cotton wool between his ears, he learns!”

“Oh,” said Will. “I see.” He didn’t, and even though he realized that this was probably no time to ask more questions, he couldn’t help himself, repeating, a little rebelliously, “I just wondered what Rangers do, is all.”

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Cybele’s Secret by Juliet Marillier

Cybele’s Secret, by Juliet Marillier, was published in 2008 by Alfred A. Knopf. It is the sequel to Wildwood Dancing.

For Paula, accompanying her merchant father on a trading voyage to Istanbul is a dream come true. They have come to this city of trade on a special mission to purchase a most rare artifact—a gift from the ancient goddess, Cybele, to her followers. It’s the only remnant of a lost, pagan cult. But no sooner have they arrived when it becomes clear they may be playing at a dangerous game. A colleague and friend of Paula’s father is found murdered. There are rumors of Cybele’s cult reviving within the very walls of Istanbul. And most telling of all, signs have begun to appear to Paula, urging her to unlock Cybele’s secret. Meanwhile, Paula doesn’t know who she can trust in Istanbul, and finds herself drawn to two very different men. As time begins to run out, Paula realizes they may all be tied up in the destiny of Cybele’s Gift, and she must solve the puzzle before unknown but deadly enemies catch up to her.

Rating: 3/5

Cybele’s Secret is not as strong or as beautiful as Wildwood Dancing, but I enjoyed it anyway, especially towards the end with the traverse through the cave solving riddles a la Indiana Jones. Paula is a great bookish, scholarly main character, and if the writing is a little stilted in places, that can easily be explained as Marillier capturing the character of Paula through the narration.

Cybele’s Secret is about as obvious as Wildwood Dancing was (so, very obvious), and I knew who the main villain was the second s/he appeared. Everything was just slightly too convenient and I waited about half of the book for the other shoe to drop until, finally, it did, just as I had predicted. The villain was also a little one-note and aloof, so that was a little disappointing, but at least by the time the villain was revealed I was too invested in the characters and the story to grumble much.

There’s also a love triangle, but to be honest, the third side of the triangle is so faint that it’s not really a love triangle at all. It’s more of a “there’s two men during Paula’s adventure that she can potentially hook up with so so we’ll call it a love triangle,” but Paula doesn’t waver between the two of them as with other love triangles. It’s very clear who Paula will end up marrying, and if the angst and heartache at the end is slightly contrived, the reunion between the two is still very sweet and touching.

I did prefer Wildwood Dancing, but Cybele’s Secret has its moments. The quests and riddles in the cave, the descriptions of Istanbul that make it come alive, and Paula’s sensible character all come together to make the book an enjoyable read, if one with an obvious villain and plot.

Recommended Age Range: 14+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult

A fragment caught my eye. I lifted it out with extreme care, for it was ancient and fragile. The script was ornate and regular. I guessed the language was Persian, for one or two such pieces had passed through Father’s hands over the years, and I recognized the style of decoration: tiny, vivid illustrations and elaborate hand-drawn borders full of scrolls and curlicues. The pictures were indeed strange. It was not clear whether the figures in them were of men, women, or animals. They reminded me vividly of the Other Kingdom, the fairy realm my sisters and I had visited every full moon through the years of my childhood. While my sisters were dancing, I had spent the better part of those nights in company with a group of most unusual scholars, and they had taught me to look beyond the obvious. Eithers these were images of just such a magical place, or they were heavy in symbolism. I could see a warrior with the head of a dog, a cat in a hooded cloak, a blindfolded women with a wolf, someone swinging on a rope…

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Anne of Ingleside by L. M. Montgomery

Anne of Ingleside, by Lucy Maud Montgomery, was first published in 1939. It is the sequel to Anne’s House of Dreams.

Anne is the mother of five, with never a dull moment in her lively home. And now with a new baby on the way and insufferable Aunt Mary visiting – and wearing out her welcome – Anne’s life is full to bursting. Still, Mrs Doctor can’t think of any place she’d rather be than her own beloved Ingleside. Until the day she begins to worry that her adored Gilbert doesn’t love her anymore. How could that be? She may be a little older, but she’s still the same irrepressible, irreplaceable redhead – the wonderful Anne of Green Gables, all grown up… She’s ready to make her cherished husband fall in love with her all over again!

