Ghosts of Greenglass House by Kate Milford

Ghosts of Greenglass House, by Kate Milford, was published in 2017 by Clarion. It is the sequel to Greenglass House.

Milo keeps waiting for that special relief that usually settles in at the start of winter vacation. But it’s not coming. For one thing, there’s no snow, and it’s hard to get into the spirit when all you have to work with is a crust of stupid frost. For another, it’s been a tough couple of weeks at school, thanks to a teacher who doesn’t get how much Milo hates having attention called to him, and to his adoption. Then there’s the lone guest staying at his family’s inn, an art student who seems determined not to leave until he’s sketched very single stained-glass window in the place. Worst of all, Milo’s friend Meddy has been conspicuously absent for a long, long time. It’s almost enough to make him wish for a winter break like last year’s, when his house was full of secretive guests and unexpected mysterious, and Meddy had helped him unravel it all. There’s no chance of that happening again, though; Milo is certain of it. Until the bell rings.

Rating: 3/5

I loved Greenglass House, so of course I had to pick up the sequel! Ghosts of Greenglass House picks up a year after the events of the first novel. It’s been a while since I read the first book, but luckily Milford does a good job of filling in enough of the gaps that I wasn’t completely lost. The fantasy element is even stronger in this book, and the mystery is delightfully twisty as well.

I did think the mystery, or parts of it, was easier to figure out than the first book. The truly shocking reveal I figured out beforehand, but there was another one I didn’t see coming, so that was delightful. There were a few aspects that I found a little confusing, but for the most part, all of the clues were integrated really well into the novel, so much so that I never picked up on them until the characters explicitly pointed them out.

The story aspect that I really enjoyed from the first book is back, as well. I love books that emphasize the power of stories, and I’m glad that Milford stuck to the same sort of thing she did with Greenglass House. That book worked well for a reason, so it was smart of Milford to call back on all those great elements and create a new story out of them.

However, a few things are holding Ghosts of Greenglass House back from being as delightful as the first one. The first is that I really didn’t buy the relationship between Georgie and Emmett. How they interacted felt more as if they knew each other for weeks as opposed to one day. Another thing was the heavy-handedness/preachiness, but that’s probably due to the fact that I’m an adult reading a book aimed for children. Even so, I wasn’t fond of Milo’s self-reflections, especially when it results in a “the people around you need to change, not you” sort of message. I also wasn’t fond of the roleplaying bit this time around, and since it’s pretty central to the novel, I tried my best to like it and ended up not enjoying it.

Ghosts of Greenglass House has a delightful, deep mystery interspersed with fantasy elements that are communicated quite well. There’s mentions of The Left-handed Fate, too! However, a lot of the aspects I remember liking about Greenglass House I didn’t like here, so I’m wondering, if I read the first book again, would I still like it as much?

Recommended Age Range: 10+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Middle Grade, Fantasy

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The Pool of Fire by John Christopher

The Pool of Fire, by John Christopher, was published in 1968 by Aladdin. It is the sequel to The City of Gold and Lead.

After being held captive in the city of Gold and Lead—the capital, where the creatures that control the mechanical, monstrous Tripods live—Will believes that he’s learned everything he needs to know to story them. He has discovered the source of their power, and with this new knowledge, Will and his friends plan to return to the City of Gold and Lead to take down the Masters once and for all. Although Will and his friends have planned everything down to the minute, the Masters still have surprises in store. Will enters the battle with confidence, but it might not be enough to fight against the Tripods. And with the Masters’ plan to destroy Earth completely, Will may have just started the war that will end it all.

Rating: 3/5

The Pool of Fire takes place almost right where The City of Gold and Lead left off, after Will comes back from the aforementioned city with the knowledge he gleaned about the Masters. The entirety of this book details the fight against the Masters (not the Tripods, as the back cover leads you to believe—they only show up once or twice) and what the humans must do before they can infiltrate the cities to destroy them.