Rating: 4/5

Anne of Ingleside is another “fill in the gaps” Anne story. It’s also technically the last Anne story, as it was published last, after Anne of Windy Poplars. Since it was published after Rainbow Valley and Rilla of Ingleside (the books that chronologically come after Ingleside), it actually hints at—to be honest, more like downright spoils—events that occur in those books, most noticeably what happens to Walter in Rilla of Ingleside.

As a “fill in the gaps” book, Ingleside is much, much better than Windy Poplars. We don’t get much of the familiar Anne except at beginning and end, but her children are just as ridiculous and loveable as she was in Anne of Green Gables, so they’re an almost suitable replacement for our beloved Anne Shirley, who becomes “mother” Anne for the rest of the series.

Of the “children” novels, I think I like Rainbow Valley best, but Ingleside has lots of fun shenanigans, some heartbreaking moments such as Ronny and his dog (which made me tear up) and some slightly over-the-top but enjoyable nonsense such as Anne becoming worried that Gilbert doesn’t love her anymore.

My main quibble with this book (and with Montgomery’s portrayal of Anne’s children in general) is that, while Montgomery is quite deft at giving each child his/her own personality and story, she completely leaves one of them by the wayside to the point where I wonder why even have him in the novels at all. I’m talking, of course, about Shirley, who is mentioned briefly at the beginning and almost never mentioned again. Each child of Anne’s gets his own narrative (or even two!) in Ingleside, except for Shirley. Each child gets his own thoughts interjected into the overall narrative, except for Shirley. It makes Anne seem the slightest bit neglectful of one of her own children, and Montgomery’s possible explanation for why Shirley barely makes an appearance only makes it worse.

Ingleside serves its purpose well: as a transition from the series being focused on Anne to the series being focused on her children. It blends both Anne-related things and children-related things neatly together, paving the way for the children-centric Rainbow Valley and the Rilla-centric Rilla of Ingleside. My only complaint is that Shirley is neglected, and as a result, a completely unnecessary character.

Recommended Age Range: 10+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Historical Fiction, Children’s

“Susan! What has become of Gog and Magog? Oh…they haven’t broken, have they?”

“No, no, Mrs. Dr. dear,” exclaimed Susan, turning a deep brick-red from shame and dashing out of the room. She returned shortly with the two china dogs which always presided at the hearth of Ingleside. “I do not see how I could have forgotten to put them back before you came. You see, Mrs. Dr. dear, Mrs. Charles Day from Charlottetown called here the day after you left…and you know how very precise and proper she is. Walter thought he ought to entertain her and he started in by pointing out the dogs to her. ‘This one is God and this is My God,’ he said, poor innocent child.”

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The Shattered Vigil by Patrick W. Carr

Disclaimer: The Shattered Vigil, by Patrick W. Carr, was provided by Bethany House. I received a free copy. No review, positive or otherwise, was required—all opinions are my own.

Their victory over the dark forces during the feast of Bas-solas should have guaranteed safety for the continent. Instead, Willet and the rest of the Vigil discover they’ve been outsmarted by those seeking to unleash the evil that inhabits the Darkwater. One of the Vigil has gone missing, and new attacks have struck at the six kingdoms’ ability to defend themselves. Worse, a deadly new threat has emerged—assassins hunting the Vigil, men and women who cannot be seen until it’s too late. To thwart the perilous new risk, the church makes the drastic decision to safeguard the Vigil by taking the surviving members into protective custody. But there are secrets only the vigil can unearth, and so Pellin makes the heat-wrenching choice to oppose the church in a race to turn back the evil that threatens an entire continent.

My rating: 4/5

While I remembered very little from The Shock of Night, I only found The Shattered Vigil hard to understand at the beginning. Then, Carr gave enough reminders and my memory of the first book came back just enough that I was able to cross that initial divide of “Oh my goodness I don’t really remember anything that happened; who are these people again?” and go back to familiar territory.

The Shattered Vigil is an improvement over the first book, in my opinion. I found the plot more interesting, the confusing parts less prominent, and the pace quicker. And although it was a little jarring to keep switching from 1st to 3rd person, I also liked the character switches as well, especially those involving Toria Deel and Bronwyn. Carr has definitely seemed to settle into his stride here, getting the shaky and weak bits over with the first book. Perhaps some of my praise here comes from the pure refreshment of a decently written fantasy as opposed to the normal historical romance that I receive from Bethany House, but I’m also not a frequent reader of adult fantasy so I don’t know enough to compare.

I also really enjoyed both of the ending twists—the one I guessed right as it was unveiling itself before my eyes and the other was a pretty delightful way to end the book, even if it did make it a cliffhanger. But Carr manages to wrap up enough of the loose ends of the plot that the book doesn’t feel as if it stopped in the middle of the act. It’s not a stand-alone, but it’s more of a stand-alone than a book that only shows the first part of a two-part plot.

The Shattered Vigil, to me, was better than The Shock of Night, and I really enjoyed it reading it. It did have its dull moments, and there were times when I was a little confused, but those moments were few and far between to the overall interest and appeal of the book. I’m quite looking forward to the next book, especially after the ending of this one.

Warnings: Violence, death.

Genre: Fantasy, Christian

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The Luck Uglies by Paul Durham

The Luck Uglies, by Paul Durham, was published in 2014 by Harper.

Rye O’Chanter has seen a lot of strange things happen in Village Drowning. She and her friends have grown up on Frowning’s treacherous streets—its twisted rooftops and forgotten cemeteries are their playground. Now a terrifying encounter on the night of the Black Moon has Rye convinced that the monstrous, supposedly extinct Bog Noblins have returned from the forest Beyond the Shale. There’s nobody left who can protect the village. There was once—an exiled secret society so notorious that its name can’t be spoken out loud. The Luck Uglies. As Rye dives into Drowning’s maze of secrets, rules, and lies, she begins to question everything she’s been told about the village’s legend of outlaws and beasts…and what she’ll discover is that it may take a villain to save them from the monsters.

My initial thought after reading The Luck Uglies was “Well, that was strange.” It’s a strange book, with a strange premise and strange, mystic, vaguely scary things happening in the plot. I can’t say that I liked it—but I didn’t dislike it, either.

My main complaint with The Luck Uglies is that the characterization is a little uneven. Rye begins this novel described as an unlucky, slightly clumsy protagonist who is interested in lore and the history of her town and intrigued, rather than repelled, by the mysteries of the woods surrounding them and of the Luck Uglies. Halfway through the book, she suddenly loses her unluckiness and clumsiness—or maybe the tone of the book changes so that it’s not played up as much. Either way, it’s a little jarring.

Uneven characterization aside, the book was enjoyable, if, as I mentioned before, strange. I’m glad that Durham didn’t completely go the awful “aw, the poor villains are just misunderstood!” route, and at least some of the Bog Noblins were suitably scary and awful. I’m sick of the “rich lord oppresses his people and only cares about his own safety” trope, though, and it’s unsettling that all of the soldiers were portrayed to be as terrible as the earl when having some sympathetic to the plight of the villagers would have made things more even overall.

There are a couple more books in this series, but to be honest, I’m not sure if I will read them. I liked The Luck Uglies, but I didn’t find it particularly memorable or intriguing enough to warrant reading more of the series. Generic poor village surrounded by mysterious forest is simply not enough of an interesting world for me to want to explore more of it, Luck Uglies or no.

Rating: 3/5

Recommended Age Range: 12+

Warnings: Violence, death, and somebody loses an arm.

Genre: Fantasy, Middle Grade

“What’s wrong, Quinn?” Folly said. “Are you afraid the Luck Uglies might get you?”

“No,” Quinn said quickly. “There’s no such thing as Luck Uglies anymore, right, Rye?”

“Right,” Rye mumbled, not sounding particularly convincing.

“Sure there’s not,” Folly said. “Just like there are no more Bog Noblins.” She squinted and eyed Rye and Quinn carefully. “You’re positive you haven’t seen anything out in the bogs?”

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The Wizard of Dark Street by Shawn Thomas Odyssey

The Wizard of Dark Street, by Shawn Thomas Odyssey, was published in 2011 by Egmont.

Oona Crate was born to be the Wizard’s apprentice, but she has another destiny in mind. Despite possessing the rare gift of Natural Magic, Oona wants to be a detective. Eager for a case she is determined to prove that logic is as powerful as wizardry. But when someone attacks her uncle—the Wizard of Dark Street—Oona is forced to delve into the world of magic.

Rating: 3/5

The Wizard of Dark Street has a good mystery and, although it suffers a little from infodumping and occasional melodramatic description, it’s got enough intrigue to it to make me want to pick up the next book. The world is interesting, even if a lot of information about it is tossed out all at once and the flow never quite seems natural, and Oona, though one of those “brooding, occasionally snarky and perceived as an outsider” protagonists, has her positive moments.