I realized while reading The Pool of Fire that Christopher’s writing style is probably not for everyone. I actually enjoy it a lot, though I find it needlessly complicated at times, but it’s a nice breath of fresh air from all the present tense, flowery and trying to be poetic writing out there. I also really enjoy Will as the not-always-capable, brash, not-particularly-heroic hero. In many ways, it is the other characters who shine more so than Will: Beanpole, with his work in bringing back ancient knowledge (like electricity and hot air balloons!), Henry, with a moment in the book that I still clearly remembered even though it’s been years since I last read this book, and one other, who I won’t say because it is a spoiler. In fact, compared to those three, sometimes Will is a bit exasperating.

The one thing that I really didn’t like about this book is Christopher’s pretentious introduction, as well as all the “is the world worth saving if humans are just going to kill each other again?” talk. And what’s really ironic is that this attempt at preaching world peace is going on as the humans of this novel are about to go to war. I suppose since it’s against aliens it doesn’t count, huh? There’s also the attempt at the united world government at the end. I mean, it’s nice that in a book about an alien invasion, there is some attention given to the reconstruction done after the aliens are defeated, but I just wish Christopher had been less heavy-handed about it.

The Pool of Fire is a good conclusion to this series, continuing the tone and the characterization from the first two books and detailing a lot more than was covered in the first two books, as years pass in this one. I had some issues with the idea of world peace that’s preached throughout the novel, as I don’t think it’s realistic or feasible, and there were some problems with pacing throughout (not helped by Christopher’s dry writing style, though again, for the most part I don’t mind it). In addition, Will is honestly the most forgettable thing about the book. However, there’s some great moments in this book, ones that I remember vividly, and I’m not disappointed that I came back to this trilogy.

Recommended Age Range: 10+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Science Fiction, Middle Grade.

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I’d Rather Be Reading by Anne Bogel

Disclaimer: I’d Rather Be Reading: The Delights and Dilemmas of the Reading Life, by Anne Bogel, was provided by Baker Books. I received a free copy from the publisher. No review, positive or otherwise, was required—all opinions are my own.

My rating: 4/5

I’d Rather Be Reading is, as Annie Spence on the back of the book puts it, “a book lover’s delight.” Bogel cheekily describes a book-lover’s best and worst moments in this short book; hints of tongue-in-cheek humor are interspersed among more serious chapters of imagination, growth, and friendship. The beautiful cover is emblematic of the charm of the book, and a few illustrations are also scattered inside the pages, as well.

The mix of humor and seriousness is a good one, as Bogel lightly talks about her own problems as a bookworm, then highlights the foibles of any bookworm. The switch between “fun” and “let’s get serious” is a little bit jarring, but bookworms are probably more willing to bear with a book that describes them so perfectly. And, despite the fact that many of the books Bogel lists in this novel I was unfamiliar with, I was still able to resonate with the majority of Bogel’s words, her recollections and her confessions, her gentle admonitions and her strong declarations.

This was a fun book for me to read, and though I didn’t necessarily learn much, I’d Rather Be Reading resonated with me for nothing more than the fact that the author is a bookworm, writing for an audience of bookworms, and Bogel showed me that there are people, after all, who know what it’s like to be a voracious reader.

Warnings: None.

Genre: Nonfiction

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A Light in the Storm by Karen Hesse

A Light in the Storm: The Civil War Diary of Amelia Martin, by Karen Hesse, was published in 1999 by Scholastic.

Rating: 2/5

A Light in the Storm is very reminiscent of Standing in the Light or All the Stars in the Sky—an interesting look at the historical time period, but overall seemingly unnecessary. It’s interesting to read about the conflict in Delaware, a slave state that didn’t join the Confederacy, and the way that conflict is mirrored in Amelia’s parents is well done, but this book doesn’t really deserve the title of “Civil War Diary,” in my opinion. It’s more about lighthouses than anything else. Of course, there is that north/south tension that exists, as well as some other issues (common-law marriages, abolitionists, runaway slaves, etc.) pertinent to that time, but I felt as if the epilogue taught me more about the Civil War than the actual diary did.