One of my problems with mysteries as a whole, which I also saw in this book, is that there is always some sort of clue that it seems the protagonist should simply not be able to guess based on the information given. Perhaps that’s a mistake in the author’s description, but whenever the novel lingers on gears turning in the mind and puzzle pieces clicking into place, I’ve noticed that what the protagonist figures out because of that is always just a little too perfect. There’s always that one little bit of information that is always assumed that the protagonist has no reason to assume—that is, no reason except that the plot requires it. There was one moment in the book where Oona thinks, “Ah-ha, this! Assumption this! Therefore, assume this and yes, it’s correct!” when there was no reason, that I saw, for her to make any assumption of the sort. Or maybe I’m simply bad at solving mysteries and all the clues make perfect sense and there’s no reason why Oona wouldn’t think and assume what she did based on what she knows…but it still seemed off to me.

The other thing that held this novel back, in my opinion, besides the logical leaps and the infodump worldbuilding, was the incredibly melodramatic descriptions whenever Oona faced something that shocked/terrified/upset her. One point at the end of the book is particularly bad. Perhaps a middle-grade audience needs to have it hammered into their minds with a brick that Oona is feeling this particular way for this particular reason, but for an older reader, that sort of thing grates like mad. That’s the problem with reading middle grades as an adult, I suppose—although I’ve read multiple middle grade books that don’t do this, so really, it’s a writing thing, not an audience thing.

However, despite my complaints, I did come away from The Wizard of Dark Street with a positive impression. It’s a pleasant fantasy mystery, and although I wish the mystery could have been delivered better, I admit that I am perhaps spoiled by the Agatha Christie books I’ve been reading. The humor, on the other hand, was great, especially the broken hip running gag. I’d pick up the sequel just for the promise of something similar.

Recommended Age Range: 12+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Mystery, Fantasy, Middle Grade

Presently, the well-dressed, chubby New York boy spoke up. “What precisely does the document say?” he inquired.

“And you would be?” asked Mr. Ravensmith.

“Lamont John-Michael Arlington Fitch the Third,” the boy said. He stared at the document on the table. The contract was so long that it had been rolled into a thick scroll, with only the bottom portion showing, where the applicants were to sign their names.

“I’ll tell you what it says,” said Isadora Iree. “It says if you do not sign it, you won’t get the job.”

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The Last Apprentice: Revenge of the Witch by Joseph Delaney

The Last Apprentice: Revenge of the Witch, by Joseph Delaney, was published in 2005 by Greenwillow.

For years, Old Gregory has been the Spook for the county, ridding the local villages of evil. Now his time is coming to an end. But who will take over for him? Twenty-nine apprentices have tried—some floundered, some fled, some failed to stay alive. Only Thomas Ward is left. He’s the last hope; the last apprentice. Can Thomas succeed? Will he learn the difference between a benign witch and a malevolent one? Does the Spooks’ warning against girls with pointy shoes include Alice? And what will happen if Thomas accidentally frees Mother Malkin, the most evil witch in the county…?

Rating: 3/5

Revenge of the Witch was much scarier than I thought it would be, surprisingly, due in part to some truly chilling illustrations and my mistaken impression going in that this book would be light-hearted. It reminded me quite a lot of The Screaming Staircase and the other Lockwood & Co. books by Jonathan Stroud, since supernatural horror is the main focus.

Thomas is a bit of an annoying protagonist, in that he does so many stupid things that you want to yell at him most of the time for doing them. I’ve also never been fond of the “As I found out later, I should have done this particular thing” type of suspense-building narration, because for me it tends to suck a lot of the suspense out. I don’t want to be told that Thomas shouldn’t have made a deal with Alice—I want to be shown it. But Thomas is, at least, a persevering and brave protagonist in spite of his occasional stupidity and Captain Obvious moments, and I couldn’t help but cheer him on.

While I’m not sure I will continue on with the series, I did enjoy Revenge of the Witch, and the impact of the setting, plot events, and illustrations were all the greater since I wasn’t expecting them. To be honest, I don’t think I would have found it half so scary if it hadn’t been for the pictures. It’s one thing to read about a slouched figured creeping toward you—it’s quite another to see it! It’s probably why I can read horror books, but not see horror movies. Anyway, Revenge of the Witch, though not without flaws, is an endearing middle grade horror novel that has about ten sequels, so it must be pretty popular. I enjoyed reading it, although like I said, nothing about it particularly impelled me to pick up the next book.