Sometimes it does feel as if these Dear America books are a little random in terms of setting and material. I really don’t think this story about a girl who helps with the upkeep of a lighthouse during the time of the Civil War is particularly inspiring or memorable. It does tell you a little bit about the attitudes in Delaware, which is perhaps what Scholastic and the author were trying to highlight, but all the same, A Light in the Storm feels like a particularly useless, unmemorable book in the Dear America series.

In addition, much like So Far From Home, the epilogue of this book is strange. Mostly because Hesse marries off the protagonist, but then has the husband go west while Amelia stays at home, never to see him again. Why? Is that supposed to be representative of reality? Or is that just to reiterate Amelia’s dedication to the lighthouse? Why not have the husband work side by side with her? What is even the point of an epilogue like that?

Anyway, A Light in the Storm details a little about the beginnings of the Civil War and the tension that tore the nation apart, especially in border states like Delaware, but as a story it fails to hold on to that historical setting and instead tells a jumbled tale of lighthouses, divorce, and vague conflict. It’s a book I forgot as soon as I finished reading, and it’s definitely not a standout in the series.

Recommended Age Range: 8+

Warnings: Divorce

Genre: Children’s, Historical Fiction

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Everything She Didn’t Say by Jane Kirkpatrick

Disclaimer: Everything She Didn’t Say, by Jane Kirkpatrick, was provided by Revell. I received a free copy from the publisher. No review, positive or otherwise, was required—all opinions are my own.

In 1911, Carrie Strahorn wrote a memoir sharing some of the most exciting events of twenty-five years of shaping the American West with her husband, railroad promoter and writer Robert Strahorn. Nearly ten years later, she’s finally ready to reveal the secrets she hadn’t told anyone—even herself. Certain that her writings will be found only after her death, Carrie confronts the pain and disappointment of the pioneering life with startling honesty. She explores the danger a woman faces of losing herself within a relationship with a strong-willed man. She reaches for the courage to accept her own worth. Most of all she wonders, Can she ever feel truly at home in this rootless life?

My rating: 2/5

My experience with Jane Kirkpatrick has been similar for each book I’ve read of hers: appreciation for the historical research, but boredom with the overall storyline. As I mentioned in my review of The Road We Traveled, “there were parts of the book where I went “Hmm, this is interesting,” and then there were more parts where I wondered when the book would be over.” I really don’t understand how a book could be so carefully researched, yet falter in terms of pace and holding the reader’s attention entirely. Or perhaps I simply really don’t like books that just meander through someone’s life (as I’ve also mentioned in my previous Kirkpatrick reviews).

The format of the book was very confusing to me. Obviously, the excerpts at the end of each chapter are from Carrie Strahorn’s actual memoir, Fifteen Thousand Miles by Stage. Yet, there are also journal entries at the beginning of each chapter—are these Carrie’s actual journals, or things made up by Kirkpatrick so the reader knows what year it is? I also had issues with what I must assume are severe creative liberties on the part of Kirkpatrick—she is filling in the gaps only with what she thinks is true, based off of the few things we have about Carrie. And I get that this is historical fiction, not biography, but the picture built of Carrie, of this strong woman who managed to hold her own and carve her own path despite her husband’s domineering nature, is a fictionalized picture. Were any of the thoughts and feelings in this book part of the real Carrie Strahorn? I guess I wouldn’t mind so much if I didn’t think so highly of context and accuracy.

Everything We Didn’t Say is a good look at a woman I knew nothing about, who helped pave the way in the West along with her husband, Robert Strahorn. This Carrie is a good model, and there are many points in this book ripe for discussion, but I left the book without a solid idea of what the true Carrie was really like. In true Kirkpatrick style, the research was great, the actual grip and hook of the book…not so much. I would enjoy her so much more if she was just a little more exciting as a writer, though I suppose that’s the draw—she documents more aspects of someone’s life than simply the “exciting” parts. I just wish, in this case, there was more of a clear idea that she was actually crafting a true representation.