Recommended Age Range: 12+

Warnings: Scary scenarios, mentions of blood, supernatural elements, and death.

Genre: Supernatural, Horror, Middle Grade

At that moment the candle guttered and then went out, plunging us into absolute darkness.

“This is it lad,” the Spook said. “There’s just you, me, and the dark. Can you stand it? Are you fit to be my apprentice?”

His voice sounded different, sort of deeper and strange. I imagined him on all fours by now, wolf hair covering his face, his teeth growing larger. I was trembling and couldn’t speak until I’d taken my third deep breath. Only then did I give him my answer. It was something my dad always said when he had to do something unpleasant or difficult.

“Someone has to do it,” I said. “So it might as well be me.”

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The Penderwicks in Spring by Jeanne Birdsall

The Penderwicks in Spring, by Jeanne Birdsall, was published in 2015 by Alfred A Knopf. It is the sequel to The Penderwicks at Point Mouette.

Springtime is finally arriving on Gardam Street, and with it comes all the joyful chaos of the Penderwicks. The brood has grown to six with the addition of Lydia, the new youngest sibling, and there are surprises in store for all. Some surprises are just wonderful, like neighbor Nick Geiger coming home from war. And some are ridiculous, like Batty’s new dog-walking business, which has resulted in her spending an inordinate amount of time with Duchess, a very fat dachshund, and Cilantro, a wrinkled shar-pei with a bark like a lovelorn tuba. Batty is saving up her dog-walking money for an extra-special surprise for her family, which she plans to present on her upcoming birthday. The timing is perfect: Rosalind will be home from college, Skye and Jane will put their bothersome teenage worries aside to celebrate, and Jeffrey, honorary Penderwick and Batty’s musical mentore, will be visiting from Boston. But when an unwelcome surprise arrives, the best-laid plans fall apart. Filled with all the heart, hilarity, and charm that have come to define this beloved clan, The Penderwicks in Spring is about fun and family and friends (and dogs), and what happens when you bring what’s hidden into the bright light of the spring sun.

Rating: 5/5

Full disclosure: I cried shamelessly while reading this book.

Birdsall did the absolute best thing for the Penderwicks series when she decided to make The Penderwicks in Spring take place several years after The Penderwicks at Point Mouette. We’ve had our Rosalind, Jane, and Skye stories—now it’s time for Batty to take the limelight, and oh, boy, does she. Every single aspect of this book—from the sorrow and angst of Batty’s hidden worries and guilt to the fun and humorous interactions between the characters—was perfect.

To be honest, this book left me a little speechless, and even trying to find something to say beyond “perfection” is a struggle at the moment. I love how the exact timeframe the books take place in is never narrowed down. It’s definitely modern, yet the kids don’t have cellphones, don’t really use computers, and there is no mention of video games or television. There is a mention of a war but it’s never called by any name. It might very well take place in the 80s, but what makes this book (and the others) so great is that it doesn’t matter what decade they take place in because the heart of the books reach beyond that.

The Penderwicks in Spring reads very much like a last book to me. There’s a decisive finality to it, even more so than the previous books. The past is finally cleared, the way forward for the Penderwicks is apparent (and it will end with Skye/Jeffrey, thus I declare), and, to be honest, I doubt another Penderwick book could ever surpass the pleasure and emotion I experienced while reading this one. If Birdsall decides to write another book (about Lydia, maybe?), then I will gladly snatch it up and read it—yet TPS is such a perfect way to end the series that I might feel disappointed if another book did get published.

Recommended Age Range: 10+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Realistic, Children’s

And then it happened—her sprite tried to sing. Batty clapped her hand over her mouth and hoped Ben hadn’t noticed.

He’d noticed. “What was that sound?”

“What sound?” is what Batty said, except that it sounded like whu sohn because her hand was still over her mouth.

“That sound you just made.”

“Maybe your stomach was growling.”

He stared at her suspiciously. His stomach hadn’t’ growled. “There it goes again!”

“Maybe it’s my stomach!”

She started to push him toward the door, but he resisted. “If it’s your stomach, why is your hand over your mouth?”

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