Warnings: None.

Genre: Christian, Historical Fiction

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Fairy Tale Friday: Spindle’s End by Robin McKinley

Spindle’s End, by Robin McKinley, was published in 2000 by Putnam.

Rating: 3/5

I’ve read both of Robin McKinley’s “Beauty and the Beast” retellings, but never her “Sleeping Beauty” retelling, so here I am to tackle this massive book.

Spindle’s End takes the Sleeping Beauty tale and crafts an entire fantasy world out of it, complete with slight references to McKinley’s Damar books (I caught one The Blue Sword reference but there may have been more). The tale itself is also slightly different from the original; without giving too much away, it gives Sleeping Beauty more to do and there really isn’t a prince figure of the sort prominent in the original.

With two Damar books under her belt, McKinley is used to spinning out more magic and details than were present in Beauty, and Spindle’s End is stuffed full of things. It’s almost too much at times—the beginning is ponderously slow, and the book really doesn’t start picking up until it switches to Rosie’s point of view, 150 pages in. The conflict at the end is almost too dense and confusing for the reader to fully grasp; I struggled to get through McKinley’s long sentences and heavy descriptions of magic and animals to understand what actually happened. And now, as I’m writing this review, I’m starting to realize just how little dialogue is actually in this book—there’s bits and pieces, but most of it is description. In fact, the largest sections of dialogue concern the animals, and they talk almost as ponderously as the descriptions.

People who like developed, built-up fairy tales will probably really enjoy Spindle’s End, but I think I prefer the simplicity of one like Beauty more. Perhaps if McKinley had a better balance of description to dialogue, or if the beginning weren’t so hard to slog through, I might have liked it better, because I did quite enjoy the middle bits. “Thoughtful fantasy” is a term I would use to describe this sort of work, though I’m not really sure what I mean by that. Lots and lots of description, maybe; that’s all I’m going to remember about this book in the long run.

Recommended Age Range: 14+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy, Fairy Tale

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The Rescue by Kathryn Lasky

The Rescue, by Kathryn Lasky, was published in 2004 by Scholastic. It is the sequel to The Journey.

Ever since Soren was kidnapped and taken to the St. Aegolius School for Orphaned Owls, he has longed to see his sister, Eglantine, again. Now Eglantine is back in Soren’s life, but she’s been through an ordeal too terrible for words. And Ezylryb, Soren’s mentor, has disappeared. Deep within Soren’s gizzard, something more powerful than knowledge tells him there’s a connection between these mysterious events. In order to rescue Ezylryb, Soren must embark upon a perilous quest. It will bring him face-to-face with a force more dangerous than anything the rulers of St. Aggie’s could have devised-and a truth that threatens to destroy the owl kingdom.

Rating: 2/5

I usually have a pretty good memory of what happens in books, and even though my reading of The Journey and my reading of The Rescue were separated by a couple of weeks, I felt going in that I had a pretty good grasp of the world. However, the first chapter left me wildly confused, unsure if it was my memory or if Lasky had messed up.

For example, I’m fairly sure that in The Journey Ezylryb was the leader of the weather chaw and Elvan (or Poot or another owl) was the leader of the colliering chaw. However, in this book, Ezylryb is described as the leader of both. In addition, Soren keeps referring to Ezylryb as his “beloved” teacher, yet his sentiments in The Journey are disgruntlement that yields to respect (but not to the extent shown here). Perhaps it’s me, or maybe it’s Lasky. Either way, it took me a little bit to get into the novel.

Because of this confusion, I didn’t get as absorbed in The Rescue as the first two books. Some flaws/gaps in the worldbuilding stood out to me a lot more. For example, how did the flecks become magnetized? And is a fire caused by coals really hot enough to demagnetize them?

Other than those issues, The Rescue does a lot to expand on the mysteries revealed in The Journey. There’s also a huge reveal in this book that I remember shocked me silly when I first read these books. I think there should have been a bit more lead-up, but as it stands, it’s a great reveal and makes things more personal for the main characters.

Issues with worldbuilding details aside, The Rescue amps up the danger and intrigue, has a shocking reveal, and makes the stakes even higher for our intrepid band of owls. The ending is really cheesy (I’m not a fan of the songs and poems), but this book, and the series, is the perfect sort of adventure story for kids.

Recommended Age Range: 8+

Warnings: Violence

Genre: Children’s, Fantasy

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1951 Newbery Medal: Amos Fortune, Free Man by Elizabeth Yates

Amos Fortune, Free Man, by Elizabeth Yates, was published in 1950 by Dutton.

Here is the riveting true story of Amos Fortune, born a price of the At-mun-shi tribe in Africa and abducted by slave traders at the age of fifteen. In Massachusetts, at the age of sixty, he finally bought his own freedom—and then continued on as a free man to become an expert tanner, a loving husband and father, and an active citizen until his death in 1801. But most importantly, he fulfilled his life’s dream by buying the freedom of many other enslaved people.

Rating: 2/5

Amos Fortune, Free Man tells the apparently true story of Amos Fortune, a prominent African-American citizen of New Hampshire. He was born in Africa, brought to America as a slave, purchased his freedom at the age of sixty, and then became a successful tanner. Yates includes excerpts from, presumably, actual historical documents, such as a “freedom paper” signed by Fortune’s owner, as well as the headstone inscriptions of Fortune and his wife. She also includes a list of places and people to thank for her research at the beginning of the novel, so it’s clear that this is a biographical work.

The one thing that really didn’t sit well with me is the tone of the book. I will forgo the apparent oddity of a Quaker, who is against slavery, buying a slave, since I can see not only the intentions behind it, but also the fact that apparently it actually happened. The tone, however, is one that is not so easily dismissible. The Quaker states that he won’t free Amos until Amos is “ready to be free.” Now, I get that mindset is important—perhaps the Quaker didn’t want to free Amos if he thought Amos would immediately go out and do something rash and get himself in trouble. But, still, this Quaker doesn’t even like slavery, so why does he agree to keep a slave? Quakers were historically vehemently against slavery, so it makes no sense.

The Quaker isn’t the only example. Amos himself has moments where he views the people around him in odd ways. And by odd, I mean in ways that don’t make a lot of sense. Perhaps that’s just my modern view imposing itself on a colonial culture, though. I don’t doubt some slaves viewed people as Amos did, but as I’ve said, the tone is just so odd and so hard to reconcile with what I know that it makes this a very difficult book to read.

Since we probably have very little on the real Amos Fortune, it’s hard to say how historically accurate Amos Fortune, Free Man is. I do know it’s likely a difficult book to read today, especially with some of the attitudes and ideas presented in the book. I don’t think it’s too controversial, but it has a tone that is so alien from what people hear today that it can’t help but seem jarring.

Recommended Age Range: 8+

Warnings: Slavery.

Genre: Historical Fiction, Children’s

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One Dark Throne by Kendare Blake

One Dark Throne, by Kendare Blake, was published in 2017 by HarperTeen. It is the sequel to Three Dark Crowns.

With the unforgettable events of the Quickening behind them and the Ascension Year underway, all bets are off. Katharine, once the weak and feeble sister, is stronger than ever before. Arsinoe, after discovering the truth about her powers, needs to figure out how to make her secret talent work in her favor without anyone finding out. And Mirabella, the elemental sister thought to be the certain Queen Crowned, faces attacks that put those around her in danger she can’t seem to prevent….Fennbirn’s deadliest queens must confront the one thing standing in their way of the crown: each other.

Rating: 2/5

One Dark Throne continues right where Three Dark Crowns left off, continuing the suspense and building the tension between the three sisters (and the three families and cities of the island). It’s a slower book than the first one, with the first 30% being romantic drama and the last 70% being a slow buildup to the final parts of the book.

I can see much more of the flaws of the world in this book that I couldn’t in the first, as the concept I found intriguing covered up a lot of it. However, One Dark Throne reveals just how thin the worldbuilding is—are there only these three cities and these three families that occupy them? There is no sense of scale, no sense of how big the island is or how many people live there, or even a clear sense of each city. Characters switch motives at the drop of a hat to propel the plot; there’s lots of tension between Jacob and Jules because of Mirabella, and while Blake seems to insinuate one thing, the characters ultimately end up doing another. Arsinoe indulges in low magic again, despite the failure in the first book, and it somehow works much better than before despite it being the same exact spell. Blake enjoys building tension with mystery and thinly veiled hints, but then fails to deliver fully, leaving confusing revelations behind.

And there are still way too many names thrown around to keep track of them all.

I heard that this book was supposed to be a duology, but is now a trilogy (or a quartet?). That puzzles me since this book isn’t stand-alone at all, nor does it end things satisfactorily; the decision must have been made before Blake published this book, which might explain why it’s so haphazard and filler-y in terms of plot.

I really enjoyed the concept of the first book, but nothing about One Dark Throne is compelling me to get the third book when it comes out. There are still mysteries to solve and questions to be answered, but nothing happened that made me care enough to find out what they are. The book is a mess of plot, character, and setting, behind a thin veneer of intriguing concept that becomes less intriguing the more you realize the flaws of the book.

Recommended Age Range: 14+

Warnings: Nothing explicit, but there’s lots of kissing and obvious sexual connotations.

Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult

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Little House in the Highlands by Melissa Wiley

Little House in the Highlands, by Melissa Wiley, was published in 1999 by HarperCollins.

Meet Martha the little girl who would grow up to be Laura Ingalls Wilder’s great-grandmother. It’s 1788, and six year old Martha lives in a little stone house in Glencraid, Scotland. Martha’s father is Laird Glencaraid, and the life of the Laird’s daughter is not always easy for a lively girl like Martha. She would rather be running barefoot through the fields of heather and listening to magical tales of fairies and other Wee Folk than learning to sew like a proper young lady. But between her dreaded sewing lessons, Martha still finds time to play on the rolling Scottish hills.

Rating: 3/5

Because of the success of the Little House books, HarperCollins commissioned more stories about Laura Ingalls Wilder’s mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother, as well as a series on her daughter, Rose. Growing up, the Martha, Caroline, and Charlotte Years were almost as dear to me as the Little House books. I’ve been in a “Little House mood” recently, due to reading both the fictionalized Caroline, a telling of Little House on the Prairie from Caroline’s point of view, and the fantastic Prairie Fires, a thoroughly researched biography of Laura Ingalls Wilder (and her daughter). So, I decided to start from the very beginning.

I read Little House on the Highlands I-don’t-know-how-many-times growing up, so this entire book was super familiar to me. It was a huge nostalgia trip for me, though I also tried to separate from that aspect of it and cast a more critical eye, though I’m not sure how well I succeeded.

I know almost nothing about Scottish culture and lore, so I’m not sure how well Wiley portrays it in this book, but it certainly feels authentic. There’s great fairy tales scattered throughout, and lots of descriptions of Scottish things. Wiley does her best to explain things to her reader without compromising Scottish terminology. The only thing that is a trifle put-upon are the accents, but, again, it’s used to represent that this is quite a different place and time than the one the reader is in, so it lends itself well to the setting.

Fiery little Martha is a great protagonist, and though there are a lot of other characters, they are all quite distinguishable from each other, except perhaps for Nannie and Mollie, who serve almost identical functions. There is definitely a Little House feel to Little House in the Highlands, with its extended descriptions of daily activities, way of life, and, yes, food, but it also serves quite well as a simple historical fiction. There’s no need for the reader to have read the Wilder books before this, as by itself, it stands as quite a nice little Scottish children’s book.

Recommended Age Range: 8+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Children’s, Historical Fiction

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